It’s 1 a.m. and we’ve just shuffled out of the Sheridan Opera House, halfway through The Travelin’ McCoury’s NightGrass after-show. Not because they weren’t fantastic. Fronted by the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, they lived up to their pedigree. But we’re exhausted. Ignoring the advice of experienced Festivarians, we have not paced ourselves. It’s day one of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and I can barely stand. We have a 20-minute shuttle ride back to our campground, and I plan to be up early, in search of fishable water.
Every year in mid-June 12,000 “Festivarians” descend on (or ascend to?) Telluride, Colorado. Telluride sits in the kind of dead-end box canyon that one might use to lure cavalry into an ambush. Nowadays, the base of this canyon is home to the Planet Bluegrass stage, and for one week a year it’s the center of the bluegrass universe. These people live for this shit.
If there’s a fly rod equivalent to bluegrass it has to be one built from fiberglass. Both are niche genres, with their share of odd, eccentric disciples. And both are being taken to new places, by a new generation of artists. Some of those artists can be found in an unassuming building just across the highway from the Montrose airport. Scott Fly Rods has called this corner of Colorado home for more than 20 years. On my way into town I connected with Jim Bartschi, president of Scott, who loaned me their F2 fiberglass 4-weight for the week.
Next, I called John Duncan at Telluride Angler. Duncan is one of the nicer guys you’ll meet, but on this call he saddened me: “You probably couldn’t pick a worse week to fish around here. We’re at peak runoff.”
We set up camp near the San Miguel, and it was a torrent of chocolate-y despair. I walked the river looking for fishable pockets, but found only dirty, half-naked Festivarians, bird-bathing in every eddy, splashing frigid water on their crotches. One night I got out the vise and tied a nymph that I dubbed the “The Hippie Herpe” to match the hatch.
In town, river conditions weren’t much better. Although running clearer, and with less public nudity, it was still full of Festivarians, wading, tubing, paddle-boarding, and laundering their dogs and clothes.
I clearly needed fishing advice. I met Duncan at Coffee Cowboy, just up the street from his shop. I also wanted to hear what a local resident and business owner really thought of the festival. “I love it,” John said. He could tell that I didn’t believe him. What about the traffic? The parking? The unwashed hordes? “It’s fun, and it’s great for this community,” he answered. “Look, anyone who’s confused about why we get to live here shouldn’t be. Telluride is a tourist town.”
John directed me toward some fishable water up near Lizard Head pass, about 30 minutes outside of town. “It’ll be pushy, but it’s running clear.” When I got there, I caught energetic cutthroat all morning on a dry-dropper rig.
On our final day, I wore waders on the shuttle and begged/tipped my way off the bus early, at a bridge near Lawson Hill campground. All week I’d been eyeing a stretch of water on the way into town that looked fishable. There, I met two flyfishers who’d also spent the week balancing “Festivation” with fishing.
“I got out most afternoons, fishing the valley floor or the upper Dolores,” said Will Grundy, of Houston.
“There’s more traffic in town, but the water’s still accessible.”
Galen Green, of Kentucky, hadn’t fished much. His band The Wooks was a finalist in the Band Competition. “I know a lot of pickers who flyfish,” he said. “It makes sense, the two go hand in hand. You don’t need electricity for flyfishing or for bluegrass, you just need energy and appreciation. And most people connected with either have plenty of those to go around.”