Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Chafee – Fremont County line
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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