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Subscriber Deed Whitney reports on a FREE fishing trip to the C Lazy U Guest Ranch in Colorado. This ranch offers fishing and also goes out of its way to cater to families. See the box on page 6 in this issue for more about our FREE fishing program and how you can get in on the fun.
This past July 8 my wife, my eight-year-old son, and I set off for a weeklong vacation at the
C Lazy U Guest Ranch just outside of Granby, Colorado. The 8,000-acre C Lazy U has been hosting guests since 1919, making it one of the oldest operating guest ranches in the United
States. My job as the recipient of three nights’ lodging there through the Angling Report’s FREE fishing program was to evaluate the fishing options available at the ranch while my wife and son were enjoying everything else that the ranch had to offer. The latter turned out to be quite a task, by the way, because of the enormous variety of activities available. The typical stay at the ranch is seven days (Sunday to Sunday), so we chose to add four days to the trip at our own expense, which allowed us to fully appreciate the C Lazy U “experience.”
Travel to the ranch is relatively easy. The closest commercial airport is Denver International, approximately two hours by car. A private shuttle company can transport you from the airport to the ranch, but the cost is very nearly the same as renting a car for the week, which is the option that we chose. The drive from Denver to Granby is quite scenic, with the highlight being the road over 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass and down through the resort town of Winter Park. Upon pulling
through the gates of the ranch, we were greeted by a spectacular vista of green hay meadows, a winding stream, and spectacular views of the Continental Divide in the distance. We definitely
After we checked in, we received a brief orientation about the activities and scheduling at the ranch. Since I was participating in the fishing program, my first order of business was to go fishing, so I took this time to inquire about the options available and also to see if they had any specific agenda planned for me. I was a little surprised when I was told that since I would be there all week, I should show up at the stables in the morning to go riding. Because riding is the primary activity at the ranch, it was important that we all were present for the program overview. We would also be receiving our horse assignments for the week at that time. My fishing plans would be worked out later, I was told. I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I thanked them and we headed off to find our cabin with the assistance of one of the many ranch hands (the staff-to-guest ratio at the C Lazy U is nearly one-to-one!).
After spending the first morning on a nice three-hour trail ride, I decided to head back to the office to try to get the fishing program figured out. I reiterated that I was the fellow who would be writing an article for the Angling Report, and I was curious as to what type of fishing they had set up for
me. Again, I was surprised to find out that not only was nothing specifically set up for me, but the concierge could not tell me very much about the fishing options other than that they had two
miles of Willow Creek that ran through the property, a stocked pond, and a shared lease on a private section of the Colorado River. When I asked if there was anyone to whom I could speak in
more depth about these options, I was told that the man who handles most of the fishing inquiries would not be in until Wednesday (it was Monday). They did, however, offer to radio the
head ranch hand, who also serves as a fishing guide, and have him come to the office to speak with me.
When a man by the name of Parker arrived, it did not take long for me to ascertain that I had finally found the right guy. He gave me an idea of some of the better spots to fish on Willow Creek and told me what flies would be productive. He also told me that the Colorado River was fishing quite well and offered to set up a couple different times when he could take me over there to fish. I scheduled two separate half days later in the week to fish the Colorado with him and told him that until then I would explore Willow Creek, as well as the on-site pond, on my own.
Willow Creek is a small freestone stream that originates in the mountains above the ranch, runs approximately two miles through the C Lazy U, and empties into Willow Creek Reservoir at the downstream border. The average width is approximately 25 feet, and it contains a good variety of runs, riffles, cutbanks, and pocket water. Water levels are dependent on the previous winter’s
snowpack, and while I was there, they were extremely manageable—rarely getting above knee level except in the deeper holes. Due to the meager amounts of snow in this area last winter,
I would imagine that by August the water would be extremely skinny.
Willow Creek supports a decent population of wild rainbows and browns, with a few brookies and cutbows present to provide the opportunity for a Rocky Mountain Grand Slam. The biomass is limited in this high-altitude creek, and thus the average size of the native fish is in the 10- to 12-inch range. The ranch, however, has supplemented the native population with some bruiser rainbows in the three- to six-pound class, so the chance to hook a truly large fish is ever present.
I truly enjoyed fishing Willow Creek. It is easy to wade and easy to read. Though long casts really are not necessary, there’s ample clearance for backcasting along its banks, should you want to let one loose. Small flies and super light tippet are not needed here. Nine-foot leaders tapered to 5x with a size 12 to 14 attractor dry fly on the end will get the job done all day long. I found that my 3 wt. was the perfect rod for this water, adding a level of sport to fighting the average fish
and providing a significant challenge when hooking some of the larger ones that are present. Willow Creek’s proximity to the cabins made it the perfect choice for filling a couple of hours in
the afternoon between riding and dinner or just getting off by yourself after breakfast in the morning.
I fished Willow Creek four separate times during the week in stretches of time varying from 90 minutes to two-and-half hours. On each of my outings I had steady action catching wild fish up to 16 inches long, and on a couple of occasions, I managed to land planted fish that measured north of 20 inches. Definitely good fun.
The other water that I fished while at the C Lazy U was the Colorado River. The ranch has access to a lengthy stretch on private land located a short ten-minute drive away. For a reasonable access fee of $50, the ranch will have one of their guides take you out there for half a day. This section of the Colorado is located relatively near its headwaters, and thus would still be considered smallish in size—not more than 40 feet across in most places. It has a strong biomass with a variety of hatches throughout the day. Pale morning duns, little yellow stoneflies, and caddis came off while I was present.
A classic Western stream with a good variety of holding water, the Colorado is populated exclusively with wild trout and provides quite a bit more challenge than Willow Creek. The river holds significantly more water, with some very deep stretches and holes. The currents are also much more complex, and good casting and mending skills are required to achieve a drag-free drift through many of the fishiest-looking spots. The Colorado has a good population of native brown trout, but the larger, scarcer rainbows are the real stars here. I caught three or four 12-inch browns to every rainbow, but the rainbows I caught were all in the 16- to 18-inch class, brightly colored, and pulled like freight trains.
Both times that I fished the Colorado I was guided by Parker, the head ranch hand at C Lazy U. Parker is an extremely passionate guide and angler who has an intimate knowledge of the waters we fished. He is also personable, patient, and a pleasure to spend time with. Though I had my own equipment, Parker carried several extra rods set up with a variety of flies to minimize downtime when a change in strategy was necessary. He had me focus on several spots that I would have walked right past were I on my own, and most of the time I was rewarded with a nice
fish. His excitement was genuine when I hooked up, and when I missed, there was not a hint of frustration. I would fish with him again anytime.
As for the ranch’s half-acre trout pond, it is centrally located on the property. It’s stocked with large rainbow trout and surrounded mostly by manicured lawn. With multiple paddleboats on hand, the pond is the perfect place to fish with the kids or for a beginner to try his hand at fly fishing. Spinning rods and bait, as well as fly rods, were always present for use by any guest who wished to participate. My eight-year-old son, who had not previously shown much interest in fishing, spent quite a bit of time fishing in the pond, his enthusiasm stoked, no doubt, by the massive six-pound fish he caught there on our second day. An experienced angler would not find much challenge here, but then again I don’t know many people, regardless of experience, who don’t like hooking and fighting big fish. I know I spent a few stray hours out there over the course of the week.
I found out later in the week that the ranch also has a lease on the nearby Fraser River, but for some reason that option was never offered to me. They can also arrange for guests to fish with
an outside outfitter who has access to other stretches of private water in the vicinity, but normal guide fees (approximately $400 per day) apply.
The C Lazy U is an Orvis-endorsed lodge and has nice, new Orvis equipment available (rods, reels, waders, etc.) for the use of guests. One place they come up quite short is the amount
of terminal tackle that is available for purchase. They had a very small and somewhat random selection of flies and that was pretty much it. There were no leaders, tippet, floatant, or other items that I would consider to be the bare minimum that an angler would need on a day-to-day basis. There is a tackle shop in town with a limited supply, but without a rental car, it would be difficult to make that trip. I found it very surprising that an Orvis-endorsed lodge would not have a more thorough selection and I strongly suggest that you make sure to bring all of your own
terminal tackle with you if you expect to do any amount of fishing on your own there.
What about activities for nonanglers? Without question, the centerpiece activity at the C Lazy U is
horseback riding. The ranch keeps a herd of more than 200 horses and each guest is matched with a horse to suit his or her experience level, and unless you specifically request a change, the horse is yours for the week. There are morning and afternoon rides daily. Guests are welcome to partake in as much or as little riding as they like. Your horse is always there ready for you should
you want to participate. Other activities at the ranch include shooting, tennis, archery, ropes course, and basketball. They have a wonderful pool and hot tub. The spa is considered one of the finest in Colorado. The bottom line is that if you can’t find something to do at the C Lazy U, it really is your own problem.
The C Lazy U is also known for its children’s program. Each day after breakfast the children meet with their appointed groups (divided by age) at the stables for their morning ride. They stay with their groups through lunch and then meet up in the early afternoon for a shorter afternoon ride. The time in between is spent swimming, fishing, and playing supervised games. The children eat dinner with their groups, as well, followed by such varied evening activities as capture the flag, talent show, carnival games, and hay rides. The children are overseen by a large group of enthusiastic counselors who clearly enjoy what they do. At first I was a little concerned about how our son would take to spending so much of his vacation away from his mother and me, taking part in activities with a group of kids that he just met, but it took about one hour for that concern to disappear. My son had the time of his life running around the ranch with his new crew, and it did not take long for us to discover how relaxing a vacation can be when you know your child is happy and safe doing his or her own thing. This is a very high-end resort and there is little criticism that I can provide about the C Lazy U operation. The accommodations, food, and service
are all first class. I can enthusiastically recommend it as a destination for a family looking for a classic, Western guest ranch experience. Though I found the fishing to be a lot of fun and indeed quite satisfying, I would have to say that it is more of a secondary offering at this point as far as activities go. If you are looking to spend eight hours a day on the river, there are certainly many ranches that have a much greater focus on fishing and can provide more and varied options included in their price. But if you are looking for a place that the entire family will enjoy from start to finish and you are willing to treat fishing as just one of many recreational options available, then I would wholeheartedly recommend the C Lazy U Ranch. Our stay there was quite possibly the best family vacation we have ever taken. I have a feeling that the C Lazy U will be a part of our summer plans for many years to come.—Deed Whitney.
Postscript: More information on C Lazy U can be found on the ranch’s Web site, www.clazyu.com. As regards Deed Whitney’s comments on the current fishing program there, this is what the ranch had to say about it near press time: “Thanks, Deed, for your kind review of C Lazy U. Indeed, our fishing program is still relatively young, as is our Orvis endorsement, so we appreciate your feedback. We plan to implement some changes accordingly. These include increasing our tackle supplies and ensuring the team in the Outfitter’s Cabin presents the robust fishing opportunities more completely upon guests’ arrival. We are always looking to expand and improve our offerings and look forward to sharing these enhancements with you on your next visit!