Fly fishing is all fun and games until someone gets hurt deep in the heart of the Colorado backcountry. Especially when that someone is the only fly rod you brought. This tale begins with three friends, Chris (IG: @simplekeeler), Schlepp (IG: @schleppycam), and Kyle (IG: @ksluski), planning a journey into a remote canyon, on a route that’s seldom traveled.
The excitement was high, as it was one boy’s (Schlepp’s) first time to this magnificent place. We had been planning the trip for weeks and, of course, shit happens. Schlepp gets sick after traveling across the country and Chris has to guide a last minute fishing trip. I’m left wondering if this trip is going to come to fruition at all. Against improbable odds, Schelpp shook off a nasty cold with a healthy dose of NyQuil. Meanwhile, Chris guided like a goddamn champ and got back ASAP so we could hit the road and try to beat an incoming storm to the trailhead.
While on the road, we skeptically looked to the horizon as the incoming black mass approached our destination. Once parked, we were fully engulfed by the storm. Hail pounded the car and lightning bleached the sky purple. Luckily, the storm passed quickly and we hoisted on our packs filled with a couple days worth of hooch and headed off to catch dream-worthy trout.
After four hours of pushing deep into the backcountry, we finally reached our destination with enough daylight to spare for a few casts. We set up camp, laced up the bug flingers and hit the river. The fishing was lights-out till the rain came again, then the race was on. Running over slick boulders with just the light of our headlamps, we got back to camp nothing short of drenched.
It took some time and maneuvering but we eventually got three grown boys in a 2-person tent while it spewed rain outside our thin-walled home. It poured for four hours straight with little to no break in the deluge, so needless to say we cracked a few cold ones to kill the time.
The morning came swift with a fuzzy head but without any rain or clouds. A glorious morning fueled by oatmeal spared us from our hangover and the energy in the air was electric. The morning session was wondrous with all of the boys catching multiple finned animals. It was just about time to slurp down the daily dose of canned tuna when the unthinkable happened. While caught on a large stone I broke the only rod I brought with me to a point of no return, a rod that didn’t even belong to me. After mourning my loss, Chris and Sam lent me their rods for a few casts here and there. That wasn’t enough, and I eventually decided to make my own.
The boys thought I was wasting my time but I figured I had to give it shot. First things first, I found a strong stick with a nice grip (about 6ft long) and got all the extra branches off. Now with a nice clean blank, I tied on about 8ft of 3x tippet for a leader and put on a scrumptious looking hopper-dropper rig. The real challenge came when I had to figure out the best way to cast the thing – turns out a semi-decent tension cast works pretty damn well.
I wasn’t more than a few casts in when I hooked into a plump rainbow. I wasn’t quite sure what to do other than lift my arm, back up, and yell to the boys. Chris came in with a spectacular net-boy job and we all gave each other that “I-can’t-believe-that-shit-just-worked” look. Moments later, we all found out that Chris had a sizable hole in his net. Once we realized the fish was gone forever, and that Chris blew it, we moved up-river and continued the hunt.
Throughout the rest of the day, five more fish were caught on the stick that gained many different names, with “Oathkeeper” being the crowd favorite. Unfortunately, our great journey was coming to an end but not without Chris getting some last minute closure on a nice ‘bow. After Chris released the last fish, we gathered up camp and started the trek back to civilization, but not before leaving the Oathkeeper behind.
So if you’re ever in the Colorado backcountry and come upon a stick rigged with a couple of flies, you know where we’ve been, you know the story, and I hope you use it for fun and not out of necessity.
Kyle Lusk is a resourceful and innovative fly fisherman out of Colorado! Check him out on Instagram @ksluski