My wife thinks I'm crazy.
But the wide brimmed hat helps a lot when it rains.
Being able to stand under a bridge helps when it's REALLY raining.
And being in the right place at the right time when it stops raining is priceless.
Because when the rain stops, the air is filled with the sweet smell of mountain freshness that only an early summer rain in the Rocky Mountains can bring, and huge mayflies called Brown Drakes begin to erupt all around. They float past you on the river, some placidly waiting for their wings to dry enough to fly away and mate, while others struggle on the surface in a final attempt to shuck their nymphal cases. The strugglers get noticed quickly, and it isn't long before the water boils around them and they disappear into the mouths of fat, hungry rainbow trout. Now the trick is to fool those same trout into believing that the bundle of feathers and fur at the end of my line is just as edible as the naturals being so eagerly gobbled up all around me.
The Blue River of Colorado isn't long - maybe 50 winding miles at the most. It's one of those few enigmas of a river that along their entire course flow almost directly north. It starts as a trickle in the heights of the Continental Divide just south of the old mining-town-turned-ski-resort of Breckenridge. It flows smack dab through the picturesque center of that town and continues on, picking up volume from numerous small tributary streams and creeks before being stopped temporarily by the edifice of the Dillon Reservoir dam. Above the dam, sailboats ply across the surface of the lake in semi-regal regatta. Below the dam the water seeks its old riverbed almost directly beneath the I-70 bridge at the town of Silverthorne. Small crustaceans called mysis shrimp thrive in the deep, cold waters of the reservoir and multitudes get spit out with the water into the river below. Huge rainbow and brown trout gorge themselves on the rich nutrition and grow to 15 pounds in the immediate river below the dam and on through the town past outlet mall stores, million dollar homes and half million dollar condos.
This is Gold Medal water.
Artificial flies and lures only.
Catch and release.
About a mile north of Silverthorne the Gold Medal designation ends, and although you're still only allowed to use artificial flies and lures (until the river meets it's second stop at Green Mountain Reservoir), you are allowed to keep two fish on this stretch of river - just as long as they're more than 16 inches long.
Colorado State Highway 9 follows the river north for about 20 beautiful miles from Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir with numerous public fishing access pullouts, and one small, but very pretty riverside National Forest campground along the way.
Today I pulled over at the first river access- about 4 miles north of I-70 - and hurried into my waders and boots. It's 1:00pm and gray clouds are hanging overhead with darker skies to the west. Although 4 other vehicles are parked here, I see only one other angler in the water, about 100 yards upstream. Crossing a bridge to the opposite bank I notice the water running low and clear. Not sure what the fish are after I tie on a pair of old standbys - a #18 black RS2 and a trailing #20 beadhead brassie - and make my first casts from shore into an area of shallow riffles right below the bridge.
A light mist begins to fall.
To my left, just above the riffles and directly under the bridge the water deepens in a nice pool. I lengthen the depth of my strike indicator and casting sidearm I get my nymphs to the head of the pool and let them float smoothly through.
The mist turns to a light, but definite, rain.
Stepping into the shallow, riffled water in front of me, I continue casting upstream, then across toward the far bank where the water is running deeper and swifter past some deadfall pine trees with their branches dipping into the water like a pack of cub scouts cooling their feet after a long hike- all the time waiting for the delicate white fluff of the strike indicator to deviate in any way as it floats along in the current.
And the rain gets harder.
It's at this point that my wife would begin to question my sanity.
But it's just water - right?
Really.... It's this moment that differentiates the true ANGLER from the fisherman. The DEVOTEE from the novice. The HARDY from the faint-hearted.
The drunken DIEHARD from the clear-headed pragmatist.
Well, at least it ain't hail!
Just concentrate on casting.
Pea-sized raindrops explode from the sky.
I make my way back into the shallows and under the bridge, which affords surprising shelter from the deluge. And I continue casting with delicate sidearm casts........ but to no avail. All the fish are too busy laughing at me. And it's really hard to laugh and eat at the same time.
After ten minutes the rain begins to subside and I consider moving out from under my trestled shelter.
Then the magic happens.
As the last few raindrops dimple the water, swallows seem to appear out of nowhere and begin to swoop the surface of the river. Then, one by one, I see them. Huge inch and a half mayflies popping up from under the surface of the water. Drifting along like so much flotsam before taking to the air.... virtual helicopters. And suddenly I'm surrounded by them. They're on my jacket and my hat, and on my rod....... probably laughing at me.
The water starts to boil. First to the left, then the right, then straight ahead, then.....right at my feet. Trout appear to be everywhere, gobbling the floating insects with the gusto of a gourmand at an all you can eat 5 star buffet. My fingers can't move fast enough as I cut off the nymphs I had been fishing with and tie on a monstrous artificial dry fly - all brown feathers and chenille and hackle.
My first cast floats toward a feeding fish that instead takes the real thing floating a foot in front off my artificial. My second wraps itself around a girder of the bridge support.
Cuss words fill the air.
The insects suddenly take a wide berth of the invectives flying about me.
Cattle on a ranch down the road herd and scurry to the far corners of the pasture.
In the nearby foothills a mule deer and her fawn prick their heads up to attention.
And in the treeless, rocky heights of the Gore Mountains above me a small herd of mountain goats all simultaneously lose their footing.
Ten minutes of frustration and I'm finally free of the bridge and casting again. On the next cast my floating fly disappears in a swirl of water. I set the hook and my line races upstream, the hook set firmly in the jaw of a nice rainbow trout. It clears the water 3 times in an attempt to throw the hook, but the hook holds as I marvel at the fish's strength and it's silver and pink beauty. Against the flow of the current and the bend of my rod the fish finally begins to tire. The current brings it downstream toward me and I wade into knee deep water, netting the 15 inch trout as it's about to slip past me. Keeping the fish and the net in the water, I extricate the hook from its jaw with a surgical hemostat and release it in a pool of slow moving water. The fish hovers for about 30 seconds in the water at my feet and I marvel at it's ability to blend in with the rocky riverbed making it almost indistinguishable even just a foot away.
Then it scoots away.
For the next 45 minutes I hook and land four more fish - and hook and lose almost a half dozen more.
Then with the storm clouds moving east over the Williams Fork Mountains, the sun emerges into the clear sky to the west.
And as quickly as it began - the magic stops.
The swallows disappear to wherever swallows disappear to. The insects that were so ubiquitous only minutes before, are suddenly gone. And the bustling surface of the water reverts to a placid calm save for its incessant babbling over rocks and riffles.
For another half-hour I continue fishing the large, dry, brown drake to no avail. The fish know the hatch is over and despite their pea-sized brains, they aren't about to be fooled.
I switch back to using a brown drake nymph with a trailing copper john, but the satiated fish just sit along the bottom, smoking after dinner fish cigars, and laugh at me again.
I look up to the bridge and into the soft green eyes of a surprisingly attractive, redheaded woman, dressed in full fly fishing regalia - and recognize her as the other angler who I had spotted when I parked.
"Not any more," I reply from below. "But it was really nice about an hour ago. You??"
"A coupla' 13 to 15 inchers. One keeper," she responds, leaning over the railing as I try to tighten up my technique. "Caught the keeper when the drakes appeared and somebody started cussing up a storm."
"You heard that too?" I ask in feigned collaboration. "Glad that one didn't stay around long - could've ruined the moment."
"Eh.... Probably had good reason," she shrugs, then stretches. "Well, good luck."
I watch as she crosses the bridge and walks down the path toward the parking lot, and admire how some women can look great no matter what they wear.