Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Hayden Meadows
Jane and I packed up our wet campsite on Wednesday morning, and Jane returned home to dry out the tent, canopy and tablecloth, while I embarked on yet another day of fly fishing adventure. On July 12, 2016 the apparent absence of fish on Half Moon Creek caused me to alter my plans, and I salvaged my day with a visit to the Hayden Meadows area of the north Arkansas River. Since I was positioned at Hornsilver Campground north of Tennessee Pass, I was in striking distance of the same section of the Arkansas River Headwaters Area, so I decided to give it another trial.
I climbed Tennessee Pass and passed through Leadville and arrived at the northern parking lot by 9:30. The Department of Transportation was doing road work in the area where one turns to access the parking space for Hayden Meadows, and as I prepared to fish, a group of wader clad fishermen were standing in a circle in the larger lot by the trail that leads to the stocked lake. I could hear guides calling out instructions to the students. I was concerned that this crowd would descend upon the river in a short amount of time, so I elevated my usual preparation pace. I selected my Loomis five weight rod, and I quickly tromped down the dirt road toward the bridge that crosses the river.
Two other cars were parked in the same area as me, and a woman returned from walking her dog, so that accounted for one of the vehicles. As I began ambling down the two lane dirt road on the west side of the river, I passed a lone fisherman, and that explained the second car. I decided to hike for twenty minutes, and I was fairly certain this would distance me from the fly fishing class in the western lot. This was the second instance in 2017 that I crossed paths with a fly fishing class.
The air temperature was cool for July as the thermometer registered sixty degrees, and large gray clouds covered most of the western sky. During my time on the river, the temperature never exceeded the mid seventies, and the gray clouds blocked the sun seventy percent of the time. The river was clear and 220 cfs translated to a rapid pace, and I was unable to cross until I reached a place where it divided into multiple smaller channels.
I adhered to my plan and hiked for twenty minutes, and at that point I cut sharply to the left and bushwhacked through some tall grass and wild shrubs until I encountered the river. I began fishing with a chubby Chernobyl with a mustard colored body, an emerald caddis pupa and a beadhead hares ear nymph. It took me awhile to understand the productive water type, but eventually I learned that the dry/dropper produced the best results at the tail of long slicks behind large rocks and at the downstream end of the inside seam of a bend. This knowledge enabled me to tally five landed fish between ten o’clock and noon, when I paused for lunch. The first fish was an eight inch brown that snatched the emerald caddis pupa in a small marginal seam along the bank. The others were nice brown trout in the 12 – 13 inch range, and these hungry fish grabbed the hares ear at the tail of deeper slots behind obstructions in the middle of the river. I exchanged the chubby Chernobyl for a yellow fat Albert within the first twenty minutes to obtain better visibility in the low light conditions.
Mosquitoes were initially a severe nuisance, but after I sprayed my neck and hands with insect repellent, they seemed to fade. I chose a lunch spot that was away from the tall grasses and shrubs in order to avoid stirring up another mosquito nest. While I crunched my carrots, I observed a nice deep run along the bank just upstream, and I noted two dimpling rises. I was unwilling to attribute this surface feeding to small fish, and once I was properly geared up, I removed the dry/dropper configuration and adopted a single dry fly method. I saw one small pale morning dun attempting to become airborne, so I opted for a size 16 light gray comparadun, and I placed five casts over the scene of the dimples. I received no verification that my fly selection was appropriate, so I stripped in the comparadun and pondered my next move.
As I cast the PMD imitation, I saw the second large lumbering drake of the day. The ArkAnglers web site identified these as gray drakes, and I wondered if a large drake imitation might tempt the local stream dwellers. I also noticed quite a few small blue winged olives, but I was reluctant to go that route in the dim light and glare in relatively fast water. I gazed in my fly box and selected a size 14 green drake comparadun.
I gave up on the lunch time riser, and slowly waded to the top of the narrow ribbon of slow water along the bank. I paused, and as I looked on, I could see the back fin of a decent fish, as it plucked something from the surface in some swirly currents. I fluttered the comparadun to the location of the sighted fish, and I was unable to follow my fly, so I lifted and felt the momentary weight of a fish. It was only a split second, but I was certain that I pricked the sighted fish, and I knew that there would be a temporary pause in its feeding regimen.
I moved on, and the comparadun generated a refusal, so I decided to try a size 12 2XL medium olive stimulator. I recalled that a stimulator was effective on July 12, 2016, and I hoped to recapture the year ago success. I persisted with the stimulator for ten minutes, but it was not attracting any interest, so I once again paused to consider my options. I studied the green drake section of my fly box, and I focused on a set of Harrop green drakes, that I tied over the winter. These flies presented a stimulator body and wing form, but the colors were much more imitative of green and gray drakes. I grabbed one and replaced the stimulator.
The choice proved to be a clear winner. The fish counter climbed from five to fifteen over the remainder of the afternoon, and the Arkansas River trout loved the Harrop green drake. Many of the netted fish streaked two or three feet downstream to intercept the high riding drake before it could escape or tumble into faster water. The takes were direct and confident. The most difficult aspect of the afternoon fishing was finding the right type of water to fool the brown trout. Nearly all of the ten afternoon drake chompers were in the five foot band of slow moving water between the bank and the heavy current. Quite often I executed a reach cast and then allowed the fly to float downstream, and a brown trout appeared from the depths and confidently smashed the Harrop green drake.
Needless to say, I had a blast. For the second day in a row, I fished primarily a single dry fly and avoided all the hassles related to casting three flies among willows, bushes and windy conditions. Once I stumbled on the favored fly, it was a matter of covering a lot of water in order to find the prime spots where brown trout opportunistically pounced on a large bushy drake imitation. The greatest challenges were the dim light and frequent glare, and the repeated cycle of absorbing water from the fly and then dipping in dry shake. When the wings of the Harrop deer hair drake became wet and matted, the fly seemed to lose effectiveness.
By 3:15 I encountered another fisherman, and I soon learned that I bumped into the fly fishing class. In the .5 mile area below the bridge near my starting point I counted at least eight fishermen. I used this as an excuse to circle around the group, and I reached the bridge and then returned to the car. I am not sure how long the drakes will continue to entice Hayden Meadows trout to the surface, but I would welcome another opportunity to float my Harrop hair wings in the area. Fishing large dry flies to willing trout is a rare treat.
Fish Landed: 15