I fish the waters around Durango, Colorado regularly. Those waters include one of my favorites, East Fork of Hermosa Creek. But for some reason I always pass a beautiful, narrow stretch of the upper Hermosa as I forge ahead to my regular stomping grounds further behind the ski resort and on into the canyon.
This summer, Mark and I decided to stop at the waters we usually pass up. I checked off one of the boxes on my bucket list.
My bucket list is full of adventures and sights I’ve still not conquered. Some have made the list for sentimental reasons, some for pure excitement, and some because I like to be one of a small group to see or experience something.
Two places that sit unchecked on my bucket list are the Galapagos Islands where I can see Discovery Channel animals up close and personal and the Cave of Altamira with its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings from 15,000 some odd years ago.
I’m fascinated and drawn to seeing something from such a long time ago, something that early man or our pioneering fathers laid eyes on, whether an actual formation or an uncommon animal species. I cringe just thinking of all the species that are now extinct or are on their way out.
Colorado is home to three subspecies of trout (lucky fish) that were once near or considered endangered. The Colorado River cutthroat, one of the three species, landed in Colorado via glacial movement many lifetimes ago. Impressive that they survived the ice age at all, even though they are known more for their beauty than their brains. After years of being fished and crowded out by other species, the Colorado cutts began to dwindle and nearly made their mark on the federal endangered species list.
The stretch of river Mark and I usually pass up just happens to be restored with these feisty, fragile fish. In fact, efforts are underway as I write for even more miles of the East Fork of the Hermosa to be an exclusive home to these red-flanked beauties.
So here was my chance to see these creatures up close and personal and I don’t even have to go to the Galapagos Islands. I’m excited, I must admit. I get my camera and my rod ready and head through the tall grasses toward the water’s edge.
Most of the Colorado Cutts are easy to catch, another reason why their numbers diminished over the years. Except for this one big stubborn one. I saw him finning in a bend pool, confidently lounging, waiting for a treat. I cast upstream from him and watch as my fly naturally flows his way. His strike is electric. I jump and lose him. My chance is probably gone, but I’m stubborn and don’t want to leave. I want this fish. The water settles and I see him gliding back toward his lounging spot. I try again, but this time I’m ready when he strikes. And apparently, he was too. We play each other longer than any of these cutts typically fight. Tension bends my rod as I quickly let out line to play him some more. His splashes are noisy and constant. I begin stripping in line, bringing him closer when the tension suddenly disappears. My tippet has snapped and he is gone, again.But not for long.
Hopefully the tenacity of this stubborn, strong fish is a sign of genetics to come for the restored cutts. A fight for survival gene certainly can’t hurt a species trying to stick around. I land him this time on an Adams Wulff, a slow confident take, a strong refusal to the net.
I quickly inspect every inch of his intricately colored body while Mark snaps his camera like he’s a paparazzo. I gently return this strong colorful cutt to the river, moving him back and forth with the current, as his gills take in cold water and he powers up to return to another day of life on the East Fork of the Hermosa.
I’m grateful for the conservation groups that help balance the eco-systems and keep important pieces of our earth in tact for us to see year after year. Organizations like the Galapagos Conservancy and Trout Unlimited work diligently to meet conservation goals every year. Conservation comes in all shapes and sizes from being an active member of a group to donating money to a cause to simply following the regulations put in place by various environmental groups, like avoiding aquatic hitchhikers on wading shoes and boats, leaving historic sites untouched, packing out all trash, and not polluting.
Regulations when fishing for the Colorado River cutts include using artificial lures, practicing catch and release fishing, and minimizing the time the fish is out of the water.
Not passing up an opportunity led me to check off another box on my bucket list. I’ve still got the Rio Grand cutt to catch, and luckily that opportunity is just around the corner.
We all have opportunities that sit right in front of us and for some reason or another we don’t always act on them. Those opportunities may not be about fishing at all, but may be about our fitness, our diet, our career, or any number of things. Keep your eyes open for a new opportunity, you never know what you could be missing.