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.

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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.

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Re-entry

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.

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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

Arkansas River – 07/10/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Smyth Lease

Arkansas River 07/10/2017 Photo Album

I experienced excellent edge fishing success on the Yampa River and Eagle River, and my plans were in place to complete the trilogy with a visit to the Arkansas River on Monday July 10. I completed the trip to the Smyth Lease on the Arkansas River on Monday morning, and Jane traveled directly to the Angel of Shavano Campground after her tennis match. We planned to stake out a campsite as a base for some hiking, cycling and fishing between Monday and Thursday. We followed the plan with one significant modification.

Monday morning was quite hot when I arrived at the parking area just before the CO 291 bridge that crosses the Arkansas River. Fortunately after 12:30 a series of small storm clouds blocked the sun to make the air temperature more tolerable. I heard intermittent thunder, but I never felt rain, while I fished at the Smyth Lease. I assembled my Sage One five weight and added my reel which contained a new Orvis fly line, and then I utilized the wooden stairs to climb over the fence. I hiked along the top of the steep bank for fifteen minutes until I reached a point where the descent was gentler. The river was wide at my starting point and consequently offered few good holding locations, and I accordingly moved quickly during the first 1.5 hours.

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Edge Fishing the Arkansas River on July 10

I began with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph; and I tallied five small brown trout between 10:30 and 3:00, when I came within thirty yards of the CO 291 bridge. In addition to the three flies I began with, I experimented with a single size 12 yellow stimulator (ignored), a yellow Letort hopper (one seven inch brown), and a yellow Letort hopper with a beadhead hares ear dropper (nothing). For awhile I fished a Chernobyl ant, iron sally and hares ear combination; and I rotated the trailing fly among the hares ear, emerald caddis pupa, and a beadhead pheasant tail. The best fish on the Smyth Lease nabbed the pheasant tail, another fell for the iron sally, a small brown crushed the fat Albert, and a fifth trout nipped the hares ear. Needless to say the fishing was extremely slow, and it did not approach the “fish in a barrel” description prevalent on the fly shop web sites.

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Chunky Brown Trout

Wading space along the edge was comfortable, but even the nice deep runs and bank side pockets failed to produce. I felt that higher flows would have done a better job of concentrating the fish along the bank. Perhaps the reason for the slow fishing action was the absence of insect activity. I never saw a single yellow Sally. One pale morning dun appeared while I ate my lunch, and a few tiny caddis were present on the rocks and willows. Inexplicably there was no real insect activity to draw the attention of the trout. I was underwhelmed by the fishing, and I returned to the car at three o’clock and decided to try a different location.

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Slash Barely Visible

My second destination was the stretch of the Arkansas River five miles downstream from Salida and .5 mile above Lunch Rock. I converted back to the yellow fat Albert and combined it with an iron sally and ultra zug bug. I desired a fresh start and a different look. Finally the edge fishing came alive. I landed a thirteen inch cutbow on the ultra zug bug, and then three browns in the twelve to thirteen inch range rested in my net. Two of the brown trout consumed the iron sally, and the ultra zug bug delivered the third landed fish. The brown trout were very tight to the bank.

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From Above Lunch Rock

Perhaps the best fish on the day was one that smashed the fat Albert, and I played it for twenty seconds before my line went limp. When I stripped in my line, I was disappointed to discover that all three flies were absent. Apparently the knot connecting the fat Albert to my tippet was defective. At 4:30 a small storm approached, and this encouraged me to quit. The one hour below Salida salvaged an otherwise depressing day and encouraged me to adhere to my plan to fish the Arkansas River on Thursday after Jane returned to Denver.

Fish Landed: 9

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Happy Hour at Angel of Shavano

Arkansas River – 09/25/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Fremont/Chafee County Line

Arkansas River 09/26/2017 Photo Album

A day of fishing is better than a day at work, but not all fishing days are created equal. The Arkansas River humbled me on Tuesday April 25. I surrendered in my annual search for the caddis hatch, and I am increasingly convinced that the caddis hatch is a myth manufactured by the fly shops in Canon City and Salida. Despite my recent repudiation of the relentless search for the dense caddis hatch, I recognize that the Arkansas River is a quality fishery, and it offers the opportunity to land some fish that are on average larger than many of the closer front range streams. In addition a fine blue winged olive hatch continues to provide solid action for anglers who make the visit, and for these reasons I decided to make the long drive to the Salida area.

The flows near Salida were in the 400 cfs range according to the DWR chart, and the fly shop reports indicated solid clarity. In all likelihood run off conditions will commence in a couple weeks, so I intended to prospect the water one last time. Most of my fly fishing equipment remained in the car from my Monday venture, and this enabled me to depart my house in Denver by 6:45. I knew the high temperature was expected to peak at 56 degrees in Salida, so I anticipated cool weather, but I did not plan to drive through snow and light slush during my time in South Park. I arrived at the pullout near the Chafee/Fremont County boundary at 10AM, and I pulled on my heavy Under Armour undershirt to combat the cool temperature. Unfortunately the four letter word of fly fishing announced its presence, and I battled stiff gusts of headwind during my entire time on the water.

Since it was a weekday, I assumed that the number of fishermen would be down compared to the weekend, but an Instagram contact warned me that crowds might be an issue. Unfortunately he was correct. The East Salida Campground was full, and quite a few of the roadside pullouts were occupied, as I traveled east to my planned destination. Two vehicles were present in my favorite parking area when I arrived, and one gentleman was in the process of preparing to fish. I walked to the edge of the bank and surveyed the river, and I did not see anyone, so I concluded that I could execute my normal crossing to the north bank and avoid the other fishermen.

This turned out to be a faulty assumption. After I pulled on my waders and put together my Sage One five weight, I descended the bank and crossed the wide river at the tail of a large pool. Crossing such a large river even at 400 cfs remains a scary proposition, but I took my time and assured myself that each step formed a solid base for the next shuffle. My heart was pounding when I reached the opposite shoreline, and then I elevated it some more, as I climbed the steep slope to the railroad bed. I was now in my own world as I strode down the rail bed and stepped on alternating ties. I was high above the river and unable to see the near side below me, until I approached the location where the river splits around a small island.

Here I paused to glance downstream, and I was shocked to see two fishermen above the island and two below, and as I shifted my gaze farther east, four additional anglers came into focus. What was going on? How did all these fishermen cross to my side of the river? All my favorite spots were occupied, so I reversed my direction and hiked back along the top of the rim, until I was a good distance above the most upstream fisherman. I carefully descended the rocky bank and found a position next to a nice deep run. I decided it was too early for blue winged olives, so I tied a 20 incher to my line and then added an emerald caddis pupa. I flicked the strike indicator upstream with a backhand cast, and on the fifth drift I noticed a dip and lifted my rod tip. I was pleasantly surprised to feel the throb of a fighting fish, and after a short battle I netted a chunky thirteen inch brown trout with the 20 incher in its mouth.

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First and Only Fish on Tuesday

What an auspicious beginning to my day on the river! I could endure the wind and competing fishermen, if additional similar outcomes were in my future. Unfortunately that was not going to be the case. During the morning I played hopscotch with two other fishermen, and as one of them passed me, he paused to chat. After exchanging information about our success or lack thereof, he asked how I crossed the river. I told him and pointed to my crossing point. He seemed surprised, so I inquired regarding how he arrived at his current position on the north side of the river. He informed me that his group parked at the Stockyard Bridge and hiked three miles along the railroad tracks with the intention of fishing back to the bridge. It was just my luck to choose the day of the hiking/fishing club excursion to fish on the north side of the Arkansas River.

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Upstream from My Lunch Spot

I fished intensely for the next three hours and forty-five minutes and failed to land any additional fish. I churned through an iron sally, RS2, and BWO soft hackle emerger; but none of the flies created interest among the Arkansas River trout. The wind continued its maddening rush down the canyon, and I was quite pleased to be wearing my light down coat and my hat with ear flaps. After lunch I managed to create some space from the large group, but the fishing did not improve. For the last hour I remembered the quote, “Insanity is continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results”, so I removed the nymphing system and converted to a dry/dropper arrangement. While these flies were occupying my line, I temporarily hooked up on one fish, and witnessed an exciting refusal from a rainbow trout in front of a large submerged boulder.

During the last thirty minutes I abandoned the multiple fly arrangement and rested my hopes on a size 14 gray stimulator. This fly generated two refusals, and then I hooked a fish for a moment only to see it escape. I reeled up my line to inspect and discovered a pig tail indicative of a poorly tied knot. I replaced the lost stimulator with a medium olive version, and I managed another refusal before I shrugged and hooked my fly to the rod guide at 2:30.

A tailwind pushed me back to my crossing point, and once I reached the car, I changed into my street clothes and said goodbye to the wind, the waves of fishermen and the lock-jawed fish. It was a tough day on the Arkansas River, and I am not sure I will return until after run off. I suspect my next fly fishing adventure will seek out a tailwater that is sheltered from the wind. If anyone knows such a place, let me know.

Fish Landed: 1

Arkansas River – 04/07/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Pinnacle Rock

Arkansas River 04/07/2017 Photo Album

Friday was a success on many fronts, but I harbor some concerns about the health of the Arkansas River in lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Despite the reports on the Royal Gorge Angler web site touting the heavy presence of the blue winged olive life cycle, I failed to witness a single BWO in any stage of its life cycle while fishing for four hours in the vicinity of Pinnacle Rock. I was acutely aware however of dense piles of gray mucky sludge along much of the river bank. The Hayden Pass fire in 2016 impacted the ecosystem south of Coaldale, and subsequent storms washed ash and sludge into the Arkansas River. I am not an expert on stream biology and the impact of wildfires, but I want to believe that the absence of BWO’s is attributable to weather or water temperatures, and not to the Hayden Pass wildfire.

With high temperatures projected to reach the upper sixties in Canon City, Jane decided to join me for a trip to the eastern section of Bighorn Sheep Canyon above Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River. We departed Denver by 8AM and arrived at the Pinnacle Rock access area by 10:40. I chose Pinnacle Rock since I knew it contained bathrooms, and I speculated it would offer a nice haven for Jane, while I fished in the nearby river. Pinnacle Rock is located .5 mile below a section of the Arkansas River that I hold in high regard, where the flow splits into four or five channels. These separate braids transform a large intimidating river into smaller medium sized creeks, and this makes reading the water a much more manageable undertaking.

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Trough Next to the Sticks Was the Source of Two Brown Trout

I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod and ambled across the parking lot to the downstream border, where I found a nice wide path that led to the river. I paused to assess the structure, and then I configured my line with a strike indicator, split shot, Arkansas rubberlegs, and a beadhead hares ear. A narrow deep trough existed within a few feet of the bank upstream from my position, so I lobbed the nymphs toward the midsection and allowed the indicator to slowly drift, until it was in front of me. I repeated this cycle several more times, and on the fifth drift as I lifted the nymphs to make another cast, I felt a sharp tug and accelerated my movement into a hook set. My reaction provoked a sudden response from a finned creature, and a spirited battle ensued, before I gently lifted a fourteen inch brown trout over the lip of my net. What a surprise to land what would turn out to be the largest fish of the day within the first five minutes.

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First and Best Fish of the Day

Nearly as amazing was the next sequence of events. After I photographed and released the energetic brown trout, I moved up along the bank a bit, and tossed a cast to the top of the run just behind an exposed rock. The flies barely hit the water when the indicator raced upstream toward two o’clock, and again I executed a sharp sweep of my rod tip to the right. I entered a tussle with a wild brown trout, and this version ended up in my net as well. I estimated the length to be thirteen inches, as I carefully removed the Arkansas rubberleg and nudged it back into the ice cold current.

I wish I could announce to my readers that the first fifteen minutes of fishing were representative of the remainder of my day, but that was not the case. In the next 3.5 hours I added six additional trout to the fish count. Four were decent fish in the twelve to thirteen inch size range, and the other two measured seven to nine inches long. I worked extremely hard for these prizes, as one might conclude from the slow catch rate. The first two fish described earlier represented my only catches in the morning, and at noon I climbed the bank and joined Jane at a picnic table near the car. The spot was protected from the wind and benefited from the direct rays of the sun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time with my lovely wife, while I basked in the warmth.

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Near Our Lunch Spot

After lunch I prospected the water around a tiny island just above our parking space, but the exploratory session proved fruitless. I returned to the picnic area and persuaded Jane to drive me to the large bend in US 50, where I planned to access my beloved multi-braid section of the river, while Jane returned to the comfort of the Pinnacle Rock picnic area. I crossed the highway and hiked a short distance along the shoulder, before I dropped down a steep bank. By now I lost faith in the Arkansas rubberlegs, so I clipped it off and realigned my offerings with a beadhead hares ear on top followed by an emerald caddis pupa and then a soft hackle emerger. I was hedging against the likelihood that caddis or blue winged olives might be present in the drift.

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Surprise Rainbow Trout Was a Beauty

I covered a nice stretch of moderate riffles next to the highway with no results, so I questioned whether I needed a larger fly to attract attention in the somewhat cloudy water. I removed the hares ear nymph and replaced it with a size 12 20 incher, and the lineup of the 20 incher, emerald caddis, and soft hackle emerger remained on my line for the remainder of the afternoon. Before abandoning the segment across from my drop off point, I tossed the three flies upstream and tight to the bank. As the nymphs tumbled toward a deep chute, I felt a tug and reacted with a lift. Instantly a silver pink-sided torpedo rocketed across the river and then dashed downstream in the riffles below me. I allowed line to spin from my reel, until the fish paused, and then I gradually regained line and lifted the head of a thirteen inch rainbow trout out of the water and into my net. This fan of the 20 incher would be my only rainbow on the day, but it was a hard fighting foe, and I was pleased to guide it into my net.

I decided to move to the north channel, as it represents my favorite section of the braided area. I carefully crossed the two intervening branches, and then I drifted my nymphs through some nice moderate riffles in the channel just above the confluence with the north braid. This slight detour in my route yielded a twelve inch brown trout that crushed the emerald caddis pupa, as it began to swing at the end of the drift.

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My Favorite Branch

Finally I reached the point where the north channel dumped its volume into the main river, and during the remainder of the afternoon I methodically worked my way upstream to a point forty yards below where the flow split off from the main stem. I prospected with the three nymph system and added four additional trout to my fish tally. Two of the fish were on the small side, but the other two were very decent brown trout that rewarded me for my persistence.

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For the most part moderate current and moderate depth seemed to describe the productive trout yielding destinations on Friday. Normally I edge fish the deep pockets of the Arkansas River and land numerous brown trout that relish the cover provided by the large protective rocks, but on this occasion that type of structure was not productive.

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Return to Home

Readers of this blog may note that I often stumble on to a fly that is preferred above all others by the trout, but that was not the case on April 7. I landed one brown on a beadhead hares ear, one on an Arkansas rubberlegs, one on a soft hackle emerger, two on the emerald caddis pupa, and three fish that clobbered the 20 incher. The fish definitely seemed to validate my tactic of using the 20 incher to attract attention.

Overall it was a decent day. The weather was perfect and the flows were reasonable although a bit murky, but edge visibility was quite good. I managed to land eight trout during four hours of fishing, and this represents an average catch rate, however, six of the eight were in the twelve to fourteen inch size range, and that was noteworthy. I enjoyed the companionship of my wife, Jane, during the drive to and from the river, and we stopped at the Smiling Toad in Colorado Springs for a craft beverage on the way home. Spring is upon us, and I look forward to more fishing adventures.

Fish Landed: 8

Arkansas River – 10/23/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: Fremont – Chafee County Line

Arkansas River 10/23/2016 Photo Album

I contacted my friend, Danny Ryan, after returning from Pennsylvania, and he indicated an enthusiastic interest in fishing the Arkansas River on October 23 and 24. I was considering a trip to the South Platte River, but Danny informed me that his Facebook sources lamented the crowds and combat fishing on the popular fishery south of Denver. Danny suggested the Arkansas River as an alternative, as he sought a larger river with more elbow room. I quickly agreed to the excursion, and I offered to pay for a hotel room in Salida on Sunday night.

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Ominous Start to Day on Arkansas River

I picked Danny up at 6:30, and we arrived at the Fremont – Chafee county line pullout at 10:30. By the time we assembled our gear and waded across the river and hiked downstream, it was 11:00AM when our flies hit the water. I began fishing farther downstream than normal where the main current created a large foam pool. I was certain that a deep nymphing rig would extract some sizable fish, but my 20 incher and ultra zug bug failed to interest the Arkansas River fish. I continued to advance with the nymph offerings, until I reached the downstream tip of the island, but the only evidence of fish was a foul hooked fourteen inch brown trout. This was a beautiful deeply colored fish, but the ultra zug bug was embedded in the belly, and I do not count or photograph snagged fish. I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a salad spinner and a soft hackle emerger along the way, but these flies were equally unproductive.

When I approached the right braid at the bottom of the long narrow island, I switched to a peacock body size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle and retained the soft hackle emerger as a dropper. Given the relatively low flows of autumn, I was cognizant of the clear and technical nature of the small right channel, so I did not wish to scatter the resident fish with a splashy cast of a large fly. I probably over analyzed the situation, as I covered the entire right braid without landing a fish. My only action was a refusal to the beetle in a small pocket at the very bottom of the right branch. Danny, meanwhile, experienced some decent success with several nice brown trout in the fourteen to fifteen inch range.

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Danny with a Fine Arkansas River Brown Trout

After finishing the right channel I prospected the right bank through the wide shallow area above the island. This proved to be a futile exercise, so I stopped for lunch at 12:45, and my fish count remained locked on zero. After lunch I converted to a tan Charlie boy hopper trailing an ultra zug bug and soft hackle emerger. Within thirty minutes a thirteen inch brown trout that was located tight to an exposed rock grabbed the soft hackle emerger, and I registered my first and only fish of the day.

I continued my progress through the pockets between the top of the island and our crossing point beneath the long pool, and I managed a couple long distance releases. For some inexplicable reason the fish seemed dormant, and neither Danny nor I could unlock the secret code to the Arkansas River trout. I attempted a modification to my approach by swapping the ultra zug bug for a hares ear, but the variation in offering made no difference to the fish. I observed very little insect activity with only a couple random blue winged olives sighted. The sky was largely devoid of clouds and the temperature peaked at the eighty degree mark. It felt like August in late October.

When I reached our crossing point, I skipped around the long pool and proceeded to the faster water where the river entered the large deep slow moving section. The wind kicked up a bit, and I began to see more BWO’s as they were tumbled and skittered across the river. This observation prompted me to convert back to nymphing. I hoped that the added weight of the indicator and split shot would enable me to more easily punch casts into the wind. In addition I theorized that the split shot would sink my flies deeper and allow me to better mimic a nymph or emerger, as it spurted from the river bottom to the surface. My theory worked, sort of, as I temporarily hooked a brown trout in a deep trough near the middle of the river.

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The County Line

Alas that was the extent of the payback on the nymphing ploy. I continued my progress along the north bank, but the remainder of the afternoon evolved into futile casting. At three o’clock I reversed my course and crossed at the bottom of the long pool, and then I walked east along US 50 until I was above Danny. I was rather frustrated and bored at this point, so I experimented with a slumpbuster for the remainder of the afternoon, and surprisingly I connected with a decent fish on an upstream cast and strip during this time period. Typical of my day, however, the deep bend in the rod did not last very long, and my slumpbuster fancier was gone.

Near 4:30 I encountered a place where I had to exit the river in order to circle around some thick bushes where the river ran with strong velocity tight to the bank. As I attempted to battle through some dense shrubs to return to the rivers edge, my rod tip apparently dug into a stiff branch, and I was shocked to discover that I broke three inches off my tip.

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Most Rises Seen on October 23 During Dinner

This last unfortunate event ended a frustrating day that was characterized by long distance releases, a near fall, a broken tip and one landed fish. Quite possibly Sunday October 23 was the worst day of fly fishing in my life.

Fish Landed: 1

Arkansas River – 10/06/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Spike Buck and Five Points

Arkansas River 10/06/2016 Photo Album

The view out of my windshield was miserable as I departed from Stapleton on Thursday morning October 6. I alternated the windshield wipers between intermittent and steady, and the dashboard digital thermometer displayed 38 degrees. Could I really enjoy fishing in the Arkansas River, when the weather in Denver was this adverse? My Weather Underground app forecast a high of 65 degrees in Canon City and only a very slim chance of rain. Was Weather Underground out of date compared to the national weather service?

Miraculously when I reached the Palmer Divide just north of Monument, CO, the steady rain/sleet ceased to slap my windshield, and the sun peeked from behind the clouds in the eastern sky. The thermometer registered its low of 34 degrees, and it gradually climbed through the forties and peaked at 50 degrees, when I pulled into the Arkansas River Headwaters access location at Spike Buck. I was quite relieved to confirm the accuracy of the Weather Underground app, and I prepared to fish.

When I exited the Santa Fe, I detected some air movement, but clearly wind was not the significant negative factor that frustrated me on Monday on the South Platte River. Nevertheless I pulled on my long sleeved Under Armour base layer and then topped it with my fishing shirt and raincoat. I was relatively comfortable during my morning session, although intermittent gusts of wind gave me a slight chill, so I added a fleece layer when I reached the car again in the early afternoon. Although the wind did not impact my fishing as was the case on Monday, it did accelerate in the afternoon and provided several moments of frustration.

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Cheech Leech to Begin the Day

I pledged to dedicate thirty minutes to streamer stripping, so I assembled my Sage One five weight and attached the reel that contains my sinking tip line. I was not ready to devote an entire day to streamer fishing, so I dropped my five weight floating line in my backpack, and then I sauntered along the shoulder of US 50 until I was .3 miles below the Spike Buck parking lot. I dropped down to the edge of the river and knotted an articulated cheech leech to my line. The river was rushing along at a bit over 300 cfs, and it was crystal clear, as I began tossing the weighted streamer into the attractive deep pockets. I experimented with upstream casts with a jigging action, up and across slings with fast and slow strips, and downstream dangles. I tried to strip the animated marabou streamer along large boulders and typical brown trout hiding places, but I never detected a bump or follow. After twenty minutes of arm exercise I snipped off the cheech leech and replaced it with a black woolly bugger, but the results mimicked the first twenty minutes.

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Looks Fishy

Having fulfilled my streamer commitment, I shifted direction and swapped the sinking tip line for my floating line. I invested twenty minutes to configure my line with the deep nymphing arrangement that Taylor Edrington taught me during a guided trip several years ago. I removed my tapered leader and tied a six inch section of 0X to the end of the fly line, and then connected the other end to a thingamabobber. I fumbled in my frontpack and uncovered a five foot section of 3X, and I knotted this to the thingamabobber as well. The addition of a split shot, 20 incher, and hares ear nymph completed my set up, and I began to lob casts to the deep holes, pockets and runs along the south side of the Arkansas River.

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20 Incher in the Mouth

Between eleven o’clock and noon I managed to land two brown trout in the twelve inch range. One snatched the 20 incher, as I raised my rod at the end of the drift, and the other slightly smaller catch selected the hares ear nymph. I was pleased to register a pair of landed fish, but the action was slow, and I covered quite a bit of productive water in order to get on the fish count scoreboard.

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Wet and Effective 20 Incher

After lunch I continued the same approach, until I reached the Spike Buck parking lot , and during this time I netted four additional brown trout. All of these landed fish grabbed the 20 incher, and the other fly on the end of my line did not contribute. I replaced the hares ear with a small baetis imitation that I purchased from Royal Gorge Angler in the spring, as I hoped that the trout would be dialed in to active blue winged olive nymphs. Taylor Edrington recommended the fly, since it sported a loop wing case, and he believed that the fat thorax was a key triggering characteristic.

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The Edge Was Productive

Unfortunately on Thursday the loop wing feature did not interest the trout, so I once again made a change and replaced the BWO nymph with a Craven soft hackle emerger. I experienced success with this shiny fluoro fiber imitation during past fall blue winged olive hatches, so I decided to give it a try. The Arkansas River trout threw a penalty flag on the soft hackle emerger, and it did not yield any fish during this October 2016 outing.

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Lovely Spots

When I reached the car, I decided to move to another location. I drove west on US 50 until I was just above the Salt Lick access point. I remembered this as a productive spot from previous spring ventures, but the descent was steep over some large rocks, and the river bed was narrow and quite swift. I chose the location because I was certain that most fishermen avoid it because of access difficulty, but I only lasted twenty minutes, and then I realized that it was not the right type of water for October 2016. I cautiously scaled the very steep bank, and executed a U-turn and returned to the Five Points location.

Five Points would be my last stand. I continued with the nymph configuration, but I removed the unproductive soft hackle emerger and replaced it with a salvation nymph. The swap yielded a temporary hook up in a moderate run, but just as I felt weight, I saw the side of the ten inch fish flash, and then it was gone. Shortly after this brief connection, I snagged a rock in a place where I could not wade to a position to salvage the flies, and I ended up breaking off the salvation. Salvation nymphs and lost flies seem to be a repeating story.

I decided to replace the salvation nymph with an ultra zug bug, since I recalled success with this simple fly in the autumn in previous years. Similar to the salvation, the zug bug produced a momentary connection, as it began to swing it in the nice bend run next to the island above Five Points. This fish felt a bit larger, but I did not get a glimpse of it. At this point farther progress involved climbing around a large vertical rock or wading to the island in the swift current. Rather than undertaking these challenges, I ambled back to the parking lot, and then I returned to the stream below some picnic tables. While at the bend I observed a flurry of blue winged olives taking flight, so I reverted to the soft hackle emerger, but the gambit proved unsuccessful, and I did not spot any additional mayflies in the air.

By now it was just past 3PM, so I reeled up my line and called it quits. The wind velocity escalated, and I was quite weary from a day of casting the five weight, and a significant hatch did not appear to be in the future. I managed to enjoy a day of fishing when remaining along the Front Range would have likely meant forsaking my beloved pastime, so that was a positive. Six brown trout over four plus hours of fishing is rather mediocre, but as usual, I was in the Colorado outdoors, and I took advantage of the dwindling opportunities to fish in 2016.

Fish Landed: 6

Arkansas River – 09/20/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Lunch Rock and then downstream from the Chaffee – Fremont County line.

Arkansas River 09/20/2016 Photo Album

The one positive to a five fish day is that I can remember each fish, and Tuesday September 20 was one of those days. I slept at the Rincon Campground in John’s casita, and I was overwhelmed with fine food and comfort. On Tuesday morning we arrived at Lunch Rock in time to begin fishing by 10AM after a tasty breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, breakfast sausages, and hashed brown potatoes.

It was quite overcast and windy when we began, so I wore my raincoat for a windbreaker, until I stopped to eat lunch at noon. We spent the first half hour just above Lunch Rock, and John and I attempted to coax a nice brown trout to accept our offerings, but our efforts were in vain. After John covered the deep pocket with many futile casts, I took my turn, but I was equally unsuccessful. Initially I used a strike indicator, split shot, iron sally, and zebra midge; but after I spied a couple blue winged olives, I swapped the midge for a RS2. The new offering did not phase the trout.

I suggested that we leave Lunch Rock and move to the Fremont – Chaffee County line, so we would be in a good position before an anticipated blue winged olive hatch. On Monday the hatch commenced between 12:30 and 1:00, and given the overcast conditions, I suspected the hatch might materialize sooner. We parked at the pullout off of route 50 and crossed the river at the tail of the long pool, just as I had done on Monday. Next we climbed the steep bank, and then we hiked down the railroad tracks, until we arrived at my normal starting point fifty yards below a narrow island.

I retained the strike indicator, split shot, hares ear nymph and RS2; and I worked the bottom half of the huge shelf pool, while John patrolled the juicy top section. I covered the entire bottom half with no action, so I added a second split shot in order to fish the deep seam along the fast current effectively. Finally near the midsection of the pool, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and landed a nice eleven inch brown trout to register my first fish of the day.

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John Downstream above a Raft

John meanwhile snapped off all his flies on a rock, and this required a significant time commitment to rig anew, so I progressed upstream to the next nice riffle and run below the point of the island, where the two channels merged. Surprisingly the nymph tandem failed to deliver results, so I worked up along the left side of the island to kill time, while I waited for John to join me. The water was relatively marginal here except for a riffle of moderate depth at the top of the island, but it also proved to be unproductive.

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Lowering

I circled back to the downstream point of the island and ate lunch while I waited for John to catch up. After lunch I prepared for my foray into the smaller and shallower right channel by switching to a dry/dropper configuration. I tied a size 12 medium olive stimulator to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a RS2. I fired a long cast upstream to the top of a relatively shallow run below the main pool on the right channel, and almost instantly a fish rose. Initially I thought the fish hammered the stimulator, but when I slid the net under the thirteen inch brown trout, I discovered the hares ear in its lip.

I immediately went back to our starting point to check on John, and I informed him of my good fortune, and I discovered that he landed a brown trout in the shelf pool on a nymph. He decided, however, that he was ready to move, so we waded upstream and approached the right channel again. When we arrived, we spotted a flurry of rises at the bottom of the long shallow pool, so John made some nice casts, but to no avail.

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Rises by the Rocks Along the Bank

While he fished the bottom portion of the pool, I made some upstream casts along the left side, and I managed one splashy refusal to the stimulator. I was certain that the fish would respond to the subsurface RS2 as an imitation of the blue winged olive nynph, but I was mistaken. Finally as I approached the prime area at the top of the long pool, I switched to a size 16 gray comparadun, since I also spotted a few pale morning duns floating in the air among the smaller blue winged olives. I was hopeful that the trout might recognize the larger mayfly and go for it, but again my wish was misplaced.

When the money fly was ignored, I relented to my instincts, and tied on a size 20 CDC BWO. Timing is everything, and by the time I defaulted to the tiny imitation, the hatch ended, and the fish ceased their surface feeding. I prospected with the CDC BWO for a bit, but the tiny fly seemed futile, so I reverted to the stimulator, hares ear, and RS2. I experienced one foul hooked twelve inch brown that refused the stimulator, and I dragged the trailing nymph into its tail. Another small fish inspected the stimulator but returned to its holding position.

When I reached the top of the island. I remained at two fish, and it was 1:30, and I was not optimistic about my prospects for Tuesday. John and I met and decided to fish the deep run and riffles between the island and our crossing point. I waded toward the center of the river and fished back toward the north bank in the likely deep pockets, riffles and runs. Since the hatch was over, I converted to a gray pool toy hopper as my top fly, and retained the hares ear, but swapped the RS2 for a size 20 soft hackle emerger.

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Soft Hackle Emerger Lover

Halfway through my search of the faster water section, a fifteen inch brown attacked the soft hackle emerger, and I was quite pleased to net and photograph this beauty. This was the best fish of the day at that point, and it boosted my energy level. I moved upstream a bit and tossed a cast into a narrow slot behind an exposed boulder, and I was shocked to see a fish rise and gulp the pool toy hopper. I set the hook, and this fish put up a dogged fight, but I eventually subdued a gorgeous sixteen inch brown trout. I thought that perhaps my fortunes had turned.

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Hopper Fancier

Alas I covered the second half of the deep riffle area with no success to reward my hard work, and wading in the relatively fast current over slippery boulders was indeed a challenge. Once I reached the top, I noticed that John crossed to the bank along the road, so I joined him. He expressed a desire to fish the side that is conducive to right handed casting, so I left him at the bottom of the long pool, and I climbed to the high rock wall to watch. It was now late afternoon, and the sun broke through the thick clouds, and I anticipated a repeat of the dead time that evolved in the late afternoon on Monday.

As I sat on the rock perch, I spotted the same rainbow that haunted me in the late afternoon the previous day. I watched its movement and made some half-hearted casts with the dry/dropper, but the circling rainbow ignored the flies. John meanwhile joined me and waded upstream of the deep pool. I observed the rainbow as it sipped something small from the surface, so I clipped off the hopper and nymphs and knotted a size 22 CDC BWO to my line. I was now prepared, but I waited and observed for another ten minutes. Finally the rainbow came into view, and it cruised in an oval below me, and then it slowly drifted to the surface and sipped another small morsel.

This was my sign, and I flipped a cast above the fish’s position. I held my breath and lost sight of the tiny fluff of a fly, but then I spotted a subtle disturbance near the position of the rainbow. I raised my rod and executed a swift hook set, and the fish darted toward the middle and made a quick dive while thrashing fiercely. I was six feet above the water and not in a good position to land the fish, so I asked for John’s assistance, since he arrived from above. As I slid down the rock precipice on the bank, I applied side pressure and guided the rainbow toward shore, where John scooped it with his net.

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Hooked from the Overlook

What a team effort! It was an exciting ending to a tough day on the Arkansas River, although four of my five fish were very nice, and I remembered each one.

Fish Landed: 5

Arkansas River – 09/19/2016

Time: 12:30PM – 4:30PM

Location: Chaffee – Fremont County Line

Arkansas River 09/19/2016 Photo Album

A couple days of rest and relaxation at the Timbers Bachelor Gulch Resort near Beaver Creek allowed me to recover from my intense but satisfying four days of camping in the Flattops region of Colorado. A weekend with no fishing had my thoughts turning to my next fishing adventure. I contacted my friend, John, and we decided to undertake a joint trip to the Arkansas River. John owns a small Casita travel trailer, and he invited me to join him in the relative plush accommodations compared to my normal REI two person tent.

John planned to stay for four days; whereas, I needed to return on Tuesday evening to prepare for a trip to Utah to visit my daughter. Consequently I drove separately, and we devised a plan whereby John would meet me on the river on Monday afternoon. I arrived at the pullout at the Chaffee – Fremont County line by 11:45, and after gulping my lunch, I assembled my Sage four weight rod and crossed the river at the tail of the long pool below the parking area. I climbed the bank on the opposite side of the river and hiked down the railroad tracks until I reached my usual entry point. By 12:30 I was in the water casting a yellow Letort hopper, beadhead hares ear, and a RS2.

The fishing reports from the local fly shops indicated that the fishing was decent after the cooler weather that moved across Colorado while I was in the Flattops and at Bachelor Gulch, and the web sites suggested blue winged olive imitations for the late morning and early afternoon. This explained the RS2 attached to my line. I read my blog posts from 2011 when I fished the Arkansas River at the same time of year, and the Letort hopper was productive, so I attempted to repeat the success.

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Starting Point on Arkansas River

 

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Better Lighting

In the faster water below the narrow island I landed three brown trout, and all of them nabbed the RS2, as it drifted in the wake of the hopper. I observed several rises at the top of the juicy shelf pool where I began, so this indicated that the blue winged olives were active. With this auspicious start behind me I approached the bottom of the narrow right channel that flows around the island, and once again I noticed a few rises from likely small fish at the tail of the long smooth pool. I knew the dry/dropper approach was not appropriate for the shallow smooth tail of the pool, so I skipped around it, and executed some long casts to the deep run that flows through the center. On the first cast the hopper paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a gorgeous fifteen inch brown trout. I managed to land the beauty despite repeated attempts of escape, and my optimism reached a new peak.

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More Poundage on This Guy

The faster runs at the top of the long pool are really the prime real estate in this section of the Arkansas River, and my heartbeat raced with the anticipation of probing my favorite place. Alas, the fish were there on Monday, but I suffered three temporary hook ups toward the center of the deep channel. My momentary elation after landing the fifteen inch brown trout plummeted to new depths. Fortunately I persisted, and another fifteen inch brown trout nipped the RS2, as I lifted near the end of the drift. This trout also generated a spirited fight before I coaxed it into my net.

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In the Water

I moved on to the top of the right braid, and I induced two more temporary connections before I reached the top of the island. I was back in the main river now, and I skipped past the wide shallow section in order to quickly reach the long deep riffle with an abundance of deep pockets. I swapped the Letort hopper for a foam pool toy hopper, since I desired better visibility and flotation for the faster water, and I thoroughly prospected the fifty yard section of the river. The difficult wading and constant casting finally paid off, when a rainbow trout aggressively snatched the hares ear from the drift in a riffle that was four feet deep. Unlike the brown trout, the bow streaked across the river and then downstream, but I allowed my line to spin off the reel until the scared fish paused. This allowed me to regain line, and after a five minute battle, I scooped the sixteen inch beauty into my new net. Needless to say I was rather pleased with this reward for a tough couple hours of wading and prospecting.

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Recovery

By 3 o’clock the sun was directly overhead and beating down relentlessly on the Arkansas River. The temperature climbed into the upper eighties, and I spotted a black truck parked behind my vehicle high above the river. A car door slammed, and I guessed that my friend John arrived. I was at a transition point in my progress upstream, so I veered to the left, climbed the south bank, and then found John in the river just west of the deep long pool with the high rock overlook. I greeted him, and while he began to cast, I surveyed the river below me. I was pleasantly surprised to spot a very nice rainbow trout hovering just below the surface downstream from John, so I guided and coached him in an effort to position his fly over the prize fish below.

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John Intense

Apparently John’s chubby Chernobyl and RS2 were not favored by the rainbow trout, so we surrendered and moved upstream between three and five o’clock. I was weary from my earlier adventures, so I decided to be a contrarian, and I swapped my floating line for a sink tip and tied a cheech leech to the staunch leader. I spent a half hour stripping the streamer through likely holding spots, but the river was dead. By 4:30 my confidence was at a low ebb, and I sat on a rock and converted into a cheerleader for John, but even this added encouragement could not open the mouths of the Arkansas River trout. I suspect that their state of mind in the late afternoon approximated mine.

Fish Landed: 6

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John and the Casita

 

Arkansas River – 07/12/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: From bridge on dirt road two miles south of Hayden Meadows parking lot upstream for one mile.

Arkansas River 07/12/2016 Photo Album

Unlike most of my fishing ventures, I was totally unfamiliar with the Hayden Meadows area. I drove by it several times, and I recalled a parking area on the northern edge of the area by a lake, but I also remembered passing other sections with access downstream. As I drove south of US 24, I crossed the river and noted that it was only slightly larger than the Eagle River at normal summer flows. On the left appeared the aforementioned lake and a parking area occupied by quite a few vehicles, which no doubt belonged to the throngs of fishermen lining the banks of the small lake. Stopping among this crowd did not appeal to me, so I continued south for two miles, and here I spotted a brown sign that pointed to More Arkansas River Ranch.

I turned left on a dirt road, and after .2 miles I crossed the river and parked in a small lot on the right side of the road. A Jeep Wrangler was already in place, and the related fisherman wearing a floppy hat with a neck protector was in motion toward the river. It appeared that fishing access was available both upstream and downstream from the bridge, and I was curious which way the other fisherman would choose. Since I drove from Halfmoon with my waders on, and my rod remained strung, it did not take long before I was eagerly on my way to the bridge.

When I reached the bridge, I glanced downstream and spotted the young owner of the Jeep Wrangler waded into a long riffle. This was not water I would have chosen to start my day, but perhaps he had inside information. Rather than play tag with another fisherman, I elected to fish upstream. The area was absolutely breathtaking. Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive loomed to the west, and the river was fifty feet wide and crystal clear. Given my lack of familiarity, I guessed that the flows remained a bit high compared to average summer levels. The banks were lined with potentilla and willows, and the cold current meandered through the high elevation landscape.

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This Eddy Was Home to First Fish on the Day

Just above the bridge a large deep eddy appeared where a small side channel merged with the main branch of the river. This is where I chose to begin. A size 14 gray stimulator remained on my line from Halfmoon, so why not test it on these new waters? I carefully stepped down the bank and lobbed a cast to the middle of the calm space in the middle of the eddy, but it sat there unmolested for what seemed like minutes. I picked up the fly and dropped it closer to the bank so that it drifted upstream toward the northern edge of the eddy, and suddenly a fish rose and refused my fly! I was actually pleased to see a refusal after a morning of fruitless casting.

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Nice Close Up of First Fish

I made a couple more drifts to the area of the rise, but as is usually the case, the fish was averse to expending more energy on a recently detected fraud. I shifted my attention to other sections of the eddy, but the stimulator was treated like a cottonwood fuzzy and completely ignored. Before vacating the area, I decided to feed my fly to the scene of the earlier refusal, and smack! A fourteen inch brown trout shocked me by aggressively chomping on the gray hackled floater. A brief battle ensued, and I managed to net the buttery yellow combatant and position it for some photographs. It was a great start to my initial visit to Arkansas River Ranch/Hayden Meadows.

Between 11 and 11:30 I fished from the bridge along the left bank and managed to land a second smaller brown trout on the stimulator. Several stream improvement structures jutted into the river from the bank, and these created interesting shelf pools and runs. After continuing for fifteen minutes through the attractive areas with no success, I decided to change my approach. I removed the stimulator and attached a size 8 Chernobyl ant, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph. An abundance of caddis were present on the shrubs that bordered the river, so the hares ear was intended to represent the subsurface form of these aquatic insects. The salvation was present in case pale morning duns made an early afternoon appearance.

By 11:30 a headwind began to gust at ridiculous velocities, and I was struggling to punch the large foam fly and bead-weighted nymphs into the wind using my light Orvis Access. Since I remained reasonably close to the Santa Fe, I followed the path back to the road and then to the parking lot and swapped rods. I chose my Sage four weight since it offered a stiffer backbone with which to chuck the three flies into the gusting wind. Once I returned to my exit point, I fished for another fifteen minutes, and then I found a nice grassy location on the bank and munched my lunch.

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Wide Shallow Fast Water Exemplified the First .5 Mile at Hayden Meadows

 

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Salvation Nymph Tempted This Fighter

In the first hour after lunch I covered quite a distance as the river was wide and shallow and offered very few decent holding spots for fish. I managed to land two additional small brown trout, and then I approached a place where the main current angled toward the far bank and flowed around a couple large boulders. This structure created a nice deep eight foot wide run next to the bank with some dense overhanging brush. I drifted the dry/dropper rig along the current seam closest to me, and the Chernobyl dipped, and I lifted and felt myself connected to a hard fighting fish. The embattled trout raced up and down the pool and then headed downstream quite a distance forcing me to follow. Eventually side pressure brought the fifteen inch salvation chomping brown to my net, and I announced that it may have been the hardest fighting fifteen inch fish I ever landed.

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The Area Above and Below the Rocks Was Superb

I positioned myself in the same place, and I was surprised to view a second fish rise closer to the bank. Once again I began drifting the three flies through the area, and a second splash occurred near my Chernobyl. Two more passes went unmolested, but the next resulted in a tug, a hook set, and another tough fight. This fish was also a brown trout, and it measured fourteen inches and possessed gorgeous deep coloration.

As I turned to wade upstream to the next sweet spot, I noticed two large olive-gray colored mayflies, as they slowly fluttered up from the river. Could the second brown that I just landed have been chowing down on green drakes? I assumed that the large flies were green drakes, but subsequently I read an ArkAnglers Hayden Meadows fishing report that mentioned gray drakes. At the time, however, I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I never expected to encounter the green drake tour on Tuesday, but there was no mistaking the large olive-gray mayflies in the air in front of me. What a serendipitous turn of events!

I moved on a diagonal to the next attractive area along the left bank. Here a strong current flowed rapidly tight to the bank and then fanned out into a deep run and then a wide, although short, pool. The right side of the river was a broad slow moving shelf pool, and as I evaluated my approach, I observed a rise in the pool area and another at the tailout of the run. I made some token casts with the dry/dropper flies hoping that perhaps the fish would grab the trailing salvation or hares ear, but they were having none of it, so I removed the threesome and knotted a size 12 parachute green drake to my line. On the first drift the fish at the tailout rose and turned away at the last second. How could this fish refuse my expertly tied green drake?

I paused and scanned the water and spotted another drake (gray, although I believed it to be green), as it thrashed on the surface in an effort to become airborne. Upon closer study it appeared to be a size smaller, so I examined my fly box and selected one of the Harrop deer hair green drakes that I tied during the winter. I cast this beauty to the site of the refusal, but no response was forthcoming. Next I shot some long casts to the pooled area, and this prompted another refusal. What now? I opened the fly box and chose a size 14 green drake comparadun and put this creation on trial, but it could not even entice a refusal. I decided to return to the deer hair drake since it resembled the active tumbling image of an emerger, and I also decided to abandon the jaded denizens of the run in front of me. However before moving on, I launched a long cast between gusts of wind to the inner edge of the current seam five feet out from the bank. The drake drifted only a foot before it was molested by a thirteen inch brown trout, and I celebrated landing my first fish on the newly created Harrop deer hair drake.

Over the next hour I proceeded upstream and prospected with the size twelve green drake and managed to land two additional 12-13 inch brown trout. Pound for pound the Hayden Meadows fish fight as hard as any I have been privileged to hook. By 1:30 I ceased observing gray drakes, but the structure of the river improved dramatically. Perhaps I was now in the area that received stream improvements, but regardless of the reason, many more attractive places presented themselves, and it seemed the fish density improved. I began to experience a greater number of refusals to the size 12 green drake, so I found a size 12 stimulator in my box that was shorter, and I put it on my line. This fly failed to create looks or refusals, so I downsized to the size 14 gray stimulator that I began with.

After reading that gray drakes are present at Hayden Meadows, I now realize why the gray stimulator proved to be a successful fly choice. Although it did not have the classic mayfly upwing, it was close in size and color to the natural gray drakes present on the river. Between 1:30 and 4:00 I covered a substantial amount of water and landed five additional brown trout. Several of the middle to late afternoon catches were spunky thirteen inch beauties. I also discovered that the fish were spread out in fairly fast riffles of moderate depth, and several fish rose to smash the stimulator in this type of water. Normally brown trout prefer slower moving water with depth along the bank or next to significant structure, but that was not the case on Tuesday.

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This Flat Delivered a Nice Fish

At 3:30 I reached a place where the main river merged with a small side channel, and a wide shallow riffle ran just below the merge point. I flipped the stimulator so it drifted along the strong current seam closest to me, and suddenly there was a swirl. I reacted with a swift hook set, and I was shocked to find myself connected to a fifteen inch brown trout. My surprised state stemmed from the size of the fish relative to the shallow depth of the water. At the top of the riffle another fish swirled but refused the stimulator, so I tried a size 16 and then 18 caddis but the trout was apparently wise to my presence. A period of high wind caused me to make a last ditch effort with a Jake’s gulp beetle, but that also failed, so I reeled up my line and called it quits.

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Late Afternoon Stimulator Fan

As stated earlier I was unfamiliar with the area, and I now faced the lack of an exit strategy. As I drove south on US 24 I noted that a sturdy barbed wire fence separated the area I was fishing from the railroad tracks and highway. I did not know where I was in relation to the northern parking area, but I decided to head north anyway. In order to better acclimate myself with my position, I cut left toward the fence, and after .2 miles I spotted a gate with a sign. The sign was facing the highway, so I decided to approach and examine. In a stroke of good fortune, I discovered that the gate was not padlocked, and I simply unhooked the linked chain and unraveled it in order to swing it open and allow easy passage. The sign stated that access was only at designated entry points, but it was unclear if this was one of them. At any rate I wrapped the chain and hooked it once again, and proceeded to hike approximately one mile along the narrow shoulder of the busy highway until I was safely back at my car.

What a day! I did indeed salvage a fun day after a frustrating start. The Hayden Meadows/Arkansas River Ranch proved to be interesting water with very nice brown trout. The gray drake hatch and abundant caddis proved to be a nice bonus, and I was stimulated by the task of solving the riddle of catching trout in a new environment. I will definitely return to Hayden Meadows again in the near future.

Fish Landed: 14

Arkansas River – 07/08/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Lunch rock and then upstream almost to the county line.

Arkansas River 07/08/2016 Photo Album

After spending a day with Jane hiking and biking in the Monarch Pass area, I scheduled another day of fishing for Friday July 8. I hoped for another day of edge fishing and the concentrated population of hungry trout that found large foam attractor patterns irresistible. Since I spent Wednesday in the Smyth Lease section above Salida, I chose to visit the stretch of the river downstream from the Fremont-Chafee county line on Friday. The river between Salida and Wellsville is my favorite, and I believe that it harbors more and larger fish than any other portion of the Arkansas River. Could I capture the magic of edge fishing one more time?

As I documented in my post of July 6, I was frustrated by my inability to land fish that chomped on the large foam attractors such as the Chernobyl ant and fat Albert, and I planned to test the idea of using a single large fly without any trailing leader that might affect the willingness of a fish to commit. Since Jane and I camped at Angel of Shavano Campground on Thursday night, I was able to reach the Lunch Rock pullout along the Arkansas River by 9:30 on Friday morning. Once again the air temperature was warm at 9:30, and as the day evolved, the thermometer reached ninety degrees. I did not check the stream flows beforehand, however, upon my return to Denver I discovered that they were in the 1200 cfs range on Friday. In an effort to rest my arm and shoulder somewhat I selected my Sage four weight for a day of constant casting.

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1200 CFS

 

Given my desire to test the single dry concept, I began the morning by tying a yellow Letort hopper to my line. I gave this fly and approach ample opportunity to convince me that it was the solution to long distance releases, but the fish never showed interest. I could not convince myself to spend a day casting 100% dry flies, so I added a beadhead hares ear beneath the hopper, and this move allowed me to land a small brown trout on the nymph. Perhaps the Letort hopper was not the correct choice for my unscientific experiment? I clipped off both flies after a reasonable trial period and knotted a size 8 Chernobyl ant to my line by itself. After all, this was the very fly that failed to hold three decent trout on Wednesday. The Chernboyl offering represented some progress, as a refusal resulted. My standard first response to a refusal is to downsize, and I followed the script by replacing the size 8 with a size 10 Chernobyl, but this fly created no interest.

I had now fished for over an hour, and I was convinced that the fish were not recklessly looking to the surface for large morsels of food, so I defaulted to my most productive technique…dry/dropper. I attached a fat Albert to my line and then added an iron Sally and salvation as droppers, and this combination of flies enabled me to increment the fish count to four by the time I broke for lunch at 11:45. All three of the landed fish were small browns that chowed down on the salvation nymph.

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Gripped Above the River

I packed my lunch in my backpack, so after a brief break along the river, I resumed my upstream quest for trout. I prospected all the attractive edge locations, but nothing seemed to be working. At one point I observed quite a few yellow Sallies above the surface of the river, and the iron Sally seemed too large to imitate the nymphal form of the small stoneflies, so I exchanged for a hares ear. This move was soundly ignored, and by 1PM I paused to assess. It was very warm and the river seemed dead with no obvious food source present. I began to write off Friday and reprimanded myself for choosing to fish on the Arkansas River again. These early July days were too valuable to waste on an unproductive major river.

As these thoughts were passing through my brain, I spotted two pale morning duns fluttering up from the water, and then shortly thereafter I saw a fish flash near the surface in the hydraulic cushion in front of a large submerged rock. Could the fish be tuning into pale morning duns? I already had a salvation nymph in my lineup, and it normally serves as a solid representation of a PMD nymph, so I drifted my flies near the spot where the fish flashed four or five times, but I saw no evidence of interest from the fish. I tried a dead drift and a lift, but none of these techniques were effective.

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Handsome Fish

I now reconsidered my options. Despite the lack of rising fish, would they recognize a pale morning dun dry fly and respond? Given the lack of action, I decided I had nothing to lose, and I converted to a size 16 cinnamon comparadun. I am happy to report that this ploy was a winner, and I landed four additional brown trout between one and two o’clock. All the fish were in the 12-14 inch range, and I celebrated my persistence and willingness to adjust to stream conditions.

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Set Me Free

At two o’clock the hatch seemed to wane, but I observed another wave of yellow Sallies, so I knotted a size 16 yellow stonefly to my line. I cast the new offering to a riffled area at the beginning of a small pool and a twelve inch brown responded and took my fish count to nine. Perhaps I had another winner in the yellow Sally? Unfortunately I moved on, and the neighboring trout of the Arkansas did not recognize the yellow Sally as a tasty menu item.

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Nice Stretch Here

I desperately wanted to reach double digits, but I was skeptical that I could reach this goal in the face of the high sun, warm temperatures, and the absence of PMD’s. It was at this moment that I arrived at a large rock that was similar to Lunch Rock. The main current swept down the center of the river and passed the point of the large rock that jutted into the river for twenty feet. Once the heavy run passed the rock it curled toward my bank and then slid back to the nook of the eddy directly behind the protruding rock. I carefully positioned myself on the angled rock near the nexus of the eddy, and I could readily observe three nice fish hovering a foot or two below the surface, as they occasionally plucked an unknown form of food from the area were the multiple currents converged.

Would these fish respond to a yellow Sally? I made multiple drifts, but the small yellow stonefly imitation was soundly ignored. Were the fish continuing to feed on a stealth pale morning dun hatch? There was only one way to find out. I tied my cinnamon comparadun back on my line and flipped it into the eddy. On the sixth dangle one of the hovering fish slowly approached my fake PMD and sucked it in! I instantly set the hook and Mr. Trout was not happy. It streaked down the river like a silver missile and quickly reached some fast current. This act continued for thirty yards, as I simply allowed my reel to zing at a high pitch. Eventually the torpedo stopped, and I began to reel line. I thought I felt throbbing from the fish, but it could have just as easily been the current pushing against my long length of unspooled line. Was I still connected to this freight train?

In order to gain line more rapidly I began to strip in a hand over hand manner, and quickly I realized that the weary trout was still attached to my comparadun. I managed to slide the net beneath a sixteen inch rainbow, and I silently celebrated my good fortune. I was most proud of allowing the rainbow to streak and pull line without any interference on my part. I paused to photograph my prize and then I released it to test other fishermen in the future. After this exhilarating episode I inspected the eddy once more, but the commotion put down the remaining fish.

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Not Happy in Net

I resumed my upstream progression while prospecting with the size 16 comparadun, and I added three more browns to my count before I called it quits at 3:30. On the day I landed thirteen fish, and amazingly nine responded to dry flies. These results are quite unusual for the Arkansas River, but I was very pleased with my fun day. I expected to edge fish to dumb starved run off fish that viewed big foam attractors as a nourishing source of food. Instead I adjusted to the conditions and used some subtle clues to salvage the day by prospecting with a small pale morning dun comparadun despite the absence of rising fish. Fly fishing is certainly a thinking man’s game.

Fish Landed: 13