Note: This is my third “delayed” post about a fishing trip I made with some pals from the Michigan Fly Fishing Club to the Steamboat Springs area and the Frying Pan River September 19 - 27.
The first Arctic Grayling I ever caught came from Zimmerman Lake which is just east of Cameron Pass in Colorado. That was a long time ago and all I remember about that trip was paddling around in a float tube and catching a bunch of them on dry flies. None were very large, but they were beautiful and exotic fish.
A number of years later I insisted on catching some European Grayling when I fished the Traun River in Austria. My guide didn’t consider grayling to be “sporting” so he kindly pointed me to where I could catch a few, but wouldn’t accompany me. These grayling were quite a bit larger than the Zimmerman Lake fish and would rocket up through four or five feet of clear water to take a size 18 dry fly.
But, today it’s come almost full circle and I’m once again fishing for grayling in Colorado. We’re fishing Joe Wright Reservoir which just down the road from Zimmerman Lake. I’ll be the first to admit that Joe Wright Res. isn’t quite as picturesque as Zimmerman Lake, but nowadays if you want to catch grayling it’s got to be here. The grayling, which were first stocked in Zimmerman Lake in 1951, were extirpated from it in 1995 and the lake was restocked with what at the time were thought to be pure-strain Greenback cutthroat trout. As it turns out they weren’t as pure as the biologists thought and the lake was rotenoned in 2005 and then stocked with Roaring Creek/Hunter Creek strain greenbacks that were also believed to be pure strain cutts. But, oops those “pure strain” greenbacks were just replaced in 2013 with a Bear Creek strain of greenbacks that a recent mitochondrial genetic study indicates are the purest strain of greenback cutts, yet.
Anyway, let’s get back to the grayling. Before all the greenback cutthroat trout shenanigans some Arctic Grayling from Zimmerman Lake had somehow made their way into nearby Joe Wright Reservoir and established a naturally reproducing population. That’s why we are here today. Our tactics are basic. You cast a dry fly out on the water and leave it there until the wind starts to drag it over the surface. If you’re lucky a grayling will be cruising by before it starts to drag. If that is the case it will take the fly. I say “lucky” because we haven’t seen a lot of cruisers today. Another fly fisher who walked by earlier simply said, “You should have seen it yesterday….risers everywhere! That’s why I came back today, but it sucks.”
However, we do manage to catch a few and miss strikes on a lot more that we don’t catch. The grayling, like brook trout, often prefer to come down on top of the dry fly and you have to hold off pulling the trigger until they actually take the fly. Anyway, we got some and held them up to the camera like rare, beautiful jewels before quickly releasing them.