Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM
Location: Between Lunch Rock and Fremont/Chafee County line
Fish Landed: 5
Although I was convinced that I would not encounter the magical leading edge of the Arkansas River caddis emergence, I continued to be excited about another day of fishing. Instead of attempting to move around and chase the hatch, I decided to commit to a location and fish the water. I enjoyed numerous successful trips on the segment between Salida and Wellsville in the past, so I was sure that if I applied my normal fishing techniques and knowledge to gold medal water, I could achieve positive results even if I struck out on the caddis hatch. I camped on Wednesday night, so this offered the additional advantage of being in close proximity to the river, and this translated into an early start. The fishing was best between 11AM and 1:30PM on Wednesday, so perhaps the time period before 11AM was even better. I had no sample size from which to draw conclusions regarding the morning fishing.
Once again I relied on information from my weather app to decide to camp on Wednesday night, as the forecasts suggested low temperatures in the forties. Therefore I was quite surprised to discover a layer of frost on the stove, tablecloth and rain fly when I woke up at 6:30. In addition to the colder than expected temperatures I shared the campground with a stray black angus bull. I never determined how he circumvented the fence surrounding the campground, but I noticed him grazing among several campsites on Wednesday evening, as I set up the tent. He eventually migrated to the grassy area between the campground and the road, and this is where he remained when I surveyed the area on Thursday morning. In fact he paused from munching his grass breakfast to scrutinize me, as I passed him on my return from the bathroom.
At any rate I had to wait for the tent and tablecloth to thaw and dry before I packed them in the car, but I still managed to be on the water fishing by 9:30, and this created an additional 1.5 hours of morning angling compared to the previous day. I decided to return to the section of water between Lunch Rock and the Fremont/Chafee County line where I quit on Wednesday before moving to Vallie Bridge. It was sunny and bright, but the temperature was in the low fifties so I wore my fleece when I embarked on my second day of fishing on the Arkansas River. In another change from Wednesday I switched from my Sage One five weight to my Sage four weight, as my arm and shoulder cried for some relief.
I began with a nymph set up and tied on a prince nymph as my top fly and an ultra zug bug as the bottom offering. I hoped to find some fish feeding on egg laying caddis. I also tried one of the two locking thingamabobbers that I purchased at ArkAnglers on Wednesday morning. Halfway between my start point and the place where the river moves away from the highway, I was surprised to see a dip in the indicator, and I set the hook and landed a nice thirteen inch brown trout that grabbed the prince nymph.
When I approached the large sycamore tree between the river and the road, I climbed to the shore and circled above to a nice run and riffle area. This water was similar to the type that yielded decent success on Wednesday, and I was excited to notice a few blue winged olives, so I replaced the ultra zug bug with a soft hackle emerger. The nice deep slow moving water at the tail and along the side of the run did not deliver, but when I cast to some very shallow riffles among some rocks at the extreme top, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and landed a twelve inch overweight brown that featured the soft hackle emerger in its lip. My fish count stood at two, and I had only been fishing for an hour, so perhaps the morning period would be more productive.
I continued up the river for a bit to a huge deep pool and an eddy behind a massive rock that jutted into the river. I never have much luck in this type of water, but I donated fifteen casts to the location, and this reaffirmed my avoidance of deep pools on the Arkansas River. Another fisherman was above me, so I considered my options and decided to ascend the bank to the road, and then hiked back to the car, and moved to the Fremont/Chafee County line. I hoped that the flows remained at a level where I could make a crossing, and this would position me to fish the northern edge of the river where far fewer fishermen ventured.
I parked at the pullout at the county line and removed my fleece and stuffed my lunch in my backpack. As I assumed, I was able to slowly and carefully cross at the tail of the long pool below the car, and then I hiked down the railroad tracks to my favorite area of the Arkansas River. I began at the top of the second deep run below the island, but I was surprised that no fish attacked my flies. Past experience assured me that numerous trout reside in this attractive section of the river.
The next nice run and shelf pool was similarly difficult on Thursday despite some nice casts and focused fishing. By now I witnessed a fairly dense BWO emergence, and I was at a loss to explain why my soft hackle emerger was not producing. It worked on Wednesday, and this was the same river. I exchanged the Craven soft hackle emerger for one that I purchased from Royal Gorge Angler, since Taylor Edrington vouched for the fat CDC wing case. This was also ignored. I worked my way quickly up along the left side of the island with nothing to reward me for my thorough search.
Next I waded along the edge of the river and back to the downstream tip of the island, and I paused along the gradual gravel beach next to the long pool on the small north braid. I waited quite awhile for a fish to show, and eventually two rises emerged in the lower portion of the pool. I took the time to remove the nymphs, indicator and split shot; and I knotted a CDC BWO to my line. I lofted some nice casts to the area of the rises, but the fish ignored the small baetis imitation. Next I shot some prospecting casts upstream and then up and over, but still no response.
It was 11:45, and I was hungry, so I decided to eat my lunch and observe. While I ate, I spotted a subtle rise off the point of a large ledge rock across from me, and two splashy rises in the current seam twenty feet above where I saw the two rises when I first approached the pool. I decided to try a double dry to cover the possibility that the upper splashy riser was slurping caddis. I tied on a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis and then added the CDC BWO on a six inch dropper.
First I took a shot at the fish off the point of the rock, and this resulted in a refusal, but it was obvious that this fish was quite small. Next I targeted the splashy riser, but neither of my offerings interested the fish. I waded to the midsection of the pool and began lofting casts to the top segment from distance, but much to my amazement no fish were attracted to the dancing dry flies. The top portion of the long pool on the small right channel is normally money in the bank, but on Thursday morning it was simply frustrating. I did see one fish below the surface move toward the flies, but it backed off at the last instant. This is always an inauspicious sign.
Clearly my surface flies were not what the fish wanted, but the fish were obviously feeding as evidenced by the few rises. I decided to use my normal dry/dropper approach, as it worked quite well in this area on previous visits. I tend to over analyze situations, and I surmised that this may have been one such incident. I tied on a tan Charlie boy hopper that displayed numerous teeth marks from previous usage, and below the Charlie boy I knotted a go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger. This combination resulted in a foul hooked fish that apparently rose to the hopper, and in my zeal to connect after a long drought, I set the hook and dragged one of the trailing nymphs into its body.
Along the left edge in some fairly nondescript shallow pockets, I generated a couple refusals, and then I approached a narrow deep slot that runs along a large vertical rock on the north bank. On the first cast a huge fish rose and inspected the hopper and then dropped back to the depths. My heart stopped for an instant at this sighting. Then as the flies continued toward the tailout of the slot, a second smaller brown refused the hopper. I made several more casts, and on the fourth drift the large fish once again appeared. This time it actually did a circle under the Charlie boy, but once again it rejected my large foam terrestrial. This fish, which probably measured between 15 and 20 inches had my attention. Perhaps it was looking up for terrestrials, but not grasshoppers. I tied on a Letort hopper as I hoped the more slender profile would turn the tide. This did not even provoke a look. Next I tried a Jake’s gulp beetle. Nothing. Finally I pulled out my trusty size 8 Chernobyl ant. This big attractor did not interest the big guy, but it did generate a second refusal from the lower brown trout. I threw up my hands and decided to move on.
It was now around 1PM, and the sun was bright, and the air temperature was moving toward its peak of 76 degrees. I knew from Wednesday that these conditions were quite pleasant for human beings, but not to the liking of trout, and I feared I squandered the best part of the day stubbornly dwelling on the normally productive north channel along the island. I debated quitting, but I worked hard to cross the river, and I was now positioned on the side that few fishermen attempted to reach. Certainly I needed to capitalize on this investment in stream field position.
I retained the large Chernobyl ant as my surface indicator fly, and below that I tied on the go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger. I planned to stick to the right edge of the river and prospect the best pockets, and perhaps I could find a few bank huggers willing to move to one of the flies.
Between 1 and 3PM I deployed this strategy, and I added three more fish to my count. They were all very nice fish in the thirteen to fourteen inch range, but I covered a ton of water and wore out my arm in the process. All three came from short deep pockets where the current formed the outside border. I tossed the flies to the center area, and when they reached the sweet spot where the outer currents merged, the fish nabbed one of the trailing flies. On several occasions a large cloud blocked the sun, and during these brief periods of cloudiness, I observed a few straggling blue winged olives. This probably explains why two of the afternoon browns displayed the tiny soft hackle emerger in their lip. The third brown grabbed the go2 sparkle pupa.
When I reached my initial crossing point, I climbed out of the water and then scaled the steep bank to the railroad tracks. On the way up the bank I almost stepped on a snake, but I spotted it in time to make a right turn and not disturb it. I took the railroad tracks express lane to the pockets, runs and riffles above the long pool, and I was certain I would pick up a few additional fish, but I was mistaken. By 3 o’clock I made the long return hike and slowly and safely made the crossing to the highway side of the river.
It was a tough day from a numbers perspective with five fish finding my net over five hours of concentrated fishing. But all the fish were quite nice, and I enjoyed having the entire north bank of the large river to myself. I love to move about and do not relish having my progress impeded by upstream fishermen. Clearly I did not encounter the caddis hatch that I deeply yearned to meet. It seems that a fisherman cannot count on beautiful weather and hot fishing. They are mutually exclusive events. I was in a gorgeous setting on a lovely spring day in a relatively solitary position, and I fooled a few fish. That pretty much sizes up my fishing venture on May 5.