Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: Pinnacle Rock
Friday was a success on many fronts, but I harbor some concerns about the health of the Arkansas River in lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Despite the reports on the Royal Gorge Angler web site touting the heavy presence of the blue winged olive life cycle, I failed to witness a single BWO in any stage of its life cycle while fishing for four hours in the vicinity of Pinnacle Rock. I was acutely aware however of dense piles of gray mucky sludge along much of the river bank. The Hayden Pass fire in 2016 impacted the ecosystem south of Coaldale, and subsequent storms washed ash and sludge into the Arkansas River. I am not an expert on stream biology and the impact of wildfires, but I want to believe that the absence of BWO’s is attributable to weather or water temperatures, and not to the Hayden Pass wildfire.
With high temperatures projected to reach the upper sixties in Canon City, Jane decided to join me for a trip to the eastern section of Bighorn Sheep Canyon above Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River. We departed Denver by 8AM and arrived at the Pinnacle Rock access area by 10:40. I chose Pinnacle Rock since I knew it contained bathrooms, and I speculated it would offer a nice haven for Jane, while I fished in the nearby river. Pinnacle Rock is located .5 mile below a section of the Arkansas River that I hold in high regard, where the flow splits into four or five channels. These separate braids transform a large intimidating river into smaller medium sized creeks, and this makes reading the water a much more manageable undertaking.
I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod and ambled across the parking lot to the downstream border, where I found a nice wide path that led to the river. I paused to assess the structure, and then I configured my line with a strike indicator, split shot, Arkansas rubberlegs, and a beadhead hares ear. A narrow deep trough existed within a few feet of the bank upstream from my position, so I lobbed the nymphs toward the midsection and allowed the indicator to slowly drift, until it was in front of me. I repeated this cycle several more times, and on the fifth drift as I lifted the nymphs to make another cast, I felt a sharp tug and accelerated my movement into a hook set. My reaction provoked a sudden response from a finned creature, and a spirited battle ensued, before I gently lifted a fourteen inch brown trout over the lip of my net. What a surprise to land what would turn out to be the largest fish of the day within the first five minutes.
Nearly as amazing was the next sequence of events. After I photographed and released the energetic brown trout, I moved up along the bank a bit, and tossed a cast to the top of the run just behind an exposed rock. The flies barely hit the water when the indicator raced upstream toward two o’clock, and again I executed a sharp sweep of my rod tip to the right. I entered a tussle with a wild brown trout, and this version ended up in my net as well. I estimated the length to be thirteen inches, as I carefully removed the Arkansas rubberleg and nudged it back into the ice cold current.
I wish I could announce to my readers that the first fifteen minutes of fishing were representative of the remainder of my day, but that was not the case. In the next 3.5 hours I added six additional trout to the fish count. Four were decent fish in the twelve to thirteen inch size range, and the other two measured seven to nine inches long. I worked extremely hard for these prizes, as one might conclude from the slow catch rate. The first two fish described earlier represented my only catches in the morning, and at noon I climbed the bank and joined Jane at a picnic table near the car. The spot was protected from the wind and benefited from the direct rays of the sun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time with my lovely wife, while I basked in the warmth.
After lunch I prospected the water around a tiny island just above our parking space, but the exploratory session proved fruitless. I returned to the picnic area and persuaded Jane to drive me to the large bend in US 50, where I planned to access my beloved multi-braid section of the river, while Jane returned to the comfort of the Pinnacle Rock picnic area. I crossed the highway and hiked a short distance along the shoulder, before I dropped down a steep bank. By now I lost faith in the Arkansas rubberlegs, so I clipped it off and realigned my offerings with a beadhead hares ear on top followed by an emerald caddis pupa and then a soft hackle emerger. I was hedging against the likelihood that caddis or blue winged olives might be present in the drift.
I covered a nice stretch of moderate riffles next to the highway with no results, so I questioned whether I needed a larger fly to attract attention in the somewhat cloudy water. I removed the hares ear nymph and replaced it with a size 12 20 incher, and the lineup of the 20 incher, emerald caddis, and soft hackle emerger remained on my line for the remainder of the afternoon. Before abandoning the segment across from my drop off point, I tossed the three flies upstream and tight to the bank. As the nymphs tumbled toward a deep chute, I felt a tug and reacted with a lift. Instantly a silver pink-sided torpedo rocketed across the river and then dashed downstream in the riffles below me. I allowed line to spin from my reel, until the fish paused, and then I gradually regained line and lifted the head of a thirteen inch rainbow trout out of the water and into my net. This fan of the 20 incher would be my only rainbow on the day, but it was a hard fighting foe, and I was pleased to guide it into my net.
I decided to move to the north channel, as it represents my favorite section of the braided area. I carefully crossed the two intervening branches, and then I drifted my nymphs through some nice moderate riffles in the channel just above the confluence with the north braid. This slight detour in my route yielded a twelve inch brown trout that crushed the emerald caddis pupa, as it began to swing at the end of the drift.
Finally I reached the point where the north channel dumped its volume into the main river, and during the remainder of the afternoon I methodically worked my way upstream to a point forty yards below where the flow split off from the main stem. I prospected with the three nymph system and added four additional trout to my fish tally. Two of the fish were on the small side, but the other two were very decent brown trout that rewarded me for my persistence.
For the most part moderate current and moderate depth seemed to describe the productive trout yielding destinations on Friday. Normally I edge fish the deep pockets of the Arkansas River and land numerous brown trout that relish the cover provided by the large protective rocks, but on this occasion that type of structure was not productive.
Readers of this blog may note that I often stumble on to a fly that is preferred above all others by the trout, but that was not the case on April 7. I landed one brown on a beadhead hares ear, one on an Arkansas rubberlegs, one on a soft hackle emerger, two on the emerald caddis pupa, and three fish that clobbered the 20 incher. The fish definitely seemed to validate my tactic of using the 20 incher to attract attention.
Overall it was a decent day. The weather was perfect and the flows were reasonable although a bit murky, but edge visibility was quite good. I managed to land eight trout during four hours of fishing, and this represents an average catch rate, however, six of the eight were in the twelve to fourteen inch size range, and that was noteworthy. I enjoyed the companionship of my wife, Jane, during the drive to and from the river, and we stopped at the Smiling Toad in Colorado Springs for a craft beverage on the way home. Spring is upon us, and I look forward to more fishing adventures.
Fish Landed: 8