Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM
Location: Between Salt Lick and Pinnacle Rock and then upstream from Pinnacle Rock to the braided area.
Fish Landed: 11
Friday April 15 on the Arkansas River proved to be a good day, but it had the potential to be spectacular. The most notable accomplishment, however, was overcoming the various forms of adversity sent my way. As one would expect, fly fishing was a taxing venture on tax day.
The weather forecasts indicated that a major winter storm was bearing down on Colorado, and this caused Jane and I to postpone our plans to ski at Vail. An abundance of snow is one thing, but warm temperatures and rain at the base were more than we were willing to contend with. When I checked the weather in Canon City, I was pleased to discover that high temperatures were forecast to be 64 degrees with cloudy skies in the afternoon. 64 degrees was more comfortable than the low 50’s projected for Denver, and the highs in the higher elevations streams would be roughly ten degrees colder. Cloudy afternoon skies portended a blue winged olive hatch, so I was drawn to the lower Arkansas River as a destination where I could sneak in a day of fishing before the storm precluded further attempts.
Following an uneventful trip I arrived at a small pullout along route 50 at 10AM a mile above the Salt Lick access. I intended to continue my progress along the river from where I ended on Sunday, April 10. The temperature was 54 degrees, but it was moderately windy so I pulled on my fleece layer as well as my raincoat to serve as a windbreaker. I grabbed my five weight Sage One rod and walked back along the shoulder until I found a reasonably safe place to cautiously scramble down a boulder field to the river. This placed me just above a nice long deep slow moving shelf pool, so I stayed back from the river and moved to the tail of the attractive location. I began my day with a strike indicator, split shot, green caddis pupa, and salad spinner.
I was rather excited when the indicator paused at the top of the shelf pool, and I connected with a twelve inch brown trout that inhaled the salad spinner. The generic midge imitation created by my friend Danny Ryan continues to impress. After I set the wild brown free, I resumed my progress, but I was unable to land additional fish over the remainder of my first hour of fishing. I did experience one split second hook up and saw a fish flash as it looked at my flies, but no additional trout found my net.
At 11:30 I climbed the steep bank and hiked back to the Santa Fe. I surveyed the river between where I was parked and Pinnacle Rock prior to parking upon my arrival at 10AM, and I was not pleased with the structure of the next segment, so I drove west until I reached a nice wide pullout .2 miles above Pinnacle Rock. I hoped to consume my lunch while overlooking the river, but the wind now accelerated to gale force status. I opened the front passenger door to retrieve my lunch, and my ball cap was instantly swept five feet from the car. I moved to the tailgate to remove my sun gloves, and one of them was uplifted and deposited ten feet away. Needless to say the wind became a significant factor, so I sat in the car and munched my sandwich and carrots while listening to the Rockies vs Cubs pregame show.
After lunch I swapped my wide brimmed hat for my billed cap with ear flaps, and I quickly snugged it tightly on my head. This hat was warmer and tighter fitting in light of the gusting wind. I slid down an angled path to the river and began lobbing the nymph rig to the likely deep pockets and runs along the left bank. The salad spinner was being shunned, so I exchanged it for a RS2, as the time of the day when baetis nymphs become active was approaching. I fished the nymphs in a dead drift presentation as well as with active movement. I covered some areas with moderate depth until I approached the stretch where the river narrowed, and this created smaller but deeper pockets and runs along the roadside of the river.
The wind continued to be ridiculously offensive, but I was able to power casts upstream due to the weight of the indicator and split shot, and finally I enjoyed some action. Between noon and 1PM I moved the fish count total to five with the average size of the fish greater than the landed fish in my previous visits to the Arkansas River. At one point my flies wedged beneath a large boulder, and the water was too fast and deep to rescue them, so I snapped both off along with the split shot. I replaced the shiny bright green caddis pupa with a bright green sparkle pupa tied Lafontaine style, and this fly produced two of the brown trout, while the RS2 accounted for the other two.
After this flurry of action I approached a pair of nice deep slow shelf pools, and I was certain that these locations would yield several fish each. I paused at the tail of the first one to observe, and some dark clouds moved above me, and this seemed to signal the wind to blast at greater velocity. For the first time I spied some tiny mayflies clinging to the surface of the water, and then a flurry of subtle rises caught my attention in the current seam at the tail of the pool. What was I to do? I made some casts hoping that the fish were aware of subsurface and surface food, but the RS2 did not attract interest. I resigned myself to convert to a dry fly approach, but I knew that this would take some time. Have you ever attempted to change your fishing setup while forty MPH winds shoot down the canyon? It was not easy.
Adding to my woes was a troublesome split shot. It was the type with no fins that can be squeezed to separate the opposite side. I struggled with the obstinate piece of lead for at least five minutes, but I could not open the slot to slide out my leader, so I did what any frustrated fisherman would do; I clipped off the line on both sides of the shot and reconnected it with a surgeon’s knot. Finally I was ready to configure my line with the BWO imitation, but for the sake of visibility, I first knotted a size 14 stimulator to my tippet and then tied on a size 22 CDC olive. Finally I was set to cast to the feeders in front of me.
Of course you can probably guess what happened. The wind became such a force, that it blew the tiny olives off the water before the fish had a chance to eat them. I watched for a few minutes, and no signs of surface feeding fish remained. Perhaps they were still there looking for surface food? I threw some casts at a forty-five degree angle, but this proved to be futile. In fact the very act of getting a drift over the target area became a massive challenge, and the flies were nearly impossible to follow due to the constant wind-created riffle and my inability to follow the path of my cast. I pursued this exercise in frustration for five or ten minutes until I realized that the weather conditions were not going to enable me to fish dry flies on Friday April 15.
I sat down on a rock and reverted to the bright green caddis pupa and RS2, and these were supplemented with a split shot (with tabs) and a strike indicator. I resumed my progression, and I landed a nice brown trout and a fifteen inch rainbow. Both fish consumed the RS2, and the rainbow trout was a huge surprise. I cast to the very top of the second shelf pool where a narrow deep slot passed a large submerged boulder. Just as the indicator passed five feet beyond the boulder, it dipped, and I reacted with a swift hook set. The victim of the penetrating hook point immediately went into escape mode, and this featured several streaking charges downstream. I managed to release and gain line while maintaining pressure and eventually guided the beautiful rainbow into my net. This fish proved to be the largest of the 2016 season, and I was ecstatic with my ability to land it.
I was now just below the point where three or four braids of the Arkansas River merge. This is perhaps my favorite segment of the lower Arkansas, since one can fish the small channels similar to a small stream, yet they are connected to the much larger main river. The small braids allow easier wading and better sight fishing similar to smaller streams in other parts of Colorado. I quickly moved up along the left bank until I found a place where I could cross the closest two channels, and this placed me near the bottom of the northern most channel of the river. This is my favorite as it carries the largest volume of the water of the four.
Much to my surprise the wind subsided somewhat to occasional strong gusts, but the sky was slate gray, and the temperature probably dropped into the upper 40’s. I had the entire section of the river to myself, so I began casting the nymphs to the standard fish holding spots. For some reason I replaced the RS2 with a beadhead soft hackle emerger prior to embarking on this expedition up the side channel. None of the places that historically produced fish for me delivered on this day in April, until I approached a nice area about two-thirds of the way from the river to the place where two channels merge.
For some inexplicable reason, my flies suddenly caught fire. During the remainder of my day in this area I landed four additional fish, but it could have just as easily been eight. This is just a guess, but I suspect I experienced at least six long distance releases, and I blame this phenomena on the small size 22 soft hackle emerger. At the very top of the long run and riffle area there was a very narrow long slot. I estimate the structure described ran for forty feet, but it was no wider than eight feet. This one spot produced at least six hookups, as the fish grabbed the soft hackle emerger as it tumbled tight to the current seam on the far side of the narrow trough. Fortunately I managed to land a fourteen inch brown trout and another rainbow from this area before reeling up my line and calling it quits. My heart beat elevated during this time period as a result of the wind, the fast water and the rapid pace of hooking fish.
In summary I landed eleven fish and the average size was definitely a notch above any of my previous fishing outings in 2016. Had I been able to convert more of my hook ups to the net, my fish count could have easily reached fifteen, and this would have elevated the day to outstanding. Of course all this was accomplished while overcoming wind that almost blew me off the water after lunch. The stubborn split shot only added to my woes, and the one minute of teasing rises put me through a twenty minute knot tying practice session. I continue to me amazed by the value of persistence in fly fishing. On this day tenacity was rewarded.