North Fork of the White River – 09/17/2014

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: From confluence with Snell Creek upstream; Himes Peak Campground where I ended on Tuesday and then upstream to huge beaver pond.

Fish Landed: 26

North Fork of the White River 09/17/2014 Photo Album

Despite one of my best days of fishing in 2014 on the upper North Fork above Himes Peak, I decided I wanted to explore different water on Wednesday. I had mixed success on the North Fork near the confluence with Snell Creek on previous visits, so I decided to give it another try. I had a quick breakfast and prepared my lunch and got off to a nice early start. Wednesday was shaping up to be another gorgeous fall day in the Flattops, and I suspect the air temperature never got lower than 50 on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

As I prepared to fish I wore my UnderArmour shirt under my fishing shirt and assembled my six weight four piece Scott rod. Both of these choices proved to be mistakes as I grew to be overheated, and the large rod was overkill for the size of the North Fork. I parked on the shoulder along the bend of Trappers Lake Road and found a worn path that led me down the steep bank to the point where Snell Creek joined the North Fork. I was searching for the nice pool near an overhanging evergreen tree where I landed some nice trout in two previous experiences on this stretch of the White River. Some tight bushes and trees forced me to cross the river, and then I maneuvered down the south bank until I was across from the targeted pool.

Ideal Spot for a Trout

Ideal Spot for a Trout

I’m not sure if it was due to the higher than normal September flows or a permanent shift in the structure of the river, but the pool was much narrower than what I remembered. Nevertheless I rigged with a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and copper john and began prospecting the seven foot wide deep run and pool. I managed a split second hook up toward the tail of the run, but that was the extent of my action on the evergreen pool, so I moved along and began wading upstream.

Over the next two hours I covered a huge amount of water, but it was mostly wading and not casting. The river in this section was largely a fast riffle, and it did not contain very many good holding lies for fish. I managed one nine inch rainbow trout in a narrow slot along the south bank, as I continued upstream farther than I had ever ventured previously. I kept expecting the river to narrow a bit and thus present more deep pockets and pools, but it never happened, so I decided to cut my losses and found a weak path that led up the steep north bank to a very high position. As I followed the path, it became more defined and eventually connected with the steep path that I originally used to descend to the North Fork at the start of my two hour fishing adventure.

When I reached the car, I promptly removed my UnderArmour shirt and returned the six weight Scott to its protective case, and then I drove another eight miles to the Himes Peak Campground. If I landed forty fish in one afternoon, why couldn’t I repeat this success if I continued from my ending point? This thought danced through my head as I put together my Sage four weight four piece rod and then quickly devoured my lunch. In order to find my ending point I walked up the dirt road from the parking lot a short distance and then found a faint trail that cut across an open grass area and led me toward the fence line. I followed the fence line beyond the lower beaver pond until it led me into a wooded area, and at this point I cut south and perpendicular to the fence until I intersected with the river. The fence line strategy worked quite well as I entered the river just below the breached beaver dam that produced numerous fish for me on Tuesday.

A Pretty Cutbow

A Pretty Cutbow

I tied on an orange body stimulator that I purchased at Charlie’s Fly Box and began probing all the attractive water. It was around 12:30 when I began, and the air temperature had warmed quite a bit making me thankful that I removed the long sleeved insulated UnderArmour shirt. It wasn’t long before I landed a small brook trout on the stimulator, but the catch rate was much slower than the previous day. This surprised me as I was surely in water that rarely got touched by other fishermen. Perhaps the orange color of the stimulator body was not a good one? I opted to switch it for a larger version with a tan body, but this fly was equally ignored by the trout.

Crimson Leaves on the Hillside

Crimson Leaves on the Hillside

Next I experimented with a Chernobyl ant and beadhead pheasant tail and followed that tandem with a parachute gray hopper, but the hopper generated only a number of refusals before I added a beadhead hares ear. By two o’clock I landed seven trout, and I remember thinking that it was very slow and quite different from the previous day. I could only attribute the change to fewer clouds and warmer air temperatures.

Pocket Water of the North Fork

Pocket Water of the North Fork

Since the lime green trude had served me well for a while on Tuesday, I elected to give it a try, and this proved to be a good decision. I added four more trout to reach eleven by 2:30. If nothing else, this shows how spoiled I was to be dissatisfied with ten fish in two hours. The green trude continued producing beyond 2:30 including several nice rainbows that took it after it sank. Eventually I began to observe blue winged olives in the air, so I converted from the lime green trude to a tan Charlie Boy hopper with legs as I needed a larger more buoyant fly to support droppers. Since fish were taking the submerged lime green trude, I decided to try a bright green caddis pupa as a dropper from the Charlie Boy. This was a great idea, but the trout were not buying it, although I did catch some fish on the Charlie Boy.

Another Deeply Colored Brook Trout

Another Deeply Colored Brook Trout

The green caddis pupa had its opportunity but failed to deliver, so I swapped it for a beadhead hares ear and added a salvation nymph as my point fly. From 4:30 until 6:00PM these three flies produced with nearly an even amount of production coming from each. The fishing action improved considerably during the last hour and a half as the air temperature cooled and shadows began to extend over the stream. Many more insects were visible including blue winged olives, small tan caddis, and a few pale morning duns. I did not see any significant surface activity, but the fish were clearly tuned into nymphs and began to take my offerings with more confidence.

Brilliant Crimson Colors on This Trout

Brilliant Crimson Colors on This Trout

By six o’clock the stream was entirely covered by shadows and the insect activity was largely absent so I decided to execute my exit strategy. I was hoping to avoid the long hike back along the fence line, and instead planned to see if I could reach the road. I climbed over a dense area of deadfalls from the wildfire until I crested a hill, and here I could see a large beaver pond on a small tributary, and the road was visible high above the pond. Unfortunately the barbed wire fence continued along the slope and separated me from the road. There appeared to be a path from the road to the beaver pond, so I assumed that someone found an opening in the fence, and I proceeded to skirt the west side of the pond until I reached the “path”.

Unique Orange Belly

Unique Orange Belly

At this point I realized that the “path” was actually an area where the beavers had beaten down the grass as they moved back and forth with their gnawed off branches. I proceeded up the bank in spite of this and discovered that someone had separated the barbed wire strands and twisted them together enough to allow me to squeeze through. I removed my front pack and backpack and slid through the narrow opening and then carefully and slowly climbed the bank until I was on the road.

Beaver Pond at End of the Day Wednesday

Beaver Pond at End of the Day Wednesday

I hiked along the road for .75 mile when the driver of a passing pick up truck stopped and offered me a ride. I accepted the offer and angled my rod from the back seat through an open window and then jumped in. The driver was named George, and he was from Syracuse, NY and had been camping and living in Colorado since August. He was a hunter and practitioner of hang gliding and also quite a conversationalist. After a brief drive he turned on the campground road and dropped me off by my car at the Himes Peak Campground parking lot. Somehow my beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph must have hooked something in George’s truck and broken off, as they were missing when I broke down the rod and returned it to its case.

Looking Back at the Beaver Pond

Looking Back at the Beaver Pond

It turned out to be a fun day on the North Fork despite the slow morning. I worked harder for fewer fish than Tuesday, but I still managed to land 26 and several very nice rainbows and brook trout were included in the count. It was an unbelievably nice fall day, and I’m sure the high temperature reached 80 degrees. I had one more day to explore the White River drainage, and I needed to decide on a destination.

North Fork of White River – 09/16/2014

Time: 12:30PM – 6:00PM

Location: Himes Peak Campground and upstream

Fish Landed: 40

North Fork of White River 09/16/2014 Photo Album

I kept my eye on the weather after being thwarted in my efforts to visit the Flattops Wilderness the previous week. I was in a lull at work, and a fishing trip during the week of September 16 – 19 worked nicely with my schedule. When I noticed a weather forecast for a series of days in the 80’s in Denver, I made the decision to reschedule my Flattops trip. The forecast for Meeker, CO on the western rim of the Flattops was similar to Denver, so that clinched it.

Aspen Leaves Change in the Flattops

Aspen Leaves Change in the Flattops

The drive to the North Fork Campground from Denver is four hours, and I wanted to enjoy at least a half day of fishing on Tuesday, so I had nearly everything packed and ready on Monday night. This enabled me to depart Denver by 7AM, and I arrived at the campground by 11:40AM. I quickly paid for the campsite and gobbled my lunch and headed to the Himes Peak Campground on the way to Trappers Lake to begin my fishing adventure.

Since I lost my Simms fly box on the Frying Pan River, I purchased a replacement along with ten stimulators. I rotated this box to my front pack and then shifted the Pennsylvania box to my zippered bib pocket in my waders. I assembled my Orvis Access rod (which I would come to regret) and hiked down the trail from the parking lot toward the stream. After a short distance I cut to the left and then skidded down a steep bank to the stream. The stream remained high from the heavy rain the previous week, and a steep gradient made fishing difficult. In addition numerous deadfalls spanned the stream as a result of a wildfire several years ago, and this added significantly to the casting and wading difficulty.

A Feisty Rainbow from the North Fork

A Feisty Rainbow from the North Fork

Initially I used a gray pool toy and beadhead hares ear dropper, and I did not have any problem hooking fish. Unfortunately I did have difficulty landing fish, as the first five hook ups resulted in long distance releases. This was quite frustrating particularly as several of the fish felt quite heavy in proportion to the small high mountain river. I decided to change tactics and removed the dry/dropper and switched to a purchased stimulator with a light green body. With this fly on my line, I finally connected with and landed four fish by 1:30.

Speckles Like Cutthroat, Stripe Like Rainbow

Speckles Like Cutthroat, Stripe Like Rainbow

I continued upstream and covered a ton of water and built my fish count to nine, but I lost the stimulator along the way and replaced it with a lime green trude, and this productive fly accounted for three or four of the first nine fish. At 2:30 I decided to try a Chernobyl ant with a beadhead pheasant tail as a short dropper as I was weary of continually drying the trude. I knew that a long dropper was asking for trouble given all the logs and brush, so I kept the dropper length at 18 inches. After making this change, as I was wading along the edge of the stream, I stepped on a slanted wet slimy rock and my right foot shot sideways into the stream. I reacted instinctively by reaching out my left hand to catch my fall, but this hand also held my Orvis Access four weight rod. I dropped the rod as my hand went toward the ground, but it was two late, and after picking myself up and gathering my senses, I realized that I snapped the rod in the middle of the second piece after the butt section. I’m not sure if the tip hit the ground and snapped the rod or if the impact of dropping the rod did the damage, but the cause was irrelevant, and I now had a broken rod.

Lime Green Trude Was Effective

Lime Green Trude Was Effective

I uttered some curse words and grieved for a bit, but then gathered the pieces and made the 15 minute hike back to the car where I had two back up rods. I selected my Sage four weight and assembled it and hiked back to the scene of my fall. I was feeling pretty low at this point near the start of my four day fishing adventure. The catch rate was slower than I expected, the wading was quite challenging, and I broke my rod. In addition I had to hike all the way back to the car through a mucky beaver pond, obtain another rod, and hike the same distance back to the river.

Close Up of the Slash

Close Up of the Slash

Since I was starting over with a new rod, I decided to try another purchased crystal stimulator, and I selected one with a gray body. This choice proved to be a winner, and I landed a bunch of fish and took my tally to the mid-20’s until I lost a second purchased stimulator. I had another three days of fishing ahead of me, and I’d already lost 20% of my purchased stimulator inventory. I had some royal stimulators that I tied several years ago, so I decided to try one in an effort to preserve my purchased flies. The royal model worked reasonably well, and I added another three or four fish to my count before I began to see a decent number of blue winged olives.

Head Shot of Pretty Rainbow

Head Shot of Pretty Rainbow

I knew an exact match such as a CDC olive comparadun would be nearly impossible to see in the rushing mountain stream, so I tied the Chernobyl ant back on my line and added a soft hackle emerger as a dropper. I hoped that the fish would see the soft hackle emerger as an emerging blue winged olive, and the Chernobyl ant with the bright neon yellow foam indicator would allow me to spot takes. This tactic did not work very well, and I can only assume that the tiny size 20 emerger was too difficult for the fish to see in the swirling currents. I clipped off the soft hackle emerger and replaced it with a salvation nymph, and this combination was on fire for the last hour of the day.

Best Brook Trout of Trip

Best Brook Trout of Trip

As the shadows lengthened I approached a broken beaver dam and surveyed the water. It was a beautiful set up as the breached dam enabled the current to continue running through the center, but nice slower moving pools spanned out from the center to the banks on both sides where the stick dam remained. I began drifting my dry/dropper combination along the seam of the main current first and then gradually lengthened my casts to methodically cover the entire width of the pool. On nearly every cast I hooked a fish, and eventually landed at least seven or eight from this one location. It was a blast, and these fish were chunky hard fighting rainbow trout that streaked in every direction around the pool. The most amazing fact was that the disturbance of a hooked fish did not seem to impact the desire of neighboring fish to inhale my salvation nymph on subsequent casts.

Pure Cutthroat or Cutbow?

Pure Cutthroat or Cutbow?

I decided to quit at 6PM despite the fact that the fishing remained quite productive because I had a tough hike along the fence line back to the car. I ended farther from the parking lot than I’d ever ventured, and I really wasn’t sure about my exit route. I ended up fighting through some deadfalls and walking perpendicular to the stream until I encountered the fence. The fence was very taut, and I could not determine a way through or around it, so I followed it back to the road that led to Himes Peak.

What an afternoon! I landed 40 trout with a ratio of 80% rainbows and 20% brook trout. The rainbows were feisty chunky hard fighting wild fish mostly in the 12-13 inch range with a few 14 inch fish to make things interesting. I probably could have tallied 70 fish had I landed every trout that I hooked. I attribute the high escape ratio to the narrow stream and the multitude of snags and obstacles that made maintaining constant side pressure a significant challenge.

I accomplished all this in half a day of fishing with thirty minutes lost to a round trip to the car to get another fly rod. What an amazing day! It was just too bad I broke my rod on the first day.

Frying Pan River – 09/12/2014

Time: 12:30PM – 5:00PM

Location: Around the island below rectangular rock and then upstream to the stair step riffles above MM12.

Fish Landed: 10

Frying Pan River 09/12/2014 Photo Album

Fortunately the paving project was complete, and I faced no stoppages on my return trip around Ruedi Reservoir. I drove directly to the pullout above Deadfall Pool where I parked upon my arrival on Wednesday, and I grabbed my lunch and munched it streamside while observing the water, but I was not seeing any mayfly activity. Friday was slightly warmer than Thursday, and the sky was bright blue with minimal cloud cover.

When I began fishing, I walked up the road and angled down a steep path to where it intersected with the smaller left braid around a long slender island. I crossed to the bottom of the island and began working my way up along the island side of the right braid. As I did this, I landed three small browns that were attracted to the salvation nymph. Even these small browns were equal to or greater in size than the fish I landed on the Upper Frying Pan.

When I reached rectangular rock pool I experienced refusals to the Chernobyl ant in a pocket at the tail, so I switched to a large green drake comparadun with a maroon thread rib. One twelve inch brown slurped the green drake at the bottom of the seam along the strong center current, but this proved to be a fleeting success as several refusals ensued. I now began seeing blue winged olives riding the surface film and fluttering up in the air above the water. This spurred me to remove the green drake, and I replaced it with a small size 20 CDC olive comparadun. Unfortunately for me, this fly was ignored as the BWO hatch intensified.

Looking Downstream from Rectangular Rock Pool

Looking Downstream from Rectangular Rock Pool

As I pondered the situation, I glanced behind me, and a guide and two clients had arrived just below the tail of the pool. I decided to hold my ground since the hatch had only recently begun, and they eventually disappeared. I considered trying a different CDC olive with a sparser wing since mine appeared a bit bushy compared to the naturals, but instead I elected to try a strike indicator set up with a salvation nymph on top and a RS2 as the bottom fly. I hypothesized that most of the fish were grabbing nymphs and emergers since the number of rising fish did not appear to correlate with the number of mayflies present in the air. The move to nymphs paid off fairly quickly with a 13 inch brown and fish number nine on the day including the four from the upper Frying Pan River.

Very Fat Brown from Frying Pan on Friday

Very Fat Brown from Frying Pan on Friday

Unfortunately the medium sized brown was the only taker of the nymph offerings despite my numerous solid drifts through the heart of the run. I also added some twitches and various movement during the drift, but this did not spur any takes, so I abandoned the large pool and worked the nice pockets above and beyond the tip of the island. I managed a temporary hook up with one fish in a deep pocket, but then I suffered through a dry spell despite some very attractive water that I knew held fish based on past experience.

As I was considering a new plan of attack, I noticed two or three mayflies emerging from a small run next to me, and then a couple of rises followed. The mayflies were smaller than the green drakes that rose sporadically earlier in the afternoon, and they displayed a light green coloration. I decided these were flavs so I tied on one of the two light olive green size 14 comparaduns that I stored in my box. I created these flies last winter after Jeff Shafer and I encountered a late afternoon hatch of flavs.

Bam! The new fly produced two fish in a short amount of time as a 12 inch rainbow and a 13 inch brown trout became acquainted with my net. I was excited with this turn of events, but the emergence only seemed to last for ten minutes and then the rises ceased. I decided to explore the left channel on the north side of the island in the hopes that the flavs were still emerging in the slower moving pool, so I climbed the bank to the road and walked to the bottom of the long shallow pool. I began making long prospecting casts to the smooth water with the light green comparadun, but my strategy was exposed as flawed.

Perhaps flavs emerge in faster water? I suggest this because I did manage to land two small browns in some short pockets at the top of the island. The shadows were now extending over much of the river in the narrow stretch above the island, and the brief hatch seemed to be history, so I decided to return to the pool toy, hares ear, and pheasant tail as I prospected the narrow slots along the bank between the island and MM12. This tactic yielded a couple refusals, and then I arrived at the large deep riffle at MM12. Amazingly there were no fishermen at this popular spot, so I made some casts along the inner current seam with no luck, and then moved to the eddy on the downstream side of the large rock that juts into the river between MM12 and the cascading riffle area.

I sprawled on the large rock and made a few casts to the eddy on the downstream side. On the fifth such cast, I allowed the pool toy to stall deep in the nook, and after 20 seconds it dipped, and I set the hook. Instantly a fish rocketed into the heavy current and snapped off the two nymphs. This episode was either a big fish or a foul hooked fish, but I can only speculate.

I turned around and began to fish in the nice long riffle next to the road below a deadfall and continued this for another half hour. There were quite a few rising fish that drew my attention, and I guessed that they were snatching dapping caddis from the surface. Quite a few small caddis buzzed about erratically and occasionally touched the surface of the river. I clipped off the dry/dropper arrangement and tied on a size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and after quite a bit of fruitless casting to numerous sighted fish, I seduced one rainbow into eating my fly. That was the last fish of the day as the shadows began to creep over all sections of the river.

My largest fish on Friday was 13 inches so the day was disappointing both in numbers and size. It was truly a subpar day for the Frying Pan River. The hatch was brief and consisted mostly of tiny blue winged olives with very little evidence of pale morning duns or green drakes other than the brief flurry of flav action. I packed up my gear and returned to the campsite where I found Jane perched on her camp rocking chair while basking in the sun. It was time to take a break from fishing for a few days.

Upper Frying Pan River – 09/12/2014

Time: 9:30AM – 11:30AM

Location: From bridge just before the turn to Eagle-Thomasville Road upstream to 50 yards above the turn.

Fish Landed: 4

Upper Frying Pan River 09/12/2014 Photo Album

Despite one of my best days ever on the Frying Pan River on Thursday, for some reason I did not want to return to the same stretch of water. This left me with the option of moving farther downstream toward Basalt, returning to the congested 2.5 miles of water below the dam, or exploring the upper Frying Pan River above Ruedi Reservoir. It had been awhile since I fished on the upper river, but I had experienced some decent success there catching quite a few fish albeit smaller than the fish that populate the tailwater. I didn’t relish working around the other fishermen on the upper tailwater, and I was uncertain I could repeat Thursday’s success in public areas farther downstream. I was lured by the idea of catching a large quantity of smaller fish on attractor dry flies, so I chose to drive to the upper river.

A Low Hanging Cloud Over Ruedi Reservoir

A Low Hanging Cloud Over Ruedi Reservoir

And Some Young Ones Protected

And Some Young Ones Protected

Unfortunately as I made the drive around Ruedi, I encountered road construction a mile before the inlet, and I waited for ten minutes or so until the pilot truck arrived to lead me through a rather lengthy stretch of repaving. The paving project continued all the way to Thomasville, and this prevented me from stopping at several locations that I was targeting. Finally the pilot car turned around, and I was on my own at the eastern end of the small town, so I decided to explore the river near the turn off to the Eagle-Thomasville Road. I parked along the shoulder, pulled on my waders, grabbed my rod and walked back to the bridge that crosses the Frying Pan River before the turn off.

Typical Deep Pocket on the Upper Frying Pan River

Typical Deep Pocket on the Upper Frying Pan River

The flows were abnormally high for the middle of September due to the heavy rain on Tuesday, but the water was very clear, and I was optimistic that I could attract some fish to my flies. In addition to the high flows, the steep gradient of the stream bed created pocket water and deep plunge pools, and this made wading a bit of a challenge. The size 16 gray caddis remained on my line from Thursday evening, so I began prospecting the plunge pools. This lasted for ten minutes or so until I decided that I needed a larger attractor to catch the attention of the fish in these deep pools, and I also welcomed a more visible fly to follow in the morning sun glare.

Small Brown from Upper Frying Pan Took a Prince Nymph

Small Brown from Upper Frying Pan Took a Prince Nymph

I converted to a gray pool toy with a beadhead hares ear and beadhead pheasant tail as this combination was on fire on the tailwater the previous afternoon. These flies produced a small brown and rainbow, but I covered a vast quantity of stream real estate during a hour of fishing, and much of the water appeared to be too attractive to not yield fish.

I was dissatisfied with the catch rate, so I tried a prince nymph made with peacock ice dubbing along with a salvation nymph, and I switched the pool toy for a Chernobyl ant. These flies enabled me to add another small rainbow and brown to my tally along with a few more momentary hook ups. Unfortunately this was not the easy number padding attractor dry fly fishing that I anticipated, so I decided to cut my losses and return to the tailwater for the remainder of the day. Perhaps the fish were still sluggish due to the cold morning air temperatures, and maybe I didn’t allow enough time for the warmth of the sun to get things going, but all I could think about was my 29 fish day on Thursday. I asked myself the obvious question, why was I wasting my time on this small upper river, when I drove four hours to be at one of the best tailwater fisheries in the U.S.? Case closed.

Ruedi Reservoir – 09/11/2014

Time: 7:15PM – 8:00PM

Location: Inlet of Ruedi Creek

Fish Landed: 3

After a spectacular day of fishing on the Frying Pan River, one would think that I’d be ready to relax and toast the day with a cold beer. Unfortunately I still possess the “fly fishing disease”, and I was interested in returning to the reservoir for some evening fishing. In order to save time, I kept my waders on while I prepared and ate my basic dinner. After washing the dishes, I returned to the beach next to where Ruedi Creek enters the lake. Unlike Wednesday evening, however, I used my waders to cross the creek so I could cast from the western shore, and this enabled me to cast upstream and allow my flies to drift back with the current of Ruedi Creek and into the lake.

The tan Charlie Boy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and beadhead pheasant tail remained on my line from fishing the Frying Pan River, so I gave them a a try first. They were ignored so I tried a Chernobyl ant as the surface fly and swapped the pheasant tail for a zebra midge as I noticed quite a few midges swarming over the water. Unfortunately the fish disdained all three of these offerings, and I’d now used up 20 minutes of my precious daylight fishing time.

I decided to return to a size 16 gray deer hair caddis, since that fly at least producing two takes on Wednesday evening. Once again the caddis did the trick, and I landed three stocker rainbows before it got too dark to see my fly. One of the rainbows was around 12 inches. The evening fishing certainly did not compare to the afternoon on the Pan, but I did entertain myself with some productive dry fly fishing, and that is always a positive.

Frying Pan River – 09/11/2014

Time: 9:30AM – 5:30PM

Location: Began at the boundary with private water just above MM10 and continued until .3 mile above the spring

Fish Landed: 29

Frying Pan River 09/11/2014 Photo Album

If I told you that I spent a full day on the Frying Pan River and did not encounter a significant hatch, you would probably assume that I experienced a slow day. Is this what happened on Thursday, September 11?

The Frying Pan River is my favorite stream in the state of Colorado, and the foremost reason for this ranking is the consistently reliable hatches that occur throughout the summer months and continuing into October. Wednesday was a bit frustrating as three mayflies hatched simultaneously, and I was largely unable to solve the riddle and catch fish consistently. Despite this circumstance the 1.5 hour hatch was still a period of excitement, and I looked forward to a similar event on Thursday. One of the negatives to the Frying Pan River is the presence of a large number of guides and fishermen in the upper 2.5 miles of public water below the dam.

Same Fat Brown Held Over the Net

Same Fat Brown Held Over the Net

I was frustrated with bumping into other anglers and the resultant infringement on my ability to move about, as my style of fishing is definitely to move often and avoid dwelling in one area. The Taylor Creek fishing report suggested that the three major mayflies were hatching from MM8 all the way to the dam, and I have had several superb days in the water between MM10 and MM11. I decided to give this area a try on Thursday.

Thursday morning remained cool, but warmer than Wednesday, and the high temperature would eventually climb to 70 degrees. In the morning I wore my Under Armour shirt and fleece along with my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps, and I was comfortable until 11AM. When I ate lunch, I switched hats and removed my fleece layer, but by 3PM some clouds appeared, and it got quite breezy, so I pulled on my raincoat for the remainder of the day. The flows appeared to remain at 269 cfs as they were similar to Wednesday.

I began fishing just above the end of the private water near MM10 with a Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph, and RS2. In previous years I had success with the dry/dropper approach in the morning in this area, so I decided to test the approach one more time. I tossed the flies to a run in the narrow channel between the road and a tiny island, and a beautiful 15 inch brown hammered the Chernobyl ant. What a way to start my day!

From here I crossed to the side of the river away from the road and worked my way upstream prospecting all the likely pockets next to the overhanging branches and bushes. By 11:30 I had landed seven fish including a second fat 15 inch brown that came from a deep pocket along the bank. The RS2 that I began with was not producing, so I switched to a sunken black ant for a bit, and this actually yielded a small brown. The glow of the ant was short lived, however, so I switched to a beadhead hares ear as the top fly and moved the salvation nymph to the bottom position. The hares ear and salvation produced the other fish during the morning session.

Beautiful Frying Pan Rainbow

Beautiful Frying Pan Rainbow

After lunch I returned to just above the second island and fished back toward the spring along the left bank. In this area the left side of the river offered some deeper slots and pockets and appeared more attractive than the south shore. During this phase of my fishing adventure I added six more fish to my count including a large rainbow that slurped the Chernobyl ant and a chunky 14 inch brown from a short pocket next to the bushes that were tight to the bank.

The Brown Came from Pocket Along the Bank

The Brown Came from Pocket Along the Bank

Another Big Brown

Another Big Brown

 

When I reached the point where I was across from the Santa Fe and the spring, I began working my way across the river and prospected the pockets along the way. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 1:30, and I was surprised that I wasn’t seeing any green drakes or other mayflies for that matter. With the lack of any surface activity, I continued with the dry/dropper approach, and why not with twelve fish in my tally including some sizable browns and rainbows?

Across from the Spring

Across from the Spring

In a pool in the center of the river I hooked a small brown that jumped on the Chernobyl ant. The tiny brown attempted to escape by spinning numerous times, and this created a massive tangle that involved all three flies. Even after clipping off the two nymphs, I couldn’t unravel the mess above the Chernobyl ant, so I cut everything off and rebuilt my leader. Somehow in the process of doing this and stuffing the waste mono in my front pack so as not to litter, I must have knocked my Simms velcro fly box into the water. When I realized it was not longer present, I scanned the water around me including current breaks that may have trapped a floating fly box. But this was all in vain, and I was heartbroken when I realized I lost an entire box of flies that I diligently tied. On Wednesday I had stuffed the Simms box with an assortment of green drakes and pale morning duns tied specifically for the Frying Pan River, and these were now gone. In addition it contained 15 size 12 stimulators that I made for Argentina and two or three pool toys along with two yellow sallies and three or four lime green trudes. The loss of the Frying Pan specific flies and the stimulators really hurt. I’m not typically superstitious, but I could not help thinking that the small brown was number thirteen.

Since I’d lost my carefully constructed cache of Frying Pan mayfly imitations, I returned to the car and searched through my backup bins. Unfortunately I discovered that only a couple size fourteen green drakes remained, so I grabbed them along with some larger versions and a few additional cinnamon comparaduns. It was at this time that I also pulled on my raincoat as a windbreaker.

I returned to the middle of the river, and since I needed to tie on new flies, I decided to prospect with a green drake despite not seeing any in the air. In the past I’ve had success with green drakes as a searching fly since the fish seem to have a long memory for these large morsels. I selected a comparadun style imitation with an exaggerated tall wing and began to cover the water around me. The strategy paid off in a short amount of time as I landed number 14, but then the lack of a good tailing material caused the large fly to sink quickly after drying, so I replaced it with a parachute green drake. This fly looked great on the water, but it quickly generated three refusals, so I was forced to reevaluate.

Since I still was not seeing naturals on the water or in the air, I decided to return to the dry/dropper approach, and only switch back to dries if I witnessed surface rises or an abundance of duns in the air. I tied on a tan pool toy, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph and began to prospect the pockets, riffles and runs on the right side of the river.

Deep Colored Brown

Deep Colored Brown

The remainder of the afternoon was simply insane. I methodically worked my way upstream along the right bank and popped casts of the three fly combination in all the likely pockets. I rarely cast more than ten feet out from the bank as I covered much more of the south side of the river than I’d ever attempted on previous visits to this area. The three fly combination was magical as I landed another fifteen trout to reach 29 on the afternoon. The salvation nymph was the most productive of the three, but the hares ear attracted enough fish to justify remaining on the line.

And what about the tan pool toy? For some reason it seemed to attract large rainbow trout. I landed three more bows in the 15-18 inch range during the late afternoon, and each one surprised me by raising a big nose out of the depths of a pocket to slurp the large buoyant foam grasshopper imitation. What a blast!

As I advanced further away from the spring, the riverbed narrowed, and I was forced to cast to the increasingly small pockets right along the bank. Nearly every spot that looked fishy yielded trout, and I totally blanked out any concerns about a mayfly hatch. In one rare deviation from working the edge I cast to a deep pocket toward the center of the river and something immediately attacked my fly. I executed a swift hook set and the aquatic missile bolted into the heavy current downstream and popped off all the flies including the pool toy. I surmise this may have been a foul hooked fish that refused the pool toy, and my quick hook set dragged a trailing nymph into its body.

I was now forced to tie on three new flies so I went to a tan Charlie Boy hopper with yellow legs as my top fly, and in an effort to preserve my dwindling supply of salvation nymphs, I knotted a beadhead pheasant tail to my leader as the bottom fly. I was pleased to discover that the pheasant tail produced reasonably well during its stay on my line; however, I still feel the salvation’s fish attracting capabilities were superior.

Another Gorgeous Rainbow from the Frying Pan River

Another Gorgeous Rainbow from the Frying Pan River

By 5:30 when I decided to call it a day, I had worked my way .3 miles above the spring, and this was farther than I’d ever ventured in the past, but the steady action continued until at least 5PM. Near the end of my fishing I approached a gorgeous riffle with some decent depth where the current angled away from the bank and back toward the center of the river. I flicked a cast into the head of the riffle and almost instantly the hopper darted sideways, and I responded with a reflexive hook set. As I fought a large rainbow, I spotted another rainbow of similar size chasing the fish I hooked. I never saw a fish chase another similar sized large fish like this in my many years of fly fishing.

On the day I landed 29 fish including five rainbows in the 15-18 inch range and 3-4 brown trout between 14 and 15 inches. In addition a bunch of wild healthy 12-13 inch browns found their way into my net along with some smaller browns to fill out the day. It was just an amazing afternoon. I never observed any consistently rising fish, but once I got on a roll with my dry/dropper approach, I never gave it a second thought. I do not know if the hatches had moved upstream or whether the lack of a hatch was weather related. I had the entire area to myself with no conflict with other fishermen to be concerned about. Thursday September 11 may have been my best day ever on the Frying Pan River.

 

 

 

Ruedi Reservoir – 09/10/2014

Time: 7:30PM – 8:00PM

Location: Inlet of Ruedi Creek

Fish Landed: 1

I departed Jewel Pool at 5PM on Wednesday and drove the five miles to the Little Maud Campground at Ruedi Reservoir. I circled the campground once and selected site number 5 as it is on the western side of the loop and receives sun earlier in the morning than the locations tucked against the ridge on the eastern side. I quickly assembled my REI two person tent and made dinner and then cleaned the dishes. Since there was still daylight, I decided to take a brief walk to the lake, and when I arrived, I began noticing quite a few rings in the water created by rising fish.

Despite feeling weary from a long drive and a full day of fishing, I could not resist the urge to obtain my fly rod and cast to the source of the surface rings in the lake. I walked at a rapid pace back to the campsite and snagged my rod and front pack and returned to the beach area on the east side of Ruedi Creek. I tied on a size 16 gray caddis and began casting toward the area where the current from the stream fanned into the lake. It took quite a few casts and downstream drifts, but eventually I saw a swirl and set the hook. I felt some weight and quickly stripped in an eight inch stocker rainbow and then resumed fishing.

There were fish rising all along the shoreline to the left of the inlet, but I could not entice any additional takes in the still area, so I returned to casting toward the base of the inlet current. I did manage to connect on one additional fish that felt heavier than the one landed, but this fish managed to free itself before I could bring it close to the net.

By 8PM it got quite dark, so I reeled up my line and returned to the campsite. It was a fun half hour of casting, and I considered returning Thursday evening since I would not need to consume time putting the tent up.

Frying Pan River – 09/10/2014

Time: 11:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Island below Bush Rock riffle to Jewel Pool at Guide Lot.

Fish Landed: 17

Frying Pan River 09/10/2014 Photo Album

For the last month I anxiously anticipated a trip to the Flattop Wilderness to camp and fish the White River. The second week of September fit my schedule perfectly, and during several previous visits at this time of year, I enjoyed much success. Unfortunately when I told my friend Steve Supple that I was planning this outdoor venture, he suggested that I check the weather on the western slope. Sure enough, as I searched the weather site, I discovered that the Flattops area and in fact all of the western slope were under flash flood advisories for Monday and Tuesday. I can survive some rain while camping, but flash flooding did not strike me as conducive to fishing. Getting to the White River from Denver entails a four plus hour drive, and I decided I did not want to risk a trip of that magnitude only to discover swollen muddy fishing conditions.

I delayed my trip a day to see if the forecast did in fact become reality. When I checked the western slope freestone streams on Tuesday from work, I noted huge spikes on the graphs for the White River, Crystal River and Eagle River. Apparently the forecast was accurate. I noted, however, that the Frying Pan was running steadily at 269 cfs. The Taylor Creek web site called these flows ideal and announced that green drakes, pale morning duns and blue winged olives were hatching with regularity between mile marker eight and the dam. Next I checked the weather forecast for Basalt for Wednesday through Sunday, and saw a series of dry days with highs in the low 70’s. This clinched my decision, and I decided to make the trip to the Ruedi Reservoir campground where I would stay and fish the Frying Pan River. Meanwhile the weather forecast for Denver was much more adverse with warnings of snow on Friday and a high in the 50’s. Could the western slope weather really be that much more favorable than the Front Range? I made plans to find out.

I got off to a reasonably early start on Wednesday morning and arrived at the pullout above Deadfall Pool between MM11 and MM12 at 11:15AM. There was another fisherman in Deadfall Pool so I jumped into the area characterized by a cluster of tiny clumps of grass and small islands. I began my day on the Frying Pan with a Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph, and RS2; and two small browns gobbled the salvation nymph in the small nooks around the cluster island area.

Began Fishing on Wednesday Around This Cluster of Small Islands

Began Fishing on Wednesday Around This Cluster of Small Islands

I broke for lunch at 11:50 as I hadn’t eaten since early before my departure, and I also wanted to be ready in case a hatch commenced. The flows were indeed at 269 cfs, and it was a cool dry day with lots of clouds, and the high temperature probably reached 65 degrees. I took longer than usual on my lunch break, as I organized my fly box and stocked it with green drakes and pale morning duns in case I encountered a hatch of these insects during the afternoon.

After lunch I began at Bush Rock riffle. Bush Rock has a large protruding rock at the top and center position, and the rock has a bush growing from it. As I began casting, I spotted a nice brown trout on the left side of the rock and just below, and I dwelled on this fish. I tried a green drake comparadun with no success and then went through a series of PMD comparaduns of various colors including cinnamon, gray and yellow. None of these brought any interest from the brown so I eventually moved on to Angled Pool. Angled Pool is above and across from Bush Rock riffle and consists of a diamond shaped pool created by a current break where half the river flows toward the opposite bank and then deflects into a deep run. As I began to prospect Angled Pool, I began to see more green drakes and yellowish mayflies.

Scene of a Simultaneous Hatch of Green Drakes, PMD's and BWO's

Scene of a Simultaneous Hatch of Green Drakes, PMD’s and BWO’s

I returned to a green drake comparadun with a maroon thread rib, and this fly magically produced two beautiful rainbows, and then I added a small brown that rose at the top of the pool. I was pretty encouraged by this early afternoon action on the Frying Pan as I moved upstream to the very attractive deep pool directly across from where the Santa Fe was parked. The heavy current covers half the river and runs along the bank that borders the road. The other half of the river consists of a deep run along the main current and then a tapering slower moving pool. I stood at the tail of this pool at 1:30 when things got insane in a good way.

Nice Photo of Green Drake on My Net

Nice Photo of Green Drake on My Net

Suddenly the river came alive with a crazy hatch of green drakes, pale morning duns, and blue winged olives concurrently. I even saw quite a few caddis bouncing around in the midst of the three mayflies. Early during this hatch I landed three medium sized browns at the lower end of the pool on the maroon ribbed green drake comparadun size 14. But then frustration became the norm as my green drake was suddenly ignored. Fish were rising frequently through the length of the pool, but I was unable to find the secret. I tried a parachute green drake and another comparadun with a lighter body that I tied to imitate the flavs, but these were also regarded with scorn by the trout. I went back to the original maroon ribbed green drake version and managed to hook what felt like a bigger fish, but it wrapped my line around something in the middle of the stream and broke off the fly. As you can imagine, this provoked some choice words.

Trying to Get Underside

Trying to Get Underside

This is where my stubborn persistence personality trait got in the way. For some reason I fell into the trap of believing that if I worked hard and cast diligently, I could convince the fish to take my fly. Fish don’t work that way. When my green drake got ignored, I should have tested a pale morning dun or blue winged olive. In all likelihood, the trout sensed a greater density of one of these other forms of foods and switched their preference. Hopefully I can learn a lesson from this experience.

Crippled PMD

Crippled PMD

The hatch waned after 1.5 hours so I decided to move on. There was a terrible glare on the water by this time, but I did see a trout near my feet gulp some lighter colored mayflies that were a size in between the green drakes and pale morning duns. I had placed a pair of  light green comparaduns in my fly box, so I tied one of these on and moved to a short deep pocket along the bank just above the long pool that I just vacated.

I tossed the light olive comparadun to the edge of the faster water of the pocket and almost instantly saw a swirl and set the hook. A huge head appeared, and I was shocked to see a massive rainbow thrashing in the tight quarters of the small pocket. I maintained pressure, and the giant fish ponderously swam downstream into the larger pool, and I followed it until I could apply side pressure. I brought it around below me to the shallow water and extended my net to scoop and lift it for a photograph and a gentle release. Unfortunately my net proved to be too small. I managed to get the fish on top of the net so that it covered the opening and one third of the fish extended beyond the tip of the net. My net opening measures 15 inches so this arithmetic yields a fish in excess of twenty inches. The fish refused to collapse in the net, and instead executed a huge flop and crashed back in the river and then slowly swam farther downstream to some heavier current. As I started to follow it again, it made a sudden move and snapped off the point fly. What a beast! This was the largest fish of the season and perhaps the largest fish I ever landed in Colorado.

I was still shaking from the encounter with the Frying Pan goliath as I continued up along the south side of the south braid of the river where it splits around a long narrow island. This movement required quite a bit of bushwhacking, but I was anxious to reach the pool below the large rectangular rock near the tip of the island. Unfortunately when I arrived, I discovered another fisherman occupying the pool, so I continued around rectangular rock to the pockets on the south bank. I contemplated crossing at this point, but I quickly discovered the current was too swift. As I contemplated my next move, I returned to the Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph and RS2 as the hatches had essentially ended.

I prospected the pockets above where I attempted to cross and landed two medium browns on the salvation nymph, but now I faced a long narrow whitewater chute, so I returned to the bank and fought through some more bushes until I reached a small side pool below the large run and pool at MM12. Despite my certainty that the pool would produce a fish, it failed me, so I tossed my three flies into the next marginal pocket, and this yielded another brown trout. Between the juicy pool and MM12 I experienced two additional long distance releases, and when the fish shook free, the taught line snapped skyward and lodged in a tree adding more frustration to my day.

Hops at MM12 Pull Out

Hops at MM12 Pull Out

The large MM12 pool was mobbed with guides and fishermen, so I climbed back up the bank and skirted the area until I reached the tip of another island. Here the river was fairly wide and shallow, and I knew I could cross back to the road. Before doing so, however, I began working my way upstream and fished the pockets and riffles on the south side of the river. This tactic built my fish count to 15 as small and medium browns began taking the salvation nymph, particularly when I added movement to the flies. In two instances a fish attacked my fly when I purposely made bad mends.

As 4 o’clock passed by, the guides departed, and this created more space for movement, so I decided to visit Jewel Pool next to the guide parking lot. In this juicy area I landed two additional medium browns that grabbed the salvation nymph as I imparted movement to the fly.

The large rainbow was clearly the high point of the day and made up for much of the frustration that resulted from fish ignoring my flies during a dense mayfly hatch spectacle. A seventeen fish day is decent, but other than the large rainbow, the size was lacking compared to many of my previous visits. Despite this criticism, I have to acknowledge that I spent the morning driving from Denver, and seventeen fish in a half day of fishing is a fine accomplishment. I still had Thursday and Friday ahead of me, and the 1.5 hour hatch was rather exciting.

 

 

Clear Creek – 09/07/2014

Time: 11:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: After Tunnel 3 and before stream development area with signs about gold panning

Fish Landed: 13

Clear Creek 09/07/2014 Photo Album

After a spectacular day on Friday on the Arkansas River, I was seeking some easy nearby fishing. I had not fished in Clear Creek since a day very early in the season, and the flows had finally dropped to decent levels, so I decided to give the local stream a try. The DWR web site indicated that streamflows were at 100 CFS, and this level is in the ideal range. The weather was relatively nice with high temperatures forecast to reach the low 80’s with minimal chance of precipitation.

I took my time on Sunday morning as I knew I could make the drive to Clear Creek Canyon in less than an hour. Construction on the short tunnels at Idaho Springs made it difficult to fish in that stretch of water, so I began experimenting with fishing in Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden last year in the fall. I had one fairly productive day in the western end of the canyon near the point where the stream widens and stream improvements had taken place, so I targeted this as my destination. I was shocked to see most of the pullouts filled with cars as I drove along highway 6, but I did not observe many fishermen in the creek, so the owners of the vehicles must have been pursuing other recreational activities.

When I reached the stream improvement area, I did notice quite a few fishermen, so I executed a U-turn and drove east for a mile and parked along the shoulder above a steep bank. I prepared to fish and then hiked east along the shoulder of the busy highway for .3 miles to a point where the bank was not as intimidating. As I carefully negotiated the path to a break in the willows, I noticed some young kids ten yards below me in the shadow of some bushes next to the creek, so I angled to the west and found an opening. I decided to begin with a tan Charlie Boy hopper and beadhead hares ear and then added a copper john as the point fly. Unfortunately I discovered a difficult tangle in my line, and this stymied my enthusiasm for getting my flies on the water..

As I stewed over the tangle, I heard the sounds of clanking rocks, so I looked around the willows and noticed two young men dressed in waders. They didn’t have fishing rods, but they had a large five gallon plastic white bucket and appeared to be turning over rocks to collect bait or insects. Finally they moved upstream a bit and came into view, so I asked if they were fishing, and if I was in their path? They quickly responded that they were not fishing, and conversely they were panning for gold. I do not know much about this activity, but I never saw goldpanners turning over rocks, but I  suppose there are different techniques involved in this popular recreational activity.

At any rate, they indicated that they did not plan to move upstream farther, so I refocused on my tangle and finally had my flies configured in a desirable manner and began to fish. My goal was to have a fun afternoon of mindless fishing that entailed catching a bunch of small fish on dry flies. The gorgeous pool above my starting point amazingly did not produce a single fish, so I should have taken this as an ominous sign. I continued above the pool and covered quite a bit of attractive water before I finally landed a small brown that attacked the Charlie Boy hopper. Shortly after this a ten inch brown slammed the Charlie Boy, and I landed a second fish. Unfortunately it took an hour of focused fishing, a lot of casting, and difficult wading to produce two relatively small fish.

Best Fish from Clear Creek

Best Fish from Clear Creek

I was convinced there were more fish than indicated by my fish totals, so I switched to a stimulator. This fly also produced two small browns, but the catch rate continued to be slow, and deep pools continued to be unproductive. In addition to the lack of rises or takes, I could see fish in several clear pockets that avoided my surface and subsurface flies.

At 1PM I adjourned for lunch and walked back to the car. I sat on the shoulder of the road and observed the stream below me. During this time I witnessed quite a few yellow sallies and a smattering of blue winged olives. I resolved to change my approach after lunch so when I returned to my exit point, I covered the lower end of a very attractive pool for a second time. This time, however, I returned to a dry/dropper approach with a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and soft hackle emerger. Perhaps I should have started with my workhorse Chernobyl, and maybe the fish were looking for subsurface blue winged olive nymphs and emergers.

Once again my thought process was apparently flawed. I could not find the key to the supposedly naive Clear Creek brown trout. I landed one or two maverick fish that apparently did not get the message about my unappetizing flies, but much to my surprise, the soft hackle emerger wasn’t doing anything. I decided to remove it and replaced it with a salvation nymph. Finally I had a stretch where I landed three or four brown trout on the salvation particularly when I gave the flies a lift near the end of the drift. I thought I was on to something, but this short streak of action quickly ended, and I was back to covering large swaths of water for a few small fish.

Clear Creek at 100 CFS

Clear Creek at 100 CFS

I was getting frustrated and it was late afternoon when I approached a spot where there was a wide reach of slack water along the bank on the south shore directly across form me. A strong white water current ripped down the center of the creek, but I decided to try drifting my three flies through the slow moving water by holding my rod very high and keeping much of the fly line off the water. This did not produce, but as I was doing this, I spotted a fish hanging a foot below the surface obviously looking for food in the slow moving surface film. In fact it rose subtly and sipped while I was watching. Next I noticed a second fish a bit upstream and closer to the far bank, and this fish was exhibiting similar behavior.

I clipped off the trio of flies and tied on a yellow sally, as I saw a few stoneflies fluttering above the stream. I executed a nice cast and a quick mend and placed the stonefly above the fish that was furthest downstream. I held my breath as the visible fish slowly swam to the surface and put its nose against my fly, but it refused to gobble my offering. I tried for the upper fish which required a longer cast, and received a similar rejection. Could these fish be taking blue winged olive adults? I clipped off the yellow sally and tied on a size 20 CDC olive and began to cast to the lower fish. On the third cast the fish rose and sipped in my fly, and I quickly skipped it over the fast center current and netted it. It was quite gratifying to finally dupe an eight inch brown trout.

I continued casting to the upper fish, but my initial casts were not long enough, and out of nowhere a second brown jumped on the small BWO imitation. This fish also found a home in my net, and then I resumed making long reach casts to the upper fish. Unfortunately I could never interest this fish in my fly perhaps because I was generating instant drag. I decided to end my day on the positive note of landing two fish on a tiny dry fly. Easy fish that enabled me to pad my fish count was my goal. It did not play out that way. Fly fishing can be a contrarian pastime. When one expects easy fishing, it doesn’t happen, and red hot fishing can take place when one least expects it. Go figure.

Arkansas River – 09/05/2014

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Chafee – Fremont County line

Fish Landed: 34

Arkansas River 09/05/2014 Photo Album

Over the last four or five years the Arkansas River has grown to become my favorite stream within a day trip of Denver. The quantity and size of fish has improved, and the ratio of rainbow trout has increased, but perhaps the greatest attraction to this large river is the abundant amount of easily accessible public water. Because of the size of the river, I can avoid other fishermen even during popular times such as during the caddis hatch in the pre-runoff period.

Arkansas River From RR Tracks

Arkansas River From RR Tracks

Unfortunately for some reason I did not experience any productive days during the early season in 2014. I did visit the river for some solid edge fishing in early July, but even that trip did not deliver the hot fishing I expected. As Labor Day passed, I was anxious to return to my favorite river, and Friday September 5 was the opportunity. Would I be disappointed once again?

Bugs All Over the Flowers

Bugs All Over the Flowers

Jane loves the Angel of Shavano Campground, and it is situated at the trailhead for climbing Mount Shavano, so we planned a long weekend camping trip to that location. Unfortunately the weather forecast called for a high probability of rain on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so we debated whether we should cancel our plan or forge ahead. We chose the latter course and packed the car and took off by 5PM on Thursday. As we drove southwest on highway 285, we could see dark clouds to the southwest, and sure enough as we reached Poncha Springs and began driving west toward Monarch Pass we encountered light rain.

By the time we reached the campground it was dark and raining lightly, so we quickly found site number 12 along the creek and assembled our tent. It rained most of the night, and when we woke up on Friday morning, it was quite bleak and dreary with mist and fog shrouding the entire narrow valley. The forecast suggested even a higher chance of rain on Friday, so we decided to eat breakfast and pack up everything except the tent.

Jane, being the wonderful wife that she is, dropped me off at the Chaffee – Fremont County line along highway 50 where I gathered all my essentials for a day of fishing. Jane then returned to the campground and completed one of her favorite hikes to the Blanks Cabin along the Colorado Trail on the way to Mount Shavano. When she returned, she earned wife of the year honors as she rolled up the still wet tent and tarp and packed everything into the Santa Fe. She then drove to the pull out where I was dropped off and enjoyed the remainder of her afternoon reading along a busy highway and waiting for me to finish my fishing.

I meanwhile descended the bank at the county line and crossed the river to the opposite shore where I climbed the steep bank to the railroad tracks and walked east until I was quite a distance below the small island that is one of my favorite spots on the entire river. The sky remained quite overcast and the air temperature was in the low 50’s as I began at 10AM. The flows were at 380 cfs, and this level is actually lower than average for September 5 despite a high snow pack and more than average rain during the summer.

Nice Stretch of Water

Nice Stretch of Water

The river looked spectacular, as it was crystal clear and low enough to allow coverage of almost any location I wished to explore. I debated which rod to use, but eventually opted for my Sage four piece four weight. I also considered using the thingamabobber nymph set up that I learned from Taylor Edrington, but when I saw the low clear flows, I elected to begin with a dry/dropper rig. I began with a Chernobyl ant trailing a beadhead hares ear and a salvation nymph. This three fly combination has become my preferred choice for beginning my fishing in 2014.

Early Brown on Beadhead Pheasant Tail

Early Brown on Beadhead Pheasant Tail

It worked well, and I accumulated seven fish in the first hour while covering some very attractive deep runs and slower moving side pools. When I reached the bottom tip of the small island and worked up along the south side, I added a few more small fish, and these were included in my seven count. I considered converting to something smaller for the small channel that runs along the north side of the island, but my initial flies were performing well, so I stayed with success. Unfortunately the nymphs snagged on rocks in the nice pockets at the bottom of the right channel, and this forced me to disturb the water and spook several decent fish.

Parachute Hopper Duped This Guy

Parachute Hopper Duped This Guy

I moved to the tail of the nice deep pool at the lower end of the channel and began lobbing the Chernobyl and nymphs, but the fish were having none of them, and I knew that there were plenty of fish present. I decided to switch gears, and I tied on a yellow sally and dropped a beadhead RS2 off the bend. I began to see an occasional blue winged olive fluttering up from the river surface, so I felt the fish might be tuned in to the active BWO nymphs. Unfortunately this theory did not prove out at this point in the day, so I made another change and tied on a parachute hopper with a hares ear body, and below that large fly I added the beadhead hares ear and a soft hackle emerger.

My success rate went through the roof, and I landed twelve more trout as I worked my way up through the right braid around the island. Initially the parachute hopper was drawing refusals, but then I enticed some fish to grab the hares ear, and by the time I reached the top of the island, all three flies were producing. The fish were somewhat smaller than what I experienced on some previous trips to this area, but they were +12 inches on average, and the two that slurped the parachute hopper were quite nice and measured in the 15 inch range.

A Very Fine Rainbow

A Very Fine Rainbow

When I reached the top of the island, I decided to cross the river to fish a very juicy deep run where the river deflects off a large vertical rock wall. Here I landed a gorgeous fifteen inch rainbow in the oxygenated white water at the head of the riffle, and then I followed that with a 14 inch brown that grabbed the hares ear on a downstream drift next to the rock wall. I was at 21 as I glanced at my watch and realized it was approaching 1PM, and I had committed to returning to the drop off point by one o’clock for lunch in case Jane was back from her hike. Since I was near the side of the river that bordered the road, I continued across to the shore and climbed a path to the highway and returned to the county line.

I had my lunch in my backpack, so I found a nice location and perched above the river on a high rock wall and observed the water as I ate. As I gazed at the deep pool below me, I spotted two decent fish, and they were sipping something small from the surface on a fairly regular basis. One fish appeared to be a large rainbow, and it held in a steady position and drifted up occasionally. The other fish tended to move about and covered a twenty foot area from the head of the pool to a spot right below my lunch spot. I could also see that there were very tiny mayflies drifting in the current, so this was probably driving their feeding behavior.

Pink Striped Rainbow

Pink Striped Rainbow

When I finished my lunch I grabbed my rod and decided to make some casts to the deep pool below me. I targeted the rainbow since it was stationary and easier to fish to. I stripped out a bunch of line and began lobbing casts above the fish, and on several drifts it looked at the parachute hopper but scoffed at my offering. Next I began drifting my flies ten feet above the position of the fish, and then when the hopper was just over the fish, I lifted in an effort to imitate an emerging blue winged olive with my trailing soft hackle emerger. Miraculously on the tenth drift and lift, the rainbow reacted and snatched my fly. I now scrambled down a steep path while stretching my arm out to keep pressure on the rainbow, and eventually I maneuvered on to a small beach and brought the fish to my net. It was a very nice seventeen inch rainbow, and I snapped a photo for the archives.

This disturbance scattered the other fish, so I retreated to the car and hiked back along the  highway and carefully picked my way back down the path that I used to exit the river for lunch. Once I was at river level I crossed back to the north bank and began working my way upstream along the right bank. The rest of the afternoon was spent prospecting with the three flies to all the likely pockets, runs and pools. Because the water level was low, I was able to explore areas toward the middle of the river, but despite my ability to cover more of the river, the pockets next to the bank were the most productive.

A Very Nice Wild Brown Trout

A Very Nice Wild Brown Trout

The action in the afternoon was steady but not as frequent as the morning session; however, the slower catch rate was more than offset by the larger size of the fish. After an hour or so I grew weary of continually drying the dubbed body of the parachute hopper, so I replaced it with a tan Charlie Boy hopper. I simply wanted something more buoyant, and I was not catching many fish on the top fly. What a move! Five of the last six fish slurped the foam hopper confidently, and these fish put up spirited battles before sliding into my net. They were all fish in the 13-15 inch range. I covered a lot more water during this time period, but I was rewarded for my persistence and stealth.

Stretched in Front of the Net

Stretched in Front of the Net

By 3:45PM I was in a position across from the county line, and I could see Jane seated in her chair behind the Santa Fe. I continued on upstream for a bit and skipped the long deep pool, and then I prospected some nice pockets. Unfortunately by this time the sun was lower in the sky, and it created a difficult glare on the water, so I decided to call it quits.

Rainbow in the Net

Rainbow in the Net

Friday September 5 turned out to be my best trip to the Arkansas River in 2014 and perhaps one of my best visits ever. Thirty plus fish in a day is always a positive, but at least ten fish were in the 14 – 15 inch range and 25% were rainbows, and this combination of factors elevated this outing to outstanding. The dry/dropper technique was on fire, and I love fishing using this method. September fishing is typically the best of the year, and it is off to a grand start in 2014.

Stretched Out to 15"

Stretched Out to 15″

Jane's Roadside Campsite

Jane’s Roadside Campsite