Three Deep at the Mahogany Riffle:
Fly Fishing & Fun on the Lower Gunnison, 1986-2000
Jeffrey L. Hatton
9” x 6” Softcover • 120 Total Pages • B&W Images • $24.95 Retail Price
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Lower Gunnison River in Colorado is a Gold Medal trout water, beginning 200 yards below the Crystal Dam to six miles below the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison Rivers. Beginning in the mid-1980s, author Jeff Hatton fished and guided these waters, and his remembrances of this time and place make for some of the most engaging fly fishing writing to find its way in print. You'll meet unforgettable characters, some incredible fish, and discover the stark beauty of this region first hand. So grab yourself a cold one and belly up to the Mahogany Riffle.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION
This book is largely about the Gunnison River — often referred to as the Lower Gunny — from the Crystal Reservoir on down, and particularly about the section from the Smith Fork confluence to Austin, Colorado, nine miles below the confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison and the main stem at the Pleasure Park, and my experiences in this remarkable natural treasure.
My first experience with the Gunnison came after we moved to Paonia in 1986. I remember the first time I saw the Gunnison like it was yesterday. It was a really cloudy gray November day, and I pulled down to the Forks in my Ranchero, got out, and the very first thing I thought was, “there are heads sticking out everywhere.” Trout heads. The rainbows were eating blue wing olives like crazy. Its safe to say I fell in love with the Gunnison on first sight.
I spent five days a week on it for the next year learning the water. I was trying flies for Tall Tales Tackle Shop in Grand Junction and then fishing the Gunnison pretty much every other spare moment. It was a life well misspent.
After a year of fishing it I figured I knew it well enough to guide. I continued to learn it while working at the shop, and also started to work for Tom Whiting and Whiting Farms. I kept honing my fishing skills and learning the intricacies of the Gunnison, and I guess I must have caught the eye of local legend Hank Hotze, who hired me on to do some part time guiding and also specialty fly tying for Gunnison River Expeditions in 1988.
This was my first experience guiding; they were mostly walk wades at first mostly util Hank taught me how to row the river. Hank had started the first commercial fly fishing service through the Black Canyon and knew the river as well as anyone.
I enjoyed guiding and sharing the river with other anglers. I always looked at guiding like this. I never promised we would catch fish, but I did promise they would always learn something from me that they didn’t know. I kept my promise across two decades of guiding.
During this time I watched a seismic change occur to the Gunnison right before my eyes. Whirling disease (Myxobolus cerebralis) is a parasite found in salmon and trout, and it began to show up in the Lower Gunny in the early 1990s. It is thought that the Colorado Division of Wildlife brought in fresh brown trout spawn without realizing they were seriously infected with the disease, and it soon spread to throughout the Gunnison population.
It was a real shame. We had this river full of beautiful rainbows, cutbows, and browns, and between 1994 and 1997, we watched the population go from 90% rainbows to just 10%. Just like that. It was a radical demographic shift in an incredibly short time and it changed the Lower Gunny as a fishery. I love browns but afterward, it was not like it was when the big rainbows would stay in those deep oxygenated holes. These fish had hearts two or three sizes bigger than any other trout I’ve seen including New Zealand. They had no give up, it was not in their vocabulary.
This demographic shift was once of the reasons I quit guiding. I also moved on to rod making because the Lower Gunny became too crowded. Too many people, too much change, you could say. ...
I was there during its Golden Era, and this book is about chronicling a small slice of the life and times on the Gunnison from 1986 to about 2010.