Apr 12th, 2013
The setting is this: you are completely alone standing knee deep in the tailout of a perfect trout pool high in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado. The particular fish you’re targeting is rising in rhythm to rafts of mayfly duns floating downstream. You’re trying hard to remain calm while threading 5X tippet onto a crippled mayfly pattern. The sound of elk bugling in close proximity stirs you from your reverie and causes you to pause, look up and soak in your surroundings. Craggy 12,000 foot tall granite peaks ring your valley in all directions while mule deer graze silently in the valley floor. As the scene unfolds you take a deep breath, tighten your now-finished knot and sigh, saying to yourself “I can’t believe this is all mine!” This is El Rancho Pinoso and, yes, it is all yours.
This experience is repeated by guests on a weekly basis at El Rancho Pinoso, one of the finest and most fairly priced private water venues in the American West.
The Lindner Legacy
Robert D. Lindner first visited Colorado on a family camping trip in 1969. A successful businessman from Cincinnati, OH, Mr. Lindner was immediately struck by the region’s immense beauty and abundant natural resources. Two years later Mr. Lindner returned to the Rockies to purchase his first Colorado ranch, starting a journey of land acquisition and conservation that he would follow for the next 30 years. The Lindner Ranches now consist of 15,000 acres spread between seven Colorado ranches. The properties with the greatest concentration of recreational opportunities, including El Rancho Pinoso and the Weminuche Valley Ranch, have been placed under conservation easement ensuring their protection in perpetuity. In Lindner’s words: “These Colorado ranches…are my Rembrandts. Some people collect pieces of artwork because of their beauty and value. I can see no greater beauty – and truly no higher value – than these ranches in Colorado…My dream is to preserve these lands and maintain their integrity for decades to come.”
Pastoralism of this nature has become increasingly rare in this day and age. Too few are the people who work tirelessly for a future they will not witness. Robert Lindner takes conservation of his ranches very seriously. All the properties have a lion’s share of beauty and resources, but if you probe Mr. Lindner on his favorite there is no hesitation. It is El Rancho Pinoso, his gem along the Rio Blanco, tucked away at the end of a long dirt road outside of Pagosa Springs.
Better Than Nature Intended
When the Lindner family first purchased the land that became El Rancho Pinoso its centerpiece stream, the Rio Blanco, ran swift and shallow through its short drainage carrying a heavy sediment load. The river was not a single channel but a never-ending series of shallow braids over gravel bars. Past years of mining and logging caused the Blanco to carry more sand and gravel than it was capable of while maintaining a single channel. The decision was made to enhance the fishing potential while at the same time returning the Blanco to its’ historical channel.
Noted stream hydrologist Dave Rosgen was enlisted to design a system that would allow the Rio Blanco to slow down, form deeper pools and reduce sediment load and erosion. Through Dave’s efforts riverbanks have been shored, plunge pools formed and an ingenious gravel collection system put in place. All of this work ensures that the Rio Blanco supports healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout, many of which reach impressive size.
Fishing days at El Rancho Pinoso are reminiscent of what we all picture as the perfect trout fishing day. Head Guide and Ranch Manager, Damon Scott, arrives at your cabin in the morning with a definite strategy for the days’ fishing. After a few minutes of organizing gear and practice casting on the lawn, anglers ride with Damon 200 yards or less to their first pool of the day. Three miles of the meandering Rio Blanco wind through the property and guests will generally fish most, if not all, of the pools in a day. Fishing techniques will change throughout the day according to conditions. A typical day on the Rio Blanco may involve two or three cycles of nymphing, dry/dropper and dry fly fishing. Although many anglers don’t associate small waters with streamer fishing, Damon and his guides are always willing to run a big leech or sculpin through the pool before moving on. When fishing the home waters of the Rio Blanco lunches are taken back at your cabin. This is your ranch, your cabin and your river today so it’s up to you if you’d like to head straight back to the river after lunch or take in an afternoon siesta.
The fishing program at El Rancho Pinoso actually encompasses three distinct systems, the Rio Blanco at El Rancho Pinoso, the Weminuche River at Weminuche Valley Ranch and the Piedra River at the Notch Ranch. All of the waters are 100% private and remarkably productive.
When staying at El Rancho Pinoso you will also be guided on the Weminuche Valley Ranch, a satellite property 50 miles away that also falls under the Lindner Ranches umbrella. The Weminuche River features seven miles of private water, some of which has been restored similarly to the Rio Blanco. Where the Rio Blanco tends to feel like a swift, tumbling rainbow trout stream the Weminuche is the archetypal meandering meadow stream. For most of us this water just begs to be fished with a big grasshopper imitation. Big brown trout live in the Weminuche and Damon and his guides are hyper-dialed on catching them.
The upper Piedra River is the third venue and is located near the Weminuche on the Notch Ranch. A small, forested freestone river, the Piedra hosts healthy populations of wild rainbows, browns and brook trout. Fishing the Piedra feels like you’ve taken a long hike into the wilderness to find the crown jewel of headwaters fishing. Depending on snowpack, the Piedra will drop into “too low to fish” shape at some point in the season. On an average year the Piedra will be closed to fishing by early August and may re-open mid-September. Although many returning guests have not been able to fish the Piedra during their stay, the anglers who do get to visit often consider the Piedra the most intimate, if not the best of the three properties.
Not Really A Lodge
As a matter of principal, all original structures on Lindner Ranches are left in place. In Mr. Lindner’s eyes the cultural history of his holdings are as important as their natural features. Consequently, guests at El Rancho Pinoso stay in original log structures dating back 50 – 80 years or more. The “historical experience” ends there, though. Inside, the cabins have all the modern amenities and comforts anyone could ask for including washers/dryers, internet access and all the amenities expected. Interiors have been completely renovated to make your stay as pleasant and relaxing as Mr. Lindner himself likes it during his month in the same accommodation. No part of the El Rancho Pinoso experience feels like a lodge, but rather like a deluxe vacation rental. The cabins are all yours as well as all you can see of the valley floor. Sitting on the deck of the cabin the entire viewshed is your ranch. At meal times the cook staff will prepare as much as possible beforehand in order to minimize their kitchen time. When the meal is done, they clean up and are off. For those with special dietary needs, or a taste for something special, menus can be completely customized to suit. All and all, El Rancho Pinoso is truly the ultimate full service, private waters Rocky Mountain retreat.
Ludwig & The Lodge
For families and groups that prefer preparing their own meals in a non-catered context, the nearby Weminuche Valley Ranch has recently opened two remarkable new venues. The first is the four bedroom Ludwig Cabin. It too is a beautifully restored structure that seems all too good for the vacation rental market. For larger groups and gatherings, the up-valley Weminuche Lodge is also available and sleeps up to 14 comfortably.
Both facilities back up against the forests and gaze out across a sweeping 180 degree view of the sublime Weminuche valley. All guests also enjoy unlimited fishing access to over three miles of designated private water on the Weminuche.
Beyond The Blanco
While El Rancho Pinoso and the Weminuche properties are among the finest fishing venues in Colorado, this experience and area offers equally rich non-angling opportunities. On the ranches, wranglers and horses are always ready. Likewise there are miles of wilderness hiking trails nearby. For those who prefer a taste of town, Pagosa Springs is only 30 minutes away with golf, shopping and numerous spas showcasing the town’s renowned natural hot springs. For those that want more, the mountain tourist mecca of Durango offers endless options, including the famous Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad, great stores, historic motels and access to nearby anasazi sites.
When we first visited El Rancho Pinoso we were awestruck that such a special undiscovered place like this actually existed. The setting, facility and fishing seemed surreal. Moreover, the fact than an established landowner would actually open up a property like this to the public was somewhat inconceivable to us, and without precedent. We have worked with El Rancho Pinoso for a number of years now and our initial impressions still ring true: this is the single finest and most fairly priced private water venue in the American west and when the skies are blue and the fish are rising, it really seems too good to be true!
Getting to El Rancho Pinoso is fairly straight-forward and can be done from most areas of the country in less than a day. Guests of the ranch can fly into Durango, Albuquerque or Denver. Most of our guests choose to fly into Durango and overnight. Flying into Durango lands you 1.5 hours from El Rancho Pinoso. No matter which airport hub you fly into you’ll need to rent a car and drive to the ranch. Those with private plane service can land at the strip in Pagosa Springs where they will be picked up by the ranch manager. If you’re able to arrange flights that land you in Durango before 3PM then getting to the ranch that day will be no problem. After 3PM it’s easiest for most people to spend the night in Durango and make their way to El Rancho Pinoso the following day. A trip to the liquor store and grocery store in Pagosa Springs is recommended. With those errands done all you need to do is get to the ranch and start living the good life!
You can easily do all of your fishing at El Rancho Pinoso with a 4 or 5-weight fly rod and floating line. Long casts are not required and most of the water is too shallow for sink-tip streamer lines. If you want to break it down further you can bring three rods. A 3-weight rod with a floating line for fishing single dries. A 4 or 5-weight “do-all” rod that could be strung up with nymphs and split shot, dry flies or dry/dropper rigs, or the least essential, a 6-weight, rigged for big streamers on a final pass.
On the terminal end of your line plan on bringing 9’ – 12’ leaders. Although the rivers fished are small, Damon likes to ensure a stealthy presentation by using longer leaders, especially when fishing dries. Spools of tippet 3X – 6X will ensure that you’re ready to rig for any fishing scenario.