When Cole Glenn and Derek Ems call it a rugged trail to one of their favorite creeks for trout, they’re not kidding. But the extra work is worth it: It’s quintessential Colorado creek fishing.

Leaving an aspen grove, the trail quickly becomes a rocky staircase that criss-crosses a cascading stream. “Watch out here,” Glenn said, passing his rod and reel to Ems and down climbing a jagged chute next to a cliff then balancing his way across a fallen tree.

Ems was close behind. Within seconds of reaching the creek they spot fish and immediately begin short casts. Minutes later, Glenn has a rainbow on his line.

“They’re eating dries,” he calls out over the loud crashing water, setting the stage for the afternoon. It was a day of delicate and precise casts, presenting flies to float and drift, calling fish to rise. And one after another, they did.

As manager and guide for The San Juan Angler at the base of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Glenn know where the creeks are, and where the fish are in hiding.

“It’s my idea of Colorado fishing,” he said. “Just getting lost in the woods, getting onto a creek and hiking for miles. You’d be surprised at what you can see when you get in there.”

Ems, also a skilled guide, says he likes the rugged solitude and the challenge. “You have to get yourself in there, and that keeps some people away,” he said.

In Cascade Creek and others, the rocks are covered with an icy slick algae. Glenn calls it walking on greased bowling balls.

It’s tough fishing, notes Ems. “You have a tree branch here and a rock in the way there,” he said. “It adds some technicality, which I really like.”

Glenn said it’s like hunting fish: Spot and stalk.

“You’re crawling up the creek, low profile,” he said. “Trying to spot them and place a good cast to them.”

Both anglers, hooked on the thrill of the catch, admit somehow just being there is good enough. And that goes for their clients too.

“Sometimes I catch my clients just standing and looking around,” Ems said. “It just takes you to gorgeous places.”

“A lot of the time fishing is second,” Glenn said. “You’re surrounded by all the colors and the sounds and the smells. That’s small creek fishing.”