Southwest Colorado: mountains, rivers, hiking, biking, skiing, sight seeing, hunting and fishing. Wow, what a place to call home. The diversity is spellbinding and offers something for most everyone. From the forgotten mining camps high in the mountains to the modern and booming city of Durango, you are never at a loss to find a new adventure. Whether it be on your private ranch or the National forest, The beauty of the green forests, sparkling rivers, streams and lakes, and wildlife will take your breath away. It is little wonder why the area is so popular.
For the fisherman, there is access to some of the premier trout waters anywhere. Whether you are after the many small cutthroat and brooke trout in the small high mountain lakes and streams or the monsters that lurk in rivers such as the Animas, San Juan, Rio Grande, Dolores, La Plata and Piedra Rivers, It is just a matter of which direction you want to go. All this within less that 2 hours of home. Rainbow and brown trout are abundant in all the major waters in the area. Each season presents it's opportunity and challenges as to how to catch these fish. Nymphing the deep runs in the winter after snowshoeing to the river or matching the hatch with dry flies spring, summer or fall, the fish are always there. All these waters are wadeable and floatable depending on the water flow. If your preference is to float and use the expertise of a guide, they are readily available at all the towns along the rivers. For the do-it-yourselfer, the choices are unlimited.
For the fly fisherman, rods in the 3-6 weight category will suffice for all the trout waters in the area. Floating fly line with 7 1/2 to 10 foot leaders in 3X to 5X will cover just about every situation. An assortment of streamers, nymphs, preferably rubber legged bead heads, size 18-12, and dry flies, same size, should adorn your fly box. Some popular patterns are prince nymph, haresear, copperjohn, Adams dry, parachute and upwing, elk hair caddis, stimulator, lime trude, and grasshopper, preferably Schroeders parachute hopper, tan, in size 12. Any of the local fly shops can fill your fly box with the current popular patterns. For the most part, you will be able to wade wet in the warm summer months, but a good pair of waders will make your day more enjoyable.
Those fortunate enough to have access to private waters can count themselves fortunate, indeed. Home water where you know most all the fish by name is very special. Having the water to yourself to enjoy the serenity, or to teach a family member the art will never be overrated. Sword of Truth Ranch at the base of the La Plata mountains, Banded Peaks Ranch near the Colorado/New Mexico border, and Paradise Peak ranch 16 miles south of Pagosa Springs all offer that pristine, unspoiled, private water. Sword of Truth Ranch surrounds one mile of the La Plata River that is home to an ever growing population of rainbow, brooke, and cutthroat trout. It is easily accessible from your own private ranch site. Banded Peaks ranch, one of the truly wild and glorious ranches in southern Colorado is home to 1 1/2 miles of the untouched Navajo river. You just never know what might appear at the end of your fly line. While the Paradise peaks Ranch sits on the ever popular Upper San Juan river, There is no end to the quality of fish that come from this section of river each year. Those fortunate enough to catch the salmon fly hatch will have a best of lifetime fishing experience. Here you have 1/4 mile of private water.
Hunting! I could write a book. Be it elk, deer, turkeys or grouse, these ranches named above are in the heart of ever expanding herds and flocks. Not only are the herds and flocks growing, but the quality of animals and birds available has very noticeably improved in the last 5-8 years. The regeneration of the Merriams turkey flock in Colorado has been astounding. Although they are more susceptible to the harsh winters, these tough birds tend to survive to give the hunter more than he might ask for. A great place to fill that last tag for your grand slam. For the grouse hunter you will be in true paradise. You'll be the only hunter after the numerous birds scattered among the oak brush on the mountain sides. As the deer herd grows so does the opportunity at more and larger bucks. With limited deer tags statewide, the herd has had a chance to make a marvelous recovery. More and more hunters are making a big mule deer top on their priority list.
The king of the hill, though, is the elk. No matter which ranch, Sword of Truth, Banded Peaks, or Destination, you have the opportunity to see elk virtually every day of the year. It may be 1 or it might be 200, these animals simply live on these ranches. The cows will calve in the spring in the meadows of these ranches and raise the young in these undisturbed areas. It is common to see as many as 20 calves at any given time during the summer months. Since these ranches all set in the middle of millions of acres of National forest the elk are afforded the space and protection required of such large animals in large herds. The past few winters have provided the much needed snow that ends up producing the abundant grass to support these magnificent animals.
As fall approaches so change the elk. The rut, breeding season, will generally begin late August and run through September. The bulls are in full glory with their fat bellies, shiny coat covered in mud from wallowing, and magnificent antlers, which are so prized by the hunter. The bugle of the bull may just be the most splendid sound in hunting. Especially when it comes from about 10 yards away. This is archery season. With two sticks and a string You chase around a 700 pound animal with 40 plus inch antlers, with a hoochie mama cow call in your pocket and a little piece of latex in your mouth, trying to convince this bad boy that you are the cutest and sweetest little cow elk in the woods. This is not a hunt for the weak of heart. Black powder season runs concurrently for a week early September for those hunters adept in primitive weapons. Either way it makes for an exciting and rewarding hunt. The afore mentioned ranches are not only set in the middle of the National Forest but are prime rutting grounds for not only the resident herds but for those transient bulls ever on the prowl for a ready made harem.
Rifle seasons generally begin second week in October and run in four segments into November. During these seasons, depending on the weather, the elk will begin their migration out of the high country adding numbers to the resident herds at lower elevations. Whatever your choice of weapon, it is important to remember it is your obligation as a hunter to be proficient with your equipment. Every animal, bird or fish deserve humane treatment. There is an unlimited supply of good equipment out there so it is important to choose that which suits and fits you personally. There is no substitute for practice. Know your weapon of choice and know your personal comfort and your equipments limitations.