Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Big Horn Sheep Canyon
Arkansas River 05/03/2023 Photo Album
Wednesday, May 3 marked my annual attempt to intersect with the Arkansas River caddis hatch. I am pleased to report that I found it; however, I did not succeed in finding the elusive leading edge of the emergence. In 33 years of fly fishing in Colorado, I made the journey to the Arkansas River nearly every spring, but I only hit the sweet spot of the leading edge three times. 2023 was not one of them.
The high temperature was forecast to peak at 73 degrees on Wednesday, and the fly shop reports suggested that the caddis were in the vicinity of Salida, so I made the trip to the river below the popular rafting town. I arrived at my chosen pullout by 10:00AM, and two cars preceded me to the parking area. One contained two fly fishermen, and they departed heading east along US 50, before I was ready. The other car belonged to a gentleman, who was doing some sort of maintenance to the cable that crosses the river across from where my car was parked. I planned to fish upstream, and I only encountered one other fisherman during my five plus hours of fishing. I was quite pleased with this fortunate circumstance.
The air temperature at the start was around sixty degrees, so I pulled on my raincoat for a bit of added warmth, but as I prepared to fish, I felt overheated, so I removed the rain shell and stuffed it in my backpack. My fly rod of choice was my Sage One five weight, as I anticipated tangling with larger fish, and I liked the additional backbone of the five weight to counter the wind and cover the large river. When I was ready, I headed down the gradual path to the river, and began my caddis hatch adventure. To begin my quest I opted for a dry/dropper configuration with an ice dub tan chubby Chernobyl, size 14 prince nymph and a bright green go2 caddis pupa. I progressed along the left bank of the river for quite a distance and through some usually productive riffles and pockets, but by the time I broke for lunch, I could only claim credit for two temporary hook ups. Along the way I swapped the prince for an ultra zug bug, but the late morning was characterized by a lot of futile casting. I tried to impart movement to the flies by swinging them, twitching the rod tip and jigging; but none of these ploys produced the steady action that I anticipated.
Before lunch I converted to a deep nymphing set up that featured a Thingamabobber, bright green go2 caddis pupa and a RS2. I drifted these flies through a prime deep run and shelf pool, but once again my efforts were stymied in spite of aggressive strips, twitches and swings. I consumed my lunch at 11:45AM, and upon resumption of fly fishing I changed out my flies. I substituted a 20 incher for the top nymph and replaced the RS2 with a bright green caddis pupa with a dubbed body. On the fourth cast to the entering riffle section of the shelf pool, a nice trout grabbed the bright green sparkle pupa, and I avoided a skunking on May 3. I was seriously starting to believe that a zero fish day was a possibility.
As the morning developed, it was clear that I was among the epicenter of the caddis hatch. The willows and boulders along the bank were absolutely swarming with caddis, and periodically they would flutter above the water and dap. Surely this activity was attracting the attention of the trout. I decided to forsake the deep nymphing, and I adopted the double dry fly approach. I knotted a peacock hippie stomper to my leader as the forward fly, and then I added a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis on an eight inch 5X dropper. The hippie stomper was intended to be the indicator fly that enabled me to track the small caddis through riffles and glare.
These flies remained on my line for the remainder of the afternoon except for a very brief period, when I swapped the caddis for a BWO puff. I would not characterize the afternoon fishing as hot action, but I was able to inflate the fish count from one to ten. Among these nine landed fish were two stunning rainbow trout in the fourteen inch range. The remainder were wild and deeply colored brown trout ranging in length from twelve to fourteen inches. By one o’clock the caddis left their streamside perches and clustered over the water and dapped down periodically. When the wind gusted, it knocked caddis on to the surface of the river, and the trout responded. The surface eats were very subtle, but I stumbled across two areas, where multiple fish exposed themselves via dimples in the surface chop, and I was able to leverage these observations to land five trout. The other four trout resulted from persistent blind casting, and two of these net dwellers actually smashed the hippie stomper.
Deep slow moving pools and slicks behind large exposed rocks were not productive. My best success occurred in long choppy riffles and troughs with four feet of depth. Nine fish in three hours represents a slightly above average catch rate, but the action was steady, although it required an abundant amount of long casts into the breeze. One of the surprise eaters that resulted from prospecting was a fourteen inch brown trout, and this angler was extremely pleased to see this prize curled in his net.
By 4 o’clock the caddis returned to their streamside habitat, and very few adults touched the surface. I covered .5 mile of the river, and the fish count extended to double digits, so I reeled up my line and hooked the caddis adult to the hook guide. Did I achieve my goal of hitting the 2023 grannom caddis hatch? Yes I did, but it was not the crazy drag your fly and catch a fish on every cast bonanza that characterizes the leading edge emergence. Achieving double digits on Wednesday required constant upstream movement, keen observation to notice subtle rises, and solid water reading skills. I drove six hours in order to log 5.5 hours of fishing, but landing ten quality trout made it worthwhile.
Fish Landed: 10