I waited two years to do this race and it was worth it. I first learned about the flyathlon in 2015 when I read an article in 5280magazine about this new event that combined running, fishing and drinking beer. It was hard to believe it, but some genius had combined all three of my favorite things to do in my free time into one event. Unfortunately, it was too late to sign up for any of the events that year so instead I did one of the Sandbeech Lake training run listed in the website. The timing of the events did not work out in 2016, but finally in 2017 the stars aligned and I got to participate in the Lake Fork Flyathlon.
The basics of the flyathlon are pretty straightforward: you run a trail to a mountain lake orstream and try to catch a fish. You get a few minutes deducted off your time for every inch of one of the fish you catch. Then you drink a Colorado beer.
But all the events are about raising money for the preservation of native trout habitat in Colorado and the trails that access them.
There were two folks at this year’s event who were making a documentary (not out yet but you can see their site here). At one point they asked what I did to train and I did not have a good answer other than to say it was all the things I do anyway. With some more time to think on it, there were a few things that, while I wouldn’t call them training, helped.
Even before I learned of the flyathlon I had thought it would be cool to try running to fishing spots and I did some experiments with the gear I would need. This helped me test out what gear I could get away with as well as what configuration would work well for running.
Then few times this year I have taken an hour lunch break and gone fishing on Boulder Creek. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the office. I keep my fishing gear in an REI backpack tucked under the desk. This helped me work through quickly getting the rod out and a fly on the water – because like in the flyathlon my time was limited.
|One of my friends testing out the waters of Boulder Creek|
The group campsite was the East Elk Creek Campground which was a surprisingly large group campsite. As promised in the emails and Google Maps, it was about 4.5 hours from Lafayette (after a quick stop to get some growlers at Odd 13). As compensation, Routes 285 and 50 are awfully pretty and about as pleasant as driving gets.
I rolled in around 6 pm and found a nice secluded spot across the creek from the main gathering area.
|View from the tent|
I then reheated some frozen tortilla soup that Alita made the day before. Frozen soups are one of the best car camping meals. They double as a freezer pack while your driver and make minimal dishes to clean.
I then started meeting folks. There were four brothers / brother-in-laws from across the state who were gathered for a fellows family weekend. While we were chatting someone from the dirtbag diaries podcast came up and interviewed us (they incidentally did a great podcast about the new national monument up in Maine and the challenges around making that come to pass).
Eventually we all gathered around the campfire for beers and talk of fishing. I went to bed around 11 pm. There were still several folks up having a great time.
The race started at 9 am and it was about a 45 minute drive from the East Elk Campground to the start at the Red Bridge Campground (on the other side of the Blue Mesa Reservoir). I got up around 6:30 and did my usual breakfast of oatmeal. I hitched a ride with the four brothers / brothers-in-law that I met the night before.
|Race start at the Red Bridge Campground|
At the start Todd, the race director, filled us in on the rules. The road paralleled the stream and you could stop and fish at any point on the way to or from the five-mile turn-around. This year the bonus was three minutes per inch of fish – up to 14 inches when you get five minutes off your time per inch (so three hours of running with a 10-inch trout would get recorded as a final time of 2 hours 30 minutes).
The race got off to its traditional start of “shot-gunning” a light American lager – i.e., the flyathlon founder’s daughters shot a can of PBR with some bb guns.
I took off at a healthy tempo pace of 6:30 miles and found myself rather alone. Based on the advice of the brothers and others I decided to fish early. The first checkpoint was around a mile. There were a few campgrounds immediately after the checkpoint. I kept going for another few hundred meters until I saw a nice set of about three drops. This looked good enough.
The night before I had rigged up a stonefly with a flashback pheasant tail dropper. I started nymphing the first drop and in about five minutes had what looked to be a 10 – 12 inch rainbow. But then it became apparent that I had placed the net on the wrong side of my pack. As I tried to reach around the fish got off. I allowed myself a few second of regret and moved onto the next pool.
After another ten minutes I hooked up with a nice 7 inch brown. I snapped my picture and gave it another five minutes to try for a bigger one. I then decided that I was on the board and it was time to use my speed. I gave my fly set-up to another lady who had also decided that this set of runs looked good and was fishing at the top where I had started.
At the turn-around I took a pull of the Law’s Whiskey (a Colorado native) and booked it on back. Other flyathletes asked if I had caught my fish (and you can just run – although you get a “crippling” penalty and what’s the point of that really?). It appeared I had a good chance of getting the fastest male but I knew that a 7 inch brown meant that I would have to finish well ahead of second place. So I kept pushing.
I finished up in an hour and thirty minutes. With my 7 inch fish that meant an adjusted time of 69 minutes. To celebrate finishing (and I guess truly make it a flyathlon) I grabbed an Uplsope IPA.
I watched the second finisher come in and then I went upstream (away from the race course) to do a bit more fishing. By that time though the sun was pretty high and bright in the sky and the wind was starting to pick up. I came back to the finish area after an hour and talked with the other finishers.
Back at camp the organizers paired me with the fastest female finisher against the flyathletes with the biggest and smallest fish in a cornhole competition. Sadly my cornhole skills were not on par with my running skills and the big and small fish team prevailed.
Then the big and small fishermen had a bb gun shoot-off for a custom built Sage fly rod. The guy who caught the smallest fish won handily. This fellow had brought his family all the way from Missouri for this event and so it was fun to see him take the “grand prize”.
The rest of the evening was the fine camaraderie that comes with all great fishing and camping trips. I was glad to have come and look forward to defending my title and maybe convincing a few friends that you don’t even have to run to have great time doing a flyathlon.
Run. Fish. Beer. Friends.