Wetting a line in Colorado’s Poudre River for browns and rainbows
Last week, I drove 13 hours west to attend the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership‘s annual Western Media Summit. The agenda contained ample content focused on protecting America’s public lands legacy, and representatives from the two major presidential campaigns were on hand for a special forum and Q&A session. On the lighter side, the college town of Fort Collins, Colo., hosted the 2016 event, which allowed attendees to steal away for half a day of trout fishing the Poudre River in the Roosevelt National Forest.
Along with Geoff Mullins from the TRCP and Diane Bristol from Simms, we rendezvoused at Saint Peter’s Fly Shop then drove with our guide about 45 minutes up the breathtaking Poudre Canyon last Wednesday, June 22. We quickly threw on our waders and boots, grabbed our fly rods, and made way for the fast water. Precipitation and snowmelt has been above average for the area thus far this spring, so we encountered roaring, high water, which the occasional passing whitewater rafting groups appeared to appreciate.
During our quarter-mile walk to the river our guide, Joel DeJong quipped about his reputation among fellow guides for being a rattlesnake magnet. He’d no sooner spoken the words when the distinctive hissing and rattling sound of a snake caused him to leap back. It was my first encounter with what I later learned was a prairie rattlesnake, which appeared smaller and lighter colored than the timber rattlers I’ve seen on rare occasions in southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Not a huge specimen, but surly and intimidating nonetheless. I snapped a couple of unfortunately blurry images with my iPhone that don’t do the crabby creature justice, though you can see his quivering tail clearly in this short video.
Tina Jackson, species conservation coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, confirmed via email from my picture that we witnessed a prairie rattler. They are the most common rattlesnake in Colorado (the state has two others) and the only one that occurs in the northeast Colorado.
“I can’t really say how often sportsmen are encountering them as I’m sure most folks aren’t calling when they do,” she said. “I do get a few calls a month (estimated) about rattlesnakes though often they end up being one of our non-venomous species instead.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife posted a blog on snakes for folks looking for more information.
How about the fishing? The catch-and-release waters produced three hookups for me, none of which I brought to hand. All three were respectable browns, but they shook me in the fast water. This still relatively inexperienced cold-water angler needed to move the trout into slack zones faster. My fishing companions, however, caught several fish in the cold, snow-melt-fed Poudre, whose headwaters are in the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Park. We targeted the slack water areas adjacent to the river embankment. Other groups seemed to report more luck adding some weight and fishing deeper. Either way, we enjoyed a glorious morning of fly-fishing one of the wildest and most scenic rivers remaining on the Front Range of Colorado.
Every trip I make to the American West, I try to wet a fly in a new river, if only for a few hours. During the past decade, I’ve caught trout in a half-dozen Interior West states, and that’s been possible thanks to the access America’s public lands legacy provides. (Later this summer, I’m hoping to ply waters within the eastern front of Glacier National Park with my family.) During the TRCP media summit, staff provided some excellent fodder and discussion on the value of public lands and its recreational access to America’s economy. This infographic summarizes those economic impacts incredibly well. Thank you to TRCP for providing for this website.
If you’re willing to push hard, Twin Cities residents can reach Fort Collins in a long day’s drive, making the big trout of the Poudre an impressively accessible Western fishery. Looking to fish on the cheap? Bring a tent. Several highly affordable National Forest campgrounds – with spaces available – lie adjacent to this gorgeous river.
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