Time: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Location: Nature and Raptor Center on the Arkansas Tailwater below Pueblo Reservoir
Fish Landed: 6
All the factors were aligned for a noteworthy late November fishing trip. Unfortunately the dark side of mankind made an appearance during our otherwise enjoyable fishing trip, and this placed a dark cloud over perhaps my last outing of the 2015 season.
My friend Danny Ryan emailed me a week in advance to inquire whether I was interested in joining him for a trip to the Arkansas River in Pueblo on Monday November 23. I read several articles about this fishery, and the literature suggested that the Arkansas tailwater was the premier winter fishery in Colorado. The southern location and lower elevation combined with the constant water temperatures associated with a bottom release tailwater to create a benign environment for fishermen and fish. The long range forecast suggested that high temperatures would be in the low sixties on November 23, so I quickly responded to Danny that I would love to join him.
The weather did in fact develop into a gorgeous late fall day, and the water clarity was perfect. The flows were actually lower than desired at 115 cfs, and fly shop reports suggested that we could expect a dependable blue winged olive hatch. Fishing surface flies near Thanksgiving is icing on the cake for avid fly fishermen. Although the flows were somewhat low, this condition translated to fairly ideal conditions for wading and crossing back and forth on what is normally a very large river.
We departed from Denver by 6:30 and arrived at the first parking area after the pay station lot at the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo by 8:30. My Weather Underground app indicated that the temperature hovered around the freezing level as we hastily dressed in our layers and pulled on our waders. In a concession to the cold morning temperatures I wore my down vest, wool finger-less gloves, toe warmers, and New Zealand brimmed hat with ear flaps. I am not a big fan of fishing in temperatures below 45, so I was a bit concerned about my comfort level as we strode down the path to the river. Danny on the other hand loves winter fishing, so he could barely contain his high energy as he guided me to the first decent run.
Fortunately the bright sun warmed the air quickly, and I managed to endure the first cold hour before conditions became quite pleasant. Danny and I began our day tossing nymph rigs, and I began with an ultra zug bug and RS2. For the first two hours we did a lot of slinging of split shot and indicators with little action, but I did manage to land two small rainbow trout in deep runs below man-made stream improvement structures. There are many angled rock deflectors throughout this section of the Arkansas River below the dam.
My first rainbow attacked a size 22 black zebra midge, and the second chomped the same diminutive fly. After forty-five minutes with no action, I swapped the RS2 for the midge larva, and then a bit later I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a bright pink San Juan worm. Danny meanwhile was experiencing similar success, although he seemed to land several fish that were slightly larger than mine.
By 11 o’clock we approached a bridge, and I noticed a very attractive section of water with numerous large midstream boulders and several nice deep runs. I paused to claim this water while Danny circled around and moved above me. As Danny was moving by, he pointed to an area along the current seam where he spotted a rise, so I observed some more and spotted several additional sips. I was not setting the world on fire with my nymphs, so I decided to make the conversion to a single blue winged olive dry fly, and I extracted a size 22 CDC BWO from my fly box and knotted it to my line.
For the next half hour I experienced the best action of the day, as I landed three rainbows in the 11-13 inch range. I enjoyed this success by casting across and then allowing the fly to drift downstream to the point where the center current tailed out into the pool. On three occasions a rainbow trout tipped up and slurped in my tiny surface offering. Unfortunately after landing the third fish, I hooked my fly on a stiff branch high in a tree, and I was forced to snap it off and replace it with another CDC BWO that had a bulkier wing.
Eventually the rises stopped so I exited the river and circled beyond two fishermen who entered between Danny and me. A third fisherman was on the upstream side of the bridge, so I went around him on the north side of the river, and then I spotted quite a few fishermen occupying inviting pools for the next one hundred yards. I traversed on a high bank until I could look down at the river, and after passing two fishermen, I found a stretch of water that looked attractive and offered a decent buffer between downstream and upstream fishermen. The other allure was the ridiculous number of rises that dotted a sixty foot segment of the river.
I began to cast across and allowed my fly to drift downstream using an approach that served me well in the previous pool. Initially I landed a small rainbow to bring my count to six, and then I pricked a pair of fish. Quite a few refusals joined the mix, but I was lured into thinking that my fly was a reasonably good match to the blue winged olives that bounced on the surface and fluttered into the warm November air. Danny joined me from the other side of the pool, and for the next hour we cast relentlessly to the pod of rising fish that slurped and sipped ravenously in front of us. Sadly for the most part we simply exercised our arms and shoulders. There had to be at least twenty-five fish feeding in the water surrounding us, but our flies went nearly unmolested. Toward the end of the hatch at approximately 3PM, I used my seine to collect samples from the surface film, and I discovered quite a few cripples and stillborn baetis along with a large quantity of empty nymph shucks. Upon close examination it was clear that the blue winged olives in my net were size twenty-four or smaller, and this probably explains the rejection of our over sized offerings. I probably should have skimmed the water earlier, but it would have made no difference, as I did not possess BWO’s that were that small.
From three until 4:30 I stripped a sparkle minnow through five or six deep pools, and I experienced one hook up, a couple bumps and one follow but no landed fish. Danny returned to nymphing, and he managed a few momentary hook ups, but the action was quite slow. While the sun remained above the horizon, the air temperature remained quite pleasant, and although stripping a streamer did not deliver much action, it allowed me to remain in constant motion while I basked in the unseasonably mild weather.
By 4:30 Danny and I returned to the area where we experienced the dense hatch in the early afternoon, and I decided to retire the sinking line and returned to my floating four weight. I was reluctant to return to nymphing, so I decided to try a size 14 stimulator with a trailing beadhead soft hackle emerger. I saw a few large caddis on the water thus the stimulator, and I also hoped that perhaps the soft hackle emerger would imitate straggling blue winged olives. Over the next half hour as the light quickly diminished I managed a few refusals to the stimulator. Quite a few fish resumed feeding on the surface, and I could not see anything obvious in the water, so I swapped the soft hackle emerger for a griffith’s gnat. On one upstream cast I pricked a fish for a split second with the gnat, and then I temporarily foul hooked another fish that refused the stimulator and could not avoid the path of the trailing gnat.
Danny continued deploying his nymphs thirty yards above me, and miraculously he reveled in a game saving hot streak as he landed three very nice rainbows as darkness descended. One of his fish attacked a black leech and the others nabbed a small gray midge pattern. By five o’clock it grew quite dark, and although Danny was reluctant to terminate his belated streak of good fortune, he begrudgingly agreed that we needed to begin our long return hike. We waded along the edge of the river for .3 mile, and then we found a path that intersected with a dirt road and hiked another .75 mile to the parking lot. By the time we approached Danny’s truck it was quite dark and cold, but Danny asked if we left the window open on the passenger side. I replied that I never put the window down, and as we grew closer, we were astonished to see that someone had smashed the glass so that the window was entirely open.
Danny instantly checked for his wallet and phone and found them in the center console. I was concerned about my blue and white tote bag which contained my wallet, iPhone 6, and prescription sunglasses; but I was too cold to climb over the seat to look immediately. I did remove the rod case that was angled toward the window, and I quickly assured myself that the two piece Loomis rod remained in the tube. I quickly clipped off my flies, broke down my rod and climbed out of my waders. Once I was back in my warm and comfortable street clothes, I climbed over the passenger seat that remained covered by shards of glass and searched for my blue and white tote bag. It was gone! The low life cretins that smashed the window apparently grabbed my bag and took off. There is nothing worse than the sinking feeling of being robbed and the realization that one’s wallet is gone.
Well I could go on bemoaning my misfortune, but my impression of the Arkansas River tailwater in Pueblo will be forever tainted by this experience. Until this point, I enjoyed a gorgeous day with some late season trout in a new location. Unfortunately individuals that have no regard for personal property ruined our fun on November 23.