Colorado Rocky Mountain Expedition II Update

Our first day here in Colorado was largely a travel day, but because everybody got in pretty early in the day we were able to get in some quality fishing.  After leaving the airport we drove a few hours to camp near Granby, Co right on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We quickly set up camp then drove into the park to fish the headwaters of the Colorado River.  Everybody managed to put multiple fish to the net, and Noah got his first several trout on the fly!  After the afternoon of fishing we returned to camp to prep for our upcoming backcountry into the wilderness of RMNP, eat a big meal, and get some rest before hiking.

Day two saw us head into the Gorge Lakes region of RMNP.  This area of the park has no trails into it, and as such is rarely visited by anyone, much less by anyone looking to catch fish.  Though our hike was only about 5 miles, it took us nearly 5 hours to reach our campsite because traveling cross country through virgin forest is tough work.  To complicate matters a bit, we had to wait until about 2:00 PM to start our hike because our route, which was above treelike, was covered in clouds and rain for most of the day.  Nevertheless, we hit the water as soon as we got to camp, and everyone was on to trout almost immediately.  We ate a quick dinner of pesto tortellini when darkness fell, and turned in early after our hard day of hiking, eager for what tomorrow would bring.

We woke up again to cloudy grey skies and intermittent rain, not ideal, but our crew made the absolute most of it.  We set about fishing the lake right next to our camp, and sure enough the guys were hooking into beautiful greenback cutthroats (the state fish of Colorado, and an endangered species) almost immediately.  We spent the entire morning catching these gorgeous fish out of the lake and its small feeder stream.  Around lunchtime we began hiking up the stream towards the next lake about a mile away and 800 feet of elevation higher.  It was a bit of slog in the spitting rain, but we made it up to Arrowhead lake nestled between soaring cliff faces and mountain peaks.  We set up shop next to the lake and immediately spotted a massive trout cruising the shallows.  Pretty much the first cast, we landed a cutthroat lit up in its red spawning colors, and for the next two hours we were landing good sized cutts.  We headed back down to camp and lower elevations before the weather turned too bad vowing to return first thing in the morning.

On our third day in the backcountry our luck seriously turned around.  We woke up to beautiful clear skies and we wasted no time wolfing down breakfast and hiking up to Arrowhead.  We made the hike in great time and started fishing our way around this unusually large alpine lake.  Let mettle you, the fishing was absolutely on fire for us.  I quickly lost count of how many of these big beautiful fish we were catching.  As the day went on the fishing just kept getting better and better, to the point that we were catching fish nearly every cast!  We stayed in this alpine paradise as long as we could and only started our hike down to camp at 6:00 PM. We arrived at camp a few minutes before the sunset and just as more rain clouds were rolling in.  We gorged ourselves on some backcountry shepherds pie and hit our sleeping bags exhausted, but ecstatic at the day we just had.

Today we woke to more rain and colder temps, but were happy that our luck had been so good for the previous day.  We ate breakfast, broke camp, and started our hike back to civilization.  Our hike back only took about 4 hours, but we were pelted by rain and cold wind the whole day.  This didn’t faze us at all because the stoke was high from the fishing we got to experience in the backcountry.  Once we reached the van, we drove through RMNP to Estes Park to take some sorely needed showers, do laundry, and resupply.  Tomorrow we will do our service project with RMNP and head towards the bigger water of the lower Colorado River.  Look for the next update after our float trip where we will be angling for some trophy browns and rainbows.  And until then…

Tight Lines! Charlie and the crew

Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions was started in 2010 as a graduate thesis for my Master's Degree in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU. The operating premise was simple - by coupling amazing wilderness fly fishing camps for teens with environmental education and service learning we can help inspire future generations of fly fishing conservationists. We have been growing our unique list of trips and experiences ever since.

When it comes to choosing a summer program for your teen the options are endless. For the teen who loves to fish, be outside, and has a strong sense of adventure we have made the choice easy. We are the leader in teen fly fishing adventures and are dedicated to providing the best backcountry fly fishing experience with opportunities for teens to engage in leadership training, community service, and backcountry camping.


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Will Lillard, Founder/Director/Guide

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Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions
2540 King Road
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

(828) 577-8204