Steamboat Springs January is the month when fly fishermen in Northwest Colorado have two realistic choices -- sit at the bench and tie a dozen size 18 Adams, or drill a hole in Stagecoach Reservoir and pray for spring. There's a third choice -- point the pickup truck toward Denver and hand over $12 to spend part of the first weekend of the month daydreaming about the perfect fishing trip.
Thousands of anglers, some of them from Steamboat Springs, showed up at the Denver Merchandise Mart Jan. 3-5 for "The Fly Fishing Show."
Expert fly tyers rotated through 25 different stations where they demonstrated advanced techniques and new patterns. And there were more than 100 booths where destination lodges, publishers and manufacturers tempted show attendees with the latest, greatest equipment and information.
Perhaps the best part of the show took place in the theaters, where noted anglers and guides dazzled audiences with photographs of giant fish caught from Montana to Belize.
Three Forks Ranch
Three Forks Ranch, situated in extreme northern Routt County, could have easily claimed a prize for having the most handsome booth at the show.
General manager Jay Linderman and Allen Morris were on hand to discuss Three Forks' exclusive fishing opportunities with potential clients.
Three Forks, as the name implies, straddles the confluence of the three forks of the Little Snake River where they flow out of the northwest end of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. The owners of the ranch invested $3.5 million in restoration of 16 miles of river and created 30 "oxbow ponds" fed by one-quarter of the river's flow.
Linderman said after owner David Pratt acquired the sprawling ranch he told him, "You know, it's too big for me to enjoy all of it."
That was the impetus for turning the ranch into an exclusive hunting and fishing compound that still functions as a working cattle ranch. The ranch includes 50,000 acres in Colorado and another 150,000 acres in Wyoming under grazing leases.
Pratt is among the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team.
The ranch maintains a herd of 1,000 mother cows and feeds between 7,000 and 8,000 yearlings each summer.
The big attractions are fishing and big game. Linderman said the Three Forks trout prospered through last year's drought. Fishing at Three Forks is pricey: all inclusive rates begin at $2,900 for a three-night stay and $5,100 for a six-night stay. That includes horseback riding, cattle drives, Humvee tours, meals and guiding by professionals under the supervision of former Steamboat resident Mike Sergeant.
For several thousand dollars, anglers are provided with optimal fishing opportunities; the ranch reports that many fishermen last summer caught between 50 and 100 fish a day in the 2- to 8-pound class.
Three Forks is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an interesting project to aid reintroduction of native Colorado River cutthroat trout in both Wyoming and Colorado.
Cutthroats were taken from Wyoming streams last July and 113 fish in the 9-inch range were transplanted into Colorado waters on the ranch. Both states will eventually harvest eggs and young from the ranch to be planted in recovery projects elsewhere.
Interested anglers can learn more at http://www.threeforksranch.com.
Salt water heaven
Barry and Cathy Beck are known as fly fishing's preeminent married couple, and they wowed attendees at the Denver Fly Fishing Show. Cathy Beck possesses one of the most fluid and effortless casting styles on the planet, and she gave public demonstrations at the show.
Beck is a well-known fly tyer and a better-known fly fishing photographer who is obsessed with saltwater fishing. In particular, Beck enjoys pursuing bonefish and permit on the saltwater flats of the Caribbean.
"We're talking about going someplace warm," Beck told an audience of 100 anglers. "On the warm saltwater flats, I enjoy the freedom from fishing in waders. But what I like most about flats fishing is the hunting -- it's a visual thing. It's the hunt that brings us there."
Beck said fishermen must spot their fish before casting on the flats.
"Bonefish are moving targets, and sometimes you need to make casts of 70, 80 or 90 feet to reach a fish," Beck said. "You really need to know how to double haul and learn to shoot line."
Bonefish are known as the ghosts of the flats because they are almost invisible in the clear water. Often, they are spotted when their tails stick out of the shallow water as they nose the sand to dislodge hiding minnows.
As elusive as bonefish are, permits are even tougher to catch, Beck said. That only amplifies the compulsion some anglers feel for pursuing the big, flat-bodied fish.
"If you get permit fever, you'll be stuck with it for the rest of your life," Beck cautioned.
Beck said if he had to choose one place to send a novice saltwater angler, it would be Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Every fall, he and his wife head for a quiet fishing destination south of Cancun called Bocapaila.
"They have the hardest working guides I've ever been around," Beck said.
However, the Becks will go anywhere snook, tarpon, redfish, bonefish and permit are cruising the flats, from Turneffe Island off Belize to the Christmas Island in the south Pacific.