Cheesman: Stay for the Fish – Just Don’t Go for the Hike

cheesman-canyonRight up front – I’m declaring for the record a few rules of thumb worth following when you venture into the upper section of Cheesman Canyon. First, if you are addicted to cookies and milk, don’t attempt to put even moderate mileage on your freshened mountain cycle the day before you make the trip. And even if you are in really good shape, try not to run a half -marathon within the previous 24 hours either. In other words you need your legs, both of them, running without a hint of lactic acid having burned within. Unfortunately, I’m a day late in pointing this out, and the subjects at hand suffered as a result.

The hike in sucks. Unless you are a world class mountaineer, you should not attempt this journey under any circumstances. Don’t even think about this trip – it isn’t worth it so stay away! Ok…the hike in is a challenge, but the fishing has the potential to be world class, so wear good boots and bring plenty of water.

Onward to fishing

We were pretty darn excited when we arrived. Reason: a quick stop into a local shop on the way had us thinking the flows were in the upper 200s. I thought this a bit strange, being as the flow was in the mid-300s and climbing just a day before, and this isn’t exactly late summer we’re talking about here. We parked and trekked in, using llamas to carry our gear, which can be rented from an nearby outfitter for about the price of a tanker full of crude donning backpacks. When we arrived four days later, low and behold (you can skip the low) the flow was running at what appeared to be in the mid-400s. Dreams of 3X tippets danced through my head, but these fish are brilliant and they visit their optometrists regularly – tricky battles lay ahead.

I started the morning on fire – with a football shaped rainbow in the net roughly a minute after wetting my line. Two more hookups and some pulled hooks convinced me to venture downstream a little further, and Corey did the same. We repeated this process for the better part of the day – a hookup here and there, a quick struggle with the heavier flow and tight quarters, and then onto boulder scaling and more hole picking. By two o’clock we decided to move back upstream, after realizing that we had forgotten our rappelling harnesses – an absolute necessity in this rugged and desolate land trudging around in felt soles and/or water shoes more suitable for the beach were making our lives difficult. And as the sun moved over and afternoon clouds passed by things picked up.

Corey had been fish-less all morning, so we set up shop in the run that had produced for me early on. My colleague was in prime position, and the tone quickly changed – with a couple of spincast-laden onlookers peering from the far side of the river, we got into hungry trout every fourth or fifth cast.

coreys-rainbowNot long into the afternoon foray, I had just finished securing digital proof of Corey’s fishing prowess (to end once and for all his wife’s suspicion that we were spending our time in sports bars when we said we were fishing), when he proclaimed he had another on. I was getting tired of playing net boy, and told the discoverer of the now infamous Corey’s Slough that he was on his own. This defiance lasted about a minute, as I quickly grew more weary of my colleague’s cries for assistance combined with the view of his rod perpetually doubled over. The take wound up being a 20+ inch rainbow that Corey proclaimed was his biggest ever (the guy has been fly fishing precisely four times in his life). The fish, however, had put up quite a struggle, so rather than memorializing said Oncorhynchus mykiss in flash memory while she gasped for breath, we unhooked her while in net and in water and gently rolled her out. At first she looked like she was in trouble, first dropping to the bottom and then briefly turning on her side. I thought I was going in head first to play doctor, but the moment I gestured for a full-wet wade she got her bearings straight and scurried into a deep pool. Aquatic crisis averted.

For the day we managed four apiece, netted – taking into account the arduous twelve day expedition that only a team of well trained sherpas should consider how spoiled some of us (i.e. me and the mice in my pockets) have become with the fishing on the South Platte, I personally would have considered making a sacrificial lamb out of my gear. But we also lost roughly twenty to pulled hooks and popped tippets on downstream runs, meaning the action was good so we thought ourselves quite lucky. The general fly selection and “great drift” pattings on the backs ensued instead.

Flies of the day were…
– Mercury RS2s in green/black and gray, sizes 18 and 20
– Foambacks in black and brown, sizes 16 to 20
– UV-winged emergers, black, sizes 18 and 20
– Flashback pheasant tails, size 18
– Discos in green and white, size 18

I also found quite a few larger tan larva in the grass – I suspect thread midges in whites and tans, up to size 16, as well as smaller tan San Juans, would have done the trick as well. A few caddis fluttered by every now and then, but nothing like I saw a few weeks back – and there was no top-water action (even in the warmer back-eddies) to confirm a switch to dries.

As we changed socks and put on the walking slippers, a sense of foreboding overcame us both. What were the chances a friendly helicopter pilot/fly fishing fanatic might happen by and pluck us out in exchange for a few good stories?

No chance at all. Did I mention the hike out is even worse than the hike in?


hell of an Everest story sir! Soundly like it was a blister filled blast! Can I have the number to your Sherpa?

Lost his number, so we’re going with pack mules this time around.

Always a good time, particularly when you can write a story after the sole purpose of which is to try scaring others away. That’s how bad the fishing is down there 😉

Best wishes for your summer adventures!

A. Rouse says:

Your article was a day late for me as well. Now that I am sitting on the couch with my feet up can I laugh out loud about my spontaneous hike on Upper Cheeseman Canyon yesterday! I did the hike with my Golden Retriever. Even she looked at me at times with confusion, as if to say, “Are we having fun yet?” I was on a scouting mission of sorts in search of a less crowded fishing spot on the Platte. Didn’t even have my rod with me. I had no idea what to expect. A quick in and out…..right! Boy, your article was spot on! That hike certainly isn’t for everybody. Yet I will definitely go back, because after reading your fishing stories it sounds perfect! Now, about the number for the pack mule rentals…..

I might no doubt lie about my fishing prowess, but that’s a hike I wouldn’t dare steer anyone to for a laugh.

I’ve actually tromped all the way through (once). If you stay on trail (when it actually exists) the access to the water gets mighty tough, particularly with rod in hand. Landing fish in some areas is nearly impossible, but if you’re up for a real challenge I highly recommend it if for no other reason than the beauty. But bring plenty of water, snacks, and a first aid kit.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.