There's a different wind that blows here in the spring. It comes; laden with moisture, straight across the tops of the Canadian Rockies and over the barren snowfields of the Colorado high country, right down the valley from the north. It has a different feel to it than at other times of the year; this wind, carrying a humidity we are unaccustomed to here and an unfamiliar biting cold that seems to cut frank, and direct to the bone. It also comes bearing memories of my past— this wind already burdened by the weight of its dampness, feels alone, desolate, and uncaring. Each time I feel it, I am, again, reminded of a spring years ago in Wyoming where we met, once before.
I had slept fitfully throughout the night, awakened on occasion by the breaking branches and jostle of stones from what I took to be elk or moose, just outside my tent. When you sleep alone in grizzly country, everything sounds like a bear. After sun-up, I rolled up the tent and sleeping bag, and headed for the warm comfort of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy in the diner, in nearby Pinedale, Wyoming. On the way into town, the sun played peek-a-boo behind a dark, scudding bank of clouds, as red-winged blackbirds flitted and sang among the willow lined banks of creeks and irrigation ditches, swollen with fresh snow-melt. I remember occasional patches of new, green grass and how the sunlight glinted like silver on the water, when it streaked through the clouds. I remember how much it felt like spring. Later, as I left the diner, it had begun to drizzle and the wind had a different feel to it than before. As I headed headed down U.S. Route 191 toward the trailhead of the Wind River Range, the wind turned colder and blew all those low, dark clouds across the sky like a funeral pall, and the rain picked up, then turned to hail. By the time I reached my trailhead and strapped on my backpack, and grabbed my rod tube, it began to snow—harsh, wet, cold, wind driven snow. I signed the trail register with one hand while holding the paper with the other as the wind tried to rip it into neighboring Colorado. The last entry; before mine, was from October of last year— that, should have told me something. The purpose of my being there was to catch a golden trout—"aguabonita", a non-native species that was first stocked in high mountain lakes by some enterprising characters of The U.S. Forest Service, by horseback and panniers in the 1920's. It didn't go well. The trail to the lake was all uphill, and by the time I was halfway to to the lake I was post-holing in snow up over my knees and my pants were wet all the way up to my crotch. When the going got too tough and the visibility was gone because of the snow, I pitched a tent in the wind, beside what faint trace of a trail I could still make out. Inside the tent, I changed into dry clothes, crawled into my sleeping bag, exhausted, and crashed out—hard—until morning, as the wind ripped at my tent. I awoke in the morning to bluebird skies, bright sunshine, and snow up to my thighs. I did a recon trip up to the lake that was tough going for about another mile, only to find it completely frozen over and covered in snow. I headed immediately back down the trail and broke camp, making it back to Pinedale and the diner for another one of those chicken-fried steaks, just before the local dinner crowd arrived. Now when the damp wind of spring blows, I think of the cold, and of Wyoming, and the golden trout I did not catch and that has continued to elude me for the better part of a lifetime.
If you're headed to the San Juan this week, you'll likely feel that wind on occasion. Maybe it'll carry some memories to you. Maybe they're good ones. I just looked out my window here and the ground is now covered in snow, where there was no snow five minutes ago. I'm having flashbacks of the Wind River Range from 25 years ago. By mid-week we're supposed to have highs of sixty-five degrees, but right now it looks like Wyoming 1993. That's spring in the Rockies, that's the moisture laden wind I've been talking about. If you do come, you'll be rewarded with some good fishing. The flows are around 350 cfs and the water clarity is around two feet—a little less than that, the closer you get to the dam. There are fish rising to midges throughout the better part of the day and some good BWO hatches in the lower river; however, that hatch is much shorter in duration, lasting from around 2:30 till about 3:30, although you can still pick up several stragglers, well after the bulk of the hatch has ended. The nymphing has been very productive; as well, with small larva and pupa patterns working better in the morning, then switching to emergers in size 24 and 26 later in the day when you start to see more bug and fish activity. Expect some company, there's still some folks off from work and school for Spring Break. Also expect to catch a lot of fish, although a lot of them will be on the smallish scale compared to what we're used to on the San Juan, there's still a fair share of the big guys out there, and I have seen some photos of some really nice fish taken just last week, and managed to catch a few of them myself. If you would like to book a guided trip or need more information, give us a call at 505-632-2194.