Stealth angling

Fishing small streams requires quiet approach and casting, not standing, where the fish are

The rules of small-stream fishing are few, but using long leaders and staying low top the list. Too many anglers forget that small, clear streams require just as much thought and caution as do the most-technical larger waters.



The challenges of canyon fishing start the minute you exit the car. High brush, overhanging trees and small pockets of fast water hiding larger-than-expected trout all make Spring Creek north of Gunnison a fly angler’s enigma.



The mountain trails around Crested Butte attract a variety of users, and motorbike riders are frequent guests along the challenging terrain. The riders pictured crossed Spring Creek as they headed up Doctor Gulch and the Colorado 500 Trail.



QUICKREAD

Anglers, motorbikes both use trails near Spring Creek

ALMONT — The spiderweb of mining roads across Colorado’s Mineral Belt country is alive with motorized recreation.

Gunnison County is no different, and the backcountry here is popular for a multiuse trail system along a complex filigree of two-track roads and singletrack trails.

It’s almost a given that encounters will ensue between different modes of use, and on busy summer weekends it’s fairly common for anglers to encounter motorbike riders on the stream-side trails.

Sunday, a family fishing and picnicking at a small crossing along Spring Creek scattered like quail when a herd of helmet-wearing dirt-bike riders passed through their camp to cross the creek.

Several of the five riders slowed appreciably through the camp as they splashed across the creek and worked their way up the two-track Doctor Gulch, a popular route that connects with a section of the Colorado 500 Trail.

In addition to a well-stocked fly box and a sense of humor, it helps to retain an appreciation for the multiuse aspect of public lands.

— Dave Buchanan



There are numerous places where fishing extends well into the fall, but August marks the beginning of the end for anglers divining high-country streams with a fly rod.

One such end-is-near location is the stream-rich country in the broad arc of mountains running from Taylor Park to Kebler Pass.

Spring Creek starts well above Gunnison in the laps of Italian and American Flag mountains, works its way past the dam at 10,000-foot-high Spring Creek Reservoir and wends through meadow and canyon before joining the Taylor River at Harmel’s Resort north of Almont.

The picturesque stream has easy access, along with lots of trout and, on Sunday at least, an almost-equal number of fishermen.

A few minutes watching the action made it clear why some anglers struggle to catch trout known to slash even the most-awkward presentation.

Most anglers were committing several small-stream mistakes, including the cardinal sin, one best voiced by the late fishing guide Denny Breer of Dutch John, Utah.

Breer, who wasn’t shy at all of making sure his anglers knew when they were transgressing, loved few things more than quietly rowing up behind a sport standing 20 feet out in the Green River and then saying, quite loudly, “You’re standing where you should be fishing.”

Small streams require stealth, which usually means sneaking along the bank.

However, up and down this compact creek were anglers standing, wading and splashing through the water, moving as if being timed.

Shuffle, walk, cast. Shuffle, walk, cast.

I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but I didn’t see any fish caught on a stream with a reputation for easy-to-catch trout.

“On a small stream like that, especially one as clear as Spring Creek, you have to get a good approach,” advised Zach Kinler of Dragonfly Anglers Fly Shop in Crested Butte
(800-491-3079). “Stay low, use long leaders and take your time.”

He should have been there Sunday, as numerous anglers repeatedly committed their trespasses.

A series of habitat and stream improvements provide ideal trout habitat with long pools, quick rapids and deep undercut banks.

“It’s a great fishing stream, especially for beginners because it’s so open, and the fish will take almost any dry fly you put in front of them,” Kinler said. “There’s nothing to get hung up on. Well, almost nothing. You still can’t let your back cast flop around.”

It’s puzzling why so many anglers would walk midstream when the stream is only 10 to 20 feet wide, shuffling along and chasing the trout ahead of them.

There is an option.

With most anglers heading for the wide-open meadows with its meandering stream, the best (and certainly more challenging) fishing is downstream in the canyon below Deadman Gulch.

“That’s where the best fishing is, and that’s where I head when I’m fishing it,” affirmed Kinler, who likely wields a fly rod more adeptly than most of us. “It’s pretty tight, and you really have to be careful, but there is a lot of pocket water, and that part of the stream hardly gets fished.”

Small-stream fishing is a game within itself, one where the challenges are set by the nearness of cliff walls, overhanging brush and the sudden rush of a 15-inch trout.

There is a nice balance between the country-club atmosphere of fishing a wide-open stream, with obvious holding water and plenty of company, and the faster-paced canyon stream where strikes come quick and strong, with no one to look over your shoulder.

It’s your pick, but the season ends soon.


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