GLENDEVEY, Colo. -- Every measured step was painstaking, but each brought me closer to the lair of the wild fish. The code word for the day was slippery, but at least secrecy was not an issue.
Boulders laden with moss and algae were something akin to a boot-camp obstacle course. And I knew I would persevere.
My guide worked overtime to convince me that big fish were everywhere we traversed. Little did I realize how accurate he was.
This is a place where grown men have been known to gasp in disbelief and also shed a tear when a big fish unhooks itself following an Olympic-like series of leaps.
The hoppers (grasshopper-like surface flies) I was casting didn't do much to entice a fish, so I tied on an ugly streamer creation that was adorned with flashy, silver-like material. That concoction was supposed to scream "Look at me, trout!"
It was an "On Golden Pond" moment, like the one when Henry Fonda told his grandson in the boat about Norman, the big fish that had eluded the old man for years. And then, on their final outing the kid hooked the monster fish, making the old man proud and complete.
I shot a cast with that ugly streamer to a small section of deeper, slow moving water. The fly got caught up in the current, and when I lifted the 5-weight fly rod for another cast, my "Norman," the 24-inch king of the pool, showed me his stuff, replete with spectacular jumps.
Patrick Timmons, owner of Rawah Ranch, ran over to the edge of the bank. He yelled "you caught Norman."
Mind you I was a scant 50 yards from the main lodge building. Patrick kept on with a series of congratulatory shouts, but I had yet to put the net to the fish. It took about 10 minutes of give-and-take exchanges before I was able to coax this magnificent rainbow to my guide's waiting net.
A quick measurement told me I had a real trophy.
All the rainbow, brown and brook trout here are wild fish. Patrick, his guests and guides are the only ones who can fish close to 3 miles of wilderness trout water, much of which is yards away from the cabins.
I have been to many lodges over the years. Some of them are outstanding, while others are nothing more than worn-out shacks with horrendously poor excuses being passed off as hospitality. But this isn't the once-popular Fisherman's Dude Ranch. It's the real deal.
Timmons runs a first-class operation for both anglers and hunters. He can boast close to 400 acres of wild lands tucked in between mountains, a valley, and river, adjacent to the Rawah Wilderness Area as well as the Roosevelt National Forest. And all this wild fishing goodness sits at an altitude of about 8,400 feet with excellent cabins that offer all the comforts one would expect.
In addition to the spectacular fishing, cabins, wildlife and scenery, the ranch employs Chef Bobby, a mountain kitchen magician who is a master of the culinary arts. Every night guests proclaim oohs and ahs when the main course is presented to them.
And when hunting season arrives, Rawah Ranch goes into high gear offering moose, elk, mule deer and antelope hunts.
I was able to pop two other big fish like Norman, but just as I was starting to get each one close to the bank they jumped clear of the water and "unzipped" from the fly. I had several 18-inch brown trout as well, and smaller rainbows to fill out my dance card.
I had been waiting a long time for this wonderful fishing opportunity. But even if I didn't assemble my 4-piece fly rod, I still had the mountains to surround me along with crisp breezes rushing through the aspens.
Paul Melchior (Angling Escapes.com) and I flew Southwest Airlines to Denver and then rented a car for a three-hour drive to Rawah Ranch.
This was truly the end of the rainbow with pots of gold-like rewards. Such as Norman.
If you go
Destination: Rawah Ranch, 75 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo., and 142 miles from Denver International Airport.
Cost: Four days, five nights, $2,500.
Contact: Paul Melchior (847 272-3195) to arrange your trip.
•Contact Mike Jackson at email@example.com, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.