Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Fremont-Chafee County line upstream
Fish Landed: 16
I was disappointed with the size of the fish I caught on the Big Thompson on Saturday, and I was itching to visit the Arkansas River for some September fishing. The reports from the fly shops were encouraging and the flows were ideal. Amy and her roommate Joe were visiting, and they wanted to tag along and do some hiking while I fished so we planned a trip for Tuesday, September 13. We got up early and were on the road by 7:15AM. It was quite cool and overcast and the temperature registered high 40’s on the mountain passes on the trip to Salida. It would remain cloudy most of the day with the sun peeking through intermittently between noon and 2PM.
I parked at the pullout just east of the Fremont-Chafee county line and put on my waders and gathered everything I would need for a day of fishing without access to the car as Joe and Amy were driving toward Cottonwood Pass and hiking to Ptarmigan Lake. I said goodbye and hiked down the path to the river below the cable and crossed at the bottom of the long pool. I then walked along the railroad bed to a point below the island and angled down to the river. I began with a Chernobyl ant and a trailing beadhead hares ear and cast to the deep run below the island. My first action included two temporary hookups on the Chernobyl ant, but both fish got off before I could apply any pressure. In the riffles below the channel on the right side of the island, a rainbow grabbed the BHHE and I was on the scoreboard with one fish.
I worked up along the left side of the small island and landed a small brown near the top, but the water was largely unattractive. I retraced my path to the base of the island and covered the right channel. In an unusual change from previous experience I failed to land any trout from the right channel. I probably experienced five or six refusals to the Chernobyl ant and startled a few nice fish from their lies along the edge. When I reached the top of the island I took time to swap out the Chernobyl for a yellow Letort hopper. I landed two more twelve inch rainbows along the right bank between the top of the island and the tail of the long pool across from where Amy and Joe dropped me off. I covered quite a bit of real estate so the fishing was quite slow. Since I had my lunch in my backpack, I sat down on a rock just below the long pool and munched while observing the water. The river was largely barren of any aquatic insect activity.
After lunch I climbed up the bank to the rail bed and skirted the long pool. A dad and two boys were fishing from the other side, and I didn’t want to disturb them, and I was looking for pocket water not a long smooth pool. I resumed fishing at 12:45PM and remember looking at my watch at 1:30 and thinking that I was averaging less than two fish per hour and it was turning out to be a dud of a fishing trip in spite of the nice overcast conditions.
In my mind I was debating switching to deep nymphing in the faster runs and channels, but as I was doing this some denser darker clouds rolled in and the wind picked up and it felt like rain was imminent. I put on my raincoat anticipating the rain and tied a small RS2 to the BHHE. Ahead of me was a nice long side pocket between a strong run and the bank. I made a 25 foot cast, and a fish rose and smashed the hopper. I played a decent rainbow to the net and moved up a few steps and punched a cast into the wind to the top of the pocket. Wham! Another rainbow attempted to inhale the hopper. Amazingly as the weather got worse, the fishing got better. I’ve observed this trend on numerous occasions.
Next I noticed a nice wide pocket in the middle of the river behind a large horizontal rock. I flicked the three fly combination up and across to the top of the pocket and just as the hopper began to drag a beautiful rainbow grabbed the trailing RS2. I was now observing very sporadic BWO’s fluttering above the water. Perhaps the trout were tuned in to BWO nymphs subsurface? Between 2 and 3PM I landed seven very nice trout with roughly four hitting the yellow Letort hopper and the others taking either the beadhead hares ear or RS2. I also snapped off the hopper twice on rising fish and in the process lost six total flies. I’m not sure if I was setting too hard or had a bad knot attaching the hopper to the leader. After losing the second BHHE of the day I substituted a beadhead pheasant tail and landed two fish on that fly.
By 3PM I worked my way up the river to a point across from a wide pullout bordering a huge rock next to the highway. Another fisherman was fiddling with his line, and then I noticed he sat on the top of the bank overlooking the river and watched me fish. This required a show, so I focused on my task and landed three smaller fish along my side of the river from small pockets while he observed. I also foul hooked a nice 14 inch rainbow while he was watching. I didn’t count this fish, but as far as he knew it was another fish I landed while he was a spectator. After I landed three fish he made his way down to the river and began fishing. He moved almost in parallel with me but slightly downstream on the opposite shore. During this period of observation I landed five more trout to bring my total to 16 on the day.
After a very productive couple hours in the afternoon, it was approaching 4PM, and I told Amy and Joe I’d meet them at 4, so I hustled back up the steep bank to the railroad bed and hoofed back on the railroad ties, and then waded across the tail of the long pool and up the bank to the car. Amy was reading in the front and Joe was sleeping after their high altitude hike. I told Amy I wanted to check out the river from the high rocks next to the car, so I walked down to my convenient observation point. Sure enough four or five fish were visible warily rising and feeding on something small next to and above the high rock wall. Amy came down to check things out and also saw the rising fish. I clipped off my three fly set up and tied on a CDC BWO and cast from high above the river to a nice sized rainbow that was feeding pretty actively. The wind had picked up and repeatedly blew my cast five feet to the left of my target. Finally I compensated and placed a cast above the fish. I couldn’t really see my tiny fly and it was difficult to control drag from the high casting angle, but on perhaps the sixth or seventh cast with Amy watching and poised with a camera I noticed a rise approximately where my fly would be. I set the hook and nicked the fish as it put a nice bend in the rod tip, but while Amy looked on the fly slipped out of the rainbow’s mouth and came flying back toward me. I stumbled as I protested demonstratively and that probably put down all the other fish. On that note, my fishing adventure on the Arkansas ended for the day and we made the long return trip toDenver.
Of the 16 fish landed I estimate that 10 or 11 were rainbows. This was the second time in recent memory that rainbows outnumbered browns on the Arkansas River.