July 2020 marked the first ever all girls Lillard Fly Fishing Expedition. Plans had been made, permits procured, girls signed up, and then, you guessed it, Coronavirus happened. Some new plans and precautions had to be drawn up, and the trip became smaller than expected, but two incredible young women came out for their first backcountry experience. And they rocked it.
Our trip began on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The girls were brand new to fly fishing, and we had a full day casting and catching seminar on the headwaters of the Colorado River. The small stream flows just down from the Continental Divide through lush, winding meadows flanked by pine tree covered foothills and the looming snow-capped Rockies. Our seminar was a smashing success. The girls pulled out dozens of gorgeous Brook trout, and we even brought in our first Colorado River Cutthroat. The fish were all healthy and vibrant, many hitting large dry flies. The girls were already “hooked.” They also happened to out fish all the neighboring anglers we crossed paths with.
Day 2 we got right to it and headed into the backcountry. The girls donned massive packs and went smiling and laughing into a nearly 4 mile trek up to our first campsite. The trail began at a gradual grade along a winding stream through a meadow valley. We broke for lunch and fishing in the meadow, making our way up into the steeper canyon for some incredible rushing holes chock full of Brook trout. We brought another beautiful Cutthroat to the net before throwing the packs back on and trudging nearly 1,000 vertical feet to camp. After some more successful fishing near camp and a lovely backcountry dinner, we crawled into tents before sundown, exhausted but excited. “Fly fishing is addicting!” One of the girls exclaimed as we lay in our bags. This was a sure indication that the trip ahead was going to be epic, and it was.
We awoke to break camp and make an even steeper hike to our second campsite. We would spend the next two nights perched along a gorgeous alpine lake surround by craggy peaks and lush green pines. We fished lake, stream and another lake throughout the day. The biggest fish thus far was caught on a dry fly, and being a Brook trout, the girls elected to cook him and a couple others up to accompany our pasta dinner. We cooked and relaxed on a sandy beach that flanks one side of our campsite lake and swapped stories until bed.
The next day was our big day hike up to a special alpine lake that sits in a bowl right at tree line. We were targeting big Colorado River cutthroat. Rods in tow, we climbed the steepest grade yet, but luckily the entire valley was bursting with wildflowers in a crazy colorful July bloom. Each break to grab some water and enjoy the ever-improving views down the valley the girls would proclaim, “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s so worth it.” We reached our final destination mid morning and sat on a boulder for a snack. Shortly thereafter the first big fish was spotted hanging out feeding near the bank and it was game on. Two casts and we had our first large cutthroat on the line, with a perfectly timed hook set, sight fishing with a nymph in the crystal clear water. The fish was landed and celebration and pictures were in order. Now is was time for our other lady to get in on the action. We spotted another large fish cruising the bank and cast at it a few times to no avail, it was cruising fast. The cutthroat soon disappeared deep so we moved on. We spent the next hour circling the lake twice, casting deep and searching for more fish. Nothing. Then the girls spotted a rise, then another. It was time to throw on dry flies. A few minutes after changing up rigs, we had a massive Cutthroat on a dry. The first and only fish caught on a dry out of this particular lake on a Lillard trip. Go girls!! The timing couldn’t have been better. After photos and a revive, we noticed dark clouds encroaching and booked it down to lower, more sheltered terrain. We fished out the evening catching dozens of gorgeous alpine trout on dries in three different lakes and the accompanying connecting streams.
The next day it was time to head back towards civilization for ice cream, laundry, and showers. Rejuvenated, we chowed down on pizza and recounted stories from our successful venture. We hit the sack in our tents and woke up early to make our move to a new campsite along the Colorado River. Moving west, we watched the landscape shift from mountain pines to arid shrubs. The temperature crept up, but we weren’t phased. There were big fish to be caught at our new site. After spending the day cleaning BLM campsites for our service project, we all hopped in the river for a cool down then grabbed our rods to go find the trout. Each of our ladies landed their first brown trout that evening with some fun lessons in wading and fishing bigger water. Then it was campfires, stories, s’mores and bed.
Bright and early we awoke, filled with anticipation for the girls float day. After a full day fishing on a drift boat, they came back with some amazing news. They had each completed their Colorado trout slam and then some, catching Rainbows, Browns, Mountain White Fish, and even a Cutbow! The girls brought in over 20 fish, their first time ever fishing from a boat! Remember, they both learned to fly fish this same week, and these are no longer small fish. They secured an amazing 4 doubles and had an incredible float. We finished out the night with more wade fishing and some nice browns caught on dry flies.
For our final day, we fished a nearby tailwater. Some big, beautiful, technical water was another new experience for our girls. A few fish came to the net with a monster Rainbow nearly landed. A small storm chased us out of the canyon and it was time to head to camp and organize/clean gear for the journey home.
All in all, the first all girl’s was small but mighty, a massive success. Our two incredible young women and their fearless leader proved that you don’t need dudes to catch fish, even big fish. Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions couldn’t be more stoked to have a successful ladies expedition in the books. We are already planning next years adventures and we look forward to more girl power next season!