South Platte

October 23rd, 2006

Tributary One - South Platte Chronicles
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

Once Upon a Time in South Park

"In the beginning... Gen. 1:1
The first time I met the Gentleman of the South Platte, I was fortunate to talk to him for over an hour. He told me several stories of his experiences of fishing the South Platte River. His eyes glistened with excitement as he recounted the tales. His words flowed like the river itself. His face radiated the excitement as he began to tell of the first time he fished the South Platte River...

"I sat on the bank and watched Yooper Bill flip dry flies upstream toward the remains of a railroad bridge. There were four pairs of pillars, large enough to carry the weight of a train. The current cascaded around the pillars leaving ample cover for the fish. As I watched, Yooper Bill told me of his success, each fish he caught was bigger than the last. First, an eight-inch brown, then a ten-inch rainbow, then a twelve-inch trout, and finally a fourteen-inch trout, which he released only a few minutes before I arrived. I trekked a short distance upstream from the remains and watched more as Bill pitched dry flies toward the east bank of the river. In our conversation, Bill revealed he had thoroughly fished the middle pillars. Since Bill had fished the surface, I thought a fly underwater might interest a trout. From upstream, I could easily make several casts between the pillars. I tossed a size-eight streamer between the two middle pairs of pillars. I will never know exactly what type of trout attacked the streamer when it hit the water, but one thing was certain, it was a BIG fish. The tippet and fly line ricocheted directly back at me from the force of the eruption. I found no streamer at the end of the tippet, only teeth marks marred the last four inches of the tippet. It was obvious Bill had seen the strike. His line and fly drifted aimlessly downstream as Bill stood dumbfounded. Our first trip to the South Platte, new water containing the reality of gold medal trout, left us speechless for some time as we reflected on the amazing fish that got away.

I first discovered the South Platte River of Colorado in the summer of 1990. The South Platte River flows through most of south Park County where dams form reservoirs in several places. The many miles of Gold Medal water present unique fly-fishing in both fast and slow water. The South Platte River flows through a variety of land formations including meadows, valleys, and canyons, as it follows its general northeast direction to the Denver area. The meadows can emanate a feeling of tranquility while, in stark contrast, as the river drops through narrow, rocky canyons, the switchback trails along the riverbank can leave a feeling of extreme apprehension. Whether an angler tosses dry flies on the meadow or drags nymphs through the canyons, the South Platte entices one to want more, whether it is more scenery, more fish, more excitement, or just more tales to spin.

The first time fishing the South Platte was with my companion, Yooper Bill. Bill was nicknamed Yooper Bill when I discovered he was a native of the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Bill is not technically a Yooper, but his familiarity with 'Yoopers' and their unique life style made it easy to give him the honorary title of Yooper. In Colorado, the only people who know of Yoopers are Midwest transplants and visiting Yoopers.

Yooper Bill is a tall slender gentleman with an intense love for the outdoors. He immediately fell in love with the Colorado atmosphere, especially fishing the mountain streams. Bill has a sense of humor consisting of one-line puns that would occasionally leave you puzzled. It was rare that one could get the best of Bill in a battle of cerebral puns. He and I would often cause many people around us to leave in frustration as we passed pun after pun back and forth on any given subject. On one occasion, I did get the best of Bill. He was talking of the general incompetence of a particular person. Bill referred to the person as one who is 'not be able to distinguish their rectum from a hole in the ground'. I immediately retorted to Bill that it would be best this person never take up golf. Bill thought for a minute. After he realized the implications of my comment, the day was a lost cause. He was unable to stay focused on work anymore.

For several years, Yooper Bill and I spent one weekend a summer camping and fishing. On the first of those summer weekend fishing excursions, we decided to try the South Platte River in South Park County. The portion of the South Platte we fished that day is gold medal water just outside the small village of Hartsel. The South Platte at this point flows through a high plateau meadow between Antero Reservoir and Spinney Reservoir. The expanse of the meadow reveals a contrasting splendor against the backdrop of the far-off mountains and bluffs. In the distance, Pikes Peak appears as only a small rise on the horizon. On a warm summer day, the intense heat of the high altitude plain can scorch a fisherman in little time. South Park is one of the few places I know where one can fish with rain gear and five minutes later apply a heavy dose of sunscreen. A fisherman can experience hot and cold all within the span of five minutes and this was one of those days.

Fishing the South Platte at Hartsel becomes difficult when no cloud cover is available. Bright sunlight kept the fish close to any cover found along the river. We were fortunate this day. The scattered cloud patterns were thick and filled with lightning and rain. As we fished, we could see patterns of rain, sun, and lightning in all directions. As the clouds passed overhead, we could not help but wonder if a stray lightning bolt would prematurely end our fishing. Lightning from a distance always holds a resplendent charm as it races from sky to ground, but the dangers are never far behind.

We parked in a small turn around area where a sturdy green stepladder allowed us to cross over the barbwire fence. After pulling on waders, and preparing the fly rods, we hiked directly south to the river through a large meadow of grass and wildflowers. We passed through gravel ditches, which displayed evidence of previous heavy rains and floods. The ten-minute walk brought us to the remains of an old railroad bridge. Yooper Bill would start downstream from the bridge remains and then work upstream. This pattern of fishing fit Bill since he enjoys his dry fly fishing. I started just downstream from Bill and worked a streamer heading in the opposite direction from Bill."

To be continued. ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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