Fishing is always the answer- even when it’s not clear what the question is. – John Gierach

I hate getting skunked fly-fishing for trout. But after a long day of standing in a river waving a big stick, the trout made me once again question my ability, sanity, and overall good sense. Who, in their right minds, spends so much time day dreaming about something so exasperating? Apparently, me.

I’ve wanted to fish the Blue River that tumbles out of the mountain above Breckenridge, stops for a bit to fill the Dillon Lake. Part of my soon-to-be-released novel, Voices on the Prairie, is about fly-fishing!

Dillon Lake

Dillon Lake

Dillon Lake is unusual because it’s filled with Mysis Shrimp that hang out at the bottom of the lake and get sucked through the outlet of the dam.  This time of the year the lake is turning and they’re letting California have more water ’cause Colorado, for once, has had great snowpack and rainfall.  The tailrace (water that flows out of a dam) is then loaded with these shrimp that become caviar for gorging trout. This tailrace is a continuation of the Blue River.

Dillon Dam

Blue River as it flows out of Dillon Lake’s Dam, forming a tailrace.

People who fly-fish spend ridiculous amounts of money on itty-bitty imitations of various aquatic insects called flies. I learned to tie flies 30 years ago in Idaho, but have recently resurrected the craft (for some, it’s an art, but for me it’s still a craft) after my wife learned how many flies I lose to the trout, submerged rocks, trees, and power lines. I never said I was good; I said that I loved it.  So I found an easy Mysis pattern on video at and tied some up myself.

Typing a Mysis Shrimp

Typing a Mysis Shrimp

Epoxy Mysis Shrimp

Epoxy Mysis Shrimp

The problem I had is that, because of the snowpack and rainfall which Colorado is deciding to share this year, the river was flowing about five times it’s normal flow. Usually, it flows around 300 cfs (cubic feet per second), but they cranked it up to 1,500 cfs. This made the fishing extra hard for me.

This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation for me so, after getting skunked the first day, I decided I’d spend the second day doing other things I love; taking photos and writing stories.

The towns of Dillon and Silverthorne are conjoined twins connected at birth by Interstate 70.  Clever marketers one day looked at all the guys lined up in the river fishing and decided the best way to get the wives there was start a shopping mall.  It’s the only place I know where a woman can literally dump her husband off in the parking lot to go fishing in a Gold Medal stream while she shops away. This worked well for Christine and me.

Fly-fishing at Silverthorne

Fly-fisher man fishing the Blue at Silverthorne Shopping Mall

Christine headed to the stores and I grabbed my camera and notepad and headed to the Blue with the intent of finding a story or two.  The Blue has various spots that have been nicknamed like Asbestos Alley (it’s the part right below I-70 that smells like hot brake pads from the cars that just came down a mountain), and The Big Gulp (it’s right behind the 7-Eleven store).

The first guy I found had a dandy 20″ trout he had just pulled out of The Big Gulp.  Doug Steinke was there with this son, Blake, and Doug was photographing the fish. I volunteered to use his camera (I could tell it was a nice one and he must be a pro) and then reassured them that I knew how to handle a camera.  My assumptions were right, Doug is a professional wildlife photographer from Grand Island, Nebraska.  He sized me up and handed me his camera; it’s really hard to take a selfie when you’re holding a squirming, slick-as-ice-on-concrete fish.

Doug Steinke with a 20" rainbow

Doug Steinke with a 20″ rainbow

Doug’s son, Blake, taught himself how to fly-fish when he was 9. This was his 5th year fishing on the river and, after watching him, I think I’ll hire him as a guide the next time I go fishing.  You just can’t beat a father and his son fishing together.

Blake Steinke gearing up to fish the Blue


I wandered up the Blue for a ways and spied a fisherman that had a big trout hooked. Hooking a fish is only about half the battle in this fast water because once they head out to current, they’re really hard to land.  Fly-fishing using very lightweight tackle and lines so you can’t just reel them in with muscle; you have to finesse them. I also know that a person fly-fishing loves a good photograph of themselves with a big one bending their rod. Again, it’s really hard to get a selfie in the midst of the action. The Blue was too loud for a person to converse, so I got his attention, held up my business card, and pointed to my camera. It was my smoke-signal way of saying, “Email me; I’ll send you photos.”  Sure enough, when we got back to our condo that night, I got an email from Zach Leonard.


Fish on the hook

Zach Leonard with a fish on the hook

Next, I bumped into Ben Baxter. Ben is from Colorado and has the joy of working in a fly shop, the Anglers All, in Denver. I could never work in a fly shop for the same reason I can’t work at Chipotle.

Ben Baxter

Ben Baxter

Ben makes the hour-and-a-half trip from Denver to the Blue any chance he gets. Naturally, he ties his own flies and, when I prompted him, showed me a dandy little San Juan worm he ties. Trout in just about any water in the world like San Juan worms.


San Juan worm

Ben Baxter’s hand-tied San Juan worm

The next day, we went to Breckenridge. We drove along the Upper Blue River above Dillon Lake and it was as muddy as a Kansas stream. This is awful water for trying to fly-fish. But I had my choice: go shopping with Christine in Breckenridge, or go fly-fish.  Um, I’ll take door number two, please.

the dirty blue

Upper Blue River south of Breckenridge – The Steps

I was the only idiot in the area called The Steps. Most mountain streams have, at one time or another, been decimated by mining and industry. Actually, most rivers in America have been wiped out with industrialization at one point in time.  Fortunately, conservation groups like Colorado Trout Unlimited help rehabilitate these streams. In the 1990s, these groups created The Steps which is a lovely place to fish.

There are three basic ways to fly-fish: dry fly, nymphing, and streamer.  Dry fly is my favorite because the bugs living in the water swim to the surface, hatch, then fly away. This happens at very random times and fisherman try to match-the-hatch with a fly that resembles what trout are feasting on.

The second is nymphing. You tie on strike indicator (same thing as a bobber but no fly-fisherperson with any dignity at all will ever call it a bobber), then two-feet below that you tie on your first nymph, like the Mysis, then you tie on to the hook of the Mysis another line about sixteen inches and tie on a San Juan worm. Then you cast that combination into the current and let it drift. This is the best way to catch fish, but not as much fun as a dry-fly.

The third is using streamers.  You tie on a fly that usually resembles a fish and throw it into the current, let it drift down until the fast water meets the slow water (called the seam) and being stripping it in.  This is usually a highly-successful and easy way to begin fly-fishing.

I’m sure people driving by thought I was nuts for fishing in the muddy water. But compared to shopping, this was heaven.  I was about to give up when the sweet thunk hit the end of my line and my nine-and-a-half foot long Sage rod bowed in a big arc and I nearly had a heart attack. I had a big fish, a strong current, weeds in the water, and my chance of landing him were minimal.  A miracle occurred and I landed him! I wanted to take a selfie, but I knew the fish, me, and my phone would all end up in the river so I laid the big ‘bow on wet grass and took his portrait. I fish catch-and-release so I quickly released him back into the river. It just proves a point I’ve suspicioned all along; luck plays a huge  part in fly-fishing.

blue river trout

Blue River rainbow I caught in The Steps below Breckenridge.

If you decide to go there, here are some great fly-fishing shops in Dillon, Silverthorne, and Breckenridge. They are very helpful and keep relatively up-to-date fishing reports.

Breckenridge- Mountain Anglers

Silverthorne – Cutthroat Angler

Dillon- The Colorado Angler

I only caught one fish, but captured some great images, made a few new friends, and found a few stories waiting for someone to tell them. All in all, I’d say I caught what I like to fish for.

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