There's a line in Norman MacLean's "A River Runs Through It" -- published well before the Robert Redford classic movie -- that goes, "If our father had had it his way, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him."
To my misfortune one recent weekend, I did not cause any fish in Colorado to feel "disgraced."
Me and my buddy, Neeraj, thought a fly-fishing trip to Denver would be a great place to make an end-of-summer escape. As two guys from New York City, we knew virtually nothing about trout fishing, but what we lacked in experience, we knew would be made by the adventures awaiting us on a bucket-list-trip to the Rockies.
Before we went, the total fly casts between us had been zero. The trout were out there; as Howell Raines put it in "The One That Got Away," the fish would emerge from the water in a "triumph of piscatorial artistry," but disappeared back into the cold of the Waterton Canyon and the Blue River with an actual fly, not one of my decoys.
IF YOU GO
If you’re planning to visiting Denver and its environs, you can find less expensive hotels by staying out of the actual city. The city has a lot to offer, but also make plans for drives. Nice, smaller cities like Boulder are well within reach. For those with fish on their mind, any hotel in the area is no more than 30 minutes from a stream with the promise of a trout and employees at the three bait and tackle shops we visited were happy to help two city slickers.
While catching a trout was our main objective, the question came down to how badly we wanted to catch a fish. Two rods, two licenses, some dry flies and a large cooler with beers cost us about $150. Not bad for three days of unlimited trout fishing in a canyon.
But fishing for do-it-yourself novices like us can add up –in many ways.
We were willing to take a physical hit: wake up early, drive an hour and walk another. But we didn't want to take a large financial hit: spend a fortune on lessons, expensive reels and a guide. All that can easily run about $1,000 for a few days.
For accommodations, we decided on the reasonably-priced The Fairfield Inn by Marriott ($80/day), which was about 30 minutes from the city --a prime position for a three-day assault on area trout --not to mention the local microbreweries.
We compared our dry nymphs with the ones we saw dancing low on the water and agreed if we were a trout, we'd be easily fooled. (But then again, we were from New York.)
We bought two modest rods from Walmart.(By modest, I mean $39, and just one notch above the kid's SpiderMan rod-and-reel combination.) We did a little research about fly fishing, but figured that there would be someone inside the Great-Lake-sized store that could give us a quick lesson-- maybe even help set up our rods--but there was nobody.
We stopped by some bait and tackle places in Boulder, a college town where it seems the entire population is either running, or preparing for a run. After some searching we found help with our gear.
Randy Hicks, the manager of Rocky Mountain Anglers, the fly-fishing store, assembled our rods and gave us some pointers about where the fishing might be hot.
Now it was time to test our new skills. Before dawn, we drove about 20 minutes to the Waterton Canyon and walked along a dirt road to a part of the stream where we could make reasonable casts. Neither one of us had waders (a good pair can cost $700), so we couldn't walk out into the water. The water was cold and the stones on the bottom were slippery.
Naturally, since we were fly fishing we had to deal with an assortment of flies including Caddis flies and an occasional wasp. We compared our dry nymphs with the ones we saw dancing low on the water and agreed if we were a trout, we'd be easily fooled. (But then again, we were from New York.)
We fished the Waterton Canyon twice and did not catch anything despite changing our flies, casting in different locations and having conversations loud enough so the fish could hear our plans of letting them go if caught.
There was a running trail behind our fishing spot and one runner alerted us to Breckenridge. A small town past the foothills located in the Rockies.
Neeraj and I made the hour-and-a-half drive through the foothills. The weather was beautiful, so we dropped the hood on the rented convertible and kept it down until the sun got a little too hot, blasting Kid Rock's "Born Free." Really, if you listen to the words, it's a fitting soundtrack given the circumstances.
Breckenridge is a ski resort town founded by gold prospectors in 1859. The mining town had an Old-Western feel, and at any moment you expect to see two cowboys come rolling out of a saloon kicking up dust. Bars and cafes lined the main street, the same buildings that once housed brothels and saloons frequented by miners during the Gold Rush. Though we were there during its the off-season, there were plenty of tourists and locals.
We met a girl who lived there and offered to be our guide in town. She told us about the town's unofficial census data of a 7-to-2 ratio of men to women. This invariably has led to an interesting and vibrant bar scene, with some rarely seeing daylight because they’re nursing a hangover from the night before. She took us to a few bars including Ollies Pub and Grub and Uller's Sports Bar and Grill. The beers were cheap, and because of our guide, we were charged "locals' prices."
We passed on the offer to sing karaoke at Liquid Lounge and the later party at Cecilia's, a night club in town. We had a dark and unfamiliar ride back to Denver ahead of us. But we agreed that Breckenridge would be a fun place to spend a three day weekend-- even in the off season. I do feel bad that the good people of the Liquid Lounge missed my rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."
We got back to Denver, where we had a day to check out the city. We couldn't resist seeing the Red Rocks Amphitheater that is 15 miles west of the city that reaches 6,200 feet above sea level. The theater itself 300-feet tall, made of red rock and is said to have perfect natural acoustics. The Beatles played there in 1964. You can see downtown Denver from the nose-bleed seats.
There are plenty of good restaurants and, of course, bars. Breckenridge Tasting Room on Market Street brews its own beers and is across the street from Coors Field. It fills up with Rockies fans after the games, and the bar is in walking distance of several others that had young crowds.
The morning of our flight home, we made one last drive to the Waterton Canyon in hopes of snagging a last-minute trout. We got there at 6 a.m. and stayed until 11 a.m. Nothing. Not even a hit. But the water was cold and clear and we were just two guys with two poles and our cell phones turned off. Who needs a fish, anyway?