Time: 7:00AM – 1:15PM
Location: Basalt, CO to Carbondale, CO
Roaring Fork River 07/09/2021 Photo Album
Several weeks ago the Sylan fire launched the summer wildfire season in Colorado. Next, thunderstorms flushed Glenwood Canyon and caused half a dozen mudslides that blocked Interstate 70 for days. Record high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees became commonplace, as each summer seems to top the previous in the hot weather category. It was inevitable that this collection of heat related bad news would impact fly fishing, and right on schedule the Department of Wildlife announced closures on the Colorado River and Yampa River. All this, and the calendar remained in early July.
With this backdrop I tentatively looked forward to my fifth and final day of guided float fishing with Cutthroat Anglers. I elected to join my friend, Dave G., for five days in 2021, and July 9 was the fifth, having already enjoyed a day on the Eagle River and three days on the Rio Grande River. Cutthroat Anglers’ normal home water for drift fishing is the middle Colorado, but the closure announced in the first paragraph extended from Kremmling to Rifle, and that stretch encompassed the heart and soul of the shop’s guided float fishing water. What would we do? Dave G. was in contact with our guide, Reed, on Thursday, and he proposed a trip to the Roaring Fork River on Friday. He offered the alternative of the Eagle River, but the waterway along Interstate 70 was dropping and warming. Dave G. and I discussed our options, and we decided to try something different and chose the Roaring Fork River. Two downsides to the Roaring Fork were considered. In order to beat the competing boat traffic and beat the heat, Reed proposed meeting at 5:30AM in Eagle, CO. Another drawback was the potential for a localized thunderstorm that would create additional mudslides in Glenwood Canyon, and another closure would trap us on the western slope with few viable alternatives. The temperature for Friday in Carbondale was forecast to spike in the upper 80’s, and I was very concerned that the bright sun, lack of cloud cover and heat would put a significant damper on the trout’s appetite.
Poised for the Launch
On Thursday evening I made the drive from Denver to Eagle, CO and slept overnight at Dave G’s house. This positioned me for the early wake up, and after a very quick breakfast Dave G. drove us to our rendezvous point at the Eagle Rest Area, where we met up with Reed, his truck and the raft. The three of us passed through Glenwood Canyon without incident, and we arrived at a boat launch below Basalt by 6:30AM, and this enabled us to be on the water by 7:00AM.
Steep Narrow Boat Ramp
Let the Fun Begin
Dave G. graciously allotted me the forward position in the raft, and we began drifting the Roaring Fork River. The river in this middle section was narrower and faster than the lower stretch, and this dictated frequent cross overs, nimble boat maneuvering by Reed, and extra care when backcasting near overhanging branches and wires. Reed started me off with a size 12 parachute Adams, and I was very fortunate to nail two very fine fish in the early going. Number one was a brilliant pink hued rainbow, and the second was a medium sized brown trout. Dave G.’s flies, meanwhile, were being ignored from the trailing position, and we both suffered an extended lull after my first two catches. Reed began to tinker with the fly alignment, and he added a second fly to both our leaders.
Edna Nestled In
Eventually he hit upon some productive combinations. and I built the fish count to six before our 10:00AM lunch, and Dave G. attained a similar number of landed fish. We swapped positions more frequently than normal throughout the day, as Reed felt that the position in the boat was an important factor impacting fly fishing success. In my case, the popular flies were a parachute hares ear, purple haze and olive haze. Dave G. utilized similar flies with some slight variations.
After our early lunch we continued our float through some spectacular water with abundant braids, shoals and drop offs over cobble bottoms, and rocky bankside structure. I steadily incremented the fish counter and ended at 1:00PM with a cumulative total of thirteen. The catch rate was obviously slower than the Rio Grande, but given the high air temperatures and bright sky, we were more than happy with our level of success on Friday. In fact, the quality of the fish was outstanding, as seven of my netted fish were cutbows in the fifteen to eighteen inch range. The remaining six browns were slightly smaller in length, but all the trout exceeded twelve inches with several browns in the fifteen inch range. The brown trout made up for their slightly smaller size with head shaking and diving battles that strained my fish landing capabilities.
The Roaring Fork is famous for its green drake hatch, and our day on the river overlapped with this much anticipated event. Unfortunately, the hatch takes place in the evening, and our 7AM to 1PM float did not coincide with the main emergence. However, as I noted in previous posts, fish have long memories for green drakes, and we were certain that their awareness of western green drake activity caused opportunistic feeding on our size 12 parachute imitations.
My favorite fish was a brown trout that sipped the parachute hares ear in the session prior to lunch. I was in the stern position and cast my double dry combination out the left side of the boat to a seam that ran eight feet out from the bank. The two flies bobbed along on the bubble line unmolested, when a large form emerged from the shadows and slowly cruised to the surface. It was almost a slow motion replay as the large brown’s mouth opened to engulf my fly, and after a slight pause I lifted the rod tip and set the hook. Reed and I exclaimed a shout of joy, and I managed to thwart the brown’s escape tactics and guided it to my net. Wow, writing this once again sent my heart rate to an elevated level.
Mt. Sopris Looms
In another instance we were once again casting left, and I was in the forward position. I angled a cast to ten o’clock and executed a large mend, so the line was uptream, and the flies floated with the tail fly in the forward position. In this example, we were fishing a series of pockets between large submerged rocks, and suddenly a trout’s entire body elevated above the water, and the mouth opened and closed on my fly on the downward arc. I have rarely seen such an eat, but I would not object to more frequent occurrences. This fish eventually rested in my net, and it was one of the fat cutbows in excess of fifteen inches. I can still feel the excitement.
Thirteen wild fish of above average size represented an excellent day of fly fishing. The early launch and fishing the more technical middle section paid dividends. Dave G. and I were challenged by the tighter conditions, but Reed maneuvered the boat in a professional manner and put us in advantageous positions to optimize the float. Hopefully I can continue to work around the hurdles that the weather and nature throw my way in 2021.
Fish Landed: 13