Fisheries Conservation photo

The Upper Dolores water is actually comprised of two forks. Its east and west branches straddle a steep granite ridge, not far west from Lizard Head peak. Each fork flows through an alpine valley, before converging several miles upstream from the town of Dolores.


On day two, our group drove over the mountains from Rico to fish the west branch with Sam Perry. Like many, Sam is a transplant to this region. He originally hails from Georgia, but he spent many fall days on family hunting trips in the area. Eventually, the Perry’s bought some acreage in the Dolores watershed, and Sam took that a step further by moving out here to become a teacher and coach at one of the local schools.

“Once you get here and see this place, it gets in your blood,” he explained. “I just got to the point where I couldn’t leave.”

The thing about fishing anywhere in Colorado is that stream access is often a complicated deal. According to the law, river rights belong to the property owner. A visitor can float on the water, but if you touch bottom on private sections, you’re trespassing. In the skinny stretches of the Upper Dolores, floating isn’t feasible, so we had to carefully choose our spots.

And the private-versus-public issue is also central to the Trout Unlimited mission here. TU is working with private landowners–many of whom live on original homestead properties dating back 100 years or more–in order to maintain and protect habitat throughout the entire river corridor. Issues like bank erosion and channelization are of paramount concern for the whole fishery. And conservation easements are a huge plus for all anglers, whether they can access a given stretch of water or not.

“You can’t just look at a river with a section-by-section mindset,” explained Chris Herrman, TU’s land protection coordinator in this area. “Because fish move upstream and downstream, and they need habitat to reproduce and survive.”

Sam had a special place in mind, just upstream from a campground on the lower section of the west branch. We parked, then bushwhacked through the woods along the river for a quarter mile or so (passing what looked like many choice runs along the way). But when we reached Sam’s goal, the reasons were obvious.


A large boulder field funneled the current into a gentle riffle, which eventually flattened into a glide, and collected in a slow churning pool. The trout were eating on top. Caddis (size16, tan) were buzzing all about.

Within a few casts I was hooked up, and I landed a 16-inch wild brown trout with kite-like golden fins, and vibrant red spots.

The thing about this river, and this part of Colorado in general, is that if you’re willing to hike, even just a little bit, it’s still easy to find total solitude and fish that might surprise you.

We planned to test that notion to the extreme the following day.