The High Lonesome Ranch

The High Lonesome Ranch

Colorado: Huge trout vs. trophy trout

  • By: Jim Reilly
As I released the fish, I said to myself: Remember, there is no glory in catching stocked fish. I considered that for a moment, but then I thought, Yeah, but a trout like this is huge no matter its origins. This particular trout--a rainbow--came from a small spring-fed pond nestled in a narrow valley of western Colorado high desert, which has to count for something.

Although I later told my buddy, Moody, who had been fishing on a different part of the pond, that I'd caught an eight-pounder, in all likelihood the fish probably weighed more like five or six pounds. A big fish, sure, but hardly the behemoth I was claiming.

Moody was skeptical, but he didn't call me on the extra couple of pounds because he knew it wasn't something worth arguing over: Deep down everybody knows that a 16-inch wild brown has more weight than a 10-pound stocker. One makes for good photos; the other makes for lasting memories. On this trip, though, I got both amazing photos and memories.

With 200 square miles extending across high-desert valleys and mesa tops, The High Lonesome Ranch lives up to its name. The ranchland is managed to support the herds of wild mule deer and elk that inhabit this region. The number of deer and elk I saw impressed me, but it was the tales I heard about the cougars that roam the ranch and prey on the game that lingered with me the longest.

Although the ranch is visually stunning by any measure, I evaluate places a little differently. I consider a place's topography, climate and population density and ask myself: Would I want to live here if a nuclear holocaust wiped out civilization and turned the survivors into brain-eating mutants?


And during my three-day stay, I found that The High Lonesome Ranch acquits itself quite well against this rubric. Furthermore, if I were forced to defend myself from said brain-eating mutants by living in a fortified valley, it'd sure be nice to have some good fly-fishing close by, and The High Lonesome Ranch has that in abundance.

An underground creek flows through the valley where the lodge buildings and cabins are located. The creek feeds a string of 13 ponds that tumble down from the head of the canyon. Between the ponds are small stretches of deep, still water that are best described as micro-spring creeks. These intimate, weedy trenches hold some of the largest fish Moody and I caught, and the biggest challenge was landing the fish before they wrapped our leaders around roots or other debris.

The program at the ranch is elegantly simple: A big breakfast in the morning, followed by a forenoon of fishing on one of the ponds, lunch and then off to several more hours of fishing before dinner. The variety of ponds keeps things interesting for most guests, but for those who want to fish on a river, the Ranch can arrange it. The Ranch hooks up guests with guides from Roaring Fork Anglers to fish some of the nearby rivers such as the Roaring Fork, Crystal River and others.

On our second day, Moody and I floated the Roaring Fork from the put-in at Carbondale to where it meets the Colorado River. Although river conditions seemed just about perfect to me, a hatch never quite came off and, consequently, a lot of the day was spent changing flies in an attempt to get dialed in. The hits that did come were erratic, and I missed more fish than I landed.

The following day Moody and I wade-fished with a couple of guides on the Crystal as it flows past the historic Redstone Lodge. The Crystal is more akin to a creek than a river and we took a stealthy approach as we fished. In spite of my best efforts, I managed only a handful of small fish, whereas Moody, who was fishing downstream, claims he couldn't keep fish off his fly. To this day I remain highly suspicious of Moody's success that afternoon; I posit a serendipitous visit by the stocking truck as the most likely explanation. On the other hand, the 7-inch parr-marked wild rainbow I caught, now that was real a trophy.

For information on The High Lonesome Ranch visit or call 970-283-9420.