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Castaway: Dropping a Line at The Broadmoor Fishing Camp

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Just beyond the mountains west of Colorado Springs runs the Tarryall Creek, where former miners cabins have been transformed into a rustic-chic fishing camp that offers one-on-one instruction and simple pleasures. For Lois Friedland, the catch of the day is almost too pretty to eat

Photography by Matt Nager

It doesn’t get much fresher than at the Broadmoor Fishing Camp, where general manager and 20-year guide Scott Tarrant teaches the basics of fly-fishing on the Tarryall Creek.
It doesn’t get much fresher than at the Broadmoor Fishing Camp, where general manager and 20-year guide Scott Tarrant teaches the basics of fly-fishing on the Tarryall Creek.
The Broadmoor Hotel's Fish Camp Manager Scott Tarrant drops a line.
The Broadmoor Hotel’s Fish Camp Manager Scott Tarrant drops a line.

“Let’s go throw some fur,” my fishing guide says with a big grin. Startled, I have to think for a minute before remembering that Scott Tarrant makes all his flies with fur and feathers, each one designed to look like the bugs trout consider prime meals.

“I lash pieces of animal fur and feathers together onto a hook and make it look like the invertebrates in the water — then try and trick the trout into eating them,” he explains.

Sounds simple. Yes? Well, not exactly, for a newbie like me.

I lurch after him, catching my long fly rod on a bush, as we walk to a private stretch of water on the Tarryall Creek in front of the Broadmoor Fishing Camp. I feel like I’m in kindergarten again learning my ABCs, so I mentally clutch onto Scott’s remark that fly-fishing is really easy. (A comment I later realize is an oversimplification.)

Scott, who has been guiding for more than 20 years and is now general manager of the new Broadmoor Fishing Camp, puts a stonefly nymph lure on my line and a mayfly nymph a few feet below, explaining we are going dry fly-fishing. He shows me how to roll cast, a technique used when you’re standing among bushes and trees. I promptly catch my fly on a bush sticking out of the river. He cheerfully wades in and pulls it loose.

FLY FISHINGCast your line in the water, mend it slowly so it looks like the bug is drifting, I chant to myself quietly. No tugs. Whip it out and flick the line in again. He does it so gracefully — why can’t I?

“We’re not casting the fly. We’re casting the line,” he says. “We’re just creating potential energy, then converting it to kinetic energy. Let the rod shoot the line out to the trout.” After he grabs my hand and guides me through the flow of the movement, I begin to get it. Each time, my line goes out farther.

Emboldened, I wade into the water. Stepping carefully on the rocky riverbed, I feel like the Michelin Man, stuffed into waders with turquoise Neoprene booties that match my turquoise baseball hat emblazoned with “Broadmoor Fishing Camp.” My casts get smoother, but the fly on my line still doesn’t tempt any fish. Scott’s sidekick, Blue, a 3-month-old golden retriever, sticks his button-size nose in the water searching for fish. Nothing.

Scott grabs the net he uses to capture fish reeled in on a line and places a small weave bag, which he calls a seine, over it. As he sweeps the net through the water to scoop up bugs, he tells me, “My seine is the portal to the fishing gods.” He picks out a mayfly, a caddis and then a stonefly from the dozens of miniscule bugs trapped in the strands and thrusts them toward me in a hand battered from tying flies. The fish, bugs and the river are one big ecosystem, he explains, tying together the life cycle of the bugs as calories for the fish. “You are matching the natural biomass found throughout the different sections of water you are fishing in. This is critical to a successful day of fly-fishing.”

Listening, I’m discovering that a day on the water is more than catching trout. His joy of fly-fishing bubbles over: “Every day you’re on the river, you get to watch the whole world being reborn. I have the coolest job ever.”

FLY FISHING FLY FISHINGThe Broadmoor Fishing Camp has access to 5 miles of private water on the Tarryall, so after a few hours of fishing still water we move. Scott takes my husband, Richard, to where the water moves faster and fish lurk in pools or behind rocks, darting out to snatch bugs swimming by.

I learn that before casting a line I should let the water tell me what to do. Are the trout looking up, or are they deep in the water? Fly-casting takes finesse, and that’s why women often get it more than men, Scott proclaims.

The author and Scott inspect their seine, a small-weave bag that sweeps through the water to collect flies.
The author and Scott inspect their seine, a small-weave bag that sweeps through the water to collect flies.

I grin at his words, while standing ankle-deep in the water balancing on rocks. Richard, who caught the first fish of the day, casts his rod downstream. Now it’s my turn, I decide, hoping the fishing gods agree. I feel a tug, but the fish doesn’t like the fly and moves on. Another grabs the fly and I tug the rod slightly sideways to hook the fish. The rod tip bends and I hang on, excitedly following Scott’s directions to bring the fish in through the rocks dotting the river. He scoops the fish up, and I stare at a beautiful rainbow trout. As it wiggles in the net, the iridescent scales turn green, blue and pink. I think about cooking the trout, but it’s so beautiful that my husband takes a picture of me holding it, and I toss it back in the river.

Scott taps my arm and points at a red-tailed hawk flying overhead. “For a trout, death comes from above,” he says. “Hawks, bears, us.” It puts the concept of fly-fishing in perspective for me.

The Broadmoor Fishing Camp is located in South Park, a vast grassland basin situated about 10,000 feet above sea level, where ranchers settled in the 1800s and gold miners followed. Driving over the Continental Divide on Kenosha Pass, the road descends quickly and you’re stunned by the raw beauty of the landscape that was created by a prehistoric sea. The jagged mountainsides of the Mosquito and Park ranges bracket the basin, which sprawls across roughly 1,000 square miles.

We pass remnants of barns, outhouses and long-abandoned homes, barely standing reminders of the hard lives led by early settlers. At first glance, the fishing camp looks primitive, with its 1880s miners cabins that have been turned into guest quarters. But knowing that the camp is one of the perennially five-diamond, five-star Broadmoor resort’s wilderness offerings, designed for guests who want an authentic outdoor experience, we’re eager to start fishing and learn how guests will be treated.

We’ve come for a day fishing trip three weeks before the camp opens in late May. I peek into the hand-hewn log cabins being restored and decide that staying in one of the seven tiny miners cabins, guests might easily be transported back to an earlier era. Today, however the chinking between the logs is solid, the tiny windows are new and the buildings are heated. I’d opt for the Tabeguache cabin, because it has a parlor and a bathroom. The one-room Ponderosa, with its porch just yards from the river, will be the most popular of the three cabins without bathrooms. Avid fishermen I’ve spoken with say they’d be fine using the new Bath House. In true Broadmoor style, the Bath House blends the setting’s rustic ambiance in its stone, wood and tin and there are private dressing areas, showers, and soaps and lotions designed for Colorado’s altitude and climate.

FLY FISHINGAs we explore, I picture how guests spend their days: The most ardent anglers will cast a line into the river as the rising sun burns off mist clinging to the water. Through the morning, they’ll walk along the Tarryall’s oxbow curves, searching for trout swimming through the still water.

The fishing camp menus have been developed by David Patterson, The Broadmoor’s executive sous chef, but the staff here prepares the meals and serves family-style dinners. Guests who catch trout may gather in the kitchen to watch or help Scott prepare a classic cast-iron trout dish.

You don’t have to overnight at the fishing camp to cast a line in this private water on the Tarryall River, because The Broadmoor offers guided day trips. You can arrange an introduction to fly-fishing at the Fish House, which sits by a pond on the sixth fairway of the resort’s East Course. In anticipation of spending a day on the Tarryall, we took a lesson at the pond.

FLY FISHING

Our guide, Randy Babas, quickly made me feel comfortable by saying, “There’s no right way or wrong way to fly-fish.” Good to know because on my first cast the line dribbles into the water barely a body’s length from my feet. The second cast goes farther, but on the third one, the hook snags my sleeve, and Randy detaches it. So he shouldn’t feel slighted, I swing the rod again and catch his jacket. While removing the hook he cracked with a smile, “It’s catch and release here. But, we also use hooks without barbs so guides won’t get hurt.”

I gradually get the rhythm — keep your bent elbow by your side, swing the rod back, pause, then whip it forward. Suddenly I feel a tug on the line. “I got a fish,” I squeal. Randy coaches me nonstop once he sees the rod bending in a 180-degree arc: Maintain the line so just the tip of the rod is bent; strip the line, and let the fish run a bit. Finally, he scoops a 12-pound trout into a net as I jump up and down, screaming like a teenager at a rock concert. Randy helps me hold it long enough for Richard to take a picture. With a twist of its body, the fish leaps back into the pond. Sure it was beginner’s luck, but it made me want to race to the fishing camp and cast another line in the water.

Make this:

Turn yesterday’s catch into tonight’s dinner with this recipe for trout with bacon, brown butter, lemon and parsley.

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