Fishing in Geirach & A.K. Country

Fishing in Geirach & A.K. Country

There's a lot I admire about America's best-known pair of fly-fishing buddies, FR&R editor-at-large John Gierach and contributing editor A.K. Best. But

  • By: Paul Guernsey
There's a lot I admire about America's best-known pair of fly-fishing buddies, FR&R editor-at-large John Gierach and contributing editor A.K. Best. But the thing I find most admirable about John and A.K. is that, even if neither of these two Midwestern transplants to Colorado had ever published a word, and no one beyond a small circle of Rocky Mountain fly-fishing fanatics had any idea who they were, they would both be living life pretty much the same as they do right now.

That is to say, they would be living frugally, tying flies through the winter, regularly and methodically following the fly hatches higher into the Rockies as each new angling season progressed, and saving up for the occasional trip in search of Labrador brook trout or West Coast steelhead. And either of them will tell you that while a little success is nice (they've even come to enjoy being recognized in public) it's still all about the fishing.

A further word about that ingrained, Midwestern-and-1960's-inspired back-to-basics frugality: When I first visited his small, adopted Colorado hometown a few years ago, Gierach's main source of transportation was a 14-year-old Nissan pickup truck with no backseat and nothing but a cramped, sideways "jump-seat" for hauling a third passenger or a dog. Although John has since bought a "less old" Nissan-this one featuring a slightly newer, still-sideways, and not-too-incredibly-uncomfortable jump-seat-it is difficult to imagine that, had he not published Trout Bum, or Sex, Death, and Fly-fishing, he would be living a more extravagant life than the one he's living now.

For his part, A.K. also used to drive an old beater of a truck; now he's got a 2000 Ford Ranger. "It doesn't have four-wheel drive," A.K. says. "I don't need it, because John's truck has it."

I also mentioned a "small circle" of other anglers, and in fact, it is somewhat inaccurate to think of Gierach and A.K. as some sort of inseparable duo. They are actually part of an informal group of well-seasoned Colorado anglers who enjoy bamboo fly rods, high-country trout, camping by the side of a river and each other's company.

Writer Ed Engle, who lives in the Colorado Springs area, and Lyons, Colorado bamboo flyrod maker Mike Clark are important members of this loose confederation, with Mike's shop serving as a sort of unofficial headquarters for it. And there are other members as well-some from Colorado and others who come to fish from elsewhere, and many of whom John has written about in his Sporting Life columns and in his books, along with some of whom he probably hasn't.

I am fortunate that on a couple of different occasions-both times in the late summer-the small circle has temporarily expanded a bit to let me in, and I've gotten to fish with John and A.K. on some of their home waters.

On the first occasion, the air was warm, water levels were low and John and I waded wet as we fished his and A.K.'s home river, the St. Vrain, just north of Lyons. We all caught fish that day but, as I recall, A.K. caught most of them. In fact, there were a couple of times when John and I just stood on the bank behind him, watching him swing that bamboo rod as he hunched forward intently, a pencil-shape cigar clamped between his teeth.

At one point, one of them put a bamboo rod in my hand and let me fish it for a while. My first impressions were that the rod looked beautiful and cast beautifully-and also that it was heavy. Aside from the good conversation that day, the most memorable part for me was when John and I crept up a dark side-channel through a dense tunnel of willows, stalking little brook trout as we went.

The second time I fished with them was this past September, and conditions were more autumn-like than they had been during my previous trip. The river we intended to fish was blown out from a recent rainfall, so we opted for Plan B-but what a Plan B it was. They took me into Rocky Mountain National Park, and we fished a creek that flowed through a broad valley meadow where scores of elk had begun gathering into their breeding herds. The mountains above us still wore some of last year's snow-and it would not be long before they received a fresh blanketing to go on top of it.

The three of us leap-frogged up the creek as we fished beaver dams and pocket water, catching little browns, brookies and rainbows, watching one another catch them, and at one point stopping to observe a brief but decisive dispute between two huge bull elk. Finally, toward mid-afternoon so many elk had begun funneling into the area that we thought it would be wise to find another place to fish, and we climbed back into John's Nissan and headed for the upper St. Vrain.

This part of the St. Vrain is a wild, mountain freestone flow, the kind of stream that makes your heart speed up with the adventure of exploration. John and A.K. told me there were cutthroats here, and John loaned me a 71/2-foot, John Bradford bamboo rod to cast for them amid narrow, brush-covered banks and low-hanging branches.

Although both John and A.K. caught fish in this spot and I didn't, I got used to casting the borrowed bamboo rod and began to enjoy it quite a bit. Suddenly the weight difference between bamboo and graphite no longer made such a big difference to me, and I began to think that I might actually have to buy a cane rod of my own some day…

The next morning found us on a couple of private, carefully managed spring-fed ponds filled with huge, strong, picky rainbows. As the day progressed, we hooked the occasional four- to five-pounder on nymphs-as often as not, the fish broke off or cartwheeled into the air and threw the hook-but the real action took place during the sporadic Olive and Callibaetis hatches that seemed to occur whenever a few clouds slid across the sun. Even then, however, fooling one of those frequently fished-to rainbows was not easy-although A.K. often made it look that way.

At one point, I worked an entire pod of occasional risers for about 20 minutes without so much as a look from any of them. Finally I stepped back to take a break and, since John was right behind me, I told him to give it a shot.

Gierach stepped in, made one cast over the tops of the tall reeds-and of course immediately hooked a fish.

Books by John Gierach

Still Life with Brook Trout (2005)
Fly-fishing the High Country (2004)
At the Grave of the Unknown
Fisherman (2003)
Good Flies (2002)
Death, Taxes And Leaky Waders (2001)
Standing in a River Waving a Stick (2000)
Fishing Bamboo (1997)
Another Lousy Day in Paradise (1997)
Dances with Trout (1995)
Even Brook Trout Get the Blues (1993)
Where the Trout Are All as Long as Your Leg (1993)
Sex, Death, and Fly-fishing (1990)
Fly-fishing Small Streams (1989)
The View From Rat Lake (1989)
Trout Bum (1988)

Books by A.K. Best

Fly-Fishing with A.K. Best (2005)
Dyeing and Bleaching Natural
Fly-Tying Materials (2004)
Production Fly Tying (2003)
Advanced Fly Tying (2002)
A.K.'s Fly Box (1996)