By John Bleh
Hiking up the trail, I reflected on the fact that this was one kind of fishing almost everyone loved; small, off-the-beaten path waters with a feeling of real wilderness. There’s always a chance to stumble across some wildlife, and feel a sense that this creek, and its valley, were pretty much unchanged since the last ice age. Maybe the fish wouldn’t be huge, but they would be eager, and they would probably be eating dry flies. Broadacres Ranch manager Dave Marlin and I were making the trek along with renown fishing photographer Jim Levison in the hopes of getting some good photos for use on the ranch website, and the weather was definitely cooperating. Although the forecast hinted at rain for the afternoon, there was scarcely a cloud in the azure sky as we worked our way closer to the fishable water.
Jimmy and I had arrived the day before, and both of us were feeling the elevation. We were staying at Broadacres Ranch near Creede, Colorado, at just about 9,000 feet above sea level. This beautiful creek was closer to 10,000 feet, and the air sure wasn’t getting any thicker. We clambered over a jumble of massive basalt slabs and finally arrived on a grassy bank covered with wild flowers. Dave announced this was the spot, so we rigged up and proceeded to land rainbow after gorgeous rainbow on dry/dropper rigs. Working our way upstream, we were rewarded by the sight of a spectacular waterfall, the signal to head home.
Broadacres Ranch is one of the few fishing lodges around to have the permits necessary to guide the backcountry streams of the Rio Grande National Forest. There are over a dozen of these prolific tributaries in the nearby Rio Grande valley, and the guides at Broadacres know them all. You can chase brook, brown, rainbow and cutthroats in these streams, and what you want to catch often determines where the guides will take you.
Broadacres season runs from June into September, but the Rio Grande is only floatable until mid-July. With that in mind, we decided to spend a couple of days exploring the river waters above and below the ranch. The next day found us floating the Rio Grande itself with head guide Ray Kemper, a native of the Creede area. Floating the river took us past undercut banks, riffles, large boulders and other mid-river structure. High water had the fish hunkered down a bit, but stoneflies were hatching, so we were working a big black rubber leg nymph dropped off a big dry stonefly pattern.
Ray, like many good guides, seems to know every fish in the river on a first name basis. Fishing with an expert guide can mean all the difference between just fishing and catching fish. The guides at Broadacres Ranch are all locals and have years of experience on this river, so it was no surprise to me that Ray seemed to know just where all the fish were. When we approached the Broadacres property, he got even more specific. Pointing to a nice back eddy along the cliff-lined bank, Ray said, “There should be a 21- or 22-inch brown right there.” I didn’t tempt a strike when my fly floated through and it kind of felt like I had let Ray down. I caught plenty of browns that day, and an occasional rainbow. I was pretty darned happy with the result, but Ray was apologetic that we hadn’t landed any 20-plus-inch fish.
The Rio Grande flows right through the ranch property. Starting below Rio Grande Reservoir, there are more than 75 miles of river to explore, past Creede, all the way through South Fork to Del Norte. Between South Fork and Del Norte, the river is designated Gold Medal water by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, 22.5 miles “considered to provide outstanding angling opportunities for large trout.” Broadacres encompasses over 2 miles of the best of this water, and it’s available to ranch guests to wade fish as well. Colorado has some of the most restrictive river access laws in the country, and you cannot get out of raft, or even drop anchor, on private property without permission, so be aware of whose property you are on. Staying at the ranch, I was glad we didn’t have that problem.
Ending each day at Broadacres Ranch was the best of all worlds. Not only was the fishing great, but there was minimal travel time as well, something that’s often true at good fishing lodges. One thing you don’t need after a long day of fishing is that one or two hour drive back home, or to wherever it is you’re staying. That evening, we relaxed in Broadacres’ beautiful main lodge, Glenmora—an airy post-and-beam structure that overlooks some of the best runs on the ranch—and planned the next day’s fishing. It’s hard to focus on anything but food when Gary Seamon, the ranch chef, spoils you with his culinary creations. Medallions of elk, crisp salads, mouth-watering steaks, almond-crusted trout—it just goes on and on. Plan on losing 5 pounds before you get there and maybe you’ll break even by the end of your stay. The ranch operated Glenmora as a public restaurant for a couple of years, so the menu offers a wide choice of entrees. Unlike most lodges, you have a choice of main courses and can even decide when to eat. Most of the guests really seem to enjoy that flexibility.
Day four at the ranch was devoted to wading the ranch’s own private water, starting right in front of our cabin. Over the years, Broadacres has invested heavily in improving the structure and fish holding capacity of their water, and the dividends are real for ranch guests. The Rio Grande averages 1,300 fish per mile, but many guides agree the most productive water is on Broadacres property, and many large rainbows and browns are taken by ranch guests.
I enjoy fishing from a raft or drift boat, but I prefer wade fishing to almost anything else. You can cover the water thoroughly if you want, and if you run into a selective fish, you can take the time to figure it out. I was working the bank as golden stones buzzed like helicopters along the streamside vegetation, and the occasional fly crawled across my vest. Golden stones are like T-bone steaks for hungry trout and they attack them with a vengeance. Ray was carefully pointing out the best lies, and I was hooking feisty 12-16 inch browns that fought hard in the strong current. He calmly warned me that there were a few Moby Dicks hidden in the deeper runs, and the words were scarcely out of his mouth when the water exploded as a 2 foot long rainbow went airborne. The fish turned, headed down river in high gear and I prepared to follow him. My suddenly slack line was an almost predictable conclusion, although I was somewhat consoled by the fact that the hook had pulled out rather than being broken off. By the time we quit for lunch, I had landed over a dozen fish.
That evening we were joined by Mike Deming, President of Sportsman’s News, along with his brother, Troy, and young nephew, David. David had never caught a fish on fly, although he had plenty of fishing experience. Surrounded and probably a little overwhelmed by the “experts” and the nonstop advice he was receiving from all the adults, he still managed the perfect beginning to a lifetime of fly fishing—his first three trout were a brown, a rainbow, and a cutthroat. With dusk settling around us, the fish began to feed greedily, and swirls covered the lake in every direction. Contrary to expectations, the lake fish were just as strong as their river cousins and proved it by streaking across the flats when hooked. Finally, we called it an night and headed in, tired and happy.
The accommodations at Broadacres range from intimate one bedroom to large three bedroom cabins. There are six different cabins, and they have all been extensively renovated. Continental breakfast is stocked in each cabin daily, and lunch and dinner are both served in the main lodge. The quality of the whole experience is reflected in Broadacres participation in the Orvis Endorsed Lodge program.
I woke the last morning determined to sample one the ranch’s real gems, Shallow Creek. This beautiful little freestoner starts high in the San Juan Mountains, then eventually finds its way down into the ranch lakes north of the river, and enters the Rio Grande in the middle of the ranch. Shallow Creek is a very special small creek with surprisingly large trout hidden in its plunge pools, long glides, and undercut banks. Winding through a combination of wooded and meadow stretches that have benefited from some thoughtful habitat improvements, the resulting riffle-pool-run combinations provide nonstop enjoyment. If you welcome the challenge of small stream casting and stalking wary trout, you’ll relish a day here. A 3- or 4-weight rod is the perfect choice, and light tippets are the norm. The stream might be full of browns, rainbows, and cutthroats, but they are not pushovers. My accurate and delicate casts were well rewarded by lightening-like strikes from hungry trout, but I spooked the biggest trout I saw, a 20 inch brown that looked like a whale in this tiny water.
I spent five days fishing at the ranch, and it was a little hard to believe that I didn’t fish everything it had to offer. But with miles of the Rio Grande River, a private creek, two lakes, and countless backcountry streams, it would take more than one visit to see and fish it all. So I’m headed back there soon, real soon.
If you’re looking for someplace new to fish that’s just a bit off the beaten path, with everything from backcountry hike-in streams, small creeks to private lakes to a big brawling river you can wade and float, you should check out Broadacres Ranch. I’d be happy to tell you more. www.broadacresranch.com.