Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Salt Lick river access area and then upstream.
Fish Landed: 15
On Friday Jane and I enjoyed a day of skiing at Vail Ski Resort, and one of our favorite runs was Cloud 9. Because of the surrounding trees, the snow did not get as soft and slushy as the runs in the bowls that were exposed to direct sunlight. The name of this run reminded me of Cloud Nine, a song by the Temptations that was popular in 1969. I checked the weather forecast for Canon City, CO for Sunday April 10, and my app indicated that the sky would be overcast and cloudy on the lower Arkansas River. Could all the references to clouds be a harbinger of cloudy conditions that would yield a productive baetis hatch on one of my favorite rivers?
I announced to Jane that I was making the drive to lower Big Horn Sheep Canyon on Sunday, and she elected to accompany me. We departed Denver a few minutes before 8AM and arrived at the Salt Lick river access area a bit after 10. The temperature was 63 degrees, and there was a slight breeze, but nothing compared to the gales that I endured in previous trips to the Arkansas River. I assembled my Sage One five weight and marched to the edge of the river next to the wide gravel beach that is used to slide rafts into the rushing water.
To begin I used a strike indicator with a split shot and an ultra zug bug and emerald caddis pupa. I worked my way up the left bank of the river during the first hour, and I was disappointed by a total lack of interest in my flies. I decided that a change was in order, and I exchanged the emerald caddis pupa for a bright green caddis pupa. This imitation displayed a shiny diamond braid body, and I hoped that it would be a fish attractor. I approached a huge vertical rock wall that would halt my upstream migration, but a nice run of moderate depth angled from the bank back toward the main river. I cast the flies above the riffle and allowed them to tumble through the run, and as they swept past a medium sized square submerged rock, the indicator dipped, and I quickly set the hook. I was attached to an eleven inch brown trout for a short time, and then it figured out how to slide free. I continued fishing for a bit until my path was obstructed by the rock wall, and when I reeled up my flies, I discovered that the bright green caddis was no longer attached. Apparently a bad knot enabled the thrashing fish to break off the tippet and fly.
I decided to turn around and return to Jane and the car for lunch, as I was at a point where farther progress required a steep climb to the highway to circle around the rock barrier. It was 11:30, which is a bit early for lunch, but it was convenient to eat before continuing above the rocks. I replaced the green caddis with another one, and as I returned to the boat launch, I stopped at the location where I hooked the evasive fish. I ran the nymphs through the same run, and on the second drift, the indicator paused, and I landed my first trout of the day. It was an eleven inch brown, and I pondered whether this was the same fish that stole my fly earlier.
After lunch I hiked along the shoulder of the highway until I was beyond the barrier, and then I scrambled down a boulder field to the edge of the river. Between noon and 2PM I worked my way along the left bank of the wide river and fished only the pockets and runs next to the steep rocks. I spent roughly half of my time rock climbing and the other half casting, but I managed to land three additional brown trout. Unfortunately I covered quite a bit of water to register this tally, so the fishing was not the heated affair I imagined. In addition the sky remained mostly blue with occasional puffy white clouds. This also was not the cloud cover that the weather app predicted.
I was beginning to resign myself to another moral victory, meaning great weather in a beautiful setting with a modest fish count, when some dark clouds appeared above the peaks to the southwest. The impact of this weather event on my fishing fortunes was almost immediate. Suddenly a few small gray mayflies made an appearance, and I spotted several fluttering up from the surface of the river. I responded to this sign from nature, and I tied a beadhead RS2 to my line and moved the bright green caddis to the top position. I executed both dead drift presentations and active movement, but I quickly discovered that the fish preferred action. Between 2 and 2:45 I experienced the hottest fishing action of the 2016 season.
The best results came near the tail of deep pockets and runs when I lifted the flies. In many cases this provoked a response. Less effective, but still productive, was a jigging action that I imparted to the flies when I cast directly upstream. My fish count advanced from four to twelve during this forty-five minute period, and I was quite pleased that I finally settled into a rhythm that produced hungry fish and positive results. After 2:45 the action slowed a bit, but my catch rate remained above average, as I landed another three fish. It was during this time that my indicator darted in a fairly fast run over some large submerged boulders. I quickly reacted and fought a feisty fourteen inch rainbow to my net. This was the only rainbow on the day, and it was likely my best fish of the 2016 season.
Sunday evolved into the kind of fishing outing that I looked forward to in the spring of 2016. The key factors merged and produced some fast action. The heavy cloud cover and warming water temperatures activated the blue winged olives, and this food source in turn caused the fish to assume their feeding stations. I expected to catch most of my fish on the RS2, but interestingly the two-thirds of the fish that I landed chomped the bright green caddis. This probably indicates that drifting caddis larva and pupa are becoming more prevalent in the flows of the lower Arkansas River. With this successful excursion to the Arkansas under my belt, I am already anticipating another journey during the coming weeks. Cloud 9 skiing, Cloud Nine the song, and fishing under cloudy skies are all fun in the eyes of this fisherman.