Mile High Steps

            Bubbles rise and a strange chortle comes from beneath the pond's murky surface.  It must be the sound of trout laughing.

            The fish, probably doubled over in gill-splitting glee, watch my first attempts to fly cast.  For practice, guide Steve Green has knotted surveyor's tape to the end of the line.  It looks as if I am flinging an orange moth from a strand of yellow yarn.

            What appeared so easy and elegant in A River Runs Through It, seems impossible to duplicate.  I whip the line back and forth in a series of false casts.  When I finally release, the pseudo-bug darts anywhere but to the water.  At least without a hook, I avoid snaring my own pants.

            I do not pretend to be a fisherman, but I have friends who are.  They think that an ideal summer's day involves donning thigh-high galoshes and standing knee-deep in a cold stream.  Somehow, they lured me to Little Grizzly Creek Ranch.

            The 684-acre fishing and hunting resort sits in the Colorado Rockies, 165 miles northwest of Denver.  Rolling hills, quilted with woods and meadows, surround the property.  Its log structures stand at the edge of a 400-foot bluff.  Below flows its namesake stream, which is only one of the fishing areas.Little Grizzly Creek Ranch

            "We have exclusive rights to one and one-half miles of Little Grizzly, four miles of Beaver Creek, five miles of Roaring Fork and five miles of the North Platte," says owner Doug Sysel.  "I'm quite certain no one else in Colorado controls that much water."

            It's more than we will get a chance to sample.  Our group of five runs a gamut of experience.  Dan has been fishing for 30 years, Meggen about eight, Nancy a half-dozen times and Stacy only once before.  This is my first time out with flies I don't swat or zip.

            Our first morning, we and two guides pile into a minibus and head for Beaver Creek.  The willow-lined stream meanders through the center of a broad valley.  Mountains dominate one side, a plateau the other.

            We spread out, and the guides alternate among us.  Steve starts with the more-experienced quartet.  Hayes goes with me.

            In his twenties, mild mannered and quiet, Hayes Lajeunesse is a member of the Shoshone Tribe from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  Scouting upstream, he hesitates beside a creek bend.fishing beaver creek

            "There's a fish by that tuft of grass," he whispers, pointing.

            I look but see nothing.  A minute later the surface breaks with a quick gulp.  A trout has snatched a floating morsel.

            Hayes ties on a fly, and I prepare to cast.  I whip the rod back, and the line flies overhead.  On the rebound, it stops dead.

            "You have your first catch," Hayes tells me.  "A willow."  He walks back to unsnag the mess. 

           "Caught 'em right and left," I honestly report.  "One on the right and one on the left."dinner

            We retire to our rooms, shower, then meet for cocktails and fishing fibs in the ranch lounge.  A five-course dinner follows.

            There is no television, so Steve, an engineering student at Montana State University, provides the evening's entertainment.  Using elk hair, feathers and thread, his flying hands convert a small hook into a bug-like creation.

            "Doctors buy flies," he says.  "We engineers tie them."tying a fly

            We try Steve's imitation insect the next morning at Roaring Fork.  From road's end, a quarter-mile walk takes us to Red Canyon Falls where the creek cascades through a narrow chute, then skirts down into a choppy pool.  Steve says this Eden-like setting contains some big ones.

            After spending the morning here, we lunch at water's edge, then explore downstream.  By Miller time, I have managed to land only one cutthroat and two small brook trout.

            Our last morning, we return to Beaver Creek.  This time we drive farther upstream, and the group scatters.  After lunch, an afternoon thundershower forces us back to the vehicles.  It's short lived, and we soon return to the stream.caught fish

            Meggen strolls to the closest water and casts into the slow moving current.  Wham, she has a strike.  Steve releases the catch, and she casts again.  Another hit follows. Then another.

            Meggen yields the spot to Nancy, whose first attempt yields the same results.  Stacy and I soon join the fish-barrel free-for-all.  Casting from slightly different directions, we try not to intertangle lines.

            My first pitch lands short of the target, but the next zings into the still water by the opposite bank.  A fish strikes.  I jerk the rod to set the hook, but the line jumps empty from the water.

            I try again.  The fly drops to the creek, the water quivers and I pull back.  I have hooked a rainbow.Red Canyon Falls

            I spend the rest of the afternoon, practicing technique and learning fishing nuances from the guides.  As more of my attempts hit target, I am finally able to experience the joy of fly fishing.

            Back at the lodge, we join Doug on the deck.  Reminding us that Little Grizzly is also a hunting resort, he invites us to try trap shooting.  One by one, I watch the others blast clay pigeons to smithereens.waders

            My turn comes, and I yell "pull."  The disk flies, I fire and the target falls to the bushes, totally unblemished.  Subsequent attempts meet with similar results.  I hand the shotgun back to Doug.

            As I walk away, I hear a cooing sound coming from the bushes where the unbroken targets landed.  I think the clay pigeons are laughing.


            I'm not sure what finally happened to this place.  Their Web site is dead and the property is listed for sale on the Internet at around $2½ million.  The fish are still laughing.