Alright, the title may be deceiving because we didn’t catch all 25 species during Anglers All’s, Mile High 25 competition, but we did beat our 2018 score and landed 8 different species. We’d be more than happy to point you towards the anglers who know how to catch all 25 species in two days, but unfortunately, a team is yet to successfully catch all 25 species in Colorado. So instead, we’re going to share our journey with you and the lessons we learned along the way.
To be successful in this competition, you need to know how to fish rivers/creeks, cold water lakes and warm water lakes. Being the trout bums that we are, only one of us had ever fished for warm water species. So naturally, we set our sights on trout and make it our goal to catch as many trout species as possible. While this isn’t a great strategy if you’re planning to win the competition, we’ve found that it’s a fun way to test our skills and design unique fishing trips. Funny enough, our competitive side broke through this year and we decided to expand our horizons and target some new species.
Stop #1 - Tiger Trout and Brook Trout: Our go-to spot every year for these two species is Saint Mary’s Glacier. Due to how small the window of opportunity on alpine lakes can be, this is always our first stop. This year, we hit the trailhead by 6 am so we could get to the lake before the sun saturated the water and cliff jumpers showed up. Dry droppers are generally effective when fishing for these trout early in the morning, so we started off with an Elk Hair Caddis followed by a bead head Pheasant Tail. Luckily, within the first five minutes, we landed our tiger trout. Despite feeling optimistic, we struggled to land a brookie. We tried switching from an Elk Hair to a Parachute Adams to see if that’d attract trout looking up and also tried adding a second nymph to our setup to attract those feeding in deeper water columns. Neither of those tactics worked, so we decided to move on, knowing we could find a brookie in Clear Creek.
Stop #2 - Cutthroat and Brook Trout: For these species, we decided to fish the Clear Creek beaver ponds. Our first mistake was thinking we could wet wade this section, but turns out 40-degree water isn’t friendly to bare skin. So, we ran back to the car and threw on waders. We waded around and sight fished to countless cutthroats and brook trout. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work. They either didn’t like our flies or our cast would spook trout holding in slow water. After a couple hours, we finally looked at each other and decided to move on. Luckily, on the way out, we spotted a small cutthroat feeding on the other side of a bush. With a delicate cast and a lot of luck, we fooled the cutthroat with a crazy jig nymph called Parachingon that our friends at Anglers All pointed us to a few weeks back. At this point, we decided to give up on our brook trout and move on to our next stop.
Stop #3 - Whitefish and Brown Trout: Adding a whitefish to our list was a new objective this year. Whitefish only live in a select number of Colorado rivers, so we tailored our route to give us a chance. To catch these two fish, we decided that the Pumphouse section of the Colorado River was the perfect spot. Catching a brown and a whitefish in this stretch is typically an easy task but we failed to remember that the weekend rubber hatches are crazy. Every few minutes, we had a different raft or wild pack of tubers splashing their way through our run. Despite a heavy PMD and caddis hatch, this effectively shut down all surface activity, requiring us to quickly switch to a nymph setup. We led with a Pat’s Rubber Legs and cycled through various flashy patterns before we hooked into our prized white fish. Not long after, we found a brown holding deep in slow water.
Stop #4 - Rainbow Trout: This part of the trip was more of a personal decision than a competitive one. We decided to head north from the Colorado River to Walden, in northern Colorado. Our goal in Walden was to fish the North Platte for the first time and catch a rainbow trout. Looking back, we should have just hit another section of Clear Creek or stopped at the Blue, but fishing the North Platte sounded like more fun. Bursting with excitement, we hit the river and quickly learned that it was swarming with mosquitos of biblical proportions. Failing to pack mosquito repellent, we suffered through an hour of hell that honestly felt more like five. The water was a stained copper color which we’d never experienced before. We decided to stick with the same setup we had on the Colorado thinking that big and flashy pattern would help attract fish in off-color water. We got down deep in the runs, pools and transition areas but didn’t see results. We eventually saw caddis flying around and a few trout rising along the banks, so we switched to a single dry fly setup hoping that an Elk Hair Caddis or All-Season Caddis would do the trick. Unfortunately, they had no interest in our fake snacks and the mosquitos became too much to handle. We picked up a bottle of repellent once we got back to town and drowned our sorrows that night in beer and pizza.
Stop #5 - Grayling: Like the whitefish, a grayling was another new species we hoped to add to the list this year. We left our 1-star motel in Walden at 7 am Sunday morning and drove east to Joe Wright Reservoir. Joe Wright is highly sought after by anglers looking to catch grayling. We’d never fished there before so we talked to some friends and did a little research. Based on what we learned, we went straight to the inlet hoping to fool grayling on the surface with dry flies. We didn’t see any surface activity but decided to try our luck on Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams. Not only did nothing rise for our flies, we hadn’t seen a single fish. Figuring this meant they were holding deep, we walked to the other side of the reservoir where there were steep drop offs along the shore. We switched to a nymph rig to get our flies as deep as possible. Within a few minutes, we had a grayling on the end of our line and added it to the list!
Stop #6 - Rainbow Trout: The last species we ever expected to struggle with was a rainbow trout, but here we were, Sunday at 11 am and we still needed to catch a rainbow. When we left Joe Wright, we drove east through Poudre Canyon. The Poudre River is by no means a technical river but knowing that browns are the dominant species, we needed a little luck on our side. Due to runoff, we decided to fish an upper stretch of the Poudre where the river is wider. We quickly found a brown and released it with disappointment (never thought we’d say that!). We then wandered down-river looking for faster water. We found a nice transition area with pocket water that spilled into a deep pool. Within 10 minutes, we landed three … browns. Luckily, we stuck it out for another five minutes and found our rainbow. The people passing by probably thought we were insane hooting and hollering about catching a 10” rainbow, but we were just happy we didn’t have to go home and tell our buddies that we failed to catch a dang rainbow.
Stop #7 - Warm Water Species: As I mentioned before, we NEVER fish warm water. Not that we have anything against it, we just really enjoy exploring rivers and fishing for trout. But with several hours to burn, we had two options, hit our favorite bar from our college days or try our luck at warm water. Even though we spent our college years at CSU, we didn’t really know where to go, so we just went to the first place that popped into our heads, City Park. We found a small cove and started with an Elk Hair Caddis (we clearly like this fly) and a Royal Wulff. To our surprise, we hooked into a number of bluegills and a green sunfish. This is shameful, but we actually had to do some googling to figure out what we actually caught. With a couple hours left, we decided to move and try out the Riverbend Ponds Natural Area. We asked a couple anglers what was in the ponds and when they told us largemouth bass and sunfish, we knew we had to go for a largemouth. Understanding that largemouth bass are aggressive and react to twitchy movements, we started stripping a Wooly Bugger. Within a few minutes, we had the world’s smallest largemouth in our net. Good thing size doesn’t matter in this tournament! Hoping to land a larger bass, we got creative and made a makeshift popper with a Hippy Stomper and a small split shot. While it didn’t fool the bigger bass, it was enticing enough to fool a green sunfish.
As I mentioned above, we didn’t win, but with our 8 species, we finished in the middle of the pack. This competition reminded us how fun it is to explore, that improvising and making adjustments is the name of the game and to ALWAYS pack mosquito repellent during the summer. If exploring the state, targeting new species and fishing with your buddy all weekend sounds like fun, we highly recommend competing next year. We know we will!