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

 

 

Arkansas River – 07/06/2016

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Smyth Lease

Arkansas River 07/06/2016 Photo Album

The final box to be checked off on my edge fishing goal list was the Arkansas River. On Wednesday July 6 I took steps to complete the remaining challenge. I planned to drive to the Arkansas River and fish on Wednesday. After a day of fishing I would continue on to Angel of Shavano Campground to secure a campsite, and then Jane would make the trip after some morning tennis and join me for two nights of camping.

I departed Denver at 8AM, but unfortunately a normal 2.5 hour trip developed into three hours as a result of three sections of road construction on US 285 between the junction with US 24 and Johnson Village. I survived the frustrating delays and pulled into the pullout next to the bridge that crosses the Arkansas River on CO 291 by 11AM. I targeted the Smyth Lease for my day of edge fishing, since I enjoyed some great action in this area previously during similar river conditions.

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1500 CFS

It was a hot and sunny day with temperatures reaching eighty degrees. The flows were in the 1400 – 1500 cfs range, and this was nearly ideal for the edge fishing that I anxiously anticipated. I assembled my Scott six weight rod, since I expected big water, plenty of wind and larger than average fish, and then I climbed over the wooden stairs provided to avoid damaging the ranch fence. Another fisherman arrived after me, so I decided to hike quite a distance downstream to avoid interference. Eventually I arrived at a place where a rough path angled down the steep bank to the river, and I descended using small baby steps to avoid sliding in the loose gravel and shale. I was on high alert for snakes having encountered a large bull species on one of my previous visits. My starting point was just above the area that can be accessed via the southern approach to the Smyth Lease, and it was 11: 30 when I stepped into the river.

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Prime Edge Water Ahead

I paused to assess the river, and it was in prime condition. The water was cold and crystal clear and high, yet it was low enough to allow reasonable wading along the edge. I tied a size eight Chernobyl ant to my line and then added a bright green caddis pupa and beadhead hares ear, and I was primed for action. The Arkansas River is rich in caddis species thus the bet on the caddis pupa. I plopped the Chernobyl to likely spots for fifteen minutes with not response, so I exchanged the caddis pupa for a salvation nymph since that performed admirably on the Eagle River, and the fly shop reports noted the presence of pale morning duns. I rearranged the flies so that the hares ear was the top nymph, and the salvation was in the end position.

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Salvation Nymph Lover

When I resumed, a fish finally boiled but refused the Chernobyl ant, so I was reassured that fish existed along the edge, but I was troubled by the refusal. Fortunately after the refusal, brown trout began to notice the salvation nymph, and I notched up the fish counter by four relatively small fish before I stopped to eat lunch at 12:30.

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Gear Stashed Among Wildflowers for Lunch

I learned in the first hour that the bigger fish occupied the deep holes and shelf pools along the bank, whereas smaller fish could be caught from the shallow riffles and runs that produce bigger fish later in the season. Based on this observation I spent more casts on the prime areas and only allocated a couple token drifts to the secondary places. Another productive structure was the deep area and cushion in front of large boulders.

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The Only Rainbow Was This Beauty

I used these observations to drive my fishing strategy after lunch, and the perfect laboratory presented itself. I approached an area where three very large submerged rounded boulders were clumped and surrounded by deep water. I made ten drifts through the area with no results, and I was baffled by this lack of success in prime structure. Before moving on, however, I lobbed a cast farther out along a swift current seam, and connected with a hard charging rainbow. I paused to photograph my first decent fish, and then when I resumed fishing, I tossed a token cast back in the deep area around the boulders. Inexplicably a gorgeous brown trout sucked in the salvation in the very area where numerous earlier presentations failed.

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Slipping Away

The period from 1 – 3 PM was my best. I moved the fish count from four to eleven, and this included a couple additional browns in the 13-14 inch range. Most of the trout were grabbing the salvation nymph with a minority succumbing to the hares ear. One of my frustrations throughout the day was my inability to land fish that struck the Chernobyl ant. I hooked at least three fish that felt relatively substantial that eventually eluded my bent rod. After giving it some thought, I theorized that the 4X tippet coming off the bend of the hook deflected the bite in some way? During the run off fishing I opted to utilize 4X where I normally apply 5X. As an experiment on Friday I hope to fish a lone foam attractor to test whether the dropper arrangement has an impact on the ability of the hook to hold fish.

Toward the end of the 1-3PM time period I decided to experiment with my old standby yellow Letort hopper with a salvation nymph dropper. Since the Letort hopper is not constructed with foam and therefore less buoyant, I generally limit the dropper to one beadhead nymph. The hopper/dropper combination delivered three additional fish including a fifteen inch brown trout that smacked the Letort hopper and represented my best fish on the day. The two fish that inhaled the salvation nymph on the lift were decent 12-13 inch fish.

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Zoomed In for Spots

By 3 o’clock the action slowed to inaction, so I converted back to the hares ear plus salvation combination, and deploying two nymphs caused me to try a yellow fat Albert as the top fly. One more medium size brown trout nabbed the salvation, and then a small brown slurped the fat Albert. Once again a fish hooked on the foam top fly managed to shake loose, and the energy from the rod catapulted the flies into a tree high above my head. I uttered some nasty phrases and paused to evaluate my dilemma. I gazed at the tree and realized that the branches were dead, and this led to the thought that I could rescue the flies by breaking off the branch.

First I tried tugging rapidly on the line, but this broke off the fat Albert and a small twig. I recovered the largest and hardest to tie fly, but the two nymphs still dangled high above me. In addition to the dead branch, an invasive vine plant was entwined around much of the limb in the area. Again I paused to consider options, and I spotted an eighteen foot long dead branch lying along the river at the base of the tree. Could this be the key? I picked it up and hoisted it toward the dangling flies and then allowed the end to drop on top of the branch gripping the flies and the vine. Miraculously the line and flies hooked into the eighteen foot long natural jousting pole that I was wielding, and once I dropped it to the ground, I recovered my nymphs.

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A Split Level

I reattached the flies to my line and resumed fishing, but the sun was bright and the air was quite warm and the small amount of hatching activity disappeared. I worked my way along the bank and some thick vegetation until I reached the bridge, and when I glanced at my watch I realized it was 3:30. I concluded it was time to quit and find a campsite, and I ended my fishing day.

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Happy Hour Is Here

Wednesday completed my goal of edge fishing three large freestone rivers in Colorado during run off. I landed fifteen fish including some fine brown trout and one rainbow in the 12-15 inch range. Once again the weather was pleasant, the water was cold and clear, and I enjoyed steady action in the ten foot band along the bank. I expected more success on the large foam top fly, but four long distance releases was part of the challenge. Colorado Rivers are now falling to prime levels, so the best fishing for 2016 lies just ahead.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 05/05/2016

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Between Lunch Rock and Fremont/Chafee County line

Fish Landed: 5

Arkansas River 05/05/2016 Photo Album

Although I was convinced that I would not encounter the magical leading edge of the Arkansas River caddis emergence, I continued to be excited about another day of fishing. Instead of attempting to move around and chase the hatch, I decided to commit to a location and fish the water. I enjoyed numerous successful trips on the segment between Salida and Wellsville in the past, so I was sure that if I applied my normal fishing techniques and knowledge to gold medal water, I could achieve positive results even if I struck out on the caddis hatch. I camped on Wednesday night, so this offered the additional advantage of being in close proximity to the river, and this translated into an early start. The fishing was best between 11AM and 1:30PM on Wednesday, so perhaps the time period before 11AM was even better. I had no sample size from which to draw conclusions regarding the morning fishing.

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Frosty Morning

Once again I relied on information from my weather app to decide to camp on Wednesday night, as the forecasts suggested low temperatures in the forties. Therefore I was quite surprised to discover a layer of frost on the stove, tablecloth and rain fly when I woke up at 6:30. In addition to the colder than expected temperatures I shared the campground with a stray black angus bull. I never determined how he circumvented the fence surrounding the campground, but I noticed him grazing among several campsites on Wednesday evening, as I set up the tent. He eventually migrated to the grassy area between the campground and the road, and this is where he remained when I surveyed the area on Thursday morning. In fact he paused from munching his grass breakfast to scrutinize me, as I passed him on my return from the bathroom.

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You Again. Campground Host Gives Me the Eye

At any rate I had to wait for the tent and tablecloth to thaw and dry before I packed them in the car, but I still managed to be on the water fishing by 9:30, and this created an additional 1.5 hours of morning angling compared to the previous day. I decided to return to the section of water between Lunch Rock and the Fremont/Chafee County line where I quit on Wednesday before moving to Vallie Bridge. It was sunny and bright, but the temperature was in the low fifties so I wore my fleece when I embarked on my second day of fishing on the Arkansas River. In another change from Wednesday I switched from my Sage One five weight to my Sage four weight, as my arm and shoulder cried for some relief.

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First Hour on Thursday Spent Here

 

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Big Tail

I began with a nymph set up and tied on a prince nymph as my top fly and an ultra zug bug as the bottom offering. I hoped to find some fish feeding on egg laying caddis. I also tried one of the two locking thingamabobbers that I purchased at ArkAnglers on Wednesday morning. Halfway between my start point and the place where the river moves away from the highway, I was surprised to see a dip in the indicator, and I set the hook and landed a nice thirteen inch brown trout that grabbed the prince nymph.

When I approached the large sycamore tree between the river and the road, I climbed to the shore and circled above to a nice run and riffle area. This water was similar to the type that yielded decent success on Wednesday, and I was excited to notice a few blue winged olives, so I replaced the ultra zug bug with a soft hackle emerger. The nice deep slow moving water at the tail and along the side of the run did not deliver, but when I cast to some very shallow riffles among some rocks at the extreme top, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and landed a twelve inch overweight brown that featured the soft hackle emerger in its lip. My fish count stood at two, and I had only been fishing for an hour, so perhaps the morning period would be more productive.

I continued up the river for a bit to a huge deep pool and an eddy behind a massive rock that jutted into the river. I never have much luck in this type of water, but I donated fifteen casts to the location, and this reaffirmed my avoidance of deep pools on the Arkansas River. Another fisherman was above me, so I considered my options and decided to ascend the bank to the road, and then hiked back to the car, and moved to the Fremont/Chafee County line. I hoped that the flows remained at a level where I could make a crossing, and this would position me to fish the northern edge of the river where far fewer fishermen ventured.

I parked at the pullout at the county line and removed my fleece and stuffed my lunch in my backpack. As I assumed, I was able to slowly and carefully cross at the tail of the long pool below the car, and then I hiked down the railroad tracks to my favorite area of the Arkansas River. I began at the top of the second deep run below the island, but I was surprised that no fish attacked my flies. Past experience assured me that numerous trout reside in this attractive section of the river.

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Beginning Point After Move

The next nice run and shelf pool was similarly difficult on Thursday despite some nice casts and focused fishing. By now I witnessed a fairly dense BWO emergence, and I was at a loss to explain why my soft hackle emerger was not producing. It worked on Wednesday, and this was the same river. I exchanged the Craven soft hackle emerger for one that I purchased from Royal Gorge Angler, since Taylor Edrington vouched for the fat CDC wing case. This was also ignored. I worked my way quickly up along the left side of the island with nothing to reward me for my thorough search.

Next I waded along the edge of the river and back to the downstream tip of the island, and I paused along the gradual gravel beach next to the long pool on the small north braid. I waited quite awhile for a fish to show, and eventually two rises emerged in the lower portion of the pool. I took the time to remove the nymphs, indicator and split shot; and I knotted a CDC BWO to my line. I lofted some nice casts to the area of the rises, but the fish ignored the small baetis imitation. Next I shot some prospecting casts upstream and then up and over, but still no response.

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Normally Productive Pool Skunked Me on Thursday

It was 11:45, and I was hungry, so I decided to eat my lunch and observe. While I ate, I spotted a subtle rise off the point of a large ledge rock across from me, and two splashy rises in the current seam twenty feet above where I saw the two rises when I first approached the pool. I decided to try a double dry to cover the possibility that the upper splashy riser was slurping caddis. I tied on a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis and then added the CDC BWO on a six inch dropper.

First I took a shot at the fish off the point of the rock, and this resulted in a refusal, but it was obvious that this fish was quite small. Next I targeted the splashy riser, but neither of my offerings interested the fish. I waded to the midsection of the pool and began lofting casts to the top segment from distance, but much to my amazement no fish were attracted to the dancing dry flies. The top portion of the long pool on the small right channel is normally money in the bank, but on Thursday morning it was simply frustrating. I did see one fish below the surface move toward the flies, but it backed off at the last instant. This is always an inauspicious sign.

Clearly my surface flies were not what the fish wanted, but the fish were obviously feeding as evidenced by the few rises. I decided to use my normal dry/dropper approach, as it worked quite well in this area on previous visits. I tend to over analyze situations, and I surmised that this may have been one such incident. I tied on a tan Charlie boy hopper that displayed numerous teeth marks from previous usage, and below the Charlie boy I knotted a go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger. This combination resulted in a foul hooked fish that apparently rose to the hopper, and in my zeal to connect after a long drought, I set the hook and dragged one of the trailing nymphs into its body.

Along the left edge in some fairly nondescript shallow pockets, I generated a couple refusals, and then I approached a narrow deep slot that runs along a large vertical rock on the north bank. On the first cast a huge fish rose and inspected the hopper and then dropped back to the depths. My heart stopped for an instant at this sighting. Then as the flies continued toward the tailout of the slot, a second smaller brown refused the hopper. I made several more casts, and on the fourth drift the large fish once again appeared. This time it actually did a circle under the Charlie boy, but once again it rejected my large foam terrestrial. This fish, which probably measured between 15 and 20 inches had my attention. Perhaps it was looking up for terrestrials, but not grasshoppers. I tied on a Letort hopper as I hoped the more slender profile would turn the tide. This did not even provoke a look. Next I tried a Jake’s gulp beetle. Nothing. Finally I pulled out my trusty size 8 Chernobyl ant. This big attractor did not interest the big guy, but it did generate a second refusal from the lower brown trout. I threw up my hands and decided to move on.

It was now around 1PM, and the sun was bright, and the air temperature was moving toward its peak of 76 degrees. I knew from Wednesday that these conditions were quite pleasant for human beings, but not to the liking of trout, and I feared I squandered the best part of the day stubbornly dwelling on the normally productive north channel along the island. I debated quitting, but I worked hard to cross the river, and I was now positioned on the side that few fishermen attempted to reach. Certainly I needed to capitalize on this investment in stream field position.

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Same Fish, Different View

I retained the large Chernobyl ant as my surface indicator fly, and below that I tied on the go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger. I planned to stick to the right edge of the river and prospect the best pockets, and perhaps I could find a few bank huggers willing to move to one of the flies.

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Lowering to the River

Between 1 and 3PM I deployed this strategy, and I added three more fish to my count. They were all very nice fish in the thirteen to fourteen inch range, but I covered a ton of water and wore out my arm in the process. All three came from short deep pockets where the current formed the outside border. I tossed the flies to the center area, and when they reached the sweet spot where the outer currents merged, the fish nabbed one of the trailing flies. On several occasions a large cloud blocked the sun, and during these brief periods of cloudiness, I observed a few straggling blue winged olives. This probably explains why two of the afternoon browns displayed the tiny soft hackle emerger in their lip. The third brown grabbed the go2 sparkle pupa.

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Snake or Rock Border

When I reached my initial crossing point, I climbed out of the water and then scaled the steep bank to the railroad tracks. On the way up the bank I almost stepped on a snake, but I spotted it in time to make a right turn and not disturb it. I took the railroad tracks express lane to the pockets, runs and riffles above the long pool, and I was certain I would pick up a few additional fish, but I was mistaken. By 3 o’clock I made the long return hike and slowly and safely made the crossing to the highway side of the river.

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Wating for the Rude Human to Pass

It was a tough day from a numbers perspective with five fish finding my net over five hours of concentrated fishing. But all the fish were quite nice, and I enjoyed having the entire north bank of the large river to myself. I love to move about and do not relish having my progress impeded by upstream fishermen. Clearly I did not encounter the caddis hatch that I deeply yearned to meet. It seems that a fisherman cannot count on beautiful weather and hot fishing. They are mutually exclusive events. I was in a gorgeous setting on a lovely spring day in a relatively solitary position, and I fooled a few fish. That pretty much sizes up my fishing venture on May 5.

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Lots of Snow on Mt. Princeton

Arkansas River – 05/04/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: Lunch rock and upstream and then Vallie Bridge lease in late afternoon.

Fish Landed: 10

Arkansas River 05/04/2016 Photo Album

For some reason I am obsessed with meeting the Arkansas River caddis hatch in 2016, and a forecasted window of nice weather enabled me to resume my quest on May 4 and 5. I packed most of the camping and fishing gear on Tuesday evening, and this enabled me to depart my home in Denver by 7:20AM. I drove the US 285 route, since I planned to fish in the upper portion of Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and I pulled into the parking lot at ArkAnglers by 10:15AM. My stated reason for visiting the shop was to purchase thingamabobbers and split shot, but my true motive was to gain useful information regarding the location of the leading edge of the caddis hatch.

A young lanky gentleman behind the counter helped me find the split shot peg board, and after paying for my purchases, I popped the question regarding the caddis hatch progression. The young man quickly replied that I should begin near the Wellsville Bridge, although he also cautioned me that quite a few other fishermen preceded me, so I would likely encounter others in that area. He then went on to say that caddis were present from Cotopaxi to Salida, so that did not give me confidence or narrow down the possibilities very much. Another red flag appeared in my mind, when he added that the hatch no longer appears in dense clouds, but instead is more scattered in small clusters.

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Up the River from Lunch Rock

Since he mentioned the Wellsville Bridge first, and I happen to favor the stretch of the Arkansas River between Wellsville and Salida; I made a beeline for the spot that I named Lunch Rock above the Wellsville Bridge. A huge rock juts into the river, and I often relax there to eat my lunch and observe the eddy below for trout or insect activity. One other car preceded me, but the associated fisherman was in the run below Lunch Rock, and I planned to fish upstream, so I parked and prepared to fish. I elected to assemble my Sage One five weight, and began my quest for trout with a nymphing set up that included an ultra zug bug and a go2 sparkle pupa. This is a fly I created that combines the chartreuse diamond braid body from Tak’s go2 caddis with the structure of a LaFontaine sparkle pupa.

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First Fish Was This Brute

Much to my amazement I landed four brown trout in the first half hour of fishing, and I was feeling quite euphoric about my choice of fishing location and fly selection. Two of the thirteen inch trout sucked in the ultra zug bug, and two grabbed the go2 sparkle pupa. What a start! As this story was unfolding, I spotted a few blue winged olives, and although I felt it was early, I replaced the ultra zug bug with a Craven soft hackle emerger size 20. I now had a caddis pupa in case of a brachycentrus emergence, and a baetis emerger in case the fish favored the mayflies. Despite this keen observation and an arsenal of match the hatch offerings, I suffered through a half hour with no action despite casting through some very attractive shelf pools.

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Respectable Fish

It was now noon, so I stopped to eat my lunch back at the car on lunch rock. How appropriate! After lunch I resumed my migration up along the left bank from the point where I quit to eat. I approached the huge wide deep slow moving tail of a pool where the strong center current cut the large river in half. This created two relatively smooth slower moving shelf pools on either side, but I could only reach the one on the south side of the river. I began drifting my nymphs at the tail by casting toward two o’clock, dead drifting  downstream, and then allowing the wet flies to swing at the end. What a smart tactic! Nice brown trout in the twelve to thirteen inch range began attacking my flies like kids in a candy store. It was a pleasant turn of events, as I landed six additional brown trout between 12:30 and 1:30 from this area. Four fish consumed the soft hackle emerger, but two pounced on the go2 sparkle pupa, so both flies caught the attention of the fish at the tail of the long pool.

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Back You Go

As one might imagine, I was feeling rather confident by 1:30 when I encountered another fisherman twenty yards above me just upstream from another large rock and associated deep eddy pool. In fact the fisherman and vehicle appeared to be the same as the person at lunch rock when I arrived earlier in the morning. I climbed the bank to the shoulder of the highway and returned to the car and moved a bit farther west. The bank between the Santa Fe and the river was relatively low where I resumed, and I fished some juicy edge pools with no signs of fish. I was actually in a state of disbelief, as I was confident I had the correct imitations, and the water looked like a brown trout fish farm with deep pockets and runs among large submerged boulders.

The guy in the fly shop mentioned a fisherman who reported that he had success casting a caddis dry fly along the edge even though there were no visible rises, so I decided to experiment with this tactic. I tied on a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis and hoped to attract some opportunistic edge dwellers, since a fair number of caddis were dapping the water. It did not work. Next I tried a Chernobyl ant trailing the go2 sparkle pupa and the soft hackle emerger, and these flies were likewise firmly ignored. I realized that blue winged olives were absent from the environment for quite awhile, so I swapped the emerger for the ultra zug bug in the event that the fish tuned into egg laying caddis as the afternoon progressed. None of these changes evoked interest from the suddenly lockjawed trout of the Arkansas River.

At 3PM the sun was beating down, and it was quite warm, and I approached another fisherman, so I returned to the car once again and continued driving east on route 50 to the Vallie Bridge area, where I planned to camp. Perhaps the caddis progression had not yet reached Wellsville despite the fly shop’s recommendation, and I surmised that Vallie Bridge was a reasonable guess regarding the whereabouts of the elusive insects. I drove past the campground and continued for another two miles, until I reached the lease area where I parked. I usually fish upstream from the parking lot, but since no competing fishermen were present, I decided to explore the extreme eastern portion of the lease. I hiked down the railroad tracks for a half mile, and then I fought my way through some dense willows and bushes. I dipped through a dry irrigation bed and then climbed the berm between the ditch and the river and found myself adjacent to a nice stretch of water with deep runs among large submerged boulders.

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Lower End of Lease West of Vallie Bridge

The dry/dropper set up remained on my line, and it was not exciting the fish, and it was after 4PM. In anticipation of a late afternoon egg laying caddis event, I returned to the nymph rig and tied on a prince nymph along with a Gary LaFontaine diving adult. The latter fly is a wet fly that uses sparkle yarn as one of its components, and it is intended to imitate the female caddis as they dive to the bottom of the river to lay their eggs. Over the next hour I managed to hook two fish on the egg laying imitations, but both escaped before I could net them and identify which fly they favored. Nevertheless I was thrilled to experience action on some newly discovered water.

I thought I was far from other fishermen, but miraculously I bumped into another angler at this remote corner of the lease. This surprise encounter forced me to execute an early exit strategy, so I scrambled through some thick brush and then once again traversed the dry irrigation ditch. Once I reached the railroad tracks, I was lucky to find a gap in the fence, and this allowed for an express route along the dirt road back to the car.

I decided to make one more last ditch effort to surpass ten fish, so I hiked the railroad tracks west until I reached some nice deep runs and pockets at the upper end of the lease. The egg laying imitations failed to produce, and I returned to the campground by 5:30.

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My Tent in the Midst of Cattle

I managed to reach double digits, and I enjoyed two relatively short intense periods of action. The ten fish were all quite nice, as they measured in the twelve to fourteen inch size range. The weather was perfect with blue skies and high temperatures in the mid seventies. I sampled some new water on the lower end of the Vallie Bridge lease. Despite all these positives I once again failed to achieve my goal of meeting the magical emergence of caddis on the Arkansas River. I suffered through long periods of fruitless casting around the two time spans of concentrated fish catching success. I am coming to the conclusion that the dense caddis emergence of previous years no longer takes place. Thursday would be another chance to discover the caddis, but I was increasingly skeptical that this scenario would develop.

Arkansas River – 04/26/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Down river from Cotopaxi in the morning and then Vallie Bridge and upstream in the PM.

Fish Landed: 6

Arkansas River 04/26/2016 Photo Album

After rallying to land eleven fish late on Monday afternoon including a fifteen inch brown, the largest brown trout of the 2016 season, one would assume that I was pleased and prepared to spend another day between Parkdale and Texas Creek. But one would be mistaken. The allure of finding the leading edge of the hatch gnawed at my brain, and additionally I did not wish to spend another morning and early afternoon wading and casting with no results to justify my activity.

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My Five Points Campsite

I camped at Five Points on Monday night along with two other crazy early season enthusiasts. One of the other campground inhabitants had the comfort of a RV, but the other fellow was toughing it out in a tent. After I snuggled up in my sleeping bag at 9PM, light rain began to patter on the rain fly. I read for a while before dozing off, and I remember hearing the wind and rain as I entered my dream world.

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Frozen Water Droplets on My Rainfly on Tuesday Morning

I planned to pack everything up in the morning before I embarked on another fishing adventure, so I was concerned that the rain fly would be wet and delay my departure. As I climbed out of the tent on Tuesday morning, I immediately inspected for moisture, and except for some large scattered drops along the top seam, it appeared that the wind had taken care of most of the rain. Upon closer review I was surprised to learn that the large raindrops were actually frozen! What happened to the forecast lows of 42 degrees? I suppose that was Canon City, and I was ten miles farther west, although I guessed that it was a combination of a missed forecast and a different location.

When I left the river on Monday, I vowed to return to Royal Gorge Anglers to obtain some local insight. The fishing in the morning was less than spectacular anyway, so why not invest an extra hour to obtain some professional direction? In addition I needed to replace the retractor for my nippers, as the cord snapped during a fishing trip the previous week.

I was pleased to discover that Taylor Edrington, the owner, was present in the fly shop, so I asked him for advice. He informed me that I was below the leading edge of the advancing hatch, and this explained my lack of success on caddis pupa as well as the late action on the adult dry. The fish were tuned into egg laying adults in the late afternoon and evening, so I caught the early portion of this activity. Taylor went on to note that his guides and clients encountered a decent emergence in Cotopaxi on Monday, and he suggested that I migrate to that area or even as far up river as Vallie Bridge, if I hoped to fish to emerging brachycentrus.

I mentioned that I had success with an RS2 in the middle of the afternoon, and he politely dismissed the RS2 as being too slender to imitate emergers, and he sold me some CDC folded wing emergers. Taylor is a persuasive salesperson. Armed with five new flies, a new retractor, and confidence that I would meet the caddis hatch below Cotopaxi; I departed and returned to the campground and took down my by now dry tent. In my absence the sun peaked over the ridge to the east, and the combination of the sun and wind removed any remaining ice and water.

In a supercharged state of anticipation I continued west on route 50 until I reached a nice wide pullout .3 miles below the Cotopaxi bridge. After I rigged my Sage One five weight, I walked back along the highway to the bend and then followed a path half way around the curve, before I dropped to a section of river that was narrow with swift currents in the center. The edge closest to me featured some nice shelf pools, so I tied on a bright green diamond braid caddis (Go2 Caddis) as my top fly and added one of the newly purchased CDC BWO nymphs as the bottom fly on an indicator nymphing system.

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Another Pretty Brown Trout

Between 10:30 and 11:30 I worked the most attractive runs and pockets along the edge of the river and landed three trout. Two were respectable thirteen inch browns, and the third was a small fish barely over the six inch minimum. I was pleased with this late morning production, and I remained confident that Taylor’s advice would lead me to caddis hatch nirvana. Meanwhile the air temperature was in the low fifties and the wind was stronger than Monday but tolerable. Some large dark gray clouds were building in the distant western sky. I decided to break for lunch early, as I was roughly fifty yards below the car.

I climbed the steep bank to the car and gathered my water and lunch bag and returned to the edge of the river as I am apt to do, so I could observe any insect activity while eating. I can report that I saw no evidence of blue winged olives and only a couple small caddis dapping on the water. In fact when I brushed the trees and willows, far fewer caddis scattered compared to when I executed similar actions on Monday farther to the east.

After lunch I resumed from my exit point and fished intensely from 12 – 1PM, at which point I was getting close to the town of Cotopaxi. I landed a fourth brown during this time period, and this one was around twelve inches. In addition I had a chubby brown hooked for a split second, but it shed the fly when it leaped high above the water. This bit of action transpired early on, and then I went through a fish catching drought despite casting to some exceptionally attractive water. The sun was shining brightly at this time, and I concluded that the fish should have been responding to the caddis pupa, if they were staging for an emergence in the early afternoon. Based on this logic I guessed that a leading edge emergence was not ilikely, so I decided to move farther upstream in search of the elusive hatch.

Unfortunately there is minimal public water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and the section that is open was occupied by two groups of fishermen. I continued westward to Vallie Bridge and parked at the boat launch, and then I crossed to the south side of the river above the bridge. Here there is a long deep pool and a huge eddy where the water cycles back upstream and creates a large foam slick.

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Back in the Net Big Guy

I covered this water thoroughly with no action, and then I retreated to the downstream side of the bridge. I began fishing just above the point where a small channel forks away from the main river. I made an obligatory half-hearted cast thirty-five feet across and allowed the bright green caddis pupa and soft hackle emerger to drift to the tail. Much to my surprise as the flies began to swing, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a significant weight. The angry fish on the end of my line made several speedy and abrupt attempts to free itself, but I allowed line to escape and then eventually recovered and guided a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. What a surprise! This was the type of featureless water that I typically skip, but perhaps I need to reevaluate my approach.

I fished upstream through some more appealing deep water along the current seam below the bridge, but this proved fruitless. Next I crossed back to the car and drove to the lease water two or three miles to the west on the north side of the river. I parked, and in short order I hiked down river along the railroad tracks and eventually cut to the river. I discovered that I was above another fisherman by thirty yards, so I began my upstream migration at this point. The water above me was relatively unattractive, but after my surprise below the bridge, I dutifully cast upstream to the narrow six foot band of slower moving water next to the bank.

This time, however, my hunch was correct, and I simply exercised my arm. I moved rather quickly with only one or two casts to each section, and then I approached a much more interesting wide shelf pool where the river merged after splitting around a small gravel island. I worked this twenty-five yard segment of water thoroughly and drifted the flies along the current seam numerous times, but again I was disappointed.

When I reached the top, I noticed there was a deep trough just above the point where the currents merged. I lobbed several casts to the top of the trough, and on the third drift, as the indicator passed through the merge point, it dipped, and I intuitively reacted with a solid hook set. The fight was on. Once again I released line a few times to compensate for a strong run, but again I was able to scoop a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. This brown was actually not as long as the previous catch, but it was much heftier. I snapped quite a few photos and then released the brute.

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Impressive Width on This Guy

The rest of the afternoon was consumed by moving quite a distance upstream along the right bank. I skipped huge amounts of stream real estate, as the river is relatively wide with many sections of shallow riffles or wide smooth water of moderate depth. The latter may actually harbor a decent amount of fish, but without any rocks or logs or current breaks, I am intimidated by the prospect of prospecting this type of water without some sign of fish such as a rise.

Near the end of my progression, I encountered two fishermen on opposite sides of the river. I was fifty yards below them in some very attractive deep runs below some exposed boulders. The sky grew extremely dark, and the wind kicked up, and a large quantity of dainty blue winged olives emerged and tumbled across the surface. Just prior to this point in time I swapped the soft hackle emerger for a CDC emerger that I purchased from Taylor, and I was certain that the trout would attack my subsurface imitation given the large population of olives on the surface.

Nothing. The fish never rose to feed on the surface because the wind blew the adults away before they could react, and my wet fly was totally ignored. This rude rejection of my offerings caused me to reel up my line, and then I scaled the steep bank until I reached the railroad tracks and hiked back to the car. Along the way I spotted a single rise in the lower end of the wide nondescript pool, so I slid down the bank and switched to a double dry setup with a size 16 olive brown caddis and a size 20 CDC BWO. I cast to the vicinity of the rise and on the tenth drift, just when I looked away for a split second, I heard the sound of a rise and instinctively set the hook. I felt some momentary weight and then the fish was off. I don’t know if the fish refused one of the flies, and I grazed it with the trailer, because I reacted to the sound, and never saw what happened.

That was the end of my Tuesday, and I returned to the car and made the long return trip to Denver. I spent two days on the Arkansas River in pursuit of the elusive 2016 caddis emergence, and never sniffed it. Of course I second guessed my decision to leave Cotopaxi, and I imagined waves of caddis popping from the green tinged surface of the river, while swallows criss-crossed overhead, and hungry trout slurped skittering emergers. I will never know if this was the case. I convinced myself that the emergence occurred in the long segment of water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and only a short section is open to the public. Land ownership is my excuse for not finding the caddis sweet spot on April 25 and 26.

I am not done. Cool rainy weather is forecast for the rest of this week, so the progression will likely stall. This means I may have another shot at the caddis emergence in the vicinity of Salida early next week. Stay tuned.

Arkansas River – 04/25/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: From 10:30 until 11:30 at Five Points and then the afternoon in the braided area above Pinnacle Rock

Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River 04/25/2016 Photo Album

It has become an annual ritual that I follow every spring. I did it practically every year since I moved to Colorado in 1990, yet the successful intersection of my regular pursuit and the sought after fishing experience has only occurred three or four times. The event that I am describing is the caddis hatch on the Arkansas River.

A couple times in the 1990’s I stumbled into the leading edge of the fabled brachycentrus emergence, and it was an experience I will never forget. Swarms of caddis skittered across the water and bounced and fluttered, and the trout slashed at them in gluttonous hunger. Poor casting skills and the dreaded drag were the fly fisherman’s best friend, as these presentation attributes best imitated the active skittering emergence of thousands of caddis.

My most recent encounter with the Arkansas River caddis hatch occurred in early May 2010; May 4 and May 14 to be exact. If you read these reports, you will understand my obsession with chasing this elusive hatch. A period of mild weather entered the forecast for Colorado following the heavy wet spring snowstorm during the weekend of April 16 and 17, and I estimated that by Monday most of the low level snow melt on freestone streams had passed. The last report on the caddis emergence indicated that they stalled in the lower canyon before the storm, and the local experts predicted that the progression would resume on Friday April 22 with the advent of warmer temperatures.

Based on this information I planned a fishing/camping venture to the lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon area for Monday and Tuesday. One of the advantages of retirement is the ability to make these sort of spur of the minute decisions. The low temperature for Monday night was projected to be 42 degrees, thus my intention to camp. I camped several times in the fall when temperatures dropped below the freezing mark.

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Upstream from Five Points with a Cholla in the Foreground

On Monday morning I departed at 7:20, and traffic was reasonable thus allowing me to pull into the parking area at the Arkansas Headwaters Five Points access area by 10AM. This is where I planned to camp, so I made a quick circle to scope out the campsites, and only two of eighteen sites were occupied. Clearly there was not a groundswell of campers on Monday April 25 in lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. I brought the car to a halt across from the campground and pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod. The weather forecast called for twenty-four mile per hour winds, so I needed a long stiff rod in the event that this prediction was accurate.

I had no idea how far the caddis progressed, and I probably should have stopped at Royal Gorge Anglers for information, but I pressed on in my desire to get back on the river after the snowstorm. When I approached the water I noticed that it was murky, but decent visibility existed along the edges. The weather was partly sunny, and the wind was not a significant factor at 10:30.

I began with a nymph rig that included a bright green caddis pupa and a prince nymph. The caddis prepared me for emergers and the prince covered egg laying adults. Unfortunately shortly after beginning my caddis hunt, I broke off both flies, and I tied on another bright green caddis pupa and then replaced the prince with a second brighter green caddis pupa. The body of the second one was constructed with bright geen diamond braid, and it is named Tak’s Go2 Caddis.

These flies produced a momentary hook up, and I also observed the flash of the side of a brown, as it inspected my drifting flies, but I was unable to begin my fish count. I was disappointed with the lack of interest in my flies so I went through a series of changes that featured a slumpbuster, emerald caddis pupa, and ultra zug bug. At another point roughly halfway through the morning I foul hooked a fish on the green caddis pupa. When I brushed the willows along the stream, a cloud of caddis took flight in an obvious response to my rude interruption of their streamside relaxation.

By 11:30 I decided to get an early start on lunch, and based on the quantity of adult caddis on the vegetation, I assumed that the hatch progressed farther upstream. I drove farther west on route 50 until I was less than a mile below Texas Creek, and here I parked and descended to the river, where I brushed some willows and shrubs. Based on this unscientific experiment I concluded that the caddis were not as thick below Texas Creek, so I turned around and retreated to the section where the river splits into numerous side channels. It was clear that I should have stopped at Royal Gorge Anglers, and I was now shooting in the dark, but I was weary of driving and decided to make my stand.

I grabbed my lunch and found a perch next to the channel closest to the road and observed the river intently for signs of insect activity, and I was rewarded with the vision of two sporadic rises. When I resumed fishing, I fished the southern most channel first, but to no avail. Next I crossed the nearest channels and bushwhacked to the bottom of the northern branch where it entered the main stem of the reunited river. The sky became progressively more cloudy, and as usually is the case in Colorado, this spawned increased wind velocity. Finally at around 2:30 I landed my first fish, and despite its small size, I snapped a photo as I was unsure that any additional fish would find my net.

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The North Braid

Normally if an intense caddis hatch is in the offing, it commences by 2PM, so I was fairly convinced that I would not meet my objective on Monday. Fortunately a fine blue winged olive emergence overlaps with the caddis hatch, and these tiny mayflies enjoy cold overcast blustery conditions. Between 2:30 and 3:30 the state of the weather did in fact conspire to create BWO activity, and this development saved my day. I landed eight brown trout during this period after I reconfigured my line with the go2 caddis as the top fly and a size 20 beadhead RS2 as the bottom food imitation.

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15

I worked my way upstream on the northern branch of the river and cast the nymphs to all the likely places. I imparted quite a bit of movement by making downstream mends to accelerate the flies as well as lifting and dropping the flies in a jigging motion. Most of the landed trout chased the RS2 on the swing, but two justified the presence of the go2 caddis on my line. One very nice pool farther up the braid than I normally progress yielded a fifteen inch brown that clobbered the RS2, and this represented my best brown trout on the season so far. Quite a few of the netted fish were chunky twelve and thirteen inch wild specimens, and I was thrilled with the turn of events.

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Pretty Chunky Fellow

Eventually I reached the point where the north channel split off from the main river. My ability to move back down to the crossing point required some very cautious wading among large round boulders and deep pockets next to the brushy bank, but I endured. I crossed the two intervening channels, and then I hiked back down along the highway until I was next to some large attractive shelf pools below where the river was reunified as one channel. I managed to add a small brown to my fish count to reach nine, but as the sky clouded up again, some very spaced out splashy rises began to appear.

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Bank Pockets

I was near the end of the day, and my success level dropped considerably, so I felt I had little to lose. I converted to a single size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and I began prospecting it tight to the rocks along the bank. Wham! I saw something suck down the caddis in a swirl, and I set the hook instantly. Unfortunately the stabbed trout streaked to the heavy nearby main current and snapped off my caddis in an instant. I was quite disappointed to miss my opportunity to reach double digits, but I persisted and knotted a new size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis to my tippet.

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I Like the Arch

I continued scrambling my way over large boulders and added two more brown trout to my count. Of course this made me second guess whether I should have prospected the edge all day in search of opportunistic feeders that pounced on unaware dapping adult caddis. Fortunately I had another day on Tuesday, and perhaps I could employ this strategy and catch some fish earlier in the day.

In summary it turned out to be a decent day with eleven fish landed, and quite a few were in the 12-15 inch range. On the negative side, I fished for nearly four hours before I landed a fish, and I once again failed to locate the adrenaline producing main emergence of the Arkansas River caddis. I resolved to drive back to Royal Gorge Anglers in the AM to gain some insight on the best chance to meet the elusive leading edge hatch.

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Looking for More Privacy

Arkansas River – 04/15/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Salt Lick and Pinnacle Rock and then upstream from Pinnacle Rock to the braided area.

Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River 04/15/2016 Photo Album

Friday April 15 on the Arkansas River proved to be a good day, but it had the potential to be spectacular. The most notable accomplishment, however, was overcoming the various forms of adversity sent my way. As one would expect, fly fishing was a taxing venture on tax day.

The weather forecasts indicated that a major winter storm was bearing down on Colorado, and this caused Jane and I to postpone our plans to ski at Vail. An abundance of snow is one thing, but warm temperatures and rain at the base were more than we were willing to contend with. When I checked the weather in Canon City, I was pleased to discover that high temperatures were forecast to be 64 degrees with cloudy skies in the afternoon. 64 degrees was more comfortable than the low 50’s projected for Denver, and the highs in the higher elevations streams would be roughly ten degrees colder. Cloudy afternoon skies portended a blue winged olive hatch, so I was drawn to the lower Arkansas River as a destination where I could sneak in a day of fishing before the storm precluded further attempts.

Following an uneventful trip I arrived at a small pullout along route 50 at 10AM a mile above the Salt Lick access. I intended to continue my progress along the river from where I ended on Sunday, April 10. The temperature was 54 degrees, but it was moderately windy so I pulled on my fleece layer as well as my raincoat to serve as a windbreaker. I grabbed my five weight Sage One rod and walked back along the shoulder until I found a reasonably safe place to cautiously scramble down a boulder field to the river. This placed me just above a nice long deep slow moving shelf pool, so I stayed back from the river and moved to the tail of the attractive location. I began my day with a strike indicator, split shot, green caddis pupa, and salad spinner.

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Salad Spinner Produces

I was rather excited when the indicator paused at the top of the shelf pool, and I connected with a twelve inch brown trout that inhaled the salad spinner. The generic midge imitation created by my friend Danny Ryan continues to impress. After I set the wild brown free, I resumed my progress, but I was unable to land additional fish over the remainder of my first hour of fishing. I did experience one split second hook up and saw a fish flash as it looked at my flies, but no additional trout found my net.

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My Kind of Water

At 11:30 I climbed the steep bank and hiked back to the Santa Fe. I surveyed the river between where I was parked and Pinnacle Rock prior to parking upon my arrival at 10AM, and I was not pleased with the structure of the next segment, so I drove west until I reached a nice wide pullout .2 miles above Pinnacle Rock. I hoped to consume my lunch while overlooking the river, but the wind now accelerated to gale force status. I opened the front passenger door to retrieve my lunch, and my ball cap was instantly swept five feet from the car. I moved to the tailgate to remove my sun gloves, and one of them was uplifted and deposited ten feet away. Needless to say the wind became a significant factor, so I sat in the car and munched my sandwich and carrots while listening to the Rockies vs Cubs pregame show.

After lunch I swapped my wide brimmed hat for my billed cap with ear flaps, and I quickly snugged it tightly on my head. This hat was warmer and tighter fitting in light of the gusting wind. I slid down an angled path to the river and began lobbing the nymph rig to the likely deep pockets and runs along the left bank. The salad spinner was being shunned, so I exchanged it for a RS2, as the time of the day when baetis nymphs become active was approaching. I fished the nymphs in a dead drift presentation as well as with active movement. I covered some areas with moderate depth until I approached the stretch where the river narrowed, and this created smaller but deeper pockets and runs along the roadside of the river.

The wind continued to be ridiculously offensive, but I was able to power casts upstream due to the weight of the indicator and split shot, and finally I enjoyed some action. Between noon and 1PM I moved the fish count total to five with the average size of the fish greater than the landed fish in my previous visits to the Arkansas River. At one point my flies wedged beneath a large boulder, and the water was too fast and deep to rescue them, so I snapped both off along with the split shot. I replaced the shiny bright green caddis pupa with a bright green sparkle pupa tied Lafontaine style, and this fly produced two of the brown trout, while the RS2 accounted for the other two.

After this flurry of action I approached a pair of nice deep slow shelf pools, and I was certain that these locations would yield several fish each. I paused at the tail of the first one to observe, and some dark clouds moved above me, and this seemed to signal the wind to blast at greater velocity. For the first time I spied some tiny mayflies clinging to the surface of the water, and then a flurry of subtle rises caught my attention in the current seam at the tail of the pool. What was I to do? I made some casts hoping that the fish were aware of subsurface and surface food, but the RS2 did not attract interest. I resigned myself to convert to a dry fly approach, but I knew that this would take some time. Have you ever attempted to change your fishing setup while forty MPH winds shoot down the canyon? It was not easy.

Adding to my woes was a troublesome split shot. It was the type with no fins that can be squeezed to separate the opposite side. I struggled with the obstinate piece of lead for at least five minutes, but I could not open the slot to slide out my leader, so I did what any frustrated fisherman would do; I clipped off the line on both sides of the shot and reconnected it with a surgeon’s knot. Finally I was ready to configure my line with the BWO imitation, but for the sake of visibility, I first knotted a size 14 stimulator to my tippet and then tied on a size 22 CDC olive. Finally I was set to cast to the feeders in front of me.

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Rainbow Lair

Of course you can probably guess what happened. The wind became such a force, that it blew the tiny olives off the water before the fish had a chance to eat them. I watched for a few minutes, and no signs of surface feeding fish remained. Perhaps they were still there looking for surface food? I threw some casts at a forty-five degree angle, but this proved to be futile. In fact the very act of getting a drift over the target area became a massive challenge, and the flies were nearly impossible to follow due to the constant wind-created riffle and my inability to follow the path of my cast. I pursued this exercise in frustration for five or ten minutes until I realized that the weather conditions were not going to enable me to fish dry flies on Friday April 15.

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Fifteen Inch Rainbow Holds the Prize for 2016 So Far

I sat down on a rock and reverted to the bright green caddis pupa and RS2, and these were supplemented with a split shot (with tabs) and a strike indicator. I resumed my progression, and I landed a nice brown trout and a fifteen inch rainbow. Both fish consumed the RS2, and the rainbow trout was a huge surprise. I cast to the very top of the second shelf pool where a narrow deep slot passed a large submerged boulder. Just as the indicator passed five feet beyond the boulder, it dipped, and I reacted with a swift hook set. The victim of the penetrating hook point immediately went into escape mode, and this featured several streaking charges downstream. I managed to release and gain line while maintaining pressure and eventually guided the beautiful rainbow into my net. This fish proved to be the largest of the 2016 season, and I was ecstatic with my ability to land it.

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River Divides into Four Channels Ahead

I was now just below the point where three or four braids of the Arkansas River merge. This is perhaps my favorite segment of the lower Arkansas, since one can fish the small channels similar to a small stream, yet they are connected to the much larger main river. The small braids allow easier wading and better sight fishing similar to smaller streams in other parts of Colorado. I quickly moved up along the left bank until I found a place where I could cross the closest two channels, and this placed me near the bottom of the northern most channel of the river. This is my favorite as it carries the largest volume of the water of the four.

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Perhaps Best Brown Trout of 2016 So Far

Much to my surprise the wind subsided somewhat to occasional strong gusts, but the sky was slate gray, and the temperature probably dropped into the upper 40’s. I had the entire section of the river to myself, so I began casting the nymphs to the standard fish holding spots. For some reason I replaced the RS2 with a beadhead soft hackle emerger prior to embarking on this expedition up the side channel. None of the places that historically produced fish for me delivered on this day in April, until I approached a nice area about two-thirds of the way from the river to the place where two channels merge.

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A Caddis Pupa Fan

For some inexplicable reason, my flies suddenly caught fire. During the remainder of my day in this area I landed four additional fish, but it could have just as easily been eight. This is just a guess, but I suspect I experienced at least six long distance releases, and I blame this phenomena on the small size 22 soft hackle emerger. At the very top of the long run and riffle area there was a very narrow long slot. I estimate the structure described ran for forty feet, but it was no wider than eight feet. This one spot produced at least six hookups, as the fish grabbed the soft hackle emerger as it tumbled tight to the current seam on the far side of the narrow trough. Fortunately I managed to land a fourteen inch brown trout and another rainbow from this area before reeling up my line and calling it quits. My heart beat elevated during this time period as a result of the wind, the fast water and the rapid pace of hooking fish.

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A Second Gorgeous Rainbow Trout

In summary I landed eleven fish and the average size was definitely a notch above any of my previous fishing outings in 2016. Had I been able to convert more of my hook ups to the net, my fish count could have easily reached fifteen, and this would have elevated the day to outstanding. Of course all this was accomplished while overcoming wind that almost blew me off the water after lunch. The stubborn split shot only added to my woes, and the one minute of teasing rises put me through a twenty minute knot tying practice session. I continue to me amazed by the value of persistence in fly fishing. On this day tenacity was rewarded.