Peter Brookes: It takes ‘Platte-itude': Fly fishing the mud season

Peter Brookes holds a trout he caught in Middle Fork of the South Platte River in Colorado. Courtesy photo
Peter Brookes wades into the South Platte River to fish for trout. Courtesy photo

I admit I’d been warned.

My FFFs (like BFF, but here, “fly fishing friends”) cautioned me about any attempt to try to hit the water in Colorado in early May as a cold, snowy winter recedes into a cool, wet spring in the Rockies.

They groaned, “Ooooh, yeah … mud season,” when the melting snow makes the ground kind of soupy. Others quizzed, “Has the mountain run-off started yet … how are the water flows in the rivers?”

In other words, a questionable time to fish.

But I was going to be in Colorado for a few days – come hell or high water – and I decided that I wanted to fish despite those admonitions. I mean: I’m going to Colorado – one of America’s great trout states – right?

Heck, yeah!

So, I contacted the Mountain Angler (mountainangler.com) in Breckenridge, Colorado, a fly shop I came to find out was largely staffed by a bunch of New York expats.

“Noo Yawkahs”? Hmmmm.

While I had nothing to base this on, my first thought was that these supposed “fly fishing guides” were a) on the lam; b) in the federal witness protection program; or, c) crossed some “Goodfella” back East.
I don’t know … I’m just saying.

It’s not like they were trying to hide their New York pedigree. As I entered the fly shop, I was confronted with the overwhelming smell of a slightly over-toasted bagel, likely awaiting a schmear of cream cheese.

Mountain Angler hooked me up with a guide named Matt Krane. “Krane” … probably an alias, I thought.

Krane’s cover story about how he ended up in “Breck” from New York was pretty airtight, but I dropped names like “Tony Soprano” to see if he’d flinch.

Krane told me we were heading over the mountain pass from Breckenridge for the small town of Fairplay to hit the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, where the fishing pressure was low and the run-off hadn’t hit yet.

I left a message on my wife’s voicemail in Washington, D.C. that, if I disappeared, that I was with this Krane guy and I might end up “sleeping with the fishes,” if she knew what I meant.

I also whispered into the phone – out of earshot of Krane – that I had a “spork” from the hotel’s free breakfast and thought I could handle him if it came to that.

Luckily, Krane really was a fishing guide and I never needed to unholster my spork in self-defense. Good thing for him.

But plastic WMDs (i.e., weapons of mass distribution) aside, we did need to break out every possible weapon in a fly fishing arsenal to get at the brown and rainbow trout in the South Platte.

The water was slow, low and gin-clear. You could see the trout, but they could see you. Even walking well back from the river’s edge, fish were racing up and down the pools. Spooky is an understatement.

Indeed, rarely was I able to get a strike without casting on my knees from the bank or crouching down low in the water to minimize my profile. Stealth was the name of the game.

The fishing was made tougher by winds gusts that caused a number of macramé-like wind-knots (as Krane called ’em) in my fly line.

Yes, it was the wind and not my casting … at least that’s my story – and I’m sticking to it.

We used dry flies, nymphs, emergers and streamers on single-, double- and triple-fly rigs to get these wily trout to do their God-given duty and attach themselves to my hook.

Ultimately, on a half-day trip, we were able to bring eight or so trout to hand, one in the 16-inch range with decent shoulders for a spring fish.

That fish will be a brute this summer as food moves beyond small midges and blue wing olives to bigger caddis and Big Mac-like salmon flies.

Of course, even if the fishing had been horrible, the landscape is stunning.

From the river you could see a number of still snow-capped “13ers”and “14ers” as the Coloradans dub their 13,000 foot and 14,000 foot mountains, many hikeable.

Krane told me that the fishing on the South Platte will be super this summer when the water temps and flows become primo for angling.

But even off-peak, the South Platte is a terrific piece of water with the right talented, hard-working guide – like Matt Krane.

If that really is his name.

Dr. Peter Brookes, a Fort Valley resident, escapes his D.C. policy wonk day job to write about the great outdoors here whenever he can. Brookesoutdoors@gmail.com

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