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.


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.


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.


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 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 island  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.


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.


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

Arkansas River – 09/05/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Hayden Meadows

Arkansas River 09/05/2017 Photo Album

Our friends the Gaboury’s invited Jane and I to join them for a couple days at their beautiful home in Eagle Ranch, CO. We made the trip on Monday, Labor Day, and Dave Gaboury made plans for a day of fishing on Tuesday. In an earlier meeting with Dave and his wife, Beth, Dave floated the idea of driving over Tennessee Pass to fish in the upper Arkansas River, and I jumped on the idea. Historically the nearby Eagle River is very low and difficult around the Labor Day weekend, and I surmised that the higher elevation of the upper Arkansas River might translate to better fishing success.

Our mutual friend, Todd, joined us, and the three of us made the drive to Hayden Meadows on Tuesday morning. We arrived at the parking lot above Hayden Meadows a bit after ten o’clock, and after a thirty minute hike on a dirt lane, we entered the water and began casting by 11AM. I chose my Loomis five weight in case I tangled with a fifteen inch fish, and I like the slower action and shorter rod for chucking dry/dropper configurations. Since three fishermen were in our group, we adopted a hopscotch approach, but we always kept the upstream fisherman in view. The river was roughly half the volume that I experienced in my two earlier visits, but it remained high enough so that two fishermen could fish across from each other, as long as care was exercised, and one angler did not advance ahead of the other.

The weather consisted of bright sun and temperatures that advanced to the upper seventies. The more significant factor was the strong winds that plagued us in the afternoon, and this condition was probably fairly typical for the river that is located on a high open plain with very few wind breakers. The flows listed on the ArkAnglers web site were 130 CFS. The volume of water was actually fairly ideal for fishing and wading, and clarity was perfect.

I began my day with a parachute grasshopper with a hares ear dubbed body, and this fly generated one unproductive look. I switched to a Jake’s gulp beetle, and the usually reliable terrestrial was soundly ignored. In past visits I enjoyed success in the morning with a dry/dropper set up, so I converted to a tan pool toy trailing a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph. I persisted with this combination for quite awhile, and the only evidence of trout resulted from another reluctant look to the pool toy. While I was cycling through these fly choice scenarios, Todd hooked and landed a fish on an elk hair caddis, and this forced me to reevaluate. So far only the hoppers attracted any attention, and they were surface flies, so perhaps a dry fly was the best bet.

Dave Ready to Probe a Run

I removed the three flies and knotted a gray size 14 stimulator to my line. Shortly after this change, I encountered a spot where a narrow side channel split off from the main flow, and I followed it and discovered a very attractive small pool in front of an overhanging bush. I flicked the stimulator to the entry current, and as it slowly floated beneath a small overhanging branch, a fish created a bulge next to the fly and then disappeared. I succeeded in adding a refusal to my list of near misses. Todd was behind me, and he accepted my invitation to toss his elk hair caddis to the small pool, but the inhabitant was apparently now educated and would not reveal itself a second time.

We moved back to the main channel and moved upstream, and the stimulator ceased to create interest. Dave G. experienced a momentary hook up with a decent fish on a chartreuse copper john, so I returned to the dry/dropper system and exchanged the salvation nymph for an ultra zug bug. I persevered with this set up over the remainder of the afternoon, since other options seemed ineffective, and the other guys were not having much more success. Eventually I coaxed a four inch brown into my net, but it measured beneath my six inch threshold for counting. The small trout inhaled the ultra zug bug.

The Guys at the Start of Our Day on the Upper Arkansas River

Shortly after 2PM I drifted the trio of flies through a nice deep current seam, and the hopper darted sideways causing me to instinctively raise the rod. I felt significant weight, and a fish executed a quick roll and tail thrash, and then it escaped. The duration of the connection was too fleeting to reach a conclusion on which fly hooked the fish. This was my best shot at a substantial fish on the day, and it lasted half a second.

By three o’clock we approached the bridge next to the parking area, and Dave G. marched ahead in a state of boredom. In short order Todd and I followed suit, and I was forced to record a skunking. I second guessed my fly choices and approach, but the lackluster results of Todd and Dave G. convinced me that Tuesday presented very challenging conditions. I saw virtually no aquatic insect activity, although I was surprised that terrestrials did not produce given the constant gusts of wind. Perhaps I should have cycled through more grasshopper, beetle, and ant imitations; but I suspect this approach would not have changed the results significantly. Hopefully the weather will cool in the near future, and the summer doldrums will come to a quick halt.

Fish Landed: 0

Arkansas River – 08/01/2017

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Hayden Meadows

Arkansas River 08/01/2017 Photo Album

Landing 26 fish on the Cache la Poudre River on Monday was enjoyable, but I craved the deep bend of a more substantial fish, as I contemplated my next fishing trip. July 26 on the Arkansas River lingered as a recent memorable outing, particularly fooling brown trout with a size 14 green drake imitation. The large Harrop hair wing style was easy to follow on the surface of the river, and the trout moved quickly and confidently to crush the fake version. Although I was certain that the gray drake hatch was waning, I pondered whether the stream residents would continue to respond to a well presented imitation.

The Hayden Meadows area was the draw, but the salesperson at the Orvis store, where I purchased my new reel, sang the praises of the Reddy State Wildlife Area on the west side of US 24, and this information also attracted me to a return trip to the upper Arkansas River south of Leadville. I checked out my National Geographic maps of the area, and I identified a nice hike that began from the western end of Turquoise Lake. The Turquoise Lake Recreation Area featured quite a few campgrounds, and I convinced Jane to join me on Tuesday evening for dinner in Leadville and camping at Turquoise Lake. I bribed her with a commitment to accompany her on a four mile round trip hike to Timberline Lake on Wednesday morning.

Testing the Phone Camera

I packed most of the car on Monday evening, after I returned from the Cache la Poudre, and this enabled me to arrive at the Hayden Meadows northern parking lot by 11AM. I considered exploring Reddy SWA, but I opted to save the new stretch of water for Wednesday afternoon after our hike. I assembled my Sage four weight and departed on the two track dirt lane, and in a slight deviation from July 26 I hiked for twenty minutes in an effort to begin farther downstream. It was warm and sunny, and the temperature peaked in the upper sixties at the high elevation river. Flows were comparable to July 26 although a bit lower, as I was able to cautiously cross at selected spots, where wide shallow riffles reduced the strong velocity.

Wide Riffle

Since it was 11:30 by the time I entered the river, I decided to go directly to my Harrop hair wing green drake. It was a bit early compared to the previous Wednesday, but I theorized that the large mayfly imitation might serve as an attractor, since the hatch even a week ago was very sparse. My optimism soared, when I spotted a solitary gray drake, while I was attaching the hair wing to my line. Unfortunately this represented my sole gray drake sighting for the day.

The green drake imitation generated a couple refusals early on, so the fish were tuned into something similar, but I began to fear that it would be a tough day. There was no hesitation from the Hayden Meadows fish on July 26, so why the reluctance on August 1? Perhaps the Harrop was a bit too bushy or perhaps the trout were really locked on smaller caddis with a similar profile? I switched to a size 14 gray stimulator, and the smaller fly produced a look, but no take.

Lunch Spot

After half an hour of fruitless casting I sat down on some rocks and ate my lunch, while I contemplated my next move. The mental sifting led me to shift to a dry/dropper featuring a yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and salvation nymph. The nymphs yielded five nice brown trout on July 26 before I migrated to the Harrop green drake, so perhaps my application of the dry fly was too early in the daily feeding cycle.

First Fish

From 12:30 until 1:30 I landed three brown trout using the dry/dropper method. The first fish was one of the best on the day; a fifteen inch bruiser that gulped the salvation nymph. Somehow during the fight the iron sally wrapped around the head of the brown, and this made the battle extra challenging. Another of the three early afternoon fish was small, and the third was a decent twelve inch specimen. Hayden Meadows brown trout seem to be pound for pound tougher fighters than other brown trout in the Rocky Mountains.

At 1:30 I began to worry that I was missing out on drake action, so I converted back to the Harrop style fly. Although the hair wing did not produce in a manner similar to July 26, I managed to net five additional browns. One was a carbon copy seven incher, but three measured in the eleven to thirteen inch range, and the last one on the day was another hard fighting fifteen inch brute. I cast to a narrow slow moving band of water along the bank from above. On previous casts drag commenced within seconds, but in this instance I managed to create a pause which enabled the fly to hover next to the seam in a tantalizing fashion. The brown could not resist the large mayfly about to escape, and it flashed to the surface and crushed the tempting morsel. The visual take was clearly the highlight of the day.

Vivid Deep Colors

I fished on for another forty-five minutes, but the water seemed increasingly dead as the afternoon slid by. At 3:30 I was uncertain how far I was from the parking lot, and I did not wish to be late for my rendezvous with Jane in Leadville, so I reeled up the green drake and hooked it to my rod guide and found my way back to the car.

Tuesday August 1 was clearly inferior to July 26, but two of my catch were larger than anything that found my net the previous week. As I was stashing my gear at the car, a young Department of Wildlife gentleman appeared, and he asked me a series of questions for a survey. When I communicated to him that I landed eight brown trout with two in the fifteen inch range, he volunteered that I caught 80% of the trout landed in Hayden Meadows that day. His surveys found only two other fish caught on August 1, so while eight fish in four hours is average on my scale, my numbers were quite acceptable based on the DOW survey. More importantly it was a gorgeous first day of August with cool temperatures and spectacular fourteeners in the background.

Fish Landed: 8

Arkansas River – 07/26/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Hayden Meadows

Arkansas River 07/26/2017 Photo Album

Jane and I packed up our wet campsite on Wednesday morning, and Jane returned home to dry out the tent, canopy and tablecloth, while I embarked on yet another day of fly fishing adventure. On July 12, 2016 the apparent absence of fish on Half Moon Creek caused me to alter my plans, and I salvaged my day with a visit to the Hayden Meadows area of the north Arkansas River. Since I was positioned at Hornsilver Campground north of Tennessee Pass, I was in striking distance of the same section of the Arkansas River Headwaters Area, so I decided to give it another trial.

I climbed Tennessee Pass and passed through Leadville and arrived at the northern parking lot by 9:30. The Department of Transportation was doing road work in the area where one turns to access the parking space for Hayden Meadows, and as I prepared to fish, a group of wader clad fishermen were standing in a circle in the larger lot by the trail that leads to the stocked lake. I could hear guides calling out instructions to the students. I was concerned that this crowd would descend upon the river in a short amount of time, so I elevated my usual preparation pace. I selected my Loomis five weight rod, and I quickly tromped down the dirt road toward the bridge that crosses the river.

Two other cars were parked in the same area as me, and a woman returned from walking her dog, so that accounted for one of the vehicles. As I began ambling down the two lane dirt road on the west side of the river, I passed a lone fisherman, and that explained the second car. I decided to hike for twenty minutes, and I was fairly certain this would distance me from the fly fishing class in the western lot. This was the second instance in 2017 that I crossed paths with a fly fishing class.

One of the Mountains to the West

The air temperature was cool for July as the thermometer registered sixty degrees, and large gray clouds covered most of the western sky. During my time on the river, the temperature never exceeded the mid seventies, and the gray clouds blocked the sun seventy percent of the time. The river was clear and 220 cfs translated to a rapid pace, and I was unable to cross until I reached a place where it divided into multiple smaller channels.

Inside Shelf of the Bend

I adhered to my plan and hiked for twenty minutes, and at that point I cut sharply to the left and bushwhacked through some tall grass and wild shrubs until I encountered the river. I began fishing with a chubby Chernobyl with a mustard colored body, an emerald caddis pupa and a beadhead hares ear nymph. It took me awhile to understand the productive water type, but eventually I learned that the dry/dropper produced the best results at the tail of long slicks behind large rocks and at the downstream end of the inside seam of a bend. This knowledge enabled me to tally five landed fish between ten o’clock and noon, when I paused for lunch. The first fish was an eight inch brown that snatched the emerald caddis pupa in a small marginal seam along the bank. The others were nice brown trout in the 12 – 13 inch range, and these hungry fish grabbed the hares ear at the tail of deeper slots behind obstructions in the middle of the river. I exchanged the chubby Chernobyl for a yellow fat Albert within the first twenty minutes to obtain better visibility in the low light conditions.

Not Bad Start to the Morning

Mosquitoes were initially a severe nuisance, but after I sprayed my neck and hands with insect repellent, they seemed to fade. I chose a lunch spot that was away from the tall grasses and shrubs in order to avoid stirring up another mosquito nest. While I crunched my carrots, I observed a nice deep run along the bank just upstream, and I noted two dimpling rises. I was unwilling to attribute this surface feeding to small fish, and once I was properly geared up, I removed the dry/dropper configuration and adopted a single dry fly method. I saw one small pale morning dun attempting to become airborne, so I opted for a size 16 light gray comparadun, and I placed five casts over the scene of the dimples. I received no verification that my fly selection was appropriate, so I stripped in the comparadun and pondered my next move.

As I cast the PMD imitation, I saw the second large lumbering drake of the day. The ArkAnglers web site identified these as gray drakes, and I wondered if a large drake imitation might tempt the local stream dwellers. I also noticed quite a few small blue winged olives, but I was reluctant to go that route in the dim light and glare in relatively fast water. I gazed in my fly box and selected a size 14 green drake comparadun.

I gave up on the lunch time riser, and slowly waded to the top of the narrow ribbon of slow water along the bank. I paused, and as I looked on, I could see the back fin of a decent fish, as it plucked something from the surface in some swirly currents. I fluttered the comparadun to the location of the sighted fish, and I was unable to follow my fly, so I lifted and felt the momentary weight of a fish. It was only a split second, but I was certain that I pricked the sighted fish, and I knew that there would be a temporary pause in its feeding regimen.

A Harrop Deer Hair Green Drake

I moved on, and the comparadun generated a refusal, so I decided to try a size 12 2XL medium olive stimulator. I recalled that a stimulator was effective on July 12, 2016, and I hoped to recapture the year ago success. I persisted with the stimulator for ten minutes, but it was not attracting any interest, so I once again paused to consider my options. I studied the green drake section of my fly box, and I focused on a set of Harrop green drakes, that I tied over the winter. These flies presented a stimulator body and wing form, but the colors were much more imitative of green and gray drakes. I grabbed one and replaced the stimulator.

Creating a Nice Sag

The choice proved to be a clear winner. The fish counter climbed from five to fifteen over the remainder of the afternoon, and the Arkansas River trout loved the Harrop green drake. Many of the netted fish streaked two or three feet downstream to intercept the high riding drake before it could escape or tumble into faster water. The takes were direct and confident. The most difficult aspect of the afternoon fishing was finding the right type of water to fool the brown trout. Nearly all of the ten afternoon drake chompers were in the five foot band of slow moving water between the bank and the heavy current. Quite often I executed a reach cast and then allowed the fly to float downstream, and a brown trout appeared from the depths and confidently smashed the Harrop green drake.

Keep Them Wet

Needless to say, I had a blast. For the second day in a row, I fished primarily a single dry fly and avoided all the hassles related to casting three flies among willows, bushes and windy conditions. Once I stumbled on the favored fly, it was a matter of covering a lot of water in order to find the prime spots where brown trout opportunistically pounced on a large bushy drake imitation. The greatest challenges were the dim light and frequent glare, and the repeated cycle of absorbing water from the fly and then dipping in dry shake. When the wings of the Harrop deer hair drake became wet and matted, the fly seemed to lose effectiveness.

Lunch View

By 3:15 I encountered another fisherman, and I soon learned that I bumped into the fly fishing class. In the .5 mile area below the bridge near my starting point I counted at least eight fishermen. I used this as an excuse to circle around the group, and I reached the bridge and then returned to the car. I am not sure how long the drakes will continue to entice Hayden Meadows trout to the surface, but I would welcome another opportunity to float my Harrop hair wings in the area. Fishing large dry flies to willing trout is a rare treat.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 07/12/2017

Time: 1:00PM – 3:30PM

Location: Lunch Rock upriver a mile.

Arkansas River 07/12/2017 Photo Album

After packing up our campsite at Shavano on Wednesday morning, Jane and I drove to the trailhead for the Little Rainbow mountain bike trail near Salida on Methodist Mountain. We biked east for half an hour and then turned around and returned. Little Rainbow is a relatively new easy to intermediate single track with constant tight turns and loops, as it follows the contour of the mountain through a pinon pine and juniper landscape. We agreed with the rating, since the trail was wider than most single tracks, and it did not include any significant climbs, but it remained single track and thus incorporated a higher degree of concentration and technical bike handling skill than a paved surface.

After we completed our ride, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on our blanket in a small park next to the Salida Hot Springs. Our timing overlapped with the traditional lunch hour, and we were surprised by the number of park visitors. After lunch Jane and I parted ways, as she returned to Denver for Thursday tennis, and I proceeded east on US 50 to a location five miles below Salida, that I refer to as Lunch Rock. A huge rock juts into the Arkansas River, and I often park next to it and consume my lunch before fishing. I planned to give the Arkansas River another edge fishing trial on Wednesday afternoon to assess whether to commit a full day to the large freestone river on Thursday.

Promising Section Ahead


Between 1:00 and 3:30 I covered approximately .75 mile, and I can report that it was not the “fish in a barrel” experience touted by the fly shops. I landed three brown trout with the first and largest measuring fourteen inches. I began the afternoon with a yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and ultra zug bug; as these three flies generated some decent action in the late afternoon on Monday. I persevered with this combination for an hour or more, and the fat Albert produced three refusals, while I managed one brief hookup on one of the nymphs. I covered a lot of water, and I finally conceded that the three flies deployed were not effective trout enticers.


I shifted to a solo yellow Letort hopper in an effort to downsize but retain the yellow body color, and this fly elicited two looks but no takes. Another step down to a size 12 yellow stimulator finally yielded the first landed fish; the fourteen inch brown trout I mentioned earlier. I thought that perhaps the stimulator was the answer, but after the initial success it began to generate refusals as well. I adhered to the yellow stimulator theme and switched to a size 14 version, but once again refusals were the answer from the trout. How about a size 14 lime green trude? It was knotted to my line, but it was totally ignored.

In a last ditch effort to salvage a slow day I tied a size 16 light gray caddis to my leader, and this finally generated interest from the previously selective or lock jawed trout. I landed two brown trout on the caddis, and in addition I endured two long distance releases. A fair amount of glare existed along the bank, but assuming a more advantageous position for lighting was not an option as a result of the high flows and the thick streamside vegetation. The small size 16 caddis was quite difficult to follow in the poor lighting, and gusting wind made it very challenging to know were the fly landed on each cast. The two escaped fish probably benefited from late hook sets linked to poor visibility.

Velvet Antlered Deer Grazing in the Front Yard of a Home in Salida

In summary it was a tough outing, but I concluded that a return to Denver was preferable to another day on the Arkansas River. I checked off edge fishing the Arkansas from my goals list, but I did not experience the success I anticipated. Monday and Wednesday results were significantly inferior when compared to previous years during receding run off, and I am uncertain of the reasons. I plan to move on to other rivers and streams in Colorado, and I am undecided about when I will return to the newly certified gold medal Arkansas River.

Fish Landed: 3