By Randy Scholfield
We had only hiked a few miles into the Hermosa Creek backcountry when we heard something big crashing through in the brush just up ahead, across the creek.
“There it is!” whispered someone.
A cinnamon-colored bear loped up the steep slope, then sat on his haunches and stripped berries from bushes before ambling closer and padding along a fallen log, pausing and working it like a runway model as we snapped photos.
I had never fished Hermosa Creek, just outside Durango, but a group of TU staffers recently went on a three-day backpacking trip into this rugged backcountry, hiking the watershed top to bottom along the 18-mile Hermosa Creek trail—a magnet for anglers, hikers, bikers, campers, horsemen and other recreationists who share this vast playground.
Along on the trip was Scott Willoughby, outdoor writer of the Denver Post, who wanted to experience firsthand one of the state’s best wild places and learn more about TU's efforts to protect Hermosa.
What I saw confirmed the wisdom of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall and now before Congress, that would protect this watershed and its diverse uses forever.
Our group hiked through soaring stands of ponderosa, aspen, and fir, the trail at times paralleling the river closely, at other times hugging the steep rocky slopes high above the canyon. After a few hours of hiking, we found a beautiful campsite near a waterfall and quickly set up tents, all of us eager to break out our rods and hit the creek.
I was tired from the hike, but looking at Hermosa, the adrenaline kicked in. Here was a watery wonderland of holes, pocketwater, runs, riffles and other trouty structure.
As our trip guide, TU’s Ty Churchwell, pointed out, many stretches of Hermosa just don’t get much fishing pressure. It’s simply too far of a hike in for most anglers.
Which left miles of prime trout water to us.
I had a new Tenkara rod I was eager to try on this stream, and the simple Japanese fly-fishing outfit proved to be a perfect backcountry rod, once I got the swing of it.
The brookies and cutthroats certainly didn’t seem leader-shy. I saw a trout rising beneath an overhanging branch on the far bank and after a couple casts, managed to float a Stimi over his nose—and he was on and racing back and forth across the pool, making the limber Tenkara lunge and shake.
In an hour or two, the group had caught dozens of trout and kept a few for dinner.
That night, gazing up at the star canopy—wild constellations sparkling across the night sky, wild trout sizzling in foil in the campfire—I found myself thinking how incredible it was that this place exists just a few miles outside of Durango.
Randy Scholfield is TU’s communications director for the Southwest region.