Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM
Location: Kemp-Breeze Unit below Parshall
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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