by Fred Rasmussen, reprinted from The Mountain Mail, September 30, 2016 edition.
The Gunnison River below the Black Canyon, from the Smith Fork to the confluence of the North Fork, does not have a plethora of public access. So this elegant fishery very often lacks the hordes of anglers that diminish the ambiance of the more accessible places to fish.
However, under what are often “normal” conditions, just getting on that stretch of river can take great determination, grit and especially faith. At the confluence with the North Fork there is a deep, giant eddy where the clear waters of the main stem envelop the brown waters of the North Fork. Below that junction the river is narrow, fast and deep.
To gain access to fish upstream on the main stem requires fording the smaller river above the eddy. This often means wading blind through fast, dark brown, knee-deep riffles where the rocks are as big as melons and just as round. A task best accomplished with your arm tightly locked in the arm of a good friend who weighs at least 250 pounds.
The less adventurous go next door to the Fly Shop at the Pleasure Palace, who will motor you safely upstream.
Some years ago, looking for a new place to fish, my friend Paul and I chose to fish this section of the Gunnison. It is just a few hours from home, and the ride on the twisty shelf road through Crawford and alongside the Black Canyon makes the day really special.
At that time there was a public campground at the confluence, which has since been made into day use only, but then we could camp and get an early start on the river.
After fighting our way across the North Fork, the main stem above was mostly riffles with no bends for at least a half mile. The water was low and easy to wade and the most likely places to fish were along the edges. So Paul and I each took a side.
It is an attractive freestone river with a jagged shoreline and occasional large rocks to provide shelter for fish and comfortable places to rest and enjoy the river. Under a clouded sun working the edges with the flies appropriate for the season, yellow stones and caddis nymphs, fishing was slow. By lunch time I hadn’t taken a fish and Paul just a couple small ones.
After noon, rested but still puzzled, we started fishing again, this time both on the same side of the river. This segment was more diverse with more bends and pools. Paul began to catch fish with regularity and I was still clueless after a half hour or more.
Unable to live with this dissonance, I walked up to where he was releasing a nice rainbow. Grinning from ear to ear, Paul held up a big ugly black fly with white, wiggly rubber legs. A Girdle Bug. I had seen pictures of this creation before but had considered tying them beneath my dignity. Time to reconsider. Failure overwhelmed pride. I asked Paul for a Girdle Bug.
Fishing this monstrosity made my day. Time after time as I tumbled it across the bottom of a run or pool it was gobbled up by a hungry fish. Despite the fact that it resembled nothing living in the river, it was an extremely successful lure.
Later at home a little research revealed that the fly name came from the origin of the rubber legs. Some enterprising angler used the rubber from a discarded woman’s girdle. Interesting but not very esoteric.
To tie your own Girdle Bugs, you need just three ingredients, long sharked hooks Nos. 2-10, black chenille and rubber legs. Convention calls for three pairs of legs and tails but the details are probably not significant. Different colors of chenille can be used, and I tie antennae rather than tails.
Fred Rasmussen is a founding member and current board director of Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited.