Rainbow Falls Mountain Trout
30 April, 2013
I was stoked when I found out there would be a Project Healing Waters trip to Rainbow Falls this spring. I previously enjoyed two outings to fish there and it is one of the most relaxing and idyllic places I have ever fished.
I follow Rainbow Mountain Falls on Facebook, and I had been admiring the pictures of the large trout they were stocking. Who wouldn’t especially since I have friends who admit they have not caught a 12 inch trout far less a 20 incher.
So when the opportunity came, I filled out the application for this trip, double checked it to make sure I didn’t make any errors, and promptly delivered it to the trip coordinator. I knew I broke out into a grin when I read that I was selected for this outing.
I had recently won a T.L. Johnson rod, a real beaut, at our Fly Fishing Film Tour fundraiser and this would be the perfect water and fish on which to christen it. I had also recently repaired the first fly rod I built through PHWFF, a cherished possession, and this would be the perfect place to test it out. If it could cast a heavy streamer and land a big one, then I could return the rod to serviceable use.
Dang it, time would move ever so slowly, and the anticipation was almost more than I could handle. I cooled my nerves by settling down to the vise and tying up some zonkers. I had heard the adage “big flies, big fish”, and I convinced myself I was going big or going home. I also had a small leech pattern I had experimented on over the winter and secretly admitted that if the meat didn’t work, the leech would be my backup.
Tuesday morning finally came after a listless Monday night. I met up with the convoy at 7 a.m., loaded my gear, and started the greeting pleasantries and familiar jabs that were now common to these trips. The camaraderie does wonders and I never realize how much I miss it until we do it all over again.
We merged right into the traffic jam. Come on, hurry up, hurry up. Got to get to the Falls. It is always a beautiful winding drive up and over the hills getting down to the Platte River Drive. Then along the river through Deckers and now following Trout stream, we gaze up at the Hayman burn area and talk about the fifty plus years it would take for the forest to return. Larry Snyder points out the West cemetery he had mentioned earlier, and the firing (shooting) range which would later benefit from a firefighting helicopter bucket scooping water from Rainbow Falls lakes.
Here we are and Dave Herber and others were already on site. In short sleeves and my fleece vest, it was quite a bit chillier than when we left Denver, so I stuck close to the warmth of the fire going in the pit while we did the usual greetings and introductions. What a nice touch!
In his introduction and welcome, Larry reminded us to pinch our barbs down and be gentle in handling the trout, land them as quickly as we could, avoid touching them if possible, and to keep them in the water while fiddling for our cameras. Respect!
I rigged up my Forecast rod inspecting and hand testing the repair one final time. I tied on some 4X tippet, the largest I had, and a red zonker, an extra BB, and headed up to the pool just below the bridge. I pulled off some line and flung the heavy zonker towards the inlet pipes. Waited a few seconds for it to sink, Strip, strip, strip, and then wham, I felt the tug. Excitement!
I knew it was a lunker. My rod was fully bent and it was fighting like crazy to throw the hook, but I didn’t panic and kept the line tight. When I finally raised it to the top, I was enthralled with the specimen. I was yelling and waving my arms for someone at the pavilion to bring a big long handled net, but to no avail. Having no choice, I finally scooped it into my 18 inch net, with one third the big brute hanging off. Wow! The hook easily slipped out, and I gently coaxed her out of the net.
If you know me, I must have been grinning from ear to ear. I looked at the repair. It worked. A fly I tied worked. I felt particularly proud. Thank you Healing Waters and Rainbow Falls.
I continued fishing but missed the next three strikes. I could feel the fly stripping out of the trout’s jaws. I retrieved the fly, shortened the tail with my nippers, cast again, and bingo, another large hookup. Pulled out one more again before retiring the spot to go try the lakes. Made a note to shorten the tail next time.
Observing some cruisers, I thought my zonker would be too big for these so I changed to my small leech pattern. Success!
Chucking and retrieving is tiring and I was quite thirsty and famished. Folks were already chowing down on huge oversized burgers (to match the trout I imagine) and hot dogs. Time to reenergize. Surprise, it was Mike’s birthday, and out came this delicious birthday cake. Of course we sang him Happy Birthday, totally disregarding his objections.
Introduced myself and sat across from Judy. She confessed that she had not caught a trout so I invited her to join me after lunch which she did. We fished for a bit trying different ponds without landing one. Then the helicopter with bucket and the chop chop noise of its rotors swooped in. Needless to say, this interrupted everyone’s fishing.
I had seen this on television and in movies, but here I was with it flying directly overhead and scooping up water about two maybe three hundred yards away. Could the day get any better? Neat, really neat. I am nerdy like that. On its return for a second bucket, I hastily found my phone and snapped a few shots and short clip. I just had to capture this for prosperity. I might never experience this again.
Gary and I met up and we continued fishing the lower lakes working our way down to the falls where a little birdie had whispered that the holes were holding some biggies. I hooked into a sucker on the way, only the second one I have caught. That’s special to me. I took a picture and released it. It was the only picture of a fish I took all day.
When we reached the falls, the spots were occupied so we continued fishing the lake above until we heard the anglers leave.
I looked at Gary’s rig. He was still fishing the small leech I had given him. I tied on an egg below that, added weight, put on an indicator and adjusted it for the depth. On Gary’s request, I casted it to where I recommended he should. I passed him his rod. Before I could get to the next pool down to put my line in, Gary was hollering “I got one, I got one”. I helped him land it. In quick succession he had hooked two others.
I hooked in to my biggest of the day, and this brute was not giving in without a fight. I was having a time trying to keep it out of the reeds, undercut banks, and going over the berm. I shouted to Gary to come help me land it. Just as he acknowledged, I heard him yell out, “I got one, I have one on”. What a friend, eh? Not there for me when I was there for him.
I wanted a picture of that big one really bad. It was half outside my net and was still struggling. No help from my buddy. I was in a quandary, a real dilemma. l had a choice to make for I had my hands full keeping the fish in the net, far less trying to do that with one hand, keep it in the water, and fiddle for my phone.
Larry’s words resounded in my head. I don’t want to hurt the fish, especially not such a fine specimen. I nodded to myself, thanked the fish for not cooperating and being a brave soul, lowered the net, and watched it swim off into the depths.
It was now 4:00 pm. Gary and I agreed we needed to head back. Climbing back up to the road, we could see the now empty pavilion parking lot, and Larry pulling away on his way to come look for us. Gary looked at me and said, “at least we were on our way back”.
As Larry pulled up, to our great surprise, he asked if we wanted to fish some more. Hell yeah! He drove us down to the far lake which I had not seen before.
On heading back out, I took a look around, taking in the scenery a last time. I see Pikes Peak in the distance. Rainbow Mountain Falls, such a beautiful place, what a wonderful day, how generous these people.
Oh, what a memorable experience today was.
Thanks to all who made this experience possible:
The owners of Rainbow Mountain Falls Richard and Shawnna Johnson
Project Healing Waters – Denver: Larry Snyder and all the other volunteers in support
The Colorado Springs crew – Dave Herber, Jeff Stahnke et al
Dan of Alpine Lumber for that good hot lunch
My fellow veterans
Any others that I may have overlooked.