Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Below Salida at Fremont – Chafee county line
Fish Landed: 13
The online fishing reports stated that the Arkansas River remained low and clear with decent BWO hatches on cloudy days and some spurts of caddis hatching activity. To be able to fish on May 14 in Colorado in clear rivers is bonus time. I decided to make the trek to the Salida area. The one foreboding piece of information was the threat of heavy afternoon showers similar to that experienced the last three days.
As I drove the US285 route and ascended to Aspen Park I noticed approximately three inches of fresh snow on the hillsides. This continued all the way until half way across South Park where it diminished to an inch or less, and by the time I descended to the Arkansas River drainage, there was no snow on the ground. When I crossed the river for the first time below Buena Vista the river was indeed low and clear.
The sky on the other hand was gray with high cloud cover. Occasionally specks of blue appeared, but it was very overcast. Would this promote good fishing or simply keep air and water temperatures too low?
I planned to park at the same location as I’d used on my previous trip and fish upriver from where I’d ended. But when I made the U turn on US50, another fisherman was stringing his rod and preparing to fish. I drove back toward Salida and stopped at the next pullout. Since I hoped to eat lunch at noon, I decided to not cross the river and fish up along the roadside bank. I began with a nymph set up…prince on top and bright green caddis pupa on the bottom. I wasn’t seeing many caddis flitting about, but figured they were so plentiful that fish would still grab them. This strategy however proved to be fruitless. After covering some juicy water with no action, I tied on a yellow Letort hopper and trailed a beadhead prince. Again there was no action. Next I tried a caddis dry fly. This brought two refusals and a momentary hookup, but it wasn’t producing the way I expected. Next I arrived at a nice deep eddy that fanned out into a nice deep run and spotted several rises. I looked closely at the water and spotted some small BWO’s riding the current like tiny sailboats. I switched to a CDC BWO and covered the fish in the eddy for around 15 minutes, but could not entice any action.
It was now around noon, and I was at a decision point. Should I break for lunch and possibly miss a BWO hatch or continue fishing? I had left my Camelback in the car anticipating a return in 1.5 hours. I chose to return to the car. As usual I ate my lunch overlooking the river and spotted numerous rises on the far side from the eddy I’d been fishing. After finishing lunch I retrieved my rod and fishing gear and returned to where I ate and surveyed the river for a crossing point. The current appeared to be too swift directly across from my position, but there was a deep slow pool that fanned out to a wider tail upstream a bit. I walked up along the bank for 70 yards and began my crossing. When I was 2/3 of the way across, the river was covering the bottom of my front pack, and I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I did a 180 and had a few steps where only my tip toes were touching due to my increased buoyancy and the depth of the river. I had to thrust my right arm below the surface of the river nearly up to my elbow in order for my short handmade wading staff to touch bottom.
Having evaded this wading danger, I returned to shore and decided to drive back down to the Fremont-Chafee pullout and cross at the tail of that pool. I had done this several times during my previous visit and I really wanted to get to the rising fish across from where I ate lunch! The fisherman who I’d seen earlier had now departed, so I had the entire pullout to myself. Despite my fleece cardigan, I was still feeling chilled as the wind blew from the east and the sky darkened, so I put on my new Columbia raincoat that Jane gave me for Christmas. This would prove to be a crucial positive move.
I waded across the tail of the long pool without incident and hiked the railroad tracks on the north bank for two football fields until I came to the area I targeted. In the short time after I left my spot, a pickup truck had arrived and two fishermen were rigging up to fish. When I got close to the water I observed and noticed BWO’s on the surface but also some caddis. I decided the fish were going for the BWO’s and kept my CDC BWO on the line and began casting. It was quite difficult to see the tiny fly and the wind had picked up and threw off my accuracy. Windblown casts and not being able to spot your fly are difficult to overcome. Meanwhile the two fishermen arrived across from me, and the taller of the two caught a trout on the first cast. I’d been fishing for almost two hours and had yet to land a fish. After perhaps 20 casts in the area of rising fish, I hooked and landed a chunky rainbow on a downstream drift. The rainbow grabbed the BWO just as it started to drag.
After releasing the fish, I paused to dry my fly and observed the water. I could see emerging caddis skittering across the water and several of the rises looked like fish moved laterally, so I guessed that some of the fish were on to the caddis. I switched to a dark olive deer hair caddis and in short order landed a couple fish. I continued working the nice area and landed five trout in total. The productive area was around thirty yards long and 15 yards wide and consisted of three or four wide runs that fanned out beneath rocks that poked above the water. There were probably 20 fish rising in this area with average depth of 3-4 feet. I occasionally observed the fishermen across from me, and they weren’t catching fish. They were spending more time changing flies.
When I reached the top of the sweet area, an inflated river raft came down along the bank and got hung up on some rocks 15 feet above where I was fishing. The gentleman rowing gave me a gruff “sorry about that” apology. I replied, “If you tried to ruin my fishing, you couldn’t have done a better job.”
I walked up along the bank to a point that I guessed was above where the raft had floated. It was now around 2PM and the sky darkened more and the wind picked up and it began to rain. I already had my raincoat on, so I simply pulled up the hood to cover my stocking cap. I looked down the river and the fishermen across the way had disappeared. I was just below a narrower fan run and spotted three separate rises. I cast the caddis to the lower fish first and then the upper plus a couple prospecting casts and land four trout from this small area! I continued working my way up along the bank. The fishable water was smaller here as the riverbed was narrow with swifter current not very far out from my position. The rain picked up as I worked my way upstream along the bank and landed another four trout. The twelfth fish I landed was a beautiful chunky rainbow. I was facing downstream as I played, landed and released the fish and just as I turned around a raft drifted by (further out than the previous one), and the oarsman said “nice fish”.
Finally at around 3PM I got to some nice looking water, and the rain was coming down harder than it had up until that time. But the hatch had died back, and I no longer saw steady risers working consistently. My hands were raw and chilled from the evaporating water, so I decided to make the long hike back to the car. I now had about 2.5 football field lengths to cover and another river crossing. As I hiked back, the two gentlemen on the opposite bank were still at it, wearing raincoats now. Apparently they missed some of the best fishing while they returned to the truck to get their rain gear.