Arkansas River – 04/23/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Salida and Wellsvile

Arkansas River 04/23/2019 Photo Album

I characterized my 04/08/2019 trip to the Arkansas River as a mild disappointment, but I was itching for a return visit. During the early April appearance the flows were in the 560 cfs range, and the blue winged olive hatch seemed a bit delayed by the cold water temperatures resulting from a late spring. When I reviewed the stream flows and fly shop reports on Monday evening, I learned that the water managers reduced the supplemental flows from Twin Lakes, so that the Arkansas fell to native levels. In addition the fly shop reports indicated that the river was clear, and blue winged olive emergences were in full swing.

South Park Still Looks Like Winter

I departed from Denver at 7AM and drove through fresh snow in the South Park area, while the dashboard thermometer dipped to 33 degrees. Fortunately by the time I descended to the Arkansas River valley and arrived at my pullout below Salida, the air temperature elevated to 48 degrees. Even with this comparative warmth to South Park, I was chilled when I stepped out of the Santa Fe to prepare to fish. I elected to pull on my heavy fleece and topped it with my raincoat as a windbreaker. Initially I opted for my wide brimmed hat, but the gusts of wind and overcast skies forced me to swap it for my New Zealand hat with earflaps. The gray clouds, cool temperatures and wind continued throughout the remainder of the morning, and I was pleased with my clothing choices. I assembled my Sage five weight and surveyed the river.

Starting Point on the Arkansas River on Tuesday

As reported, it was in fine shape, and clarity was the prominent feature. I hoped to cross the river at the tail of the large pool below my parking space, and the DWR graph displayed 444 CFS, when I checked prior to my trip. Indeed the river appeared to be lower than my previous visit, when my better judgment forced me to execute a U-turn two-thirds of the way across the tailout. On Tuesday I decided to make another attempt, and this time I was successful. I carefully tested each foot placement and angled downstream rather than fight against the stiff current.

After my cautious crossing, I angled up the steep bank and ambled down the railroad tracks. After a short hike I was surprised to see another fisherman at the bottom of the island, that served as my target. Amazingly this would be the only other fishermen I encountered all day, and he happened to be where I desired to fish. I adjusted my plan and cut down a steep rocky bank to the river seventy-five yards above my nemesis. When I settled along the bank, I configured my line with a thingamabobber, split shot, Go2 caddis pupa and sparkle wing RS2. For the next half hour I prospected the troughs and riffles of moderate depth across from my position and worked my way upstream. During this phase of my day I hooked but failed to land two trout, and I was mildly upset by this turn of events but consoled myself with the knowledge that many hours remained.

Pleased With This One

As this was transpiring, I noticed that the downstream fisherman vacated his spot, so I found a steep path, that enabled me to scale the rocky cliffs, and I walked at a rapid pace to the destination I originally targeted to start my day. I decided to cherry pick the prime deep runs and skip the tailouts and slower moving areas, that I traditionally probed with a few casts. The first two quality areas failed to deliver a tug or dip in the indicator, but the long shelf pool below the island finally yielded two brown trout of average size. One nabbed the sparkle wing RS2, and the other grabbed an iron sally, that I substituted for the Go2 caddis.

By this time my watch displayed noon, so I found a wide flat rock and consumed my small lunch. After lunch I removed my raincoat and stashed it in my backpack and folded my earflaps under my hat. The sun now overwhelmed the clouds, and I prepared for a mild afternoon.

After lunch when I reached the downstream tip of the island, I moved up along the left shoreline, and near the tip I temporarily connected with another fish. I caught a brief glimpse of this escapee, and it appeared to be a bit larger than my two previous connections.

I returned to the bottom tip of the small island and surveyed the smaller north channel. I fired a few casts to the area where the flows curled around some exposed boulders, but no response was provided. Next I approached the tailout of the long pool, and I lobbed some casts to the slow water along the left side and along the center current seam. The nymph rig seemed too invasive for this tamer branch of the river, and I contemplated switching to a lighter dry/dropper approach. As this thought crossed my mind, a trout rose several times in quick succession directly above me on the left side. This settled the matter, and I quickly removed the split shot and indicator and replaced them with a peacock hippy stomper. I retained the iron sally and placed a classic RS2 in the bottom position.

Iron Sally in the Side of the Mouth

I progressed upstream along the north braid and added two nice brown trout to my fish count. In addition I temporarily connected with three trout that felt like very respectable Arkansas browns. One of the early afternoon landed browns crushed the iron sally as it smacked down on the water.

Impressive Girth

When I reached the upstream tip of the island, I debated switching back to the deep nymph method, but I decided to stay with the dry/dropper and work the deep pockets and moderate runs close to the north bank. This decision proved to be a smart one, and I increased the fish tally from four to twelve between one and four o’clock. All the late afternoon trout were browns except for one fourteen inch rainbow that surprised me in a deep shelf pool tight to a large rock. In addition to the netted fish I hooked and failed to land another three fish, including a rocket that snapped off all three flies. When I reconfigured my line I replaced the peacock hippy stomper with another comparable model, but I tested a chartreuse copper john and soft hackle emerger for the subsurface flies.

The Only Rainbow on the Day

The three afternoon hours were a blast. The dry/dropper with the three foot leader constrained me to areas of moderate depth. I popped the three flies into prime spots near the bank or behind large boulders, and I was amazed to learn that the brown trout responded. A sparse blue winged olive emergence commenced at 1:30 and continued until 3PM, but I never observed rising trout, so I persisted with the hippy stomper and the trailing nymphs. The hippy stomper was the star performer and accounted for six of the twelve fish landed, and three of the four trout in the 14 – 16 inch range crushed the surface attractor. I am now an even bigger fan of the hippy stomper, than I was previously.

Huge Spots. I Love This Look.

Over the course of the day I landed one trout on the iron sally, one on the chartreuse copper john, six on the peacock hippy stomper; and the other four favored one of the RS2 variations. I was a bit surprised that I did not generate more action on the small trailing baetis nymphs during the light blue winged olive emergence. The vision of wild vividly spotted brown trout smashing the hippy stomper continue to haunt my dreams, and I hope to make another trip before the heavy snow pack of 2019 impacts the river.

Fish Landed: 12

The Arkansas River at 444 CFS

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