While packing up for a routine trip to Denver, I decided just in case we got a day off, I would bring my fly rods. I have fly fished a good amount in my life, but never in Colorado. We had some free time on the agenda and I kept my fingers crossed that no one would book up that time. Turns out luck was on my side.
Ashley and I finished up our work camp and meetings, then immediately headed to the Denver Fly Shop. After asking probably 100 too many questions, the owner of the shop provided us with maps, gear, flies, and directions to his favorite spots on 11 Mile Canyon River. I hung on his every word in order to gain as much knowledge as I could. Once we were all set up with waders and gear, we said good bye to everyone at the tackle shop, grabbed some provisions from the grocery store and headed back to the hotel to crash.
3am came quickly. We brewed coffee, grabbed our clothes in half awake silence and headed out the door. We had almost a 3 hour drive ahead of us, heading south to Colorado Springs and then west into the mountains. We arrived at Eleven Mile Canyon just as daylight was break-ing and followed a winding dirt road until we reached the landmarks along the river that we were given. We found that two guides and about six other gentlemen were in “our” spot. So we parked just ahead of them along the dirt road and hiked down the canyon until we reached the river bed. As we cleared the trees and reached the river, we saw huge boulders breaching the water and beautiful stone canyon walls all around us. The water was clear, and the river beds were lined with large river rocks and sand. It was stunning.
As I was standing there admiring the canyon’s river, I watched Rainbow Trout dart by close to my feet, then few Cutthroats hole up, and the occasional Brown Trout pass by. After watching the river for a bit in awe, we set our gear down on the bank, set up our fly rods, and decided on where we wanted to start fishing.
The water was clear and lucent from the sun, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We split up on the river and I took a deep hole below some rapids. Keeping a low profile behind a smaller boulder sticking out of the river and I worked on my rusty casting skills. We had already missed the hatch that morning, so faster water seemed to be the best choice for fishing. An hour or two of casting passed by of with no returns. I knew fish were there because I could see them, but why weren’t they biting? I tried each and every fly I had. We fished every single inch of the river we passed. But still, nothing. To make matters even more frustrating, I could hear the men we saw earlier in “our” spot hooting and hollering all morning long as they landed fish. Nonetheless, I stayed persistent. I knew I wasn’t leaving that river without landing at least one Rainbow, period.
Another hour passed by with no action, so we decided it was time for a break. Ashley and I headed back up to the car and grabbed some lunch. About the same time, the gentleman who were fishing below us on the river were walking down the dirt road back to their trucks. So I smiled, said hello, and made friendly conversation with them. We talked about the fishing and the different flies and how my morning was slow, not even a bite. This seemed to honestly confuse them since they had done so well, which didn’t make me feel any better. When their guide made it up to the van, I approached him to ask him for some tips, because I was feeling a little desperate. He wasn’t as friendly as his clients but we weren’t paying him for his time though, so I couldn’t totally blame him. I didn’t pry long and went back to talking to the family.
Next up the canyon, headed towards us was the second guide. He was a younger guy, who didn’t come off very friendly either so I didn’t even bother asking him for any advice. After finishing our sandwiches we said good bye to everyone we met and headed back down to the river. This time we hiked down to the spot those guys had just left. This section of the river was much wider than the section we previously fished. The water was deeper here, big boulders split the river in half. The river flowed down to a shallow section with fast water, just before it turned into a small waterfall. We looked over the river as we stood there and instantly saw trout, a lot of them. Many were much bigger than anything we had seen yet. This made me hopeful again, and I forgot about the slow morning we just had. But, another hour went by of us playing the same game as before, working up and down the river, and no action.
Out of nowhere, walking down the river bank, came that second river guide we saw on the dirt road earlier. He walked up to us and immediately reached into his front pocket of his waders and took out a little fly box, grabbing my fly rod from my hands. He examined my set up, took out his knife and cut my line off. He then tied on two new flies, and replaced my indicator. He looked at me and asked, “Do you know how to cast?” I nodded my head yes and he handed me back my rod and walked across the river to where Ashley was. I went back to fishing with all hopes high again, working a small part of the river for the next half hour. I saw our new guide friend, giving Ashley fly casting lessons. Together they worked the opposite side of the river. He pointed at fish and she would cast. We all worked our way down to the shallow, faster part of the river.
They took the right side of the river, so I took off on the left. I walked around where a little island of river rock was and searched for fish, taking my time. The guide appeared again ahead of me about twenty-five feet and pointed at a good size Brown Trout that I had missed. I cast once above the fish, but missed his line of action. Then I cast again and he hit it hard! Finally, after hours of fishing I was hooked up to a nice trout. My fish took off across the river full speed. I took off right after him doing my best to not fall in the river, keep him hooked and my line tight. He took a quick right and was headed downstream, now towards the waterfall. I got him turned and let him run back up the river again. He jumped the water trying to shake the hook. The river guide was fast ahead of him at all times with his net. Together, we got the him into shallow waters again and into the net. I could’t stop smiling, we released him after a quick photo and he headed for deep water. My first Brown Trout ever and I had worked hard for him.
Soon after, the guide had Ashley hooked up to a nice Rainbow Trout on the other side of the shallows, and they quickly landed the monster sized trout. Hours on hours with no fish before, now meant nothing to us. I’m not sure what we would have done without the help from our new friend. He was pretty stoked as well and decided his good deed for the day was over. He said his good byes but not before getting us set up for the next day. I couldn’t thank him enough for taking his time to fish with us and teach us what we had been doing wrong. Thanks to his advice, we landed a quite a few more fish on our own that evening before the sun set on us. After we packed up, we set down on cliffs of the canyon wall, looking down to the river. Surrounded by stunning landscape, the challenging fishing, and the kindness of a stranger who saved the day. We equally agreed it was one of those trips you just won’t forget. We even extended our trip a day to do it again the following morning. We were hooked.