Backcountry fishing can be an amazing experience. Hiking trails through National Parks and National Forests can take you to beautiful, secluded fishing spots that see very little fishing pressure. I’ve had some wonderful experiences in the backcountry; like this spot on the Poudre River, this spot in RMNP, and this lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness. I’ve also heard that getting off trail and bushwhacking a bit, can get you to even more secluded areas and excellent fishing. So, in my never-ending quest for good fishing I took a tip from a friend and bushwhacked into the Eagles Nest Wilderness to check out Cataract Creek.
Cataract Creek is a small tributary of the Blue River in Summit County Colorado. The creek starts near the west base of Mt. Powell, a 13,586’ peak, and flows northeast until it spills into Green Mountain Reservoir. Almost the entire length of the creek is in designated Wilderness and there is only one maintained trail that crosses the creek. Subsequently, bushwhacking is required to fish the vast majority of this creek’s length.
Cataract Creek is home to a very healthy population of brook trout but also holds a few Colorado River cutthroats as well. However, if you do land a cutthroat, consider yourself lucky. I caught about 25 fish on my day hike and only two were cutthroats. The trout are not big by any stretch of the imagination so don’t expect any epic battles with monster trout. The vast majority of the trout fall in the 3-5” range, but I did catch a few that were slightly larger 6-8”. I joked at the end of the day that I caught 5 fish and 20 minnows.
The real appeal of Cataract Creek is not the fishing, but rather the journey to the destination. We parked near Lower Cataract Lake (Find directions to parking HERE). From there we followed the loop trail around the South side of the lake to the inlet on the far side. That’s when the adventure began. Once you cross this bridge you can start making your way up the ridge:
We climbed nearly straight up the cliff side keeping the creek on our left as we made our way up. There is a faint trail left by others who have made this trek, but it is very hard to follow and you might find yourself cliffed out on occasion. There are two significantly steep sections you’ll have to make your way up with a brief flat-ish section in between. Once you’ve made your way to the top of the second steep section, things flatten out a bit and you can begin fishing. We spent the day fishing in THIS area.
The trout here will rise to a dry fly as well as hit a dead drifted nymph, but the fishing didn’t really take off until I started adding movement to my nymphs. Essentially, nymph two flies without a strike indicator. Let them sink to the bottom before they get to the spot where the fish are holding (the creek is crystal clear; you’ll be able to spot the trout). Just as the nymphs get to the trout, start to lift up your rod. The nymphs will follow and move up in the water column giving them the appearance of an emerging bug breaking for the surface to hatch. The trout key in on this movement instinctually, and a fish that had ignored your fly up to this point will suddenly dart out of nowhere to take it. This technique worked wonders on Cataract, and once we started using it we were hooking fish almost every cast.
Pheasant tail nymphs were working the best over the course of the day, but I also caught fish on a Parachute Adams dry as well as a Zug Bug. If you’re going to attempt the technique I just described, I’d advise using a beadhead nymph or something with a little flash to it as your lead fly. It will be easier to see as it drifts and you’ll be watching the fly to spot strikes as opposed to watching a strike indicator.
In conclusion, I’m not sure I’d recommend Cataract Creek to most people. There are thousands of more accessible places to get to, and most of those places will have bigger fish. You could simply drive to Lower Cataract Lake and fish for the abundant brook trout there and avoid the 2 hour scramble up a rocky ridge. Also, with The Blue River (a gold medal water) just down the road, and it’s hard to choose tiny brookies over 20”+ Browns and Rainbows. However, if you want total seclusion surrounded by the beauty of nature, Cataract Creek will definitely fit the bill. Plus, if you head up there in the fall, like we did, you will be treated to some absolutely beautiful colors. So, will you think Cataract Creek is worth the effort to get to it? There’s only one way to find out… Until next time, happy fishing!
- A. Egli