Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Run-Fishing 2: Flyathlon

Among the many things that lay dormant while I was deployed was my fly fishing. While there might have been salmon fishing in the Yemen for Ewen McGregor, there was no trout fishing to be had in Kuwait (although some friends did catch fish at the Kuwait Naval Base). One concept that I had been looking forward to reviving was the idea of combining trail running and flyfishing. I had done a test run before I left last year, but I never got around to running up to a high mountain lake and really taking advantage of a trail run to get away from it all.

So when I finally got back to Colorado I started reviving the idea. Along the way I discovered that I was not only not the first person to think of this idea, but that someone had come along and done it even better. A fisheries biologist and trail runner came up with the brilliant concept of a flyathlon: run a trail to some high lake or stream, catch a fish, run back and drink a beer. I could identify with this guy.

Refining the Packing List

But before I started doing some serious climbing I wanted to review things a bit more. I did one run down to Walker Ranch (which was just a mile, but featured about 600 ft of vertical) and a fish / run / hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. These two trips proved useful in refining the packing list from what I had developed last year. I realized that I needed some snacks if I was going to be pushing myself for eight plus miles often over 1,500 vertical feet. I dropped the sandals – for most high mountain lakes I realized the fishing could be done just as well from the shore. I also finally got  fishing lanyard and ditched my trusty but bulky chest pack.

But most importantly I added a leave-behind kit for the truck. This included a cooler with snacks, frozen water bottles and beer for when I get back (running and fishing at altitude works up a healthy appetite and thirst).

So the new list came out to:

Running pack
Running bag (7.0 lbs, minus the handheld water bottle)
Water bottle
GPS / maps
Fishing Lanyard
Water purifier
Fishing license
Toilet paper

Stay behind stuff
Stay behind bag:
(2) water bottles
Change of clothes

Frozen water bottles

All the gear, ready to go!

Sandbeach Lake Flyathlon Training Run

From the Flyathlon website I found a “training course” inAllenspark that was a reasonable drive from Boulder. The excellent guidebook Fly Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park suggested that it was a greenback cutthroat fishery with some good potential.

After dropping of my son at child care I left Boulder and made the trailhead by 10:45 am. On a Tuesday there were only about five other cars in the parking lot. The trail featured a steady climb that was (for me) runnable for 90-95% of the way. 

Some nice views on the Sandbeach Lake Trail
It climbed 1,979 ft over 4.3 miles according to Strava. The technical running was minimal and the views were good. On a Tuesday I encountered only three other hikers on the way up. Once at the lake I had the place to myself for all but a few minutes when a few other hikers stopped by.

Images courtesy of Strava
The lake did not feature the steep rock scree side that most high mountain lakes have, but it did feature the namesake sand beach. 

Mount Meeker and the namesake sand beach
I decided to first go right and try what I hoped was the steeper side. I did not catch any fish there but as I was changing my fly I heard some grunting behind me. I turned around to see a black bear about 100 feet behind me. I suspect he saw me first because he was mercifully not that startled by me. I was not sure how fast I could swim and was a bit worried that I was about to find out. Fortunately, the bear was in a decent mood and more concerned with fattening up on berries than fishermen and hikers. I took off my shoes and waded into the lake and walked along the shoreline until I felt I was sufficiently far away. I made a mental note to add bear bells to the packing list.

Black bear, black bear what do you see? I see a tasty fisherman looking at me.

I much prefer to see bears from this distance
I then fished a jut of land on the other side of the lake for the remainder of my time. Fish started rising in the center of the lake but they were mostly beyond my casting reach. Finally around 2:45 I decided to call it so that I could get back in time to pick up my son from child care. If I come back again I think I will bee-line it to the outlet, but that will have to wait for another day.

Looking north from the west side of the lake
I filled up the water bottle and ran down. The non-technical trail made for a fun and (for a less-coordinated person like me) pretty safe run.

Nice view of the valley on the way down
It was wonderful to have cold thawed water and food waiting at the end. While I missed the “fish” leg of the flyathlon I decided to celebrate not pissing off a half-ton-plus omnivore by drinking a Denver Pale Ale anyway.

In spite of not catching any fish, trail running and fishing worked beautifully together. While I think I can get my set-up lighter, its current weight of 7 lbs was just fine even with climbing around 500 ft per mile above 8,000 ft. I figured running bought me close to an hour extra fishing time. On the way up I averaged 12:12 minute miles. I figure with walking I would have, at best, probably done 20 minute miles. Over 4.3 miles (one way) that is over 33 minutes saved. And I got in a good run on a beautiful trail. Success.


  1. Sounds like a perfect day. Do you carry mace on runs for bears?? that one seemed kin of close;I;m gladhe left you alone.

    1. I do have a can of bear mace but did not bring it on this trip. I will certainly wear bear bells or attach my keys to the outside of my bag next time.