Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Between Salida and Wellsvile
Opportunity. As an avid fly angler, all I can ask for is opportunity. If I am unable to take advantage, then the fault lies with me, but at least I encountered numerous opportunities to connect with plentiful feeding trout. Cinco de Mayo was a day that provided numerous possibilities to connect with respectable Arkansas River fish. How well did I respond? Read on.
Heavy rain on Sunday extending into Monday afternoon had an impact on the front range streams, that I reviewed on Tuesday, in preparation for a day of fishing on Wednesday. I spent Tuesday supervising the patio landscaping project, and my daughter, Amy, was due to arrive on Thursday and stay through Saturday, so I was reluctant to miss quality time with her for a day of fishing. That left Wednesday as my one day of the week to log fly fishing time, and I wanted to make sure it was a productive day. As I browsed the stream flows and fishing reports, the Arkansas River in the Salida area caught my eye. The ArkAnglers web site cited extensive caddis emergence activity throughout Big Horn Sheep Canyon. The cold weather conditions of Sunday and Monday put a hold on the progression, but the warmer weather forecast for Wednesday through Saturday portended a resumption of heavy caddis activity.
Ongoing readers of this blog know that this avid angler is a sucker for the Arkansas River caddis hatch. I am like a punch drunk boxer who continually rises from the canvas only to be struck down repeatedly. I cannot resist the siren call of the dense caddis hatch even though it generally results in frustration. Only two or three times during my entire fly fishing history in Colorado have I managed to intersect with ridiculously easy fishing to emerging caddis, and it is those few instances that tug at my sensibilities, when I read about the chance of hitting the annual trout smorgasbord. The key to outstanding fishing to the hatch is finding the leading edge of the progression. In the few instances where I achieved this elusive objective, the fish ravenously slashed at emerging adults, as they skittered across the surface or get blown down by the wind. Sloppy casting was rewarded, since drag and movement emulated the the antics of the adult caddis.
More often than not, however, I arrived behind the leading edge of the hatch. Most of the adults already survived the gauntlet of hungry trout, and they were resting on the riverside rocks and willow branches. This was the situation, when I arrived at the Arkansas River on Wednesday morning. I parked at one of my favorite spots, Lunch Rock, and I pulled on my waders and rigged my Sage One five weight in anticipation of a day of caddis madness. The air temperature was around 55 degrees, so I pulled on my light down coat, and I was comfortable for most of the day except for the mid to late afternoon.
The caddis seemed to be resting on the rocks and branches with very little activity over the water, so I elected to go with a deep nymphing rig in the late morning. I crimped a split shot to my line and added a Thingamabobber and then attached a go2 caddis pupa and classic RS2. This approach failed to exact interest, so I pondered my options and swapped the RS2 for an ultra zug bug, prince nymph and eventually a small prince with no bead. During one of these changeovers I also replaced the Thingamabobber with a New Zealand yarn indicator. The ultra zug bug and prince experiments covered the scenario of egg laying caddis, but the resident trout failed to respond. A bit after 11:00AM a twelve inch brown trout chomped the go2 bright green caddis pupa, as I lifted to make a cast, and I was on the board. This bit of good fortune raised my hopes for caddis pupa action, so I began imparting more movement in my drifts via aggressive downstream mends and jigging the flies, as they tumbled back toward me. None of these ploys created hook ups. Some dark clouds blocked the sun periodically, and this caused the wind to kick up, thus creating the perfect conditions for blue winged olive activity, so I added a sparkle wing RS2 in place of the prince as the point fly, but this gambit was also a futile action.
After lunch I continued my upstream migration along the south bank, and I observed that the adult caddis on the streamside rocks and vegetation began to rouse from their dormancy. This translated into increased fluttering over the water with occasional dapping, and in one shelf pool I spotted a couple rises. The nymphing approach was proving futile, so I decided to try something different. I knotted a single olive-brown deer hair caddis to my line, and I tossed a few casts in the vicinity of one of the sighted rises. Smash. A very nice brown trout appeared from nowhere and crushed my little caddis imitation. I concluded that the trout along the bank were tuned into the adults that occasionally dapped the river for drinks, and I began to prospect the edge with the size 16 imitation.
In spite of the abundant quantity of caddis touching the water, I did not observe many rises, and it was increasingly difficult to track the earth tone fly particularly when the clouds blocked the sun. In order to improve my fly tracking capability I added a peacock body hippie stomper in the front position and then placed the deer hair caddis on a six inch dropper. The double dry fly approach became a winner, and I persisted with it for most of the afternoon. There was a brief period, when I reverted to a dry/dropper with a caddis pupa and prince nymph, but the subsurface experiment was an undeniable failure.
During the early afternoon the caddis remained mostly along the shoreline with only occasional dapping activity. It was during this period that my double dry shined. I landed four additional trout to increase the fish count to six including a very muscular rainbow. Amazingly, two of the afternoon fish crushed the hippie stomper, even though it looked nothing like the size 16 caddis adults that seemed to be everywhere. By 2:30PM the caddis activity transformed into a full blown orgy. Adults were everywhere; in the bushes, on the rocks, in large swarms above the river, bouncing off the surface, and crawling in my ears and behind my sunglasses. In spite of this preponderance of available food, rising trout were only intermittent occurrences. My catch rate lagged in spite of the ridiculous quantity of insects in attendance. It seemed like the caddis were not on the water more than a second or two, and their touch downs were so erratic, that it was difficult for the trout to anticipate where to attack. My small inanimate dry fly was one among thousands, so the chances of it being consumed were minimal. In addition to the six netted trout, I also experienced in excess of four connections that resulted in escapes, so a double digit day was certainly a missed opportunity.
In summary, I found the caddis hatch. There have been years when I missed it entirely, so actually interacting with it was a positive accomplishment. Sure, I yearned for the easy plucking that accompanies discovering the leading edge, but being in the midst of the dense hatch was superior to missing it entirely. I managed to land six very respectable trout with the opportunity to score double digits. There is that word again; opportunity. Simply being a part of the spectacular caddis emergence made Wednesday a success in my book. The weather was perfect, and the wind was mostly a nonfactor. I had the opportunity to catch a lot of fish, but my skills were a bit lacking. Hopefully my health will enable me to pursue the grannom (caddis) hatch a few more times in coming years.
Fish Landed: 6