Searching for Gold in Colorado

“There’s gold for those who seek it,” The old-timer whispered as he walked away with his farm dog. What does that mean? Should I bring a pan instead of my fly rod?

Last spring, my girlfriend and I took an afternoon to find some deer sheds outside of Gunnison. We chose a spot close to town in case some shady weather set in. I parked my car, she unbuckled and hopped out the passenger door. The day was as any other spring day—a bit warm, but mostly cold, with some sparse clouds sweeping overhead. We set off to a trail where I’d found deer sheds before, while sipping some mid-afternoon coffee and chatting about how nice it was to be back outside after a particularly cold winter. As we meandered down the trail an older pup appeared in front of us, followed closely by an older gentleman. As we passed, we shared greetings and complimented the calm nature of his dog. A quick chat turned into a conversation about fishing, as they always tend to do. The man spoke of his earlier years with Colorado Division of Wildlife and how he was fortunate enough to assist in stocking fish in alpine ponds and streams. We admired his tales as he spoke and respected his experiences. As we began to part ways, he tossed one last piece of sage wisdom our way.

“There’s gold for those who seek it.”

I turned to ask him what he meant. As I began to speak, I quickly shut my mouth. If he wanted to tell us what he meant, he would have. I didn’t want to pry him of his knowledge, nor did it seem like he would unfold his words anyway. We continued up the trail as I pondered what he meant.

I’ve spent nearly as much time researching golden trout in Colorado as I did researching for my Master’s Degree. Similar to tico trout in Costa Rica, there isn’t much information to be found on the internet. Since that trail encounter last spring, I’ve gone mad trying to find any clues or hints as to where golden trout can be found in Colorado. The DOW (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) stocked alpine lakes with golden trout in the 70s and 80s, but the fish didn’t fare well. Most of these waters are void of goldens and now provide native cutthroat with necessary habitat. Yet, I still found that not all golden trout have disappeared from Colorado. A few articles and social media photos hint at wild populations which can still be found.

Amid this self-induced golden trout madness, I found an archive of stocking reports from 1982. In the report was a location that was relatively close to where I live. The report stated that golden trout fingerlings were stocked in a lake, and consequently the stream which ran from it. I took to google earth to scope the spot and drop a pin for whenever the need for exploration may arise.

With tico trout from Costa Rica still on my mind, I awoke early this morning with the insatiable taste for adventure. I pulled up my super-secret map and found the pin for the reported golden trout water, filled up a water bottle, slapped together a sandwich and began driving toward the area I would explore. As I drove, I pictured the picturesque trout in my net basket, me celebrating at the top of my lungs, and the stories I would share afterwards. My adventurous spirit took me up a 6-mile rocky road that hasn’t seen much love in years. I pulled into the parking lot and grabbed my gear with full intention of catching the trout that had been on my mind since the spring before.

After a short 30-minute hike, my scenery began to match the images of google earth. I was eager, ecstatic even, to begin the fishing portion of the trip. The trail swept through an open valley, meandering like the creek which ran through it. I pulled off the main trail to inspect the water which, to my dismay, was significantly low. If you’ve ever tried fishing in a gutter during a light rain, you’ve seen more water than this creek had all summer. Yet, the sight didn’t deter my motivation. I pushed on along the creek until I found some “deeper holes.” Doubting the validity of the water, I rolled a line into the pocket. It sat for a whopping two seconds before a fish launched itself at the fly, missing by only centimeters. Being the expert fly fisher that I am, I set the hook into nothing and shook my rod around like it was a pool noodle. After a moment of untangling myself, I tossed the fly back into the pocket. The fish was eager to meet the fly and with a quick set, the fish was on. The fish met my basket a few moments later and inspected for the coloration, spotting and parr marks. I will admit that I was a bit bummed to find it was a Colorado River Cutthroat, which I quickly shook off because let’s be honest, a cutthroat is still an amazing fish to catch.

The journey continued upstream and I picked at every pocket I could find. Every eager cutthroat in that creek met my fly that day, yet I still had no signs of a golden trout. Each meager riffle held promise, yet the fish had no intention of making an appearance, if they were even there. As the day drew on and clouds began to build, I had to call my adventure for the day. If golden trout did inhabit these waters, they were few and far between. I left the stream in the mid-afternoon, happy with my catches but dissatisfied with my earlier ideas of striking gold.

Since that day, I’ve spent even more time researching where to find golden trout in Colorado. Some new spots have been identified and pinned for the next calling. While the rumor mill still turns, it is left to skill and hearsay to find where the species may be found in this slice of the Rockies. Still, I reflect on that day as a success. Around a dozen beautiful native trout tangoed with my fly even if the creek held less water than a half-full glass. For now, golden trout remain on my bucket list.

Fish on, my friends.