Time: 9:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Stagecoach tailwater.
After a fun day of fly fishing on the Yampa River with my friend Steve on June 28, I drove to my reserved campsite on the McKindley Loop at Stagecoach State Park. After setting up my small REI tent, eating a light dinner, and washing the dishes; I decided to make the short drive to scout the Yampa tailwater. When I checked the DWR stream flow data before departing from Denver, it displayed 34 cfs, and I concluded that level suggested low flows and technical fishing. When I arrived at the tailwater on Wednesday evening and inspected the river, I was pleasantly surprised. The level was indeed low, but the stream actually looked quite inviting, and the appeal was enhanced by the numerous rising fish in several of the pools. My fishing gear was in the car, but I decided to pass on evening fishing and save my energy for Thursday.
I logged three days on the Yampa within the town of Steamboat Springs over the last week, and I was seeking some variety in my destinations. The pale morning dun hatch seemed to be waning in town, and the tube traffic was building, so I decided to devote a morning and perhaps a day to fishing the tailwater. I camped within a mile of the parking lot, so why not take advantage of my proximity, get an early start, and procure a prime spot in the popular area? I was struggling to remember what time I committed to meet Jane in Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon, so I drove west until I was nearly at the intersection with CO 131, and I finally obtained a mobile signal strong enough to make a phone call. When I connected with Jane, she informed me that our original meet time was 4PM, so I asked her to slide it until 5PM in case a late afternoon hatch developed. I encountered a heavy pale morning dun hatch on several prior year afternoon visits to the tailwater.
My plans were now in place, so I quickly reversed my direction and drove to the parking lot above the Yampa tailwater. One other car occupied a space in the parking lot when I arrived, and a cyclist on a mountain bike cruised in to use the restroom facility, while I was preparing to fish. The tailwater contains an abundant quantity of large fish, so I chose my Sage One five weight, as it provided a stronger backbone for fighting larger fish. I was nearly ready to begin my walk to the river, when I realized that I did not have my brown cowboy hat. I launched into a mad search in the back of the Santa Fe. The rear of the vehicle was stuffed with bins for camping, camping equipment, cycling gear, and fishing bags. I was unable to find my hat, and I began mulling over the sequence of events on Wednesday, and where I could have possibly misplaced my hat. I concluded that I may have left it behind at the gazebo or bathroom at Howelsen Hill, and I was meeting Jane there, so there was a chance I could retrieve it then. More than likely it remained in the back of the car, but because of the cluttered situation, and my inability to open the hatch due to the presence of two bicycles, I was unable to locate it. This thought consoled me a bit, but I was admittedly out of sorts when the cyclist emerged from the bathroom and greeted me.
We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me he was on a bicycle race from Banff, Canada to the U.S. – Mexico border. He was riding a mountain bike, and carried no panniers, therefore I was a bit surprised by this revelation. He went on to tell me that he was nearly in last place, and he shared drinks in Steamboat with one of his competitors who had already finished! I wished him the best on the remainder of his journey, and I grabbed my Los Angeles Angels ball cap, and proceeded to the river. I made a beeline for my favorite pool just above the section where the DOW modified the stream and installed fencing to promote streamside vegetation.
I was pleased to see the fishermen who preceded me postioned downstream of my desired destination, and the entire area that I favor was wide open. As was the case on Wednesday evening, the flows seemed nearly ideal with plenty of room to move up and down the river between the water and the fencing. I moved immediately to the right topmost section of the pool. I actually intended to cross above the pool, so I could position myself on the opposite bank for more favorable lighting, but I noticed six or seven large fish between a jumble of exposed rocks next to the bank. I could not resist the temptation to cast to these visible fish. I tied a size fourteen light yellow stimulator to my line to imitate the golden stoneflies that I observed on Wednesday on the Yampa in town. If they were present downstream, why would they not be here as well?
While this was transpiring, another fisherman arrived and began to fish in the lower portion of the pool. I immediately rued my decision to dally at the top, as I now assumed it cost me a position on the wide lower section. I added a salvation nymph below the stimulator, and then knotted a small black beauty beneath the salvation. The fish were not impressed with this lineup, but one visible target rose periodically, and a host of midges buzzed about over the river, so I removed the nymphs and tied a griffiths gnat below the stimulator in a double dry fly configuration. The change allowed me to prick the riser, but it flipped free of the tiny size 22 griffiths gnat in an instant.
I gained my position by camping nearby and arriving early, and now I was in danger of losing my favorite pool to the recent invader. These thoughts weighed on my mind, so I resurrected my original intent, and I crossed the river in some shallow pockets, and then I slowly negotiated the weak path to the bottom of the pool on the opposite side. This was my original destination before getting diverted. As I anticipated, the move gained me more favorable lighting, and I could now scan the area for trout. What a sight! I was stunned to see large fish everywhere. I am not certain why I used the word stunned, because I visited Stagecoach many times, but the scene always causes my heart rate to elevate. A quick scan from left to right yielded large fish at my feet, bruisers above me in a run and shallow riffle area, and numerous beauties in the gut of the pool across from me.
I initiated some casts with the stimulator and gnat, and I was shocked when a fourteen inch rainbow smacked the big stimulator. I was convinced that the large fly was mostly an inidicator, since the Yampa tailwater trout prefer tiny midge and mayfly imitations. I continued casting to the pool in the early morning and built the fish count to five. Not surprisingly I was quite pleased with this performance on a waterway populated by educated trout. Twenty minutes after landing fish number one, I concluded that the griffiths gnat was not on the menu, so I clipped it off and implemented a three fly configuration that included a RS2 on top and a salad spinner on the bottom. I spied a couple tiny BWO’s on the water, and this prompted the RS2. Two of the first five trout rose to the stimulator, one grabbed the RS2, and two inhaled the salad spinner. The Yampa trout preferred a diverse menu.
At one point toward eleven o’clock the thread on the popular midge emerger pattern unraveled, and I replaced it with a fresh version, but for some reason this preceded a lengthy lull in action. I continued spraying casts in all directions, but the fish ignored my offerings in spite of their continuous surface sipping. They were hungry, but not for the food I was presenting. I anticipated a pale morning dun emergence, and I remembered that I neglected to place my lunch in my backpack, so at 11:30 I reluctantly abandoned my precious position and returned to the car.
On the way to the car I passed another fisherman on his way to the river, and he quipped, “Was I making the fish wiser?”. When I reached the car I hastily stuffed my lunch in my backpack, and then I stocked additional salad spinners and yellow stimulators in my fly boxes. When I returned to my pool, the same gentleman who exchanged greetings with me occupied my space. Fortunately he chose the top right corner where I began my day, so I crossed at the lip and resumed my position from the morning.
The pace of trout feeding in the pool accelerated, but I was unable to discern the cause other than swarms of miniscule gnats with cream or light gray bodies. My fly box contained nothing to imitate this food source, so I found a flat rock and munched my lunch. After lunch I resumed casting to the pool. Since I did not carry any viable dry fly imitations of the midges, I searched and found a tiny size 24 midge larva with a cream body, and I replaced the salad spinner. In an effort to reverse my fortunes, I advanced to the top left corner of the pool where a pair of small deep pockets attracted my attention.
I began making casts to the second pocket over from the left bank, and this resulted in short drifts before the flies accelerated through a fast chute at the lip. I was rewarded for my willingness to move, when a fat sixteen inch brown trout slashed at and gobbled the stimulator. This was the third trout from the notoriously picky Yampa tailwater residents that grabbed a size 14 stimulator. I was pleased that my early hunch about stoneflies was proving correct. The latest stimulator eater proved to be my first and only brown trout on the day, although I foul hooked one and played another for an extended time before it escaped. In the latter case after losing the brown I inpsected my flies and discovered that the hook point of the size 24 cream midge larva was broken off. I tied the midge pattern twenty years ago, so it was undoubtedly beyond its shelf life.
Could the five by seven pocket contain more fish? You bet. On a later cast the stimulator dipped, and I found myself attached to another powerful rainbow trout in the fifteen inch range. After another lull in action I turned my attention to the small shelf pocket along the left bank, but it failed to deliver fish. The fish count was now perched at seven, and I recall thinking that Thursday was a success even if the last two hours failed to produce. Several fishermen were above the pool that I dwelled in thus preventing farther progress upstream, so I once again retreated to the tail area.
Since I rested the main pool for a lengthy period, while I explored the top left area, I once again fanned casts upstream, up and across, and then directly across. The fish in the heart of the pool continued to rise on an irregular basis, and I fully expected a decent pale morning dun hatch at any moment. Periodically I saw a PMD float by, and then I witnessed a rainbow as it ingested one nearby just as the bug attempted to launch into flight. I decided to convert to a size 18 cinnamon comparadun. The change paid off when another fourteen inch rainbow sipped the dry fly in the riffle area directly above me, but this success proved to be fleeting, as the remaining denizens of the pool shunned my offering.
I once again abandoned the pool and shifted my attention to the section downstream. Of course my departure enabled another fisherman, who previously focused on the top right corner, to command the entire pool, and he waded into the center. Meanwhile I was at the top of the next section where the main current sliced the river in half with nice deep shelf pools on each side. The section was probably 25 yards long and the strong center run fanned out into a slow moving pool on the bottom third. Trout were stacked all along the shelf pool on my side of the river, and I began fluttering the cinnamon comparadun along the current seam.
The beauty of drifting flies over large visible trout is being able to observe their reaction. In this case the reaction of the fish was to ignore my offering. I was disappointed, but at least I determined that the cinnamon comparadun was not on the menu. I redirected my efforts to a dry/dropper with a yellow bodied pool toy, beadhead hares ear, and beadhead pheasant tail. I speculated that the faster current and depth were amenable to the larger flies. My theory was somewhat correct, as I connected with a trout for a split second at the very top of the run where the main current curled around an exposed boulder, but this momentary action was succeeded by another period of futile casting.
I concluded I could not fool the Phd’s, and I returned to my favorite pool, albeit along the bank that bordered the path. Fish continued to rise sporadically throughout the wide attractive main section in front of me, but what were they eating? By now I expected to see a pale morning dun emergence, and an occasional size 16 or 18 mayfly did make an appearance, so I reverted to the size 18 cinnamon comparadun. I executed some very nice downstream drag free drifts, but I only succeeded in generating refusals. As this scenario unfolded, I noticed a larger mayfly with a light olive coloration, and this prompted me to test a size 14 sulfur comparadun. Almost immediatley a decent trout rose to inspect my new offering, but it turned away at the last minute with a splashy rebuke.
For the first time in awhile the top of the pool was vacant, so I decided to explore some nice deep runs and pockets along the right side. The gentleman who claimed my pool earlier dwelled in the area for quite awhile, so it apparently offered some attraction. I crossed in the riffle in the center of the pool and positioned myself to begin with the pocket that yielded two fish earlier. I was also now in a solid place to cast to a nice eddy with an angled outflow. I removed the sulfur comparadun and returned to the size 18 cinnamon comparadun, and although I made a large number of casts, I landed three more rainbow trout in the 14 – 16 inch range. One came from the pocket that produced earlier, and two materialized from the area with the angled outflow.
Next I slid to the left bank and made some drifts in another short pocket above the popular pool. On the fifth pass a rainbow chomped the fake dun, and after it felt the hook point, it streaked to the top of the pocket and leaped out of the water. I managed to maintain solid contact and weathered the escape tactics, until I lifted the writhing rainbow trout toward my outstretched net. The escape artist executed a late wiggle and dropped back in the river. Number twelve was a blast to fight, but a photo was not obtained.
I committed to meet Jane in Steamboat Springs by 5PM, and I needed to quit fishing by 4PM to fulfill this obligation. It was 3:45, so I waded to the side of the river bordered by the road and circled around some trees and bushes. I arrived at the same place where I began my day. Three or four exposed boulders forced the river to cut deep channels, and the separation and merging of the river created erratic swirling currents. I spotted five or six large trout in this small area, and one rose several times in front of a boulder right before a steep plunge. I tossed ten casts, and my fly generated several looks but no takes. The naturals appeared to be light yellow, so I swapped the cinnamon variety for a size 18 light gray compardun. Three casts later the wary riser mistook my fly for a natural. A brief battle ensued, but I eventually viewed another superb healthy rainbow trout in my net.
I snapped some photos, released number thirteen, and glanced at my watch to note that it was 4:05. I hustled back to the Santa Fe and managed to greet Jane at the Howelsen Hill gazebo by four o’clock precisely.
What a fun day! I landed thirteen trout, and nearly all were in the fourteen to sixteen inch range. I fished almost continuously for seven hours, and I never strayed more than twenty yards from where I started. Large visible fish were packed tightly in this small space, and I managed to land double digit numbers of these educated cold water stream dwellers. Wow!
Fish Landed: 13