Monday, February 21, 2011


Got a bit distracted there, appreciate your patience everyone!

Been kicking this post around for a bit, wondering how to best convey heart-thumping elation and crushing disappointment both.

Time to get on with it- I think I'll shoot to dwell more on the experience as a Whole, less on the fact I got schooled yet again this year down in the depths of the Gorge. 

Less painful that way, I'm sure you'll sympathize.
happiness is an empty lot
I've been fishing each year in the Rio Grande Gorge for some time now, most often in the Fall, other years in February-March.  Fall offers predatory browns ambushing big streamers, late winter: big cuttbows making their way into the Red for their annual spawn.
opportunity dawns

hella climb
In my experience, fishing the Red in Winter offers the more challenging fishing- limited water, your quarry fewer in number, less avaricious than those hook-jawed browns of Fall.  Up from La Junta, there's a scant 3/4 fishable miles on the Red before you find yourself squeezed by basalt boulders the size of Winnebegos, forming glory pools dark and deep.  And swift!  Setting up a drag-free drift thru the depths requires a metric ton of weight, only to get hung-up, broken off on unseen boulders lurking below.  Again.

Wading in the Red's box is next to impossible thru the deep runs.  Instead, you're scrambling over basalt boulders slick as snot, fighting your way through streamside brambles and thickets.  And just when you've exhausted yourself from the day's fishing do you remember you still have that killer scramble back to trailhead before you even attempt the 800' climb out of the Gorge.

black canyon

So what's the attraction?  While the Red offers a good mix of homegrown browns and 'bows, resident thirteen-inch fish can be found elsewhere at lesser cost.  No, it's those Cuttbows, many of considerable size, that keep this angler coming back despite the abuse. Paired with the absolute Wildness of the Gorge, the experience proves an unshakable Addiction.

Year after year.

So that explains the sentiment last year as I turned away from the Red, having been schooled by no less than two bruisers for the day.  One, a leaper, thumbing his nose before parting my tippet.  The other, more torpedo than fish, unseen but for the line ripping thru the water, on around that last boulder and on down to the Rio in a blink of an eye.  Defeated, I trudged that long climb out of the Gorge, and mentally refought every mistake on the long drive home.
victimized by crane fly larva, #14
resident bow

Fast-forward to just last week, and I'm brawling toe-to-toe with this year's Adversary.   Gorgeous cuttbow, vivid crimson flanks, 18 inches if he's an inch.  Luck is in my favor as he continues to bulldog upstream into the  heart of the plunge pool, sapping his strength, where a more crafty fish would bolt downstream to safety.

Finally I have his head up, my moment of Victory is nigh!  He's now broadside to the current, I'm reaching across body to net him with my left hand.  Just one thing- we're at the bottom of the slick, where the current squeezes out of the pool and down into the next.  My quarry, broadside still, begins to gather steam as the current quickens.  In slow motion, I realize I'm about to blow it, I have now just one moment of opportunity before our roles are reversed.  My heart beating in my throat, I strike out with the net, execute the scoop, I have you now.  No wait! Balancing momentarily on the net rim, in a wink he's out and gone, leaving me staring at net, sans fish, and opportunity, lost.


The black canyon walls echo my pain on down the canyon, themselves silent and unmoved, impartial witness to the failings of Man As Angler.

la junta
Later that afternoon, on the long hike out, I take a moment to catch my breath on a switchback far above the canyon floor.  Looking back down into the Gorge, still in the black funk of Fail, I wonder why it is that I keep coming back to this Place.  Turning away, the slow, steep climb offers plenty of opportunity to re-fight every mistake, which I do sure enuf, again and again. Before achieving the rim, breathless, bruised, ego battered, I'm vowing to never return.

Yet, back at home, even as I write this, I find myself wondering if I can squeeze another trip down into the Gorge before snowmelt this Spring.  There's that small matter of a score to settle, yet more cuttbows to chase. 

Addiction can be a funny thing that way.

trail's end


  1. If you land them, you get home thinking about how soon you can get back. If you loose 'em, you get home thinking about how soon you can get back.

    Great photos, and a good story.

  2. hahahahaha- you are soo right Eben, damned if we do, damned if we don't, thx for the laff!

  3. Great photos as always. That stairway down looks like a ball-buster. Sounds like it is worth it though. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I am now mulling the idea if I were to fish down there more often, I'd increase my chances for success. I need help. ;-)

    RE: staircase- it's near the rim, so it's somewhat of a welcome sight on your return climb, until you realize you still have to climb the bugger, ugh.

  5. Sounds like a great place to get your butt kicked by the environment and the fish. Makes me want to live out west.

  6. no guarantees down there, that's for sure. Pack a rod, book a trip Jay! mike