Stoneflies at the Ankle

A week earlier I’d been instructed to lie on a grassy space with a moulage bruise plastered on my ankle and various puzzling symptoms, allergies, and behaviors to portray. The fellow wilderness first responders seeking recertification that came to my rescue quickly identified my “true” issues and moved on to explore the logic behind the circle of fishing swivels around my ankle. One, who looked a bit like Keith Urban’s hypothetical twin brother, was not into the fishing thing. He’s more into guiding big game photo tours in the Arctic. The other, however, launched into a chorus of praise for the stonefly hatch on the Gunnison River. He’d never been, but it is on his bucket list, and he shamed me for not having made it there despite living right in the middle of it. I think he taped my faux injured ankle a little tighter than necessary out of spite.

I chuckled at that conversation as I stood beside the Gunnison River at Ute Park on Sunday. We had decided to hike the Ute Trail into the Gunnison Gorge while basking in the cool mountain temps of Breckenridge earlier in the intervening week. We underestimated the heat back home in Montrose, but were undaunted about our plan after hearing the stonefly hatch might still be ongoing and the water cleared after large releases from upstream dams. It was plenty warm as we headed down to the river, and as soon as we arrived we switched to sandals and stood in the river. Cold, clear, and inspiring water provided instant relief.

And then we pulled out the rods and tied stonefly patterns at the end of our lines. I spent far more time than I ever would have imagined prior to taking up Tenkara fishing, transfixed by studying shells of hatched stoneflies left behind on rocks beside the river. Creepy skeletons of fish food never used to be on my list of things to contemplate. It seemed we had missed the main event based on the carcasses and I was a little disappointed. But, so had all the people fishing on the rafts floating past us.

As I fished something started tickling my ankle and migrating up my leg. It might have been the last stonefly to hatch for the 2017 season and I wanted a good look. I fought off the instinct to quickly brush it off and instead picked it up and placed it in my hand for inspection. It is quite a bug. Were I a trout, I could see the appeal of leaping for such a delicacy. I turned it loose. I hadn’t seen fish biting on anything so figured one more actual bug in the mix would not drastically alter my chances.

We didn’t catch anything down there other than a fresh case of being amazed by the hikes and fishing opportunities in the neighborhood. Ute Trail was admittedly a brutal hike for a 95+ degree day but it was also a glorious walk. We will just make sure to find a cooler season or different hatch to chase next time.

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