Trip Report: Sand Creek, Co.
If you’re a fan of small streams with big fish and also hiking, I highly recommend the tenkara friendly Sand creek on the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Here you can see sand dunes, old mine workings, a variety of large mammals (elk, deer, bears), alpine meadows and lakes, and 14000 ft mountains.
I started from the Liberty Gate trailhead just south Crestone and it’s a pleasant 3 hr hike before reaching Sand Creek. You can then hike and fish your way up Sand creek for 10 miles before reaching the alpine lakes at about 11000 ft.
I mostly caught brook trout at the entrance of the valley, from 8000 ft to 9000 ft, after that cutthroats were more abundant. One exception was a rather large fish (14” ?) that looked like a cross between a brown and a rainbow, although I did not know this was possible. There are fish in all the places you would expect in this system and I caught fish on all the flies I tried including nymphs, dries, insects (the UKB was still the best however). The lower part of the creek is bushier and more frustrating to fish but you will be rewarded.
The best fishing starts at the Beaver Dam (10250 ft) and continues upstream. Here the vegetation is less dense and the stream is actually wider than at lower elevations. The canyon section is more difficult to access but has amazing plunge pools. I caught a 15 inch cutthroat in a pool the size of a small car. There were 20ft cascades before and after this pool. How did the fish get there? From above or below? Did it grow to be that size in the pool or did it migrate there fully grown?
I had never fished an alpine lake before but I just did what Google taught me. I sat comfortably on a rock on the shores of lower Sand Creek Lake and waited for the fish to circulate near me in the shallows. On this warm and sunny September afternoon they were actively cruising for a feeding. Kebari worked well enough but they were sipping something small and cream coloured from the surface and when I changed to a #20 Griffith’s Gnat I really struck gold. I also fished the outlet of the lake and caught cuts as well as a few brookies. I wonder if this is a concern. Will brook trout out-compete cutthroat if they reach the lake (which they have almost certainly done since I caught one less than 100 yards from the lake)?
After a quick scramble up Music mountain I retraced my steps and headed back to the valley floor. I did this over four days but I’m not a fast hiker and I didn’t rush things along. You can also access Sand creek from the east side of the range, from the Music pass trail near Westcliffe. This saves a lot of hiking and you end up upstream from the Beaver dam.
I used the TB36 rod for the lake or the wider areas or else the 3 length rod from the company that shall remain nameless for the tighter sections. Both performed well.
A word on footwear: if you follow the trail up Sand creek you will inevitably have to cross the creek several times and you will get your feet wet. I brought along two pairs of shoes for this trip, a pair of lightweight trail running shoes and my Simms Riprap wading shoes. I wore the Simms shoes during the day as I hiked/wet waded/fished my way up the creek and switched to the runners for camp life/approach/scrambling. The Simms are very comfortable, inexpensive, they grip well and they dry fast (the neoprene socks do not however). I highly recommend them and, for me at least, they are more comfortable than my runners.
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin
"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662
As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.
Beware of the Dogma