Colorado River – 08/04/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM

Location: Kemp-Breeze Unit below Parshall

Colorado River 08/04/2017 Photo Album

During 2007 through 2009 I experienced the halcyon days of the upper Colorado River near Parshall, CO. I visited the public access points in this area seven times during this time frame, and each provided hours of hot action. Pale morning duns, caddis and blue winged olives hatched regularly; and my fly box contained the flies that enabled me to record outstanding days with fish counts in the upper teens and low twenties. The quality of fish was also exemplary with many trout that measured in the fifteen to twenty inch range.

During 2010 I made one visit to the scene of some of my favorite fishing excursions, but I only managed to land seven fish, and the abundant hatches that encouraged surface feeding from the resident trout never materialized. In subsequent years I returned and experienced similar disappointing results.

As I considered my fishing options for Friday August 4, I recalled the wonderful hatches and excellent fishing during the halcyon period. I decided to retrieve my fishing logs from the archives, so I could do some analysis. Perhaps I stumbled into a late July/early August mayfly hatch that was not pale morning duns, and visits after 2010 took place outside this window of opportunity? Sure enough when I reviewed the 2007 through 2010 log reports, I discovered that all the visits took place between July 28 and August 5. Subsequent trips were either earlier or later than the historically productive time frame.

There was only one way to test my theory, and that was to make another trip in 2017 on August 4. I actually printed the fishing log entry for August 5, 2008 and read it a second time, since I planned to use it as a template for my attempt to reinstate the upper Colorado River as a favored summer fishing destination. I packed the car the night before and departed Denver by 7:05AM, and this placed me at the Breeze Unit parking lot by 9:15. Several cars preceded me, and as I was assembling my Sage One five weight, a guide and clients arrived and parked behind me. The upper Colorado is a mosquito haven, so I doused myself with insect repellent as soon as I stepped outside the car, but for some reason the population seemed diminished compared to prior experience.

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Wide Open

I tromped down the path and cut through some trees, so that I emerged next to the river above a duck blind and handicapped platform. A group of fishermen with guides were one hundred yards upstream, and another angler was positioned below the handicapped platform, while his wife or significant other monitored his movements from the wooden deck. The structure of the river was a bit different compared to my recollection, but a nice deep run began just above my position and then continued downstream to a point below the handicapped platform.

The flows were in the 380 CFS range, and the sky was bright blue and devoid of clouds. The temperature was in the low sixties when I began and probably peaked at around eighty degrees. I observed the water in front of me for a bit, and other than a few random caddis, I saw nothing that suggested that dry fly fishing would be successful. With this observation in mind I knotted a size 10 yellow Letort hopper to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear nymph and beadhead salvation nymph. The Letort hopper was a concession to the throwback nature of the outing.

I made numerous drifts along the deep run, but my efforts provided no evidence that trout were present. As is usually the case, the Letort hopper became saturated, and since it was not enticing fish, I swapped it for a yellow fat Albert for improved visibility and buoyancy. Not wishing to encroach on the gentleman below me, I decided to advance to the top of the deep run and then cross to the opposite side. During my fun years, I enjoyed some of my best action in the riffles and deep runs between the strong center current and the south bank, and I intended to explore the area in 2017.

Once I crossed to the midpoint, I angled downstream so I could begin in the shallow section where the river fans out above a small island across from the platform. My memory flashed images of large brown trout feeding on dry flies in the shallows in the success years, and I was unwilling to discount a repeat. I prospected the dry/dropper systematically beginning in the shallows and worked my way upstream to the point where the fast water entered the extended run and riffle section. I sprayed four or five casts across the targeted area, and then I carefully waded four steps and repeated the exercise. Halfway through this process the velocity of the center current accelerated, and each step became a challenge, but I persisted so that I could cover the sweet spot between where I stood and the bank.

The top one-third of this section looked absolutely exceptional. The depth was four to six feet and the current was moderate. Surely hungry fish selected this attractive area as their home. I began to see more caddis dapping on the surface in the top segment, so I removed the salvation nymph and replaced it with an emerald caddis pupa. Inexplicably after significant effort I covered the entire fifty yard quality area without so much as a refusal. At the very top a narrow deep slick extended for twenty-five feet below a large exposed rock, and this represented my last chance to extract a reward for my morning persistence. I flicked a backhand cast to the middle of the narrow slot, and after the fat Albert drifted a couple feet it paused, and I reacted with a lift and felt myself attached to a thrashing fish. Could this really be happening? After a brief fight, I guided a twelve inch brown trout with an emerald caddis pupa in its lip into my net, and I snapped a few photos in case this was my last fish of the day.

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After Two Futile Hours

It was now between 11:30 and noon, and I began to search for a lunch spot. Both banks were covered with tall grass, and that translated to mosquito disturbance, and I hoped to avoid that eventuality. I looked downstream and noted the small island and decided that the rocks at the point would be a solid lunch perch. It took me a few minutes to wade downstream, but I eventually arrived and enjoyed my snack.

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Downstream Look at Island and Platform

While I crunched my carrots I began to see several rises in the shallow section between the deep run next to the wooden deck and the island that served as my lunch counter. Initially I dismissed the fish as small fish, but then I resolved that any rising fish was better than none. After all I was in the prime hatch time period according to my printed August 5, 2008 log, so perhaps this was the beginning of something bigger.

I hurriedly finished my lunch and then reconfigured with a solitary size 16 light gray comparadun also know as the money fly. I was playing the 2008 rewind to the maximum. I dabbed some floatant on the body and flicked the mayfly imitation, so it drifted over the location of one of the rises, and in an instant a fish flashed to the surface and inhaled the fraud. I could not believe my eyes, as I set the hook and engaged in a tussle with a nice thirteen inch brown trout. So much for my small fish theory.

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A Riser Fooled

Over the next thirty minutes I landed another feisty thirteen inch brown along with a smaller version to improve my fish count to four. I envisioned a replay of 2008, but alas the rising ended, and the brief sparse hatch disappeared. I never saw an actual mayfly, but the sudden feeding action indicated that it must have taken place. By 12:30 I finally acknowledged that the hatch was over, and I considered my next move. Perhaps if I waded upstream to the riffles, I could spot more subtle rises and cast to them with my size 16 comparadun?

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Another Money Fly Chomper

I did exactly that, but zero fish revealed their position, and I managed no success, as I prospected the money fly over relatively shallow riffles. While the hatch evolved, two new gentlemen arrived, and they located on the north side of the long riffle with the deep center current. They were somewhat below the top one-third section that appealed to me in the morning, and I decided that I would like to check out the quality area again but with a dry fly approach. I walked along the edge of the river until I reached a place where some thick bushes stretched over the water, and this forced me to wade a bit deeper to avoid them. As soon as I stepped on the upstream side of the bushes, I was surprised to see two fishermen sitting on the bank eating their lunch. They were perfectly positioned to fish the area that I was targeting, so I executed a reversal and retraced my steps along the fringe of the river.

I found a place to cross to the bank where I began my day, and as I did so, the two fishermen below me decided to call it a day. We exchanged greetings, and then I advanced downstream to where it all began in the morning. I stopped and observed the long deep run hoping to witness some subtle rises, but none appeared. The 2008 report documented that the hatch ended at 1PM, and the remainder of the afternoon was relatively slow. The air temperature was quite warm, and the sky was clear blue, and I sensed that tough fishing would rule the afternoon. I decided to cut my losses and moved to a small cold mountain creek with less discerning more opportunistic fish.

My experiment was over, and I concluded that for some reason the heavy hatches of late July and early August were largely a historical event. It is true that I only sampled one day, and perhaps different weather would spur more action, but for the future I plan to avoid the upper Colorado in July and August, while I seek other destinations with a recent record of success.

Fish Landed: 4

Colorado River – 07/18/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Parshall Breeze Unit/Hot Sulfur Springs below Byers Canyon

Colorado River 07/18/2017 Photo Album

I was admittedly frustrated with the tiny fish that populated the Colorado River below Shadow Mountain, so I proposed a trip to the Colorado River near Parshall, CO below the confluence with the Williams Fork. I enjoyed some amazing trips to that area in the 2007 – 2009 time frame; however, recent experiences were very disappointing. Despite this reluctance, I absorbed the various fly shop reports, and they all voiced glowing reviews and cited pale morning dun, yellow sally, and caddis hatches. Our location at Shadow Mountain offered limited large rivers with the potential for larger fish, so we rolled the dice and made the drive on Tuesday.

The day can easily be summed up as very tough. The upper Colorado River valley was quite warm, and bright sun beat down on us amid a clear blue sky for nearly the entire time on the river. The flows were in the 450 – 500 cfs range, and that is actually nearly ideal, so water levels were never an issue.

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The Wide Colorado River at the Breeze Unit

John and arrived at the Breeze Unit parking lot at 10:00AM, and after he and I assembled our rods (in my case the Sage One five weight), we hiked toward the river. We turned right at the end of the high sagebrush plateau and then angled down a long bank until we reached the riparian zone. Here we were immediately attacked by mosquitoes, and this state of insect siege never relented during our entire stay at the Breeze Unit. We waded halfway across the river to the tip of an island, and then we proceeded to the downstream point until we spotted a pair of fishermen. This forced us to change our plan, and we elected to fish the north braid.

The north channel offered quite a few nice deep runs behind large submerged boulders, but the fish paid no attention to my tan pool toy, iron sally nymph, and salvation nymph. After striking out on the north side of the island, John and I moved to the tip. Here I observed the current, as it ran along the south bank, and I was surprised to spot two rises likely from the same fish. I removed the three flies and began to cast in the vicinity of the rises with a yellow stimulator. The fish was not impressed. Perhaps some early stage pale morning duns were on the water. I switched to a size 16 light gray pale morning dun, and the situation remained the same.

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John Prospects Some Water Next to the Bank

I gave up on the sporadic riser and surveyed the area for a place to eat my lunch. All the banks were covered in tall grass, and this translated to mosquito hell, so I sat down on the gravel bar at the tip of the island.

After lunch John and I hiked for .4 mile to a gorgeous long pool with a strong deep current down the middle. This particular spot was one of my favorites during the halcyon days of 2007 – 2009. I reverted to a size 12 yellow stimulator, and this generated a refusal. Normally a refusal frustrates me, but after the extended dry spell without so much as a look, it was encouraging to draw interest from a trout. I downsized to a size 14, and this led to a small foul hooked brown trout. I seemed to be on the right track.

At this point the sky clouded up briefly, and during this respite from the sun I spotted several yellow sallies in the air. Finally a twelve inch brown trout crushed the stimulator three feet above the location of a splashy rise, and I landed my first fish on the day. This encouraged me to stay with the size 14 stimulator, and after a period of bright sunshine, a cloud once again blocked the sun. I executed a long downstream drift along the center current, and an eleven inch brown trout slurped the stimulator. During this period of temporary cloudiness I also witnessed three or four refusals and looks.

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A Hard Earned Brown Trout

After another lull in action I experimented with a yellow Letort hopper size 10, and I was surprised by a temporary hookup. Eventually I once again returned to the stimulator, but the sun came out bright, and this quashed any additional action. John and I surrendered to the heat and sun and mosquitoes and returned to the car before malaria and West Nile set in.

We debated paying a visit to Willow Creek, a small tributary to the north, but we settled on the Colorado River just below the US 40 bridge at the western end of Byers Canyon. John fished there previously, and he was eager to showcase the nice water. We hiked downstream, and I fished some attractive water with the size 14 stimulator with no success. In a last ditch effort I experimented with a slumpbuster trailing the iron sally, and this trial led to no success.

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A Parachute Ant Proved Fruitless

Just before quitting we noticed some rises in a smooth pool by the car, so I knotted a parachute ant to my line, but it was another failed effort. We were hot and tired and itchy from bites, so we retreated to John’s truck and made the drive back to Shadow Mountain for happy hour. We invested a lot of blood (to mosquitoes) and sweat for minimal return on the Colorado River on July 18.

Fish Landed: 2

Colorado River – 07/17/2017

Time: 2:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Below Shadow Mountain Dam

Colorado River 07/17/2017 Photo Album

Our friends, John and Brenda Price, invited us to join them on a three day camping retreat at Green Ridge Campground next to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. After experiencing a nearly full campground at Angel of Shavano Campground near Monarch Pass, we felt it was prudent to make reservations for Monday through Wednesday July 17 – 19. John and Brenda selected campsite 67, so we opted for number 66, as that was located next door. We planned to share meals, and the close proximity made this site convenient.

Jane and I arrived at the campground on Monday at 12:30, and John and Brenda greeted us after ten minutes, while we set up our tent and canopy. The Prices own a Casita travel trailer, so tent and canopy assembly were not part of their routine. Jane and I quickly made sandwiches and ate our lunch, and John suggested that we rig our rods and explore the Colorado River that ran just beyond a field of sagebrush fifty yards behind our campsite. I assembled my Sage four weight, and a short amount of time elapsed before we were positioned next to the river just below the spillway of Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

The river at this point was quite low. I am not aware of a gauge that meters the flow, but I guessed it was in the 40 – 50 cfs range. Before making the trip, I reviewed the DOW stocking reports and searched on the Colorado River, but no recent stocking data surfaced. I fished the short stretch of the Colorado River between Shadow Mountain and Lake Granby over ten years ago, and I experienced decent success, but the segment of the river benefited from frequent stockings. With the apparent discontinuation of stocking, I was skeptical that  the segment of water before us would be a productive fishery.

I began my afternoon efforts with a size 12 yellow stimulator, and the first marginal run yielded numerous refusals and a five inch brown trout. Perhaps I arrived at my judgment of the Shadow Mountain section of the Colorado too hastily. I crossed the river at a shallow riffle and moved downstream to the next attractive area where, a swift run churned through the middle of the channel and then spread out into a deep slow moving pool.

Fish were rising quite frequently, and I began with some across and down drifts, and in a short amount of time I registered a host of refusals and several tiny rainbow trout. Tiny in this case is defined as small trout in the 2 – 4 inch range. These fish could barely get the size 12 hook in their mouths, and in fact quite a few flipped off the fly shortly after the hook set. A couple flew through the air like a yo-yo on a string despite a relatively gentle lift of the rod tip.

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Best Fish from Colorado River Below Shadow Mountain on Monday

As this action transpired I noted some rises in the gut of the pool; a place where the current spread out over the deepest section. I began to focus on the area of this activity, and I fluttered some casts in the current and allowed my fly to drift downstream to the area of the feeding fish. I was shocked when a bulge engulfed my stimulator, but I reacted with a swift hook set and instantly felt the weight of a more substantial fish. The hooked underwater combatant immediately went into a frenzied streak and repeated this escape effort several times, before I lifted it into my net. There before me was a lightly speckled cutbow that measured in the thirteen inch range. I was quite pleased with this fortuitous turn of events. I snapped a photo and released the creamy silver sided specimen and resumed casting.

Once again I cast across and allowed the current to float the stimulator downstream toward the deep section, but in this case the drift was farther out. Again a slurp materialized, and this time I netted a fine eleven inch cutbow. This fish also displayed a strong pound for pound fight, before I subdued it. At this point I was feeling rather optimistic about the remainder of the afternoon, but alas this positive view of my future was misplaced.

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John on Target

John and I continued downstream and eventually passed twenty yards below a pedestrian footbridge, and I simply exercised my arm and endured a huge number of refusals, temporary hook ups, and landed five or six trout that measured beneath my six inch minimum for counting. I tested a pheasant tail nymph dropper below the stimulator to no avail. For a period of time I knotted a tan pool toy to my line and combined it with a beadhead hares ear, and ultra zug bug. No dice. I noticed a few tiny blue winged olives at one point and swapped the ultra zug bug for a RS2. This change was also in vain.

Toward the end of my time on the river I tested a size 16 gray caddis, and this yielded looks, refusals, temporary connections, and a few tiny fish; but nothing that could be counted. It was cloudy for much of the afternoon, although thirty minutes of sunshine appeared around 3PM, and rises ended during this time. When the clouds reappeared, I observed a few tiny BWO’s, some caddis, and two PMD spinners; but these sparse populations of insects provided no relief from the frustration of interacting with very small trout.

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Osprey Nest Along Colorado River Below Shadow Mountain

The Colorado River below Shadow Mountain was very convenient, and I managed two reasonable sized cutbows, but the afternoon was rather disappointing. The highlight was standing under a dead pine tree with a huge osprey nest perched on the tip. During our stay we enjoyed watching the comings and goings of the nearby osprey family.

Fish Landed: 2

Colorado River – 08/31/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Harbison Meadows Picnic area path upstream for .75 mile

Colorado River 08/31/2016 Photo Album

After two fun nights of camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had Wednesday available for a day of fishing. I examined A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park in conjunction with the map in the glossy brochure provided by the park and decided to explore the lower Colorado River from the southwest boundary upstream. The map indicated that a path began at the Harbison Meadows Picnic Area, and it intersected with the Colorado River after a one mile hike.

After packing up our camping gear, Jane and I departed from the campground by 10AM and drove south, until we reached the aforementioned picnic area just north of the west side entrance gate. The temperature was 55 degrees as I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and pulled on my waders. Jane accompanied me on the one mile jaunt through the woods, until we connected with the Colorado River Trail. Here we turned right, and then after a short distance I spotted the river on my left. I said my goodbyes to Jane, and she reversed her direction, as she planned to hike the stock trail to the Kewuneeche Visitor Center.

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Lots of Slow Placid Pools

I angled away from the trail and crossed a marshy area until I reached the river. I was disappointed to discover private cabins and summer residences on the western side of the river. I labored to hike away from the road only to discover that the stream in the southwest corner was accessible via a road. To begin my day of fishing I tied an amber bodied size 14 stimulator to my line and began to cast. The first section of the river consisted of a slow deep pool, so I lobbed a cast to the middle and just behind an exposed stump. I was astonished when a nine inch brown trout darted to the surface and inhaled the stimulator. Was it going to be this easy?

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First Fish Was This Brown Trout

A second cast landed five feet below the first, and another brown trout smacked the stimulator, but this aggressive feeder was only seven inches long. Above the mid-pool obstruction I ran some casts tight to the opposite bank, and another small brown snatched the stimmy just as it was about to drag. Three fish in fifteen minutes in the first pool had me feeling quite optimistic.

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Looks Promising

Once I departed the large pool, however, the day grew more challenging. The river in this area was quite different from what I am accustomed to. Long smooth deep pools represented the salient water type, and they were typically connected by shallow runs. I really did not have a strategy for attacking the pools, so I began to systematically make long casts to within one to two feet of the bank. This worked somewhat, although I also experienced a significant quantity of refusals from tiny brown trout. From 11 until 2:30 I moved the fish count from three to eight, but five fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is really only an average catch rate. I covered a huge amount of water and made countless long unproductive casts. In fact Wednesday August 31 probably strained my back and arm muscles more than any previous outing in 2016. The water was low and clear, and the absence of significant impediments to a backcast allowed me to approach from a distance.

During the 11 to 2:30 period I landed one small brook trout, and for half of this time I added a size 20 black parachute ant as a second dry. The ant strategy accounted for two of the five fish, and in a nice segment with deep slow moving water along a high bank, the ant produced a long distance release. I continued to fish the ant as a trailing dry for another half hour until I decided to change my lineup. The stimulator was attracting all the attention and nearly 100% of the looks resulted in refusals, so I committed to downsizing. I tied on a size 16 gray caddis, and when I began to connect the ant, I realized that the hook point was broken off! This clearly explained the lost fish in the attractive bank section mentioned earlier.

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A Caddis Lover

From 2:30 until 4 when I quit I incremented the fish tally to thirteen. The size sixteen caddis was clearly the most productive fly of the day. One of the caddis eaters was an eight inch rainbow, but all the others were brown trout. The caddis seemed to be at its best in moderate riffles and places where the current ran along the bank or next to substantial mid-stream structure.

At 4 o’clock I hooked my fly in the rod guide and reeled up the line. Fortunately I found a nice trail along the river, and forty-five minutes later I was back at Harbison Meadows. Jane grew concerned about my absence, and she sauntered back and met me .2 miles from the trailhead.

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The Peak in the Distance Caught My Eye

Wednesday was a tough day from a fishing perspective. The quality of the fishing did not match the physical effort expended to hike one mile from the trailhead. I had the river to myself, but the well worn path and tamped vegetation told me that this segment of the Colorado River received more than moderate pressure. I expected to catch small brook trout, and instead my net was dominated by tiny brown trout. I probably landed and released fifteen tiny browns that failed to exceed my minimum size limit. Nevertheless I was in a beautiful location and essentially had the river to myself. I managed to find a fly that was reasonably effective and registered a thirteen fish day. A day of fishing in Colorado is always a positive.

Fish Landed: 13

Colorado River – 10/15/2015

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Upstream from the Pumphouse access area

Fish Landed: 2

Colorado River 10/15/2015 Photo Album

I fished the Colorado River at the Pumphouse access area twice in October a year ago. In both cases, I fished for only two or three hours, and this is roughly half the time I normally devote to a river or stream that is not within an hour of Denver. On my second trip Jane and I hiked the Gore Canyon Trail, and this provided a great overview of the vast amount of water available at this public area along the middle reaches of the Colorado River. I was itching to make another trip with the intent of hiking farther east along the trail to sample water that I never had time to explore in 2014.

I selected Thursday October 15 to be that day. The weather forecast projected clear dry weather in the Pumphouse area with a high temperature in the low 70’s. Balmy summer-like temperatures continued into the middle of October, and I did not intend to waste my good fortune. Jane agreed to accompany me, so we loaded the car and departed by 8AM. This enabled us to arrive at the Pumphouse parking area by 10:45, and I prepared to fish by rigging my Sage One five weight. The air temperature was in the low fifties, so I pulled on my fleece sweater and wore it for my entire time on the water, although I must admit that I was quite warm during the middle of the afternoon. Some thin clouds provided cover for the first couple hours, and this combined with intermittent wind made me appreciate the extra layer.

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The Merger of Two Channels Below an Island Is Just Beyond the Fisherman

Jane and I entered the Gore Canyon Trail and hiked for .5 mile until we reached a spot where the river merged after splitting around a long island. Jane spread out her blanket here and designated the area as her base camp. She told me to move ahead, and she planned to hike out the fisherman path along the river and meet me after she got established. Unfortunately I hiked farther than we expected, and we never rendezvoused until I returned to the parking lot at the end of the day.

I was not sure where I would fish, but I started on the trail and hiked until I passed the island. The next section of the river was a wide deep pool, and I was intimidated by such a large featureless body of water, so I continued until I arrived at the first fast segment. Here I configured my tapered leader with a Thingamabobber, split shot, iron sally nymph, and salvation nymph. These flies did not deliver results despite some very attractive deep runs and pockets, so I switched out the salvation for an ultra zug bug. Finally after thirty minutes of fishing, an eleven inch brown snagged the ultra zug bug as I began to lift in a narrow slot along the bank.

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Best Catch of the Day

I continued to fish in this manner from 11:30 until 3:00, and the only reward for my efforts was a small brown trout. I changed the ultra zug bug for a beadhead soft hackle emerger after an hour, as I hoped that blue winged olives might be in the drift despite the clear sunny day. I also removed the iron sally and replaced it with a pine squirrel leech part way through my time on the river. I covered a half mile of the river including some gorgeous deep runs, pools and pockets, but I was frustrated in my efforts to catch fish.

By 2:45 I reached a place where a very large rock formed a barrier to my progress. Rather than attempt to scale the steep obstacle to proceed, I decided to turn around. I used this as an opportunity to swap reels, and I switched to my sinking tip line and then knotted a sparkle minnow to the end. For the next forty-five minutes I threw the streamer in all the likely places and aggressively manipulated the minnow imitation in all directions and at various retrieval speeds. The flashy fly looked great as it darted and twitched, but I could not even generate a follow.

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A Big River

Eventually I worked my way to the large pool above the island, and at this point I found the path and returned to the confluence area. Jane had already returned to the car, but I paused to strip the sparkle minnow through the delicious pool and eddy just below the confluence of the two channels. I saw and felt nothing, so I began to question whether the sparkle minnow was the correct choice for autumn brown trout. I removed the flashy fly and replaced it with a peanut envy. I tied a batch of these over the winter, but I have yet to connect on a fish with my recent handiwork. The articulated olive streamer looked great in the water, as it exhibited pulsing movement, but the fish did not seem to agree. By 3:10 I gave up on the deep eddy and headed back to the parking lot. I stopped at a couple attractive spots along the path and made five or six casts, but again my efforts to catch a Colorado River trout on a streamer were thwarted.

The scenery was gorgeous, and the weather was more like summer, but the fishing proved to be quite challenging on the Pumphouse section of the Colorado River on October 15. If I return to this location, I will try to time my visit to a different month when more insect activity might spur the trout to become visible feeders. Prospecting such a huge body of water is a daunting proposition, and I learned that it can be unproductive as well.

Colorado River – 10/11/2014

Time: 2:15PM – 4:15PM

Location: Pumphouse access

Fish Landed: 1

Colorado River 10/11/2014 Photo Album

After visiting the Pumphouse access area of the Colorado River with my friend Steve on Tuesday October 7, I was very curious about the water upstream from the boat launches. Steve and I fished up the river perhaps .3 mile, but we stopped at some gorgeous water below a large island, and the Gore Canyon Trail continued. I really wanted to explore the river in the canyon as far as one could reasonably access it.

The weather on the weekend was forecast to continue its glorious trend, and Jane was interested in undertaking a hike somewhere in the mountains, so I suggested the Gore Canyon Trail. It was a two hour drive to Pumphouse, but I convinced her it was a very scenic area that she had never visited. I also searched Gore Canyon Trail on Google and discovered that the length was 1.5 miles one way, but one could continue another mile if not averse to scrambling over boulders.

Looking Back at the Tip of a Large Island

Looking Back at the Tip of a Large Island

Saturday did indeed develop into a very nice day weather wise with high temperatures in the upper sixties before some clouds rolled in during the late afternoon resulting in some brief showers and a cool wind. Jane and I began hiking the Gore Canyon Trail at approximately 11AM, and we covered the entire trail by noon. After the island above the attractive water featuring various merging currents, one trail split off and followed the river while the official Gore Canyon Trail ascended the steep slope of the canyon and then traversed high above the water. After approximately a mile, the trail gradually descended and ended in a boulder field right next to the river.

Jane and I found some large rocks in the sun and ate our lunches, but we were not alone, as two groups of fishermen arrived shortly after we began to eat. Apparently the additional mile into the canyon meant scrambling over the large rocks next to the river, and I assume that eventually a fisherman or hiker would encounter a place where the steep canyon walls prevented additional progress toward the east. The end of the trail was not marked at all, and Jane and I speculated that we missed a turn that would have kept us high above the river. On our return hike we searched carefully for such a turn off but never found one, thus we concluded that we hiked to the end of the trail.

Fishermen at the End of the Trail

Fishermen at the End of the Trail

As we hiked out and back on the trail, we counted at least twenty other fishermen between Pumphouse and the end point, but the Colorado River is such a large body of moving water that plenty of space remained. Naturally before we left Denver I asked Jane’s permission for two hours of fishing time, so when we returned to the parking lot I prepared to fish. I elected my Scott six weight rod, as it is perfect for the large deep flows of the Colorado River. I made sure to stuff my spool of sinking tip line in my fishing backpack, and then Jane and I once again hiked east on the trail.

I was hoping to start at the water below the large island, but when we arrived another fisherman was already enjoying the juicy deep runs and eddies. Jane set up her folding chair on the gravel beach, and I crossed the south braid next to the island and began fishing the north channel where it bordered the northern edge of the island. My first flies were a gray pool toy, beadhead hares ear, and an ultra zug bug. This threesome is developing into my standard starting combination of flies. The first nice pool behind some large boulders was quite attractive so I spent fifteen minutes there, but had no success.

A Very Dangerous Rapid

A Very Dangerous Rapid

After abandoning the starting pool, I continued around a bend and fished along the north side of the island. I had the water to myself, but I moved rather quickly as the runs and pockets in this stretch were quite marginal. The river on the north side was essentially a wide fast riffle, so I crossed the island and forded the south braid and returned to Jane. The fisherman occupying my favored destination remained, so I continued downstream below him. The river made a large bend below the island and then as the main current angled back toward the middle of the river, it formed a nice twenty-five foot wide pool that continued for a length of around seventy feet.

I fished this pool thoroughly with my three flies, but again I saw no sign of fish. Once again I reeled up the flies and climbed the bank until I found the Gore Canyon Trail, and then I walked farther downstream to the area where I caught two fish and observed numerous rises on Tuesday. I carefully observed the water in this area for rising fish, but seeing none, I once again prospected likely places with the three fly combination. After ten minutes of fruitless casting, the sky clouded up and the wind picked up, and I noticed a few sporadic rings on the surface.

I moved up a bit until I could execute a backhand roll cast, and on the third drift the hopper paused, and I hooked a small brown. The bend in my rod was short lived as the fish quickly broke free, and I was disappointed to miss my opportunity to prevent a skunking. Now the sky grew darker and the frequency of rising trout increased, so I moved up the river a bit to gain a better position closer to the visible fish. Once I was settled in my new position I swapped the ultra zug bug for a soft hackle emerger with the hope that the fish were seeing a lot of subsurface BWO nymphs and emergers.

The two fish that were rising in the smooth water above where I had the first hook up showed no interest in my offerings, and then I hooked a branch on a backhand cast, and this forced me to disturb the water to rescue my flies. Once again I gazed upstream and spotted a few rises in a faster current below a protruding rock that was positioned farther out and away from the bank. I decided to study the water for a bit in hopes of confirming that blue winged olives were the insects that enticed the trout to the surface. Initially I could not find any evidence of a hatch, but then I glanced at a smooth spot next to the eddy downstream and a bit to the side of the rock. Finally I saw a flotilla of tiny mayflies with upright wings silhouetted against the sun glare on the smooth water.

This discovery caused me to consider converting to a CDC olive, but between the swirly water and the sun glare, I knew I would never be able to see my fly, so I cast the trio of flies to the run and along the seam between the fast and slack water. The combination of adverse lighting factors was so difficult that I could not even see the pool toy and its bright neon pink indicator tuft. My answer to this frustrating circumstance was to remove the pool toy and replace it with a chubby Chernobyl, and the bulky white poly wing of this fly did in fact improve my ability to follow.

Unfortunately shuffling the top fly was all for naught, as the fish ignored the emerger and the hares ear, and after ten minutes the rising fish ceased their feeding. The sky brightened at this point and the quantity of tiny mayflies in the glare spot dwindled. Once again I looked upstream to an extended stretch of smooth water and again I observed a couple rises. Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expect different results, so I must be insane because I repeated the whole process once again. I waded to a new position below the pair of rises, and I lobbed the three flies above the location of the fish. Again the fish ignored my flies and stopped rising.

By now the hatch ended, but the sky remained gray and the air temperature began to plummet. I was frustrated with my futile attempts to match the hatch with an emerger, and I planned to experiment with streamer fishing, so I decided now was the time. I sat on a rock and removed my spool of floating line and replaced it with a sinking tip line. I rummaged through my fleece patch and ripped out a large ugly sulpzilla with a silver conehead and knotted this to the end of my short stout leader. I began chucking the heavy weighted fly toward a current seam fifteen feet across from my position, and then I stripped, jigged and swerved it back to my feet.

The Only Fish of the Day

The Only Fish of the Day

I repeated these steps as I worked my way up toward a protruding rock and varied my retrieve motions and speed. Just when I was ready to denounce streamer fishing as a waste of time, and as I was midway between where I began and the exposed rock, my rod began to throb. I quickly set the hook and felt the weight of a fish! My first thought was that I foul hooked a fish with my huge streamer. I used the flex of my Scott six weight to apply side pressure and guided a twelve inch brown trout into my net. When I got a closer look, I rejoiced to see that the articulated streamer hook was clearly in the mouth of my little meat eater.

Meat Eater

Meat Eater

I took a few photos to prove to myself that I actually caught a fish on a streamer and avoided a Saturday skunking, and then I resumed fishing with renewed enthusiasm. Of course, streamer success comes in small doses, and on my second cast I snagged a solid immovable object. I waded upstream in an effort to pull in a different direction to save my sculpzilla, but despite the heavy leader I left the ugly olive streamer on the river bottom. It was now approaching 4PM, and Jane had passed by me on her return to the parking lot thirty minutes prior. My allotted fishing time was near an end, and it was quite chilly, so I reeled in my line and called it quits. I really wanted to see if I could repeat the streamer success, but other factors trumped this desire.

Colorado River – 10/07/2014

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Pumphouse recreation area and upstream

Fish Landed: 4

Colorado River 10/07/2014 Photo Album

Discovering new water is always fun, and it was such a proposal that my friend Steve sent me in the form of an email a week prior to Tuesday October 7. Steve and his wife Judy own a condo in Steamboat Springs, and Steve inquired if I would be interested in accompanying him on a three day fishing trip. He proposed using his place in Steamboat as a home base, and we would fish surrounding rivers and streams. It did not take long for me to accept this enticing invitation. I responded positively, but then began experiencing the signs of a head cold on Thursday as mentioned in my last blog post. I was undeterred, however, and by Tuesday the cold was on the downside, and on a positive note, the weather continued to be unseasonably warm and dry.

Steve arrived at my house at 8:30 on Tuesday morning, and we were on our way to the Colorado River at the Pumphouse access. I never fished this middle section of the Colorado River, but I read quite a few glowing reports on the quality of the fishing. Steve researched the location and the directions ahead of time, so I was in good hands as we drove west on interstate 70 to Silverthorne where we exited and continued north on route 9. After passing Green Mountain Reservoir we continued another six miles until we turned on to a packed dirt road with a sign indicating 10.5 miles to Pumphouse. The dirt road stretch was simply gorgeous as we traveled through a wide valley with sagebrush that blended into aspen trees and then evergreens on the surrounding hills.

After seven miles we made a large curve to the right and descended to the rim of Gore Canyon. Another three miles, and we found ourselves turning right to the BLM Pumphouse access area which contained three boat launches, parking lots and a campground. We quickly climbed into our waders and assembled our rods, and began our quest for fish. There were two groups of three or four fishermen, and they appeared to have guides, and the groups were fishing right next to the boat ramps. Steve and I knew nothing about the hierarchy of prime locations since we were new to Pumphouse, so we began fishing in a nice pool between the two boat ramps.

I chose my Scott six weight for the Grand River and began by rigging it with a strike indicator, weighted 20 incher, and beadhead hares ear and entered the water just above Launch #3. Steve waded into the edge of the river twenty yards above me and also began with two nymphs including a beadhead pheasant tail and a RS2. As we began prospecting the deep slowly flowing water, we noticed some sporadic rises in the middle of the river beyond casting range. After 15 to 20 minutes, Steve shouted that he had one and quickly landed the first fish of the day, a feisty brown trout. As he released his catch, he informed me that the pheasant tail was favored by the hungry trout, so I stripped in my line and replaced the hares ear with a salvation nymph.

Steve Drifts Nymphs at Pumphouse

Steve Drifts Nymphs at Pumphouse

The air temperature was fifty degrees when we began, but with the bright sunshine overhead, the temperature quickly escalated to the upper 60’s. The only blemish on the spectacular October weather was occasional windy periods during the afternoon. I wore my raincoat as a windbreaker for the entire day, and I never felt uncomfortably warm. After converting to the salvation nymph I hooked a fish at the end of my drift as I began to lift to make another cast, but the curious fish quickly performed an escape maneuver and thwarted my efforts to land it. Steve meanwhile landed a second brown trout in the first hour at which time we both felt hungry and returned to the car where we consumed our lunches.

After lunch we hiked up Gore Canyon a short distance to get above a group of fishermen who were stationed around an island just above the boat ramp that was across from the camping area. During the 1-2PM time period a fairly dense hatch of very small size 22 blue winged olives erupted. During the first half of the hatch no fish were rising, so I moved the salvation nymph to the upper fly and then added a soft hackle emerger as the bottom offering. I found a flat pointy rock that jutted into the river three or four feet and used it as a casting platform for up and across drifts of the nymphs. After quite a few passes through the deep pool, a fish bumped my fly and I set the hook. A strong battle ensued, but I finally netted a gorgeous sixteen inch brown trout with dark spots and a deep olive coloration, and the soft hackle emerger was tucked in the corner of its mouth. A photograph was in order, and then I set the muscular fighter free to fight another day.

Fine Brown Settled Down

Fine Brown Settled Down

Next I continued fishing upstream in the deep pool, but my flies got wedged between some rocks, and the water was too deep to wade so I broke off the soft hackle emerger. Although the soft hackle had delivered a fine first fish, it required numerous casts in a time when a heavy hatch was evident in the air and on the water. I selected a RS2 and used it as my new point fly. I moved up along the bank a bit farther to a spot where the river gained a bit of velocity as it flowed over a submerged boulder, and in the V behind the rock I hooked and landed a thirteen inch brown on the RS2. I was encouraged by this sudden success on the previously unexplored water of the Colorado River at Pumphouse.

After releasing fish number two, I gazed upstream and spotted some fish rising in a steady rhythm in the next pool. I had recent success with the nymphs, and I was reluctant to remove the split shots, indicator and two flies but after observing for a few minutes, I could not resist the allure of fishing dry flies to steady risers. As quickly as possible I removed all the nymphing paraphernalia, and tied on the smallest CDC BWO that I could find in my foam patch. Of course by the time I was finally ready to cast, the fish stopped rising. Despite this setback I managed five or six futile backhand casts and actually generated a refusal from a brown trout in the vicinity.

Once again I gazed upstream to another nice deep run off to the side of a strong deep current, and again I noticed a flurry of rises from three or four fish along the current seam. The lighting at this spot was very poor with shadows extending over the water from tall trees on the bank and sun glare interspersed with the shadows. In addition I had virtually no room for a back cast. By the time I got in position to make a cast and dried the wet CDC wing, the fish once again ceased rising. Once again I did generate a refusal and actually nicked the fish on the hook set, but the dry fly fishing was proving to be quite a challenge.

I was having great difficulty seeing the tiny olive in the glare and shadows and riffles, and the fish ended their surface feast. A nice stretch of riffles over moderate depth was just ahead, so I decided to return to a dry/dropper approach before opting for nymphing. I tied on a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and soft hackle emerger and waded upstream to the tail of a huge long pool. Once again the tease began, and I saw a few regularly rising fish. I was committed to the dry/dropper now, so I executed a backhand roll cast of the three flies above the closest rise, and on the third drift the Chernobyl paused, and I set the hook and landed a twelve inch brown on the hares ear.

Shortly after releasing this fish, I roll cast farther upstream and more toward the left, and this resulted in a second twelve inch brown once again on the hares ear. Perhaps I had solved the puzzle. One more fish continued to rise farther above the spot of the last catch, but I tangled my line around the rod and by the time I resumed, the rising ended. I now found myself prospecting in big water with no rises or signs of fish to give their position away, and this proved fruitless.

Steve walked back downstream to meet me, and we decided to quit at 3:15PM, but before doing so, we both agreed to hike up the trail to check out a place where the river appeared to merge after splitting around a large island. We were scouting for future reference. When we arrived at the merge point, there was a large foam pool bordered by multiple eddies, and it was one of the fishiest places I had ever seen. I could not resist the urge to make some casts, and Steve encouraged me to give it a try. I began casting to the top of a riffle where the current from the small south channel ran into the larger main river. After five or six casts I allowed the Chernobyl to drift deep into the nook of the merging currents right next to the foam, and I thought the Chernobyl disappeared. I raised the rod tip to bring the foam fly into view, and suddenly I felt weight. I accelerated the lift into a hook set, but after the momentary weight, the fish was gone. Judging from the type of water I was in, this may have been the best fish of the day, but I’ll never know.

Colorado River at West End of Gore Canyon

Colorado River at West End of Gore Canyon

With that disappointment we hiked back on the Gore Canyon Trail to the parking lot and returned our gear to the back of Steve’s car. Next we were on our way to Steamboat Springs, but we both saw enough of the Colorado River at Pumphouse to commit to a future trip.

 

 

 

Colorado River – 06/30/2014

Time: 9:00AM – 7:00PM

Location: Lone Buck access at Hot Sulfur Springs State Wildlife Area

Fish Landed: 7

Colorado River 06/30/2014 Photo Album

David Luther called early during the week of June 23 to remind me that he and his family would be in Winter Park from June 28 – July 2, and he invited Jane and I to join them for a few days. He was particularly interested in collaborating on some fishing. Fortunately Jane and I planned to return from our camping trip to the Frying Pan River on Saturday, so a trip to Winter Park fit in our plans. I called David back and asked if we could drive to their condo on Sunday and do some activities and then make Monday a fishing day. David approved of the plan and sent us directions to the condo.

On Sunday morning Jane and I packed our suitcases, bicycles, and fishing gear; and we departed for the Indian Peaks Resort. The Luther’s vacation condo was actually near Fraser, CO, but the town of Winter Park was only four miles away. It was a gorgeous day in the mountains and actually on the cool side. Since it was not a fishing day for David, his wife Becky was in charge of choosing an activity. Jane and I suggested a bike ride from Fraser to Winter Park and back, and Becky quickly embraced this idea. We jumped in our cars and drove to a bicycle rental shop on the southern edge of Fraser, and the Luthers rented cruisers and helmets.

We were right next to the trail, so once their seats were adjusted, we began our leisurely ride to Winter Park. It turned out to be a fun afternoon as we stopped at a restaurant in Winter Park for lunch and then continued on to Winter Park ski area where we rode the Zephyr lift to the top of the mountain. Here we found a snow bank and posed for photos and watched some crazy mountain bikers cruise down upper Hughes at a high rate of speed. Apparently youth knows no fear.

For our return trip David and his daughter Sarah and I biked on the Fraser River Trail, and it twisted and turned around several lakes and along the Fraser River. David L. and I were both scouting the stream as a possibility for Monday’s fishing expedition. It was high but clear with numerous slack water areas that appeared to be fishable despite the runoff level. When we returned the bikes, we spoke to the gentleman manning the fly shop and asked for his suggestion on where to fish the next day. He was hesitant to suggest a spot, but he did mention the upper Colorado River at the downstream end of Byers Canyon as a solid choice. When we returned to the condo, David L. and I researched stream flows on the various options and also reviewed several fly shop reports. We concluded that the upper Colorado was probably our best bet from a stream flow perspective, so that became our destination.

We woke up fairly early on Monday, and Jane departed quickly so she could make a 9:30 tennis match. David L. and I ate a light breakfast and then prepared lunches for our day on the river. I drove the Santa Fe so Becky and Sarah could use the rental car, and we reached Hot Sulphur Springs and the bottom of Byers Canyon by 8:30. We stopped and looked into the canyon, but we decided to move on as the steep canyon walls would probably shade the water until noon, and we wanted more warmth and daylight. A short distance beyond the bridge over Byers Canyon we found a turn off to Lone Buck access, and we descended a steep rough dirt road to the river and then made a left turn and drove to a small turnaround.

David Luther Almost Ready to Fish on Monday Morning

David Luther Almost Ready to Fish on Monday Morning

I straddled a fire pit for my parking space in order to get off the turnaround, and then David L. and I prepared to fish. Almost instantly mosquitoes began to swarm around David L.’s head so we both doused ourselves in sunscreen and insect repellent. Once we were geared up, we hiked on the dirt road and then cut down to an irrigation canal that paralleled the river. A path along the canal provided us additional downstream access, but eventually after a 20 minute hike we encountered a fence and a no fishing sign, and this is where we began our fishing day.

The Colorado River Was High and Slightly Stained

The Colorado River Was High and Slightly Stained

David L. committed to streamers and added a weighted head to his line to improve the sink rate. In contrast, I elected to fish with a Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear nymph and began to move upstream along the bank seeking slack areas where fish could escape the high and slightly stained water. The flows were actually around 750 cfs, and for a large stream bed like the Colorado that is not extreme, but the water was moving at a fairly rapid pace in the middle of the channel. The Chernobyl and hares ear did not produce as I covered a fair amount of water and began to despair that there were no fish in this wide stretch of river. I read several articles that said the Colorado above the confluence of the Williams Fork was suffering due to withdrawals for the Front Range and the warming impact of the shallow Windy Gap Lake.

A Pale Morning Dun

A Pale Morning Dun

By eleven o’clock I began to notice a few mayflies emerging along the edge of the river and after ten minutes or so the intensity of the hatch increased. In fact between 11 and 12:30 I fished through an intense pale morning dun hatch. There were emergers and cripples and duns all over the surface, but the fish didn’t seem to be interested. Initially I tried adding a pheasant tail nymph as a dropper, but it had no impact. When greater numbers of duns appeared on the surface, I converted to a single light gray comparadun; the fly that has served me well on the Colorado River during PMD hatches later in the summer. I spotted two or three surface rises, but that was the extent of surface interest despite an intense hatch that lasted 1.5 hours. Toward the end of the hatch I spotted a cinnamon colored parachute dun in my front pack that I’d purchased for the PMD hatch on the Frying Pan River, so I clipped off the ineffective comparadun and replaced it with the purchased fly.

Never Emerged

Never Emerged

 

Much to my surprise as I drifted the fly to my right in some slightly faster water, a fish rose and sucked it in. I played the fish for a brief period and then my line went limp, and when I reeled it up, I discovered that the fly was gone as apparently I’d tied a poor knot.

When the pale morning dun hatch ended, I tied on a yellow Letort hopper as I hoped it might imitate a golden stonefly, as I spotted these large insects during visits in previous years. I also exchanged the hares ear nymph for an iron sally since one report suggested that yellow sallies were beginning to appear. Finally after an hour or two of fishing, a small brown snatched the iron sally, and I had my first fish of the day. Shortly after this bit of action, I added a salvation nymph as my third fly, and this produced a chunky eleven inch rainbow.

Unfortunately these two fish would be my only catches during three and a half hours of intense morning fishing. Finally David L. appeared with a big grin on his face, and we decided to walk back to the car for our lunches. David L. informed me that he had a great morning and landed at least six fish including quite a few in the fifteen inch range. He showed me his streamer, and it was an ugly olive concoction with a wide pearl chenille body.

After lunch I decided to jump on the streamer bandwagon, so I stashed my four weight Sage in the Santa Fe and got out my Loomis five weight. I swapped my floating line for a sinking tip line and extended the short 0X leader with some additional 2X. David L. looked at my streamer box and pointed to a sculpzilla that I purchased for my Argentina trip, so I tied the big olive weighted monstrosity to my short heavy leader. I was now prepared to go deep and ugly.

David L. negotiated a crossing of the wide river so he could reach a deep drop off near the opposite bank. His ability to cross was proof that the river had recently descended to manageable levels for fishing. I meanwhile circled back to the area I’d fished in the morning with my ineffective dry/dropper combination. I now concluded that I was not getting deep enough, and the water remained too high and cold for fish to be looking for food on the surface.

I began working the sculpzilla in a variety of techniques including tossing upstream and allowing to dead drift, throwing three quarters upstream and allowing it to swing, and stripping as the streamer reached the end of its drift. I even executed a dangle and simply allowed the streamer to hang and pulse downstream. It wasn’t long before I felt a tug shortly after I dropped the big ugly in some frothy water behind an exposed boulder, and I set the hook and battled a nice hard fighting fish. The fish charged downstream and circled back up toward the hooking point, and then streaked downstream a second time. Once I stopped the run, the fish made a sharp stop and turn and the fly line fell limp. How could a trout escape such a large hook? I can’t answer my own question, but the fish did in fact fight for and achieve its freedom.

I continued working the streamer with renewed focus and felt another tap on the swing, and then also experienced multiple taps on the dangle. I lost confidence in the sculpzilla so I switched to a large dragonfly nymph. This had a wide body like the Luther streamer, but did not contain any flash. The dragonfly nymph was a bust so I next tied on a big black woolly bugger with a beadhead and flashabou strands in the tail. Again I found myself simply exercising my arm. I was observing a fair number of caddis on the shrubs along the river, and each time I pushed aside a branch so I could move upstream, several would flit over the river.

Black Woolly Bugger Spent Some Time on the Line

Black Woolly Bugger Spent Some Time on the Line

Perhaps the Nicest Fish of the Day

Perhaps the Nicest Fish of the Day

 

I decided to tie some tippet to the bend of the woolly bugger and add a second fly; an emerald caddis pupa. I’m guessing this was an unconventional approach, but it was a combination of streamer fishing and wet fly swinging. Much to my surprise this method yielded two decent brown trout and in both cases I cast to the very top of a long run, and the fish nabbed the caddis pupa as it began to drag downstream with the current.

A Small Cascade

A Small Cascade

I stuck with the bugger and caddis combination for much of the remainder of the afternoon until I reached a three foot waterfall just below a small midstream island. It was now late afternoon and the sky clouded up a bit and I didn’t feel like continuing further so I retreated to the car. I’d moved through some very attractive water next to the bank so I decided to revert back to my dry/dropper approach for the remainder of the evening. I secured my Loomis five weight back in the case, and extracted the Sage that remained in the back of the Santa Fe. At least I would not need to take time to rebuild my rod and line.

Another Nice Colorado River Brown Trout

Another Nice Colorado River Brown Trout

For the next several hours I worked my way back upstream from the Santa Fe to beyond the waterfall with the Chernobyl ant and salvation nymph. I covered quite a bit of water, but I did have enough success to keep things interesting. Three nice browns were landed with each in the chunky 12-13 inch range. In addition I foul hooked two fish and had another nice fish that shed my fly.

By 7PM I’d gone 50 yards above the waterfalls, and the water above me did not appear to be very appealing so I began hiking back down to the car. Along the way I spotted David L. on the opposite bank working a girdle bug through likely holding spots. I motioned that I was returning to the car, and he signaled that he would cross and return as well.

It was a long day of fishing and I only landed seven fish in ten hours, but I experimented with some streamers and had some fun with the dry/dropper combination late in the day. David L. proved to me that streamers can be quite effective, and I was pleased to discover that the Colorado River above the Williams Fork confluence does hold a fair number of decent fish.

Colorado River – 07/17/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Sunset lease, second access west of Parshall

Fish Landed: 5

Colorado River 07/17/2013 Photo Album

With Dave Lach, an employee of Air Products and a friend of my fishing buddy Jeff Shafer, spending the coming weekend fishing in Colorado, I decided to make a scouting expedition to the Colorado River to determine whether it was worthwhile for Dave L. to make the detour to Parshall to fish on Saturday on his way to the Frying Pan River.

The reports indicated that fishing was four stars with pale morning duns, yellow sallies, and caddis present. I’m somewhat skeptical of these reports since I’ve been burned by them, and the fly shops tend to overhype the conditions to attract customers and they are notoriously shabby in keeping the information current. I made one trip to the Colorado River in 2012, and it was very difficult fishing. In 2011 I visited this stretch of river three times with poor results. In the three years prior to 2011, however, I experienced some of the best fishing I’ve ever had in Colorado. So what would 2013 be, Jekyll or Hyde?

I had everything prepared Tuesday night so that I launched from my house by 6:40 and this enabled me to avoid the morning traffic rush and I was the first car in the parking lot at the Sunset access point by 9AM and I was in the water fishing by 9:30AM. Fortunately I doused myself in insect repellent prior to descending the sagebrush bank to the river where swarms of mosquitoes buzzed my ears with every step through the shrubs and grasses along the river.

I decided to head downstream first and walked as far as I could along the north bank and then crossed at the top of an island and began walking down the south side of the island. I spotted another fisherman in the north braid and then another fishermen fishing downstream at the bottom end of the island in the south channel so I tied on a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear and quickly covered the center run at the top of the south braid with no success.

When I got to the top of the island I moved to the south bank where there is some nice smooth water in shadows with moderate depth. The north channel fisherman had now moved to the top of the island as well, and he opted to test the nice riffles along the north bank. Ultimately I had my eye on the beautiful long pool just above me, so I was concerned the other guy would usurp my target water. As I began prospecting the ten feet of water out from the bank, I spotted a few sporadic rises, and determined that the dry/dropper wasn’t what they were seeking so I began a game of trial and error with dry flies. I tried a light gray caddis and a light gray comparadun and a parachute ant. There were a bunch of spinners bobbing above the riffles to my left, so I dug in one of my boxes and found a rusty/tan sulfur spinner I’d tied for Pennsylvania and tested it for awhile as well. None of these offerings did the job and I moved up to a point where a gentle current angled toward the bank and then deflected parallell to it.

In this area I spotted two fish working, I think, although it may have been one cruiser doing a circular route. I believe, however, that a smaller fish was in the nervous water where the current angled and this fish made two or three splashy rises separated by quite a bit of time. The other fish was a large cruiser that was in the slow water just above the angled current and five feet out from the bank. I know this fish was larger because I could see the back fin and the tail out of the water, and the distance from nose to tail was substantial. Unfortunately I placed all the flies I mentioned including double dries over these fish and they would not respond so after an hour of fishing I moved on with nothing to show for my efforts.

I moved on to the previously mentioned long pool as the other fisherman retreated back to the north channel next to the island. The long pool is probably half a football field long and is characterized by a wide riffle at the head that angles toward the south bank and then the main current flows along the bank but there is nice water with decent depth twenty feet out for most of the length of the pool. I elected to wade to the riffle area at the top using the shallow barren north water, and then I decided to tie on a yellow Letort hopper and salvation nymph. The Chernobyl was difficult to see in the sun glare, and the large wing of the hopper was much more visible. I also hoped that the yellow fly might be mistaken for a golden stonefly.

All this was good in theory, but it didn’t pan out in my real life application. I fanned casts across the entire width of the riffle where it enters the long pool and deepens and then worked downstream shooting longer casts close to the bank. It was a lot of exercise with only a swirling refusal to the hopper in the eddy seam below an exposed rock to show for the effort. After this thorough coverage of the long pool area I decided to move on to the next juicy pool upstream. This required a hike along the south bank through swarms of mosquitoes, and when I arrived next to the pool I decided to eat my lunch early as it was approximately 11:15AM.

Looking Up the River

Looking Up the River

After lunch I retraced my steps to the tail of the pool and crossed to the north side and as I did this I spotted some rising fish at the left tail. Having seen the spinners bopping above the riffles, I decided to give the sulfur yellow-rust spinner another try. This turned out to be a prescient move as I landed a pair of thirteen inch browns that smacked the spinner. I was pretty excited to get on the scoreboard, and the fact that they took the spinner was icing on the cake. In additon I experienced a heart stopping swirl, a refusal, in the same area.

First Trout of the Day, 13" Brown

First Trout of the Day, 13″ Brown

I paused to seine the river with my net and found a solitary PMD dun so I replaced the spinner with a size 16 light yellow comparadun, and this created another slashing refusal and then I connected on a fish near the bank, but the weight on the rod was only momentary as the fish escaped. Just above the scene of these near misses I could see a nice fish working the deep trough next to the bank. I positioned myself and made quite a few casts above the fish by shooting line high and letting the fly flutter down into the slow current. In spite of my best presentations I could not fool the nce cruising brown.

Fish Were Rising in Area Next to Grassy Bank

Fish Were Rising in Area Next to Grassy Bank

I finally surrendered to the fish at the tail of the pool and moved up to the midsection where I paused to observe for rises, but none were forthcoming. The top third of the pool looked like nymphing water so I added a strike indicator, small split shot and a beadhead hares ear and pheasant tail, and worked my way back down to the middle as I cast the flies to the current seam and the deep water along the edge of the riffles. I began noticing quite a few yellow sallies buzzing through the air, and then spotted two random rises so I gave up on the nymphs and went back to a fresh never before used yellow sally. I cast the yellow sally to the places where I’d seen a rise, but nothing was doing.

Having now covered the entire pool from top to bottom I elected to hike back to where I began the day. I was above the island and below the long pool and I began to cast to the area where I’d spotted a large brown working in the morning. The yellow sally wasn’t attracting any attention but I spotted another single PMD dun, so I exchanged them, and the PMD also failed to bring any fish to the surface. I pondered my next move and decided to add a parachute ant with an orange wing post as my second dry fly, and similar to the Eagle River, a large fish made my heart stop when it put its nose against the ant but refused to sip it. I made a few more casts, and then switched the fat bump ant for a skinny version. After some more drifts a ten inch brown aggressively attacked the PMD and I had my third fish on the day.

Having disturbed the area on the south bank I turned my attention to the nice long run along the north bank. and here I landed two small browns on the skinny ant. After I’d fished the north bank I waded back to the top of the long pool and observed the area for quite a while hoping a fish would give itself away. I was particularly focused on the nice deep run along the south bank, but nothing cooperated so I quit at 4PM and battled through the mosquitoes to the parking lot and escaped to make my two plus hour drive back to Denver.

Colorado River – 07/07/2012

Time: 9:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Kemp-Breeze lease below Parshall and Williams Fork confluence

Fish Landed:3

Colorado River 07/07/2012 Photo Album

Usually in early July I’m checking stream flows and looking for any flowing water that might be at a fishable level. This year, however, I’m just trying to figure things out. Run off never occurred and most every river and stream in Colorado has been at a nice level for fishing throughout May and June and early July. But what of the hatches? Usually the hatches on the freestone streams take place as the rivers drop back to fishable levels. But what about this year? Are they early or will they occur in mid to late July?

I’ve been following several fly shop reports on fishing conditions, but these always tend to overstate the hatches as they are trying to attrack Front Range fishermen to their drainages and shops. As I considered where I wanted to fish on Saturday, I remembered reading on the Blue Quill Angler (usually one of the more reliable sites as the fly shop is not near one single river) that PMD’s were hatching on the Colorado River near Parshall. The weather was expected to be overcast on Saturday with cool temperatures and the flows on the Colorado River were slightly below 400cfs. The combination of all these factors led me to conclude this was the place to be. I had great success on the Colorado River in 2008 and 2009, but 2010 provided me with quite a few disappointing trips. I decided to give the Colorado another chance.

The reports mentioned that the hatches typically took place in the morning, so I got off to a very early start to make sure I was there in case this was true. Of course the report may have been referring to the extremely warm temperatures of the past several weeks and that was the case on Saturday, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I left the house at 6:30AM and reached the parking lot by 8:30AM and was on the river fishing by 9:00. The mosquitos were out, but not as intense as in the past, but I still coated my hands, neck and face with Off.

I walked to the handicapped platform and looked up and down the river. Of course there was a fisherman planted in the very spot that I love to start at above the platform, so I hiked down the fisherman path to the bridge, across the bridge, and then dropped down to fish along the south bank. I tied on a yellow Letort hopper and trailed a beadhead hares ear. I was not going to overanalyze the situation. I methodically worked my way up along the bank fishing ten feet out and then over close to the bank, but the fish were having none of it.

Eventually I approached the small island across from and slightly below the wooden platform and fanned casts over the beautiful deep run across from the dock. As I was doing this, I noticed two rises, one towards the top of the run and one in the middle area. After I’d covered the area with my hopper/dropper with no success, I clipped off the two flies and replaced with a light gray caddis size 16. Amazingly on a downstream drift towards the middle of the run, a fish rose but refused my caddis. It seemed like a larger fish judging from the sound it made. That was it, however, as I couldn’t entice any more interest from that fish or any others in the vicinity of the island and handicapped platform.

After quite a bit of casting I switched to nymphs and tied on a beadhead hares ear and below that a beadhead pheasant tail, which imitates the nymph of a pale morning dun. I focused hard on running my nymphs through the deep run, but no takes. I switched out the flies and tried a beadhead caddis of varying colors as well as a zebra midge larva. Finally I gave up on the run and my nemesis fisherman had by now moved across the river to the south bank and then up toward the top right side of the nice run through the center of the river.

It was eleven AM and I was bored with the lack of action so I decided to head back to the car and eat my lunch early in case a hatch emerged around noon. This would also give the other fisherman some time to clear out if he was headed up the river. I ate in the car to avoid the mosquitos, and it got quite warm as I didn’t want to open windows for fear of getting inundated with stinging insects. After lunch I headed straight to the spot where I’d planned to begin in the morning, and it was wide open with no competition.

I gave up on nymphing and returned to the Letort hopper with a beadhead pheasant tail. In the nice riffle water of moderate depth above the platform I finally landed a nine inch brown on the beadhead pheasant tail. Perhaps this was a sign that fish were moving to the nymphs in the drift prior to a hatch. I worked my way across the river casting the hopper/dropper upstream, but to no avail. Next I was sure I could coax some action from the attractive water between the middle current and the bank on the right side. I worked up along the bank but to no avail. I didn’t even see any rises, but as I got to the very top of the slow water I hooked and landed a pair of tiny brown trout that weren’t worth counting.

Colorado River at Parshall

I was pretty frustrated and tired as I retreated along the south bank and crossed back to my starting point. At least I’d seen a few sporadic rises in this area. I removed the hopper and tied on a Chernobyl ant for buoyancy and added the beadhead hares ear and beadhead pheasant tail. Surely this three fly combination would draw the interest of some fish. I worked the closer current seam below a submerged rock and then waded out a bit and cast to the next seam across from me. As the large foam attractor drifted to the tail, I began to lift and recast. Unfortunately as I did so a large mouth emerged and chomped down on the Chernobyl. There really wasn’t much I could have done. The force of me lifting vs the chomping of what seemed like a decent fish resulted in a break off. I lost the best opportunity for a decent fish along with three decent flies.

This re-energized my efforts and I worked my way across and then up along the left side of the mid-stream current, but again I was simply wearing out my shoulder with no reward for my efforts. Finally near the top of this stretch, I hooked and landed a six inch brown barely worth counting, but I did. I decided to reverse direction and cast repeatedly to the edge of the main current seam as I waded back down to my initial starting point. The sky was still cloudy and I spotted occasional PMD’s and more yellow sallies, but nothing was coming to the surface in response to these aquatic insects.

I decided to sit down on a log and observe and take stock. I almost dozed off, but I did notice quite a few yellow sallies. They tended to make fast vertical plunges to the surface of the water and then flutter a bit and then take off. I assume this was egg laying. At the same time I noticed the sporadic steady flight of mayflies which I assumed were PMD’s. The PMD hatch was extremely sparse, but perhaps the fish had long memories and  tuned in to the mayflies. Finally I saw a fish rise across from my log and decided to resume fishing. I tied on a size 14 yellow sally and tossed it to the smooth area between two submerged rocks. On the second or third cast a fish darted to the surface and sucked down my yellow sally. My third fish of the day was another nine inch brown.

One of Three Small Brown Trout Landed

I sat back down on the log and looked for more such rises, but they didn’t materialize and even the sparse hatching activity of the PMD’s and yellow sallies subsided. There were some large dark clouds to the south and the rumbling of thunder, so I decided to head back to the car and call it quits. All in all it was a very disappointing day in early July. Was I too early for the hatches or did they already occur? I’ll have to keep searching for answers on the streams of Colorado.