He’s Got to Fly

Duke Beardsley
Courtesy Duke Beardsley

“Hang on. Do you hear those sucking sounds? That’s life, time and money slipping away, and fast.” Duke Beardsley heard his father, George, say this so often throughout his life, especially when they were on a river fly-fishing together.

“My dad was always so good at reminding everyone, including himself, that everything is fleeting and that you should do what really gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning,” says Beardsley, a sixth-generation Coloradan who grew up on a 1,000-acre cattle ranch in eastern Colorado and now calls Cherry Hills Village home. “Really grasping that concept has been such an important part of shaping what I do with my time.”

At 49, Beardsley thinks he’s gotten pretty good at keeping his priorities straight. A renowned Western painter whose works have been shown in collections such as the Denver Art Museum and Georgia’s Booth Western Art Museum, Beardsley is known largely for his depictions of landscapes and cowboys. He has another love when he is outside, though, and it comes in the form of a long, light cast on a quiet river with the hope of a solid nibble once the line grazes the water. 

Beardsley is a devoted fly-fisherman, which might surprise friends from his younger days: “I remember going on fly-fishing trips just south of age 10, but I was too young to appreciate it for what it is. I couldn’t focus. By junior high I started to get more into it, and I got aggressively into it in college.”

Beardsley still maintains a ranch in the Blue River Valley, so he has spent quite a bit of time casting into that tributary of the Colorado River.
DUKE’S FISHING HOLES Beardsley still maintains a ranch in the Blue River Valley, so he has spent quite a bit of time casting into that tributary of the Colorado River in search of trout. “It’s a quick day-trip from the city,” he says. “If you have a little more time, I would head south, to places like the San Juan or Animas rivers. You can’t beat the fishing or the views.” Courtesy Duke Beardsley

Rancher friends offer Beardsley the chance to crew on cattle roundups often, where he ends his time fly-fishing on remote waters. Here’s what it looks like when this cowboy/artist gets to do a few of his favorite things.

Beardsley’s good friend Duke Phillips manages four Western ranches. The two often meet at Centennial Airport the night before a day of branding to catch a ride on Phillips’ Beechcraft Bonanza to Chico Basin Ranch, 30 minutes southeast of Colorado Springs. By 5 a.m., the 30 or so wranglers working that day set out to cross about 6,000 of the ranch’s 87,000 acres, driving the herd north.

By about 8 a.m., everyone is where they’re supposed to be and the branding begins in earnest. Ropers brand and vaccinate, castrate and dehorn as raucous laughter mixes with a thousand lowing cattle. That’s when Beardsley pulls out his camera, taking up to 3,000 shots that he can refer to later for inspiration. “I love the physical interaction between horse and rider; that’s a very real communication,” he says. “I catch so many tiny moments that I can use in my work.”

1-3 P.M. | THAT’S LUNCH!
Just when a body can’t get any hungrier, Beardsley says, it’s time to pull the irons out of the fire so that four hours’ worth of hot coals can be used to make refried beans. Pinto beans soaked overnight with salted pork get mashed on the spot in an oversized wok, and a shovelful of coals on the ground toast tortillas tossed right on top. Add some cheese, hot sauce and freshly cut vegetables, and everyone eats until they can’t take another bite. 

For an easy fly-fishing day close to home, Beardsley recommends heading to the South Platte River.
DUKE’S FISHING HOLES For an easy day close to home, Beardsley recommends heading to the South Platte River, where folks regularly catch large trout, along with walleye, catfish and largemouth and smallmouth bass: “I’ve been fishing all over and I was blown away when I first fished there.” Explore the different drop-in points, including South Platte Park in Littleton, at the trestle hole near Phil Milstein Park and, just south of the Florida Avenue bridge, Overland Pond Park. Photo by Brown W. Cannon III

After a couple of hours of cleanup, Phillips and Beardsley are itching to fish. “Bring your stick,” Phillips tells a small group of the dedicated—including Beardsley’s nephews, ages 5, 3 and 1—who head out in their shorts into the spring-fed pond, from which they pull bass, bluegill and carp. “We caught a lot of carp on a six-weight, using poppers,” Beardsley says. “The light was changing and Pikes Peak was this amazing backdrop. It was just some of the best 45 minutes you can have in a day.” 

What will the next day hold? Usually something different—but if it’s a good day, he fishes. “I’ve been really lucky and am really grateful to be able to do all of these things that make me happy,” Beardsley says. “It’s what my dad was always talking about.” Clearly, Dad knew best.