The Tragedy

I love the solitude that mountains bring. The fresh cool air flowing through the trees from the alpine areas, the solitude, the quiet. There is only so much lonely fishing a guy can take though. So when the time comes to teach a newcomer to the sport, I will raise my hand and be the first to volunteer. Last year in Denver, I thought it would be a good idea to impart my love for fishing upon my long time friend, John. It didn’t take long for John to get casting down and took only minutes to get his first fish. I remember the moment well. I had taught him to cast and never really covered my bases for him to land a fish on his own. He eventually got the fish in and landed it, but his fear of killing fish by squeezing the life out of them still haunts him to this day. Not that he does, he just feels that they are quite fragile. I assume that he loves the sport by now, having his own rig, asking me to teach him to tie his own flies, randomly texting me while I’m on my own fishing trip, asking me what flies to use, etc. Recently he taught his brother Joe to fish as well. When I caught wind of this newcomer, I had to give him a call and plan a fun trip to some easy water. On the weekend of our planned trip, John decided he would fly into New Mexico for some “better than Colorado” fishing (John did not say this, I am adding this statement because for some reason it was, that is, when we were not in Co.). This was Joe’s first real trip out into moving water and John’s first real taste of what New Mexico really has to offer. Leaving me as the only guy with experience enough to help them out. Dave (me) plays guide but still fishes. Joe also brought his son Jace, who was so excited to go fishing that he waited in the truck for hours while we gathered ourselves and our equipment. I didn’t even know where he was, although I did know that he was going. Even when Joe got in the truck to leave, I asked if he had forgotten his son. This day, it was decided that Cabresto Creek would be our hunting ground. When we arrived and the area was closed, the Red River was a good second choice. A solid 0 fish on the first day was a great way to start. The only way to go was up. I did catch 2 mini fish on the first day, but I’m not really counting those because… Well, you know. We had arrived late and the chances of catching fish in the way over pressured section of water were slim. I figured that I could get into fish late in the day because in the past it has rewarded me greatly. Not this time though. Setting up Joe’s house tent was pretty simple and suited the four of us well and comfortably, for the rest of the evening we were sawing logs in the tent. I was contently dreaming of the day to come.

For me, day 2 started at 6am. I was off to the river to find the bugs that would work before waking the rest of the crew and heading to quality water. I was in such a hurry, that I forgot my camera. A nice brown and a couple other trout went home without a mug shot. After we gathered again, we packed the campsite and headed up river into the less choked water. It didn’t take long for me to start the catching and keep catching, when finally, John reminded me that this trip was more for Joe and Jace than either of us. This was the part when I was disallowed from fishing. While trying to assist joe, I lent him my 8wt. that I was currently using. If you are curious about why I’m fishing an 8wt in a 100cfs stream, the answer is that John didn’t bring his rig and I loaned out the 5wt to him. Why would I use my 5wt for this? Well, it’s my only other rod. I’m not a rich man. Joe slung the 8wt with as much grace as one can have while trying to pinch off 6′ of line with a rod not meant to do it, and boom! Fish on! Not just any fish either. A very healthy rainbow. Needless to say, some ties were donated to Joe, John, and Jace.

From there on out, it was like fish in a barrel, or fish in a crowded stream.

Stream born AND picky

Jace even got some action, with the biggest brook trout of the day!

Fly fishing's future

When the day was over, it was time to move on. Eagle Nest, too windy; Cimmaron, too crowded and pressured; Sugarite Canyon, just right. We arrived late enough in the day to be too late for campsites, but we still managed to find some in other places across the border. Hello Colorado! We decided it wasn’t late enough in the day to miss out on the fishing and back to Lake Maloya we went! The fishing was amazing if you include perch in your fly fishing diet. As fun as they were to catch, they slowly became irritating. Then, John received a couple twitches on his indicator and set the hook. “I think it’s small” he said as he worked in the biggest brown I have seen in a long time.

This fish came hunting perch.

Day 3 was by far the most incredible fishing I have had this year. Lake Dorothy. Go ahead and cringe at the release of this location. There is a reason I decided to let this info out later. Dorothy is a very under fished and over populated lake. Texans usually stay on the New Mexico side and it is a very short hike to the very well hidden lake in Colorado. These fish were the strongest fish I have EVER fought in my life. We’re talking putting a healthy bend in an 8wt rod, breaking your line from tension alone, and jumping 5′ out of the water. Once the pattern was worked out, my fighting arm was tired before midday. John and Joe both caught their fair share of fish as well and I commend them for the task of getting even one of these fish landed. There was even a point in the day where Joe caught fish on every cast for a short time. I’m really proud of these guys for catching so many fish.

The over-sized tail made this fish that much harder to fight.

Lake dwelling acrobats!

Now for the incredibly sad part of the story. I smelled smoke toward midday and wondered if it was a fire or just the wind carrying Wallow Fire smoke up into the canyon. Later in the day, Joe looked back and saw a plume of smoke. After a few hours, we went to break down the campsite and the smoke was high in the sky and black. At first it seemed to be in the canyon. When we got to the tent, it was folded up from the wind and falling apart. The rods holding the tent upright had kinked over and failed. Struggling with unpacking and hoping that the fire wasn’t in the canyon, we rushed to get things put away. As we finished packing, a man came down from the road and panicked about how there was a fire in the canyon. On his way back up, he informed us that he couldn’t see the road down by Lake Maloya. As wrong as he was, we still think that he was a rancher from not too far away. If this was the case, I wish him the best and hope his home was not taken in the fire. As we passed through Sugarite for the last time anyone will ever see the true beauty of the canyon, we realized that the canyon had been evacuated. Everyone but us, at the lake around the corner that was quite possibly the best high country lake I have ever fished. The giant ponderosa pines of Lake Dorothy stood once as old men, rising from the banks to heights that seemed to feed upon the clouds. The grass was once a lush and green carpet as their only purpose in life seemed to be hanging prismatic dew from their droopy tips. There are no words to describe the uniqueness of the area. Just a handful of memories and maybe a few unbelievable stories in the future. Not only was it a time for change in the forest, it was a time for change in my world as well.

The fire had started just north of Raton and closed I-25. In fact, I-25 is still closed as I write this. Since our day in the mountains, Sugarite has burned, but many memories were made. We were there when it was amazing. This may not be the case in the future. Our hearts go out to all of those that have lost their homes in the Track Fire as well as the Wallow Fire that has claimed almost 500,000 acres now. I hope that you visited one of the largest ponderosa forests in the world before it caught fire. Both fires were caused by very irresponsible people. Sometimes a 6 month prison sentence isn’t enough.

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7 responses to “The Tragedy

  • Sanders

    really enjoyed the read!

    Well done on getting some new people involved in the sport…even better that you got them into some fish!

    too bad about that fire…it’s scary how fast it can happen. it makes me sick to my stomach. just goes to show how careful you need to be in these parts.

  • backcountryfishnerd

    New Mexico is one of the worst places for fire. Early am the fire started and by noon it was 2000 acres, by the time we arrived in Denver, 20,000 acres.

  • JOE

    To my gut friend dave i thank for this particular post. Considering myself but only an avid outdoorsman and a definite greenhorn at fishing, i had only made feeble attempts at fishing and it was nothing more than an excuse to sit by a lake and drink beer. My brother passed on to me the little bit of knowledge dave had passed on to him and alas my love for the sport began to blossom. After a couple trips to tingley beach and seeing the smiles on the faces of my two sons i realized that there was almost nothing better. Yet i still longed for my chance to hook into a fish of my own. In fact i was near the point of throwing in the towel and began to think maybe fishing just wasn’t for me. When a text from dave and a last minute flight from my brother and this amazing weekend was spawned. It proved to set the foundation for what i’m sure will grow into an obsession for fishing and a great chance for some bonding with my two brothers and my first born. Even though the story ended like all great tales (in tragedy) it’s the next chapter that I’m looking forward to. More stories of fishing with family (yes dave is family) and just enjoying life and everything this world has to offer.

    • backcountryfishnerd

      Too early for that many words Joe! I should be thanking you for not giving up and being a fishing buddy this weekend. I really hope that Jace and Jacob pick up the sport as well, fly fishing needs them. I’m also glad for your words about them, something I could have never really put into words. I wish you the best of luck out there! You know how to contact me if you get stumped! Thank you for all of the kind words, it really means a lot Joe!

  • Royal Wulff aka Mike

    Epic trip, great read my friend. We here were sharing that sickening pit-of-the-stomach dread thinking of that fire blowing up with you guys up canyon. Glad to hear you guys are safe, sound. Sooo very sad to lose so much gorgeous country this season. Pacheco in SF had us hugging our kids last nite. Scary out there right now. mike

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