Living in Lyons, Colorado is a wonderful thing. Walking two blocks to the St. Vrain river to drop a fly in the water is certainly a privilege, and one I don’t take for granted. But the town stretch – like many easily accessible Front Range rivers in Colorado – sees a good deal of pressure, particularly in the summer months. Which means it’s time to head up into the local high country, the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Tenkara fishing to me is inextricably linked with moving through the mountain wilderness. It is so complimentary to hiking and scrambling around in the alpine, it’s almost silly. Here in the Indian Peaks there is an abundance of low volume, high gradient streams full of trout. And then there’s the high alpine lakes. The tenkara lake fishing is phenomenal, and the whole area is tailor-made for this simple method of fly-fishing.
There is a catch though, and it is that this area is one of the most visited and enjoyed wilderness areas in the country. But as if to perfectly complement the simplicity of tenkara fishing, there is a very simple way to avoid the crowds and literally have the creeks and lakes to yourself; go far, go light and most importantly go EARLY. By early, I mean setting the alarm for 3:00 a.m. and being at the trailhead before dawn, headlamp on and moving up to your desired lake or stretch of creek at the literal crack of dawn. To the committed mountain angler this is kind of a no brainer, but it always surprises me how few (usually no other) anglers you see doing this, even at the busiest, most popular trailheads. Most often it will be you and a handful of climbers in the parking lot, doing the alpine start boogie. To me it’s a very peaceful and intimate experience, moving up the trail in the pre-dawn darkness, with no one else around except the night birds and other creatures of the high forests moving about. Sure I’ve come across a few moose, which can be spooky in the dark, but it just adds to the feeling of being out in the wilds.
When you turn off the headlamp as the first light of dawn appears, and stop to have a drink of tea (or coffee), you realize what a good day you are already having, and how lucky you are. Then you get to your destination, be it a particular stretch of creek or high lake, and you sit down as the first rays of sun move over the crags above. Time to eat that breakfast burrito, tie your line to the tippet and get to it. Fish up high are hungry in the summer, really hungry. I have almost never not caught a fish before the sun rises if I‘m casting around that time. And if the stars align like they did for me last Sunday, you’ll watch a 14 inch cutthroat very slowly rise to your #12 Ishigaki kebari from the crystal clear depths of Blue Lake, on your second cast with your Tenkara USA Ito rod, and bring it gently to hand as the sun just starts to warm the clear morning air at 11,300 feet, without another soul to be seen.
Multi-day backpacks into this wilderness are the stuff of dreams, both for tenkara fishing and scenic beauty and peacefulness. There is literally a treasure trove up there. When and where you go matters, and the only hints for backpacking I can give are these; early October and the deeper the better. And watch out for moose!