Time: 12:30PM – 2:30PM
Location: Upstream from Turquoise Lake Road
“You win some; you lose some” Unknown
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” Benjamin Franklin
What could these quotes have to do with my fly fishing adventure on Wednesday, August 2, 2017? The highlight of Wednesday was the hike, that Jane and I completed to Timberline Lake near the western tip of Turquoise Lake.
We found a nice campsite at the Father Dyer Campground, one of many campgrounds along the eastern shoreline of Turquoise Lake on Tuesday night. We lived in Colorado for twenty-seven years, yet we never spent any time in the Turquoise Lake Recreation Area, and we corrected that shortcoming on Tuesday and Wednesday. We were both surprised by how close the eastern side of the lake is to Leadville, as my iPhone maps application indicated roughly three miles and eight minutes, and this proved to be correct.
On Tuesday evening I met Jane at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center along Harrison Avenue in Leadville, and we then parked our cars on Seventh Avenue next to a large church. We decided to walk up and down the main street to scope out possible eating establishments, and then we returned to the Periodic Brew Pub on Seventh for a craft beer. While strolling north on Harrison, we noticed some dark clouds and heard distant thunder, so after draining our brews, we drove Jane’s car to a parking lot near Manuelita’s Cantina. We enjoyed some tasty chips and salsa, and we each ordered and consumed pork tamales, while the skies opened and flushed sheets of rain on the high elevation mining town.
We waited out the storm, and then Jane dropped me off at my car, and we followed the aforementioned map app directions to the Father Dyer Campground. We cruised Baby Doe first, but as a result of its close proximity to the lake, it was nearly full. Campsite number twenty was our choice, and it provided a nice amount of space, although the table and ground were quite saturated from the recent storm.
Before embarking on the fishing/camping venture, we reviewed the National Geographic maps for the area, and we spotted a four mile round trip hike to Timberline Lake. This became our destination for Wednesday, so after packing up our gear including a wet tent, we drove seven miles along Turquoise Lake Road to the western most point along the lake. We stopped several times along the way to check out overlooks and snapped a few photos.
The trailhead coincided with an access point to the Colorado Trail, and six cars preceded us to the parking lot. We departed at 9:40 and returned by noon. The climb was gentle for the first mile, but the topography shifted to challenging steeps for the second half. The climb was well worth it, as the small lake nestled among Rocky Mountain peaks was spectacular to behold. We snapped a few photos and found some perches on the large rocks and enjoyed some snacks, before we said goodbye to the beauty and the wind.
Upon our return to the trailhead parking lot, Jane and I ate our lunches, and then Jane departed for her return trip to Denver. I meanwhile prepared for my fishing adventure for the day. When I planned the trip, I debated between trying the Reddy SWA south of Leadville or Busk Creek. Busk Creek was a small high mountain stream a mile or two south of the Timberline Lake trailhead. Since we were within minutes of Busk Creek, I decided to give it a look.
I returned to Turquoise Lake Road and turned right, and after passing May Queen Campground I passed over a small tumbling creek. Two cars were parked near the stream, and a couple was posing for a selfie on a large boulder just above the road. I continued beyond the stream and executed a U-turn, and parked in a narrow pullout twenty yards past the stream. The weather on Wednesday was quite variable, as it vacillated between sunny and mid sixties and cloudy and cool. I debated wet wading and finally took the plunge and pulled on my quick-dry pants and wading socks. I rigged my Orvis Access four weight, and I was set to explore new water.
I surveyed the terrain west of the road, and I noticed a dirt path that climbed a steep bank and then continued into the evergreen forest. Rather that returning to the stream crossing and disturbing the selfie creators, I scrambled up the bank and hiked for fifty yards, and then I cut through the forest to the stream. As I expected, the creek was no more than ten feet wide in most places, and the high gradient manifested itself with a series of fast runs, pockets and plunge pools. Clearly this was going to be fast paced fishing with a few casts in likely spots and constant movement.
I started my quest for mountain trout with a size 14 yellow stimulator, but it was soundly ignored. I was not certain if this testified to a lack of fish, or if it was a rejection of my fly choice. I crossed the small creek to the north side, and here it was evident that quite a few folks had preceded me, and I suspected that many were fishermen. This observation was clear from the wear of the path and obvious creekside casting platforms.
After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting, I paused, and as I pondered my next move, I spied two large green drakes that cruised skyward from the surface of the tumbling stream. What a fortuitous discovery! This made my choice easy, and I quickly knotted a Harrop hair wing green drake size 14 to my line. The observation paid off as I landed a small brown and then a second brown that stretched to ten inches. I was not sure I would land more fish, so I snapped a quick photo and moved on.
I was feeling rather smug about spotting the green drakes and making the change, but then I suffered through a lengthy lull with no action. The stream was so fast that even the few pockets that I prospected were rather marginal, so I continued on with the green drake hoping that I would encounter some larger trout holding pools. As these thoughts were passing through my brain, some very dark clouds moved in from the southwest, and this was accompanied by distant thunder. I decided to demonstrate uncommon preparedness, and I slid into my raincoat. The move was just in time, and sheets of rain descended upon my wide brimmed hat and rain coat. Of course I was wading wet, so it seemed kind of pointless to keep my upper body dry while standing in water, but I needed all the warmth I could gather.
A flash of lightning startled me, so I retreated back along the path to a place under an overhanging cliff, and I waited there for five minutes until the sky brightened in the west. I returned to my exit point, and in a short amount of time I approached a gorgeous wide deep pool. My first thought was that this was the prime spot on the entire drainage, and consequently it absorbed the attacks of all manner of bait, spinner and fly fishermen. What were the chances of landing a fish here? I cast the green drake to all the corners of the pool, but as I expected no reaction was forthcoming.
Just prior to reaching the pool, I began to consider a dry/dropper approach, and given the quality water in front of me, I decided to give it a try. I removed the green drake and tied a size 12 Chernobyl ant to my line, and then I extended some tippet off the bend and attached a beadhead hares ear. Surely any self respecting wild trout could not resist my beadhead hares ear nymph. I lobbed a backhand cast to the left side of the pool, and as expected it drifted unmolested to the tail. Why not go for the jugular? I flipped a second cast to the current that ran through the core of the pool, and the Chernobyl drifted at a moderate pace over the deepest area and approached the tail. As I looked on, a sizable fish materialized from the depths, and it quickly turned its head in the vicinity of my trailing nymph! In a nanosecond my brain recognized what happened, and I lifted the rod tip and found myself attached to a fourteen inch brown trout in a tiny mountain stream near Turquoise Lake. What a thrill!
I cautiously played the fish as it charged about the confined space, and then I slid my net beneath the small stream Goliath. I could not believe my eyes. I snapped a few photos and released my prize catch and proceeded up the steep creek with renewed optimism.
I was sold on the Chernobyl/hares ear combination, and I attacked the deepest holes and pockets with elevated enthusiasm. The hares ear managed to attract one more small brown trout, and then I suffered through an hour of futility. Another series of dark clouds passed overhead, and the wind kicked up, and short periods of light rain returned. My hands morphed into curled claws, as the evaporating moisture created a cooling effect. In truth the quality of the water was very marginal, as the flow rushed downhill and bounced through a never ending boulder field. I combined all these factors with my extreme discomfort from wading wet in fifty degree temperatures with no counterbalancing effect from the sun, and I decided to hustle back to the car.
Upon my return I quickly jettisoned the wet clothes, and initially I planned to spend the next couple hours at the Reddy SWA. However, as I began to drive back to the east, I looked at my watch and realized that it was 3:15. By the time I reached the SWA parking lot and pulled on my waders, it would be at least 3:30, and that allowed merely another hour or two of fishing. Logic overcame my desire to fish, and I made the return drive to Denver. Judging from the weather that I encountered on the two hour drive, I made the correct decision.
If I were to return to Busk Creek, I would probably drive on the Hagerman Pass road until it meets Busk Creek, and then I would hike farther from the starting point to get away from the easy to access pressured areas. In all likelihood I will never return to Busk Creek, and going forward I will refer to it as Bust Creek. I managed to land a gorgeous fourteen inch brown trout, and I only invested two hours, but the effort and adversity did not justify the results. I ventured, but I did not register a gain. In this case I lost, but I will continue to explore new areas to widen my fly fishing destination options.
Fish Landed: 4