Photos and Story: Rocky Mountain Girls Expedition 2020

Written by: Ali Bair, Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions

Hannah (left) and Dilen shared an amazing adventure, learning to fly-fish in the Colorado Rockies.

July 2020 marked the first ever all girls Lillard Fly Fishing Expedition. Plans had been made, permits procured, girls signed up, and then, you guessed it, Coronavirus happened. Some new plans and precautions had to be drawn up, and the trip became smaller than expected, but two incredible young women–Hannah and Dilen–came out for their first backcountry experience. And they rocked it. 

Colorado River cutthroats display gorgeous colors and markings.

Our trip began on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The girls were brand new to fly fishing, and we had a full day casting-and-catching seminar on the headwaters of the Colorado River. The small stream flows just down from the Continental Divide through lush, winding meadows flanked by pine-tree covered foothills and the looming snow-capped Rockies. Our seminar was a smashing success. The girls landed dozens of gorgeous brook trout, and we even brought in our first Colorado River cutthroat. The fish were all healthy and vibrant, many hitting large dry flies. The girls were already “hooked.” They also happened to out-fish all the other anglers we crossed paths with. 

Getting to the alpine lakes was hard work, but the girls agreed that it was worth it.

On Day 2, we headed into the backcountry. The girls donned massive packs and went smiling and laughing into a nearly four-mile trek up to our first campsite. The trail began at a gradual grade along a winding stream through a meadow valley. We broke for lunch and fishing in the meadow, making our way up into the steeper canyon for some incredible rushing holes chock-full of brook trout. We brought another beautiful cutthroat to the net before throwing the packs back on and trudging nearly 1,000 vertical feet to camp. After some more successful fishing near camp and a lovely backcountry dinner, we crawled into tents before sundown, exhausted but excited. “Fly fishing is addicting!” One of the girls exclaimed as we lay in our bags.

The views in the high country are stunning.

We awoke to break camp and make an even steeper hike to our second campsite. We would spend the next two nights perched alongside a gorgeous alpine lake, surround by craggy peaks and lush green pines. We fished the lake, a stream, and another lake throughout the day. The biggest fish was a brook trout, and the girls elected to cook him and a couple others up to accompany our pasta dinner. We cooked and relaxed on a sandy beach that flanks one side of our campsite lake and swapped stories until bed.

Hannah proudly displays a fine cutthroat from a high lake.

The next day was our big day-hike up to a special alpine lake that sits in a bowl right at the tree line. We were targeting big Colorado River cutthroats. We climbed the steepest grade yet, but luckily the entire valley was bursting with wildflowers in a crazy, colorful July bloom. As we broke to grab some water and enjoy the ever-improving views down the valley, one of the girls proclaimed, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s so worth it.” We reached our final destination mid-morning and sat on a boulder for a snack.

On the water, the girls were focused on the task at hand–catching trout.

Shortly thereafter, we spotted the first big fish hanging out feeding near the bank, and it was game on. After just two casts–sight fishing with a nymph in the crystal clear water–a perfectly timed hook set, we had our first large cutthroat on the line. We spent the next hour circling the lake twice, casting deep and searching for more fish. Nothing. Then the girls spotted a rise, then another. It was time to tie on dry flies. A few minutes later, we had a massive cutthroat on a dry–the first and only fish caught on a dry out of this particular lake on a Lillard trip. The timing couldn’t have been better. After photos and a revive, we noticed dark clouds encroaching and booked it down to lower, more sheltered terrain. We fished out the evening, catching dozens of gorgeous alpine trout on dry flies in three different lakes and the accompanying connecting streams.

Dilen landed this beauty on a dry fly.

The next day, it was time to head back towards civilization for ice cream, laundry, and showers. Rejuvenated, we chowed down on pizza and recounted stories from our successful venture. We hit the sack in our tents and woke up early to make our move to a new campsite along the Colorado River. Moving west, we watched the landscape shift from mountain pines to arid shrubs. The temperature crept up, but we weren’t fazed. There were big fish to be caught at our new site. After spending the day cleaning BLM campsites for our service project, we all hopped in the river for a cool-down, and then grabbed our rods to go find the trout. Each of our ladies landed their first brown trout that evening with some fun lessons in wading and fishing bigger water. Then it was campfires, stories, s’mores and bed. 

Their first float trip was a resounding success and featured four doubles.

Bright and early we awoke, filled with anticipation for our float day. After a full day fishing on a drift boat, the girls came back with some amazing news. They had each completed their Colorado trout slam and then some, catching rainbows, browns, mountain white fish, and even a cutbow! The girls brought in more than 20 fish, their first time ever fishing from a boat. They secured an amazing four doubles and had an incredible float. We finished out the night with more wade fishing and some nice browns caught on dry flies. 

Big brown trout were the real trophies on the day.

For our final day, we fished a nearby tailwater. Some big, beautiful, technical water was another new experience for our girls. A few fish came to the net, and we almost landed a monster rainbow. A small storm chased us out of the canyon and it was time to head to camp and organize and clean gear for the journey home.

By the end of the week, the girls’ fishing skills produced some wonderful results.

Our first all girls trip was small but mighty, a massive success. Our two incredible young women and their fearless leader proved that you don’t need dudes to catch fish, even big fish. Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions couldn’t be more stoked to have a successful ladies expedition in the books. We are already planning next year’s adventures and we look forward to more girl power next season!

Ali Bair, a fly fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park, ran this trip for Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions based in North Carolina and Colorado.

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