Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM
Location: Lunch rock and upstream and then Vallie Bridge lease in late afternoon.
Fish Landed: 10
For some reason I am obsessed with meeting the Arkansas River caddis hatch in 2016, and a forecasted window of nice weather enabled me to resume my quest on May 4 and 5. I packed most of the camping and fishing gear on Tuesday evening, and this enabled me to depart my home in Denver by 7:20AM. I drove the US 285 route, since I planned to fish in the upper portion of Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and I pulled into the parking lot at ArkAnglers by 10:15AM. My stated reason for visiting the shop was to purchase thingamabobbers and split shot, but my true motive was to gain useful information regarding the location of the leading edge of the caddis hatch.
A young lanky gentleman behind the counter helped me find the split shot peg board, and after paying for my purchases, I popped the question regarding the caddis hatch progression. The young man quickly replied that I should begin near the Wellsville Bridge, although he also cautioned me that quite a few other fishermen preceded me, so I would likely encounter others in that area. He then went on to say that caddis were present from Cotopaxi to Salida, so that did not give me confidence or narrow down the possibilities very much. Another red flag appeared in my mind, when he added that the hatch no longer appears in dense clouds, but instead is more scattered in small clusters.
Since he mentioned the Wellsville Bridge first, and I happen to favor the stretch of the Arkansas River between Wellsville and Salida; I made a beeline for the spot that I named Lunch Rock above the Wellsville Bridge. A huge rock juts into the river, and I often relax there to eat my lunch and observe the eddy below for trout or insect activity. One other car preceded me, but the associated fisherman was in the run below Lunch Rock, and I planned to fish upstream, so I parked and prepared to fish. I elected to assemble my Sage One five weight, and began my quest for trout with a nymphing set up that included an ultra zug bug and a go2 sparkle pupa. This is a fly I created that combines the chartreuse diamond braid body from Tak’s go2 caddis with the structure of a LaFontaine sparkle pupa.
Much to my amazement I landed four brown trout in the first half hour of fishing, and I was feeling quite euphoric about my choice of fishing location and fly selection. Two of the thirteen inch trout sucked in the ultra zug bug, and two grabbed the go2 sparkle pupa. What a start! As this story was unfolding, I spotted a few blue winged olives, and although I felt it was early, I replaced the ultra zug bug with a Craven soft hackle emerger size 20. I now had a caddis pupa in case of a brachycentrus emergence, and a baetis emerger in case the fish favored the mayflies. Despite this keen observation and an arsenal of match the hatch offerings, I suffered through a half hour with no action despite casting through some very attractive shelf pools.
It was now noon, so I stopped to eat my lunch back at the car on lunch rock. How appropriate! After lunch I resumed my migration up along the left bank from the point where I quit to eat. I approached the huge wide deep slow moving tail of a pool where the strong center current cut the large river in half. This created two relatively smooth slower moving shelf pools on either side, but I could only reach the one on the south side of the river. I began drifting my nymphs at the tail by casting toward two o’clock, dead drifting downstream, and then allowing the wet flies to swing at the end. What a smart tactic! Nice brown trout in the twelve to thirteen inch range began attacking my flies like kids in a candy store. It was a pleasant turn of events, as I landed six additional brown trout between 12:30 and 1:30 from this area. Four fish consumed the soft hackle emerger, but two pounced on the go2 sparkle pupa, so both flies caught the attention of the fish at the tail of the long pool.
As one might imagine, I was feeling rather confident by 1:30 when I encountered another fisherman twenty yards above me just upstream from another large rock and associated deep eddy pool. In fact the fisherman and vehicle appeared to be the same as the person at lunch rock when I arrived earlier in the morning. I climbed the bank to the shoulder of the highway and returned to the car and moved a bit farther west. The bank between the Santa Fe and the river was relatively low where I resumed, and I fished some juicy edge pools with no signs of fish. I was actually in a state of disbelief, as I was confident I had the correct imitations, and the water looked like a brown trout fish farm with deep pockets and runs among large submerged boulders.
The guy in the fly shop mentioned a fisherman who reported that he had success casting a caddis dry fly along the edge even though there were no visible rises, so I decided to experiment with this tactic. I tied on a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis and hoped to attract some opportunistic edge dwellers, since a fair number of caddis were dapping the water. It did not work. Next I tried a Chernobyl ant trailing the go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger, and these flies were likewise firmly ignored. I realized that blue winged olives were absent from the environment for quite awhile, so I swapped the emerger for the ultra zug bug in the event that the fish tuned into egg laying caddis as the afternoon progressed. None of these changes evoked interest from the suddenly lockjawed trout of the Arkansas River.
At 3PM the sun was beating down, and it was quite warm, and I approached another fisherman, so I returned to the car once again and continued driving east on route 50 to the Vallie Bridge area, where I planned to camp. Perhaps the caddis progression had not yet reached Wellsville despite the fly shop’s recommendation, and I surmised that Vallie Bridge was a reasonable guess regarding the whereabouts of the elusive insects. I drove past the campground and continued for another two miles, until I reached the lease area where I parked. I usually fish upstream from the parking lot, but since no competing fishermen were present, I decided to explore the extreme eastern portion of the lease. I hiked down the railroad tracks for a half mile, and then I fought my way through some dense willows and bushes. I dipped through a dry irrigation bed and then climbed the berm between the ditch and the river and found myself adjacent to a nice stretch of water with deep runs among large submerged boulders.
The dry/dropper set up remained on my line, and it was not exciting the fish, and it was after 4PM. In anticipation of a late afternoon egg laying caddis event, I returned to the nymph rig and tied on a prince nymph along with a Gary LaFontaine diving adult. The latter fly is a wet fly that uses sparkle yarn as one of its components, and it is intended to imitate the female caddis as they dive to the bottom of the river to lay their eggs. Over the next hour I managed to hook two fish on the egg laying imitations, but both escaped before I could net them and identify which fly they favored. Nevertheless I was thrilled to experience action on some newly discovered water.
I thought I was far from other fishermen, but miraculously I bumped into another angler at this remote corner of the lease. This surprise encounter forced me to execute an early exit strategy, so I scrambled through some thick brush and then once again traversed the dry irrigation ditch. Once I reached the railroad tracks, I was lucky to find a gap in the fence, and this allowed for an express route along the dirt road back to the car.
I decided to make one more last ditch effort to surpass ten fish, so I hiked the railroad tracks west until I reached some nice deep runs and pockets at the upper end of the lease. The egg laying imitations failed to produce, and I returned to the campground by 5:30.
I managed to reach double digits, and I enjoyed two relatively short intense periods of action. The ten fish were all quite nice, as they measured in the twelve to fourteen inch size range. The weather was perfect with blue skies and high temperatures in the mid seventies. I sampled some new water on the lower end of the Vallie Bridge lease. Despite all these positives I once again failed to achieve my goal of meeting the magical emergence of caddis on the Arkansas River. I suffered through long periods of fruitless casting around the two time spans of concentrated fish catching success. I am coming to the conclusion that the dense caddis emergence of previous years no longer takes place. Thursday would be another chance to discover the caddis, but I was increasingly skeptical that this scenario would develop.