Category Archives: Arkansas River

Arkansas River – 10/05/2020

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Fremont – Chaffee County line

Arkansas River 10/05/2020 Photo Album

Angler ineptitude was the theme for my day on Monday, October, 5, 2020. The weather was incredible on October 5 and probably too nice for fly fishing. The temperature when I departed from my parking space along US 50 was 62 degrees, and it probably spiked in the upper seventies in the afternoon. Fortunately, before I left the car, I shed my Columbia long sleeve undershirt and pulled on a short sleeve quick-dry T-shirt. Even with this last minute change I was quite warm for much of the afternoon. The river was very clear and very low. I believe the flows were in the 280 CFS range. I was easily able to cross the river, and throughout the day very few locations were unreachable. In short, wading conditions were ideal. I selected my Sage four weight and crossed the river at the county line and then hiked the tracks, until I reached my usual path to the river.


Tail Drag

To start my pursuit of trout I tied a tan pool toy hopper to my line and then added a size 16 salvation nymph and a classic RS2. The first fifteen minutes failed to produce any sign of fish, but then a chunky and healthy fifteen inch brown trout nipped the RS2, as I raised the flies in front of a large submerged rock. I moved upstream to the downstream tip of a small island, and some spectacular riffles yielded a look at the hopper and a very temporary connection to a small fish. In a fairly nondescript shallow run directly below the island I looked away for a split second and then raised my rod to make sure it was not snagged. I instantly felt a brief surge of heavy weight, but that was the extent of interaction with a trout, as it charged the opposite direction from my lift and snapped off all three flies. I must confess that I uttered some ugly words, before I reconfigured my line.

Left Braid

I was at the bottom of the island and anxiously anticipated fishing the small right braid on the north side of the river. The right channel is my favorite stretch of the Arkansas River, and I knew that low, clear flows dictated extra stealth. I knotted a size 14 light olive stimulator to my line and then added a RS2 on a 2.5 foot dropper. The stimulator enabled light, soft presentations, and the RS2 was insurance against an early baetis emergence. Once my fly fishing lineup was prepared I sat on some rocks at the tail of the island and chomped my lunch.

After lunch I prospected some marginal pockets downstream of the large pool on the small north braid, and then I covered the bottom half of the pool. A pair of refusals in the small marginal pockets was the only reaction, that I could muster from the wild stream residents. I was having some success with the hopper/dropper earlier, so I reverted to that approach, although in this case I opted for a pheasant tail instead of the salvation.

RS2 Victim. Look at Those Spots!

The change was rewarded, as a substantial brown trout inhaled the RS2 in the faster water at the top of the long pool. I continued prospecting the hopper/dropper through the remainder of the right braid and added a thirteen inch brown to the count. In addition I wrestled with a valiant rainbow trout that executed a quick head twist and snapped off the RS2. I replaced the small nymph with a replica, and I proceeded to the upper half of the small river branch. Amazingly in another relatively marginal narrow pocket along the right bank, I spotted a large form as it elevated to the hopper. I reacted with a swift set, and in a short amount of time I realized that I was connected to another substantial brown trout. Unfortunately, as I played the fish closer, I came to the realization that it was foul hooked along the side of the head. I attempted to plane the muscular fish above the river to my net for a quick release, but the knot on the hopper failed, and a trio of flies once again disappeared. Needless to say I was unhappy with this turn of events. I was now down two pool toy hoppers and four RS2’s and feeling unloved by the fishing gods.

Close Up of the RS2

I was forced to configure my entire line yet again, and I opted for another pool toy hopper along with a pheasant tail and yet another RS2. For the remainder of the afternoon I cherry-picked the most promising spots over .8 mile of river. In the first hour I landed a gorgeous and very fat rainbow and a brown that was less than twelve inches long. The rainbow was the best fish of the day at sixteen inches, and it displayed the RS2 tucked in the thin membrane of its jaw. I also earned quite a few temporary hook ups and a few refusals to the hopper.

RS2 in Lip

By 2:30PM I endured a long dry spell, and I decided to convert to a nymphing rig with a split shot and indicator. Given the low clear conditions, I decided to introduce my New Zealand strike indicator to the effort, as the small tuft of synthetic yarn created minimal impact upon landing on the water. My New Zealand indicator tool was knotted to a section of old fly line along with my small Swiss army knife. In the process of attempting to form the indicator loop, the old fly line knot broke, and the Swiss army knife tumbled into the river. The knife was easily retrievable from the shallow water, but the New Zealand indicator tool was a different matter. I spent fifteen minutes trying to locate the small bodkin-like device, but I eventually gave up and used a cork style indicator with a rubber band gripper. The entire indicator conversion proved to be a monumental bust, as I never experienced so much as a bump.

Another Rainbow Shot for Good Measure

After twenty minutes of fruitless casting I converted back to the dry/dropper approach, and on this go round I used a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl along with a salvation nymph and a sparkle wing RS2. For the last hour I covered a significant amount of river, but the results were dismal, as the fish count was mired on five. During this phase of my frustrating day my knee touched some chollo cactus spines, and I may have created some slow leaks on the left leg of my waders. Also as I was wading, I noticed an object flapping below my left boot. Upon closer examination I realized that the Korker sole had separated and was only held in place by the rubber thong and rivet on the heel of the boot. I was luckily able to correct this situation without removing my boot.

Zoomed a Bit

By 4:00PM the river was dead, and I was extremely weary, so I made the .7 mile return trek. Monday was clearly not one of my better days. I lost an abundant quantity of flies along with my New Zealand indicator tool, and I may have punctured my heretofore leak-free waders. Five landed fish is a ridiculously low catch rate, but four of the fish were of excellent quality. Twenty fish days on high mountain streams are haunting my thoughts. Some clouds and overcast skies would be a major positive for fly fishing the Arkansas River. I will keep my eyes on the weather forecast.

Fish Landed: 5


Arkansas River – 07/14/2020

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Tunnels area north of Buena Vista

Arkansas River 07/14/2020 Photo Album

Tuesday was a day, where persistence and reliance upon recent experience converted a day that was trending toward subpar to a very successful outing. At 11AM I was convinced that Tuesday on the Arkansas River was going to be a bust, but when I returned to the campsite at 4PM, I was glowing with satisfaction. Read on to follow my fishing day and the transformation that ensued.

The temperature in the Buena Vista area peaked in the seventies on Tuesday, and the wind was an intermittently annoying factor. The flows in nearby Nathrop, CO were in the 700 CFS range, and they appeared to be comparable, where I was fishing a bit upstream. I drove four miles and parked on the south side of the tunnels and assembled my Sage four weight rod and pulled on my waders. I debated wet wading, but the sixty degree temperatures at 9:30AM dissuaded me from such thoughts.

Blue Skies and Boulder Field

I walked down the railroad tracks for .5 mile and then carefully slid down a steep bank to the edge of the river. The tumbling water looked perfect with relatively fast current in the middle but nice moderate pockets, riffles, and runs in the twenty yards next to the east bank. I concentrated all my attention on this band and ignored the majority of the large waterway. I knotted a tan pool toy to my leader and then added a prince nymph and hares ear nymph. From 9:30AM until 11:00AM I prospected the edge of the river and notched three landed trout; all brown trout in the seven to eleven inch range. The first fish of the day inhaled the hares ear, and then a somewhat larger brown trout slammed the pool toy.

Pool Toy Consumer

I fished through some very attractive areas with no interest from the resident fish population, and I sensed that perhaps I needed deeper drifts, so I exchanged the prince for a size 12 20 incher. At the same time I swapped the hares ear for a bright green go2 caddis pupa. Almost immediately a brown trout snatched the 20 incher, but then the response was lackluster. During the morning I executed an abundance of futile casts, but I also noticed occasional refusals to the hopper. After thirty minutes I gazed up the river and noted the arrival of another angler. Needless to say I was disappointed by this circumstance, but I made a mental note of his starting point, so I could exit rather than fish in his wake. Apparently my early arrival and distancing from the parking area were not enough to gain open space.

More Pocket Water

When I reached the landmark that marked the starting point of the other fisherman, I climbed the bank and strode along the railroad tracks, until I was fifty yards above him. I concentrated on the dry/dropper approach until 11:20AM, when I encountered a pair of spin fishermen, so I climbed the cinder bank once again and returned to the campground. My morning had not evolved in the manner in which I anticipated.

When I arrived at the campground, I sat in the car and wrote a note to Jane informing her of my whereabouts under the assumption that she was in the midst of a bicycle ride, but when I reached the campsite, I was surprised to find her reading in her camp chair. In order to enjoy her companionship I retrieved my backpack and lunch and ate at the picnic table overlooking the boat launch. After lunch I departed and relocated to another stretch of the Arkansas River in the tunnels area with the hope of distancing from competing anglers. This move, unlike the morning, was successful, as I never met other fishermen on my side of the river.

Nice Spot

The afternoon session developed in the manner that I expected of the morning. Since refusals to the hopper were prevalent, I decided to try a single dry and tied a size 12 olive stimulator to my 5X tippet. The change worked, when a brown sipped the stimi, but then the bushy attractor fly repeated the act of the pool toy and generated a batch of refusals. What was the key to unlocking this riddle? The only insects evident were small caddis on the streamside bushes, but a size 16 or 18 caddis would be very difficult to track. I pondered the situation and took a page out of my Cutthroat Angler guide’s book, and switched to a double dry. My front fly was a hippie stomper with a peacock body, and a size 16 light gray caddis was the trailer. Whenever I am unable to discern the body color of a caddis, I default to light gray.

Hippie Stomper in Mouth

More Width

Bingo. The strategy rewarded me, and the fish count mounted from four to twenty-seven, by the time I reached my end point at 4:00PM. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon, as I prospected the double dries along the right (east) bank. Locations that previously looked promising but then disappointed began to deliver netted fish. Initially the trailing caddis was the popular target of feeding fish, but as the afternoon progressed, the hippie stomper came into its own. The double dry method produced twenty-three trout, and ten smashed the hippie stomper, while thirteen favored the caddis.

More Pools Created by Large Boulders

Tuesday afternoon on the Arkansas River was exactly the fast paced action that I crave. I found a new stretch of river to explore, and I hope to return during the 2020 season. I learned to be flexible, and abandoned my favored dry/dropper technique for a double dry, and the results were impressive. I also observed and learned from my recent guide trip, as fly fishing is a constant adaptive experience.

Fish Landed: 27

Arkansas River – 03/31/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Salida

Arkansas River 03/31/2020 Photo Album

In response to the corona virus Colorado governor Jared Polis issued a stay at home order that took effect on March 26, but the the document allows residents “to travel to outdoor areas for hiking and exercise” while maintaining social distancing. I rarely get within six feet of anyone, when I undertake one of my fly fishing trips, so I decided to take the plunge with a drive to the Arkanasas River on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. I topped off the gas tank the day before, and this allowed me to make the three hundred mile round trip without stopping for fuel; and this action further avoided contact with human beings or shared public surfaces such as gas pumps.

March 31 also happened to be the last day that my 2019 fishing license was valid, so I made a mental note to purchase a new license online, when I returned. During my day on the river I saw three other anglers, but they remained on the opposite side of the river, and therefore, a safe distance away.

Another Promising Spot

When I arrived at my favorite pullout along U.S. 50, I assembled my Sage four weight and pulled on my light down parka, which I wore during my entire time on the river. It was 51 degrees, when I began at 11AM, and by the time I finished at 4PM, it was 60 degrees. The weather was partly sunny, but the wind was ridiculous. I spent the entire day casting upstream into a head wind; and miraculously my arm, wrist and elbow remained in one piece. The true test of my early season physical endurance will be the state of my body when I awake Wednesday morning.

Release Imminent

I waded across the river at my usual crossing point at the tail of the long pool next to where I parked, and when I attained the bank across from the highway, I rigged with a New Zealand strike indicator, split shot, 20 incher and sparkle wing RS2. Between 11AM and noon, when I broke for lunch, I landed two brown trout. The first nabbed the RS2, as it began to swing through a deep trough, and this brown was a decent twelve inch fish. The second brown trout was around nine inches, and it grabbed the 20 incher, as I began to lift in a relatively short pocket next to the bank.

This Deep Trough Produced the First Fish

After lunch I continued west along the north bank, and after a fairly lengthy dead period, I landed a long but skinny brown that nipped the sparkle wing RS2. During the unproductive time I added a second split shot to my line in an effort to get the flies deeper earlier in the drifts. It was around this time that I snagged on a stick in a deep swift run, and I was forced to snap off both flies in order to avoid bodily harm. The line broke just below the two split shots, so I used the reconfiguration process as an excuse to replace the 20 incher with an iron sally, but I retained a sparkle wing RS2 as my point fly.

Better Light

Over the last three hours I landed six additional brown trout to raise the cumulative total fish count for the day to nine. Among these catches was a fine fifteen inch fish that crushed the iron sally, as the flies drifted through a deep run next to a large exposed rock. Most of the remaining fish were healthy browns in the twelve inch range.


The wind during the morning hour was a nuisance, but the afternoon gusts were even more intense. At one point I netted a fish and waded to a rock along the north bank to photograph and release it. I removed my sun glove and rested it on a rock, while I handled the trout for a photo. I was about to press the camera button, when a strong gust blew my hat off my head, in spite of it being tethered to my coat. The hat landed crown side down, and I thought it was going to rest next to a rock, but it immediately began to curl into some faster current. I quickly deposited my disconnected net containing a trout in some shallow water and lunged downstream to snag my slowly escaping hat. Meanwhile, another blast of air lifted my sun glove into the water, but miraculously the net remained in place, and the trout was still nestled just below the rim. Eventually I placed my wet hat back on my head, snapped a few photos, and shoved my wet sun gloves in my fishing backpack. A simple photo and release session morphed into a battle against the elements.

Typical Productive Water

Between 2PM and 3PM I noticed tiny blue winged olive mayflies, but they were instantly swept into the air after spending a minuscule amount of time on the surface. I stuck with the RS2, and all of my afternoon landed fish nabbed the small baetis nymph imitation. In addition, I experienced three temporary connections. The most productive water during Tuesday was riffles and shelf pools that ran at a depth of three to four feet.

Pent Up Energy

At 3PM I approached a long smooth pool with a slow moving foam line eight feet from the north bank. I paused to observe, and a pair of rises caught my attention. This was a place where the slow current allowed fish to pick off stillborns and cripples; so I removed my indicator, split shots, and flies and converted to a single dry. My fly choice was a Klinkhammer BWO. Unfortunately by the time I made the conversion, the fish stopped rising. After observing for what seemed like an eternity, I launched some prospecting casts between wind gusts, but the small emerger was ignored.

Very Appealing Stretch

I advanced beyond the deep pool to a short section populated with deep pockets and riffles. This structure was not appropriate for the single dry, and I was averse to revisiting the deep nymphing method, so I quickly went to a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and BWO soft hackle emerger combination. For the last thirty minutes I prospected some nice deep runs among the plentiful exposed rocks, but the trout were either absent or unwilling to sample my offerings.

In spite of the irritating wind Tuesday was a productive day on the Arkansas River. The sparkle wing RS2 took center stage, and I enjoyed steady action, as I progressed .6 stream miles from my start. The size of the netted fish was average for the Arkansas River, but compared to Boulder Creek and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek they were a welcome upgrade. Because of the constant gusts it was difficult to assess the intensity of the blue winged olive hatch, but I suspect it was surprisingly strong. With seventy degree days in the forecast for early next week, I may undertake a return engagement.

Fish Landed: 9

Arkansas River – 03/11/2020

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Downstream from Salida

Arkansas River 03/11/2020 Photo Album

With surgery around the corner and the coronavirus expanding at unprecedented rates, I decided that the best remedy was a trip to a river. Crowd avoidance is a part of the solitary sport of fly fishing and also a recommended defense against the spreading virus. A forecast high temperature of sixty-six degrees in Denver only added to the allure of a day on a stream. My day on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek on Friday, March 6 was OK, but I yearned for some larger catches. As I searched my options, I settled on the Arkansas River. The high temperature for Salida was forecast to be 59 degrees, and the flows remained steady at 280 CFS over the most recent four days. The fly shop reports suggested nymphing the deeper slow moving areas with the possibility of afternoon dry fly action on midges. Blue winged olives were not yet present, but stream samples indicated that nymphs were active, and emergence was around the corner. Unfortunately Salida required six hours of round trip driving, so I packed clothing, in case the action was hot, and I decided to stay over and fish again on Thursday.

I arrived at my selected pullout by 11:30AM, and after gearing up and assembling my Sage four weight. my watch displayed 11:45, so I devoured my lunch rather than pack it along on my back. Once the last spoonful of yogurt was swallowed, I carefully negotiated my way down a steep bank and crossed the river and then hiked along the railroad tracks for .4 mile to a favorite starting point. I was convinced that deep nymphing with a strike indicator was likely my prevalent technique for the early March outing, but a relatively shallow side channel on the north side of the river convinced me to try the dry/dropper approach before making the relatively time consuming conversion.

Right Channel Ahead

I knotted a tan pool toy hopper to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a sparkle wing RS2 to the tippet. I began at the downstream border of the north braid and worked my way up to the long smooth pool without a hint of trout presence. When I established my position at the bottom one-third of the pool, I spotted two fish rising along the subtle center seam near the midpoint of the pool. One of the fish was rising fairly regularly, but the one on the north side of the seam was very sporadic. I debated whether to shift to a single dry fly approach or gamble on the dry/dropper. I made the wrong choice and lobbed the three fly configuration to the top of the pool and allowed it to drift through the area previously occupied by feeding trout. Much to my chagrin the large dry fly put down the risers. I attempted to reverse my misfortune and completed the lengthy task of clipping off the three flies and then extended the leader with some 5X and tied on a size 22 CDC BWO. I was uncertain what small morsel of food created the surface feeding, but a tiny olive is generally a solid choice that covers multiple bases. These were all solid theories, but the previously rising fish ignored my offering as well as the size 18 parachute ant that succeeded the BWO.

I scanned the upper portion of the pool for surface feeding, but it was absent, so I reconfigured the dry/dropper, albeit with a Pat’s rubber legs and a classic RS2. I progressed upstream along the north braid and cast to some very attractive faster runs, but I only managed to spook a couple nice fish. In hindsight, I wish I had tried a midge larva instead of the RS2, since it was still fairly early in the day, and no evidence of blue winged olives existed.

Site of Fish Number One Take

Once I reached the top of the run, I reversed my direction and ambled downstream along the north bank, until I reached my normal starting point; a gorgeous deep run with a large shelf pool on my side of the river. For this deeper water I decided to implement my deep nymphing approach, and I reconfigured with a split shot, 20 incher and sparkle wing RS2. Other than a period when I substituted a pheasant tail for the RS2, these flies remained my workhorse offerings for the remainder of the day. I deployed a bright green wool tuft from my New Zealand strike indicator kit and dabbed some floatant around the base, where it was attached to the line.

On Display

20 Incher Getting It Done

At the top of the shelf pool where some faster water cascaded over some rocks and fanned out into the softer water, the indicator dipped, and I quickly reacted with a hook set. I was very pleased to feel life on the end of my line, and after a brief battle I guided a twelve inch brown trout to my net, as it displayed a 20 incher in its lip. Fifteen minutes later I advanced to a nice deep riffle just below the point of the island that attracted my attention earlier. I prospected this area, and a mirror image twelve inch brown trout grabbed the 20 incher. I was quite pleased that the size 12 2XL nymph was attracting the attention of the brown trout in the Arkansas River in early March.

Also a Fan of the 20 Incher

Produced Number 2

Next I moved up along the left side of the small island, and near the top I temporarily hooked a fish that seemed to favor the RS2. I will never know for certain, but the fight and escape suggest the small size 22 hook. From the top of the island I retreated to the downstream point, and I worked through the north channel a second time with the nymph approach, but as I originally feared, the low clear water was not conducive to the split shot and weighted nymphs.

Two Rainbows Dwell in This Area

By 2PM I reached the top of the island and decided to cross to the south side, where the river deflected off a high vertical rock wall. The low flows enabled a careful crossing, and a gorgeous riffle of moderate depth elevated my expectations. On the second cast I felt a strike just as the nymphs began to swing at the end of the drift, and I immediately set. This fish battled up and down the run several times, and when I slid my net beneath it, I marveled at a chunky thirteen inch rainbow. The aggressive rainbow would prove to be my best fish of the day, and it snatched the sparkle wing RS2. Once I photographed and released my prize, I resumed fishing the attractive run, and I covered the ten feet that rolled along the wall more thoroughly. On one of these casts I performed some poor mends which accelerated the nymphs, and another rainbow could not resist the movement of the sparkle wing, and I netted another thirteen inch rainbow. I landed four fish in two hours and endured a pair of long distance releases, so I concluded that my prospects were looking up. My goal was to catch larger fish than achieved on the St. Vrain, and I was on track for completing that objective.

Chunky Rainbow

I wish I could report that my catch rate continued, but unfortunately I spent the last two hours advancing upstream for .5 mile, and I added one more twelve inch brown toward the very end of my time on the river. I was very selective about my targeted areas, and held out for slow velocity and moderate depth near faster current or along the bank, but I was not rewarded for my strategic approach. The sun warmed the air considerably and the wind became a negative, but it seemed that the fish disappeared. There was a brief period when olive midges danced along the surface of the river, but other than that, a food source seemed to be absent. I contemplated a streamer, but I was averse to making the changeover late in the day, and stuck with the patterns that produced earlier. I was convinced that the trout were not selective to a specific aquatic insect and surmised that the large 20 incher could once again attract interest. It did not, and I ended my day at 4PM .5 mile upriver from the Santa Fe.

Sparkle Wing RS2

Shelf Pool Produced

Five fish in four hours represents a below average catch rate, but all the landed trout were in the twelve to thirteen inch size range, and I was pleased with the diversity of three browns and two bows. I nearly had the large river to myself, and other than the wind, the weather was quite pleasant for March 11. I drove six hours for four hours of fishing, but Wednesday was a success in the eyes of this avid fisherman.

Fish Landed: 5

Arkansas River – 07/30/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Pridemore Lease and Tunnels Area and area near Railroad Bridge Campground

Arkansas River 07/30/2019 Photo Album

After spending Monday cycling from Buena Vista to the Railroad Bridge Campground and back with Jane followed by a mellow lunch at Eddyline, I had Tuesday available as a fishing day. Jane and I planned to camp at one of the national forest service campgrounds along Chalk Creek, but much to our amazement they were fully booked for Monday night. Since I stayed at Railroad Bridge Campground the previous Monday and Tuesday, and because Jane was able to inspect it on our bike ride, we returned and reserved campsite two for Monday and Tuesday night.

Sangre de Cristos in the Distance

I was disappointed with my three hours at the Pridemore Lease on Monday, July 22, and I remained convinced that my lack of success was attributable to the muddy conditions. In an effort to prove that Pridemore was a quality section of the Arkansas River, I returned on Tuesday, July 30. The flows on the DWR web site at Salida were 1450 CFS, and the clarity was much improved compared to the previous week.

Promising Spot

I parked by the CO 291 bridge and hiked downstream, until I encountered a fence that marked the border with a new housing development. I began my quest for Arkansas River trout with a tan pool toy, and I added an iron sally and salvation nymph. Surely these reliable producers would reverse my fortunes on a favorite section on the Arkansas River.

Different Light

From a weather standpoint Tuesday developed into a nice day with high temperatures around eighty degrees, before some storm clouds rolled into the valley in mid-afternoon. I fished the Pridemore Lease from 10AM until 1:00PM, and I managed to land four brown trout. One was a decent thirteen inch specimen, and the others were small and barely over the six inch minimum, that I require in order to register on the fish count. In short, it was a very slow three hours of fishing, and the Pridemore Lease has fallen out of favor as a quality destination on the Arkansas River.

The Type of Water That Produces

I cycled through an array of flies including a green chubby Chernobyl with a yellow body and a royal chubby as well. For nymphs I experimented with a hares ear, cranefly larva (truly an archived fly that I tied in the 90’s), a go2 caddis pupa, and a prince nymph. These flies drifted on the end of my line in addition to the salvation and iron sally that I began with. The water remained relatively high, but very little insect activity was present, and perhaps this explained the slow action.

Afternoon Starting Point

At one o’clock I returned to the car, since I reached the CO 291 bridge, and I drove to the tunnels area north of Buena Vista. I enjoyed reasonable success in this area on July 22, and therefore gravitated to the section once again. I parked between the series of three and the northernmost tunnel, and then I crossed the railroad tracks and dropped down the bank to the river.

Iron Sally Lover

Between 2PM and 3:30PM I worked my way upstream and cast a peacock hippie stomper trailing an iron sally and salvation nymph. These flies clicked, and I landed eleven brown trout in addition to the four recorded at Pridemore to reach fifteen on the day. Four browns crushed the hippie stomper on the surface, and the others grabbed one of the nymphs. The salvation nymph was preferred over the iron sally by a ratio of three to one. The trout were generally small with one or two in the one foot range.

Makes My Pulse Rise

At 3:30PM the western sky darkened, so I hustled back to the campground. I was curious about the river around the Railroad Bridge Campground, so I pulled on my raincoat and walked upriver for .4 miles. Here I found a nice gradual path to the river, and I fished my way upstream for twenty minutes, but the terrain was not to my liking, and I failed to connect with additional trout. This section of the river was characterized by a narrow canyon topography; and this condition combined with the continuing high flows resulted in minimal holding spots and difficult wading.

Not Standing for the Hold

My time at the Pridemore Lease was certainly disappointing, but 1.5 hours of fast action above Buena Vista salvaged my day and raised my spirits. The fish were small, but I loved prospecting with a dry/dropper, when my confidence was high, and trout reacted with some aggression.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 07/23/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Tunnel area

Arkansas River 07/23/2019 Photo Album

After a pleasant evening at the Railroad Bridge Campground, I was within four miles of my targeted fishing destination. Eight small trout landed within the last 1.5 hours on Monday sold me on staying in the Arkansas River Valley. The weather on Tuesday was ideal with high temperatures spiking into the low eighties. The river was high, but unlike the section where I began on Monday, was crystal clear; and I realized how much of an impact clarity has on my fly fishing confidence level.

Arkansas River from the Railroad Tracks

I began with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a 20 incher and a beadhead hares ear nymph. During the two morning hours I enjoyed steady action on the nymphs. Early results accrued to the 20 incher, but as the air and water warmed up, the hares ear began to contribute. As the morning progressed, the fat Albert lost both legs, and I decided to experiment with a large buoyant hopper Juan. Unfortunately none were in my fly boxes, so at 11:45 I ascended the bank and strode a short distance on the railroad tracks, until I returned to the Santa Fe. I sat in the shade of my hatchback and munched my goodies, and then I topped off my plastic fly canister with two tan hopper Juans. By noon the fish counter rested on fourteen, and I was pleased with the steady availability of small brown trout.

Nice Early Start

Typical Productive Water

When I returned to my exit point, I paused to replace the fat Albert with a hopper Juan, and this large foam terrestrial remained on my line for most of the remainder of the afternoon. The 20 incher fell out of favor, so I swapped it for an iron sally. From 12:30PM until 2:30PM the fish count elevated steadily to twenty-four. One or two browns crushed the hopper Juan, a couple chewed on the iron sally, and the remainder grabbed the salvation nymph. The action was consistent, but not outstanding, and it seemed quite a few attractive spots failed to deliver results. Nevertheless after Monday’s early debacle, I was very pleased with my day on Tuesday.

Fly Bigger Than the Mouth

Iron Sally Worked its Magic

Between 2PM and 2:30PM the pace of action slowed perceptibly, so I opted to change things up. I knotted a size 12 yellow stimulator with an orange tip on the abdomen to my line as a sole dry fly. The bright stimmy generated a raft of refusals, but it also duped three brown trout at the upper end of the size range. I persisted, and refusals became the norm, and after seeing a handful of dapping caddis along the bank, I switched to a size 16 gray deer hair caddis. Surprisingly this close imitation of the naturals spawned a series of snubs.

Orange and Yellow

I pondered the situation and decided to try one last ditch effort with a peacock body hippie stomper. It worked! In an eddy behind a large streamside rock, a spunky ten inch brown smacked the stomper. I continued briefly, but it was now 3:30PM, and the riverbed narrowed and created a whitewater chute for fifty yards. I was not interested in persisting, so I clipped the hippie stomper to the rod guide and returned to the car.

Chubby Little Guy

Tuesday was a fun outing. The fish were small, but I needed action after waiting out the long runoff, and after hours of frustration in high murky conditions on Monday. As a bonus, I explored an expanded portion of the tunnel area, and I will likely return in the near future.

Fish Landed: 28

Arkansas River – 07/22/2019

Time: 12:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Pridemore Lease and tunnel area above Buena Vista

Arkansas River 07/22/2019 Photo Album

I enjoyed success on the Yampa River during the previous week, and I was now in hot pursuit of the temporary window of opportunity on Colorado freestone rivers, when the run off is high, but the water remains clear and cold. Under these conditions the trout bunch up in soft water areas along the bank, and they are extremely hungry after surviving weeks of high velocity thrashing current.

Originally I planned to visit the Eagle River on Monday and Tuesday and then drive south for a day on the Arkansas River on Wednesday. However, when I checked the flows on Monday morning, I noted that the Eagle River remained at 1360 CFS, and I typically desire an upper velocity of 1000 CFS. In addition I suspected a spike on Monday morning that was indicative of a rainstorm, and the area that I targeted was downstream from a tributary that muddies quickly.

The Arkansas River on the other hand was dropping nicely, and the last reading registered flows just below 2000 CFS. I typically look for 1500 CFS, but the Arkansas riverbed is quite large, and I was confident that 2000 CFS was manageable for edge fishing. A narrow spike also appeared on the Arkansas River, Salida DWR graph, but I discounted it under the assumption that it was brief, and could not significantly impact the conditions on a large river such as the Arkansas. The ArkAnglers report shed no light on the situation, as it was not updated since Sunday, a time period prior to the spike. I had all my camping gear packed, so I rolled the dice, reversed my sequence of stops, and headed to the Arkansas River. I planned to camp at the Vallie Bridge Campgroud, one of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area locations, and less popular due to the lack of trees.

High and Dirty Did Not Equal Good Fishing

A 2.5 hour drive placed me at the bridge where CO 291 crossed the river, and I suited up with my new but patched waders and rigged my Sage five weight, since I was facing big water. During my drive I crossed the Arkansas River at Fishermen’s Bridge, and it was crystal clear; however, I also passed over Chalk Creek, and it displayed the color of a cup of coffee with two teaspoons of milk. At the time I convinced myself that Chalk Creek represented a small percentage of the much larger flows of the main river, and the water would be mostly diluted before it cascaded downstream to my chosen location to fish.

This turned out to be faulty analysis, and when I looked at the river at the Pridemore Lease, it was a light brown color. My heart sank, and I considered reversing to the Buena Vista area, but I ate my lunch and reasoned that black flies for contrast and fishing along the edge with one foot of visibility could still attract fish. My original plan assumed edge fishing anyway, so the reduced visibility served as a visual reminder.

My reasoning translated to wishful thinking. I walked along the upper rim of the canyon, and after .4 mile found a marginally reasonable place to descend. My snake radar was on high alert mode after several previous encounters in this area.

One of Two Small Brown Trout from the Murky Arkansas River

I spent the next 2.5 hours working the extreme edge of the river with a three fly dry/dropper set up. Initially the top fly was a size 8 Chernobyl ant, but eventually it was replaced with a more visible and buoyant yellow fat Albert. For dropper flies I cycled through a black woolly bugger, slumpbuster, peacock stonefly, hares ear nymph, red copper john, and a salvation nymph. I landed two seven inch brown trout, and I hooked and played a thirteen inch brown as well. Unfortunately the larger fish twisted free after a brief connection, and the pent up energy of the rod whipped the three flies into a tree branch. Not only did the fish escape, but it put my flies at risk as well. Luckily I climbed around the tree trunk to the uphill side, and I bashed the dead limb with my wading staff causing it to fall to the rocks next to the river, and this fortuitous outcome enabled me to recover all my flies! I neglected to mention that I also acquired three free flies that were snapped off in a streamside bush. One was an amber body chubby Chernobyl, another was a hares ear, and the third was a slender quill body nymph.


After I recovered my flies, I worked quickly, until I was just below the bridge. This period was characterized by futile casting, and represented my nadir of confidence, so I climbed the steep bank and returned to the car. What should I do now? My plans revolved around two days and two nights on the Arkansas, while I waited for the Eagle to clear and drop. My planned camping destination was Vallie Bridge, and it was miles downstream from Salida. The water from Chalk Creek and downstream appeared to be very murky, and this led to difficult fishing. I remembered crossing Fishermen’s Bridge, and the river at that point was very clear. I decided to make one last effort to fish the Arkansas River before returning to Denver, if the results did not improve.

I drove north on US 285 to US 24, and then I turned right in Buena Vista and made a left on Colorado Avenue. I was headed to the tunnel area, where I fished successfully on one previous occasion. After a six mile drive on a mostly packed dirt road, I arrived at the first tunnel and turned into a wide pullout. My waders remained on, and my rod was strung, so in not time I was ambling downriver on the railroad tracks.

First Success After a Move Upriver

After .2 mile I cut down to the river, and I began probing the nice runs and pockets of moderate depth with a peacock stonefly and hares ear, and in a short amount of time I hooked and landed two twelve inch brown trout. How could this be, and why did I wait so long to change locations? Patience can sometimes be a detriment to fly fishing success.

Having Fun

The peacock nymph was not producing results, so I replaced it with a salvation nymph and kept the hares ear in the end position. Between 3PM and 4:30PM I added six more fish to my netted total, and this allowed me to reach ten on the day. I was very pleased and shocked by this dramatic reversal of fortunes. Fishing in clear water raised my confidence and focus, and landed fish were the result. Of course the trout were relatively small, but regular action was welcome at this stage of the day.

This uptick in success made me want to follow through with my plans to camp. But where? I was so certain that I would camp at Vallie Bridge, that I did not bring a map or book with campgrounds marked or listed. I returned to Buena Vista and attempted to find the Visitor Center, but it apparently moved. I finally pulled into a vacant parking lot along US 24 and called Jane. She used her iPad to go online and found a nearby Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Campground just north of Buena Vista called Railroad Bridge. Amazingly it was four miles north of the tunnels area, where I hoped to fish on Tuesday.

Wildflowers at the Campground

I crossed my fingers, as I pulled into the campground, and fortunately four or five vacant sites greeted me. I thought I was home free, but that was not the case. Little blue slips in the campsite post stated that camping was by reservation only. I was confused, so I approached some neighboring campers, and they told me that they reserved number four, but discovered it was too small for their three tents and moved across the lane. They were, therefore, certain that number four was available. They also mentioned that the campground host had temporarily left, but she was expected to return.

Collegiate Peaks Views Were a Bonus

I moved my car from site six to site four, and I was pondering my next move. If I set up the tent, and then the host told me it was reserved by others, I was in trouble. Finally my new friends suggested that I reserve an open spot. I was accustomed to a system that required reserving four days ahead, but I decided to check the web site. Sure enough all state park campgrounds required online reserving, but the waiting period was eliminated. It was not easy, but I managed to create an account, reserve a site, and charge my credit card from my phone at the Railroad Bridge Campground. Whew! What a day!

Fish Landed: 10

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 and  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.


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