As winter sets in and showers the State of Colorado with shimmering white snow that always seems to harbor diamonds that vaporize upon approach, I am basking in that last glorious day of fishing before the season turned. We only caught one petite brown between the two of us. The experience was not epic for the size of the catch, but for the magnitude of the scenery. The Gunnison Gorge delivered more than my expectations contemplated.
I have lived just shy of a year on the Western Slope. I have repetitively fished many of the spots the locals horde and those masses of out-of-towners seek, but there was one place neither of us had ventured, a stretch of the Gunnison River that you have to want to get to. You cannot drive into the Gunnison Gorge, all routes to the water of legendary browns and leaping rainbows require some muscle, either human or equine. We opted for the shortest walk, but longest bumpy ride. I have not acquired a taste for said tussles over rutted dirt roads in my Tacoma yet. That must come in the second year. Once we set off on foot down the Chukar Trail with our fishing gear strapped to our backs I forgot all about the ride. We dropped swiftly into the pinion and juniper forest along a gorgeous wash. Fishing is rarely just about the line in the water for me, but this odyssey was immediately more all-encompassing. I giggled at sandstone. I grinned at limestone. I may have even done a jig with pink granite along the way to the Gunnison, and when we arrived beside her I stood awestruck. The gorge is even better than the glossy fliers distributed by guide shops. It is stunning. And we had it to ourselves.
The pool reflected the walls of the gorge in late afternoon sunlight. Stephen fished the drop. I fished the pool. The gods chose to bless me with the strike. The brown bolted, like browns like to do, but I played him out and brought him in for a quick conversation. We spoke swiftly of the majesty of his home as I removed the hook, and then it was time for a quick picture before I set him free. I’m not opposed to eating a brown, they are my favorite on a plate, but a fish that lives somewhere as special as that should be left to enjoy it. I want to be vicariously alive through him. I choose to imagine that I can see snowflakes fall on the gorge through that fish’s eyes. He was the only one and our time was fleeting. That late in fall the temperatures drop precipitously and light wanes swiftly.
We hiked out, still transfixed by the gorge, the wash, the river. It is steep but we had a fishing high, even Stephen who hadn’t been blessed with a trout on his line. The drive out, a race against descending sun, seemed less bumpy in our euphoria and illuminated by one of the most spectacular sunsets we have seen on our side of the mountains. We looked forward to next year and future adventures down the Chukar Trail. We’ll take backpacks and stay beside the river, living close to the trout. We may do it when the river roars, or we may elect to find one of those tamer seasons when she purrs along. But we will live a Gunnison Gorge life, even for a short while. There’s at least one brown down there with stories to share with me.