I have long believed that the best fly fishing spots in Colorado can’t be found by flipping through the majority of guidebooks that you currently have sitting on your shelf. Nor are they frequently updated in colorful chalk on the big board of flow conditions at your local fly shop. And they certainly aren’t in locations that most guides choose to venture (at least not with clients). No, to get to my best fly fishing destinations in Colorado, you are going to have to work harder than that. Because these special places are “back there”. Way back there. To get to these waters, you will have to drive on paved roads until you get to dirt roads until those dirt roads narrow and then run out. Even then, you will still have many miles to go, on foot, often up crushing inclines on trails that may or may not have not been maintained in a while. And when you finally get there, you will not catch twenty inch brown trout or pig rainbows. But you will be happy. Alone, exhausted from the journey and surrounded by the most majestic landscapes that the Centennial State has to offer, you can catch a piece of Colorado’s natural history. And when you see that signature orange slash along the lower jaw, in an instant, you will know that the effort was worthwhile. Because this is fly fishing in Colorado.
It is the relentless pursuit of this native high that can only be found within the high mountain lakes and streams contained within Colorado’s many wilderness and roadless areas, and within the remotest of remote reaches of our national parks, that led me to discover what I call the “flyathlon”. As the father of two young girls, my time away from home is inherently limited, so to be a good dad and still get my cutthroat fix, I pack lightly and carry a seven-piece, three-weight stick. And I run. I run so that I can maximize my minimal free time reaching out to these beautiful fish. I run so that I feel like I earned it. And then, back at the trailhead at the end of that remote and narrow dirt road, I typically enjoy another of Colorado’s finest, our superior craft beer.
run. fish. beer. Simple as that.
It turns out, while I may be the first one to formally put a name to this Colorado multi-sport experience, I now know that I am not the only flyathlete. One afternoon several years ago, as I eagerly described the concept to a friend, he quickly cut me off, indicating that this is something that he has done for years. And the movement has grown quickly from there.
Last August, fifteen brave pioneers dragged themselves out of their tents/beds to make the journey to Monarch Lake in Grand County, Colorado, to compete in the inaugural (yet entirely unofficial) Flyathlon race event. Many toed the start line having endured wave after wave of soaking rain as they stood around the pre-race campfire the night before, drinking some of Colorado’s finest craft beer. The race day premise was simple. Run around Monarch Lake, catch a fish, and do it as quickly as possible. The bigger the fish you caught, the more time that was taken off at the end of your run. Of the 15 race participants, more than half hooked, landed, and documented their catch. And while some were thwarted by the fishing gods, everyone had a wonderful time.
After that first event, the feedback that I received was amazing. S othis year, I am taking the event, and the concept, to the next level. The 1st Annual Rocky Mountain Flyathlon will be held near Saguache, CO, the weekend of August 15th-17th. The event will be permitted through the U.S. Forest Service, making it “official.” The course will be approximately 7 miles total length, with opportunities to catch brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout (bonus time off for the native fish!). Participants are encouraged to spend the weekend in the San Luis Valley, as camping sites will be provided with the event registration for Friday and Saturday evenings. The event is sponsored by several fine Colorado breweries, so the post-race celebration will likely be legendary. So that we can give back, we’ll also include some fundraising to help benefit native trout conservation through Colorado Trout Unlimited. There will be cool prizes for the top finishers and top fundraisers. If you are a closet flyathlete, or just want to give something new a try, please consider joining us in Saguache in August.
--- Andrew Todd