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Humility and the Alluvial Fan

“Fishermen who miss church on holy days are not necessarily out of communication with God.”  Paul Quinnett, Fishing Lessons.


We spent this past weekend in northern Colorado fishing, for us, new waters.  Fishing reports were saying that the small streams in Rocky Mountain National Park were red hot and the Big Thompson below the Lake Estes was excellent.  We left late Friday afternoon with high hopes, new flies, and expectations of the grand slam in RMNP:  brown, brookie, cutthroat, rainbow.


Saturday in the Park was one of those days that I think Quinnett was referring to in the quote above.  The pure grandeur of the Park was breathtaking.  We first headed over to the Fern Lake trailhead, but it was so packed that we took the Park Ranger’s advice and headed over to the alluvial fan.  We didn’t feel like fighting many folks — kind of naive in the Park on a beautiful fall day – but we did find a less-crowded place to park near the small stream.  We put on a small dry and an ant and headed up stream.  


We each had one fish in the first 30 minutes or so — a small brook and a small brown.  As we headed upstream, the fishing slowed some but the beauty of the region stayed constant.  The weekend was one of those almost-classic fall days.  The only thing missing, surprisingly, were the yellow aspens. Except for a few streaks of gold across the mountainsides, and a small patches ot two of gold, the leaves have not yet changed here.  


By the end of the day, we each had another small brown — a humbling day for sure.  The cloudless blue skies, hot sun, and beautiful stream meandering through the meadow were God’s communciation this day.  On the way out of the Park we did see two beautiful herds of elk that served as another part of nature’s congregation.


Sunday morning arrived and we headed to fish the Big Thompson below Lake Estes for our return trip to the Springs.  Perhaps it was my own reluctance to switch from dries and terrestrials to nymphs that ultimately resulted in the frustration by day’s end.  Other than three strikes on a BWO and a Caddis, they were not taking anything we offered.  Of course, we should have switched for a longer period of time to something underneath but I love the thrill of the dry-fly strike.  


Two days prior, the river had been at 210 cfs.  Sunday, it was reduced to 70 cfs.  Maybe that contributed to our lackluster day on the Big Thompson.  I spooked many a fish and spoiled some pretty good holes, no doubt, just in my approach.  And maybe my own arrogance that they would certainly rise and take a BWO, an ant, a Red Quill — something on the surface — kept me from trying something else.  In one beautiful pool, I watched as two beautiful cutthroats surfaced to take a look at the Caddis, then the yellow Sally, then the small ant — only to turn away, steady themselves back in the current, and rise to something just in the foamy surface.


Around 4:00, we broke down our rods, humbly and quietly slipped off our boots and wet-wading socks, and packed up the car.  I wanted to curse the river and our bad luck — well, maybe I did curse it for a mile or two down highway 34.  Then we turned a corner and saw, up on the rough out-cropping on the side of the hills, a small herd of Bighorn Sheep.  The five or six Sheep were crowded on a very large rock, and they were surveying the hillside and the valley below.  We pulled over and watched them for a few minutes, the sound of the Big Thompson in the backdrop, the final light of the day illuminating the Sheep.  


And I thought of the quote from Quinnett above.  I would have loved to have caught a fish on this fall Sunday.  But at that moment in the evening, I didn’t really need to.  

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