Conejos River – 07/20/2016

Time: 9:00AM – 4:30PM; 7:00PM – 8:00PM

Location: 1.5 miles downstream from CO 105 bridge and then back up to bridge; nice pool next to the Lake Fork Campground

Conejos River 07/20/2016 Photo Album

I could not let the Conejos River beat me. I pondered my options for Wednesday on Tuesday night. I considered exploring the Conejos River above Platoro Reservoir, since it would be unaffected by water releases from the dam, but I was unfamiliar with this water and did not have a detailed map. Another option was to cut my losses and leave a day early and identify another decent fishing destination on Thursday or Friday closer to home. Of course the final alternative was to spend another day on the Conejos River. I chose the latter with a caveat. If the fishing was slow, I would quit at 2PM and return to the campsite and pack up and return to Denver.

Spending another day on the Conejos seemed like the correct choice for several reasons. First of all I drove nearly six hours to be there, so I really needed to give it another chance. My main motivation, however, was the observance of a few green drakes and a decent pale morning dun hatch on Monday around noon. Perhaps this was the leading edge of a more intense emergence, and it would be ashamed to abandon the Conejos just as it blossomed into prime productivity. July 20 was the start date of my two previous successful trips to the Conejos River.

On Wednesday morning I drove down CO 250 to the last place where the short grass and low bushes defined the landscape between the road and the river. Had I traveled farther, reaching the river necessitated battling through trees and dense shrubs. Once again I elected my Sage four weight, and after I slid into my waders and pulled on my packs, I hiked across the dry grass and angled down a bank to the river. I decided to experiment with some different approaches on Wednesday, and I kicked the day off by stripping a streamer. I clamped my reel containing a sinking tip line to the rod and knotted a slumpbuster to the short stiff tapered leader. My original plan envisioned working streamers for an hour, but after thirty minutes of fruitless manipulation of the small bait fish imitation with nary a follow, I made an adjustment. In fairness to the streamer advocates, the quality of the water at the outset of my day was not highly conducive to that methodology.

I removed the sinking tip line and restored the floating line that I stuffed in my backpack before departing from the car. I was now prepared to utilize a different method from the dry/dropper approach that I stubbornly embraced on Monday.

Wednesday was another sunny day in the morning, but dense clouds blocked the sun’s rays off and on during the afternoon. The flows seemed comparable to Monday, so my prayers for reductions from the water managers went unanswered. In fact, upon my return to Denver, I checked the graph, and flows remained consistently at 180cfs until they dropped to 130cfs on the day I departed. Typical. I reasoned that the fish were hugging the bottom as a result of the high flows and cold bottom releases, so I elected to utilize the strike indicator deep nymphing approach to fly fishing.

P7200030.JPG

Keeping Them Wet

Between 9:30 and 11:30 I deployed a nymph approach, and the lineup featured a 20 incher and salvation nymph. The 20 incher was an attempt to imitate the nymph stage of a green drake, and the salvation nymph was the same for pale morning duns. In the first hour after switching to nymphs I landed two brown trout. The first landed fish was a very nice energized fourteen inch brown trout, and it snagged the 20 incher from the drift. The second twelve inch brown trout snatched the salvation nymph. So far so good. I was pleased that my adjustment delivered a pair of nice fish, and both my fly choices were recognized as prevalent food.

P7200034.JPG

Nice Shelf Pool Yielded a Fish on a Green Drake Spinner

 

At 10:30 I approached a beautiful long deep shelf pool on the side of the river away from the road. Earlier I managed to cross the stiff flows at the wide shallow top of an island, and I remained on that side for the entire day. The left bank was simply more comfortable to fish by a right handed caster, and there were very few locations where I could risk another safe crossing. I surveyed the long attractive pool, and as I looked on, I spotted a flurry of rises. It was not obvious what was prompting the activity, so in between casts of the nymph set up, I focused on the water in front of me. On the third such inspection, I noticed a green drake spinner, and there was no mistaking the size and spent wings of the large western mayfly species.

P7200033.JPG

Green Drake Spinner Eater

I impatiently removed the nymph paraphernalia, and tied on a cornuta spinner, as it was a similar shape and color. As I expected, it was ignored, as it was two sizes too small to copy the green drake that floated by. I searched my fly box once again, but there were no large spinners to pick from. What should I do? In the past I have had some success using a comparadun to imitate a spinner since it rides low in the film and has a fan shaped deer hair wing that protrudes from both sides of the body similar to a spinner wing. I dug out a size 14 green drake comparadun with no ribbing and applied floatant and smashed down the wing.

I was ready for another attempt at one of the earlier risers. I tossed the makeshift spinner above the spot were I observed a rise, and sure enough a nice thirteen inch brown materialized from the river bottom and confidently consumed my fly! Moments like this when a fly fisherman observes, reacts, adjusts and improvises are extremely gratifying. I lifted my rod and set the hook, and a brief battle ensued before I landed a chunky thirteen inch brown trout.

Coming off this success I quickly cast above one of the other risers, but this fish refused my comparadun, and then just as suddenly as the spinner fall commenced, it ended. The brevity of the spinner fall perhaps indicated that the density of green drake emergence in this area of the Conejos remained light. I was not eager to return to the deep nymph system, and I remembered that in July 2015 I prospected with a size 12 Harrop deer hair green drake with a salvation nymph dropper with a high degree of success. Why not try it again in this prime pool?

I found one of the Harrop  drakes in my fly canister and attached it along with a salvation nymph. I cast across to a nice deep run along the roadside bank, and much to my amazement a weighty brown flashed to the surface and inhaled it. I played the fish for a bit, and then I was sorely disappointed when the drake slipped out of the mouth of my foe, and the trailing salvation foul hooked the brown trout in the body. Despite losing a nice fish, I was now excited that perhaps the Harrop drake and salvation nymph would reprise the 2015 success.

It did not. I continued prospecting the throwback combination and experienced a couple momentary hookups to the salvation, but then interest faded as I reached the top of the pool. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 11:30, so I returned to the bottom to eat lunch early, as I expected a green drake and pale morning dun hatch to commence in thirty minutes.

P7200035.JPG

Lunch Break

After lunch I saw no hatch, so I decided to revert to the deep nymphing approach. I was intrigued with the idea of working my the 20 incher and salvation through the deep shelf pool in case the trout were tuned into subsurface activity prior to a hatch. The strategy worked somewhat, as I landed a small brown on the 20 incher in the shelf pool, and then netted number five at the bottom lip of a short but deep narrow slot along the bank. This thirteen inch brown trout also inhaled the 20 incher. At one point during this deep nymphing phase I foul hooked a fish that stripped out fifty feet of line before it eventually came free without breaking off the flies. I breathed a sigh of relief as I escaped this near miss disaster, and I moved on and added a small brown to reach a fish count of six.

P7200039.JPG

Yikes, Very Healthy

In the early afternoon as I waited for the mayfly hatch, my progress was rapid, because I skipped vast quantities of river real estate that were not conducive to fish holding away from the high velocity flows. In the midst of this period I encountered another juicy spot where two currents merged and created a deep trough. If ever there was deep nymphing water, this was it. I made five or six drifts with no response, but then on the next pass, the indicator dipped, and I was connected to a hot fish. The angry missile streaked to deep fast water, and within seconds it broke off both nymphs. The fish may have been foul hooked, but I will never know for certain.

I continued to anticipate green drakes and pale morning duns, but they were not cooperating. A type of aquatic insect that was appearing in greater quantities was stoneflies. I recognized small yellow Sallies, large golden stoneflies, and a version that was in between those two in size. I captured the medium version while eating lunch, and it approximated a size 14 stimulator with a light yellow body that exhibited tinges of green. I was not ready to abandon nymphing, but I filed this information in my brain for future reference.

P7200046.JPG

Zoomed In Even More

When I replaced the broken off flies, I retained the salvation but exchanged the 20 incher for an iron sally. I resumed nymhing, but the temperature was peaking, and fish were not responding, and I was beginning to weigh the option of packing up and returning to Denver on Wednesday evening. It was at this low point that I approached a section characterized by wide shallow riffles. This water type was not conducive to deep nymphing, but was one of the few areas at high flows that screamed for a dry fly approach. My success level was non-existent, and I saw numerous large yellow Sallies, so why not try a size 14 light yellow stimulator? This fly was popular with the Elk Creek brown trout, so perhaps the main stem Conejos cousins loved them as well?

P7200041.JPG

Yellow Stimulator Streak Begins

I had the foresight to restock my fly box with size 14 light yellow stimulators at the campsite, so I pinched one and knotted it to my line. I launched a long upstream cast, and as the visible fly danced through the riffles, a thirteen inch brown confidently slurped it in. My first thought was that I should have tried it earlier, but I was nonetheless elated with this dry fly success. Over the remainder of the afternoon I landed eight more brown trout by prospecting the small stimulator. Yes there were some refusals, but the move to the heavily hackled stimulator enabled me to salvage the day and find a consistent producer on the Conejos River in the absence of significant green drake and PMD activity. My decision to remain for one more day on the main river was vindicated.

P7200043.JPG

Big Head with Stonefly Cases in the Background

The final eight fish included several in the thirteen to fourteen inch range, so the stimulator was not just a dink magnet. Of course I experienced some long distance releases as well, and several of these were substantial fish. I covered 1.5 miles of river, as the trick was to skip around vast sections of pure rapids and focus only on spots that were obvious fish holding lairs. The best places to cast a fly were relatively shallow riffles of moderate velocity and deep slower moving bank side pockets. One particularly productive wide shallow riffle yielded three twelve inch browns, and a memorable series of narrow pockets along the bank produced two very nice browns. A third brown at the top of this area swirled and refused the stimulator, but this visual elevated my heart rate for a brief moment, as it was probably the best of the three fish.

P7200044.JPG

Pretty Section of the Conejos

I fished for seven hours and covered significant stream miles, so the Conejos made me earn my success. If I landed a higher percentage of my hook ups, I could have easily attained a fish count of twenty. The river was reluctant to reveal its fish, and the fish were reluctant to find my net. In my opinion Conejos River brown trout are pound for pound some of the hardest fighters, that I encountered in my many years of fly fishing. Landing fifteen healthy battling Conejos River brown trout in high flows without the benefit of a green drake or pale morning dun hatch was a significant achievement.

After dinner at the campground on Wednesday evening I strolled down the road to the river and checked out the nice hole behind my campsite in 2015. As I looked on, some fish rose, so I quickly returned to site number six to collect my gear and prepared to fish. A cluster of spinners bobbed over the dirt road in the campground, so I should have recognized this as a sign of what was ahead.

P7200047.JPG

Home of Elusive 16

The wide pool was situated behind a large exposed midstream boulder with strong deep currents forming the outside border on both sides. One of those strong currents was between my position and the pool, and this made countering drag quite challenging. Initially I prospected a size 14 gray caddis in the bottom half of the pool since the rising fish were in pause mode. The fish did not respond to the caddis, so I paused to  observe and noticed a large mass of bobbing spinners above the pool. After a brief period, the rises resumed, although they were in the upper half of the pool this time. I concluded that some of the mating spinners hit the water, so I opened my fly box and spotted a size 16 rusty spinner and tied it to my line.

As I mentioned, it was extremely difficult to obtain a drag free drift as the strong current in front of me grabbed the fly line instantly. Also several tall trees were behind me, and this forced me to be very cautious of my backcasts. I managed to elicit two refusals to the rusty spinner, and it was not clear if the rejection stemmed from a poorly matched fly or drag. Eventually I would discover that it was probably the former.

Periodically the cloud of spinners vanished, and in each case the rises disappeared. Clearly there was a relationship between spinners and feeding fish. During one of the lulls a sixteen inch brown trout launched two feet above the water near the top of the pool in the area where the merging currents made it nearly impossible to create a drag free presentation. I could only observe the spinners from a distance, but they seemed to exhibit pink or light maroon bodies from a distance. Unfortunately none of these were present in my fly box. But wait a minute, what about the comparadun ruse that performed earlier on Wednesday for the green drake spinner?

P7200050.JPG

Size 16 Cinnamon Comparadun with Mashed Down Wing Served As Effective Spinner Substitute

I quickly found a size 16 cinnamon comparadun and tied it to my line after mashing down the wing. Success! Two browns slurped the comparadun with the best measuring twelve inches. And what about the large brown in the heart of the swirling currents? The big boy was very discrete and cautious in its rises. As I cast to other risers, I continued to revisit the beast, and finally my heart leaped when a big head emerged and engulfed my mashed wing comparadun. As soon as my hook set pierced its lip, the brown leaped out of the water in the same manner as I witnessed earlier. Since I saw the beast twice, I knew I could not force it to my net, so I allowed it to spin line from my reel, and it charged to the far side of the large boulder at the top center of the pool. I anticipated this as trouble, so I pressured it a bit and felt pulsing thus confirming that I was still attached. The brown seemed to be sulking under the rock, so I stripped a bit of line to coax it away from the structure, but in the next instant my line went limp and the comparadun was missing in action. What an ending to a challenging yet successful day on the Conejos River.

P7200049.JPG

Campground Pool Brown

Fish Landed: 17

 

Conejos River – 07/19/2016

Time: 4:30PM – 5:30PM

Location: The bend where the river moves through a canyon below The Meadows.

I stayed in my waders and kept my rod strung, when I returned to the car from Elk Creek. When I reached the turn off from CO 250 to the campground, I continued on to an area a little over a mile above the Lake Fork Campground. It was too early to eat dinner, so I decided to check out the flows on the Conejos and enjoy some overtime fishing.

The fat Albert, hares ear and salvation remained on my line, and I cast the threesome along the edges, but the only thing caught was gobs of green moss. After fifteen minutes of prospecting some tight pockets along the edge, I approached a nice pool and saw two separate rises. This prompted me to snip off the dry/dropper lineup, and I opted for a size 16 gray deer hair caddis. I was certain this would fool the carelessly rising trout, but it was ignored. Next I returned to the size twelve light yellow stimulator. Could it continue the magic? Nah, it was shunned as well.

I decided to move on, and I discovered a small side channel the size of the Lake Fork. It was located behind me, so I popped the stimulator in a deep glide, and a small brown trout smacked it. It was barely six inches, but I was pleased to count it. That was the extent of my brief sampling of the Conejos River on Tuesday.

Fish Landed: 1

 

Elk Creek – 07/19/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: .3 mile above Elk Creek Campground to .5 mile above ATV bridge

Elk Creek 07/19/2016 Photo Album

The biggest story on Tuesday was ice. I checked the cooler on Tuesday morning, and all that remained was a small pile of cubes that might be sufficient to make two mixed drinks. I was not excited about the prospect of fishing the upper Conejos River again with flows continuing to rush by the campground at 180 cfs. What other options existed within the vicinity of Lake Fork Campground?

Twenty years ago Jane, Amy, Dan and I camped at Elk Creek Campground, while we devoted a day to riding the Cumbre and Toltec Scenic Railroad. During this trip I fished in Elk Creek several times and experienced reasonable success. I read several glowing articles in the fly fishing magazines subsequent to that trip, and each time I made the trek to the Conejos, I considered spending a day on Elk Creek. Given the difficult conditions on the Conejos River, I concluded that Tuesday July 19 was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my desire to return to Elk Creek. Elk Creek is a significant freestone tributary to the Conejos and not subject to releases from a dam, and I viewed this as a major positive.

Unfortunately Elk Creek merges with the Conejos River near the junction of CO 17 and CO 250. This meant that I needed to repeat the eighteen mile drive on the rough dirt road, and if I desired to return to the campground on Tuesday evening, I was required to endure 36 miles of washboard misery. And what about the ice? In 2015 I drove north on CO 250  for six miles to the small summer resort town of Platoro, and I was able to purchase ice at a general store. I did not relish driving in the opposite direction from where I planned to fish, but then I remembered a small store and restaurant at the intersection of CO 17 and 250. I could buy ice there, and afterward only a one mile trip was necessary to reach the Elk Creek Campground and the trail that follows Elk Creek.

I was sold on the plan and fortunately began my drive before 8AM. I suffered the bumps and vibrations of the eighteen mile creep at 25 MPH, but when I reached the store, I was shocked to learn that it was out of business. Now what? I was in dire need of ice, and I remembered the Fox Creek Store located ten miles east on CO 17. I tried to recall its status from when I traveled past it on Sunday, but I could not recall this detail. Lacking options I continued east, and I was again sorely disappointed to discover another closed store. Apparently the general store business in the Conejos Valley is not thriving.

Just before reaching the boarded up Fox Creek Store, I noticed a billboard advertising phone, restaurant and lodging at the Conejos River Ranch. Another objective of my visit to civilization was to call Jane to let her know I was alive and well. Certainly a ranch advertising a phone, lodging and food would also have an ice supply. I made a quick turnaround and followed a dirt lane for .3 mile until I entered the Conejos River Ranch parking lot. Several burros were milling about in a fenced in corral on the right, and a sign pointed to the office on the left. I followed the sign for the office and entered a small tidy restaurant where several customers enjoyed their breakfast.

The waitress announced that she would be with me in a moment. After a few minutes she moved behind the counter and asked how she might help. I asked if she had ice, and she apologized and informed me that she was out. I then asked where the closest source of ice was, and she groaned and delivered the unwelcome news that Antonito was the nearest place to buy ice. Antonito is the small town where the Cumbre & Toltec Scenic Railroad begins, and it was another eleven miles away. I uttered some words of disappointment and then asked if I might pay her to use the land line to check in with my wife. Feeling sorry for my ice dilemma, she offered me the cordless phone on the counter, and graciously added that there was no need to pay. I immediately dialed Jane’s mobile number, but she did not answer, so I left a brief voice mail that informed her that I was alive and well.

As I left the restaurant I silently cursed my misfortune, and then bid the donkeys goodbye and drove back over the dirt lane to CO 17 and maximized the posted speed limit until I was at the grocery store in Antonito, where I purchased a ten pound bag of ice. With this duty behind me, I sped the twenty-one miles back to Elk Creek Campground where I prepared to fish. The ice trip cost me an hour, and by the time I rigged my Orvis Access four weight and pulled on my waders, it was 10 o’clock. I parked by the bridge that crossed Elk Creek and led to the campground, and when ready I began hiking along the east side of the creek.

In order to avoid the water that is inevitably hammered by the campers I hiked for .3 mile before I began to fish. I tied a size ten Chernobyl ant to my line and then added the ever present hares ear and salvation. I covered a fair amount of decent water in the first hour, but I was not rewarded with a single fish. The Conejos was in my dog house, and it produced two fish in the first half hour on Monday. During the first hour I exchanged the Chernobyl for a Charlie boy hopper, and this move produced two refusals, but the fish counter remained locked on zero.

I paused to analyze the situation. Clearly the fish were looking to the surface for food as evidenced by the refusals to the Charlie boy. A few medium sized stoneflies were in the air, so I removed the dry/dropper lineup and tied on a size 14 light yellow stimulator. If fish responded to this fly on the Lake Fork, how could they resist it on another Conejos tributary? The change proved to be a stroke of genius, as I landed twenty additional trout between 11AM and 2PM.

The very first fish was amazing. I approached a delicious pool with a strong current splitting it in half. I dropped the stimulator along the right side of the current seam near the tail out of the run, and guess what happened? A twenty inch rainbow trout materialized from the depths and sipped in the stonefly. What a visual thrill! I allowed the large fish to strip out line, and then I regained some ground by pulling line back to my feet as I maintained tension. The rainbow executed several subsequent bursts, but then it tired, and I maneuvered the brute toward my net. As I lifted the fish’s head toward the net, it twisted and came free. I counted it as a landed fish, but I must admit that I was sorely disappointed to miss the chance to collect a photo.

P7190022.JPG

This Little Ribbon Yielded Two Gorgeous Browns

P7190023.JPG

A Nice Elk Creek Catch

In a state of jubilation and minor sadness I moved to the next attractive area where a deep ribbon of slower moving water existed between the swift center current and a large exposed boulder. A thirteen inch brown trout confidently sucked in the stimulator just beyond the boulder, and then a fourteen inch brown trout slurped the hackled stonefly imitation in front of the boulder. At this point I pinched myself, as I was convinced that my day would consist of oversized trout for the relatively small Elk Creek.

P7190025.JPG

How About This for a Small Stream Beast?

I quickly learned that was not the case, but over the course of my time on Elk Creek I did land a deeply colored fifteen inch brown, and three others in the twelve inch range. All but one of the first twenty fish landed chomped one of three light yellow stimulators. The two size fourteens in my fly box performed the best, but the collar hackle on both was cut by the teeth of the aggressive fish. This forced me to deploy the size twelve, and it produced as well, but at a slower pace. After the second size fourteen unraveled I tried a size 12 and 14 light yellow stimulator with a tinge of orange, and this yielded one small fish.

P7190028.JPG

Typical Stretch

By two o’clock it became quite warm, and the surface action disappeared, so I reverted to the dry/dropper approach for the last hour. My three fly lineup consisted of a yellow fat Albert, an iron sally and a salvation nymph. The abundance of stoneflies caused me to test the iron sally, as it is supposedly the nymph form of a yellow Sally. The three flies produced three additional fish including the deeply colored fifteen inch specimen that gulped the iron Sally. Unfortunately this beauty escaped while I was in the process of posing it.

At 3PM I called it quits, as I was not sure how I would return to the car. Initially I climbed a steep ridge in an effort to intersect with a horse trail, but then I was forced to execute a dicey descent on loose gravel on a steep dirt slope. Once at the bottom I found a horse path, and it was clear sailing from there to the campground.

What a day! I landed twenty-three fish on Elk Creek, and the yellow stimulators took the guess work out of fly selection. The icing on the cake was the size of the fish including the twenty inch rainbow and five or six brown trout in the twelve to fifteen inch range. Somehow the bumpy drive back to Lake Fork Campground on CO 250 seemed much more tolerable on Tuesday afternoon.

 

 

Lake Fork of the Conejos River – 07/18/2016

Time: 2:30PM – 4:00PM

Location: Lake Fork confluence with the main Conejos River to a short distance beyond the large pipe under CO 105.

Lake Fork of the Conejos River 07/18/2016 Photo Album

As a diversion from the fruitless casting on the Conejos, I lobbed a few casts to the small Lake Fork, and I was surprised to witness two momentary hook ups and three refusals. As one might expect, this caught my attention after the hopeless prospecting that I endured on the main river. I decided to devote the remainder of my July 18 fishing time to the tiny Lake Fork.

P7180013.JPG

Small Stream Salvaged Day

Given the refusals and temporary hook ups, I experimented with smaller fare beginning with Jake’s gulp beetle with the salvation dropper, but this duo was ignored. The contrast between five interactions with trout to no interest was stark. I concluded that the fish were attracted to the yellow body color of the pool toy, but the imitation was too large, and thus they turned away or simply bumped the pool toy. I responded with a size twelve light yellow stimulator with palmered grizzly hackle over the body, and this finally yielded a twelve inch brown trout that did not escape. I was impressed that such a small stream held a twelve inch brown trout, so I decided to explore farther.

P7180016.JPG

Just Pretty

Although the stimulator finally delivered a netted fish, it also provoked some refusals and momentary hook ups, so it was not a perfect fly choice. After this mixed success, I hooked another fish, and it broke off perhaps due to an abrasion in my tippet. I used this fly change as an excuse to downsize to a size 14 yellow stimulator, and what a fortuitous change it proved to be. I landed five additional Lake Fork brown trout as I worked my way from the Conejos to  the large corrugated pipe that shunted the creek under CO 105. Of course I experienced additional momentary hookups and refusals, but I had a blast finally connecting with fish, and I enjoyed constant action. The creek was so small that it was almost a waste to make more than one or two casts in each likely fish holding spot, as the motion and line quickly telegraphed my presence.

P7180018.JPG

A Beast for the Lake Fork

I reached the pipe with the fish counter stuck on nine, and a momentary hookup on the juicy deep area on the right side of the midstream boulder thwarted my effort to achieve double digits. I paused, and before moving on, I lobbed a cast to the blind side of the large round exposed rock, and wham! Number ten was a nice eleven inch brown, and I coaxed it into my net. I continued beyond CO 105 on the upside of the pipe and landed one more brown trout, and then the sky darkened, and I heard distant thunder. A string of refusals temporarily destroyed my confidence in the yellow stimulator, and at 4PM the wind gusted, and sheets of rain descended from the dark sky. I paused and dug out my raincoat and hustled back to the Santa Fe for relief from the weather.

P7180019.JPG

A Fish Surprised Me on the Far Side of the Boulder

The Lake Fork salvaged my day, but I was now uncertain where to fish during the remainder of my time in the Conejos River valley. I paid to camp at the Lake Fork Campground through Thursday, so I was reluctant to cut my losses to seek greener pastures.

Fish Landed: 7

Conejos River – 07/18/2016

Time: 9:00AM – 2:30PM

Location: Thirty minute hike downstream from CO 105 bridge and then back to the confluence with the Lake Fork.

Conejos River 07/18/2016 Photo Album

My anticipation for a day of fly fishing could not have been any more intense than it was when I emerged from my tent on Monday morning July 18. Arriving at the rough parking area across the CO 105 bridge at 8:00AM was ample proof of my eager anticipation of a day on the Conejos River. Were my expectations met?

I assembled my Sage four weight and began hiking at 8:15 and reached the edge of the river above an island by 8:45. I tied a yellow pool toy to my line as a visible top fly, since shadows stretched over the eastern half of the river. Below the pool toy I attached a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph; my favored lineup of fish candy. I was ready to cast by 9AM, and I worked my way upstream and prospected viable fish holding areas until 11:30, when I found a nice place on the bank to eat lunch. During this period I landed two fish; one was a twelve inch brown that grabbed the salvation, and the second was a smaller brown trout that favored the hares ear nymph. Both fish arrived in my net in the first half hour, and thus the 10 to 11:30 time period was a long unproductive grind.

P7180005.JPG

Deeply Colored Early Monday Brown

During the 1.5 hour fish catching famine I cycled through a medley of flies. First there was the size 12 Harrop deer hair green drake. This fly was a favorite in the pre-hatch morning time period in 2015, but in a year’s time it developed a disease, because the trout stayed away. A year ago I fished the Harrop in combination with a salvation nymph, so I tried that duo again on Monday, but the fish were having none of it. Maybe stoneflies were at the top of the menu? A yellow/orange stimulator was ignored. I now knew that the spruce moths had a cream body. so I knotted a cream size 14 stimulator to my line and prepared for the voracious attack. It never happened.

I decided to return to the dry/dropper technique, except I substituted a size 8 Chernobyl ant for the pool toy. This adjustment had no impact on my non-existent catch rate. I encountered a nice section of the river that consisted of shallow flats, and I spotted a fish that surfaced twice to eat. This situation was not conducive to the cumbersome dry/dropper arrangement, so I chose a size 16 gray caddis adult and a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis, and neither excited the rising fish, or any fish in the prime location. Suddenly a flurry of yellow sallies exploded from the riffles so I tied a size 14 yellow stimulator to my line and then a size 16 yellow sally. These efforts were unappreciated by the Conejos River trout.

Despite an early start and unlimited optimism, I fished from 9:00 until 11:30, and my fish count stalled at two. Concern began to overtake my positive attitude, but I clung to the expectation that green drakes and pale morning duns would explode from the river in another half hour. At 11:30 I sat on a rock across from a prime fish holding location and consumed my sandwich, carrots and yogurt cup.

P7180007.JPG

Nice Eddy Across from Where I Ate Lunch

Across from me the main current deflected off a high vertical rock wall just above a large angled deadfall. These dynamics created an attractive eddy, and during lunch I noticed four green drakes and a fairly heavy pale morning dun emergence. Surely these circumstances would create the perfect storm, and the river would come alive with rising fish. Unfortunately after lunch I discovered that these conditions were not the perfect storm for the Conejos River, and as I moved upstream to equally attractive honey holes, the trout continued to hunker down and avoid surface feeding.

As far as fly selection, with the expectation of a green drake emergence and after noticing four over lunch, I returned to the Harrop deer hair green drake, but once again the fish were unimpressed. Next I resorted to a size 16 light gray comparadun, also known as the money fly. This fly is typically a killer during pale morning dun hatches, and quite a few PMD’a were visible in the lunch hole. The comparadun generated a pair of refusals, and that was the extent of its effectiveness. In the morning I was suspicious that the flows were elevated from Sunday’s ideal levels, and now I was certain of this eventuality. I did not have access to the internet, so I could only judge by how tight the velocity was to the bank, and by the reduced number of spots that enabled trout to hold out of the fast current. The brief hatch, the lack of rising fish, the wading difficulty and the infrequent locations that I could fish all confirmed my suspicions. When I returned to Denver on Thursday and checked the stream flow graph, I discovered that flows elevated from 115 on Sunday to 180 cfs on Monday. I never experienced positive fishing results shortly after a significant increase in stream flows, and Monday continued the trend.

The pale morning comparadun was too difficult to follow in the high flows, so I decided to once again test the dry/dropper style with a yellow Letort hopper trailing a salvation nymph. Surely the light yellow hopper was a close imitation of the stoneflies hovering in the air, and certainly pale morning duns were present in the drift given the number of adults in the air. My theory was somewhat confirmed as I landed two thirteen inch brown trout between noon and two on the salvation nymph. Both of these fish snatched the nymph as it drifted along the seam in smooth slicks behind exposed midstream boulders.

P7180011.JPG

Much Appreciated Trout on Monday

The Letort hopper was ineffective, so I went the foam route with a tan pool toy, and this improved the buoyancy but did not impact fish feeding behavior. In addition for brief periods I auditioned an ultra zug bug and bright green caddis pupa along side the salvation nymph. Besides landing two fish, I devoted a lot of time to knot tying practice. By 2:30 I was totally bored with the inactivity and cursing the water managers for ruining my day and potentially impacting my trip by ramping up the flow rate. It was around this time that I intersected with the Lake Fork, a small tributary of the Conejos.

The elevated flows and lack of surface activity certainly lowered my expectations for my long anticipated trip to the Conejos. I consciously arranged to visit the area several days earlier, since it seemed that the main body of green drakes had already migrated to The Meadows area in 2015. I was sorely disappointed and uncertain how to best utilize my two precious remaining days in south central Colorado. Four fish in 5.5 hours is simply tough fishing, and I dreaded enduring two more full days of sub-par catch rates.

Fish Landed: 4

 

 

 

 

Conejos River – 07/17/2016

Time: 4:00PM – 6:30PM

Location: The first area with a large pullout traveling north about a mile from the Lake Fork Campground.

Conejos River 07/17/2016 Photo Album

Fishing frequently and chasing green drakes were my two goals for July, and I anxiously anticipated my Sunday July 17 trip to the Conejos River in south central Colorado. I enjoyed spectacular success during trips to the Conejos River in July 2011 and 2015 around the same dates, and green drakes were the common thread. I was unable to contain my high expectations for another memorable visit to the high elevation tailwater.

The five plus hour drive is a grind, but fortunately it was uneventful, and I arrived at the Lake Fork Campground and selected site number six by 3:45. The worst aspect of the long haul is the last eighteen miles on CO 250, a rough dirt road that dictates maximum speeds of 25 MPH. I quickly set up my tent and had time to burn, so I jumped back in the Santa Fe and continued north for another mile until I reached a nice wide pullout next to the Conejos River. I reviewed the flows before I departed, and they registered 115 cfs, and I knew from past visits that this was nearly ideal. As I stared down at the river, it was apparent that the flows remained at the 115 cfs level. The temperature was in the low seventies as I began, and optimism flooded my conscience.

Since fishing on Sunday was unexpected bonus time, I decided to experiment with a slumpbuster streamer. I tossed the conehead weighted creation upstream, across and downstream for thirty minutes, but the approach yielded two follows from small fish and no hook ups. The one negative I observed was the existence of dense bright green moss on all the underwater rocks and stones, and this substance constantly adhered to the streamer and stubbornly resisted removal.

As the afternoon moved into early evening, the shadows lengthened, and a variety of insects appeared. I observed dipping spruce moths, amber hued large caddis, small caddis, a smattering of mayflies, and a few golden stoneflies. With this smorgasbord of surface insects available, I switched to a dry fly and knotted a size 16 gray caddis to my tippet.

P7170003.JPG

Nice Spot Behind Rocks

The change paid dividends as I landed a small brown and then a nice thirteen inch brown trout that confidently gulped the caddis along a short current seam. Two fish in bonus time Sunday raised my spirits and increased the intensity of my focus. All was not perfect, however, as I experienced two refusals for each fish that ate my fly. I waded upstream a bit to a gorgeous deep shelf pool, and as I paused to scout the area before casting, a decent brown trout leaped out of the water to eat a large caddis that appeared to be rust colored from a distance.

P7170004.JPG

Best First Day Trout

At this point I probably over analyzed the situation, since the gray caddis produced two fish albeit accompanied by numerous refusals. I reasoned that a better match existed, so I cycled through a size 14 gray stimulator (refusal), a Harrop deer hair green drake, a size 12 peacock stimulator (attempted to imitate the spruce moth, although I later caught one at the campsite, and it possessed a cream colored body), and a size twelve yellow adult stonefly with tinges of orange. I can report that none of these imitations produced a fish. I should have adhered to the old saying, “don’t mess with success”.

P7170002.JPG

A Better Pose

Finally I defaulted to a yellow Letort hopper in an attempt to match the golden stoneflies, and this move generated three refusals. In 2015 I fished a Letort hopper with a beadhead hares ear dropper with moderate success, so I resorted to this same combination, and I finally landed a twelve inch brown that nabbed the drifting beadhead hares ear. In the final thirty minutes a fifth brown trout crushed the yellow Letort hopper, and this last fish was another fine twelve inch fighter. By six o’clock I reached the point where the river made a bend away from the road, so I decided to end my first day at five fish, and I returned to the campground.

The two and a half hours of Sunday fishing were an auspicious start to my four days in the Conejos River valley. I was very pleased with my initial success, and anxiously looked forward to a full day on the river on Monday.

Fish Landed: 5

Cache la Poudre – 07/15/2016

Time: 1:00PM – 3:30PM

Location: Between MM 86 and 87

Cache la Poudre 07/15/2016 Photo Album

High expectations are a recipe for disappointing fly fishing. In reality my day on the Poudre on July 15 was a decent outing, but it suffered from comparisons to Thursday and the last five or six fishing trips of my summer tour.

The high point of Friday was not a fishing related experience. Jane and I explored a new hiking trail in the Red Feather Lakes area called Lady Moon Trail. We read a review of the trail on the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers web site, and the two thoughts that remained in our minds were “easy” and “horse pack trail”. As we completed our five mile round trip hike, we were pleasantly surprised that the trail was indeed relatively flat, but in addition we passed through a variety of landscapes ranging from pastures to aspen groves to fields of wildflowers to ponderosa pine and evergreen forests. I expected deep troughs from horse traffic and abundant horse excrement, but these worries were unfounded. I could hardly keep my eyes on the trail to ensure safe footing, since I was constantly gazing at the variety of colorful wildflowers.

By the time we returned from our hike, it was noon, and we were required to leave our campsite by one o’clock. Jane and I hustled and teamed up like camping professionals and beat the deadline by two minutes, I even had time to gobble my lunch before we pulled our loaded car out of the campground parking lot.

Because I enjoyed an outstanding day on Thursday in the restricted fishing area below the fish hatchery along the Cache la Poudre, I decided to visit another section on Friday. On our drive west from Rustic earlier in the morning I identified a section of faster water near the downstream border of the special regulation water, and this is where we parked. Jane pulled out her camp rocker and prepared to read, and I rigged my Sage four weight and slid down a steep bank to fish. Immediately I was greeted by a huge deep shelf pool below some large exposed boulders, and I carefully tied a size eight Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph to my line. By the time I began fishing it was 1PM, and this coincided with the beginning of the best period of fishing on Thursday. Needless to say I was excited to finally be on the water.

I began casting the dry/dropper to the current seam in the deep hole, but on the third cast I snagged something. I attempted some rudimentary tugs from various angles, but it became clear that one of the flies was severely wedged. I waded upstream and looked closer, and sure enough the flies were attached to an immovable object in front of a large submerged boulder. The water was fast and deep, and there was no way I could get close enough to attempt to use my wading stick to free the flies, so I pulled my line toward me in order to preserve my rod tip, and then I heard the ugly sound of my line popping. I reeled up the line and discovered that all three flies were missing along with several sections of tippet.

After shouting some curse words, which Jane unfortunately heard from her perch in the camp rocker, I sat on a rock and grieved. When I accepted that I lost the three flies that I spent ten minutes tying to my line, I began the long process of repeating the task. What a way to start my Friday fishing venture! I tied the exact same lineup of flies to my line, and after another ten frustrating minutes, I was back on the water. I skipped the deep shelf pool to avoid additional snags, and began my upstream migration.

P7150065.JPG

The Brawling Cache la Poudre

Friday was another warm day with temperatures peaking in the low eighties. The river level was similar to Thursday with high early summer flows that limited fishing to the edge except for sections that were wide and exhibited lower gradient. For the first hour I fished the pocket water along the edge and netted four brown trout. All were relatively small and all attacked the salvation nymph except for one gullible brown that slurped the Chernobyl ant.

P7150066.JPG

Big Fly, Small Fish

As I was working my way upstream some dark clouds moved in from the west, and the wind kicked up. The low light and wind made fishing a challenge, and it was at this time that I spotted several large mayflies, as they floated from the surface of the river like a rising hot air balloon. The mayflies were obviously green drakes, and I was not setting the world on fire with the dry/dropper combination, so I converted to a Harrop deer hair green drake. July was after all the green drake tour.

Over the course of the next hour I landed four 9-12 inch brown trout that smacked the green drake. In addition I experienced three long distance releases, a foul hooked fish, and three or four refusals. On the one hand I was pleased to encounter a very sparse green drake hatch and successfully fool some fish with my imitation, but I was also frustrated by the refusals and temporary hook ups. My imitation was close to what the fish were looking for, but apparently differed in some significant way. In these situations I always challenge and analyze me approach, and on Friday I regret not experimenting with different versions of  green drake dry flies. In hindsight I also question whether I would have been better off sticking to the dry/dropper approach, since it was highly effective the previous day.

P7150068.JPG

Best Fish on the Day

During the last half hour of fishing I reverted to the dry/dropper presentation, and I landed one more small brown trout to bring my fish count to nine. Nine fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is actually a decent catch rate, but I was comparing my day to Thursday, when I landed twenty-one fish in 3.5 hours. As I reflect on my day, I suggest several factors that perhaps explain my reduced catch rate. Utilizing the green drake versus the dry/dropper configuration is the first and most obvious. Generally subsurface  offerings produce more fish, but I could not dismiss the allure of fishing a large green drake on the surface.

The section of the river that I chose to fish was also a factor. On Thursday I fished the edge on a stretch of the river that was fast moving, but the gradient was not as extreme as Friday. On Friday there were many portions where the river was churning and kicking up whitewater, and the high velocity extended to the bank, thus offering fewer deep pockets and runs for me to prospect. I spent much more time scrambling over rocks and skipping marginal water. The cardinal rule of fishing is, “You cannot catch fish if your fly is not on the water:”

P7150067.JPG

Some Side Pockets

The last variable was the weather. The wind impacted my casting efficiency causing me to make multiple casts to adjust, whereas, on Thursday one toss may have been sufficient. The wind also caused some tangles, as I was casting backhanded for most of the time. The overcast sky was another weather related factor, as the low light made following my flies difficult, particularly the olive and gray toned green drake. The difficult visibility may also help explain the lost fish and refusals.

As I returned to the car to meet Jane, I was frustrated with my day, but now that I reflected and chronicled the sequence, I realize that it was an average outing. Even the size of the fish was likely normal for the Cache la Poudre based on what I read in the guide books. The green drake tour will continue on Sunday when I make the annual trek to the Conejos River. It will be difficult to contain expectations for this trip, but I will do my best.

Fish Landed: 9

 

Cache la Poudre – 07/14/2016

Time: 12:30PM – 4:00PM

Location: Between MM 86 and 85 below the fish hatchery

Cache la Poudre 07/14/2016 Photo Album

As I reviewed my Colorado fishing guide book searching for rivers and streams that featured green drake hatches, I encountered the Cache la Poudre River west of Fort Collins. I paused and remembered two fun fishing trips to the Poudre in 2015 after ignoring the fine northern Front Range river for many years. I searched my blog and read the post from August 3, 2015 and realized that my text documented fishing to green drakes in early August.

I was seeking a destination to fish on Thursday and Friday July 14-15, and the Poudre fit the bill. I promised to do a hike with Jane on Friday morning, so she agreed to accompany me, and we departed by 8:20AM on Thursday morning. In early August of 2015 we camped for one night at the Kelly Flats Campground, as we broke in our new Big Agnes tent, and we enjoyed the central location and decided to target the same campground for Thursday night. As we traveled west through the Cache la Poudre Canyon, we passed the Mountain Campground and noticed a campground full sign.

This caused us some concern, but we attributed the capacity crowd to proximity to the popular whitewater rafting section of the river. Unfortunately when we arrived at the next campground to the west, Kelly Flats, we were disappointed to discover the same full sign. Now we were in scramble mode, and we did not pack any of our maps or guidebooks that identified campgrounds in the area. We both remembered a campground called Big Bend farther to the west that we utilized when the kids were young, so we set that as our new fall back.

Big Bend necessitated an additional ten mile drive, and we held our breath as we turned on to the dirt entry lane. We both exhaled in relief, when we recognized the absence of the dreaded campground full sign and found nice shaded campsite seven. We had a home for one night. I was now positioned much farther west than I planned, so my choice of fishing location also required flexibility. I remembered reading that some of the best water was the special regulation section near the fish hatchery, and our campground was just west of that facility.

P7140048.JPG

Nice Setup

After setting up the tent and canopy, I ate my lunch and pulled on my waders, and departed for a yet unknown section of the Cache la Poudre River downstream from the fish hatchery in the restricted area. I ended up choosing a section between mile markers 85 and 86. Quite a few fishermen gravitated to the water just below the hatchery, but I was deterred by both the smooth long pools and the presence of more competing anglers.

The weather was nearly perfect although perhaps a bit warm for fish with the high reaching eighty degrees amid beautiful clear blue skies. When I descended the steep bank to the edge of the river, I was please to encounter high but manageable flows. The volume of water made it difficult to fish most of the river except for the edge, but the water was low enough to enable safe relatively easy wading along the bank.

P7140036.JPG

Nice Shelf Pool

 

P7140037.JPG

Buttery Good

I began my quest for Poudre River trout with a size eight Chernobyl ant, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph; and these flies remained on my line for the first twelve fish I landed. The first three shelf pools failed to produce, but then at 12:45 things heated up. During the 12:45 – 2:00 time period I fished deep pockets and slots along the bank, and nearly every promising spot yielded a fish. Especially productive locations featured a large boulder at the end of a deep pocket, and quite a few fish nabbed the salvation when I lifted the flies to make another cast. 75% of the twelve fish snatched the salvation, and the remainder savored the hares ear nymph. The twelve netted fish included three browns in the thirteen inch range, and I read in the guide book that this size approaches lunker status for the Cache la Poudre. Needless to say, I was quite pleased with my early afternoon fishing performance.

P7140038.JPG

Another Prime Shelf Pool

While my fish count remained on twelve, I hooked a fish that streaked downstream and ripped line from my reel at an alarming rate. After thirty yards of line stretched between me and the fish, I realized it was impossible to follow the torpedo over the large rocks, so I broke it off, and upon eventual examination discovered that all three flies were missing. For some reason I messed with success and rigged anew with a fat Albert, hares ear and size eighteen pheasant tail. After this change the catch rate slowed considerably, and I am not sure if the change of flies or a reduction in available insects explained the slowdown. The catch rate was slower, but I did mange to land two small fish during this period. One snared the pheasant tail and the other latched on to the beadhead hares ear.

P7140039.JPG

Very Nice Fish for Poudre

Number fifteen was special. The slow action caused me to revert to the Chernobyl ant as the top fly, and I replaced the pheasant tail with a dark brown marabare. I was consuming my salvation nymphs at an alarming rate, so I decided to experiment with some close approximations. I lifted a cast to a nice deep run where two currents merged downstream from a large rock, and as the Chernoyl drifted slowly through the seam, and large mouth appeared and chomped down on the large foam impostor. Wham! I set the hook and managed to contain the energetic combatant within ten feet of my position, and I eventually scooped a bright rainbow in my net. I cannot remember ever catching a rainbow trout from the Cache la Poudre in previous visits, and now I held a chunky fourteen inch beauty in my hands.

P7140044.JPG

Submerging

Amazingly I moved on, and the very next fish was another rainbow trout. After failing to catch rainbows, I was now in a rainbow trout hotspot, although this specimen was only a feisty ten incher, and it slammed the marabare. Between three and four o’clock I continued prospecting with the dry/dropper and landed five additional fish. All were pretty small except for a twelve inch brown trout that also made the mistake of gulping the Chernobyl ant, and I paused to photograph the dry fly eater. Three of the other five crunched the hares ear and one nabbed the marabare.

P7140046.JPG

A Greedy Chernobyl Gulper

It was a fun 3.5 hours of fishing with the hottest action transpiring between 1 and 2PM. I spotted one green drake and a handful of pale morning duns and a few caddis, but the insect density was never enough to prompt rising fish. Everything seemed to fall in place on Thursday, and I anxiously anticipated another day of outstanding fishing on the Cache la Poudre River on Friday.

Fish Landed: 21

Arkansas River – 07/12/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: From bridge on dirt road two miles south of Hayden Meadows parking lot upstream for one mile.

Arkansas River 07/12/2016 Photo Album

Unlike most of my fishing ventures, I was totally unfamiliar with the Hayden Meadows area. I drove by it several times, and I recalled a parking area on the northern edge of the area by a lake, but I also remembered passing other sections with access downstream. As I drove south of US 24, I crossed the river and noted that it was only slightly larger than the Eagle River at normal summer flows. On the left appeared the aforementioned lake and a parking area occupied by quite a few vehicles, which no doubt belonged to the throngs of fishermen lining the banks of the small lake. Stopping among this crowd did not appeal to me, so I continued south for two miles, and here I spotted a brown sign that pointed to More Arkansas River Ranch.

I turned left on a dirt road, and after .2 miles I crossed the river and parked in a small lot on the right side of the road. A Jeep Wrangler was already in place, and the related fisherman wearing a floppy hat with a neck protector was in motion toward the river. It appeared that fishing access was available both upstream and downstream from the bridge, and I was curious which way the other fisherman would choose. Since I drove from Halfmoon with my waders on, and my rod remained strung, it did not take long before I was eagerly on my way to the bridge.

When I reached the bridge, I glanced downstream and spotted the young owner of the Jeep Wrangler waded into a long riffle. This was not water I would have chosen to start my day, but perhaps he had inside information. Rather than play tag with another fisherman, I elected to fish upstream. The area was absolutely breathtaking. Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive loomed to the west, and the river was fifty feet wide and crystal clear. Given my lack of familiarity, I guessed that the flows remained a bit high compared to average summer levels. The banks were lined with potentilla and willows, and the cold current meandered through the high elevation landscape.

P7120026.JPG

This Eddy Was Home to First Fish on the Day

Just above the bridge a large deep eddy appeared where a small side channel merged with the main branch of the river. This is where I chose to begin. A size 14 gray stimulator remained on my line from Halfmoon, so why not test it on these new waters? I carefully stepped down the bank and lobbed a cast to the middle of the calm space in the middle of the eddy, but it sat there unmolested for what seemed like minutes. I picked up the fly and dropped it closer to the bank so that it drifted upstream toward the northern edge of the eddy, and suddenly a fish rose and refused my fly! I was actually pleased to see a refusal after a morning of fruitless casting.

P7120025.JPG

Nice Close Up of First Fish

I made a couple more drifts to the area of the rise, but as is usually the case, the fish was averse to expending more energy on a recently detected fraud. I shifted my attention to other sections of the eddy, but the stimulator was treated like a cottonwood fuzzy and completely ignored. Before vacating the area, I decided to feed my fly to the scene of the earlier refusal, and smack! A fourteen inch brown trout shocked me by aggressively chomping on the gray hackled floater. A brief battle ensued, and I managed to net the buttery yellow combatant and position it for some photographs. It was a great start to my initial visit to Arkansas River Ranch/Hayden Meadows.

Between 11 and 11:30 I fished from the bridge along the left bank and managed to land a second smaller brown trout on the stimulator. Several stream improvement structures jutted into the river from the bank, and these created interesting shelf pools and runs. After continuing for fifteen minutes through the attractive areas with no success, I decided to change my approach. I removed the stimulator and attached a size 8 Chernobyl ant, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph. An abundance of caddis were present on the shrubs that bordered the river, so the hares ear was intended to represent the subsurface form of these aquatic insects. The salvation was present in case pale morning duns made an early afternoon appearance.

By 11:30 a headwind began to gust at ridiculous velocities, and I was struggling to punch the large foam fly and bead-weighted nymphs into the wind using my light Orvis Access. Since I remained reasonably close to the Santa Fe, I followed the path back to the road and then to the parking lot and swapped rods. I chose my Sage four weight since it offered a stiffer backbone with which to chuck the three flies into the gusting wind. Once I returned to my exit point, I fished for another fifteen minutes, and then I found a nice grassy location on the bank and munched my lunch.

P7120027.JPG

Wide Shallow Fast Water Exemplified the First .5 Mile at Hayden Meadows

 

P7120028.JPG

Salvation Nymph Tempted This Fighter

In the first hour after lunch I covered quite a distance as the river was wide and shallow and offered very few decent holding spots for fish. I managed to land two additional small brown trout, and then I approached a place where the main current angled toward the far bank and flowed around a couple large boulders. This structure created a nice deep eight foot wide run next to the bank with some dense overhanging brush. I drifted the dry/dropper rig along the current seam closest to me, and the Chernobyl dipped, and I lifted and felt myself connected to a hard fighting fish. The embattled trout raced up and down the pool and then headed downstream quite a distance forcing me to follow. Eventually side pressure brought the fifteen inch salvation chomping brown to my net, and I announced that it may have been the hardest fighting fifteen inch fish I ever landed.

P7120030.JPG

The Area Above and Below the Rocks Was Superb

I positioned myself in the same place, and I was surprised to view a second fish rise closer to the bank. Once again I began drifting the three flies through the area, and a second splash occurred near my Chernobyl. Two more passes went unmolested, but the next resulted in a tug, a hook set, and another tough fight. This fish was also a brown trout, and it measured fourteen inches and possessed gorgeous deep coloration.

As I turned to wade upstream to the next sweet spot, I noticed two large olive-gray colored mayflies, as they slowly fluttered up from the river. Could the second brown that I just landed have been chowing down on green drakes? I assumed that the large flies were green drakes, but subsequently I read an ArkAnglers Hayden Meadows fishing report that mentioned gray drakes. At the time, however, I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I never expected to encounter the green drake tour on Tuesday, but there was no mistaking the large olive-gray mayflies in the air in front of me. What a serendipitous turn of events!

I moved on a diagonal to the next attractive area along the left bank. Here a strong current flowed rapidly tight to the bank and then fanned out into a deep run and then a wide, although short, pool. The right side of the river was a broad slow moving shelf pool, and as I evaluated my approach, I observed a rise in the pool area and another at the tailout of the run. I made some token casts with the dry/dropper flies hoping that perhaps the fish would grab the trailing salvation or hares ear, but they were having none of it, so I removed the threesome and knotted a size 12 parachute green drake to my line. On the first drift the fish at the tailout rose and turned away at the last second. How could this fish refuse my expertly tied green drake?

I paused and scanned the water and spotted another drake (gray, although I believed it to be green), as it thrashed on the surface in an effort to become airborne. Upon closer study it appeared to be a size smaller, so I examined my fly box and selected one of the Harrop deer hair green drakes that I tied during the winter. I cast this beauty to the site of the refusal, but no response was forthcoming. Next I shot some long casts to the pooled area, and this prompted another refusal. What now? I opened the fly box and chose a size 14 green drake comparadun and put this creation on trial, but it could not even entice a refusal. I decided to return to the deer hair drake since it resembled the active tumbling image of an emerger, and I also decided to abandon the jaded denizens of the run in front of me. However before moving on, I launched a long cast between gusts of wind to the inner edge of the current seam five feet out from the bank. The drake drifted only a foot before it was molested by a thirteen inch brown trout, and I celebrated landing my first fish on the newly created Harrop deer hair drake.

Over the next hour I proceeded upstream and prospected with the size twelve green drake and managed to land two additional 12-13 inch brown trout. Pound for pound the Hayden Meadows fish fight as hard as any I have been privileged to hook. By 1:30 I ceased observing gray drakes, but the structure of the river improved dramatically. Perhaps I was now in the area that received stream improvements, but regardless of the reason, many more attractive places presented themselves, and it seemed the fish density improved. I began to experience a greater number of refusals to the size 12 green drake, so I found a size 12 stimulator in my box that was shorter, and I put it on my line. This fly failed to create looks or refusals, so I downsized to the size 14 gray stimulator that I began with.

After reading that gray drakes are present at Hayden Meadows, I now realize why the gray stimulator proved to be a successful fly choice. Although it did not have the classic mayfly upwing, it was close in size and color to the natural gray drakes present on the river. Between 1:30 and 4:00 I covered a substantial amount of water and landed five additional brown trout. Several of the middle to late afternoon catches were spunky thirteen inch beauties. I also discovered that the fish were spread out in fairly fast riffles of moderate depth, and several fish rose to smash the stimulator in this type of water. Normally brown trout prefer slower moving water with depth along the bank or next to significant structure, but that was not the case on Tuesday.

P7120035.JPG

This Flat Delivered a Nice Fish

At 3:30 I reached a place where the main river merged with a small side channel, and a wide shallow riffle ran just below the merge point. I flipped the stimulator so it drifted along the strong current seam closest to me, and suddenly there was a swirl. I reacted with a swift hook set, and I was shocked to find myself connected to a fifteen inch brown trout. My surprised state stemmed from the size of the fish relative to the shallow depth of the water. At the top of the riffle another fish swirled but refused the stimulator, so I tried a size 16 and then 18 caddis but the trout was apparently wise to my presence. A period of high wind caused me to make a last ditch effort with a Jake’s gulp beetle, but that also failed, so I reeled up my line and called it quits.

P7120033.JPG

Late Afternoon Stimulator Fan

As stated earlier I was unfamiliar with the area, and I now faced the lack of an exit strategy. As I drove south on US 24 I noted that a sturdy barbed wire fence separated the area I was fishing from the railroad tracks and highway. I did not know where I was in relation to the northern parking area, but I decided to head north anyway. In order to better acclimate myself with my position, I cut left toward the fence, and after .2 miles I spotted a gate with a sign. The sign was facing the highway, so I decided to approach and examine. In a stroke of good fortune, I discovered that the gate was not padlocked, and I simply unhooked the linked chain and unraveled it in order to swing it open and allow easy passage. The sign stated that access was only at designated entry points, but it was unclear if this was one of them. At any rate I wrapped the chain and hooked it once again, and proceeded to hike approximately one mile along the narrow shoulder of the busy highway until I was safely back at my car.

What a day! I did indeed salvage a fun day after a frustrating start. The Hayden Meadows/Arkansas River Ranch proved to be interesting water with very nice brown trout. The gray drake hatch and abundant caddis proved to be a nice bonus, and I was stimulated by the task of solving the riddle of catching trout in a new environment. I will definitely return to Hayden Meadows again in the near future.

Fish Landed: 14

Halfmoon Creek – 07/12/2016

Time: 9:00AM – 10:00AM

Location: Upstream from day use parking lot across from West Halfmoon Campground

Halfmoon Creek 07/12/2016 Photo Album

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This old saying applies perfectly to my morning on July 12, 2016. I fell into a rut of fishing the same Colorado rivers repeatedly at the same time of the year, and I yearned to try something different. A former co-worker at Air Products mentioned Halfmoon Creek to me several years ago, and this small tributary of the Arkansas River was listed on the DWR surface water table, so I decided to explore it. After battling above average currents of larger rivers over the previous two weeks, I anxiously anticipated a small stream and less selective trout. I envisioned working my way upstream while tossing a large foam attractor, and wild unpressured trout responded to my offerings by slurping my flies with total confidence. That was my vision.

I attempted to do some online research prior to departing on my two day one night camping trip, but information on fishing Halfmoon Creek was scarce. I did uncover an article that said there were more fire pits per mile along Halfmoon Road than anywhere else in Colorado. This bit of trivia was explained by the location of the stream near the trailheads to Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. This concerned me, as I feared that all the camping and hiking enthusiasts might also pack fishing gear.

P7120012.JPG

Frost on July 12, 2016 at Hornsilver Campground

I woke up at 6AM at the Hornsilver Campground and decided to get a jump on my day, but when I emerged from my tent, I was shocked to discover frost on the tablecloth, camp stove and rainfly. How could it be 91 degrees in Denver and freezing near Minturn? Colorado is a land of temperature contrasts. I efficiently ate my breakfast and broke camp before 8AM, and when I glanced at the digital thermometer on the dashboard, it registered 35 degrees. Brrr!

I began driving south on US 24 toward Leadville, and I passed a place where a controlled burn converted the vegetation into a black charred landscape. From my peripheral vision I caught a glimpse of some dark large animals, and at first I assumed they were horses. But then my mind rebooted, and I realized that the large bodies I just passed were moose calves. I found a wide shoulder and executed a U-turn and then pulled over on the shoulder across from the young creatures. Initially they were spooked and retreated up the hillside a bit, but after a brief wait, they returned to the charred remains of weeds and began browsing. I have seen bighorn sheep chomping on charred firewood in a campground, and now I witnessed moose eating charred grass. I am not sure what drives this appetite for burned residue.

P7120018.JPG

Siblings Love Burnt Grass

 

P7120019.JPG

Mt. Massive

Frost on July 12 and a couple of moose along the highway. My fishing adventure to a new spot was off to an exciting start. When I reached Leadville I parked at the Visitor Information Center that had not yet opened and called Jane to check in. Afterward I found the turn off to Halfmoon Road, and since I had never been there before, I drove the gravel and dirt road until I reached the parking area at the trailhead to Mt. Elbert. As the web site described, I passed numerous cars and tents scattered in unofficial pullouts along the road. The creek ran mostly on my right, and I attempted to identify a good stretch to fish. Two choices were obvious. One was located near the gauging station on the lower portion of the creek, and the other was a day use parking lot across from West Halfmoon Campground.

The creek seemed to move away from the road after both entry points, and where possible I seek places that require a bit more effort than just pulling off the road right next to the stream. The day use lot option concerned me a bit due to its proximity to a campground, but I guessed this negative was offset by the extra distance from the road. This became my choice. I pulled on my new Hodgman waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight and walked a short distance to the edge of the stream. The water was crystal clear and the flows were a bit high, but relatively easy to wade.

P7120021.JPG

Halfmoon Creek Beginning Point

I began fishing with a size 8 Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear dropper. What fish could ignore this classic productive duo? My starting point looked very interesting as the creek split around a tiny island and created some deep water along the bank. Unfortunately my flies did not interest any fish. I quickly moved on, and it became apparent that the stream presented very few attractive holding areas for fish. Initially I prospected any place that might harbor a fish including quite marginal riffles and pockets, but after ample experimentation, I decided to move fast and seek prime spots. I did not observe any competing fishermen, so why not cover an extensive amount of water and cherry pick the juicy holes?

I did this, and during a one hour period from 9-10AM, I failed to land a fish. In fact I never saw a fish, and I covered a mile of Halfmoon Creek and frankly encountered only two places that I would label as above average fish holding locales. Tuesday morning on Halfmoon Creek was the exact opposite of my vision of fun small stream fishing, so I decided to cut my losses and climbed a steep hill through the forest until I intersected with one of the many side lanes, which I followed back to the dirt road and eventually to my car.

P7120022.JPG

Antelope Family

What now? I had given some thought to this eventuality, so I attempted to salvage the day by traveling south to the Hayden Meadows area of the upper Arkansas River. I read an article in the Denver Post a year or two ago that described extensive stream improvement work, so I replaced Halfmoon Creek with the upper Arkansas as my new water for Tuesday. As I drove back toward US 24, two bounding forms crossed the intersection of Lake County 11 and CO 300. I approached slowly, and when I made the right hand turn three antelope paused in the field and stared back at me. Although the fishing was lacking on Tuesday morning, the wildlife viewing was first rate.

Fish Landed: 0