• Connie Byers

Camping on the Conejos River

Canejos River & Platoro Reservoir

D, the pups and I spent our Labor Day weekend off-grid, camping on the Conejos River with my Aunt & Uncle.

We slept in a tent, ate fresh fish and got back in touch with nature. It was quiet, peaceful and wonderful to unplug. That being said, anytime you add my dogs to a mix, you tend to get hilarity.

When we planned this camping trip we were at first hoping to have our camper sleep-able in time.

Then we realized that even if it was ready for camping, it might not make it up the road. So we opted for a tent. Which we didn’t own, but my Uncle graciously offered to lend us. Except, he didn’t know his spare tent was broken. In true Uncle B fashion, he made it work by forcing a stick through the damaged section of the tent pole. The tent stayed up, and all I can say is I’m glad it wasn’t windy! By the time we got our rigged up tent upright, the damn thing was filled, and I do mean FILLED with flies! For those of you that know my dog Tyson, you’ll know that he loves to snatch bugs out of the air, so I figured I’d let him take care of it. He ate them all (good boy.) Next thing I know, Tyson’s face is covered in blood. Much panic ensues. Did he get cut? Did he eat something bad? Do dogs get altitude sickness? What do I do?! I started by cleaning him up and washing away all the blood. Then I inspected his nose, lips, gums, and face in general. No sign of damage. Turns out when you mix the blood of fifty or more flies with the epic drooling power of a boxer you end up with a bloody mess! After all the disasters where averted, our (somewhat janky) tent was pitched deep in the pines next to the banks of the Conejos River.

The Conejos River is listed as Gold Medal waters and only artificial bait is allowed making it a great place for fly fishing.

Unfortunately, we're not very good at fly fishing yet. That didn't stop D from looking like a pro at it though, with the fly rod I got him for his birthday. Since my Uncle B is ever the inventor, he rigged our standard fishing poles with flies that we could cast like lures, but there was no luck for us there. So, we headed up to the near by lake. And, I do mean up. Sitting at an elevation of just over 10,000 ft, Platoro Reservoir is the highest man-made lake in North America. The Name Platoro is a combination of the Spanish words "Platta" for silver and "Oro" for gold and this lake truly is a gem. But just like any treasure worth having, it requires a fair amount of effort to get your hands on.

The locals have been known to refer to it as the “wimp filter,” but what it actually is, is 25 miles of teeth-rattling, spine jarring, washboard rutted dirt road.

The journey isn’t half the fun, it’s almost no fun at all. But what it lacks in smoothness it makes up for in beauty. The scenery is frankly breathtaking. The gravel road follows glittering ribbons of the Conejos interspersed with marshes, pine forests and jutting rock cliffs. When you finally do rattle to a stop at the top of the road, the nearly 1000 acre reservoir offers some amazing alpine fishing, and because of the remote location, there’s no crowd at all.

There were, of course, a few fishermen dotted along the pristine banks, but it was in no way crowded.

Since none of us had ever been there before, we made the journey all the way to the far side of the lake, before we staked out our fishing spot. In the end, we settled on a wide spot in the road above a stretch of water that looked promising.

As an added bonus, it was filled with tiny sweet wild raspberries, of which we ate our fill.

Good thing too, the trek down the hillside with all our gear and dogs in hand was a bit rough. But, when we reached the water it was clear and smooth as glass and fish could be seen doing fishy things even from the shore. I have to say for me it was a singular experience to see the fish, throw in the line and then watch them come to it. The actual catching of the fish, well that’s another story.

When I felt that telltale tug on the line I was so excited! Then my reel stopped working. So I started frantically pulling the line in by hand. Tyson could see the commotion in the water so he was barking and jumping excitedly. I finally got my fish near land. My uncle is yelling “get it out of the water!” Tyson is trying to bite it, My Uncles dog is trying to bite Tyson. I’m trying to hold the dogs back, keep them from fighting over my fish, pull in the line by hand, and stay upright in the 3” deep mud/cow shit bank I’m standing on! It was a three-ring circus with no ringmaster. And if you look at the photo, the fish looks is as surprised as I was that he was caught.

I finally won the battle. My Aunt got ahold of Tyson, my Uncle got ahold of my fish and I stood there panting. If you’re wondering where D was through all of this… Well, he was 20 feet away trying to keep a wildly barking Brixie from getting into the fray. The tried and true fishermen on the other side of the bank from us? They were definitely laughing at me. By the time this big guy was landed I was covered in mud from head to toe. But I caught the biggest fish of the day, so mud, muck, cow shit, and crazy dogs aside, I got the last laugh!

We cooked up our days catch over the fire with some of the veggies from our garden.

It was probably the best fish I've ever eaten. Butter, lemon, lemon pepper, salt and a dash of my Uncle's secret spice mix. Campfire cuisine perfection. There's something pure and primal about eating a meal gotten entirely through your own work and cooked straight on the fire. I am cave woman hear me roar.

D had his own fishing success, as well as mishaps in landing his fish.

The process of him bringing in his first big catch was more of a carnival than a circus. To sum up, the fish flew round and round, my pants got ripped. Tyson almost got the fish. It was not any smoother than mine. But in the end he won as well, and we ate his fish last night, stuffed with lemons and parsley and wrapped in bacon. Another culinary win for our plates.

We had an amazing time, and eagerly await spring thaw and our next chance to return to Platoro. What's your favorite fishing spot? Got any funny fish tales? Leave them in the comments below!

Until next time,

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