Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Spike Bike, up and down stream.
Fish Landed: 6
I probably should not read the early season fishing reports from the fly shops near the Arkansas River, as they nearly always raise my expectations beyond reasonableness, and that is what happened on Sunday, April 3, 2016.
My first fishing outing upon our return from the Arizona road trip was Monday on the South Platte River, but landing three small fish simply served to whet my appetite for more. Unfortunately a cold front moved through Colorado, and this deterred me from further fly fishing activity. Finally on Saturday the weather improved, and highs in Denver reached 65 degrees, and the forecasters projected that Sunday would be even nicer with temperatures reaching the upper 60’s or low 70’s. I could not restrain myself, and after reading glowing reports on the Arkansas River fly shop web sites about heavy blue winged olive hatches, the continuing presence of stoneflies, and drifting caddis larva; I convinced Jane to join me on a Sunday drive to lower Big Horn Sheep Canyon.
By the time we parked at Spike Buck access area it was 10:30, and I hustled to assemble my gear which enabled me to dip my wading boot in the river by 11AM. Jane accompanied me on my hike along the shoulder of US 50, as I moved briskly to my favored entry point .5 mile below the parking lot. Unfortunately as we strode along the highway, I spied a pair of anglers .2 miles above my targeted starting spot. I made a quick assessment and decided that enough time elapsed so that the water was adequately settled in the event that the fishermen covered the water below their current position.
I scrambled down the bank and rigged my line with a thingamabobber, split shot, beadhead hares ear, and ultra zug bug; and I began methodically covering the likely fish holding locations. After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting, I hooked up with a medium sized fish, but after a thirty second tussle, it slipped free of my hook. A bit later I hooked a small brown trout along the bank, but upon examination in my net, I found that it was foul hooked. Finally just prior to breaking for lunch I saw a pause in the pink bobber deep in the tail of a narrow slot, and I reacted with a swift hook set. This action yielded my first fish of the day, and I snapped a couple photos of the twelve inch brown trout that inhaled the ultra zug bug.
Once I released the wild brown, I climbed the steep bank and returned to the access area, where I joined Jane for a quick lunch. The two fishermen ahead of me progressed to just below our lunch spot, so I decided to change tactics and move up the river, so that I was certain that I was covering new water. Another fisherman was on the opposite side of the river from the access area parking lot, so I skipped past him on the side next to the highway and found some nice water thirty yards up the river. For the next couple hours I methodically worked my way along the left bank and fished to some attractive runs and pockets.
I observed a few sporadic blue winged olives, and this provoked me to reconfigure my offerings so that the beadhead hares ear was the top fly, and a RS2 was the bottom. This was somewhat successful, and the RS2 penetrated the lip of a brown to move me to a fish count of two. After this however I endured a long interval with no action, so I exchanged the RS2 for a soft hackle emerger in case the fish were more attuned to baetis in a more advanced stage of emergence. When I swapped the BWO imitations, I also removed the hares ear and replaced it with an ultra zug bug. By two o’clock I advanced my fish count to four, although number three and four snatched the ultra zug bug when I created rapid movement near the tail of the drift.
At this point I encountered the two fishermen that infringed on my plans earlier, and they appeared to be joined by a young person and another adult. I was forty yards below them, so I climbed the bank once again and retreated to the parking lot. By now I felt the stretch of river between the access area where Jane was stationed and my morning exit point was sufficiently rested, so I hiked to that point and resumed my upstream migration. I informed Jane that I would be back when I reached her or 4 o’clock, whichever came first.
I would like to announce that the competing fishermen were the reason for my modest catch rate in the first hour, and that the undisturbed fish went berserk and crushed my flies after resting the water, but that was not the case. I covered the .3 miles of water and landed two more brown trout in the 10-12 inch range. Both fish grabbed the ultra zug bug. I knew from prior experience that there were fish in this segment of the river, so I was convinced that I was not presenting food to their liking. At one point I discovered a bright green-emerald caddis larva on the point of my fly, when I reeled it up to check for debris. I reacted by replacing the ultra zug bug with a caddis larva fly that matched the color quite well. Shortly after this move I had a momentary connection with a fish, but I could not determine which fly generated the interest.
The caddis larva and soft hackle emerger combination did not remain on my line very long, as the flies got wedged beneath a large boulder, and the depth and swift flow precluded me from rescuing the flies. I broke the pair off along with the split shot, and after I reconfigured my line with the same set up, I once again snagged a boulder and broke off the weight and flies a second time. I concluded that these flies were bad luck, and my final selection was a slumpbuster trailing an ultra zug bug. The slumpbuster certainly had an encouraging name, and the ultra zug bug was my best producer on the day so far.
I worked these flies very actively. In some cases I cast upstream and dead drifted them, but more often I stripped the slumpbuster in streamer fashion. During one of these upstream strips, a twelve inch brown trout attacked the ultra zug bug, and that accounted for number six on Sunday. I also experienced one soft bump and observed a decent brown following the slumpbuster on another retrieve, but I never managed to land a fish on the streamer.
It was a gorgeous early spring day with a bright blue sky and temperatures in the low seventies. I enjoyed my time with my beautiful wife, and I landed six wild Arkansas River brown trout. I was able to fish for five hours just over two months after surgery. All in all it was a great day, so I simply need to ratchet down my expectations when I read optimistic reports on the internet.