Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
Location: Chafee – Fremont County line area
Fish Landed: 26
I’m in love with the Arkansas River. Why? Read on.
I planned to spend a couple days on the Arkansas River when my friend Jeff Shafer visited in September but the five days of heavy rain and then some heavy thunderstorms the next week caused the river to be off color, so we switched plans and substituted the Taylor River. I love fishing the Arkansas in the fall and Wednesday October 2 offered the first opportunity in 2013 to quench my desire to make the trip and do some fishing. The high temperature was forecast for the mid-70’s and the fly shops reported that the river was once again clear and providing excellent fishing for hungry pre-spawn brown trout.
I packed up everything on Tuesday evening except for food and water so that I was able to leave the house by 6:30AM and avoid morning rush hour traffic. Of course this was after discussing the purchase of a second home in Eagle Ranch with Jane and deciding to submit an offer. Jane planned to contact our real estate agent during the day and do whatever was necessary to make a bid.
Aside from several five minute delays due to road construction on 285 in South Park, the trip was uneventful and I turned into the pullout at the Chafee-Fremont County boundary at 9:45. The temperature was in the low 50’s as I prepared to fish so I wore my raincoat for warmth and that allowed more room in my backpack for my lunch. I crossed at the tail of the huge pool directly below the Santa Fe and climbed the steep bank to the railroad tracks and then hiked downstream a half mile or so. Here I cut down a gully to the river and then carefully stepped through some rocks to a point 50 yards below the small island. The smaller north channel around the island is my favorite spot on the Arkansas River, and I was trying to manage my day so that I would be on that water in the early afternoon.
I originally planned to use my Sage four weight rod and rig up with the nymphing setup that Taylor Edrington taught Dave Gaboury and me on our guided fishing trip in 2012, but I was haunted by the small north channel around the island, and realized the nymphing approach was not appropriate for that water. For this reason I abandoned the nymphing idea and decided to go with the conventional nymphing approach with a tapered leader and strike indicator. The other approach makes converting to dry flies much more time consuming and I wasn’t willing to commit the day to exclusive nymphing.
I placed a strike indicator on my tapered leader and tied on a weighted 20 incher as my top fly and as my source of weight and then added a beadhead hares ear nymph. I began searching the nice deep runs and seams with my nymph tandem and much to my surprise went a half hour or so before connecting with a fish. My first fish was a nice rainbow in the 13 inch range and when I got to the more shallow riffles at the top of the run, I landed three more small browns that hit the hares ear. A brief foray up the left side of the island yielded another small brown on the 20 incher and then I returned to the base of the north braid.
Because of the large amount of recent rain, I probably could have continued with nymphs as the flows were more like spring levels instead of the usual low clear conditions that prompt me to use a dry/dropper approach, but I was weary of tossing nymphs so I converted to a parachute gray hopper and kept the beadhead hares ear. Unfortunately these flies only produced one medium size brown and I’d covered the gut of the channel where I usually land the bulk of my fish. I decided to make a change and replaced the hopper with a Chernobyl ant, and I also added a RS2 as a third fly. This immediately paid dividends and a nice 14 inch rainbow slammed the Chernobyl and I managed to land it, but it escaped my net somehow before I was able to photograph.
I was now optimistic that the north braid would return to super productive status, but now I began getting refusals and on one of these I set the hook and foul hooked a big fish that rocketed downstream and eventually tore off all three of my flies! In a fit of frustration I sat down on the bank and removed my frontpack and backpack and ate my lunch. It was around noon and I’d covered 2/3 of my north braid holy water. Two hours of fishing yielded seven trout, but only the last rainbow was above average size and my sweet spot wasn’t producing.
I could go on with a blow by blow description of the flies and approach but essentially there were two distinct periods and I had success during both of them. Initially after lunch I began to see the occasional BWO emerging and fluttering skyward and from the top 1/3 of the north channel until the point where I crossed at the tail of the large pool I had quite a bit of success with the Chenobyl/hares ear/RS2 combination although I broke off a couple RS2’s so I decided to substitute the BWO emerger developed by Charlie Craven.
During this time between 1PM and 3PM I landed approximately ten fish and most were in the medium size range of twelve inches. Most of the fish were taking either the hares ear or RS2/emerger and most of the fish were coming from either the tail of riffles and slick areas behind rocks or from the very edge of the river next to the bank. In fact I landed two or three decent browns from very thin runs of water only a foot or so deep. I was quite shocked that I didn’t see these fish as they seemed to just materialize out of the rock and sand bottom. Brown trout possess an amazing camouflage. The belly or midsection of the pools and runs were largely unproductive, and I probably could have saved a lot of time by skipping them.
At 3PM the BWO’s were largely absent but a solitary mayfly would appear on rare occasions. I braced myself for slow fishing as is normally the case in late afternoon on the Arkansas River and I was now located on the north bank of the long slow moving pool below the car and pullout. I find this water difficult to fish because it is largely featureless and I was about to circle around it and jump to the next section of faster water with bankside pockets that are much more to my liking. But some part of my brain gnawed at me to be thorough and complete so I decided to quickly cover this water, but rationed myself to one cast within four feet of the bank and then take three or four forward steps and make another cast and continually move along.
Guess what happened? Big fish started swirling and chomping on the Chernobyl ant. Fish numbers 17 through 21 were 13 – 15 inch fish that came to my net during this period and most confidently sucked in the Chernobyl. I covered quite a distance between fish, but when one appeared and mangled my fly, it was always a pleasant surprise. Twice I cast with my left hand so I could support myself with my wading staff in my right hand and while doing this, I noticed a swirl to the Chernobyl and set the hook left handed.
Because of the size of the fish, the intermittent success, and the pleasant air temperatures I continued on beyond 4PM until finally quitting at 5. I continued to have decent success over the last 1.5 hours, but the emerger and hares ear returned to the flies favored by the trout. Some of this may have had to do with the type of water as I moved into faster water with pockets, riffles and runs. In addition a second wave of BWO’s appeared although the late brood was even more sparse than the earlier emergence. The BWO emerger did, however, begin to shine and accounted for two or three of the fish landed during the late afternoon time period.
It was just a great day on the Arkansas River. The sky was brilliant blue and the air temperature rose to the mid-70’s so that I fished without any layers in the afternoon. There was enough insect activity to get the fish active in spite of the bright blue sky and lack of cloud cover. And best of all I was able to prospect with a large buoyant visible Chernobyl ant and catch large fish on it. One couldn’t ask for more late in the season when aquatic insects and terrestrials become scarce due to the freezing nighttime temperatures. I’m already trying to figure out when I can return.