Master fly fisherman schools Summit Daily editor on a surging and swift Blue River
It’s May 8 on the Blue River in Silverthorne. To Summit County native Trent Jones, these cold and fast 45-degree drifts below the Dillon Dam make it feel more like June or July 8. That’s when the Blue River through Silverthorne typically runs this swift with the annual, melting Rocky Mountain snowpack.
This cold, partly-cloudy morning’s 393 cubic feet per second (cfs) river flow on the Blue is about four times as fast as normal — well, as normal as a Colorado river at 9,000 feet can be, anyway.
“Yeah,” Trent says, “She’s cooking, isn’t, she?”
A Summit County son
Trent would know. He’s in tune as much as anyone with the ebbs and flows of this stretch of Summit County’s central river, one that was here naturally before the Dillon Reservoir was constructed as a water source for the Denver metro area in 1963.
Trent knows because the 32-year-old Frisco resident learned how to fly fish before he can remember from his father Mark Jones. Mark moved cross-country to Summit County a decade after the dam was completed, in 1973.
But Mark didn’t come here for the fly fishing, Trent said. Like so many others who set roots in this county during that exciting time about a half-century ago, he did so atop skis. In fact, Trent’s father was the first freestyle skier at Copper Mountain Resort and was part of the crew that built the first ski lift at Copper Mountain. Plain and simple, he’s on the short list of candidates for a Summit County skiing Mount Rushmore.
Many Summit County old-timers know Mark’s story well. For years he coached young skiers in the county, including his son. But he also was an avid hunter and fly fisherman, one Trent said helped to design the very river structure on which Trent, working for Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, will guide me on today.
Trent’s father drafted and had input on the shelves and drops — the rocks under the water — on this stretch of the Blue. They are details in the riverbed’s structure that create the kind of slow-moving eddies that include the fishing holes Trent will have me cast my fly rod in today. Trent truly has a connection to this Rocky Mountain water, from the base of the Dillon Dam, where we are today, all the way to the river’s inlet to Green Mountain Reservoir in Heeney, where I live.
An Adirondack connection
As Trent unpacks his seasoned, black Tacoma and hands me my fly rod, I learn the Blue River and Heeney isn’t my only link to Trent’s story. Before Mark relocated here in 1973, he came from his native home of Tupper Lake, New York, a beautiful, remote mountain town nestled in a deep nook of the Adirondack State Park. It’s a spot many Adirondackers would describe as — maybe, just maybe — home to the state’s most beautiful waters. When I moved to Summit two years ago, I also came from this cradle of the Adirondacks. It’s at the foot of New York state’s High Peaks, known as “The Tri-Lakes.” So, I can’t help but smile to think Mark learned how to ski there.
Trent chats about his own Summit County story when we take breaks from fishing at a popular spot known as “The Cable Hole.” In telling that story, Trent says he, like most Summit County youth, took to freeskiing as an adolescent over fishing. It was skiing for teenager Trent, even though his dad taught him how to fish so long ago Trent can barely remember.
“When you’re in high school, and stuff, you’re not trying to go fly fishing, you know what I mean?” Trent says.
Trent was an accomplished freeskier in the county. He still coaches some park and pipe skiing, and he loves to backcountry ski around Vail. But fly fishing, that’s what he travels the globe for now — to reel in monsters as far as New Zealand and fatties half a world away in South Korea.
“I’m a nut for it,” Trent says as he adjusts the length of my line and the amount of weight on it in order to dial in the location and depth on the river’s shelf, or seam, where he is confident a good-size rainbow or brown trout will bite for a fly-fishing novice like myself.
For visual proof of Trent’s fly-fishing escapades, all you need to do is check out his Instagram, @tct_hustle. The “hustle” part of his profile name becomes evident to me as Trent wades up and down from The Cable Hole fishing spot toward another nearby hole named “Rodeo.” It’s all with the aim of helping me hook a trout in these waters he describes as high, fast and technical. For a relative novice to this style of fly fishing, nymphing, this isn’t beginner-level. Hence the hustle.
Now the “tct” part of his name, that’s less obvious. The other guides back at the Cutthroat Anglers shop in Silverthorne kid with Trent that it means “Trout-Catching Trent.” Truly, the “tct,” Trent says, stands for “Trench-Coat Trent,” a name that hearkens back to his younger days more than a decade ago when he’d wear big, baggy clothes out freeskiing.
Skiing versus fly fishing? Trent chooses both. Like many Summit County lifers, he has extensive experience with all of the outdoors elements that our, as he puts it, “paradise” top-of-the-Rockies existence has to offer. With the Gore Range’s Buffalo and Red peaks in view behind us, he’ll speak of stories hiking and skiing deep in the Gore. He’s even hunted it, though if you want to do that, he advises knowing somebody with a horse beforehand — motorized vehicles aren’t allowed that deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness.
Refinding fly fishing
Of all those Summit County hobbies, though, if Trent had his choice day here in paradise, it’d be fly fishing. But that wasn’t always the case. Trent said he didn’t really pick the sport up seriously until a few years after his father died, which was in 2005. Trent said it was about seven or eight years ago when he got into the sport again, when one of his buddies asked him to join him for a day. Picking up his dad’s old gear, a new chapter of his Summit County sporting life commenced.
“And it’s just been something I obsess about and do all the time now,” Trent said. “It just became this crazy passion for me.”
Just about two hours into our time fishing, Trent is confident I’m where I need to be — both physically wading in the water and skill-wise — to reel in a fish in this technical, fast flow on the Blue. As I focus on the nymphing fundamentals Trent taught me, which help me to cast into a tight, 3-foot pocket along the river shelf, I tell Trent I feel like I look weird.
“Welcome to being a fly fisherman,” Trent says with a smile, his polarized glasses continuing to scan the river’s seam. “This isn’t a stylish sport.”
Then, the bobber dips beneath the surface.
“There ya go,” Trent screams quickly as I lift my right arm to set the hook. “Fish, nice.”
“Alright, slow down,” Trent says as I struggle with the fight. “Let him run if he wants. Remember that, OK?”
“Yep, yep,” I say.
“Now, if he wants to run again, let him run,” Trent says.
Nineteen seconds after we set the hook, we reel in a glistening rainbow trout. Visitors from all over the country tempt the challenging flows of the Blue River for this kind of big, beautiful fish. They are the kind of fish that feast on mysis shrimp this close to the reservoir, enhancing their visual vibrancy.
“Yessir! Good job, man,” Trent says, placing the fish into his net, which rests half-deep in the water.
“That was awesome,” I say.
“Good job, that was killer,” Trent says. “That’s a good fish. As long as he’s in the water and breathing, it’s all good.”
Against the current
After snapping our customary photos with the fish, Trent releases the rainbow back into the swift waters. Trent relays the obligatory — that when releasing a fish back into the river, you do so by facing the fish upstream, against the current.
As I come down from the high of reeling in the rainbow, Trent’s words and instructions — as well of his story of his connection with his dad — remind me of one of my favorite mantras from my own father. Growing up, whenever things got tough in life, especially in sports, my dad would tell me something along the following lines: If you want to succeed in life, you have to swim fast enough to gain ground against the current. Because life is the equivalent of swimming upstream. If you don’t swim at all, you’ll quickly be taken down stream. And, if you swim just fast enough, you’ll stay in the same spot. So, if you want to continue ahead, you have to fight even harder.
I haven’t always lived by that life rule. There have been times when I’ve stayed in the same spot or had the flow of life push me backward. But, in this moment, angling on the Blue River with Trent, I can’t help but smile at how this Summit County local has continued to swim up the stream of his own sporting life no matter what life’s river has thrown his way. He may have lost his father at a young age, but he rediscovered fishing not only in Summit, where his family and loved ones helped to improve the sport, but across the globe as well.
Though Trent has fished in many spots across the world, he says he’s never fished back in the Adirondacks. I tell him about the legendary fly fishing on the AuSable River, near where his father used to ski at Big Tupper or Whiteface ski areas. He says maybe one day he’ll check it out.
Trent then wades deeper into the river away from the shallows, and points the rainbow trout up-river. It’s just another moment along a journey that is quite the Summit County sporting story of swimming upstream.
“And away he goes,” Trent says. “Let’s get another.”
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