Arkansas River – 05/12/2012

Time: 11:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Champion Lease near Johnson Village and then at the Chafee – Fremont County Line

Fish Landed: 6

Arkansas River 05/12/2012 Photo Album

A cold front moved through Denver on Friday with overcast skies and steady rain. The weather forecast for Mothers’ Day weekend was highs in the low 60’s in Denver and additional precipitation. This is actually fairly typical weather for Colorado in May, but I’ve been spoiled by the many days of summer-like weather this spring. I wanted to go fishing on Saturday, but knew I’d have to stay at a lower elevation stream or risk fishing in temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s. The two lower elevation choices are the Arkansas River and the South Platte River. I read the fly shop reports and decided to make the Arkansas River my destination primarily because the flows on the South Platte below Cheesman Dam were 100, and that usually means tough fishing. The ArkAngler report on the other hand was touting remaining caddis between Salida and Buena Vista.

I didn’t bother getting off to an early start as I knew the air temperature would take a while to warm. I was correct on that assumption as there was snow covering the ground for my entire drive across South Park and the temperature stayed steadily at 29-30 degrees. Fortunately as I dropped down from Trout Creek Pass to the Arkansas River valley the temperature rose to the high 40’s and low 50’s. Based on the ArkAnglers information about caddis above Salida, I decided to try a lease that I’d driven by many times but never stopped. A big green sign informed me that it was the Champion Lease. I bundled up in my fleece and windbreaker pullover and followed the path down to the river.

Near Trout Creek Pass on Way to Arkansas River


The point where I entered the river and crossed was relatively unattractive compared to what I’m used to downstream on the Arkansas. It was wide with constant riffles and not many rocks or places that offered cover for fish. I worked up along the east bank in some marginal areas with a beadhead bright green caddis pupa and a beadhead RS2 with no action and I didn’t even spot any fish. Another fisherman arrived and crossed the river above me to my side, so when I came upon him I crossed back to the west side. He was left handed so I suppose that is why he preferred the side of the river I was on.

First Fishing Location

Once I crossed back to the west side I worked my way up the left bank with the nymphs and couldn’t muster any indication of the presence of fish. I clipped off the caddis pupa and tied on a beadhead hares ear. Nothing came from that change out so I tried an Arkansas rubberlegs on top. This heavy fly certainly sank quickly to the bottom, but again no response. By 12:30 I’d covered quite a bit of water, some of which looked attractive, and hadn’t even seen a fish. This is highly unusual for the Arkansas River. As to the caddis, there was scant evidence that this bug even lived in this stretch of the Arkansas.

Cacti in Bloom

I clipped my fly to the rod guide and decided to walk back to the car and move to another location. I could go upstream to Buena Vista near the kayak area or head further down to my favorite spot below Salida. As I was facing a skunking, I elected the latter as I had confidence I could pound up a fish or two there.

By the time I drove to the Chafee – Fremont county line and ate my lunch on the high rock perch as is my custom, it was 1:30 when I resumed fishing. I crossed the long pool at the tail and walked up along the north bank beyond the white water stretch at the top of the pool. I replaced the stonefly nymph with a duke nymph hoping the fish would remember egg laying adult caddis. Below the duke I kept a RS2 and hoped that some BWO activity would kick in.

Nice Stretch of Arkansas River Below Salida

I fished the nymphs hard for an hour or so and covered a fair amount of water that I knew held fish, but had only a couple sub-six inch browns that weren’t counters. In frustration I decided to go with a hopper/dropper and see if I could attract some bank dwellers to opportunistically feed. First I tied on a yellow Charlie Boy hopper and added a beadhead hares ear and picked up two more tiny browns. The Charlie Boy wasn’t attracting any fish and tended to sink when the deer hair became water logged so I switched to a Chernobyl ant and then added a RS2 below the BHHE.

Concurrent with this change some big gray clouds blocked the sun and the breeze kicked up a bit and I spotted one or two tiny BWO’s on the surface. This all occurred at around 3PM and I finally connected and landed a 10 inch brown. I’ve never been so pleased to land a ten inch fish. But this brown alerted me to the fact that fish were beginning to tune into the BWO nymphs. Between 3 and 4PM the fish became active and I landed five more trout, two rainbows and three browns. One of the rainbows was a nice 14 inch fish that put up quite a battle even against the sturdy six weight Scott that I was wielding. Of the six fish I landed on the day, five were fooled by the RS2 and one was attracted to the duke nymph.

Best Fish of the Day, a Rainbow

As quickly as the action heated up at 3, it shut down at 4. I continued fishing the same flies in the same manner in some very attractive runs and pockets along the north bank, but once again a case of lockjaw had overcome the fish. I decided to quit at five and make the return trip very happy knowing that I’d avoided a skunking and salvaged six decent fish. Unfortunately I experienced 4.5 hours of nothing for the sake of one hour of hot action.

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