Fly Fishing Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park
Roaring River, one of Rocky Mountain National Park's best and most overlooked fisheries, is another story of a water's death and rebirth. Ravaged and scoured by the 1982 flood, there seemed little hope for the river's revival, but several years later the Park Service planted greenback cutts there. Today the cutts flourish: a healthy, self-sustaining, and, apart from a stray rainbow, exclusive population. In 1994 I guided a Pennsylvania couple, Bob and Terry, on Roaring River. Their trip in many ways typifies a Roaring River fishing experience and Park fishing ingeneral.
First, remember that both of them are far above average fly anglers, with close ties to the remarkable Pennsylvania fly-fishing community. Both have fished nearly all over the world, though this was their first high-mountain trek.
The Lawn Lake Trailhead is at an elevation of about 8,500 feet. Trail distance is 1.5 miles, and the destination elevation is roughly 9,300 feet.The eight hundred foot difference between starting and ending points is termed elevation gain. In everyday language, it's prettydamned steep. For every half-mile you walk, you go up 267 feet, about the length of a football field one that's narrow, twisted,tilted, and covered with loose rock and dirt. If that doesn't sound tough, factor in oxygen-poor air. Not all the trail isconsistently mean; it's tempered by curves and switchbacks. Even so, the Pennsylvanians had their work cut out for them, and our trip, counting frequent five- and ten-minute breaks, took over two hours. (Partway up his first hike there, and still in view ofthe parking lot, one of my friends said, "This is the first time I've walked a mile to go a hundred feet.") Watch for the turnoff andbridge to the Ypsilon Lake Trail. The river fishes best from there on upstream. The nearest camping area is at Ypsilon Creek,about a mile up Roaring River on the west side.
In places, Roaring River is almost narrow enough to jump across, so wadingisn't necessary. However, my clients had insisted on using short (six- to seven-foot) rods. Despite the smallness of thefast-moving water, nine-footers would have worked far better. The cutts usually hold in the pockets, a situation that dictatesshort, controlled drifts, often with just a few inches of leader touching the water. A Stimulator or caddisfly with a dropper works well, as does nearly any stonefly or caddis nymph. Grasshoppers appear by mid-July. However, Bob and Terry bothbegan fishing with long casts and caught no trout. Once their flies hit the water, drag set in almost instantly because of theexcessive lengths of line and leader left to merciless currents. To fish here successfully, I explained, work a short line, hold therod high, and extend your arm. Once they followed the advice, both began to catch fish, though the short rods still couldn't givethem much of a reach advantage.
Technique aside, just staying on your feet here poses serious problems. Because of the 1982 flood, the banks of Roaring River are probably the most unstable and troublesome of any water in the Park. Even the largestand most secure-looking rock might flip or roll under the slightest pressure. Every step should be taken with care, and everyhandhold, too. After a few hours of good fishing, storm clouds and thunder moved in from the north. The terrain aroundRoaring River is essentially a boulderfield, and the nearby woods are pretty thin. It's not the best place to ride out a thunderstorm, though I've been caught in several there, and spent anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour huddled up in somebrush along the west bank. Though the weather did look ominous, I sensed it would blow around us, which, as it turned out, it did. Nevertheless, the clouds and thunder rightly spooked my clients, who insisted on leaving immediately. About ten minutes into our hike back to the car, Bob and Terry learned that going down the mountain a knee-pounding, sweaty balancingact-could be as uncomfortable and lengthy as the way up. Plans for the next trip included a wrangler and some horses.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication