As this is my first season here at Vista Verde many of you may not know me yet, so I will start by introducing myself. My name is Andrew Behrend, and until just over two months ago I have lived most of my life in Michigan. I was born and raised in southeastern Michigan, in the metro Detroit area. If you haven’t spent any time in the state you may not know it, but Michigan is absolutely littered with fantastic fishing statewide. From trout fishing pristine rivers, to trolling at depths of 100ft or more in Lake Michigan for salmon, and much more in between, Michigan offers an incredibly diverse fishery. As far back as I can remember I have been exploring all that Michigan has to offer with a fishing rod in my hand. As I entered my teenage years I was introduced to fly fishing and have not looked back since. As some of you may know, it can become an addiction and no matter what you do, the desire cannot be satisfied.
In the spring of 2014 I took a leap of faith and decided to take my passion and attempt to turn it into a career. That spring I started working for Boyne Outfitters located in Boyne Falls in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. That job only fueled the fire, and drove me to spend every waking second eating and breathing fly fishing. After a great four years guiding in Michigan I decided that it was time to expand my skills and knowledge by guiding elsewhere in the county, on waters that were completely foreign to me. So here I am now, two months into guiding for Vista Verde.
I knew that fishing the waters of northern Michigan would vary greatly from the mountain streams of northern Colorado, which is exactly why I moved. Wherever they are found, trout are trout, and generally behave the same. However the types of water that they are found in can vary greatly. The rivers that I was used to fishing in MI are a much lower gradient than the rivers here in the Steamboat area, as they are not flowing down out of mountains. This also means that on those rivers you do not have to deal with a significant spring runoff event as well. When it comes to river structure, the streams in northern MI are generally a sand or fine gravel bottom with a ton of wood structure. Common areas to target for fish are slower, deep bend pools and log jams. The high gradient mountain streams in CO have quite a different make up. Rather than the sand and fine gravel, these river bottoms are made up of medium to large size rocks and littered with large boulders throughout. The water is moving much quicker, and overall a bit shallower. Instead of looking for that big deep pool to target, you are looking for any piece of river that has deeper water than everything else around it. Any any large rock or boulder that creates a soft spot in the current is a perfect spot for a trout to sit, and wait for food to come floating by. Compared to MI, here in CO we are generally fishing more pocket water, which is an area within the river where a large rock or boulder disrupts the general flow of the water, with shorter drifts and casts.
When it comes to techniques used for catching these fish in CO, it is very similar to MI; however certain techniques are focused on more heavily in each place. From my experiences in MI, there is a heavy focus placed on dry fly fishing. I believe there are a multitude of factors that play into that. For one, there are incredible and very prolific mayfly hatches that occur for most of the summer season. There is usually a steady diet of bugs available on the rivers surface. It is true that the majority of a trout’s diet is consumed sub-surface, but the style and flow of the rivers in MI set themselves up nicely for presenting a dry fly to a fish. The amount of wood on the river bottoms in MI, makes it very difficult to fish nymph rigs. To be effective nymphing you generally need to fish your flies just off the bottom of the river. Nymphing is not impossible, but it becomes very difficult to do so when the river bottom is scattered with deadfall. Here in CO there is a big emphasis on nymphing. With the rivers bottoms being mostly rock, drifting a nymph rig just along the bottom of the river is very effective, since the fish seem to be sitting as deep as possible, in order to stay out of the fast current above. Getting a nymph rig right down to where these fish are sitting is often more effective than making them actively move to eat a fly. Now don’t get me wrong, I have still been dry fly fishing out here in CO as well. In my experience you just have to find the appropriate water on which to do it. It is hard for a fish to decide to eat a fly off of the surface in very fast moving water. But if you can find slower pockets and pools, you can still tempt them to the surface. I have found however, that you do not need to be quite as specific matching your flies to the natural bugs that are present. With the generally faster moving water, the fish do not seem to have as much time to decide if the fly is real or not, and must make a very quick decision. A good presentation is what really seems to be the key to catching fish.
When it comes to the type of trout that are being targeted, it is pretty much the same in both MI and CO with only a few differences. In MI the main focus was usually placed on fishing for brown trout. Brook trout are also very prevalent as well as resident rainbow trout. Here in CO browns, brookies, and rainbows are also present with the addition of cutthroat trout, and rocky mountain whitefish. So far there seems to be a heavy emphasis on rainbow trout here in CO, as they seem to be the most prevalent species in our area. As you move upstream on the Elk River and into its forks, the brook trout become most common, and can fill your day with tight lines and dry fly eats. I have not personally caught a large number of brown trout yet here in CO, but most of those that I have caught have been quality fish. Cutthroat trout are a nice surprise to here, as their numbers are not as great as they once were. Personally I have only caught one myself so far, and I was very elated to do so.
Like I mentioned earlier, when it comes down to it, trout fishing is trout fishing, wherever you may be. In order to be successful, you really have to be observant to the environment that you are in, and adjust to the changes you find in the river, and where trout are likely to be holding. It has been awesome to be in a new place, learning new waters, and continuing to build my skills as a guide and an angler. No matter where you are fishing, there is always something new to learn, or something that you can improve at. That is exactly why I decided to make the move here to Vista Verde and CO, and I have not been disappointed. The area itself is incredible and the fishing is amazing. Every day I’m learning more and more, and plan to continue to do so. If you ever find yourself complacent in your angling pursuits, and feel like you have figured it all out then you are truly not pushing yourself as an angler. Whether you are on your home waters, or somewhere completely foreign, there is always more to learn and something else to figure out. You just have to push yourself to be willing to do it.