August not the end

Fishing can still be good at end of summer, it just takes a little more work

High-country lakes amid towers of granite are one of the highs of late-summer fishing trips. This is Geneva Lake, a popular destination at the head of Lead King Basin and reachable from Snowmass Lake and from Marble.

Access to the Gunnison River from the south is limited to a handful of demanding trails that literally fall off the ridge. This narrow section of the Duncan Trail has turned back many would-anglers who dislike seeing the river between their toes.

A rocky seven-mile four-wheel drive road from Marble lands you at the trail head for Geneva Lake and Fravert Basin in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.

August brings a certain soft melancholy to what otherwise is a glorious end to summer.

The razor-sharp bite of mid-summer heat has dulled while days remain long and linger to well past the dinner hour.

The high country still carries a blanket of wildflowers.

But wait. A careful observer notices the hours of daylight are slightly fewer than one month ago and some of the brilliance is gone from that mantle of flowers, as though a bit weary of flaunting its lively brilliance.

Marmots and pikas scurry busily among the boulders, stuffing miniature haystacks into crevices as if cognizant the first high-country frost is but a few weeks away.

As if searching for something lost, anglers drive regular routes past favored mid-summer streams and find them shrunken and warm, the runoff finally over and irrigation demands taking water for late-summer hayfields.

Low water also means high water temperatures unless you park yourself in the shadow of a dam. Such coveted locations, however, attract other anglers and sharp elbows may be needed to find a fishing spot.

Still, it’s not all gloom and this certainly is not one of those “the end-is-near” angling stories.

August may be the favorite month of anglers wise to the fact the eighth month offers the full nature of fishing Colorado’s highs and lows.

The highs are the days spent trekking into jewel-like alpine lakes rimmed by stunted trees and glacial scree, putting to the test the veracity of rumors about large trout in small ponds.

The mountain weather has mellowed, the thundering storms of July mostly a thing of the past, and it’s just cool enough to keep the bothersome mosquitoes and black flies at bay.

John Gierach, the prolific author of a slew of fly-fishing books including his collector’s item “Flyfishing the High Country,” once noted “nothing is ‘always’ true” when it come to fishing high-country lakes “because every lake, pond and stream on every particular day offers a unique problem.”

High lakes, especially, offer particular challenges, not the least of which is fishing can enhance the extremes of fruitful or frustrating.

The “hatch” may be a stray grasshopper or a windfall of black ants blown from the valley below and dropped on the lake like poppy seeds on a roll.

Or the deal closer may be a black leech pattern retrieved with a slow hand-twist close to the rocky bottom.

On a recent hike into a lake tucked between Aspen and Crested Butte, a lone angler encountered as he headed downhill barely gave a nod in passing.

“Slow,” was the terse observation, whipping his fly rod in disappointment. “The fish are there, maybe you’ll catch them.”

The low is the search for cold streams dropping through deep canyons where trails are shared with bighorn sheep and you may find trout still unaccustomed to an angler’s fly.

Two friends recently hiked into the Gunnison River by way of the Duncan Trail, one of the four trails leading from the top of Black Ridge on the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the river.

The river here is cold and deceivingly fast.

“We saw on the map that the other trails were longer, so we opted for Duncan because it looked shorter on the map,” said one, showing off a few resultant bruises and scrapes. “Now we know why it’s shorter. It’s almost straight down.”

The trail, a three-mile down-and-back trip, begins at a parking area at the top of the ridge and soon becomes a precipitous single-track mostly shared by desert bighorn sheep.

Then, for the last half-mile or so, the bottom falls out of the route.

The final steep requires some deft but not impossible footwork before you finally reach the river.

And although the river awaiting you is lightly fished compared to much of the middle Gunnison, it’s not a given you’ll catch that fish of your dreams.

Among the more remarkable aspects of a angler’s mind is the ability to adjust expectations to the environment.

“It’s a beautiful piece of river,” said my friend, “and we caught a few fish although nothing like I’d dreamt of. The scenery was glorious, it almost made me forget the climb out.”


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