Rocky Mountain National Park July 2-8, 2012
Some friends and I have been planning on taking the annual national park trip since February with the destination set as Rocky Mountain National Park. We met up with the author of Fly Fishing Rocky Mountain National Park, Steve Schweitzer, at the Somerset Fly Fishing Show who sold us his book and gave us some pointers. We put in a few hundred calls on March 1 to reserve our backcountry campsites, the persistence paid off and we were rewarded with 2 nights on the East side of the park and 3 on the West. Fast forward a few months and we were frantically trying to get to the fly shop and REI for last minute gear before our early morning flights on July 1. We flew into Denver, rented our SUV and then went by REI and Orvis again to get fuel, food and more last minute flies. By 7pm, we had our tents set up in a family campground and had pulled a couple brookies from the nearby stream.
The next day we were going to try to get used to the elevation and were able to meet up with Guy (spilunkr) to fish a largish freestone creek with browns, brookies, cut bows and a few greenbacks thrown in. We all hooked a ton of 12" browns and 6-8" brookies, needless to say I'm not sure we will be able to fish the Gunpowder again. Thanks again Guy, we had a blast!
Tuesday morning it was time to hit the trail for our backcountry portion on the east side of the park. It was a 7.5 mile brute of a hike with 2,000 ft of elevation gain, which crushed us all. On one of our breaks, this Kingfisher decided to see what we were up to, hanging out only 5 ft away.
Once we got settled in, it was time to fish our first alpine lake and catch the first Greenbacks. FIsh were rising steadily but it was hard to pay attention with the gorgeous back drop. We picked up quickly on the actions of cruising and rising fish to catch a few.
We settled in early the first night to get prepared for a three mile bush whack up 1000 more feet into an epic alpine lake. This lake sat close to the continental divide, above the tree line. In a few hours of fishing we began catching so many that we started experimenting with all types of flies to see what could work. Nearly all fish in the lake were 10-12", with nothing under 8" caught and only a few bigger than 12".
The next morning it was time to hike out and check out the watering holes of Boulder and take a well needed shower. Thursday morning we rolled out of Boulder to the Western side of the park with hopes of catching brookies and Colorado River Cutthroats. We hiked in a few miles and split up, with Damon and Trent hitting a creek and Ziman and I hitting a lake we found to be tough and silty. This is when the daily thunderstorm hit, but didn't stop after 5 minutes like it had in previous days, it continued into the night soaking us and all of our gear. The next morning we put our wet shoes back on, moved the tents and layed into more brookies. The first two days on the West, we caught mostly brookies, and did our part to help eradicate this Snakehead of the West.
Sunday happened to be our last day in the park, with another long bush whack to a lake rumored to have huge Colorado River Cutthroats. This was probably true, but we had the humbling experience of a knee injury on the way up and fished for over two hours without landing a single fish. The lake did happen to be next to other lakes and a creek with large brookies.
On the way back to camp, we made the call to pack up and turn our already tough day of bush whacking into a 12-mile bruiser. We made it out before dark just in time to put back a few soda pops and rocky mountain oysters.
It was a great trip amongst friends, I'd highly recommend taking a trip like this if you get a chance.
Fantastic report. I need to go and do something similar. Did you use the tenkara?
Dalton - thanks for posting. I've been curious about the RMNP as I've heard it's beautiful but the fish are all pretty small.
Enjoyed fishing with you. Sounds like you had a bit better experience at Pearl than I did. What did you think of the hike up to the Hutcheson chain of lakes? It is definitely a stunning view of the lakes and the continental divide when they first come into sight. There is actually a fourth lake right at the base of the cirque which occasionally has fish.
If I remember correctly the chain of lakes you were visiting on the west side; some have fish while others either have few or none because they or it shallow and freeze entirely in the winter and there is no way of knowing that just by looking at the lake.
We only touched the Tenkara once, actually while we were in the family campground with a meadow stream. It just never seemed practical in the backcountry, when we were mostly following creeks where it could have been effective to get to lakes where we wanted the ability to cast farther--and taking two rods would have been a pain. Jnashed, I would definitely recommend giving it a go, I didn't mention a budget in the original report but I think we all came in around $1,000 to stay 9 nights (3 in hotels) in a beautiful part of the country with the biggest expenses being flights (~$400 each) and the rental SUV (~$1200 for 10 days-yikes). This is quite affordable, and we certainly could have done it a little cheaper.
Rocks and Rye, I think you are mostly right about RMNP with smaller fish. The biggest fish landed on our trip was a 15" Greenback, with a couple larger fish lost but 98% of the fish were 12" or under (relatively large compared to Shenandoah National Park but small compared to the large western rivers).
I might add to the pictures if I get some from the other guys.
The hike up to the Hutches was fun and challenging, I've done a few off-trail hikes this year and enjoy these more and more each time. Upper Hutch was absolutely bananas, with each of us pulling in 50+ fish. We didn't try Cony (the fourth lake you are talking about?), as we mostly only hit lakes that Schweitzer mentioned in his book (found here: http://www.amazon.com/Fishing-Guide-...pd_sim_sbs_b_1). Pearl definitely had the narrow shelf and deep drop off you talked about, but we still found fish by walking the edge at a brisk pace and casting to the fish that sometimes appeared to be spooked by us, but they were apparently still hungry for our flies.
On the West side, I think all of the lakes had fish (East Inlet) but the fishing gods sought punishment for us at the farthest lake. We stayed for a little over two hours, and only saw a couple risers (monster fish though) within casting distance and zero cruising fish near the bank. I personally would have stayed 4-5 more hours to see if the weather would change things, but group dynamics required that we leave.
I forgot to mention in the original report that when fishing with Guy, he caught a nice brown that had a 6" brookie half way down it's throat but still thought there was room for an ant. Maybe Guy can post the picture.
I'm pretty sure the two park fishing guide books say Coney is fishless. But apparently given the right conditions some fish can move up from Uppper Hutcheson. But if they do, Coney freezes solid in the winter. I've experienced a similar situation with Peacock Pool which the book says is fishless yet I caught a dozen brookies to 12" in an hour before a thunderstorm hit. I've been out of town fishing with a friend visiting from Maryland and have not yet downloaded the shots of the brown with the brookie in it's mouth as we just got back yesterday evening. I'll try to post that shot in the next day or so.
Rocks and Rye's impression that RMNP has mostly smallish fish is a very common misconception particularly if all one is talking about are the streams. The 14" brown that had the 6" brookie in it's mouth is about as big as fish get in most of the park's streams. The Colorado River near the west side entrance does have some larger 20" + fish near the entrance as I saw three that size come from one hole a couple years back while doing some shocking with the park biologist. But, they came from a hole that was impossible to fish without spooking them which is how they got to that size to begin with. The bigger fish tend to be in the numerous alpine lakes. I have caught greenbacks to 19" in a couple of lakes and have yet to get to the "best" lake in the park. In one lake I fished the fish I was catching averaged 16" in size. People do not hear much about these lakes because they are typically not not day trip destinations.
Here are a couple of shots of the Brown and Brookie Dalton mentioned. In the shot with the brookie still in the mouth of the brown you can see my ant in the corner of the mouth. The brown's stomach area was very sunken and the fish was very thin. Obviously the brookie stuck in it's mouth made it virtuaslly impossible to feed.