The Rocky Mountain Flyathlon by Andrew Todd
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of ATRA’s Trail Times newsletter.
If you have never caught a cutthroat trout, held it just long enough to marvel at its myriad vibrant colors, and then released it back to frigid mountain waters, I recommend that you add it to your list of things to do in this life. Truth be told, I am more than a little biased, as this magnificent species of fish has played such an integral role in my life, inspiring my career path as an aquatic research biologist, and calling to me during every other waking moment. And, more recently, it is the relentless pursuit of this native high which lives within the high lakes and streams of the American West’s many wilderness and roadless areas, and within the remotest of remote reaches of our national parks, that led me to discover what I call the “Flyathlon.”
As the father of two young girls, my time away from home is inherently limited, so to be a good dad and still get my cutthroat fix, I strip fly-fishing down to its bare essentials. No zip-front chest waders, no 18-pocket fishing vest, no oversized float tube. Just a seven-piece pack rod, a lightweight reel, and only the most critical of flies. And then I run. I run so that I can maximize my minimal “me” time reaching out to these beautiful fish. I run to get way, way back there into true Rocky Mountain solitude, where the trail ends and the trout haven’t seen an angler in a while, if ever. I run so I can feel my heart pounding in my head as I string up my fly rod and tie on a fly. I run to feel like I earned it. And when the line goes tight, and I see that signature orange slash along the lower jaw, in that instant, I know that the effort was worth it.
Then, back at the trailhead at the end of whatever remote and narrow dirt road, I reach for another of Colorado’s finest assets, our superior craft beer.
Run. Fish. Beer. Simple as that.
It turns out, while I may be the first one to formally put a name to this unique multi-sport experience, I now know that I am not the only flyathlete. One afternoon several years ago, as I eagerly described the concept to a friend, he quickly cut me off, indicating that this is something that he has done for years. And the movement has grown quickly from there.
This past August, 33 flyathletes dragged themselves out of their tents to make the short journey to the Middle Creek trailhead near Saguache, Colorado, to compete in the inaugural, official Rocky Mountain Flyathlon race event. Most toed the start line having enjoyed the pre-race campfire the night before, drinking some of South Central Colorado’s finest craft beers.
The race rules are very straight-forward. Complete a 7-mile out-and-back course along the Middle Creek trail, catch a fish, take a picture of said fish, and do it all as quickly as possible. The bigger the fish, the more time taken off at the end of the run (with a special double time bonus for catching the elusive native Rio Grande cutthroat trout, of course). Of the 33 race participants, all but one hooked, landed, and photo-documented their catch. In the end, a native fish was the difference between first and second place, with fastest runner finishing second due to catching an inferior, non-native brown trout.
After the event (and after an epic post-race celebration featuring the finest local craft beers), the feedback that I received was amazing. “Shaking hands from the adrenaline rush of trail running while trying to Ninja cast into a three-foot wide stream was just the beginning of the morning…”
“The excitement of an adventure race infused with the mellow vibe of a fishing trip with friends. Trail running, fishing and drinking beer are three things I have done for years, but I never thought to mash them together. Who knew they would complement each other so well? The inaugural Flyathlon has me hooked. I can’t wait for more.”
In 2015, we will be taking the event, and the concept, to the next level. The second annual Rocky Mountain Flyathlon will be held on August 15, along Middle Creek near Saguache, CO, this time with a “long-course” option (approximately 10.7 miles) (permit pending). In addition, several of the heartiest flyathletes will be attempting to complete the Troutman Team Challenge, which consists of a marathon-distance trail run, each team member catching the Colorado grand slam (all four trout species), washed down with a local craft beer greater than 12% ABV, all in under 12 hours. And as training for these more formal flyathlon events, we will be “fish-slapping” select established races. I fish-slapped the 2014 Imogene Pass Run. It was awesome.
We are beyond privileged to live in a place of immeasurable beauty, teeming with epic trails leading to super fishy waters. Fill your post-run cooler with your favorite local craft beer, pack up your fishing gear, and get back there. Way back there. Run. Fish. Beer.
Andrew Todd (a.k.a. The Stout Runner), founder of the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon, considers himself a true flyathlete. He has found that many trail runners are also interested in fly fishing, and vice versa. The event raises money for trail / river restoration and education. In 2014, Todd’s event raised more than $6500 for the organization Colorado Trout Unlimited.