With no races to train for in 2020, Bryon Powell turned his attention to his newfound hobby for a summer of motivation. It all led to an impressive feat in the Colorado mountains.
Silverton’s Powell, the editor-in-chief of famed ultra-running website iRunFar.com, completed a 100-mile run from Leadville to Salida in the Arkansas River Valley, stopping to fly fish along the way. The goal was to catch the grand slam of Colorado trout with a brook, brown, cutthroat and rainbow. It was the Troutman 100, the first of its kind, finished in 25 hours, 40 minutes, 21 seconds.
“I decided to have some fun,” Powell said. “I had attempted the Troutman challenge all summer, failing many times and succeeding a few. I had found success previously in the Sawatch Range in Chalk Creek. I knew from running this in the past that it is a very long run. I said, ‘Huh, I wonder if I can Troutman during a 100-mile run.’ It was an audacious goal, but why not go for it?”
Troutman is a challenge put on by Running Rivers, a nonprofit organization that focuses on preservation and restoration of freshwater ecosystems while also engaging with people through recreational events. The challenge is to run at least the distance of a marathon, 26.2 miles, with 3,000 feet of climbing while catching one of all four trout. The challenge is capped off by drinking a craft beer with an alcohol content of 12% or greater. It must be completed in 12 hours or less.
Running Rivers also puts on several flyathlon events each summer as fundraiser activities. During a flyathlon, people run various distances and must catch a fish along the way while also finishing a heavy beer.
Powell, a 42-year old former Washington, D.C.-based attorney who quit his job to move west in 2009 and pursue his love of trail running, has competed in a handful of flyathlons and volunteered on Running Rivers projects such as the Sand Creek Watershed Reclamation Project in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Running Rivers took its flyathlon challenges virtual to give running, fishing and beer enthusiasts a way to stay connected. Powell, a three-time Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run top-20 finisher, was set to compete in another Hardrock 100 in 2020 along with a few other races as a journalist and athlete. But with events all canceled, he spent much of his summer fishing and running.
“Adding fly fishing to trail running this summer gave me huge inspiration,” he said. “Having the motivation taken away to train for actual races, it gave me a ready source of adventure. Having new directions to go with fly fishing was a great boon, and I really enjoyed it.”
Powell, who completed his first 100-mile race 16 years ago but only started fly fishing in 2016, previously completed three Troutman challenges of the marathon distance variety. As an ultra-runner, he was intrigued by the chance to finish the first 100-mile Troutman.
He departed Leadville at midnight Oct. 7 with the goal of finishing 100 miles in 24 hours while catching the four trout within 12 hours of his first cast to complete the Troutman challenge. He ran 35 miles down U.S. Highway 24 before he cut over toward the Mount Princeton Hot Springs and got to where he would start fishing at Wright’s Lake 45 miles into his run.
“I caught a brown trout a mile into the Troutman attempt and caught a rainbow trout next,” Powell said. “The rainbow took awhile. I had fished this stretch of water before and had good luck with rainbows, but I caught 10 or more brown trout and kept trying until I got a rainbow. It took a couple of hours of fishing a couple of small pools where I thought there’d be rainbows. There would be five browns in a row, and I was worried the rainbows weren’t biting or not there. But I knew I had to catch a rainbow in that general area. A couple more casts, I finally hooked one. It came out of the water, I saw a flash of silver and said, ‘Yes! I got my rainbow.’”
Fishing Chalk Creek near the town of Saint Elmo, it didn’t take long for Powell to hook a brook trout. It came 55 miles into his run. He had previously caught a cutthroat in the same area, and he fished half a dozen spots but with no luck. He spent three hours trying for the cutthroat, but it was 4:30 p.m. with darkness only a couple hours away. So, he ran a couple miles downhill and then climbed a road 2,400 feet to Baldwin Lakes. He had never fished it but knew from previous research that it contained cutthroats.
“I fished a couple of times along the way hoping to get lucky. I saw a few fish, but super spooky,” Powell said. “I got to lower Baldwin Lakes, and I swear I could look 40 feet out and the water was still only 10 inches deep, but fish were rising. I walked around to the inlet, basically lied down and threw a fly into a little ripply water and kept letting the fly drift to where I saw a fish rise. I had a soft strike but failed on the hook set. A couple of casts later, same thing. Finally, I got a strike again and the fourth time I hooked it. I landed my cutthroat at 6:30 p.m. with the light of Antero, a fourteener, sitting above me. It was just gorgeous, a spectacular setting.”
After 72 miles and all four trout collected within 11 hours, 38 minutes of when he started fishing, Powell pulled out the beer he had packed with him. It was an AleSmith Speedway Stout from San Diego. It was a 16 ounce can with an ABV of 12%.
“During numerous failed Troutman attempts, I had carried the same beer with me,” Powell said. “I had carried it 192 miles and then the final 10 miles up and back down Baldwin Gulch road. I finally drank it after carrying it 202 miles. It felt really satisfying.”
Powell completed 93.6 miles in 24 hours but battled stomach issues and leg muscle problems. Determined to finish 100 miles, he walked out the final 6.5 miles from Poncha Springs to Salida for a finishing time in under 26 hours.
“I initially set a long shot goal of trying to do Troutman and 100 miles within 24 hours,” he said. “I made good time up until midnight. I gave it my best shot. As ultra-runners want to do, I was a bit persistent and carried on the final 6½ miles to get the 100 miles in under 26 hours.”
Powell estimated 80 miles of the running effort were completed on pavement with 10 more on good dirt roads and 10 on the super rocky road of Baldwin Gulch.
For packing ease, he used a Tenkara USA Hane, a 10-foot, 10-inch rod that collapses down into a 15-inch handle. It does not require a reel.
“So light, portable and quick to set up,” Powell said. “I don’t think about it while running, until I see a fishy looking spot and am fishing 30 seconds later.”
Powell scouted out the areas to fish while helping crew his wife, Meghan Hicks, on a record-setting Nolan’s 14 run the first week of September. Hicks successfully linked up the 14 summits of 14,000 feet or higher in the Sawatch range in 50 hours, 32 minutes. That women’s supported fastest-known time was broken by Silverton’s Sabrina Stanley Oct. 3 in a time of 48:49.
While crewing Hicks during her Nolan’s run, Powell was given encouragement to fish to pass the time. That’s when he discovered Chalk Creek.
During his Troutman 100, it was Hicks’ turn to be the crew member.
“Having my wife there when I started fishing that day at Wright’s Lake, it was stunning. A perfectly still morning with peak foliage and the Chalk Cliffs behind,” Powell said. “And the only reason I ever would have fished Chalk Creek was because of her Nolan’s 14 FKT. As it turns out, I caught fish there and I successfully completed a marathon Troutman on that a couple of days later. It was a good place to go back.”
Powell first learned of flyathlons in 2018 while listening to an episode of The Dirtbag Diaries podcast. A year later, he did his first Running Rivers event and ended up winning the long course event on Middle Creek.
“To win as a rookie, I enjoyed that,” he said. “Running Rivers does amazing conservation work. To see them change streams and rehabilitate them is breathtaking. Those efforts require dollars and boots on the ground, and these events help raise money for it.”
Powell set up a fundraiser link for Running Rivers during his 100-mile effort. He has raised $595 of his initial $500 goal with two weeks remaining on the campaign.
As for his favorite fish to catch, Powell said it is a Rio Grande cutthroat trout found a few miles outside Silverton at the Rio Grande headwaters. It’s a fish as tough as his effort on the Troutman 100.
“Just a show of resilience of the native species around here,” he said. “They might not be big, but they’re beautiful.”