Location: Fremont – Chafee County Line
Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Fish Landed: 11
When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, the second most anticipated day of the year was the opening day of trout season. In my estimation it trailed only Christmas and easily trumped Easter and Halloween. My grandfather, father, brother and I would rise early on a Saturday morning around the middle of April and head to our favorite spot on Manatawny Creek to secure a prime location. My grandfather was retired, and he assisted with the trout stocking in order to know where the highest quantities of fish were dumped. Of course many other locals possessed the same knowledge, so getting up before dawn was essential to have a shot at the best holes. Aggressive late arrivals bumped us youngsters from the best places, but I have now come to realize it was more about spending time with my Pop Pop and Dad, and less about catching my limit of fish. Of course catching a stringer of fish was still an acceptable result should it occur, but rarely was that the outcome.
Sunday March 15 had many similarities to the opening days of my youth. I contacted my fishing pal, Danny Ryan, and he agreed to join me on a trip to the Arkansas River. The weather forecast predicted highs in the 70’s, and that is bonus time for fishing in the Rocky Mountains during the middle of March. I anxiously anticipated the arrival of Sunday and spent an hour or two on Saturday making sure I had all the necessary accessories in my front pack. I also transferred reasonable quantities of my newly tied flies from the storage bins to my Montana Fly Company boat box. This step initiated my plan to use the boat box as an intermediate storage space that could easily be moved to the back of the car. When I deplete key flies from my front pack, they will be replaced from flies tucked in the boat box.
When Sunday morning arrived, I jumped out of bed early and gathered all the essentials that I prepared the night before. I fished once in 2015 on Valentine’s Day on the South Platte River, but I did not land a fish and in fact only spotted one fleeing trout during my entire 2.5 hour outing. It did not count as an official opener, but March 15 had that feel. I spent extra time preparing, I arose early in the morning similar to the days of my youth, the weather was expected to be unseasonably warm, and my young friend Danny Ryan was joining me in one of my favorite spots on a quality river. I stopped at Danny’s apartment at 6:30AM, and he was just as excited to be on the way as he tossed his gear in the back of the Santa Fe.
We arrived at the Fremont – Chafee County line pullout by 9:30AM, and the temperature on the dashboard registered 38 degrees. Seventies? What was I to believe? I pulled on a fleece and my New Zealand brimmed hat with ear flaps, and Danny and I descended the steep bank to the river. Danny was following my lead, and we waded across the river at the tail of the long pool below the parking area. The flows were around 390 cfs, and the water was very clear. We could not have asked for better conditions, and my heart was racing with the anticipation of finally feeling a throb on my Sage five weight after a long winter.
We walked west along the north bank a bit, and then I directed Danny to a spot where the river fanned out a bit and created some nice deep lanes between submerged rocks. Danny was already rigged with a small copper john and juju baetis that he tied over the winter. I on the other hand had not attached any flies to my leader, so I wandered farther upstream and attended to this detail. I elected to knot an ultra zug bug to my line as the top fly and then added a chartreuse marabare as the point fly. Because of the cold early season water temperatures I assumed that I would be nymphing the entire day, so I attached a strike indicator and crimped a split shot to my line above the ultra zug bug.
As I began to cast to some nice water of moderate depth similar to Danny’s location, I heard a shout and smiled as I looked down the river and watched Danny reel in a decent brown trout. He reported that the trout consumed his juju baetis. I continued prospecting with my nymphs, and it wasn’t long before I landed a twelve inch brown that chowed down on the ultra zug bug. Since this was my first fish of the season, I paused to snap a photo and then moved on upstream.
In a short amount of time I reached a nice piece of water where the river widened a bit and ahead of me was some slow moving water flowing over a sand and rock bottom. The depth was probably three feet maximum. I began casting directly upstream in this area, and much to my surprise three brown trout found my net over the next half hour. Needless to say, I was rather pleased with this favorable turn of events.
After landing the fourth fish, I waved Danny upstream and positioned him to fish the remaining half of the flats of moderate depth. As I looked on, he connected momentarily with a decent fish, and I could see the escapee resume a position in a deeper depression in front of a large submerged rock. With Danny now back in action, I moved up the river again and began prospecting some interesting deeper holes below large rocks that jutted from the bank into the river. The marabare was not producing results, and Danny was having success with the juju baetis, so I exchanged the new chartreuse fly for a RS2. Over the remainder of the morning I landed two more brown trout of medium size on the RS2.
At 11:30 we decided to return to the car for lunch, so we walked back along the bank and then crossed the river at the tail of the long pool. We mounted the steep bank and gathered our lunches and then munched them from a high rock bluff above the south side of the river. Here we could see at least 6-8 trout holding several feet below the surface. They were obviously feeding on something subsurface, and occasionally the inertia of chasing food took them to the top of the water.
Danny was quite excited to stalk these visible targets, so he retrieved his rod and began casting from the high platform to the deep pool with his nymphs. I finished my lunch and returned from the car with my rod and net. I volunteered to be the netter and took a position above the end of the rock ledge, but I stayed seven feet back so that I would not disturb the feeding fish. It was not long before Danny shouted that he had a hookup, so I moved to the edge of the river and scooped a fish with my net. But what a surprise! The fish appeared to be in the char family but was not a brook trout or lake trout. I was not aware of any other fish in the char family in Colorado, but the fish looked strangely like the Dolly Varden that I caught in Alaska. We snapped quite a few photos to show fish identification experts, and then Danny resumed his position high above the river.
Once again he shouted that he had a fish on, and I once again assisted by swooping my net beneath the struggling captive. This fish was a 10-12 inch brown trout and an expected species for the Arkansas River. Danny gave me his rod for a bit while he attended to something else, and I made a few casts. On the fifth cast I was surprised to feel some weight so I set the hook and stripped in another char. Again we snapped documenting photos.
I handed the rod back to Danny and gave him the remainder of the pool while I moved upstream to a very attractive deep hole along the bank. This spot was not as large as the lunch rock spot I just vacated, but it looked quite juicy nonetheless. By now I spotted a couple blue winged olives, so I was optimistic that I might attract a few fish with my RS2. Sure enough over the next hour I landed four more browns as I moved along the south bank and flicked my nymphs into all the likely fish holding locations. Several of the fish smacked the RS2 when I lifted the nymphs or jerked them with excessive downstream mends.
I wanted to return to the north and less pressured bank, so I found Danny and informed him that I was once again going to cross. By this time another fisherman had arrived, and he was casting directly across from the high ledge lunch rock where Danny continued to fish with enthusiasm after experiencing the post-lunch success. I crossed and moved above the other fisherman, and I fished aggressively along the north bank for quite a distance. There were some very attractive pools and pockets, but the sun was now quite high in the sky, and the air temperature was now in the seventies. This combination of weather characteristics apparently caused the trout to have lock jaw, as I landed only one additional small brown in the mid-afternoon time period.
By 3:15 I grew weary of the lack of action and returned to the car where I disassembled my Sage four piece and pulled out my Scott six weight. I attached my Orvis reel with a sinking tip line and hiked a short distance to the rock bluff where I found Danny who was pretty much finished for the day. I pulled one of my freshly tied peanut envies from my fleece pouch and knotted it to my line and began to fling the two inch long streamer into the depths beneath the rock. The peanut envy was amazing as it pulsed and moved in every conceivable way as I stripped it across and sometimes upstream. I began lobbing the ugly marabou monstrosity three quarters downstream and allowed it to swing to the edge of the shadow of the rock, and then began stripping it back toward me, and on one of these presentations, Danny shouted that a huge brown trout swam up behind the streamer and nosed it but failed to chomp!
Danny was more excited than me because I never saw anything, but I was pleased to learn that my new fly created interest from a large brown trout. After 45 minutes of fruitless casting, I reeled up my sinking line, and we returned to the car. The three hour return trip seemed to fly by as we speculated on the species of the mystery trout landed.
We had much more space compared to opening day in Pennsylvania, and we were fishing with flies rather than live bait, yet the anxious anticipation of a satisfying day on the river brought back memories.The tug of a fish and the bend of the supple long rod satisfied our needs after a long winter of tying flies and waiting for warmer temperatures. Let the 2015 fishing season begin.