(Day One: Part One).
There’s an old idiom lightning never strikes twice, which means that most people believe that the same rare thing never happens to a person twice. From my first day of fishing in Colorado with Brother Shawn, I can testify that lightning sometimes does strike twice in the same place–and in more ways than one.
To our chagrin, the Arkansas River was once again blown out for my fourth annual Colorado fishing trip in June of 2016. Like last year, Shawn and I would have to find other rivers to fish. As we discussed where to go, we talked about the epic fishing we experienced the previous year on a big creek named after the Indian word for a mountain pass where buffalo would cross over to the other valley (that’s the only hint I’m giving you) and a smaller tributary I’ll call, “Pine Creek.” Last year the fishing on Pine Creek was epic due to hatching Green Drakes, smaller stone flies, Yellow Sallies, and PMD’s.
“Do you think we’ll see any Green Drakes on Pine Creek?” Shawn asked hopefully.
“I think it’s possible,” I replied, “but my experience with Green Drakes is that they are hard to time correctly. It’s usually the classic: You should have been here yesterday! I say we give it a try anyway and hope for the best.” We both concurred that this was the game plan for our first morning.
When we pulled up to our parking spot early that morning, we both nervously walked up to the creek hoping to see some of the big green mayflies. The tea-colored creek appeared about the same exact flow as last year. It was as if we had never left. It didn’t take long before we saw a spinner drake dancing above a riffle.
“Brother, that’s a Green Drake! Can you believe that we timed this right?” Shawn exclaimed.
We both hustled back to the truck and rigged up our rods; Shawn, a Southern Appalachian Glass fly rod, and me a Tenkara USA Rhodo. I tied on a Green Drake Cripple and was on the creek fishing well before Shawn even had his rod rigged up. In fact, I had a nice brown hooked, landed and photoed before Shawn even stepped foot in the creek.
Shawn and I decided to fish upstream together and take turns at each likely looking pool, run, or bend. We were stoked to observe copious amounts of stoneflies, Yellow Sallies, Caddis, PMD’s and a few Green Drakes all along the creek. Despite the abundant tablefare, Shawn struggled at first to get the finicky browns to take his fly.
“Brother, it’s all about the drag free drift and keeping as much line off the water as possible. These fish won’t take your fly if they see your line. Tenkara is perfect for this little creek, because the fish are only seeing my fly,” I explained to Shawn. Shawn followed my advice and soon started catching fish in every likely looking spot with his glass rod.
After catching numerous nice brownies, I lost the Green Drake Cripple that had served me so well. Shawn struggled to catch fish on the various Stimulator patterns he had tied. We both naturally gravitated toward the classic Renegade in a size 12, which we tie with a red, purple or blue butt. In my opinion, the Renegade is one of the most versatile and effective attractor patterns ever created. We quickly found that Renegade worked just fine as we both caught numerous nice browns and brook trout.
The fishing on Pine Creek was technical in that we had to sneak into casting range to not spook the wary fish and then cast the fly precisely with a drag free drift. On one bend of the creek, Shawn watched a nice brown rise to the surface and eat a natural fly. He then cast the Renegade above the brown’s lie at the bend of the creek and we both watched as it drifted perfectly into position. Of course, the brown rose up, slurped it in and Shawn soon landed him. Multiple times that day Shawn said out loud: “My favorite fish of the day was that brown that I watched take a natural and then I got him to take my fly.”
“Yes, that was pretty darn cool, brother.” I had to agree.
As we had the previous year, we fished all the way up to where beaver dams blocked our progress. In the pond above the beaver dam, we watched trout sipping naturals on the glassy surface. I then cast the Renegade lightly to where we saw the last rise and the eager fish quickly gulped it in. When I set the hook, the acrobatic fish blasted out of the water unlike the browns and brook trout before. I quickly brought the rainbow to hand and we snapped a picture.
With our progress stymied, Shawn and I hiked out of the creek bottom though marshlands interspersed with wild irises–a favorite wildflower of mine–back to the road. We stopped at the truck for a break and cracked open two Boylan Root Beers.
“Here’s to hitting this creek perfectly two years in a row,” Shawn said as we clinked our bottles together.
“Amen to that brother.” The gourmet root beer was the perfect compliment to our morning.
Not wanting to call it quits on Pine Creek, we decided to hike downstream a ways and fish back up to the truck. As we hiked, three cow elk blasted out of the creek bottom and up a pine-covered hillside. We took it as a good omen. The creek downstream looked excellent and we were excited to give it a try.
We didn’t fish long, however, before a dark storm cloud rolled over the little valley. As we approached another little beaver pond, the heavens let loose with thunder and lightning. I don’t mind fishing in the rain, but standing in a creek with a lightning rod during an electric storm is just plain dumb.
“We better get the heck out of here!” said Shawn as we witnessed lightning flash overhead.
“Yeah, buddy. Let’s get out of Dodge!”
As we were both trying to get out of the creek, I stepped into thick mud and pea-sized gravel suddenly filled my Simms wading sandals making the going extremely tough and painful. Moreover, my fly snagged on a willow near the beaver dam and I struggled to get it loose. All the while, thunder boomed and lightning cracked all around me.
Not long after I pulled the fly free, marble sized hail starting to pummel us. Shawn decided that it was each for his own and he bolted down the trail to the truck as fast as he could. I, on the other hand, hobbled along as the gravel in my sandals tortured my poor feet. Yet, I didn’t dare stop to take off my shoes because of the overhead onslaught of hail that stung my neck, ears and arms. My only recourse was to pull my fishing vest up over my head and keep moving. To my relief, I soon saw the truck and jogged over to it despite the rocks in my sandals.
By the time I reached the truck, there was an inch of hail on the ground. As I took shelter in the truck, Shawn laughingly reported that he had filmed my misfortune with his phone.
“Dude, that really sucked!” I hollered, “But it was kind of awesome too! I’m just glad we didn’t get struck by lightning. I couldn’t go any faster because I had rocks in my sandals!”
“That was dang scary! I had rocks in mine too, but I ran anyway.” Shawn replied.
Despite the crazy weather, we both agreed that the morning was a stellar success. Lightning had struck twice both figuratively and literally. Any way you slice it, this was an adventure to remember.