South Platte

December 11th, 2006

Tributary Five
Honors Fishing
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

"...but humility comes before honor." Proverbs 18:12b

Listening to the man with the tan vest had been so interesting and insightful. The time passed quickly as he recounted tale after tale. The more I listened, the more I thought of fishing as a time for relaxing rather than one of obtaining trophies or meals. The more I listened, the more I thought of fishing as a time of companionship and traditions. The more I listened, the more I wished time would stop. I wanted to hear the tales of experiences long past, tales of experiences of friendship and camaraderie, tales of experiences of...

"Dusk arrived. I had time to fish one more short section of the South Platte before complete darkness descended. A group of boulders fractured the steady current in midstream, creating washes on both sides of the boulder and a deep backwash behind it. From fifteen feet away, I made a cast upstream into the backwash behind the boulder. The pull of the current on the fly line created a drag on the streamer. I lifted the rod tip to pull the fly line out of the main current, allowing the streamer to drift naturally a bit longer in the backwash. I thought the longer I could keep the streamer in the backwash, the better my chances would be for attracting a solid fish. I gave the rod a small tug to accentuate the movement of the white marabou of the streamer in the wash area behind the rock. WHAM! A good fish slammed the streamer. After a short fight, I landed a sturdy sixteen-inch brown trout. The trout was big enough to beat out the two fourteen-inch brown trout my son had caught earlier and earn the 'honors' for the best fish of the evening.

Sometime during the summer of 1999, we started a new tradition. When we would go fishing, at least a group of us, we would always confer the title of 'honors' to the fisherman with the best fish of the evening. The best fish of the evening was the one of greatest length. The award itself was only an honorary award, but within our little circle of fishermen, it made us feel like we were world-class fishermen.

Most of our honors fishing occurred along a stretch of the South Platte River adjacent to Happy Meadows Campground. Happy Meadows Campground lies along a three-mile stretch of the South Platte River running between the Tarryall Road and private land. The campground itself is very unassuming. It is a pay-by-the-night campground administered by the Colorado Department of Wildlife. It has only ten campsites, but those sites are seldom empty from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The three miles of public water contain a diverse set of fishing terrain. The underwater terrain forms deep holes, slow backwashes, and boulder-filled rapids, all with bottoms of gravel or mud. Occasionally a small island will divide the water leaving a greater amount of grassy shoreline for trout cover.

One warm spring evening in 2001, the fishing started with my son Alex at the lower stretches of the river, about one mile downstream from the campground. The lower stretch starts with a section of rapid water in a boulder-infested area. The rapids spill into a wider section of deep water with submerged rocks. There is a long stretch of wide, slow moving water, ending with the river trisected by two football shaped islands. The water at the ends of the islands is deeper and frequently holds some good fish. After the island, the river widens with a gentle inside curve to the downstream side. The bank is grassy and contains undercut banks, with an occasional rock to break the meandering current. During times of high water, wading is difficult because of the soft sand bottom.

As I fished a half-mile above the lower stretch, Alex enjoyed the evening by fishing a large streamer along the shores of the wider, deeper stretch below the islands. Occasionally I would land a small trout, usually ten to twelve inches. I fished the rapid water just above the lower stretch. Without question, we would always use a streamer. We have always had excellent response from the fish with streamers. As it began to get dark, I thought I would hustle down to where Alex was fishing to see how he was doing. I hurried down to the island and fished the far right side. When I got to the end of the islands, I sat down, rested, and waited for Alex to fish his way back up to me.

As he got near me, I called out and questioned Alex on the luck he was having. Since we couldn't hear each other over the rippling of the water, I just waited for Alex to work his way back to me. When he got to me, we sat and discussed our fishing fortunes of the evening. I caught and released several ten to twelve inch brown trout. Alex informed me he already gained the honors with a couple of fourteen-inch trout. We rested for a little longer, and waited for more darkness to cover the serene setting of the river.

I moved upstream to fish above the islands and Alex just stayed at the end of the islands and fished the far bank. I had barely traversed half the island, when I heard a loud splash and a yell from Alex, 'Hey Dad! I think I have a wall trout on the line!' I rushed back down to the end of the island staying far enough away so as not to interfere with the play of the fish. The darkness made it difficult to see the fish, but I knew it was a good fish since it stayed deep for a long time. As the fish weakened, we could see it was definitely the fish of the evening. The fish more often broke surface and revealed itself as a brown trout. Alex got it near shore, and as he touched it ever so slightly to pull it in, the fish rushed into another run at freedom. After several attempts to land the honor fish, it finally succumbed to our grasp. Upon inspection, we found it to be a twenty-inch brown with a substantial girth. It is always fun to earn the honors, but it is more fun to see the satisfaction of my children when they delight in the battle and victory of an honorary trout. This was a most pleasurable experience for me because I witnessed the struggle and triumph on this special evening.

To be continued... ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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