Colorado is a really fun place to visit. Even when you have to dodge mudslides that take out highways en route to your final destination. Yeah, that really happened at the end of July, when I flew out West for a week to meet up with some friends to do a little fishing. The first flight I've taken since 2019 I might add...
In my prior trips to this outdoor wonderland, I had always ventured north from Denver, typically up to Boulder and Estes Park (a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park). However this year, we went west. The destination was a small, rustic cabin sitting on the Fryingpan River in Colorado.
This little Thursday to Tuesday escape was really fun for a lot of reasons. First, because I didn't get to travel to Colorado in 2020 (thanks COVID). Second, because I hadn't seen some of these guys in a few years, (some I had never met in person before). Third, and finally, because we had a chance to get into some really nice fish!
Usually when I go fishing, I like to escape to quiet headwaters streams. The kind you rarely see another angler all day. The fishing is relaxing and methodical, and typically the trophy fish starts at around 10 inches. I'm not a "numbers" angler - I don't hunt large fish or qualify my day by the amount caught. Mostly fishing is an escape to blow off steam and relax, although a skunking is never welcomed.
In stark contrast, on this trip we were only a short drive from the gold medal tailwater section of the Fryingpan River beneath Ruedi Reservoir.
This is home to large fish, big numbers, tons of anglers, and is just a bit different from what I was used to. This change of pace made me a little nervous at first, but once I settled in and got the lay of the land, found it to be quite enjoyable.
I arrived at the cabin in the mid/late afternoon following a 4-5 hour drive from Denver. Some folks were already there, others yet to arrive. Eventually, the crew all made like the Avengers and assembled - Jonathan, Peder, Chris, Adam, Isaac, & Tadashi - a little before dinner.
With moving water literally in the backyard it certainly didn't take long to stash my bags, toss on some wet wading shoes, and get that first fish on the line. Man, that did a lot to settle the nerves.
What followed were some steaks on the grill (more about the food later), a little panning for gold, and the first of many lively evening conversations.
This was the first day we'd hit the Fryingpan. We broke up into groups, and I hopped into the car with Adam & Chris. This water was all about nymphing, and I had some really good success right out of the chute with size 14 rainbow warrior style nymphs. Unlike most others, I went fixed line and was using the Nissin Zerosum Oni Honryu 395 tenkara rod. Adam chose a traditional fly rod and reel, while Chris used his JDM baitcaster set up.
I actually caught my first fish of the morning on a Pink Squirrel that was previously tied on a line left over from the trip to the Driftless. Guess that fly will catch anywhere...
For a while it was fish after fish after fish for most, if not all of us. Browns, rainbows, and cutbows. I didn't catch any true monsters of the deep, but if you've seen they type of fish I usually catch in the headwaters, you know I needed a bigger net!
While we spent most of the day into the early afternoon basically in that spot, eventually we left and went a little further downstream for a little bit. The fishing wasn't quite as productive, but we all caught some fish in the downstream sections.
Once back at the cabin it was taco night. On this trip, Peder played the role of head chef every night, whipping up downright gourmet meals for the group of ravenous anglers. Seriously, I could have paid to go to a fancy lodge and not have had the quality of meals we enjoyed. Peder has some serious culinary skills. The least I could do was the dishes.
We tried to hit some headwaters on the third morning, going quite a bit up in elevation to try and find some cutthroat trout.
Unfortunately, the stream we had hoped to follow wasn't flowing very well and we (Peder) only found a single brookie in the first somewhat stagnant pool. We quickly bailed, but did pause to take a quick group photo before leaving.
On the way out we did stop a bit downstream where the flows looked nicer and fished for about an hour. I caught some little browns, I heard others caught some brookies.
While fun, I don't think this was the kind of action most of the gang was looking for, so we split into groups again, and while half went back to the Fryingpan, this time I went with Jon and Peder and we decided to drive a bit to give the Roaring Fork in Aspen a go.
This was much more urban than the other fishing. We fished in two different locations, the first alongside a highway, and then the other within a community park. Peder had a GIANT fish on that got away at his feet at the highway drop-in.
While I settled for a slightly smaller version...
I did really well at the park section, at least as far as numbers go. While in the middle of a residential area, the fishing was surprisingly good. On one side of the stream were houses, on the other the park. There was also a nice fly fishing themed memorial set up in one of the manicured picnic areas.
Dinner was Korean tteokbokki with steak and a fried egg. I had no idea what this dish was going in (kind of like rice logs), but it was damn good. Not to mention it was by far the most photogenic dinner of the trip.
Okay, Sunday kinda sucked, at least for me. Not a lot of pictures or story to tell because we went to another headwaters stream, but I took a spill in the water and lost my phone (which serves as my camera) and one of my fly boxes. Came right out of a pocket in my pack that was mindlessly unzipped. I had to watch the fly box float away faster than I could chase it, and the phone sink into the abyss out of view to go unclaimed.
I wasn't much in the mood to fish the rest of the morning, so I walked around with Jon & Peder as they went mushroom hunting. Not being mycologically-inclined, this was kind of an interesting diversion. (I found over this long weekend that this group is really into their mushrooms). They found a bunch of varieties, including these hawk wings, which I thought were cool looking. Although they said the larger they get, the less tasty.
After that, I split off, hopped in the rental, drove about 45 minutes to a strip mall in Glenwood Springs to pick up and activate a new phone. Never really realized how dependent we are on those for travel. GPS, airplane ticket app, not to mention the basics of email and communication. Fortunately, within a few hours I was able to be back up and running, although it took most of the evening to re-install apps and log into them to make sure they worked for the next few days. Ugh.
Think the guys spent the afternoon slamming the gold medal section of the Fryingpan again while I was having phone hijinks. I'm sure they crushed it. Your friends' fishing is always better when you aren't there, right?
Last day for me, and the stay was already feeling too short. We technically had the cabin rented through Tuesday, but I was going to leave Monday afternoon to head back to Denver and stay the night at an airport hotel. I just didn't want to have to get up pre-dawn the next morning to be able to drive the four-and-a-half hours to return the rental car and rush through the airport before catching my four hour mid-morning flight back to Philadelphia.
Back to the gold medal section of the Fryingpan. I had a few nymphs left, and all was good. I fished alongside Jon, Peder, Isaac, & Tadashi most of the morning, and everyone was catching fish again.
In addition to the larger fish in the mainstream, smaller fish were actually rising in the shallows on this day, so it was fun to see if I could get any topwater hits after a week of mostly fishing subsurface nymphs.
That said, nymphs still ruled the morning and the fish were active and healthy.
Before I left, Chris & I fished a section a bit downstream where we both messed around with dry flies. I think I worked some soft water near a little logjam for about an hour, enduring rises without takes, before I got this one little brown to hit. All of that frustration turned to exhilaration once that line went tight. While certainly not the largest, this was the "walk off" fish of the trip. The final one brought to hand before I had to start the drive back to Denver.
I bid the guys that were still in our semi-fractured group farewell, drove back to the cabin, gathered my things, and then pulled up the hotel on Google Maps on my new phone, and drove east, effectively concluding this trip. I hear it was pasta night back at the cabin. I had McDonald's.
The flight back to Philly was unremarkable, and luckily, uneventful the next morning.
And that was it. Another very fun Colorado adventure in the books. There was actually a TON of stuff that happened that I just can't write about here. That info is better left at the cabin... only to be resurfaced in what I hope becomes annual storytelling amongst friends at future fishing gatherings.
It was great to meet up with everyone, do a little fishing, (even some that was outside of my comfort zone), a little foraging, and a lot of eating and drinking. Even though the price of admission was a lost phone and a fly box full of flies, I'd happily pay that toll again in a heartbeat. (Although I did buy a phone tether after the trip so hopefully I don't have to.) 🙂
Postscript: So is it the Frying Pan or the Fryingpan? I've seen it both ways, and Google doesn't do much to clarify. As you may have noticed, for purposes of this article, I chose to rock the all-one-word Fryingpan, basically because that's what I prefer.
(Additional photo credits: Adam, Isaac, Jon, Peder, & Tadashi)