Livin Is Easy 1992

 In Press

Colorado…Where Fishin’, Livin’ is Easy
By Dennis Anderson, Outdoors Editor
August 9, 1992, St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper

In Colorado in summer, the fishing days come and go like gifts, one better than the next.

Some of the fishing is with spinning gear but much is with flies. Either way, you cast into fast water, catch a fish or two and feel the rush of stream current against your legs, and you’ve had a good day.

This day began on the Arkansas River, a stream whose headwaters are in Colorado, and one whose whitewater is floated every day of every summer by thrill-seeking rafters bent less on fishing than on tumbling with the river over rocks and through gorges.

For the better part of the day, one of the Old Duck Hunters and I were in such a raft, happy to be floating the fast water, happier still to be casting fly lines quickly toward shore, sailing flies everywhere we thought brown or rainbow trout might be lying.

The Old Duck Hunter, whose home is St. Paul, was playing host to me and also to Dick Hanousek of St. Paul. The three of us were spending a long weekend in the Colorado mountains, based in the Old Duck Hunter’s two-room log cabin.

My intent in Colorado was to float and fish the Arkansas. But first there was work to be done.

“Each year, a group of Colorado guys gets together near my cabin,” the Old Duck Hunter said last winter when the Colorado invitation was extended. “Each year they hold a fishing contest.

“This year, like last year, a Colorado fly fishing team will compete against a Minnesota team. Colorado beat Minnesota by one fish last year. That won’t happen this year.”

The Minnesota squad would have three anglers: The Old Duck Hunter, Dick and me.

Last year, Bud Grant, an able fly angler, fished for the Minnesota team. But Bud was in Argentina wingshooting this July weekend, so I took his place.

“I was the guy who let us down last year,” Dick said as he and I drove a rented car from the Denver airport to Leadville. “I only caught one fish during the contest.”

The thought occurred to me that if Dick, an expert fly fisherman, caught only one fish in the contest last year, I conceivably could end this year’s competition with no fish.

“Jeezo!” I said as Dick and I had lunch in Vail en route to Leadville, elevation 10,000 ft, our weekend agenda was put forth.

Friday: Arrival, fishing practice, assorted motivational speeches and threats, followed by an extended visit to a training table at a small nearby cantina.

Saturday: Accusations and counter accusations that both we and the Colorado team have cheated, are cheating, are contemplating cheating or will cheat, followed by the contest, during which getting caught cheating is prohibited

Sunday: The Old Duck Hunter and I float and fish the Colorado.

For the purpose of storytelling, I have begun this tale at the end of the weekend, on Sunday night. From this vantage point I can best summarize the weekend’s events in proper sequence.

On this evening, Dick, the Old Duck Hunter and I are each in float tubes, drifting about the lake that lies in front of the Old Duck Hunter’s cabin.

Each of us is casting hither and yon in hopes of landing rainbow trout of outlandish size, 18 inches and more, fish we are confident we will catch, and in relatively short order.

The reason: The Old Duck Hunter’s cabin is part of an enclave of 150 cabins and a couple of dozen ponds and likes known as Mount Massive Lakes, a private fishery spread over a couple of thousand acres and first organized near the turn of the century.

Mount Massive Lakes has its own fisheries managers and hatchery, and its lakes hold finned creatures as diverse as grayling and lake trout, brookies and browns.

The lakes can be fished by rowboat or from shore, but the preferred method is as ours: the float tube, an inflatable contraption that elevates and nearly levitates, and one that can be propelled about a lake or within a stream with fins worn on the angler’s feet.

It was with use of float tubes that we fished in the contest, rules of which were:
-We all had to use the same fly; a pattern tied by Dick Anderson, a St. Paul native who now lives in Denver. Dick has a cabin at Mount Massive Lakes; he calls his fly the Icky Dickie.
-We received for the contest only two flies apiece. If we lost them, we were done fishing.
-The contest would last two hours, at the end of which all participants were required to be on the deck of Dick’s cabin.
-Winner of the Colorado-Minnesota competition would be determined by dividing each team’s total catch (all fish were released) by the number of fishermen on the team.

“It’s a good thing we’re averaging the catch,” Dick said before the contest began. “They’ve got about 25 guys. We’ve got three.”

The Old Duck Hunter had the hot hand initially, catching four fish in the contest’s first half hour. Then he lost a fly. A half hour later, he lost another.

Minutes later the Old Duck Hunter pulled himself out of the lake with five fish to his credit, no flies remaining and an hour of the contest to run.

Matters looked grim for Dick and me. Grimmer, really, for me, because at the time, I had caught only one fish and had one fly remaining, having lost the other. Dick, meanwhile, had caught five fish and still had both of his flies.

Dick, meanwhile, had caught five fish and still had both of his flies.

“Start thinking of excuses,” I yelled to Dick. “Defeat may be upon us.”

Fortunately, my bad luck reversed itself and I started to catch fish. Meanwhile, Dick continued his good fortune, adding another six rainbows to his credit in the last hour of the contest.

Our final tally: Dick, 11; the Old Duck Hunter, 5: me, 7. Total: 23.

There was a bounce to our step as we arrived on Dick’s deck at contest’s end, confident the best team – or at least the one that had traveled the farthest – had won.
And we had.

Surrounding us on this Sunday evening are mountains and thin air and a sky that is losing its light.

Casting for fish in this small lake, I am thinking of being down valley earlier in the day, when the Old Duck Hunter and I floated the Arkansas, catching fair numbers of fish in fast water.

There is a trick to this kind of fishing. You try as best you can to lay a fly where you want it, try to do this while the river current moves in a rush downstream, all the while factoring in your movement and that of your raft.

Surprisingly, many of the fish that take your flies under these conditions do so in heavy whitewater, tightening your lines before leaping from the froth behind your raft, too far back, sometimes, to be landed but fun nonetheless to play before they break off or slip the hook.

The fish in the river were considerably smaller than those available at Mount Massive Lakes. But the river fish were wild, 10, 12, 14 inches long, and fun to catch on nymphs and dry flies alike.

It was late evening before my thoughts of rafting the Arkansas were broken by a voice from across the lake.

“It’s getting dark,” the Old Duck Hunter yelled. “Let’s get something to eat.”

Which we did, leaving the lake and the cabin behind to follow the path our car lights carved in the mountain night, driving first along gravel roads, then black-top, into Leadville and the cantina training table where our Colorado weekend began.

We would be home in another 12 hours. The trip seemed over far too soon.

IF YOU GO

The Arkansas River is one of the most popular in Colorado for float trips.
Floating the river usually begins in mid-May, when runoff from melting snow makes the river faster and more exciting than most other times during the summer season.
Rafting continues usually through early September.
Trips lasting one-half day to many days can be arranged.
Combination trips involving horses, hiking and bikes also are possible.
Not all rafting companies offer fishing trips; many are designed only for pleasure rafting.

Bill Dvorak’s Kayak and Rafting Expeditions is one firm that does cater to anglers, on the Arkansas as well as other Colorado rivers, including the Gunnison.

Whitewater rafting is generally safe, and accidents are relatively rare. Colorado state law requires that all rafters wear approved life jackets at all times while on the river.
Rafters are almost certain to get wet during their trips. Wet suits and other gear designed to provide comfortable outings usually are available from rafting outfitters.

Trip rates vary depending on length. For more information about Dvorak’s Kayak and Rafting Expedition, phone (800)-824-3795.