Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Lunch Rock and upstream .5 – 1 mile.
Fish Landed: 20
Fly fishing is a fickle endeavor. Since I reserved a room at the Woodland Motel in Salida for Thursday night, October 1, I remained in the area. Otherwise I would have probably driven home on Thursday night. Thursday was one of the toughest and most frustrating days I ever experienced on the Arkansas River; a river that has grown to become my favorite Colorado river. I was seriously reevaluating that designation. Even though I was committed to stay in Salida for the night, I weighed alternative fishing options for Friday. The South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon was one obvious candidate, as I estimated it was probably a one hour drive from Salida.
To help with my decision, I decided to visit ArkAnglers along US 50 after breakfast. I needed some new strike indicators, so that was an obvious excuse to stop at the fly shop and ask questions. A young man was behind the counter when I entered the store, and he quickly assisted me with my purchase, and then I began to pelt him with queries. He essentially confirmed the information that was already presented on the ArkAnglers’ web site. Fish the deep runs in the morning with nymphs including a midge larva. Switch to a baetis nymph at 11AM, and look for the fish to spread out a bit to the moderate depth riffles and pockets. If the sky is cloudy, adults appear on the surface between 1PM and 4PM. If it is sunny and bright, try fishing a dry/dropper along the edges from mid-afternoon until evening.
I concluded that I should give the Arkansas River an opportunity to redeem itself. It was forecast to be cooler, the fish had an additional day to acclimate to the higher flows, I would try new water, and I planned to adjust my approach after speaking with the young man at ArkAnglers.
I drove along U.S. 50 until I approached Lunch Rock, and here I executed a U-turn and parked by the rock facing west. Lunch Rock is approximately .5 mile above the Wellsville bridge. The temperature was in the low 50’s, and the sun finally broke through the thin cloud cover, so I chose to stuff my raincoat in my backpack and fish without an extra layer. As a significant commitment to changing my technique I rigged my Sage four weight with the level line nymph set up that Taylor Edrington taught me several years ago. I removed my tapered leader and attached a six inch section of 0X tippet via a loop to loop connection to my fly line. Next I used an improved clinch knot to tie the 0X section to a thingamabobber, and then I unfurled a five foot length of 5X tippet and knotted that to the thingamabobber as well. My final step included crimping a small split shot a foot above the top fly, and then I added a salvation nymph and size 22 beadhead zebra midge. I was skeptical that the tiny midge larva would produce fish in the big water of the Arkansas River, but the store clerk insisted.
I am still somewhat in disbelief over what happened next. I positioned myself above Lunch Rock to fish a narrow deep slot, and on the fifth drift deep in the tail of the trough, the indicator dipped, and I fought and landed a fourteen inch brown trout. When I examined the fish more closely in my net, I was shocked to discover the zebra midge in its lip! How could such a large fish detect such a tiny morsel in the large volume of water spilling through a chute above Lunch Rock?
I continued fishing upstream along the left bank for the next hour and landed four more trout. Three inhaled the tiny midge larva imitation and one snatched the salvation nymph from the drift. It was mind boggling, and I was indebted to the ArkAngler store clerk for insisting that I use a midge imitation. In addition to the fourteen inch brown the other fish were quite respectable and measured in the twelve inch range with a thirteen inch brown also in the mix.
By 10:30 I spotted a blue winged olive or two hovering above the water, and this was a clue to change out the midge larva for a RS2. It was a bit early according to my ArkAnglers’ directions, but I decided to make a slight deviation. It proved to be a fortuitous move, as I landed six additional brown trout before breaking for lunch at 11:40. All the deep pockets and runs seemed to yield fish, and four attacked the RS2 while two more were attracted to the salvation. I was actively imparting movement to the nymphs by lifting and reverse mending, and the trout seemed to respond to this action.
Just before lunch I approached a large ledge rock that jutted into the river to create a huge deep eddy. I did not expect this type of water to yield fish, but I lobbed a couple casts to the very tail of the eddy where the turbulent current swirled and sent water in every direction. It looked like the eye of a hurricane to my searching eyes. Miraculously on the fifth cast the indicator darted sideways, and I set the hook and stripped in a twelve inch brown that inhaled the RS2. Another subsequent cast produced a similar reaction, and I was chastising myself for almost skipping this type of water. Several more casts failed to produce, so I moved up and across from the middle of the eddy and flicked a cast to that area. Again the indicator streaked sideways, and I netted a third eddy dweller. I had one more momentary contact with a fish that felt heavier than the others, but this feeder managed to shed the hook in a brief amount of time.
I climbed the steep bank to the shoulder of the highway and marched back to the car and then drove west and parked a bit beyond my lunch departure spot. After lunch I scrambled back down the bank to the eddy, and I began to fish upstream. Between noon and 1:30 I built my fish count to seventeen by employing the same techniques that served me during the late morning hot streak. I saw a few sporadic rises, so I exchanged the RS2 for a beadless soft hackle emerger, and this fly became a desirable commodity to the Arkansas River brown trout. Once again the fish responded to active line movement. The most productive maneuver was to cast three quarters upstream, and then as the indicator drifted back across from my position, I executed downstream mends that accelerated the flies for two to three feet. This action apparently created the illusion of an emerging blue winged olive, because the fish responded quite often by snaring the trailing emerger.
One particularly memorable experience occurred when I approached a long riffle that was two to three feet deep. In this case I shot a long cast directly upstream to the top of the riffle, and after the indicator drifted five feet it paused. I immediately lifted and set the hook and found myself attached to a throbbing head shaking fifteen inch brown trout. I always get a huge thrill out of extracting big fish from less than obvious locations.
Toward the end of this period I reached a spot where a large vertical rock wall bordered the river. This was actually where I sat and ate my lunch high above the water, and while munching my sandwich, I spotted two decent trout in a large pocket behind a large submerged midstream boulder. I made quite a few casts to the area where the fish were observed, but they were not interested in my flies whether dead drifted or twitched. I gave up on the wide deep pocket and climbed to the high point of the rock and then cautiously stepped down the other side so I was just above the deep pool. At this place there was a relatively deep trough similar to the one where I began my day above Lunch Rock.
I decided to give it a shot, and began drifting the nymphs through the fifteen foot long slot as I stood near the tail. I allowed drift number seven to swing deep and below me, and as I lifted to make another cast, a heavy throbbing weight interrupted my action. A pink-sided silvery missile instantly launched from the river, and I managed to stay connected through several more leaps and hot runs. This fifteen inch beauty proved to be my only rainbow on Friday and also my largest fish.
By 2:30 the sun was bright and the sky was largely cloudless. The wind began to gust periodically, and my blue winged olive techniques failed to excite the fish as they had during the late morning and early afternoon time period. I decided that it was time to abandon the thingamabobber nymph set up and return to dry/dropper fishing along the edge. I sat down on a rock and removed the level line, thingamabobber and 0X connector and reattached my tapered leader. With the leader in place I tied on a Charlie boy hopper, salvation nymph and soft hackle emerger and began probing all the deep pockets and runs right next to the bank.
My catch rate slowed substantially, but I did manage to extend my day for another hour and landed three more fish to reach twenty. The first fish was a fifteen inch brown that snapped up the salvation nymph as it drifted tight to a protruding boulder. Needless to say this catch was both surprising and gratifying.
By 3:30 I came to another large rock formation along the left bank. Unfortunately this eddy did not produce in similar fashion to the one I enjoyed in the late morning, but I was using a shallow water dry/dropper technique and not the deep nymph set up that adorned my line earlier. When I climbed to the top of the rock with the intention of moving upstream, I encountered another fisherman positioned twenty yards above me. This was a convenient excuse to reel up my flies while I climbed the path to the highway. I was feeling exhausted, the fishing had slowed measurably, and I had a three hour drive in front of me.
Is fly fishing fickle, or are the brown trout of the Arkansas River changeable? Perhaps it has more to do with the fisherman’s ability to read signals and make adjustments? Certainly fishing deeper with the thingamabobber nymph rig seemed to dramatically change my fortunes from Thursday to Friday. I can envision another trip to the Arkansas River before winter places a firm grip on Colorado.