Fisheries Conservation photo


Sam Perry had something special in mind for the last day, and he told us to bring our hiking shoes. We were going to hike into a remote feeder creek–Groundhog Creek–and sight fish to big browns and rainbows in water not much wider than a city sidewalk. The hike was only a couple miles long. Thing is, it was also 1,000 vertical feet down.

Now, the going down will stress your joints more than your lungs, but with every step, one can’t help but wonder what the climb back out is going to feel like. I was taking a break to ponder that, when I caught a whiff of something strong and pungent in the air. I knew that smell from the years I had spent elk hunting in these mountains.

Another minute or so later, we saw the tracks in the mud. Sam let out a whistle, and sure enough, we heard a shuffle in the underbrush, maybe 50 yards away. I never got a full look at the bear, just a glimpse of its massive rear end as it scurried up the slope. It was a brown-phase black bear, and it was big.

Kris Millgate, a reporter, journalist, and videographer for Tight Line Media, was part of the crew and there to produce a short documentary on the region, Dolores Discovered, which you can see here. When we reached the valley floor, she sat Sam, TU backcountry coordinator for this region Matt Clark, and me down for interviews, then (thankfully) turned us loose to fish. We caught many. The old axiom that the more you get off the beaten path, the better the fishing proved true. I can’t imagine more than a handful of anglers in any year fishing this creek, and the seasonal window to fish here is extremely short.

As it turns out we spent an hour getting there, a couple hours fishing, ate a sandwich, and then hiked (and huffed, and puffed) another hour to climb out. And it was totally worth it. As someone who has fished and hunted this region for a quarter century, I saw things and experienced fishing I never had. There is so much diversity here, and so much natural bounty–fishing, hunting, and otherwise–this Upper Dolores watershed has to offer. If, as Trout Unlimited hopes, we would only leave it like it is.