Fish on private waters far from the madding crowds as a member of the Rocky Mountain Angling Club
Beyond the “No Trespassing” signs, where others might fear to tread, you may one day just catch sight of a fly fisherman casting for trout all by himself. Who is he? Why, the luckiest guy in the world.
He’s also likely a member of the Rocky Mountain Angling Club, which for 28 years has been offering anglers access to private waters throughout Colorado.
“We have 47 properties, and over 100 miles of water. We also have 15 to 20 ponds and lakes,” says Chuck Prather, who describes himself as “just the old man who has been with the club a long time.” Twenty-seven years, to be exact. The closest property to Denver is only about 45 minutes away, on Clear Creek.
Non-anglers, upon learning that Colorado has more than 23 million acres of public lands to fish, might want to know why private waters are like manna from heaven.
“You have a quiet stretch of water to yourself for the whole day,” Prather says. “It’s by reservation only. We limit the number of anglers we put on any particular stretch of water. If there is a mile of water, we wouldn’t put more than four anglers there.”
The process to get onto one of these waterways is as simple as hooking a trout (and trout are the main quarry here): If one of the 1,840 members of the club, two-thirds of whom hail from Colorado, wants to fish a particular stretch of a particular stream, that member submits a request and is told whether there is room, based on the club’s determination. If the answer is yes, the member reserves the stretch, goes to fish, his or her credit card is charged and the fee is split between the club and the private land owner, who has one more incentive not to develop his land. It’s a win-win, and a way for the average fisherman to gain access to the kinds of private waters usually reserved for the elite.
So how much does it cost to have your own slice of fishing heaven? There’s a $350 initiation fee, plus a $140 annual fee on top of that. Then a club member is charged a rod fee, an average of $75 per rod per day, to fish a certain spot. The differences in rod fees, Prather says, are determined by the length of the spot, and the quality and size of the fish. All but five of the club’s fishing spots are in Colorado; four are in Wyoming, and one is at Ted Turner’s private Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico, where club members get a discount.
You might assume all Rocky Mountain Angling Club members are experts, but Prather says you’d be wrong. “We do have some club members who are very accomplished fishermen, but a lot of them are your average or below-average fishermen,” he says. “They just want to go onto a property and enjoy the day in the outdoors. For a lot of them, it is a plus to catch a fish. They’ll say afterward, ‘Gee, I had a great day.’ I’ll say, ‘Well, how many fish did you catch?’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, I only caught two fish, but it was still a great day. I saw an eagle and a moose or a bear.’ A lot of guys take their wives, who don’t fish but they may just sit and read a book and enjoy the surroundings.” Kids are welcome, too; in fact, some landowners will give kids free days or a large discount, according to Prather, who also serves as a guide on private waters.
Streams really start opening up every year around late March or early April, and some properties can be shed all the way up to Christmas. A trout dinner at the end of the day is not the ultimate goal, Prather says, as the club is a catch-and-release outfit that uses barbless hooks. So what is the main source of satisfaction?
“Knowing that you fooled that trout on a fly that you may have tied,” Prather says. “I’ve been doing this for 44 years, and I always learn something new when I go out fishing. It’s not just about catching fish. It’s about spending that day outdoors on the water.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ANGLING CLUB
Initiation fee, $350; annual fee, $140; daily rod fee, $75 average