Imagine. There you are standing thigh-high in a rushing glacial river, rod in hand, trying to catch Mr. Big. You wait patiently. Nothing. Maybe the fish aren’t hungry today, you tell yourself. A giant rainbow trout leaps out of the water nearby as if to taunt you. Grrrrr. This has historically been my experience fly fishing. An exercise in futility and frustration. While everyone may agree that fly fishing is a beautiful, serene sport, no one said it was easy.
On a recent trip to Beaver Creek my husband and I decided to try our hands at Colorado fly fishing in the hopes of actually catching something. Set in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Beaver Creek (about a 2-hour drive from Denver) is a quaint mountain town of high-end shops and fancy restaurants catering to elite retirees and ski fanatics. During the winter season, fresh white powder draws many skiiers to this resort town. But come summer, it’s mountain biking, hiking and fly fishing that appeals, which is why set my sights toward this scenic escape for a guided Colorado fly fishing adventure along the Eagle River.
I’ve always loved the look of the sport. Perhaps it was the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It” that made fly fishing so attractive. Casting a glistening line into a babbling brook and plucking out a feisty rainbow trout with finesse … what a perfect scene. Maybe it was the idyllic, natural beauty — more likely it was the dreamy young Brad Pitt — but ever since that movie, I’ve had romantic notions about fly fishing.
With that in mind, we booked a half-day trip with Gore Creek Fly Fishermen. Open year round (apparently you can fish in the winter, but their busiest seasons are obviously the summer months), Gore Creek Fly Fishermen is Vail Valley’s oldest fly fishing shop that’s been in operation for 35 years.
The hubby and I began our Colorado fly fishing adventure at their store in Beaver Creek. We signed some papers, paid for our fishing licenses and geared up in oversized Gortex waiters and boots. We met our guide Cooper Anderson, a 35-year-old Vail native who has been fly fishing for 25 years and has been guiding with Gore Greek for since 2002. He welcomed us and made sure our gear fit properly, before we all piled into his SUV and made the five-minute drive to Eagle River.
The Eager River is one of Colorado’s largest freestone rivers and runs through the heart of the Vail Valley. There is a catch-and- release policy here, with anglers catching mostly Brown and Rainbow trout. This stream had some deep pockets and some fast moving white water, perfect for hungry fish.
Cooper gave my husband and me a quick lesson on casting, walked us though the basics and had us fishing in under 10 minutes. As expected, my first few casts were a wee bit clumsy. I snagged my line on some logs and rocks, but with Cooper’s guidance, I mastered the roll cast pretty quickly. “Newbies tend to worry too much about the perfect cast and they cast too far. All the fish we’re going to catch today are typically within 15 feet from us. Instead, you should shorten up the cast and worry more about the drift,” he explained.
The drift? I looked at him inquisitively. He explained that you want your flies to drift downstream naturally, and let the current do the work. If the flies don’t move naturally, trout won’t trust it and won’t eat it. “Just like if your hamburger started to move, you’d think that was weird and wouldn’t want to eat it,” joked Cooper. “A drag-free drift is key, that’s what we’re striving for.” Cooper had put several flies on the line, including one that mimicked the stone fly, a.k.a the Filet Mignon of the river. Surely that would entice them!
I watched my strike indicator (or bobber) with intensity, waiting for any sign that a fish may be taking a nibble below the water’s surface. Nada. Another cast. Another cast. Another cast. “Always set the hook, don’t question it, just pull,” Cooper suggested. Cast, wait, nothing. Frustration was starting to creep in. As I quickly learned, like many things in life, fly fishing is much harder than it looks. Casting, achieving a natural drift and setting the hook takes practice … and patience.
I repeatedly cast the line upstream, when suddenly I saw the strike indicator dip a little under the water. I set the hook with a quick snap of the wrist. I felt resistance and suddenly what felt like a Moby Dick sized trout pulled away, making a mad dash downstream. I braced myself, let him take some line and tried not to let him off the hook, bringing him closer and closer to shore where Cooper was standing by to scoop him up in a net. Success!!! I caught a beautiful brown trout!
While I was absolutely thrilled with my catch, I think Cooper was even more excited. He later confessed that, “I get more excited to watch people catch their first fish than I do catching my own. I guess I just like to share my passion and introduce people to the sport.” I handled the trout’s silky smooth body proudly for a photo op and then gently released him back into the wild unharmed.
It was a beautiful day on the river. A visit here gave me the chance to enjoy Colorado’s natural beauty, breathe in the fresh mountain air and unleash my inner angler.
WHAT TO BRING: Most Colorado fly fishing guided tours provide all gear, water and granola bars. All you have to bring is a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and socks (so your feet are more comfortable in the boots).
FREE FLY FISHING CLINICS: For those who want to tackle the river solo, Gore Creek Fly Fisherman’s shops offer free casting clinics daily at Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa during the summer months, so it’s a great opportunity to practice your cast for free.
WHERE TO STAY: My husband and I stayed at the Westin Riverfront for the weekend. Beyond great service, elegant suites (some complete with fully-equipped kitchens), to-die-for chocolate chip cookies and a gorgeous lap pool, this Westin location also has a great restaurant called Maya. It’s a trendy spot set against a mountain backdrop, that serves up modern Mexican cuisine and creative tequila cocktails. Must orders are the Tableside Guacamole, Blue Crab & Shrimp Enchilada and the Prime Flatiron Carne Asada. We like Maya so much we went back several times during the weekend. After all, you’ve got to fueled up before your next big catch, right?