Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Down river from Cotopaxi in the morning and then Vallie Bridge and upstream in the PM.
Fish Landed: 6
After rallying to land eleven fish late on Monday afternoon including a fifteen inch brown, the largest brown trout of the 2016 season, one would assume that I was pleased and prepared to spend another day between Parkdale and Texas Creek. But one would be mistaken. The allure of finding the leading edge of the hatch gnawed at my brain, and additionally I did not wish to spend another morning and early afternoon wading and casting with no results to justify my activity.
I camped at Five Points on Monday night along with two other crazy early season enthusiasts. One of the other campground inhabitants had the comfort of a RV, but the other fellow was toughing it out in a tent. After I snuggled up in my sleeping bag at 9PM, light rain began to patter on the rain fly. I read for a while before dozing off, and I remember hearing the wind and rain as I entered my dream world.
I planned to pack everything up in the morning before I embarked on another fishing adventure, so I was concerned that the rain fly would be wet and delay my departure. As I climbed out of the tent on Tuesday morning, I immediately inspected for moisture, and except for some large scattered drops along the top seam, it appeared that the wind had taken care of most of the rain. Upon closer review I was surprised to learn that the large raindrops were actually frozen! What happened to the forecast lows of 42 degrees? I suppose that was Canon City, and I was ten miles farther west, although I guessed that it was a combination of a missed forecast and a different location.
When I left the river on Monday, I vowed to return to Royal Gorge Anglers to obtain some local insight. The fishing in the morning was less than spectacular anyway, so why not invest an extra hour to obtain some professional direction? In addition I needed to replace the retractor for my nippers, as the cord snapped during a fishing trip the previous week.
I was pleased to discover that Taylor Edrington, the owner, was present in the fly shop, so I asked him for advice. He informed me that I was below the leading edge of the advancing hatch, and this explained my lack of success on caddis pupa as well as the late action on the adult dry. The fish were tuned into egg laying adults in the late afternoon and evening, so I caught the early portion of this activity. Taylor went on to note that his guides and clients encountered a decent emergence in Cotopaxi on Monday, and he suggested that I migrate to that area or even as far up river as Vallie Bridge, if I hoped to fish to emerging brachycentrus.
I mentioned that I had success with an RS2 in the middle of the afternoon, and he politely dismissed the RS2 as being too slender to imitate emergers, and he sold me some CDC folded wing emergers. Taylor is a persuasive salesperson. Armed with five new flies, a new retractor, and confidence that I would meet the caddis hatch below Cotopaxi; I departed and returned to the campground and took down my by now dry tent. In my absence the sun peaked over the ridge to the east, and the combination of the sun and wind removed any remaining ice and water.
In a supercharged state of anticipation I continued west on route 50 until I reached a nice wide pullout .3 miles below the Cotopaxi bridge. After I rigged my Sage One five weight, I walked back along the highway to the bend and then followed a path half way around the curve, before I dropped to a section of river that was narrow with swift currents in the center. The edge closest to me featured some nice shelf pools, so I tied on a bright green diamond braid caddis (Go2 Caddis) as my top fly and added one of the newly purchased CDC BWO nymphs as the bottom fly on an indicator nymphing system.
Between 10:30 and 11:30 I worked the most attractive runs and pockets along the edge of the river and landed three trout. Two were respectable thirteen inch browns, and the third was a small fish barely over the six inch minimum. I was pleased with this late morning production, and I remained confident that Taylor’s advice would lead me to caddis hatch nirvana. Meanwhile the air temperature was in the low fifties and the wind was stronger than Monday but tolerable. Some large dark gray clouds were building in the distant western sky. I decided to break for lunch early, as I was roughly fifty yards below the car.
I climbed the steep bank to the car and gathered my water and lunch bag and returned to the edge of the river as I am apt to do, so I could observe any insect activity while eating. I can report that I saw no evidence of blue winged olives and only a couple small caddis dapping on the water. In fact when I brushed the trees and willows, far fewer caddis scattered compared to when I executed similar actions on Monday farther to the east.
After lunch I resumed from my exit point and fished intensely from 12 – 1PM, at which point I was getting close to the town of Cotopaxi. I landed a fourth brown during this time period, and this one was around twelve inches. In addition I had a chubby brown hooked for a split second, but it shed the fly when it leaped high above the water. This bit of action transpired early on, and then I went through a fish catching drought despite casting to some exceptionally attractive water. The sun was shining brightly at this time, and I concluded that the fish should have been responding to the caddis pupa, if they were staging for an emergence in the early afternoon. Based on this logic I guessed that a leading edge emergence was not ilikely, so I decided to move farther upstream in search of the elusive hatch.
Unfortunately there is minimal public water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and the section that is open was occupied by two groups of fishermen. I continued westward to Vallie Bridge and parked at the boat launch, and then I crossed to the south side of the river above the bridge. Here there is a long deep pool and a huge eddy where the water cycles back upstream and creates a large foam slick.
I covered this water thoroughly with no action, and then I retreated to the downstream side of the bridge. I began fishing just above the point where a small channel forks away from the main river. I made an obligatory half-hearted cast thirty-five feet across and allowed the bright green caddis pupa and soft hackle emerger to drift to the tail. Much to my surprise as the flies began to swing, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a significant weight. The angry fish on the end of my line made several speedy and abrupt attempts to free itself, but I allowed line to escape and then eventually recovered and guided a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. What a surprise! This was the type of featureless water that I typically skip, but perhaps I need to reevaluate my approach.
I fished upstream through some more appealing deep water along the current seam below the bridge, but this proved fruitless. Next I crossed back to the car and drove to the lease water two or three miles to the west on the north side of the river. I parked, and in short order I hiked down river along the railroad tracks and eventually cut to the river. I discovered that I was above another fisherman by thirty yards, so I began my upstream migration at this point. The water above me was relatively unattractive, but after my surprise below the bridge, I dutifully cast upstream to the narrow six foot band of slower moving water next to the bank.
This time, however, my hunch was correct, and I simply exercised my arm. I moved rather quickly with only one or two casts to each section, and then I approached a much more interesting wide shelf pool where the river merged after splitting around a small gravel island. I worked this twenty-five yard segment of water thoroughly and drifted the flies along the current seam numerous times, but again I was disappointed.
When I reached the top, I noticed there was a deep trough just above the point where the currents merged. I lobbed several casts to the top of the trough, and on the third drift, as the indicator passed through the merge point, it dipped, and I intuitively reacted with a solid hook set. The fight was on. Once again I released line a few times to compensate for a strong run, but again I was able to scoop a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. This brown was actually not as long as the previous catch, but it was much heftier. I snapped quite a few photos and then released the brute.
The rest of the afternoon was consumed by moving quite a distance upstream along the right bank. I skipped huge amounts of stream real estate, as the river is relatively wide with many sections of shallow riffles or wide smooth water of moderate depth. The latter may actually harbor a decent amount of fish, but without any rocks or logs or current breaks, I am intimidated by the prospect of prospecting this type of water without some sign of fish such as a rise.
Near the end of my progression, I encountered two fishermen on opposite sides of the river. I was fifty yards below them in some very attractive deep runs below some exposed boulders. The sky grew extremely dark, and the wind kicked up, and a large quantity of dainty blue winged olives emerged and tumbled across the surface. Just prior to this point in time I swapped the soft hackle emerger for a CDC emerger that I purchased from Taylor, and I was certain that the trout would attack my subsurface imitation given the large population of olives on the surface.
Nothing. The fish never rose to feed on the surface because the wind blew the adults away before they could react, and my wet fly was totally ignored. This rude rejection of my offerings caused me to reel up my line, and then I scaled the steep bank until I reached the railroad tracks and hiked back to the car. Along the way I spotted a single rise in the lower end of the wide nondescript pool, so I slid down the bank and switched to a double dry setup with a size 16 olive brown caddis and a size 20 CDC BWO. I cast to the vicinity of the rise and on the tenth drift, just when I looked away for a split second, I heard the sound of a rise and instinctively set the hook. I felt some momentary weight and then the fish was off. I don’t know if the fish refused one of the flies, and I grazed it with the trailer, because I reacted to the sound, and never saw what happened.
That was the end of my Tuesday, and I returned to the car and made the long return trip to Denver. I spent two days on the Arkansas River in pursuit of the elusive 2016 caddis emergence, and never sniffed it. Of course I second guessed my decision to leave Cotopaxi, and I imagined waves of caddis popping from the green tinged surface of the river, while swallows criss-crossed overhead, and hungry trout slurped skittering emergers. I will never know if this was the case. I convinced myself that the emergence occurred in the long segment of water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and only a short section is open to the public. Land ownership is my excuse for not finding the caddis sweet spot on April 25 and 26.
I am not done. Cool rainy weather is forecast for the rest of this week, so the progression will likely stall. This means I may have another shot at the caddis emergence in the vicinity of Salida early next week. Stay tuned.