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Recommendations in the American West for truly exceptional, off-the-radar fishing opportunities, that’s what we asked for from a number of well-established angling travel professionals. We told the agents to include information on everything from upscale lodges with private waters… to outfitters of backcountry fishing trips… to individual guides who excel at putting clients on fish. Not surprisingly, we got a LOT of information back, some of it of questionable value, some of it great. To separate the wheat from the chaff, we turned to Honor Roll subscriber Bob Peters of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Peters fishes far and wide in the American West and has enough experience and contacts to tackle a job like this. Here is what he came up with in a Part I Report on fishing opportunties out West. Stay tuned for part II next month. Enjoy!)
In the last month we’ve seen headlines about deadly riots in Thailand, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and volcanoes disrupting European air travel. Maybe it’s time to go exploring the American West. To help you do that, here are some suggestions sent to The Angling Report by major booking agents and personally checked out by me.
El Rancho Pinoso: This 970-acre working ranch outside Pagosa Springs along the Rio Blanco in southwestern Colorado gets its name from the enormous Ponderosa pine trees scattered through the area. The fishing here is on three different streams, all lovingly restored. The largest of the three is the Rio Blanco. The ranch offers three private miles of this river with deep pools and tailout riffles holding primarily rainbows of 16 to 21 inches. They also have seven miles on the Weminuche River, a moderate-sized meadow stream with rainbows and some large browns. It provides outstanding hopper and dry fly fishing. Finally, there’s the Piedra, a smaller high-country freestone stream with potential for a four-species Grand Slam of rainbow, brown and brook trout, plus Colorado cutthroats.
Two restored cabins on the ranch can each accommodate six to eight people, but the operator does not mix groups. That means that if your group meets the minimum guest number of four persons (maximum 16), you have the entire ranch to yourself. Non-anglers can ride horseback on the ranch property and the surrounding region, and there are sightseeing opportunities around Southwestern Colorado as well. El Rancho Pinoso was recommended to us by Ken Morrish of Fly Water Travel.
High Lonesome Ranch: This guest ranch outside of DeBeque, Colorado (near Grand Junction), is billed as a remote but extraordinarily civilized destination for anglers. Their slogan is: “Exactly as wild as you want it to be.” The operation includes two primary locations about an hour apart: one outside DeBeque and another outside of Meeker called K Bar T Ranch. The DeBeque fishing program was the subject of a very positive FREE fishing report by Jonathan Wexler in 2004 (see Article No. 1651 in our database).
The fishing at the DeBeque ranch is on a series of 20 to 30 small ponds strung down the valley, connected by North Fork Creek (a tributary of the Colorado). Callibaetis hatch frequently, offering sightfishing to cruising gulpers. The fishing at the K Bar T is wade-fishing for rainbows, browns and cutts on 5.5 private miles of the White River, or on 2.2 miles of the resort’s spring creek. Will Hobbs of The High Lonesome Ranch tells me that the hopper fishing on the White can be awesome.
The High Lonesome Ranch has hiking, riding, yoga, spa services, whitewater rafting and more for non-anglers. It also offers a cast-and-blast option for elk or mule deer, or wingshooting for pheasant or Hungarian partridge. High Lonesome Ranch was recommended to us by Tom Evenson, Western Director of the Endorsed Lodges, Outfitters and Guides program for Orvis.
C Lazy U Guest Ranch: This fishing outfit, also in Colorado, is the only guest ranch in North America awarded five diamonds by AAA and five stars by Mobil. The ranch is a little over a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport, just west of Lake Granby.
General Manager Brian Gardener tells me the ranch offers something for everyone in the family but brooks no compromise on the fishing. The fishing options include a beginner pond, a 30-acre float-tube pond and over two miles of Willow Creek right on the ranch. The ranch recently completed a $1.5 million restoration project on Willow Creek. The C Lazy U also has private permits on 1.5 miles of the Fraser River just five minutes away, plus their guides can take guests wade-fishing on nearby sections of the Fraser and the Colorado Rivers.
The C Lazy U has been operating as a guest ranch since the early 1900’s. If members of your party don’t fish, there is swimming, rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding, trap shooting, spa services and more. Lazy U was also recommended to us by Tom Evenson, Western Director of the Endorsed Lodges, Outfitters and Guides program for Orvis.
Antelope Creek Ranch: This ranch east of Mount Shasta in northern California is said to be so remote that there are essentially no external lights visible for miles. And that is said to make the stars in the night sky unbelievable. The lodge sits so close to Antelope Creek that anglers can almost fish off the deck. The fishing options include two miles of private water on Antelope Creek and two trophy trout lakes. The ranch is almost surrounded by National Forest land. Anglers who like to hike can fish an additional nine miles of Antelope Creek that flows within a roadless section of the National Forest.
Antelope Creek Ranch was recommended to us by Michael Caranci Of The Fly Shop in Redding, California. Caranci says The Fly Shop often conducts flyfishing classes and seminars at Antelope Creek Ranch because of its remote location, great fishing and good meals and accommodations.
Gunnison River Expeditions: This outfitter was the subject of a very positive subscriber report by Steven Shapiro back in 1997 (see Report No. 1875 in our database). GRE’s specialty is multi-day floats through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I talked with GRE owner Al DeGrange about the river and their operation, and I’m ready to book a trip myself.
The Gunnison River is a tailwater stream flowing through the Black Canyon in Black Canyon National Park near the towns of Gunnison and Montrose, Colorado. The river runs clear most of the year and has great hatches from March (bluewing olives) all the way into November (October caddis). Most famous, however, is the salmonfly hatch that usually occurs from late May until early July. When these bugs are out, the fish go nuts. And there are lots of fish to go nuts, as this Colorado Gold Medal stream has been documented at nearly 8,000 trout per mile. The salmonfly hatch was made famous by the film The Hatch, which shows incredible footage of big browns chasing big flies on the surface. The film can be viewed online at: http://www.feltsoulmedia.com/main.html. Click “The Craft” and then click “The Hatch”. If that doesn’t get your angler’s blood running hot, nothing will.
Gunnison River Expeditions runs trips from one to four days through the canyon, which includes Class III and IV whitewater sections. There are tent camps for the overnights. Brown trout are the predominant species, although rainbows are making a comeback from whirling disease. The trout average 15 to 20 inches, but some absolute hog browns live in this river. In addition to the fishing, the scenery and wildlife in this high-walled canyon are incredible.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a designated Wilderness Area, which means boaters have to carry or horse-pack their boats to the put-in. DeGrange says the difficult access dramatically reduces the number of boaters and anglers on the river. GRE is the largest permitted outfitter on this section of the Gunnison and their guides have years of experience running this river. I was especially interested in DeGrange’s description of the late-summer hopper fishing and the October caddis hatch.
Guide Ernie Denison: In the category of exceptional Western guides, one individual was so highly lauded we had to include him in this report. His name is Ernie Denison of northern California. He specializes in steelhead on the Upper and Lower Sacramento River, the Trinity and the Klamath, but he also fishes for trout, salmon, striped bass, shad and anything else that swims in streams such as the McCloud, Pit and Fall rivers and Hat Creek. Denison is said to fish 300 days a year, with most of those days ending well after dark. On rare days off, he explores new waters and has personally discovered many of the fishing locales now popular in northern California.
Denison was recommended to us by Michael Caranci of The Fly Shop who has this to say about him: “Ernie is that rare guide who can spend a day patiently coaxing a newcomer to fly fishing, but who can also take the most hardcore expert angler and charge after fish all day.” Caranci’s says one of Ernie’s favorite sayings is: “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still be a guide.”
(Postscript: If you fish at a lodge or with an individual or outfitter mentioned here, please file a report. You can do so on the home page of our web site: www.anglingreport.com. Click on “File A Report.”)