Time: 9:30AM – 2:00PM
Location: Fremont – Chafee County line
Fish Landed: 12
Clearly my week on the two forks of the White River in the Flattops spoiled me. I was back to the reality of fishing the more pressured and accessible rivers of Colorado, and these waterways required much more work to catch smaller and fewer fish. I was certain that the Arkansas River would provide me with some exciting fall fishing, but Friday taught me not to take anything for granted.
After a Friday fraught with frustration, I debated whether to follow through with my plan to camp overnight in order to be in a position to fish the Arkansas River in the morning on Saturday. The weather forecast projected Saturday to be a carbon copy of Friday, and I was reluctant to endure another day of battling wind and slow afternoon fishing under bright blue cloudless skies. However as I evaluated alternatives, I realized that September 19 was a weekend, and most of the local options would likely involve waves of fishermen unable to enjoy their pastime during weekdays. I packed the camping gear in order to avoid the three hour morning drive, so I finally concluded that my best option was to carry on with my original plan. The Arkansas is a very large river with many miles of public access, so it can accommodate hordes of weekend fishermen.
I drove from my Friday fishing spot below Salida to the Vallie Bridge Arkansas River Recreation Campground and arrived by 5PM. It was unusual to arrive at my camping location with several hours of daylight remaining. Even more surprising was the absence of other campers on a Friday evening. I set up my REI two person tent and then took a break to enjoy a beer before I prepared a quick dinner and cleaned up. The wind abated, and some large gray clouds moved over the Sangre de Cristo range to the south. I snapped a photo of the mountains just below a gray cloud with the sun reflecting off the northwest face. The air temperature remained quite comfortable, and I applauded my decision to follow through with my camping plans.
According to my plan I pulled up stakes on Saturday morning by 8:30 and arrived at the Fremont – Chafee county line by 9:00. I remembered fishing the Arkansas River at this same time several years ago with Dave Gaboury and guide Taylor Edrington, and we experienced a decent amount of success using deep nymphs. In fact one of the productive flies from that outing was the iron sally, and I had several in my fly patch that I tied during the 2013 winter. This then became my game plan; to probe the deep runs with a pair of nymphs and an indicator.
Once again I crossed the river at the tail of the long pool below my parking place, and then I hiked down the railroad tracks until I was below the small island. There were two sets of nice deep runs that did not yield any fish on Friday, and I was convinced that the deep nymph approach would reverse this outcome on Saturday. I was right. I hooked and lost a fish on the top third of the first run, and then a second fish hammered the iron sally as the nymphs began to swing at the end of the drift. My first fish of the day was a chunky fourteen inch brown trout, and I was very pleased to register a fish within fifteen minutes of my start.
I continued up the river with the indicator, split shot, iron sally and salvation nymph until 11 o’clock, and during this morning session I incremented my fish count to seven. The average size of these fish was in the twelve inch range with my initial fourteen inch brown and a thirteen inch wild fish included as well. I was much more selective about the water type I chose to fish, and I skipped many segments of the river that were not amenable to the deep nymph approach.
Late in the morning I encountered a stretch of river that looked fishy, but it was not a deep run similar to the water that I was seeking. I made a few casts, and my flies repeatedly snagged the rocks and sticks on the riverbed. I decided that I could obtain better drifts with a dry/dropper approach, so I converted to a yellow Letort hopper and beadhead hares ear. I made some great casts with this combination and managed to keep the hopper floating, but my only reaction to the change was several looks at the top fly. Next I exchanged the Letort hopper for a hares ear parachute hopper, and this performed in similar fashion with only a couple subsurface investigations. Since the top fly was not matching the expectations of the fish, I decided to go in a buoyant direction and tied on a gray pool toy. Since this fly could support more weight, I added a small beadhead RS2 and swapped the iron sally for a beadhead hares ear.
Finally this combination yielded a nice twelve inch brown that grabbed the RS2 just as I lifted the flies in front of a rock. I was feeling a bit more optimistic now that I hooked a fish after a long dry spell, but I reached the long smooth pool across from the Santa Fe. I skipped around this water via the railroad tracks, and then dropped back down at the head of the pool. When I surveyed the river at this point, I concluded that it screamed out for the deep nymphing method that rewarded me during the morning. Once again I patiently converted my system and began probing the deeper runs with the nymphs. Much to my amazement the nymphs were soundly ignored. By now the sun was high in the sky, and the air temperature was pushing into the seventies, as it was around noon. Could the day already be entering the summer doldrums period?
I began to consider an early departure, but persisted by moving upstream at a more rapid pace while selecting only deep sections of the river where I judged that the indicator method might produce. Finally I was across from a spot where a large boulder jutted out from the bank and trapped several branches and logs. In front of this mess was a short but deep pocket. I accurately dropped a cast six feet above the boulder, and before the nymphs could snag the sunken logs, I moved my rod upstream and caused the flies to swing by the snarl. Within seconds of executing this maneuver, I felt weight on my rod and set the hook and battled a thirteen inch brown trout to my net. This was my best fishing tactic during my two days on the Arkansas River, and I was quite pleased with the response.
As I continued moving upstream with the nymphs I met with no additional success, so I decided to resume the dry/dropper gambit. The water before me consisted of a lot of pockets and runs of moderate depth, and it would be much easier to prospect with a shallow dry/dropper offering. I elected to knot a gray pool toy to my line and beneath that I added the beadhead hares ear and RS2. I drifted these flies through some prime locations for twenty minutes, and then I saw a rise in a very attractive deep pool next to the bank. I could see the fish, and it appeared to be of above average size, but it drifted up to inspect the hopper and then returned to its holding position.
How could I interest this fish in one of my flies? The prospecting technique was not producing, so why not focus on this fish and experiment with some fly changes? I removed the trio of flies and tied on a parachute black ant. I was certain this would do the trick since periodic gusts of wind probably dispersed terrestrials into the river. Not a chance. The ant provoked no interest. Next I remembered Jake’s Gulp Beetle that delivered twenty fish to my net on the Elk River in BC. I replaced the ant with a beetle and began to plop it along the bank of the river.
I gave up on the targeted fish that prompted fly changes, but the beetle yielded three more trout over the remainder of the afternoon before the wind forced me to retire at two o’clock. Beetle plopping did not work in all the juicy spots, but it did often enough to maintain my interest, and clearly nothing else seemed to tempt the fish of the Arkansas River to eat.
The Arkansas River needs some clouds, rain and cool temperatures to initiate some true early autumn fishing conditions. Honestly I expected to catch more that twenty-one fish during two days on the Arkansas River in the middle of September, but given the circumstances I am actually pleased with my results. Hopefully things will change before I return after our trip to Pennsylvania next week.