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Rabbit Ears Rockets

Rabbit Ears Rockets

I don’t know if it is the sun or the heat that has awakened me but the intensity of both is immense. Fumbling around for the zipper I yank it across the tent door with hopes for a breath of cool air. There’s not a lick of a breeze. I slither out of my sleeping bag and out into the morning light. Looking out at the mountains, there isn’t a cloud in sight. It’s going to be a hot one today.   One by one the tents unzip and friends emerge. Some are as graceful as butterflies emerging from a chrysalis stretching gracefully and fluttering their arms towards the sun. Others resemble the birth of some kind of dinosaur with thrashing and screeching. They land on the ground with a plop, squinting and bewildered. 

Rabbit Ears Peak hovers overheard having stood guard throughout the night over our rag tag crew. A famous symbol of northwest Colorado, Rabbit Ears Pass and its namesake peak has been the destination of our annual 4th of July trip for years. The rock formation resembles a rabbit with two perky ears, although one ear suffered some erosion damage years ago. Time has not been kind to the pass. Extreme weather and fire bans seem to be a new constant. 

Sitting around camp we make a plan for the day and divide ourselves by hikers, bikers, and anglers. We pick one truck to pile into and load in more gear and beer than we probably need. As our convoy leaves the campsite, the bikers head north towards town as we head south towards the river. Unknown waters are on the menu today, a little tailwater that was supposedly a best kept secret. With some rough directions we turn on the GPS unit as we leave the land of cell reception. 

The sketchy description of the river access we heard was not exaggerated, and the three of us stared down at the steep ravine with apprehension. Pulling on my waders feels like climbing into a hot, damp garbage bag and I’m kicking myself for not taking them out of the car last night. My boots make that unmistaken “sploosh” sound when I mash my feet into them, water seeping from the fabric as I cinch the laces. Taking a first step I slide down the fine gravelly earth a few feet. Once I catch my balance, another step slides further and I accept the fact that I’ll be surfing down this grade. My rod waves in the air like a crazy person and somehow, we all manage to make it to the bottom without any injuries or broken gear. 

A quick scan of the river immediately impresses. It is gin clear, there’s large boulders, deep pools, and I can’t wait to get into it. Despite the sweltering heat the water is cold as ice and quite refreshing. Picking a part of the river that looks the most shallow I cast into the very center. I let out just enough slack to allow the nymph to sink before the drift. Watching the line…waiting. Slam! A big, beautiful rainbow fights hard, darting upstream before turning and rushing back at me so quickly I’m afraid it will pop the fly. It leaps out of the air and flashes it’s deep red cheek at me in defiance before it dives back into the drink. Slowly I inch it closer to the net until it relents. Dipping my hand into the water first I scoop up the blushing beauty to get a better look. As many of these fish as I catch, they take my breath away every time. As quick as she came in she’s gone again, with a tail flip goodbye to be caught another day.

Colorado contains more than 7,000 miles of trout streams. There are 2,850 cold water lakes and 360 warm water reservoirs. You never know for sure that today’s country road won’t be tomorrows interstate freeway, nor can we forecast that today’s free flowing river might not be altered at any moment. The fish and insects of each watershed will probably remain somewhat constant throughout the years. 

I move back downstream to where I had spotted a deep, dark pool in the shade. My friend Pat had already eyed that hole and when I slogged my way down there he was hooting and hollering. “You’ll never believe how hard these little fish sticks fight!”. Sure enough, it looked like he had a tiny shark on the line. The end of his line was darting all over, vibrating the surface of the water. One big yank and the tiniest trout I have ever seen comes launching out of the surface and into the air. It wasn’t nearly palm sized, but when it hit the water it dove back down with the heart of a bluefin tuna. The pothole was about 8 feet wide and twice as long, and I decided to dip on in as well. As soon as my fly hit the water it was eaten by a similar sized fish. “These things are like tiny rockets!” I said out loud before launching into a terrible rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” but changing it to “Rocket Fish”. No one ever said I was a great fishing partner, but I keep it interesting. 

One by one I reel in these little sticks of butter and send them on their way. I stop for a minute and pull a peanut butter and jelly that was tucked into my front wader pocket. Still standing mid-stream I reflect on what a beautiful place I live in and the peacefulness of this little reservoir tailwater. I hear a splashing behind me and swivel expecting to see Pat landing a fish. Instead, I’m greeted by two mule deer does crossing the river. They look as perplexed as I do. I decide to leave them be and we head back towards Rabbit Ears Pass. This hidden gem of a spot will forever be burned into my memory.

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