Opening the Portal

The calendar suggests it is spring in Colorado, however the memo to Mother Nature may have gotten scrambled in delivery. The weather has been squirrely with snow storms and dreary days outnumbering the bluebird, snowmelt-inducing sunny days. Despite that, the canals are open and the rivers are blowing out. The time for tail-water and reservoirs is at hand and the gem we sprung at last weekend like milk-starved puppies was East Portal at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The first time I went down the East Portal Road was in the back seat of a rental van driven by a former Montrose city manager and current enthusiastic city ambassador. I was on a tour of local resources with fellow new community members. As we descended the 16% grade, he told the story of the Gunnison Tunnel and how the water made all the difference to the Uncompahgre Valley. The tale was great, his attention to the driving was questionable, and we arrived at the Portal with smoking brakes and uneasy glances between us. I forgot about that as I studied the interesting things the Gunnison River does when confronted with dams and diversions. Whatever obfuscations Montrosians and Bureau of Reclamation may throw at her, the Gunnison is a beauty and her mood at East Portal is uniquely quiet and alluring.

I expected this muse to be crawling with fellow first day of the season fishermen. The forecast may have deterred them. It was cold and damp, the kind of day you are grateful to use Tenkara rods so you have a free hand to hold your coffee mug. There were fewer than a dozen of us standing in the Portal that morning and plenty of room to spread out.d750_04292016-53

The rainbows and browns of the Portal are famously large and allusive. I don’t go there expecting to catch one. I go because it is a gorgeous place to harbor the hope of a trout on the line. But something felt a bit charmed last Friday. I attached the line and tossed my little peacock herl bedazzled kebari into the river with a higher than usual desire to actually visit with one of the Portal occupants. That’s when I noticed them–several large browns surface feeding in the bend. I made my move.d750_04292016-81

The brown that took my fly gave me a thrill. It swam swift and strong but my will to touch it was stronger. I may have jumped up and down some while bringing him in. In the net he made me giggle. As I expected, beautiful places have particularly special fish. We would stay until the snowflakes rained down and made us shiver. I would throw flies at several more big browns but no one else wanted what I offered. No one was catching despite robust feeding frenzied trout in the pools.


I may never catch another fish at the Portal but I’m looking forward to a season of trying. I would prefer that there be less snow falling from the sky next time I venture down that crazy road and I look forward to the lush green leaves coming in along the shoreline. I envision starry nights spent in the campground so I can have first light strikes at the river. And before any of that happens I better get busy and tie some more of my fancy little kebaris.

More fishing pictures: The Alcorn Collection

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