Two old friends get together in Salida for one last trout trip
By Jim Aylsworth
While my dear friend Dick and I would enjoy fishing anywhere together, for this trip we chose to explore the water around Salida, Colo. Upon seeing him at the airport I knew better, but just couldn’t help myself. In the age of COVID-19, I hugged him, and started our trip off a little dubiously.
On the way to our cabin, with a bright sun overhead and friendly waters beckoning nearby, we did the only natural thing for folk like us — we went fishing. Without the benefit of a guide, we waded a well-known stretch of the Arkansas River about 10 miles below Salida. We fished with a popular dry-dropper rig, not knowing whether the fish would be looking up or down. But apparently, they weren’t looking at all because both of us fished hard for three hours without catching anything.
Monday turned out to be our most productive day of fishing, in terms of success. My favorite river guide from ArkAnglers is Jera “Pink” Vinton. He took us down the middle section located in the rocky Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
We fly fishers love our gear, but sometimes our gear does not love us. Dick had a reel that did not have a drag and after he caught a trout in the fast water we had to wait until we hit slow water to bring it in —he was unable to get the fish on the reel. Absent that control on the reel, with fish up to 18 inches being caught, it became a long and difficult battle in the rapids. Pink called him on “milking” the fish, or playing it too long. Lesson for all fly anglers: there is a reason for a reel other than line storage. With the right amount of drag, they can help you land fish without exhausting them. Tired fish faced with myriad environmental challenges often don’t survive the catch-and-release experience.
We had a different guide from ArkAnglers on Tuesday. We floated with a former rodeo clown named Travis Anderson. If he could dodge bulls and horns all day, we thought he’d have a decent chance of avoiding our hooks as they sailed around his head. He survived the day unscathed.
Wednesday we decided to hike to an alpine lake. Dick, like many in our generation, has gained some true wisdom over the years. I suggested we stop and return to the car since the altitude was getting to old farts like me who live at sea level. Then Dick reminded me that we may never be able to do this again in our lives, so we had to reach the lake at 11,000 feet. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and eventually we made it. We only saw one other angler that day, and unlike us, his climb was rewarded with a couple of wild cutthroat trout. Another lesson: hike a bit and you’ll fish with fewer anglers. You’ll also cast to fish in cold, clean water that can likely handle a little more pressure.
On our slow and careful hike down the mountain, we heard someone behind us yell, “Coming up on the right!” Dick and I had to step off the mountain trail for a young man who was running the entire way down the mountain. Watching him run the trail as we poked our way downhill was a melancholy reminder of our fading youth.
On our last day, we got together with the best instructor at ArkAnglers, head guide Stuart Andrews, to fish Antero Reservoir. Dick’s first impression of this stillwater was a good one. It looked like Lago Strobel (Jurassic Lake in Argentina) without the surrounding calcified rock. No trees, no bushes, just a constant wind coming down from the Rocky Mountain peaks to this clear reservoir in the high South Park valley. Using a three-nymph rig with a strike indicator (which less-discerning anglers might call a “bobber”) we cast from the churned up water in the waves at the shoreline to the clear water about 30 to 40 feet farther out. Eventually, we were each rewarded with several huge brown trout in the net.
Even before dropping Dick off at the airport for his flight home, I was already beginning to miss my old friend. The older I get the more I appreciate the love of a good friend. Famous author and one of my favorite philosophers, C. S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… it has no survival value, rather is one of those things that gives value to survival.”
Jim Aylsworth is a 45-year member of Trout Unlimited who, in his words, took the philosophical journey from “Drill, baby, drill!” to “Stop Pebble Mine!” He lives in Texas and is a member of the Guadalupe Trout Unlimited Chapter, the largest TU chapter in America.