Arkansas River – 05/14/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Buena Vista white water park area; Pridemore Lease

Arkansas River 05/14/2019 Photo Album

My trip to the Arkansas River on May 3 was perplexing and frustrating. The caddis hatch was in reality an egg laying and dapping event, but I was unable to crack the code. I continued to follow the ArkAnglers’ web reports, and I even began exchanging emails with the person in the shop who updates the information. His name is Braden, and he suggested that I try moving upstream to the leading edge of the hatch, in the event that I face similar circumstances in the future.

Mt. Princeton Still Holding Snow Pack

The cool weather toward the end of the previous week halted the caddis hatch and its upstream advancement, but ArkAnglers advised that a warming trend over the weekend and during the early part of the new week would renew its progression. On Tuesday morning May 14 I decided to test their advice, since the forecast predicted sunny skies andĀ  highs in the seventies. I launched my excursion at 7AM and arrived at a dirt parking lot at South Main in Buena Vista by ten o’clock. The last ArkAnglers report cited caddis as far upstream as Brown’s Canyon, so I theorized that they might make an appearance in Buena Vista with the advent of warm temperatures on Tuesday.

The dashboard thermometer displayed sixty degrees, as I donned my waders and assembled my Sage four weight for a day of fishing. When I was prepared, I found a gravel path and traced it along the rim of the canyon, until I arrived at a bridge. The trail continued across the bridge and then linked to BLM land on the other side, but the properties on both sides of the river downstream were private. I reversed direction on the path, until I found a viable, although steep and rocky route to the river. Once I was on the shoreline I moved downstream a short distance, and then I rigged my line with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead ultra zug bug and beadhead bright green go2 caddis pupa.

Early Success

The river was dirtier than I expected, but visibility along the edge was likely acceptable. I advanced upstream and probed the deep pockets and runs next to the bank with the nymphing system, and after thirty minutes I finally connected with a twelve inch brown trout that grabbed the ultra zug bug on a lift at the tail of the drift.

Typical Morning Scene

Number Two on an Ultra Zug Bug

I continued with this method until the stream bed widened, and this created more riffles and runs of moderate depth. I modified my approach with the change in river structure by switching to a dry/dropper configuration. A yellow fat Albert occupied the indicator position, and the go2 caddis and ultra zug bug were retained as droppers. Shortly after the conversion another fine twelve inch brown found my net, and my fish count rested at two, when I paused for lunch.

After lunch I skipped around the whitewater park, as it consisted of huge deep pools between man-made dams, and this type of water was not conducive to the dry/dropper technique. Above the whitewater park the river once again grew wider, and this created a section of pockets and moderate riffles. I managed to hook and land two small brown trout between the whitewater park and the footbridge that accesses the Midland Trail. During this early afternoon time frame I spotted three blue winged olives, when some clouds blocked the sun, and I responded by swapping the ultra zug bug for a soft hackle emerger. The move had no impact on my meager fishing success, and I climbed the bank, before I reached the footbridge and hiked back to the car. It was 1:30PM, and I pondered my next move.

My main purpose was to interact with the famous caddis hatch, but I saw no evidence of caddis in the South Main section of the Arkansas River. One option was to cross the footbridge and follow the Midland Trail downstream to the whitewater park and then fish back up to the bridge on the opposite side. Hopping in the car for an early return to Denver actually seemed more appealing than fishing the other side of the river in Buena Vista. I also considered driving upriver to the section bordered by some tunnels, but this was even less likely to place me in caddis activity. Finally I decided to drive back toward Salida, since the heaviest reported hatches were in that area.

I threw my gear in the car and drove to the place where CO 291 crosses the Arkansas River. I noted that the sign designated this section as the Pridemore Lease, and previously it was named the Smythe Lease. I shouldered my backpack and snapped in my front pack and grabbed my rod and climbed the wooden steps over the fence and hiked along a crude cattle path for .3 mile, until I angled down a rough bank populated with prickly pears and thorny shrubs to the edge of the river. I was embarking on a last ditch effort to salvage my day.

Depth Around Boulders Produced

The fat Albert generated several refusals during the earlier session in Buena Vista, so I decided to exchange it for a peacock hippy stomper. Perhaps the smaller foam pattern would actually create some eats. I retained the go2 caddis and ultra zug bug for a bit, but after prospecting some fairly attractive deep runs among large submerged boulders with no response, I replaced the unproductive go2 caddis with an iron sally. The iron sally has become a go to favorite for the Arkansas River.

The hippy stomper was difficult to accurately cast with the two large weighted flies, and the wind exasperated the situation, so I once again switched the top fly. This time I chose a size 8 Chernobyl ant from my fly box. The Chernobyl, iron sally and ultra zug bug remained on my line for the last two hours of my time at the Pridemore Lease.

Decent

Did my luck change? Was I engulfed by swarms of emerging or mating caddis? Yes and no. I steadily worked my way upstream to the CO 291 bridge and landed six additional brown trout before I retired at 4PM. All the afternoon trout were twelve inches or greater and included a very handsome ink spotted fifteen incher. Several muscular thirteen and fourteen inch browns also occupied my net.

Curled Up Tail Indicator of Larger Size

I observed six dapping caddis during this time, so I never found the mythical caddis hatch. All the brown trout came from runs of three to four feet in depth next to large boulders. Several responded to a lift at the end of the drift. Once I determined the type of water that produced results, I moved quickly and skipped huge pools and marginal pockets.

Once again the blanket caddis hatch evaded my search, but I did manage to salvage Tuesday on the Arkansas River with six very respectable brown trout from the Pridemore Lease section. Along with the morning results I ended the day with double digits, and given the absence of caddis and blue winged olive activity, that was a victory for this fisherman.

Fish Landed: 10

 

Arkansas River – 05/03/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Big Horn Sheep Canyon below Stockyard Bridge

Arkansas River 05/03/2019 Photo Album

My inability to locate the famed Arkansas River caddis hatch in recent years has been well documented in this blog. Yet a few wildly successful interactions with blizzard hatches in 2010 tease me back for more. I attended a presentation by Greg Felt of ArkAnglers at the Sportsmen’s Exposition in January, and he informed the audience that a high water season in 2008 practically wiped out a generation of the caddis population, but better water management policies brought it back to blizzard status in recent years.

With this background I attempted to decide on a destination for Friday, May 3. I vacillated by the hour between the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon and the Arkansas River. The Eleven Mile water chart displayed steady flows of 92 CFS, and I visited the canyon tailwater on April 26 with decent success. This choice was a fairly low risk option.

The Arkansas River DWR data presented flows in the 750 CFS range, and this fact alone alarmed me after a successful day of fly fishing on April 23 at 444 CFS. Surely the root cause of the elevated flows was early snow melt from the above average accumulations over the past winter. I learned over my many years of fishing in Colorado that a shot of cold run off quickly reduces the metabolism of the resident trout. Another red flag was the emphasis that the fly shop report placed on visibility. If clarity were not an issue, it would not be mentioned; however, ArkAnglers emphasized that visibility existed up to three feet. Offsetting these cautionary signs was a bold notation that guides encountered fairly dense caddis emergences in the area below Salida. There it is was again. The lure of another epic caddis hatch experience. In my mind I debated the low risk option of consistent flows and predictable hatches on the South Platte River versus high flows, murky water, and the allure of a rare confrontation with the fabled Arkansas River caddis hatch. I concluded that the steady flows in Eleven Mile Canyon would continue for a few more weeks and gambled on the possibility of a mega hatch on the Arkansas River. What could be the outcome of this daring move?

Classic Brown Trout Bank Water on the Arkansas River

I departed Denver by 7AM and arrived at a wide pullout west of the Chaffee-Fremont County line by 10AM. The temperature was around fifty degrees, so I slid into a light fleece and pulled on my new Hodgman breathable waders. I strung my Sage four weight and ambled east along the shoulder of US 50 for .4 miles, whereupon I scrambled down a rough rocky path to the river. Another angler occupied the place, where I planned to begin my day, so I retreated to a point fifty yards upstream.

I began Friday with a tan pool toy hopper, an iron sally and a bright green go2 caddis pupa, but after some focused prospecting for thirty minutes I found no evidence of the presence of trout in the Arkansas River. The high stained flows forced me to limit my casts to the possible bank side holding spots, but even this targeted fishing yielded no response. I adjusted my offerings at 11AM to the bright green go2 caddis pupa as the top fly and knotted a sparkle wing RS2 to my line at the end position. These flies occupied my line, until I broke for lunch at noon. I was quite disappointed with my lack of results, but I consoled myself with the expectation that a blue winged olive hatch would likely place the trout in a hungry mood.

Shot Number Two

After I consumed my sandwich, carrots and yogurt on a small sandy beach, I reconfigured my approach with a thingamabobber and split shot, and I retained the caddis pupa and RS2 flies. In the next two hours I finally achieved a small level of success, as I netted three brown trout in the twelve inch range. One grabbed the bright green caddis and two snatched the RS2. The takes came from riffles of moderate depth, and movement in the form of a lift or swing seemed to be the common thread that yielded results. In addition to the landed fish, I experienced five temporary connections. Three were simply the feeling of weight for a split second, but two were actually attached long enough for me to see the outline of a brown trout.

Closer View

During this time period a sparse emergence of blue winged olives was in progress, although I never observed surface feeding from the Arkansas River trout. At 2:30PM I connected with a fourth trout along the bank within .1 mile of the car, and given the slow catch rate I decided to snap a photo. I opened my waterproof camera carrying case, and I was stunned to discover that my camera was absent. Perspiration began to ooze from my arm pits, as I went into panic mode and attempted to remember the whereabouts of the camera. I searched the area near me feet in case the case was not secured properly and fell out, as I opened the case, while the fish thrashed in the net, but it was not visible. Next I searched the area inside my waders in case it fell within, while I waded and moved. Again my search efforts were thwarted by the lack of a camera. I now pondered my afternoon of fishing, and I remembered removing the camera to take a photo, and then I placed it on a rock, while I released the fish and reattached my net. I concluded that the camera was on a rock along the shoreline somewhere between my lunch spot and my present position.

I clambered up a steep rocky bank and over some prickly vegetation, until I reached the highway, and I quickly strode along the shoulder, until I was perched high above the spot, that I remembered as my lunch stop. I spotted a small sandy area among streamside shrubs with red branches, and this agreed with my recollection. I carefully scrambled down the rocks and parted the leafless branches, and immediately spotted my Olympus Tough camera in the sand next to a rock. What a relief to grip it and place it back in its waterproof container!

With a crisis averted I climbed the steep embankment and returned to the spot, where I discovered my lost camera. I progressed upstream along the left bank, and I endured a long period of inactivity, so I once again reverted to the dry/dropper approach. During my previous trip I enjoyed decent success in the afternoon on the hippy stomper, so the foam attractor with a peacock body became the lead fly with the caddis pupa and a soft hackle emerger as the subsurface combination.

Another angler occupied a large pool next a huge rock, so I circled around and then encountered another fisherman in an attractive run and pool a bit farther upstream. I gave the second gentleman space and cut back to the river next to a very appealing shelf pool. This area offered a nice seam along the main current as well as a slow moving shelf pool. As I observed, the wind kicked up, and an increasingly abundant quantity of small caddis began to tumble along the surface of the river. I watched impatiently with the expectation that the surface would explode with frenzied feeding, but other than two random rises, it never materialized.

I decided to persist with the dry/dropper rig until risers became commonplace, but it never happened. I was surprised to see another angler across from me, and he landed three decent trout between three and four o’clock, but I was unable to determine his method. After a significant number of fruitless casts, I finally connected with a thirteen inch brown trout that snatched the caddis pupa, as it drifted along the main current seam, but that would prove to me the extent of my success during the heavy caddis activity of Friday, May 3.

Caddis Pupa Fan

After thirty minutes of frustration I switched my strategy and migrated to a single size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis dry fly. I placed casts in the vicinity of the two random rises that I observed early on, but this approach quickly struck me as futile. Massive quantities of active tumbling natural caddis, made my dead drifting imitation seem lifeless and uninteresting. The trout apparently agreed, and the caddis dry went unmolested.

In a last ditch effort to capitalize on the long sought after caddis hatch, I returned to a nymphing approach. The lack of surface action convinced me, that the trout were keyed on to subsurface pupa and egg laying females. I quickly configured once again with an indicator, split shot, prince nymph and bright green sparkle caddis pupa. I lobbed some casts and imparted action via bad mends and lifting movements, but before I could assess the effectiveness of my method, I snagged a branch. The obstruction holding my hook hostage was located in fast deep water, so I defaulted to a direct tug on the line and broke off both flies. I quickly replaced the lost nymphs with an ultra zug bug and another bright green caddis, and within minutes I was once again connected to a branch or rock in an area that left me no choice except to break off a second time. In this case the split shot was contributed to the stream bottom along with two flies.

I was now in an exasperated state, and it was 3:45PM and I was clueless regarding how to capitalize on the best caddis hatch in recent history on the Arkansas River. I reeled up my line and climbed to the shoulder of the highway and hoofed it back to the Santa Fe.

Be careful what you wish for. For years I searched for the caddis hatch of my dreams, and I found it on Friday, yet I was unable to take advantage. I landed five brown trout in the twelve inch size range, and connected with another five along with two foul hooked fish. The action was very slow, and I covered a lot of river mileage which encompassed quite a bit of strenuous rock climbing. The low point and highlight of my day were losing and then recovering my digital camera. I am at a loss to explain the lack of surface feeding fish during a spectacular hatch. Another week of fishing the Arkansas River is probably available before true run off commences, but I am uncertain whether I will gamble another long drive and day on the large freestone river.

Fish Landed: 5

Arkansas River – 04/23/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Salida and Wellsvile

Arkansas River 04/23/2019 Photo Album

I characterized my 04/08/2019 trip to the Arkansas River as a mild disappointment, but I was itching for a return visit. During the early April appearance the flows were in the 560 cfs range, and the blue winged olive hatch seemed a bit delayed by the cold water temperatures resulting from a late spring. When I reviewed the stream flows and fly shop reports on Monday evening, I learned that the water managers reduced the supplemental flows from Twin Lakes, so that the Arkansas fell to native levels. In addition the fly shop reports indicated that the river was clear, and blue winged olive emergences were in full swing.

South Park Still Looks Like Winter

I departed from Denver at 7AM and drove through fresh snow in the South Park area, while the dashboard thermometer dipped to 33 degrees. Fortunately by the time I descended to the Arkansas River valley and arrived at my pullout below Salida, the air temperature elevated to 48 degrees. Even with this comparative warmth to South Park, I was chilled when I stepped out of the Santa Fe to prepare to fish. I elected to pull on my heavy fleece and topped it with my raincoat as a windbreaker. Initially I opted for my wide brimmed hat, but the gusts of wind and overcast skies forced me to swap it for my New Zealand hat with earflaps. The gray clouds, cool temperatures and wind continued throughout the remainder of the morning, and I was pleased with my clothing choices. I assembled my Sage five weight and surveyed the river.

Starting Point on the Arkansas River on Tuesday

As reported, it was in fine shape, and clarity was the prominent feature. I hoped to cross the river at the tail of the large pool below my parking space, and the DWR graph displayed 444 CFS, when I checked prior to my trip. Indeed the river appeared to be lower than my previous visit, when my better judgment forced me to execute a U-turn two-thirds of the way across the tailout. On Tuesday I decided to make another attempt, and this time I was successful. I carefully tested each foot placement and angled downstream rather than fight against the stiff current.

After my cautious crossing, I angled up the steep bank and ambled down the railroad tracks. After a short hike I was surprised to see another fisherman at the bottom of the island, that served as my target. Amazingly this would be the only other fishermen I encountered all day, and he happened to be where I desired to fish. I adjusted my plan and cut down a steep rocky bank to the river seventy-five yards above my nemesis. When I settled along the bank, I configured my line with a thingamabobber, split shot, Go2 caddis pupa and sparkle wing RS2. For the next half hour I prospected the troughs and riffles of moderate depth across from my position and worked my way upstream. During this phase of my day I hooked but failed to land two trout, and I was mildly upset by this turn of events but consoled myself with the knowledge that many hours remained.

Pleased With This One

As this was transpiring, I noticed that the downstream fisherman vacated his spot, so I found a steep path, that enabled me to scale the rocky cliffs, and I walked at a rapid pace to the destination I originally targeted to start my day. I decided to cherry pick the prime deep runs and skip the tailouts and slower moving areas, that I traditionally probed with a few casts. The first two quality areas failed to deliver a tug or dip in the indicator, but the long shelf pool below the island finally yielded two brown trout of average size. One nabbed the sparkle wing RS2, and the other grabbed an iron sally, that I substituted for the Go2 caddis.

By this time my watch displayed noon, so I found a wide flat rock and consumed my small lunch. After lunch I removed my raincoat and stashed it in my backpack and folded my earflaps under my hat. The sun now overwhelmed the clouds, and I prepared for a mild afternoon.

After lunch when I reached the downstream tip of the island, I moved up along the left shoreline, and near the tip I temporarily connected with another fish. I caught a brief glimpse of this escapee, and it appeared to be a bit larger than my two previous connections.

I returned to the bottom tip of the small island and surveyed the smaller north channel. I fired a few casts to the area where the flows curled around some exposed boulders, but no response was provided. Next I approached the tailout of the long pool, and I lobbed some casts to the slow water along the left side and along the center current seam. The nymph rig seemed too invasive for this tamer branch of the river, and I contemplated switching to a lighter dry/dropper approach. As this thought crossed my mind, a trout rose several times in quick succession directly above me on the left side. This settled the matter, and I quickly removed the split shot and indicator and replaced them with a peacock hippy stomper. I retained the iron sally and placed a classic RS2 in the bottom position.

Iron Sally in the Side of the Mouth

I progressed upstream along the north braid and added two nice brown trout to my fish count. In addition I temporarily connected with three trout that felt like very respectable Arkansas browns. One of the early afternoon landed browns crushed the iron sally as it smacked down on the water.

Impressive Girth

When I reached the upstream tip of the island, I debated switching back to the deep nymph method, but I decided to stay with the dry/dropper and work the deep pockets and moderate runs close to the north bank. This decision proved to be a smart one, and I increased the fish tally from four to twelve between one and four o’clock. All the late afternoon trout were browns except for one fourteen inch rainbow that surprised me in a deep shelf pool tight to a large rock. In addition to the netted fish I hooked and failed to land another three fish, including a rocket that snapped off all three flies. When I reconfigured my line I replaced the peacock hippy stomper with another comparable model, but I tested a chartreuse copper john and soft hackle emerger for the subsurface flies.

The Only Rainbow on the Day

The three afternoon hours were a blast. The dry/dropper with the three foot leader constrained me to areas of moderate depth. I popped the three flies into prime spots near the bank or behind large boulders, and I was amazed to learn that the brown trout responded. A sparse blue winged olive emergence commenced at 1:30 and continued until 3PM, but I never observed rising trout, so I persisted with the hippy stomper and the trailing nymphs. The hippy stomper was the star performer and accounted for six of the twelve fish landed, and three of the four trout in the 14 – 16 inch range crushed the surface attractor. I am now an even bigger fan of the hippy stomper, than I was previously.

Huge Spots. I Love This Look.

Over the course of the day I landed one trout on the iron sally, one on the chartreuse copper john, six on the peacock hippy stomper; and the other four favored one of the RS2 variations. I was a bit surprised that I did not generate more action on the small trailing baetis nymphs during the light blue winged olive emergence. The vision of wild vividly spotted brown trout smashing the hippy stomper continue to haunt my dreams, and I hope to make another trip before the heavy snow pack of 2019 impacts the river.

Fish Landed: 12

The Arkansas River at 444 CFS

Arkansas River – 04/08/2019

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Salida.

Arkansas River 04/08/2019 Photo Album

Mild temperatures, favorable fly shop reports and nearly ideal flows had me anxious for a longer trip to a bigger river with the hope of hooking some larger trout in 2019. The small front range tributaries to the South Platte River offer decent fish density and provide close proximity, but size is generally a missing ingredient. The Arkansas River was running at 560 CFS below Salida, so I selected the large freestone river as my destination.

I packed clothing and food for an overnight stay in case the fishing merited a return engagement on Tuesday. After a three hour drive across a snow drift laden South Park, I arrived next to the river below Salida by 11AM. The river was nearly clear, and the flows, as expected, were in the 560 CFS range. The temperature was already 59 degrees, as I pulled on my waders, so I added only a single fleece layer over my fishing shirt. After I strung my Sage four weight, I carefully descended the steep bank near the Fremont – Chafee county line, and then I paused to assess the possibility of crossing at the tail of the long pool. I love fishing the Arkansas River from the bank opposite US 50, and I desired that experience on Monday.

560 CFS was a bit higher than the flows that I normally attempt to cross at, but a brief visual inspection yielded a line of attack that suggested success. I carefully negotiated my way halfway across, and at this point I reached the deepest channel with the highest velocity. In a concession to age and good sense, I exercised my better judgment and returned to the shoreline that borders the highway.

Happy With This Brown Trout

With fording the river now eliminated from my plan, I walked down the highway for .5 mile and then descended a gradual path to the edge of the river. Here I began my day, and I fished from 11:30 until 12:15, and I landed a twelve inch brown trout and experienced a temporary hookup with another fish. Since it remained early in the season, and Colorado was experiencing a late spring; I began fishing with an indicator, split shot, iron sally and Craven soft hackle emerger. The single fish landed before lunch inhaled the soft hackle emerger.

Attractive Shelf Pool

After I completed lunch on a nice sandy beach, I progressed along the left bank, until I reached a point where a large rock bordered the river. This impediment to my progress forced me to retreat to a place, where I could scale the bank, and then I walked along the highway, until I dropped back to the river above the vertical rock wall.

A More Distant View of the Arkansas River

During the remainder of the afternoon I landed five additional trout. I continued to present the iron sally and the Craven soft hackle emerger in the afternoon. I used a soft hackle emerger without a bead for much of this time, and a hares ear nymph occupied the position of the iron sally for a brief interval. My landing percentage finished at 60%, as four trout escaped after temporary connections. One of the escapees was a very fine brown trout that probably measured in the fifteen inch range. I cast to the very top of a nice long riffle of moderate depth, and the indicator paused almost immediately.

Prime Deep Runs

In addition to landing six out of ten hook ups, I lost three iron sally flies and four soft hackle emergers. Most of the lost flies snagged on rocks, but one was lost in the mouth of a fish, and I suspect a couple were victimized by a bad knot. A blue winged olive hatch commenced at 1:30, and for a thirty minute period I spotted quite a few naturals lifting off the surface of the river. Unfortunately the emergence never seemed to initiate surface feeding, and this explained my devotion to the deep nymphing game.

Lovely Curl

Two of the landed fish snatched the iron sally, and the other four nabbed the soft hackle emerger. The most productive type of water was moderate depth and medium velocity near the bank. Casting to the deeper holes and faster seams was an unproductive activity. My best fish was a fourteen inch rainbow, and a nice thirteen inch brown was the last fish of the day. Both rested in my net during the final hour of fishing.

Best Brown Trout on the Day

At 3:50 I snagged a stick, that was wedged in a large boulder, and it was too far out and in a fast deep chute, so I chose to apply direct pressure. This resulted in a break off of both flies, so I used this as an excuse to quit for the day. Monday was an average day on the Arkansas River. Nymphing with an indicator is not a favorite method, but it was likely the most productive technique, while the water temperature remained cold and the flows were a bit elevated. I gained first hand knowledge of the status of the blue winged olive hatch, and I managed to land a couple larger trout to satisfy that objective for the day. Hopefully I will schedule another trip within the next two weeks, when the insect activity intensifies.

Fish Landed: 6

Arkansas River – 10/11/2018

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Salida and Wellsville

Arkansas River 10/11/2018 Photo Album

A series of cold snaps passed through Colorado, and the unfavorable weather caused me to forego fishing for eight days, while I waited for warmer temperatures. I was certain that warm fall conditions would return, and I was prepared to take advantage. Although the high temperature in Denver was projected to reach only forty-six degrees on Thursday, October 11; I noted that the Arkansas River valley was warmer. A high of fifty-six in the Salida area encouraged me to make the long drive on Thursday.

In order to allow the air to warm up I departed Denver by 8:15, and this enabled me to arrive at a pullout along the Arkansas River below Salida by 11AM. I wore my long sleeved Under Armour shirt, fishing shirt, fleece and down vest and chose my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps to keep my ears warm in the forty-two degree cold that was accompanied by brisk wind. I retained these layers until 3PM, when I returned to the car to move to another location, and I never overheated. I assembled my Sage four weight rod, since it offered length and stiffness to counter the wind.

Glowing Foliage and Gray Skies

I followed a nice angled trail to the river and then hiked downstream for another two hundred yards, before I began casting at 11:30AM. I began my quest for trout with a dry/dropper configuration consisting of a tan pool toy hopper, 20 incher, and ultra zug bug. My first bit of action was a refusal to the pool toy, and then I connected with a small brown trout that grabbed the ultra zug bug and a small rainbow that snatched the 20 incher. I continued on my path upstream and added another small rainbow and brown trout to my count, before I adjourned for lunch in an area with large flat rocks. Numbers three and four nabbed the 20 incher.

Beefy

After lunch the slow catch rate continued, and the cloudy sky suggested that blue winged olive nymphs were active. I replaced the ultra zug bug with a RS2 to match the baetis nymphs, but after the change I speculated that I was drifting my flies over fish that ignored my offerings. Finally after an extended lull, I stripped in my line and converted to a deep nymphing approach with a split shot and indicator. During the changeover I elected to replace the 20 incher with an iron sally, and I tied the RS2 on the point.

Looking Back

Immediately my fortunes improved. In a nice long riffle section of moderate depth an aggressive feeder latched on to the iron sally. The hungry aggressor went into battle mode, but eventually I dipped my net beneath a gorgeous fifteen inch brown trout. I was very pleased with this sudden dose of success. Between 1PM and 3PM I progressed upstream with the two fly nymphing rig, and the angling gods smiled upon me. I increased the fish count to eighteen by the time I reached the bridge, where US 50 crossed a small tributary stream.

Another Fine Arkansas River Brown Trout

The most productive section was a fifty yard stretch that consisted of many pockets scattered among fast whitewater chutes. I prospected the deepest spots between the bank and the midpoint of the river, and quite often a brown or rainbow trout snatched one of the nynmhs, as they tumbled toward the tail of the target area. Fifteen and sixteen inch browns were the prizes during this time frame, and both favored the iron sally in relatively marginal pockets. Midway through this period of fast action, I broke off both flies, so I replaced the iron sally with another and swapped the RS2 for a sparkle wing version. Roughly half of the afternoon fish ate the iron sally, and the others were fooled by the RS2 or sparkle wing. It seemed that the bigger trout were attracted to the stonefly imitation, and smaller fish pounced on the size 22 baetis nymph. During my time on the Arkansas River six of the landed fish were small rainbow trout, and the rest were brown trout.

Wide Body

At 3PM I reached the bridge, so I passed beneath it and then circled back to the highway and crossed to the Santa Fe. The air temperature was now in the low fifties, but the wind velocity kicked up a notch. I was curious whether my nymph alignment might attract fish in another section of the river, so I drove downstream for an additional mile. I found a gradual path to the river and spent the next hour casting the nymphs to pockets and seams in a manner similar to the method that yielded fourteen trout in the early afternoon.

The shadows now covered the south side of the river, where I was positioned, and the wind accelerated appreciably. I skipped a long pool and covered the pocket water above and below. The catch rate slowed significantly, but I managed to add two small brown trout to the count, before I hooked the bottom nymph to the rod guide and returned to the car at 4PM. I am not sure whether to blame the slow action on the time of day, less desirable river structure, or a higher degree of angling pressure due to the ease of access.

Pocket Water Was Productive

At any rate I enjoyed a very successful day on Thursday, October 11, 2018. Over the last two years I suffered through some fairly lean outings on the Arkansas River, and I was beginning to doubt my proficiency on the large body of water in Bighorn Sheep Canyon. A twenty fish day under fairly challenging conditions restored my interest in undertaking future drives to the Arkansas. The flows at Salida were 233 CFS, and this level was very low compared to average, but it translated into nearly optimal wading conditions. I was able to access parts of the river that normally can only be fished from a raft or driftboat. Three brown trout in the fifteen inch range certainly influenced my assessment of my day of fishing on October 11.

Fish Landed: 20

Arkansas River – 07/10/2018

Time: 9:00AM – 2:00PM; 3:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Granite information sign along US 24 and CO 55 dirt road; Hayden Meadows upper lot to US 24 bridge.

Arkansas River 07/10/2018 Photo Album

The salesman at the Orvis Shop in Cherry Creek recommended the upper Arkansas River upstream from the US 24 bridge as a productive fishing destination. I hoped to sample this section on my 2018 trip to the upper Arkansas River area, but on Monday five vehicles occupied the small parking space just ahead of the the US 24 bridge. On Tuesday, since I camped at nearby Turquoise Lake, I hoped to be the first fisherman there as a result of my proximity and early start. Wrong. Two trucks were already present when I passed by at 8:45, so I defaulted to my backup plan.

I continued south along US 24 for another two miles below CO 55 and arrived at a wide pullout with an informational sign about granite. I was the only vehicle present, and I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Loomis five weight for a day of fly fishing. The first fifty yards looked rather inviting but I assumed its proximity to the parking space translated to excessive pressure. I hoped to cover two miles of river, so I skipped around it and explored the upstream territory.

It was earlier than usual for me to be on the the river, and no gray drakes were evident, so I began with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph. These flies are my most productive, but they failed to interest the Arkansas River trout on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. After thirty plus minutes with no results despite prospecting some quality spots, I reconfigured with an iron sally instead of the hares ear, and I swapped the salvation for a size 12 prince nymph.

Iron Sally Also Popular

This change was a master stroke, and the newly added flies enabled me to land fish and boost the fish count from zero to seven. The prince accounted for the trout during the 10AM to 11AM time frame, and the iron sally became a favored food source in the last hour before noon. The first three netted brown trout were on the small side, but the next four were prize catches in the twelve inch range including a welcome surprise in the form of a fifteen inch brown trout.

Whoa Those Spots

Just before lunch I unknowingly snapped off the two nymphs, so replaced the iron sally and size 12 prince with a fresh pair. Two lost princes in the morning forced me to settle for a smaller size fourteen on a standard hook, and this unforeseen substitution failed to attract much interest from the river residents. Despite this handicap I incremented the fish count to ten after lunch. Surprisingly a fourteen inch rainbow was among these catches, and I suspect this was the first rainbow that I ever encountered in the upper Arkansas River.

Muscular Rainbow Trout

During this time I enjoyed four instances of success, when I cast the dry/dropper to very narrow ribbons of slow moving water along the bank. The space was not more than four feet wide. I landed three of the bank dwellers, and several managed to escape after being pricked temporarily.

Riffles Deflect Against the Bank

Having attained ten fish by one o’clock including several decent wild river inhabitants, I decided to shift gears and switched to a size 14 parachute green drake. One of my goals for Tuesday was to begin with the parachute style to determine if it outperformed the hair wing and stimulator style. The experiment on Tuesday was not really fair as the conditions were quite different. Unlike Monday I only spotted two or three gray drakes in the air. On Monday several quality deep runs and riffles exhibited rising trout, but surface feeding was largely absent on Tuesday. Despite the less than optimal gray drake emergence conditions, I managed to hook and land two very respectable brown trout. One consumed the parachute style and another chomped the comparadun.

So Pretty

Just before 2PM large gray clouds billowed up on the eastern horizon, and the sound of distant thunder caused some concern. By now I was at least 1.5 miles from the car, and the landscape was devoid of any reasonable shelter. Even the vegetation lacked trees of any significant size. The thunder claps grew louder, and I finally relented to my better judgement and embarked on an exit. I walked at a quick pace toward the CO 55 parking lot, but then I spotted a faint trail through the bushes and scrub grass. Fortunately an old barbed wire fence was beaten down, so I stepped over it and crossed the railroad tracks to intersect with US 24. I began to stride along the shoulder at a rapid pace, but after ten minutes the large widely spaced raindrops intensified. I stepped off the shoulder, removed all my packs, and slid into my raincoat. The added layer became essential as sheets of rain blew against my body and face for most of the remaining hike on the shoulder of the highway.

I Landed This Caddis Stick

When I reached the Santa Fe, naturally the rain stopped, so I spent another thirty minutes sampling the attractive water, that I skipped upon my arrival. in the post-storm calm several trout displayed their presence via random rises. I cast the parachute green drake and experienced several refusals and a foul hooked brown, but finally in a deep riffle a thirteen inch brown elevated and sucked in the drake.

I covered the first fifty yards by the pullout, and then I reached an uninteresting wide shallow section, so I returned to the car. Perhaps the storm scared off the crowd on the west side of the US 24 bridge? I decided to check it out. I was surprised to discover that two vehicles remained in the bridge lot, so I reversed direction and drove to the parking area across from the north end of Hayden Meadows. Between 3:30 and 4:30 I covered the section of the river between the parking area and the US 24 bridge.

Wild Iris

Drakes were absent so I returned to the producers of the morning and early afternoon; yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and prince nymph. In a deep step pool behind some man made structure the Albert dipped, and I guided a twelve inch brown to my net. I was near the highway, and the sky threatened rain again, so I found a nature trail that skirted the pond and called it a day.

Although the fish count matched Monday, I was more satisfied with my Tuesday effort. I discovered a new stretch of water never before explored, and I was selective about my target areas. I covered a significant amount of water and skipped long unattractive areas to focus on proven structure. Narrow deep slow moving bands along the bank and moderate riffles through large rocks were the obvious fish producers. I did not fish to a significant gray drake hatch as anticipated, but I stumbled into two solid nymph producers. The average size of the fish exceeded Monday’s results as well. These accomplishments were attained despite being interrupted by a storm during a normally productive time period. Bravo! Tuesday was a fun day of fly fishing.

Fish Landed: 14

Mt. Elbert

Arkansas River – 07/09/2018

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Hayden Meadows, southern section

Arkansas River 07/09/2018 Photo Album

Fourteen fish in a day of fishing is a decent accomplishment, but nevertheless Monday was a day, when I never achieved a consistent rhythm.

I evaluated several possible destinations for a multi-day camping and fishing trip, and I settled on the upper Arkansas River/Turquoise Lake area. Numerous vehicles occupied the parking lots and pullouts at the northern side of the Hayden Meadows area, so I continued until the CO 55 sign appeared, and I turned left and crossed the river and parked. Two SUV’s were present when I arrived, and a pair of fishermen were downstream from the bridge.

Productive Spot

I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight. I elected to fish upstream and began with a size 14 Harrop hair wing green drake in the attractive deep foam covered hole and eddy just above the pipe that carries water under the road. The eddy failed to deliver fish, but then I moved to the upstream position and drifted the hair wing through a V-shaped area where the currents merged. On the third drift I allowed the dry fly to float deep and along the seam at the start of the eddy, and suddenly the green drake imitation disappeared. I quickly set the hook and was temporarily connected to a twelve inch brown trout. Temporarily is the key word, as the fish executed a leap and plunge and shed the fly.

Deep Run on a Bend

For the next two hours I moved upstream at a rapid clip, and I was forced to circle around two pairs of anglers. The Harrop generated refusals, so I rotated among a size 12 olive stimulator, a size 14 gray stimulator, and a size 14 yellow stimulator. All these choices were intended to imitate gray drakes and yellow sallies. Several quality deep runs revealed rises, but all my flies were refused by the choosy surface eaters. I did, however manage to land five brown trout during this period including a very rewarding fifteen inch chunk. For a period of time I fished a double dry combination with the gray stimulator in front and the yellow version on the point. The gray stimulator produced three of the five landed trout, and the yellow one accounted for two. I witnessed a few large natural gray drakes along with a smattering of pale morning duns and yellow sallies. Aside from the fifteen inch brown trout the other fish measured in the ten to twelve inch range.

Looking Good

As I spotted a couple additional gray drakes, while I munched my lunch, I challenged my rigid thinking. I read my blog post from 2017 on the upper Arkansas River, which documented that I crushed trout on the Harrop hair wing, and this research caused me to focus on the stimulator and hair wing styles of dry fly. But what about other productive green drake imitations? I rotated between three different styles on the Frying Pan, until I determined which one fooled the most fish. I resolved to think outside the box, and I knotted a size fourteen parachute green drake to my line after lunch.

Looking Down on a Brown

The move was effective, and I jumped the fish counter from five to eleven between one and two o’clock. The trout in moderate riffles ripped the surface parachute with conviction. Another fifteen inch brown visited my net during this period, but it was quite skinny, and I feared it was suffering from some sort of disease. Of course the parachute was not perfect, and quite a few refusals accompanied the confident takes.

By 3PM the presence of gray drakes, yellow sallies, and pale morning duns disappeared, so I switched to a dry/dropper method. A red hippy stomper assumed the surface position in my lineup, and beneath it I attached an ultra zug bug and size 16 iron sally. During the last hour these flies enabled me to add three additional small brown trout to the count. All favored the iron sally, and in addition several trout snatched one of the subsurface offerings but avoided the net after perfecting some escape maneuvers.

Less Shadow

Monday was a decent day, but I wish I would have experimented with the parachute and comparadun green drakes earlier, especially during the time when fish were visibly feeding on the surface. Perhaps I will return on Tuesday and test the alternative green drake styles.

Fish Landed: 14

Arkansas River – 06/19/2018

Time: 11:00AM – 2:30PM; 3:30PM – 5:00PM; 8:00PM – 8:45PM

Location: Smythe Lease, Below Large Pool .5 mile below Stockyard Bridge, Vallie Bridge

Arkansas River 06/19/2018 Photo Album

A rainy morning in Denver on Tuesday morphed into a sunny and warm day on the Arkansas River. The high temperature approached 87 degrees, and flows in the Salida area were in the 800 cfs – 900 cfs range. After three decent but not outstanding outings on the run off impacted Yampa and Eagle Rivers, I had my eye on the Arkansas River. As a result of a low snow pack in the Arkansas River headwaters the flows were subsiding and already below the level, that I generally prefer, when fish are confined to bank side retreats. 1,500 cfs is the preferred level for edge fishing the Arkansas, and I was late to the party.

850 CFS

Iron Sally Produced

I parked at a wide dirt pullout before the CO 291 bridge and promptly rigged my Sage four weight. After I climbed over the wooden stairs that spanned a barbed wire fence, I walked two-thirds of the way downstream. I spotted another fisherman near the border with private land, so I reversed my direction and settled at the two-thirds point. I began my day with a yellow Letort hopper and a beadhead iron sally in an effort to imitate golden stonefly adults and yellow sally nymphs. Unfortunately the ploy did not pay off, and I converted to a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and hares ear nymph. I needed the additional buoyancy of the large foam terrestrial to support two beadhead flies.

Best Fish Came from the Edge of the Fast Water

 

Lowering to the River

I cycled through an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph as the point fly and eventually settled on the combination of the fat Albert, iron sally and salvation nymph. These three flies enabled me to land four brown trout between 11:00AM and 2:30PM. One brown was a gorgeous fifteen inch fish that came from a fairly deep current seam just beyond the CO 291 bridge. The other three were respectable brown trout; one twelve inches and the other two thirteen. Three of the four nabbed the iron sally, and one nipped the salvation nymph.

Spectacular

The fishing was far from action packed, and I covered a significant amount of river real estate, as I ended my time at the stone bridge above the rafting launch ramp. It was difficult to isolate a trend of productive water type, but deep slow slots next to large boulders or current seams at the upstream beginning of runs and riffles stood out. The river level was not high enough to confine the fish to the narrow ribbon of water along the bank, but high enough to make reading the river structure difficult.

Rapids

When I reached the CO 191 stone bridge, I retreated to the Santa Fe and continued my journey through Salida and stopped at an angled pullout .5 mile below the East Salida boat ramp. A decent path followed the high bank above the river and then angled through some bushes and trees, until I met the river. I bushwhacked downstream a bit and then edge fished back upriver to a point where a vertical rock wall impeded my progress. To exit I was forced to retreat to a place where US 50 spanned a tiny tributary. I followed the narrow ribbon of water under the bridge and ascended on the south side of the highway.

Salvation Nymph Shines

During this phase of my fishing day I was fortunate to land two additional brown trout. One was less than twelve inches, and it chomped the iron sally, but the other was a very welcome fifteen inch bruiser that consumed the salvation nymph. Both fish were extracted from the pocket water stretch, that ran next to a very steep bank below where my car was parked.

Big Brown Came from the Shallow Area Along the Rocks

Quite Nice Size

I departed from my second segment below Salida at five o’clock and continued east on US 50 to the Vallie Bridge Campground, where I secured a campsite. One spot was already reserved, and an eight person group from Backcountry.com arrived, while I ate dinner. After my meal and clean up I ventured west to the Treat – Ogden State Wildlife Area, but thirty minutes of prospecting yielded nothing. This portion of my fishing day was very frustrating, as I looked directly into the low setting sun. The glare and intense light made it impossible to read the water or follow my fly. I placed my hand in an ant hill, as I scrambled down the bank to the river, and twenty tiny insects invaded my right arm and sleeve. This unfortunate errant hand placement only added to my misery at the Treat – Ogden location.

Number Four for Me

I returned to the car and drove across Vallie Bridge to the south side of the Arkansas River, and in twenty minutes of fishing at dusk I landed a nine inch brown trout on the salvation nymph. I quit at 8:45, when I realized that surface feeding on Wednesday evening was merely a wish that would never develop into reality.

Fish Landed: 7

Prickly Pear in Bloom

 

Arkansas River – 04/06/2018

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Fremont – Chafee Line

Arkansas River 04/06/2018 Photo Album

After a spectacular day on Thursday on the South Platte River, I was very skeptical that Friday could even approach that level of success. Last fall I reviewed historical posts in this blog and determined that my last reasonably successful day on the Arkansas River was three years ago. As I drove from Lake George to Salida on Thursday evening, I reveled in the euphoria from Thursday and contemplated a return trip to the South Platte on Friday.

I checked into the Woodland Motel a bit after six o’clock on Thursday evening, and within a few minutes I walked along the main street, until I reached the Boathouse Cantina. This small purveyor of Mexican fare along the Arkansas River has developed into my favorite dinner haunt each time I spend a night in Salida on one of my fishing excursions. Al Pastor tacos satisfied my appetite, before I returned to the hotel, where I updated my fishing notes to include Thursday’s results.

I concocted the idea of the overnight stay in Salida as a means to eliminate one round trip, since I wanted to visit both the South Platte River and Arkansas River. The weather forecast for Salida projected highs in the upper fifties, and this was much more favorable than the high of forty with afternoon snow that confronted the Rockies season opener in Denver. Jane approved the motel stay, and I woke up Friday morning literally across the street from the Arkansas River, where it flows through town.

I packed a small breakfast consisting of a Greek yogurt cup, a leftover hard boiled Easter egg, and a Nature Valley granola bar; and I quickly consumed the three items in my room before checking out. I missed my morning cup of tea, so I decided to pay Howl Mercantile and Coffee a visit before embarking on my river adventure. It was 8:30 and the air temperature remained on the chilly side, so I took advantage of the free WiFi and sipped my black orange pekoe mug of tea.

By 9:15AM I was on my way to my customary stretch of the Arkansas River below Salida. I was pleased to observe that very few cars were parked in the usual pullouts along the river, and in fact I encountered only one other group of fishermen during my day of fishing. I pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight, and then I paused to consider my layer options. The thermometer ascended to fifty degrees but strong gusts of wind assaulted my body on a fairly regular basis. I decided to wear my gray fleece cardigan, and I covered it with my raincoat as a windbreaker. I considered my light down coat but opted to forego it based on the assumption, that the temperature would rise throughout the day. On my head I wore my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps. I also packed my lunch in my backpack in order to avoid a return hike to the car.

The flows at Salida were seasonally low and just below 200 CFS, so this made crossing the wide river at the tail of the pool below my parking space a relatively easy chore. I climbed the north bank and hiked down the railroad tracks to my usual starting point, and here I configured my line with a strike indicator, split shot, an emerald caddis pupa, and a beadhead hares ear nymph. The water in front of me consisted of a nice wide shelf pool that extended thirty feet into the river, where it met a fast center current. I began drifting the nymphs through the shelf pool and extended my casts across the river, until the indicator bobbed along the current seam. On the sixth drift the indicator dipped just as the nymphs began to swing, and I made a quick hook set and felt the jolt of a substantial live fish.

Great Start

The energized underwater missile streaked downstream and ripped out line until it paused, and I cautiously applied side pressure and regained line. A few more shorter dashes disturbed the pool, but eventually the pink striped combatant grew weary and acquiesced to my invitation to rest in the net. What a start to my day on the Arkansas River! A sixteen inch rainbow displayed the hares ear nymph in its lip, and it created a substantial sag. I removed the hook and snapped a few photos and then allowed the glistening creature to return to its aquatic home.

On Display

I checked my flies for debris and once again lobbed some casts to the top of the run, and on the third pass, as I lifted the flies to recast, I felt a tug, and once again I was attached to a hard charging fish. This time the resistance consisted of some sporadic dives, head shakes and rolls; and sure enough a fourteen inch brown trout glided over the rim of my net and took the place of the earlier rainbow. Thirty minutes into my day, and I already netted two spectacular trout from the Arkansas River. Perhaps my apprehension was misplaced.

Rainbow and Brown Came From This Run

I was feeling rather optimistic about my prospects on Friday; however, similar beginnings in the recent past lapsed into disappointment. I moved upstream to the next deep run and current seam brimming with newfound confidence, but my optimism was misplaced in the quality water just below a long slender island. Normally I devote considerable attention to the small right braid on the north side of the island, but the indicator and split shot were not the appropriate rig for the clear channel at the early spring low flows that were present. I skipped around the secondary branch of the river and moved beyond the top of the island in search of some deeper channels among the wide shallow riffle section.

A father and two sons were positioned across from me thirty yards above the tip of the island, and the two boys were casting with their spinning rods toward the middle of the river. The oldest boy was across from me at my starting point at ten o’clock, and he witnessed my efforts to land the initial rainbow trout. He recognized me and waved hello, and I returned the greeting. In a small relatively marginal pocket above the islandĀ  and below the family, I hooked and landed a twelve inch brown trout, and then I moved thirty yards upstream to a spot, where the main current rushed through the center of the river and created some nice deep troughs along the north side. Perhaps the young man could bring me luck similar to the earlier encounter.

Handful

I began lobbing casts upstream so that the indicator drifted tight to the seam, and on the fifth pass the indicator paused, and I lifted the five weight and felt significant weight. The victim of the hook impalement immediately shot downstream with the current, and just as I prepared to follow, it made a sudden stop and circled below me in the slack water. It made some dives and doggedly thwarted my attempts to gain control, but eventually I lifted its head from the water and steered the fifteen inch brown trout into my net. Once again the hares ear nymph was the food of choice, and I silently celebrated a great start to April 6. The younger of the two boys glanced upstream and observed my bent rod, and I secretly hoped they would migrate upstream with me to bring additional good fortune my way.

I achieved a four fish day, and it was noon, so I found a nice grassy spot on the north bank facing the sun and paused to devour my lunch. The rays of the sun continued to warm the air, but gray clouds were visible in the western sky, and the frequency and velocity of the wind notched up to another level. I pondered the afternoon, and concluded that the conditions were building toward a blue winged olive hatch. In case the BWO nymphs became active and attracted the attention of the river dwellers, I reconfigured my nymph alignment and placed the hares ear in the upper position and replaced the caddis pupa with a sparkle wing RS2. I tied the sparkle wings this winter with times such as this clearly in mind, so I leaped at this opportunity to take advantage of my tying efforts.

Slick Behind the Large Rock Typical of Productive Water

I methodically worked my way up the river and searched out all the slots, runs, and troughs with above average depth and reduced current velocity, and I probed each such area with the nymph combination. Along the way I experienced two momentary connections, but these fish managed to shed the hook after three second downstream dashes. I suspected that they grabbed the small size 20 sparkle wing, since small hooks provide reduced hook holding capability.

Rainbow Home

After thirty minutes of utilizing the approach described above, I encountered a nice section along the right bank, where the river tumbled between several large exposed rocks. The current break created some nice plunge holes just below the boulders, and below that some deep slack water troughs existed between spots where the various faster currents merged. This location proved to be a trout haven, and I landed two thirteen inch brown trout along with a magnificent fifteen inch rainbow from the area. The two browns snatched the sparkle wing RS2 on the lift and swing, while the rainbow latched on to the hares ear in the frothy plunge pool at the top of the run.

The fishing effort was significant on Friday due to constant wading in the current and casting the heavy nymph rig into the relentless wind, but the endeavor was producing solid results. The fish count was climbing, but the more satisfying outcome was the size of the trout, as all except one measured in the thirteen to sixteen inch range. I was thankful for my success at this point, and I remained optimistic that some blue winged olive hatching activity might lie ahead.

Hard to Wrap My Hand Around

Deep Run Along the Bank Worth Prospecting

The next section of the river was the long slow moving pool below where the Santa Fe was parked. I climbed up on the north bank and slowly strode along, while I carefully scrutinized the pool next to me. If olives were hatching, they would be most obvious in this type of water. Unfortunately I did not spy any small mayflies, so I accelerated my pace a bit, and marched to the head of the long pool, where faster water bounced over a rocky bottom to create a wide relatively deep riffle. I waded on to a shallow sand bar fifteen feet from the bank and began to fan casts of increasing length across the riffle, and as I executed this approach, I searched for seams where the current slowed somewhat. Once I completed a set of searching casts, I carefully took three or four steps upstream and replicated the up and across casts and swings. After three cycles of this process, I lobbed the nymphs into a barely perceptible trough, and I was surprised to see the indicator dive. I swept the rod to the left and jolted a lightning bolt into action. The muscular attachment on the other end of my line reacted with several hot runs, and I prayed that the combatant chose the larger hares ear fly.

After three minutes of activity including multiple streaks and my frantic attempts to maintain tension by rapidly reeling or stripping line, the fifteen inch rainbow slid into my net. Whew! the miniscule sparkle wing RS2 was embedded in the thin membrane next to the lip, and I felt very fortunate to hang on long enough to land and photograph this beauty.

As I inspected my flies before resuming the quest for more trout, I noticed several baetis adults, as they rode the current and tumbled along at the mercy of the sudden blasts of air. The long anticipated hatch was beginning, but I was not observing any surface feeding. I concluded that the wind was sweeping the adults into the air before hungry fish could react. Should I continue with the deep nymphing approach, or should I reverse tactics and switch to a small dry fly? I envisioned the trout feeding in the small more protected north braid near my morning starting point, and I considered hiking downstream on the railroad tracks to check out the situation.

On the other hand I just landed a splendid rainbow on the sparkle wing RS2, and I was convinced that the two previous temporary hook ups responded to the BWO nymph as well. It was 2:00PM, and I decided to persist upstream. I continued working the nymphs in the likely locations, but the effort was not rewarded. From time to time I spotted wind blown adults, but it seemed that more visible mayflies translated to reduced interest in my nymphs. At 2:30 I decided to initiate plan B; that is, I climbed the bank to the railroad tracks and hiked downstream to the small channel on the north side of the island, that I skipped in the morning.

My heart pounded as I waded to the bottom tip of the island and reached a position, where I could scan the lower pool. Were my eyes deceiving me? A ring materialized along the bubble line, where the long current flowed through the center of the channel. As I continued to scan the surface, another rise form appeared and then another and another. I shifted my gaze to the slow slack water above me on the left side, and several concentric rings slowly spread out from a center point. My hands trembled, as I quickly snipped off the nymphs, pried apart the split shot crimp, and removed the strike indicator. Should I try a CDC BWO or one of the Klinkhammer style emergers that duped sixteen trout on the South Platte River? For some reason I chose a size 22 CDC olive, and I impatiently manipulated my cold fingers to attach the tiny BWO imitation.

Adios

By now I could see a steady series of sailboat-like gray winged mayflies on the surface, and I paused to once again observe the pool. I decided to target the three or four fish feeding along the bubble line first, but the intermittent wind made executing a nice slack cast nearly impossible. After five unsuccessful attempts I averted my attention to the slow moving side pool above me. Reaching the site of the earlier rise required a long cast, but during a lull in the wind I made the attempt. The first try fell short, but the next one shot five feet farther upstream, and after a one foot drift a bulge appeared under the fly. It is hard to describe the feeling of elation that ensues upon completing all the correct steps to fool a large trout on a tiny dry fly, but that was what I felt at that moment. I tightened the line and struck firmly, and a torpedo immediately dashed upstream and then reversed to a point halfway between me and the scene of the original disruption of the trout’s feeding rhythm. I applied pressure and eventually coaxed a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. I was in fly fishing euphoria.

Shoulder View

But I was not done. The mayflies continued to emerge, and the fish continued to sip in apparent gluttony. Ten minutes elapsed with no additional action, as I once again attempted to battle the wind in order to execute a decent presentation to the bubble line feeders. Again I glanced to the left and noted a slow water sipper. Could I repeat my earlier success? I shot a cast upstream and fluttered the CDC tuft down, and history repeated itself. A mirror image brown trout inhaled the BWO fraud and displayed valiant escape tactics, but I was equal to the challenge and slid my net beneath another prize Arkansas River brown trout.

I snapped several obligatory photos and dried the size 22 olive and once again surveyed the scene. Despite two tussles with cantankerous brown trout, the current seam feeders continued their ravenous feeding. Surely I could fool one of these chomping maniacs. The closest fish to me in the current seemed to be quite nice, and it also appeared to be the most aggressive, as it lurched to the surface in rapid fire fashion to grab floating morsels. I made four casts and allowed the fly to skip down the center of the run with no response, but on the fifth attempt the target fish sipped in my offering. It almost seemed like that fish instantly recognized the error of its ways, but my swift reaction did not allow it to undo its mistake.

The fish leaped and streaked up and down the pool, and I quickly realized that it was a high spirited rainbow. I held tight, maintained tension and rode out the strong attempts to escape, until I dipped the net beneath a gorgeous shimmering rainbow. What a thrill! Two fifteen inch brown trout and now a similar size rainbow in a shallow clear pool on a tiny dry fly certainly elevated my day from nice to exceptional. I recorded a brief video and released the prize, and then I resumed my quest for more Arkansas River trout.

Collection Point

The battle with the rainbow put down all the other bubble line feeders, so I turned my attention to the very top of the pool. A sporadic riser caught my attention, but after ten casts I was unable to create a reaction. I could not follow the tiny olive in the faster swirling current, so I decided to experiment with another tactic. I tied a peacock hippy stomper to my line and then extended eighteen inches of tippet from the bend and attached the sparkle wing RS2. I drifted this combination over the earlier riser at least ten times, but once again the fish paid no attention, and in fact it stopped feeding. I moved on to two more quality pockets, but the dry/dropper technique was not effective, and I now pondered my next step.

Stuck in Foam

It was 3:30 and the clouds thickened while the temperature dropped ten degrees. My raincoat shell was a windbreaker but provided minimal insulation from the biting wind, so I decided to amble upstream to my crossing point and then check out the long pool from the south bank. If olives continued to emerge, they would surely be visible in the pool from the high rock overlook. When I reached the rock ledge below my car, I paused and observed, and sure enough a few sporadic risers appeared toward the middle of the river. I concluded that I could not effectively present my flies to these feeders, so I turned my attention upriver closer to my bank. After a minute or two several subtle bulges revealed themselves, so I climbed down to the rocks across from the observed rises. The water was faster here, so I exchanged the CDC BWO for the Klinkhammer version, and then I scattered some casts over the rise locations. Alas my fly was lost in the waves, and I never spotted another surface take to react to, and my fingers began to curl into stiff numb hooks.

I called it quits and climbed back to the car, where I shed my waders and stowed my rod and reel as rapidly as possible. The sky was darkening, the wind was blasting and the temperature was plunging; and all I could think about was the warmth of the seat heater.

Once I warmed up on my drive back to Denver, I remained in a state of fly fishing euphoria. Eleven fish is not a high fish count, but the quality of the landed trout was outstanding. Eight very strong trout grabbed my nymphs between ten o’clock and three o’clock, before the pinnacle of fly fishing unfolded. I fooled three wary surface feeding Arkansas bruisers in a shallow slow moving clear pool. What a conclusion to a fabulous day! The Arkansas River is back on my list of favorite destinations in Colorado.

Fish Landed: 11

 

 

Arkansas River – 09/26/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Chafee – Fremont County line

Arkansas River 09/26/2017 Photo Album

Tuesday September 26, 2017 was a day, when quality surpassed quantity. After two cool wet days on Sunday and Monday, I decided to make the long three hour drive to the Arkansas River below Salida. For some reason I suffered through an Arkansas River slump over the last couple years, and I decided to make another attempt to recover some of the fall magic from three to five years ago. I reviewed my posts on the Arkansas River on this blog, and I determined that my last special autumn day on the Arkansas River was October 2, 2015. My goal for Tuesday was to create a day of fishing that approached the early October 2015 endeavor.

I departed Denver by 7AM and arrived at the pullout high above the river at the Fremont – Chafee County line by 10AM. By the time I gathered my gear and assembled my Sage four weight and crossed the river and hiked downstream on the railroad tracks, it was 10:30. I began the day with a tan pool toy hopper, a beadhead hares ear nymph, and a salvation nymph. I was positioned midway down a huge shelf pool, and I began covering the area by spraying casts systematically up and across. After three drifts between the strong main current and the shoreline, I took three or four steps and repeated the process. After ten minutes I detected a pause in the hopper and initiated a hook set only to discover, that I foul hooked a twelve inch brown trout.

At the top of the pool I ran a drift along the current seam, and as the pool toy bounced through a narrow slot between the fast run and a large submerged rock, it dipped abruptly. Again I raised my rod to set the hook, and this time I was certain that the object on the other end of the line was hooked in the mouth. The indignant fish streaked up and down the shelf pool several times, until I gained the upper hand and raised it into my net. There before me was a husky sixteen inch rainbow trout with a salvation nymph in its lip, and I was thrilled to begin my day on the Arkansas River with such a fine catch.

Quite a Fighter

Once I released my prize first fish of the day, I moved upstream to another shorter and shallower shelf pool. In the lower half of this area a twelve inch brown trout grabbed the same salvation nymph, and I felt somewhat optimistic after landing two fine trout in the first hour. Brimming with anticipation I worked my way up along the left side of the long narrow island, but the dry/dropper combination failed to produce a look or refusal.

I returned to the bottom point of the island, and since it was noon, I sat on a gravel bar and ate my lunch. I intended to change my approach for the shallow slow moving north channel, and the lunch break was a convenient time to reconfigure my setup. I removed the three flies and replaced them with a single size 10 Jake’s gulp beetle. In the small pockets below the long main pool, I noticed three looks, as fish moved to get a closer view of the beetle, but in each case they backed off at the last instant. I was frustrated by this turn of events and began to formulate an adjustment. Before making a change, however, I decided to plop the beetle in the shallow smooth pool just above me. A cast directly upstream generated another refusal, but on the third heave within two feet of the north bank, a head appeared, and a fifteen inch brown trout engulfed the beetle. The brown reacted instantly to the plop, and the visual image of a large fish crushing the foam imitation from above remains quite vivid in my memory.

Responded to a Plopped Beetle

My confidence in the beetle soared, and I continued patiently prospecting the pool and the deep run where the current entered. Certainly more opportunistic trout lived in this fish condo, and they could not refuse a terrestrial snack. As it turns out they could. I made long casts and covered the entire twenty yard segment, and I never saw a look, refusal or take. I was dumbfounded by this development, but I turned my attention to the next section. Three relatively nice pockets greeted me above the long pool, and I plopped and drifted the beetle through all of them. Similar to the pockets below the main pool, the beetle attracted interest but no take in each small hole. I could see the tail of each fish wag, as it elevated for a closer look.

What should I do now? The fly shop fishing reports mentioned the presence of late pale morning duns and red quills. Would these fish recognize a mayfly imitation? I snipped off the beetle and knotted a size 16 light gray comparadun to my tippet. I floated this over each of the places where I observed fish, and in each case the fish ignored the dry fly and never revealed their presence.

The wind continued to gust with increased ferocity, and this caused my thoughts to revisit terrestrials. Maybe a smaller earth bound insect would fool the trout? I opted for a size 18 black parachute ant with an orange wing post for visibility. I began with the long and relatively shallow riffle pocket just above me, and on the third drift the ant was ferociously attacked. The deceived eater was not happy, and it streaked across the small channel and then downstream. I maintained constant pressure, and eventually the fifteen inch rainbow trout grew tired, and I nudged it into my net. It was very gratifying to cycle through a series of flies and finally settle on an ant that duped such a splendid fish.

Half Submerged Torpedo

But two pockets remained. I thoroughly dried the ant and took a few steps downstream to get a better position for casts across to the angled riffle on the north bank. I began with three drifts through the lanes closest to me, and then I dropped a cast that floated along the far side of a small seam. In a flash a brown trout appeared from the edge of the current, and it too had an appetite for ants. I raised the rod firmly, and the brown trout thrashed and dove and executed a variety of futile head shakes and rolls, until it grew weary and surrendered to my net. What a thrill to revisit the scene of three refusals and then hoodwink two better than average Arkansas River residents!

Sucked in an Ant

Ant Eater Inhabited the Angled Pool

By now it was one o’clock, and I was perched on five landed fish. The catch rate was fairly typical, but the average size of the fish was very satisfying. Unfortunately I was unable to sustain the momentum of the first 2.5 hours over the remainder of the afternoon. The section of the river between my crossing point and the top of the island historically produced decent action, but on Tuesday I managed one thirteen inch brown trout that slurped the beetle. Another fish refused the beetle in a long riffle, and that was the extent of the action. I continued with the ant in the slower water along the north bank, and then I switched back to Jake’s gulp beetle for better visibility, as the water velocity increased. As mentioned the beetle produced number six and a refusal, and then it ceased to be a factor.

Last Fish of the Day

I spotted a handful of tiny blue winged olives, when an occasional cloud blocked the sun, so I added a RS2 on a dropper behind the beetle, but the ploy was ineffective. I suspected that the faster riffles and deeper runs required a larger fly to attract attention, and I responded with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph, but my theory was refuted. I exchanged the salvation for a size 18 soft hackle emerger to once again capitalize on possible subsurface blue winged olive nymph activity. It did not work. Toward the end of the afternoon period I reverted to a Jake’s gulp beetle and a parachute hopper with a hares ear body, but these offerings were similarly avoided.

At 3:30 I reached the crossing point, and I was weary and bored from the lack of action, so I returned to the car and quit for the day. Originally I considered staying in a hotel in Salida in order to leverage the long drive and fish a second day, but the frustrating afternoon sealed my decision to make the return trip to Denver.

I landed six quality fish in five hours of fishing. The netted fish included two excellent rainbow trout that measured fifteen and sixteen inches. All the brown trout fell in the twelve to fifteen inch range, and they were likewise very respectable fish. Had the afternoon success mirrored the first 2.5 hours, I would have remained for a second day, but the late fishing drought was fresh in my memory, and I could not envision myself on the Arkansas River for another day. The constantly gusting wind and the associated chill were also factors in my decision. I continue to search for the magic of the Arkansas River in 2017.

Fish Landed: 6