Telluride, Colorado, is one of those gritty, western mining towns cum tony ski mecca, like Crested Butte, Vail, Park City, and others. Situated in a box canyon in the San Juan mountains, the town was founded in 1878. When the mines played out, many of these communities devolved to virtual ghost towns, a small resident population of independent souls hanging on until resurrected by the ski boom of the ’70s. Now they generally consist of the old main street, lined with historic buildings, the saloons and brothels now transformed into restaurants, brewpubs, art galleries, and shops hawking western paraphenalia , many of the stores with a new-age flavor. If, like me, you were a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, you might expect to see the Lone Ranger or Wild Bill Hickock reining in his handsome steeds n front of the sheriff’s office. It’s the kind of town where a Victoria”painted lady” will set you back a million or more. In Telluride Butch Cassidy made his first recorded bank heist in 1889.
It seems in western Colorado you can’t drive a mile without crossing a trout stream, many the small cascading mountain creeks so appealing to tenkara anglers. Similar fishing opportunities abound in the Telluride vicinity. Highway 145 approaching from the west parallels the San Miguel river. The Dolores river begins at Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride and continues southward, paralleling highway 145 South, gradually enlarging with the contributions of many feeder streams until it reaches the eponymous town of Dolores where it is contained in the McPhee reservoir. After exiting the impoundment, the Dolores becomes a tailwater.
While staying at a friend’s home in Telluride, my wife and I decided to fish the upper Dolores. After cresting Lizard Head Pass we could see the nascent river on our left, just a small meadow stream at this point. Stopping briefly to fish, all I fooled was a five-inch cutthroat. Downstream, the Dolores gradually widened, becoming essentially one long, shallow riffle with a bit of pocket water. Much of the access to the river was private, but eventually we found public access at the Bear Creek conservation area. A few casts into this featureless, shallow riffle, and I knew this would not be the kind of fishing I really enjoy. Slipping on the muddy bank and landing on my ass on a very hard rock just confirmed my opinion of the river. Disappointed, driving back to Telluride, we noticed a sign for the Scotch Creek trail. Bingo! A twenty-foot wide creek flowing under the highway into the Dolores. Pocket water. Nervous water. Cascades and boulders and tree roots creating sanctuary for the resident trout.
The banks of the stream were densely vegetated, requiring planning each cast in advance, visualizing it before execution. The reward was a fly drifting seductively with the current or clinging stubbornly to a tree branch. The appeal of fishing a stream like Scotch Creek is that the trout tend not to be too selective. While not pushovers, a stealthy streamside approach and a delicate presentation will usually elicit a strike, whether fishing dry, wet, or nymphing. A number of cutthroats and one rainbow were taken from the creek. So much fun and not another angler in sight. It’s no wonder that Colorado has become the epicenter of tenkara angling.