Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Above Spike Buck access and then downstream from the parking area in the afternoon
Fish Landed: 6
I fished once in February for roughly three hours on the South Platte River below Deckers on a day when every fisherman with cabin fever in Colorado decided to venture outside to enjoy the abnormally nice weather. I failed to land any fish, and this brief experience served to wet my appetite for a legitimate fishing day. I examined the weather forecast regularly in hopes that there would be another nice spring day, and sure enough the high for Denver on March 13 was projected to touch the low 60’s.
Meanwhile the Royal Gorge Angler web site announced the arrival of molting golden stoneflies in the Arkansas River corridor and the presence of blue winged olives in Canon City and lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The confluence of these factors was all I needed to schedule a day trip to the Arkansas River on Thursday March 13.
As I left the house on Thursday morning I felt both excitement and apprehension. Ever since the first day of trout season in Pennsylvania during my youth, I get extra excited for my first serious fishing outing of the year. At the same time there was a sliver of doubt that I could still catch fish after a winter layoff. I knew the air temperature would be quite chilly in the morning, but I left the house at 7:20 in spite of this sound reasoning. It was my first day trip to the Arkansas River, and I have to admit that there was an extra dose of adrenaline circulating through my body.
My lack of patience haunted me as I encountered heavy rush hour traffic at the junction of I225 and I25, but once I negotiated this slow stretch, I resumed normal speeds and made the trip in three hours. The dashboard thermometer displayed 49 degrees as I turned into the pullout .5 mile upstream from the Spike Buck access area, but when I exited the car it felt more like the upper thirties with a cutting wind slicing through my shirt. I decided to wear my down vest in addition to my Adidas pullover and supplmented these layers with my recently purchased New Zealand fishing hat.
Because of the wind and the likelihood of cold water temperatures, I assumed that I’d be fishing deep most of the day, so I assembled my Sage 9 foot, 4 weight and then configured my nymphing rig using a Thingamabobber and five foot section of level 3X line. When I was ready, I walked down the road for two-tenths of a mile or so and scrambled down a steep rocky bank to the river. The flow was fairly normal for March, but some low level snowmelt upstream was causing a tinge of cloudiness, although I concluded the clarity would not be an issue.
I began my day with an Arkansas rubber leg to imitate the lighter coloration of molting stoneflies, and then I knotted a copper john to the point 18 inches below the stonefly. I reminded myself that I committed to using the copper john more frequently, and when would a better scenario present itself than slightly murky cold early season flows? This was all sound reasoning but I fished a twenty yard stretch of river with no action, and it was now approaching 11AM, so I decided to abandon the copper john and put my faith in an RS2. This proved to be a solid move and I hooked but failed to land a fish that apparently spit out the tiny RS2.
After this second failure of the season to land a hooked fish, I experienced another unproductive period, and the Arkansas rubber legs wasn’t doing anythng, so I clipped it off and replaced it with a Dave’s beadhead hares ear. The hares ear and RS2 combination finally paid dividends, and I landed a skinny 12 inch brown on the RS2 by 11:30AM. This was my first landed fish of the year, so I paused to photograph the spunky brown just above the water and quickly returned it to the icy flows. After reading an article about the significant increase in mortality when exposing a trout to air for more than 30 seconds, I’ve pledged to really limit my photography to shots of fish still in the water or held just above the water, and I honored my pledge on Thursday.
I decided to move along at a more rapid pace as the key seemed to be covering a lot of water, and by noon I’d landed two more small brown trout on the beadhead hares ear. It was good to discover that both the RS2 and hares ear were capturing the attention of the Arkansas River brown trout.
By noon my left hand was curled and stiff and displayed the appearance of a red claw, so I quickly returned to the Santa Fe and the welcome shelter from the wind and ate my lunch while my hands warmed up. After lunch I attempted to fish without my down vest and New Zealand hat, but after moving to the edge of the water just below the car, a stiff wind kicked up and made me reconsider. I returned to the car and added a fleece layer to the Adidas pullover and donned my New Zealand hat once again.
After another slow period I abandoned the hares ear and RS2 and experimented with a 20 incher and BWO emerger. The reports stated that the stoneflies got darker after molting thus my move to the 20 incher; and my thinking suggested that perhaps the fish would more readily see the soft hackle emerger in the slightly olive-tinged water. From 12:30 until 2:00PM I continued working my way upstream and covered a lot of water before I added a fourth fish from a nice deep run in the channel closest to the road that flowed around a small island. Shortly after this I snagged a rock or stick and ripped off both flies so I tried an iron sally and returned to the RS2.
Very few fishermen were present on the Arkansas River on Thursday, but as I moved around a bend in the river I encountered one. He waved his hands apparently to let me know he was there, so I beat a hasty exit and walked down the road to the Santa Fe. The fishing wasn’t that great anyway, so I moved back down route 50 to a small slanted pullout just beyond the entrance to Spike Buck. I grabbed my gear and crossed the highway and walked downstream fifty yards or so and cut down to the river. For the remainder of the afternoon I fished along the bank closest to the highway and covered all the slower moving pockets and pools. Some clouds moved in and blocked the sun off and on, and this seemed to provoke even more wind, but I stuck with my method and managed to land two additional small brown trout on the RS2. The last two fish seemed to respond to the swing that naturally took place at the end of the drift.
It was nice to land six fish in my fist full day outing of the season, but it was a slow day by any measure. Six fish in five hours of fishing is a slow catch rate, and the size of the fish was disappointing both in terms of length and weight. I attribute the slow day to wind, icy water temperatures, and the corresponding lack of insect activity. I did not see a single blue winged olive and only observed sparse clusters of infinitesimal midges after lunch. Despite these factors, I’m already noticing a weather forecast for highs in the seventies during the early part of next week. I’m always optimistic.