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A reunion on the Hermosa River

Some favorite spots are still in the altered Middle Fork

What I refer to as the Middle Fork of the Hermosa River was always a great place to spend time fly fishing for myself, and guiding people new to the sport. I define the Middle Fork of the river as being upstream from the horse corral to Sig Creek. The San Juan National Forest map calls it, and all the area behind Purgatory, the East Fork. But it’s my column, so I get to designate that stretch of river as I see fit. When I was guiding the Middle Fork was fairly wide-open, which made casting and wading easy. It was also full of brook trout, my favorite, some rainbows and even fewer cutthroats.

A number of years ago, the Colorado Department of Wildlife, the National Forest service and various other entities made the decision that all the trout in the Hermosa River had to be cutthroat. I’m not here to argue for or against that decision. I did that a number of years ago. The process of building dams and replacing all the trout with cutthroats took several years. Because there was no fishing during the dam building and trout replacement, the riverbanks became overgrown and some of the river channels changed their paths of flow. For the newbies, this made fly fishing difficult, and not much fun for me, so I stopped going to the Middle Fork. A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me I missed fly fishing the Middle Fork. So, because my Friday fly fishing partner, Kim, and I are not newbies, we decided to see how the fly fishing there was. That day did bring back some great memories.

We started at the first dam, upstream from the corral. I had tied on my favorite dry fly, a Royal Wulff; I’m not sure what Kim tied on. Within a few casts I caught a nice cutthroat in the tailwater. However, that’s all either of us caught there, and we decided to head upstream and start our usual buddy fishing. The catching was slow until our second change of flies. We both tied on foam hoppers, and the catching started. Once we found the correct pattern, we began to catch a single fish in the spots that looked like they would hold fish. However, as we moved further upstream, the number of fish in each location begin to increase. It could have been because the farther upstream we moved, there were fewer campers and hikers. As far as other fly fishers, we didn’t see a single one all day.

I will say as we moved upstream some of my old favorite spots were still there. Other favorite spots that I looked for had been altered by flora and fauna or changed in many of the turns and eddies of the river. Regardless, the fly fishing was really good. All the trout were cutthroat, as they should now be. They were up to 12 inches in length, and appeared to be very healthy. And, they loved dry flies. Now that I’ve reintroduced myself to the Middle Fork, I will need to go back to other areas of the Hermosa River that I used to truly enjoy but have neglected.

Reunions can be really great.

Reach Don Oliver at durango.fishing@gmail.com.