SO YOU’VE DECIDED to fish green drakes this summer. On a western river, preferably. Good for you. It’s an incredible hatch that too often gets overlooked for the more glorious salmonfly. Is your significant other coming along? Does he or she fish? Wait, a better question: Does your partner like to do anything other than fish? Because green drakes often hatch in the middle of summer, when pressure is high to make the dreaded “combo trip.” (Flyfishing and a couples retreat!) Problem is, if you’re serious about green drakes, then you’ll be choosing between iffy vaykay towns like Island Park, Sisters, Ennis, or Encampment.
I love all four of these towns, as well as their drake-producing rivers, but if my agenda includes fishing a renowned mayfly hatch followed by a luxurious spa treatment followed by a gluten-free, five-star dinner? Then there really is only one option: I’m talking about a little place called Assss-pen.
I knew of Aspen’s The Little Nell hotel long before the folks there hosted me last summer. (My previous life as a ski editor required knowing the best ski-in, ski-out accommodations.) What I didn’t know is that my friend Matt Kelsic, formerly of Abaco Lodge in The Bahamas, was guiding for The Little Nell’s Adventure Center, and would row me down the Roaring Fork.
Both the Fork and the nearby Frying Pan experience one of the longest green drake hatches in the country, showing up in late June, with bugs still fluttering around through August.
“The magic of the drake hatch is really about how fast it turns on,” says Aspen native and long-time former Fork guide RA Beattie. “They don’t appear until the very final moments of dusk. A lot of anglers give up and leave minutes before it happens, because it comes on so late and so quickly.”
This inconvenient timing is no problemo with the Adventure Center guides, who let you pick the hours you want to fish. Like many other aspects of Aspen, you can expect to pay a premium for this recreational latitude. But Aspen doesn’t specialize in cheap; it specializes in giving guests what they want.
“That’s one of the special things about the Roaring Fork’s diversity,” adds Kelsic. “You can tailor the day around not only your social schedule, but the kind of fishing you prefer. Whether it’s streamers at first light or dries after dark, you can (and sometimes have to) be creative, which keeps things interesting.”
What I wanted was to float the less-traveled upper section of river, which was still possible, even in August. (The upper Fork has a bit more water these days thanks to a recent agreement between the city of Aspen and the Colorado Water Trust that helps limit the river’s diversions.) But even though the rowing would have been exciting on the upper stretch, Kelsic thought that the fishing would be better lower down, which it was.
We got a couple fish to eat cripple patterns, but the drakes had company: caddis, bluewings, hoppers, sallies and other stones. So we naturally did what any two guys in a fast-moving raft would do when faced with limitless surface action: We threw streamers. Then we drove back to Aspen, had a meal we couldn’t afford, and drank lots of beer, toasting the mighty Roaring Fork.
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.