Tom Ross: Migrating to a new season
April 18, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The middle of April is a season of migrations in Northwest Colorado, and that fact was evident early Saturday morning along U.S. Highway 40 to Colorado Highway 318 for the lonely drive through Brown's Park and Clay Wash Basin to Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
The cow elk are bunched up on south-facing slopes from here to Vernal, Utah, gaining a little weight before they select a sheltered spot to have their calves in mid-May. Brown's Park is sagebrush and juniper county, but closer to Steamboat Springs, the cow elk will make their beds beneath a chokecherry bush for the nutritional value.
The number of deer lounging along the road northwest of Maybell in spring is staggering. Before long, they will scatter and migrate to the high country. We had a close brush with a buck that left a few coarse hairs on the fender of the truck before jumping to its feet and pogo-sticking up a draw.
Wild animals aren't the only creatures migrating along historic routes in Northwest Colorado this season. At Little Hole, on the Green River, where John Wesley Powell's expedition camped in 1869 during its historic trip down the Green River to the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, we ran into a quintet of trout nomads from Steamboat. They had come for the annual hatch of tiny, slate-gray mayflies known as baetis, or blue-winged olives.
Fishermen from across the Intermountain West gather at Little Hole every April to pray for the cold drizzle that causes clouds of the mayflies to hatch and, hopefully, drive the fish into a feeding binge. The pilgrims from Steamboat included Mark Darlington, Larry Freet, Dan Chovan, Ken Proper and Ace McCann.
Half of the group had clustered at a big eddy where they took turns delicately casting hand-tied flies crafted to dupe the trout into striking. And they were having as much success as anyone on the river on a day that alternated between pale sun and spitting rain that streaked the red-walled canyon.
At times, when it seemed like there was just no point in making another cast, an angler could settle on the bank and watch a fierce osprey hover over a trout hole looking for her own dinner. And when the osprey had flown off, a pair of mergansers, the male with a coal-black head and the female crowned with russet feathers, dove after the same trout the humans were in pursuit of.
The fishing finally got hot at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, when mayflies by the thousands clotted the eddies and large brown trout casually poked their heads out of the water to sip the choicest morsels.
Personally, I can't tell one baetis mayfly from another, but the trout certainly can tell the difference based on the number of times they sent my entrée back to the kitchen.
Eventually, even a newspaper reporter gets lucky and brings a speckled trout to the net.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com