Arkansas River – 05/05/2021

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Salida and Wellsvile

Arkansas River 05/05/2021 Photo Album

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.

Looking for Feeding Fish

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.

Fish Were in This Area

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.

Stretched Out

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.

Typical Brown Trout

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.

Bank Side Pool

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.

Very Nice

Another Brown Trout Caddis Eater

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.

Two Trout from This Area

Double Dry Delivered

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

Bubble Seam Likely Trout Home

South Platte River – 04/30/2021

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/30/2021 Photo Album

I was weary of somewhat frustrating hatch matching trips and anxious for some active prospecting with dry/droppers. High temperatures were forecast to reach into the upper sixties near Lake George, CO, and the flows continued at a steady 56 CFS, so I paid a visit to the open water of Eleven Mile Canyon. The area that beckoned me was open to all types of fishing including bait, but previous visits convinced me that decent fish remained in spite of the added pressure and harvesting of trout.

Water at the Start

I arrived at 10:15AM and prepared to fish by 10:30. My preparation included assembling my Sage four weight, and the temperature when I began enabled me to forego any outer layers besides my fishing shirt. Friday was shaping up as a spectacular spring day. In fact, the entire day evolved into a bright blue sky and sunny affair with minimal cloud cover, and the temperature soared to the seventy degree mark. Would the fishing be equally as magnificent?

Beast for This Stretch of River

Salvation Nymph

I focused on pocket water during most of my time on the water, and it paid off. I began with a fat Albert, hares ear nymph and salvation and landed two decent trout in the first half hour. Both consumed the salvation, and one was a feisty rainbow, and the other was a brown trout. After the first hour I began to notice small blue winged olives dancing above the surface, so I swapped the salvation for a sparkle wing RS2. This proved to be a mistake, although the RS2 yielded two trout that grabbed the emerger on the swing,  I became disillusioned with the RS2, when I covered some very attractive deep runs and pockets with no action to report.

Prime Deep Run By Exposed Boulders

I ate lunch at noon, and after lunch I decided to return to the salvation/hares ear combination. In spite of the sparse hatch, noticeable rises were a rarity, What a move! Conventional wisdom would suggest that I imitate the prevalent insect, and in this case it was the baetis, but the trout seemed to prefer the salvation nymph. Perhaps the extra weight of the larger and heavier nymph explained the contrarian performance of the salvation.

Watch Band on Back

Likely Productive

For the next couple hours I probed every significant deep pocket and especially seams along deep runs, and I escalated the fish count from four to twelve. Most of the landed trout were browns in the twelve to thirteen inch range, but I also tussled with several muscular rainbows that measured thirteen to fourteen inches. Deep runs and seams, where the current entered pools, were prime producers, and I focused my efforts in those types of stream locations. This manner of fly fishing was exactly the type of carefree prospecting to nonselective fish that I envisioned on the last day of April.

Afternoon Prize

By 2:30PM I ran out of upstream real estate, as I bumped into a trio of newly arrived fishermen, who unknowingly high holed me. I marched back down the road to a downstream spot that featured another stretch of large exposed boulders and pocket water. I was hoping that similar stream structure would translate to success that matched the early afternoon. I applied the same techniques here that served me well earlier, but the magic disappeared. I managed to land three small brown trout to increase the fish count, but I covered some very attractive deep runs and pockets with no success. I am not sure whether to attribute the change in catch rate to the time of day, the different section of the river, or the increased presence of other anglers.

Lovely Run

A fifteen fish day on the South Platte River was just what the doctor ordered. I faced minimal indecision about fly choice, and simply fished the water with a three fly dry/dropper and enjoyed some respectable trout on a gorgeous spring day in a spectacular setting in the Rocky Mountains. Life was good.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 04/27/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Down river from Salida

Arkansas River 04/27/2021 Photo Album

Predicted nasty weather in Denver and along the Front Range sent me searching for more favorable conditions to the south for a day of fishing. Weather stations near a couple of my favorite streams at Pinecliffe, CO and Lyons, CO predicted up to nine inches of snow with cold temperatures and high winds. Salida, CO on the other hand displayed a forecast with high temperatures in the low fifties with a chance of rain in the afternoon and wind in the low teens. With this contrast to nearby destinations the Arkansas River below Salida became my river of choice on Tuesday, April 27.

Productive Area on 4-14-2021

My visit of 4/14/2021 was relatively successful, as I landed thirteen respectable brown trout, and several waves of blue winged olives brought numerous trout to the surface on two separate occasions. I was hopeful that the predicted overcast conditions on Tuesday would lead to similar results. Stay tuned to see whether my expectations were met.

I departed Denver at 7:35AM, and this enabled me to arrive at my chosen pullout along US 50 by 10:30AM. I wore my light down coat with my raincoat as an outer shell windbreaker and hedged against afternoon showers. I put together my Sage One five weight and armed myself with a long stiff rod with the expectation of wind and playing trout in the thirteen to fifteen inch range. I began fishing fifty yards above my starting point on 4/14/2021 and I worked my way upstream between 11:00AM and 4:00PM.

On the Board

A yellow fat Albert, iron sally and classic RS2 occupied my line at the start of my day, and during the pre-lunch time period I landed a very nice fifteen inch brown trout that grabbed a classic RS2. After lunch I continued with the dry/dropper arrangement, and I added two more fine brown trout to the fish count. One gobbled a hares ear nymph and another snatched a sparkle wing RS2. Both of the early afternoon catches responded to swinging the flies at the end of the drift through the cushion in front of large submerged boulders.

Landed Fish Was at the Very Top of This Slick

Pleased With This Specimen

By 2:00PM some dark clouds drifted over the river from the southwest, and a few raindrops dotted the stones along the bank. I also began to notice a few sporadic rises, and since the dry/dropper lost its luster, I switched to a single CDC BWO. I persevered with the dry fly approach for the remainder of the day, and I met with limited success. I hooked and landed one fine brown, but connected with four additional trout that managed to shed my hook after brief battles. Two of the escapees were on my line long enough to make strong runs, before they twisted their mouths and caused the fly to rebound toward shore. Three of the four fish felt similar in size to the netted fish of the day. Halfway through my dry fly phase I added an olive-brown deer hair caddis as the front fly and then trailed a CDC BWO on a six inch leader. This combination made tracking the BWO much easier, and several of the afternoon escapees responded to this two dry fly offering.

Displayed for the Camera

Overall it was a rough day. The weather was much more favorable than suggested by the predictions, and I was actually somewhat overdressed. The baetis hatch was a fraction of that which I experienced on 4/14/2021. The rises I spotted were very infrequent and subtle, so I invested incremental time in surveying the surface of the river and simply observing.. The four trout that I landed were excellent, quality browns, but I must admit that I was disappointed with the catch rate, my conversion rate (four out of eight), and the light hatch, in spite of what seemed like ideal blue winged olive conditions. Perhaps the famed caddis hatch will be in play, if I return to the Arkansas River in the near future.

Fish Landed: 4

Clouds Provided Hope for Another Wave of Emergence

Clear Creek – 04/24/2021

Time: 11:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Clear Creek Canyon

Clear Creek 04/24/2021 Photo Album

I rated my time on Clear Creek on 04/10/2021 as a resounding success, and once again I was faced with the first nice spring day in two weeks on a Saturday, so I decided to push my luck and made the short trip to Clear Creek Canyon. On my previous trip I landed twelve trout, albeit small, in three hours of fly fishing, and compared to recent results on the nearby Front Range stream, this outcome was deemed relatively good.

The forecast for Saturday called for a high of around 62 degrees in Golden, but I delayed my departure until 10:30AM to ensure that the air had time to absorb the sun’s rays in the narrow canyon, before I made a first cast. The strategy paid off, and the temperature on the dashboard registered 50 degrees, as I pulled on my light down coat and assembled my Sage four weight in anticipation of a few hours of fishing on April 24.

Lots of Pockets in This Area

When I was geared up, I clambered down a short but steep rock bank, and I configured my line with a size 8 fat Albert, a beadhead hares ear, and an emerald caddis pupa. These flies proved unattractive to the canyon fish population, although the fat Albert introduced a disturbing trend, as three fish refused the large hopper pattern. During the remainder of my time on the creek, I was haunted by refusals to my large surface flies, and minimal response to the trailing subsurface nymphs failed to offset this frustrating condition.

Promising

For dry/dropper surface flies I deployed the fat Albert, a size 10 Chernobyl ant, a peacock hippie stomper, and a size 12 yellow stimulator. Only the Chernobyl ant produced a trout, but a size 16 gray deer hair caddis trailing the stimulator also yielded a fish. I landed six small brown trout during three plus hours of fishing, and each fish devoured a different fly. The four productive nymphs in the dry/dropper arrangement that yielded brown trout were a prince nymph, krystal stone, soft hackle emerger and sparkle wing RS2. A keen reader will note that I was never able to find a consistent producer during my time on Clear Creek.

Caddis Chomper

During the last half hour I noticed some rising trout, and this prompted me to try the double dry technique that frequently contributed to my success during 2020. The fish that nabbed the soft hackle emerger resulted from this tactic.

Monster on This Day

In summary, it was a frustrating day, and I never solved the riddle of Clear Creek. The dry flies were mostly refused, and action on the nymph droppers seemed like a random occurrence. Six trout in three hours of fishing represented an average catch rate, but the size of the fish was not an offsetting positive. Two of the landed browns were so small that they squeezed through the net opening, and I hate dealing with that nuisance situation. What would I do differently, if I revisit Clear Creek in the near future? I would probably experiment with a single dry such as a deer hair caddis, beetle or ant; and I would adopt the double dry earlier in the day. I would also focus exclusively on the water along the bank, and ignore midstream lies and fast water runs.

Fish Landed: 6

Looks Fantastic

South Platte River – 04/22/2021

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/22/2021 Photo Album

After a string of cold April days I looked for a window of fishing opportunity on April 22, 2021. I adopted the practice of checking air temperatures on Weather Underground ahead of stream flows on the DWR web site. Most of my  normal destinations predicted highs in the forties, but the Arkansas River at Salida and the South Platte River by Lake George displayed highs in the fifties. High winds on the Arkansas River ruled out my preferred option, and I settled for the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. I visited this section of the South Platte on two previous occasions with decent success, and I was fairly certain to interact with the dependable blue winged olive hatch.

I delayed my start from north Denver until 8:30, as I did not wish to arrive too early, when the temperatures were adverse. My strategy worked fairly well, as I arrived at my chosen destination by 10:45AM. The temperature was in the low forties, but the sky was clear blue, and the sun dominated, so I was certain the thermometer would rise to at least the upper forties. Nevertheless, I wore my UnderArmour long sleeved insulated undershirt, my fleece hoodie, my raincoat and my Northface light down coat. For head gear I donned my billed New Zealand hat with ear flaps, and I pulled my raincoat hood over the hat for extra protection against the chilly morning wind. I stuffed handwarmers in my Northface pockets, and I opened a pack of foot warmers for my feet.

Boulder Garden

I approached the stream and rigged my line with a dry/dropper and was prepared to make my initial cast by 11:30AM. My lineup consisted of a fat Albert, iron sally and classic RS2. I prospected the first nice pool that I approached, but the trout were not cooperating, so I paused on a wide flat rock and consumed my lunch.

After lunch I continued my progression up the river by searching some nice pocket water, but once again the fish contracted a case of lockjaw. One of my favorite pools was next, but it was occupied by another angler, so I circled around and dropped into another short series of pockets. I exchanged the RS2 for an orange scud, but the exchange failed to change my angling fortunes. Another nice pool appeared above the pocket water, and I began to fish this section with my dry/dropper, but I exchanged the iron sally for an emerald caddis pupa and reverted to a sparkle wing RS2 as my point fly. Again the trout gave me a resounding thumbs down.

I could see the spectacular bend pool ahead of me, but is was populated by three fishermen. Fortunately, as I was about to by-pass the trio, I began to spot some sporadic rises from the pool that I was occupying. I tried a few dry/dropper casts with lifting and swinging action to simulate the RS2 as emerging blue winged olives, but this ploy did not arouse interest, so I converted to a single dry fly approach. I knotted a CDC BWO to my line, but whether using an upstream cast or across and down, the trout were having none of it. I tried a Klinkhammer emerger and then trailed a beadless soft hackle emerger, and I nicked the lip of one trout with the Klinkhammer, but overall my flies were rudely ignored.

I surrendered to the highly educated trout and moved above the Steve Supple bend pool that was occupied and arrived at the next fine pool above the island and braids. Once again quite a few trout were rising, but in spite of my optimism my efforts were futile. I tried a BWO cripple, that I tied the previous afternoon, but it was shunned, and the size 20 fly appeared to be too large. Eventually I gave up on the selective feeders and moved to the heart of the pool, where a huge vertical wall bordered the east side. I positioned myself across from five or six visible risers, but once again my flies were treated like covid positive specks. The lighting was difficult in the prevalent partial shadows and sun glare, and tracking the drab colored olive imitations was a challenge.

Respectable

I gave up and moved to the top of the pool, where a pair of feeder runs split around an exposed boulder and then rejoined creating a deep single run and pool. In order to better track the flies, I resorted to a triple dry system with a silver body hippie stomper followed by a size 24 CDC BWO on a six inch leader and then a soft hackle emerger on another six inch tippet. I began feeding downstream casts to a glutinous gulper at the tail of the run, and miraculously on the fifth cast a rainbow snatched the soft hackle emerger. I made a swift hook set and eventually coaxed the respectable trout into my net. I was certain that an embarrassing skunking was in my future in spite of wave upon wave of blue winged olives fluttering up from the river, but fortunately I was now on the scoreboard with an almost embarrassing total of one fish.

Handsome

I continued upstream to the next wide pool, but by now the sun appeared, and the hatch dwindled to occasional rises. I paused and mostly observed in this area, but the signs of feeding fish were reduced, and I decided to return to the shadowed area armed with the advantage of a three dry fly set up for better visibility. The revisit worked, and I landed two rainbows of fourteen and fifteen inches in the pool with the high vertical wall. The added visibility of the hippie stomper was a huge plus, and it enabled me to see or approximate where my tiny trailers were at any point in time. Both of the late day catches grabbed the size 24 CDC BWO.

Spread Out

Site of the Last Fish Landed

I quit at 4:00PM and talked to another fisherman from Pennsylvania at Steve’s pool for awhile on my return hike. Thursday was a subpar day from a numbers perspective, but the three landed fish were excellent quality. I also hooked but failed to land three additional fish during my four hours on the river. I could not complain about the weather other than the intermittent gusts of wind. The temperature actually spiked above fifty, and for that I was thankful. The hatch was everything I could have hoped for. Every time a cloud blocked the sun, the wind kicked up, and the rings of rising trout appeared throughout the river. I simply did not have the right imitation for the situation. My theory is that strong wind blows the emerging mayflies off the water quickly, but many of the baetis get dumped back on the surface in a crumpled state, and the fish key on movement from their targeted food source. I am now contemplating tying some size 22 dry flies in the Catskill style with hackle wound around the hook. A fly dancing on hackle tips on the surface of the river may better approximate the clumsy movement of the mayflies, as they attempt to lift off and combat the strong wind.

Fish Landed: 3

Arkansas River – 04/14/2021

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Salida and Wellsville

Arkansas River 04/14/2021 Photo Album

A fly fishing adage claims that blue winged olives love weather that is miserable for fly fishermen. Wednesday, April 14 certainly reinforced this belief.

The long range weather forecast for Denver and the front range called for at least seven days with high temperatures in the upper forties to low fifties. Highs in this range translate to thirties and forties in the mountains and foothills, and this angler is not a fan of fishing in cold temperatures. I braved some rather challenging conditions on Monday, April 12, and I was hoping to avoid a repeat. Some of the best fishing of the year occurrs in the pre-runoff time period of mid-March through mid-May, and the colder than normal weather of April was causing me to miss some potentially excellent fishing.

I normally study the DWR stream flows before planning any fishing trip; however, for April 14 my main focus was the weather. I reviewed the towns and cities near potential destinations, and as expected the high temperatures were ten to fifteen degrees lower than Denver and accompanied by high wind to make the fishing option even more forbidding. Finally I checked the Arkansas River near Salida, and the small river town displayed a Weather Underground forecast high of 54 degrees with single digit wind velocity. The Arkansas River is sometimes called the banana belt, because it is far enough south to experience different weather patterns. The forecast also predicted afternoon cloud cover, so I jumped at the opportunity and made the trip on Wednesday.

Because of the cold temperatures I decided to take my time, and I departed Denver at 8:15AM for a three hour drive. As I climbed from Denver on US 285 and traveled through the small towns of Aspen Park and Conifer, snow swept across the highway from low hanging clouds. These driving conditions continued, until I advanced to the southern side of South Park beyond Fairplay, where the fog lifted, and the snow tapered off. The dashboard thermometer did not change, however, and the temperature remained in the upper twenties to just below freezing. Could the Weather Underground forecast be wrong, and was I embarking on a six hour joy rideI arrived at the wide pullout next to Lunch Rock (my name for it) a bit after 11:00AM, and, frankly, I was reluctant to fish. The banks of the river were covered with an inch or two of snow, the dashboard registered a balmy 32 degrees, and strong gusts of wind rushed up the canyon. I checked Weather Underground to determine whether they modified their forecast, but that was not the case. In fact, the weather application showed a current temperature of 40 degrees, while my car displayed 32. I was baffled by this significant disparity in temperature readings.I decided to eat my lunch in the warmth of the car at 11:30 to delay my fishing start time and to allow more time for a warming trend. The ploy worked to some degree, and the temperature climbed to 35 degrees, as I began the process of preparing to fish. I pulled on my UnderArmour long sleeved undershirt and topped it with a fishing shirt. The next layer was my fleece hoodie, and then I sealed my body heat in with my windbreaker raincoat, and the final addition was my Northface light down parka. Once again I tugged on my New Zealand billed hat, and then I pulled the fleece hood over the hat to protect my ears and neck even more. I reached in my Fishpond fishing bag and pulled out my fingerless wool gloves, and then I ripped the ends off my packet of handwarmers and stuffed them in the pockets of my light down outer layer. My Sage One five weight became the fishing tool of choice, as I planned to deal with wind throughout the day, or as long as I could endure the frigid conditions.

The river looked spectacular, as it rushed down the canyon at 330 CFS and carried a deep green color with plenty of visibility. I decided to rig my line with an indicator nymphing set up at the car in order to take advantage of some additional warmth and protection from the wind. I applied my New Zealand strike indicator and crimped a split shot above the last surgeon’s knot. For my starting flies I attached an iron sally and classic RS2. When I was ready, my fingers were stinging, so I pulled out my handwarmers and sat in the backseat to regain a level of comfort. How was I going to fish for more than a few minutes, if my fingers grew stiff and numb after ten minutes of configuring my line?

Site of Number One

I found a short steep path to the river in front of Lunch Rock, and I began to sling casts to the edge of a foam pocket next to the bank and to a nice deep trough behind a submerged boulder a bit farther out but still above the massive boulder, that I christened Lunch Rock. Miraculously on the tenth cast the indicator dipped at the downstream end of the deep slick, and I set the hook and felt the rod vibrate. Was I snagged? Absolutely not. I fought and landed a gorgeous brown trout that snatched the iron sally, and I was on the scoreboard early in the day. Needless to say my focus on the chilling weather diminished for a bit. Once the thrashing brown trout was in my net, I removed my gloves and tossed them on the bank where they would not get wet. I accurately determined that keeping my gloves dry was the key to a longer day of fishing. I removed my camera from its case and snapped a pair of photos, and then I carefully removed the hook from the lip of the trout. I released the fish and then pulled a blue cloth from my wader bibs and dried my hands thoroughly. Next I stuffed my hands in my Northface pockets and tightly clutched the handwarmers to restore feeling and warmth to my fingers, and then I finished off the routine by slipping my hands back into the dry fingerless gloves.

Working the Left Bank

Not Bad at All

I am pleased to report that I repeated this routine twelve more times during my day on the big river, and I fished for four hours without returning to the car for additional warmth. I was rather pleased with this accomplishment from a wimpy fair weather angler. All the trout landed during the afternoon were browns. As described, the first fish chomped the iron sally, and the next two nipped the classic RS2. Four through eight sipped a CDC BWO dry fly, and nine through eleven fell for a sparkle wing RS2 and soft hackle emerger fished as part of a dry/dropper set up. The last two fish of the day also slurped a CDC BWO.

I worked my way upstream along the left bank with the nymph rig for an hour while probing the pockets and runs with the nymph rig. In fact, I never fished more than fifteen feet away from the bank until the final hour. By 1:00PM I began to observe some fairly regular rises in a narrow shelf pool tight to the south bank. I attempted to attract their attention by lifting my RS2 near the spots of the rises, but my lifting and mending did not generate interest. I removed all the nymphing paraphernalia and knotted a size 22 CDC BWO to my line. The move paid huge dividends, as I increased the fish count to eight by duping five very fine blue winged olive sippers to my imitation. In addition, I recorded a few temporary hook ups. I was quite impressed with the number of sizeable fish within a fairly small area.

After this session the rising fish temporarily stopped, and I was unable to locate them without the visual cue of a surface disturbance.  Rather than return to the time consuming steps to reprise my indicator technique, I decided to test a dry/dropper approach. I selected a size 8 fat Albert from my box and attached the iron sally as the top nymph and a sparkle wing RS2 on the bottom. Since the fish had been rising to the surface, I assumed that my dry/dropper with a three foot leader would drift deep enough for the trout especially given my casts to moderate depth pockets near the bank.

Zoomed a Bit

A Respectable Brown Came from This Marginal Slot Beyond the Stick

My hunch was on the mark, and the next three trout nabbed the sparkle wing RS2 on the end of my dry/dropper system. In two instances I saw a single subtle rise in relatively marginal pockets. I was skeptical that my subsurface nymph would be noticed by a rising trout, but I made some short casts, and I was surprised to land a pair of thirteen inch browns. I love catching decent fish in obscure lies that most fishermen probably pass by.

I continued my path along the left bank of the river and arrived at a wide section with a long deep center-cut run. The total length of this section was probably forty or fifty yards. I began to cast my dry/dropper and successfully hooked and landed a brown trout near the seam along the run. This was the first time all day that I actually executed some longer casts beyond the fifteen feet near the bank. I released catch number eleven, and as I scanned the area for my next move, I noticed several subtle dimples, as trout darted to the surface to grab some form of food. I watched more closely, and I spotted a few small blue winged olives fluttering on the surface and attempting to launch against the cold wind.

Wide Area with Structureless Shelf Pool

Initially I decided to remove the iron sally and sparkle wing RS2, and I substituted a soft hackle emerger without a bead on a six inch dropper behind the fat Albert. I made quite a few fruitless casts, until I shifted my attention to a recent rise no more than ten feet out and another ten feet below me. I dropped a cast across and dragged the two flies closer, so they drifted down a lane to the point of the surface disturbance, and it worked! I noted a swirl below the fat Albert and reacted with a quick hook set and landed another thirteen inch beauty. I persisted with this approach over several additional feeders, but I was unable to replicate the success.

Wide Body for Length

With fish continuing to rise, albeit a bit more sporadically, I took the final step and cut off the fat Albert and soft hackle emerger and knotted a size 20 CDC BWO to my line. The solo olive was quite difficult to track in the glare, but I did manage to fool one final brown trout on an up and across cast.

What a day! I remain a fair weather fisherman, but the steady action and mental challenge of fooling wily Arkansas River brown trout distracted me from the adverse weather conditions on Wednesday, April 14. I was also proud of my “hand preservation” system that enabled me to endure the low temperatures and wind chill. All except one of the thirteen trout landed fell within the twelve to fourteen inch range, and they were very healthy wild fish. The Arkansas River fell out of favor for me over the last several years, but this outing spurs me to plan more trips in the near term. Perhaps my mistake was to seek pleasant conditions, when the key to success is enduring suffering? I will hopefully test this theory with some visits on warm spring days for comparison.

Fish Landed: 13

South Platte River – 04/12/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/12/2021 Photo Album

A cold wind blasted out of the north, as I positioned myself next to some attractive pockets on the South Platte River on April 12, 2021. Given my aversion to cold weather fishing, how did I allow myself to end up in this chilling position? Generally I prefer the air temperature to surpass 45 degrees, and I like the wind velocity to be in single digits. Neither of these conditions were met during my day in Eleven Mile Canyon.

I experienced my best day of 2021 a week ago in the same stretch of river, and I was quite anxious to schedule a return engagement. Unfortunately a variety of circumstances conspired to prevent my return until Monday, April 12. Cold weather and snow provided a hurdle to fishing on April 6 and 7, but I salvaged Wednesday with a day on the ski slopes of Vail Ski Resort. Of course, April 8 was a pleasant spring day, but I devoted that calendar date to helping Jane care for our grandson, Theo. Strong winds plagued Friday, and I used that excuse to avoid a stream. Saturday was the best day of the intervening week from a weather standpoint, but I avoid popular rivers on weekends, so I satisfied my need to fish with a trip to Clear Creek. Sunday was another decent day from a weather perspective, but weekend crowding served as a hurdle to returning to the South Platte River.

Upstream from Start

The above rundown brings us to Monday, April 12. Weather Underground displayed a forecast of high temperatures in Lake George, CO of 50 degrees with high single digit wind velocity. This projection satisfied my two critical weather criteria, so I rolled the dice and made the trip to Eleven Mile Canyon. April was rapidly slipping away, and my opportunities to enjoy my passion were diminishing. I needed to compromise my comfort level in order to take advantage of the disappearing 2021 season.

Starting Point

The drive was uneventful, and I arrived at Lake George by 10:00AM. The dashboard thermometer registered 31 degrees, so I confess that I extended my time in the cozy confines of my car for an extra thirty minutes, as I completed two detours to delay my arrival at my chosen destination. The ploy paid modest dividends, as the temperature climbed to 35 degrees, by the time I exited the Santa Fe to prepare for a day of fishing. For attire I snugged into my fleece hoodie, light down Northface coat, and my New Zealand hat with ear flaps. I searched through my Fishpond fishing bag and extracted my fingerless wool gloves. My Sage One five weight became the fly rod of choice to combat the wind and support the expectation of larger than average fish. I hiked up the dirt road for half a mile and then descended a gradual path to the edge of the river and the scene described in the first paragraph. Could I possibly catch fish in these weather conditions, and how long would I survive the wind and cold?

Hares Ear Nymph in Lip

I used my stiff fingers to rig my line with a yellow fat Albert trailing a beadhead hares ear nymph and ultra zug bug, and I prospected a series of attractive pockets in the area below the medium-sized pool, where I generally pause for lunch. On the third cast the fat Albert plunged, and I set the hook half expecting to be connected to some aquatic moss or vegetation. Much to my surprise a twelve inch rainbow trout splashed about, but after a few brief runs I guided it into my net. I carefully removed my left wool glove to keep it dry; and then I grabbed the trout, posed it for a photo and carefully removed the hook while attempting to keep my hand dry. My optimism soared, but the remaining prime pockets in this section failed to produce.

Lunch Pool

I moved along the left bank to the run that fed the nice lunch pool, and I prospected the shelf pool, current seam and tail out very thoroughly, but the fish were not cooperative. I removed the ultra zug bug and replaced it with a sparkle wing RS2, but the change produced little impact, although I did experience a brief connection tight to a large rock next to the bank. I chomped my lunch at 11:45AM, and then I progressed to the pocketwater that separated the lunch pool from the gorgeous long run and pool that occupied my attention a week ago.

The Big Pool

Initially I cast the dry/dropper system to the seams along the faster runs that fed the pool, but by 1PM I began observing sporadic rises in the gut of the pool, where the river fanned out into the slower moving lower section (photo above). I was not having success with my clumsy dry/dropper set up, so I embraced the opportunity to switch to a dry fly. I removed the three flies as quickly as my cold, stiff fingers allowed, and I knotted a size 22 CDC BWO to my line. This was the same type and size of fly that served me quite well on April 5.

Handsome

Between 1:00PM and 2:30PM I executed downstream drifts and ratcheted the fish count upward from one to eight. I resorted to across and downstream drifts, and the pool dwelling trout responded with frequent assaults. When a cloud blocked the sun, the wind kicked up, and this weather pattern in turn prompted a flurry of rising fish. The 1.5 hours of fast action included an abundant quantity of fruitless casting, but my frequency of success was, nevertheless, quite rewarding. Brown trout were the predominant species, but I also netted a vividly colored cutbow to add diversity to my efforts. Twitching and lifting the fly in front of a fish proved to be a successful ploy, as the trout attempted to snag a fleeing morsel of food. During the process of releasing a fish early in this time period, a gust of wind whipped my left-hand fingerless glove off of an exposed rock and dumped it in the river. I quickly recovered it, but the palm area was wet, and I was forced to fish without coverage on my left hand for the remainder of the day.

Love the Speckles

Unfortunately change is constant in fly fishing, and although the waves of hatching baetis mayflies continued from 2:30 until 4:00PM, my ability to dupe trout consistently ended. I am hard pressed to explain this change. Perhaps the stronger gusts of wind caused the resident trout population to look for a different stage of the mayfly, or maybe cripples became the predominant food supply? Did my efforts to land thrashing fish disturb the water and make the feeders more wary? I suspect this was not the case, because the pool was populated with ten to fifteen feeding fish at many points in time. I swapped the CDC BWO for a soft hackle emerger for a bit, and this change resulted a a pair of temporary hook ups. Next I exchanged the soft hackle emerger for a Klinkhammer BWO, and almost instantly a small rainbow responded with an aggressive strike. But just as quickly the Klinkhammer became another ignored speck on the surface of the river.

Nice One

By 3:30PM I no longer felt my toes, and I began to shiver steadily. I slowly waded to the bank and stood on an exposed rock to remove my stumps from the cold water. This position was less desirable for presenting flies, but I did manage to fool another pretty cutbow, before I could no longer tolerate the wind and cold, and I returned to the Santa Fe.

Ink Spots

On Monday, April 5 I endured adverse weather conditions to notch a ten fish day, so the discomfort at least paid off with double digits. The largest fish was a brown trout that probably measured fifteen inches, and two spectacularly colored cutbows reached fourteen inches. When I checked the dashboard thermometer, as I began to drive back out of the canyon, it displayed 33 degrees. The temperature in Lake George was 41 degrees, and I am certain that the high temperature, where I was fishing never exceeded 40 degrees. I am also convinced that the wind gusted at double digit speeds. Nevertheless, I fished for five hours, survived the wintry conditions and netted double digit trout. The five day forecast for Denver predicts wintry conditions, so I may have to endure another cold day to get my fishing fix. Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 10

Clear Creek – 04/10/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 2:00PM

Location: Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden, CO

Clear Creek 04/10/2021 Photo Album

Clear Creek has the reputation of a small stream with modest sized fish, where it is easy to catch trout. My recent experience with the creek west of Golden refuted the idea that the predominantly small brown trout were pushovers. Thus, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I departed for Clear Creek on Saturday morning. A magnificent spring day was forecast for Colorado, but it was a Saturday, so I knew the popular spots such as the South Platte River would be overrun by stir-crazy fishermen. Clear Creek represented an option that was nearby and not as popular but with miles of public access to absorb zealous anglers.

Pocket Water Produced a Few

I arrived at my chosen location along the medium sized stream by 10:30AM, and after donning my waders I assembled my Sage four weight. The air temperature was in the low fifties, as I departed the car, so I snugged on my light cardigan fleece. The flows were nearly ideal at 25 CFS, and the clarity was perfect. My heart rate elevated in anticipation of casting for trout in these inviting conditions. I hiked up U.S. 6 for a bit and then crossed to the side of the creek away from the highway and continued for another .4 mile. This would be the amount of the stream that I covered in three hours on April 10.

Frisky Brown Trout

I tied a size 8 yellow fat Albert to my line and followed it with a beadhead hares ear nymph and ultra zug bug. I began prospecting the likely holding areas, and in a short amount of time I landed a pair of small brown trout. Both trout nabbed the hares ear, as it tumbled along runs of moderate depth and velocity. In the first fifteen minutes I spotted a pair of decent fish along the left bank, but they ignored my offerings, and this created some concern over my choice of flies, but after I moved upstream and tested some different stream structure, I was reassured by the two trout that responded.

Small Jewel

I worked my way upstream at a steady pace until 11:50AM, when I paused to eat my lunch, and I built the fish count to six. Several rather nice brown trout by Clear Creek standards rested in my net during this time, and all six of the late morning catch nipped the hares ear nymph. After lunch I moved the hares ear to the point position and replaced the ultra zug bug with my new creation; the krystal stone. The combination proved effective, and the fish count climbed from six to twelve in the hour between noon and 1:00PM. Four of the early afternoon trout crunched the krystal stone and the others gulped the hares ear.

Very Nice Run and Pool Ahead

As 1:00PM passed, I was feeling pretty optimistic about my fortunes on April 10, but as soon as my confidence peaked, the fish felt  compelled to teach me a lesson. I endured an extended slump over the last hour of my time on Clear Creek, and I could only speculate that it was the time of day or my proximity to the easier access from the highway, I cycled through a series of fly changes including a 20 incher, sparkle wing RS2 and emerald caddis pupa; but none of these options could replicate the success that I enjoyed in the first two hours.

Fun Catch

As forecast on my Weather Underground application, the ferocity of the wind accelerated by 2:00PM, so I hooked my fly in the rod guide and returned to the Santa Fe. Twelve fish in three hours of fishing was a surprisingly strong outcome for me on a pleasant spring day in a nearby creek. A few brown trout measured in the eleven to twelve inch range, and I was pleased with these respectable fish. Clear Creek is back on my short list of close by destinations for spring fishing.

Fish Landed: 12

Shelf Pool Promising

South Platte River – 04/05/2021

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/05/2021 Photo Album

Gorgeous weather with a high in the 60’s at Lake George motivated me to take a trip to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on Monday, April 4. I arrived at the wide pullout above the long and placid pool in the special regulation section by 10:30AM, and after pulling on my waders and setting up my Sage One five weight, I was prepared to fish by 11:15AM. I hiked up the road for .5 mile and descended on a moderate path to the river. I was delayed by a couple false starts, when I first forgot my sun gloves and then realized that I was without my frontpack.

First Prime Pool on Monday

The river was flowing clear and low at 56 CFS, and it was free of ice. A fair amount of residual snow remained along the east side of the river, as a steep canyon wall prevented the sun’s rays from penetrating for much of the day. I rigged my nymph system with a New Zealand strike indicator, split shot, sucker spawn, and sparkle wing RS2, and then I thoroughly explored some deep pockets and a nice medium sized pool, but the trout exhibited disdain for my offerings. By 11:50AM the fish count was stalled at zero, and I paused to eat my lunch, while I observed the pool. Quite a few swarms of tiny tan or gray colored midges buzzed about just above the surface, and I witnessed five or six very sporadic rises in the pool, while I munched my sandwich and crunched my carrots.

Dark Olive Hue

After lunch I swapped the sucker spawn for a 20 incher and replaced the sparkle wing with a classic RS2. Neither of these fish magnets created interest, so I converted to a dry/dropper with a size 8 fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph and sparkle wing RS2, and the RS2 produced a thirteen inch brown trout from the current seam created by a run that fed the lunch pool. I was quite pleased with my initial success, and I moved up the river with renewed optimism. In some deep pockets between the lunch pool and the next larger one, I temporarily connected with a larger fish, but it quickly figured out how to jettison my hook.

I Spent Most of the Day at This Run and Pool

When I arrived at the spectacular long pool fed by two very attractive deep runs that split around an exposed boulder, I tossed the dry/dropper to the faster water. In a brief amount of time I began to notice sporadic rises, and eventually the feeding activity became more steady. This was my sign to switch to a dry fly, and I removed the dry/dropper rig and knotted a size 22 CDC blue winged olive to my line. This proved to be a prescient move, as I fished the olive CDC comparadun for the remainder of the afternoon and accumulated a total of fifteen fish. Yes, Monday afternoon temporarily satisfied my appetite for early season fly fishing action. During one half hour period, when the CDC BWO was being rudely ignored, I switched to a Klinkhammer emerger, and this fly accounted for one fish. When the Klinkhammer was also shunned, I added a six inch tippet extension and tied on a soft hackle emerger to fish in the film, and this fly also notched one fish. After a half hour of experimentation, I observed an abundant quantity of feeding fish, and they ignored my double dry offering, so I reverted to the CDC BWO.

Showing Off the Slash

Reintroduced to the River

Initially I presented a size 20, but it was soundly rejected, so I returned to a size 22, and this enabled me to revisit success. Monday afternoon was simply a baetis feeding blitz. Large gray clouds blocked the sun’s rays for extended time periods, and this prompted wind and low light, and the blue winged olives became a favored food source for the trout. The cycle of clouds followed my brief periods of sunshine repeated often, and I took advantage of the cloud cover to net wild canyon trout. Brown trout dominated the catch; however, I managed one chunky rainbow in the fifteen inch range, and I added three brilliantly colored cutbows that featured vibrant slashes below their jaws.

A Bit More Girth

Lovely Color Scheme

Down and across drifts yielded the most success, and on several occasions I twitched the tiny dry fly in front of a trout, and this erratic movement provoked a vicious take. I actually felt like I figured things out, but that confidence did not last long. Every take was accompanied by at least fifteen fruitless casts, so the trout were not totally convinced that my imitation was a precise copy of the naturals. Nevertheless, it worked better than the other blue winged olive fakes in my fly box, and it produced with enough frequency to keep me focused for nearly four hours in the same pool. A fifteen fish day on April 5 represented a solid success, and I look forward to a return trip to Eleven Mile Canyon. Catching fourteen out of fifteen on a dry fly was simply icing on the cake. The best of the pre-runoff fly fishing is around the corner, and Monday was a great sample of what may lie in my future.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 04/02/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Salida

Arkansas River 04/02/2021 Photo Album

I enjoyed a decent early season outing on the Arkansas River on March 9, 2021, and I was quite anxious to make another trip. Unfortunately a massive snowstorm and a series of family and health commitments prevented a return until yesterday, April 2, 2021. Fortunately the stars aligned on Monday, and gorgeous spring weather combined with nearly ideal flows in the 250 CFS range to lure this avid fly fisherman to the area below Salida, CO. I arrived by 10:30AM and quickly assembled my Sage One five weight and reluctantly pulled on a light fleece. The temperature, when I began, was 53 degrees, but forecasts suggested a high in the upper sixties. By the time I assembled my gear and hiked along US 50 for .5 mile and descended to the river, my watch registered 11:00AM.

One of Two Fishermen Spotted During My Time on the River

I began my quest for hungry trout at the Fremont – Chaffee County line, and rigged my rod with a New Zealand strike indicator, split shot, 20 incher and classic RS2. During the morning session I hooked and landed two nice brown trout in the twelve to thirteen inch range on the trailing RS2’s; the first on a classic RS2 and the second on a sparkle wing version. I also snagged bottom early in the game, and when I finally leveraged my flies free, they catapulted into a tall juniper tree directly behind me. The branch was alive and too high to reach, so I was forced to apply direct pressure and snapped off the two flies. I replaced them with a yellow-brown Pat’s rubber legs and sparkle wing RS2, and eventually the Pat’s rubber legs yielded to an iron sally.

Another Nice Brown Trout

Sparkle Wing RS2 Was a Favorite

I broke for lunch with the fly count resting on two, and after consuming my standard snack, I climbed the bank to obtain a strong satellite signal and used my new Garmin Inreach Mini to send a preset text to Jane. This was more of a test than a requirement, but it worked great, and I am now prepared with my satellite phone for hikes to more remote fishing locations.

Slack Water Along the Edge Was Productive

After lunch I continued to advance along the left bank, as I prospected the double nymph rig in likely trout holding locations. I was able to spot some very nice fish along the way, but in spite of some very focused drifts to sighted trout, I was unable to provoke a take. I debated swapping the nymph rig for a dry fly approach, but the hassle of removing the split shot and indicator dissuaded me from the necessary time commitment, and there was no guarantee that a dry fly would induce a rise; although I did see several sporadic rises during one relatively short period of time. Instead I tried to focus on riffles and runs of moderate depth, where the deep nymphing setup likely represented the appropriate method. I also tried some lifts in front of the visible trout, but this technique was ineffective. I did observe a few blue winged olive mayflies during the hour after lunch along with swarms of tiny midges. It was unclear whether the trout were attuned to the midges or mayflies.

Very Nice Brown Trout in the Afternoon

I added two more brown trout to the count in the hour after lunch, but then I experienced a fairly long period of futility. The sun warmed the air temperature, and I was a bit overheated in my down hoodie, and this, in turn, created a state of lethargy. I was hot and tired and bored with the lack of action. The two trout landed in the aftermath of lunch both consumed the sparkle wing RS2, as I lifted the rod to initiate a new cast.

Trough Next to Fast Water Was Prime

Rather that continue fruitless casting I decided to finally make a significant change in approach, and I switched to a dry/dropper method. I tied on a yellow size 8 fat Albert and added an emerald caddis pupa and a size 20 soft hackle emerger. I decided to focus my casts on the soft water with depth near the bank, as this was the type of structure, in which I spotted decent trout in the earlier time period. The strategy seemed applicable, but I managed one thirteen inch brown on the emerald caddis pupa, and then sank into another state of inactivity.

Healthy Arkansas River Trout

At 3PM I acknowledged the ineffectiveness of the dry/dropper method and reverted to the deep nymphing technique. For this last phase of my fly fishing day I opted for a 20 incher and a sparkle wing RS2, and I covered quite a bit of stream real estate, as I guided two more typical sized brown trout to my net. The first of the pair snatched the sparkle wing, and the second chomped the 20 incher. By 4PM I reached a section of rapids, and I was near a path that led to the highway, so I called it a day and made the .5 mile return hike.

One More in the Net

I landed seven trout on Friday, April 2, and five nipped a form of RS2, one snatched a caddis pupa, and the final one crunched a 20 incher stonefly. All but one of the landed trout measured in the twelve to thirteen inch range. My catch rate was low, and I was disappointed to not encounter a denser and more sustained blue winged olive hatch, but Friday was a stunning spring day accompanied by a brilliant, cloudless blue sky and a high temperature around seventy degrees. I doubled my cumulative fish count, and the fly fishing bug assumed a prominent position in my brain. Nice weather in the upcoming week portends a few more fly fishing outings.

Fish Landed: 7