Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Below Reudi Reservoir
A slow day that yielded small fish had me considering alternatives for Wednesday, August 29. I tentatively settled on the upper Frying Pan above Reudi Reservoir, as I dozed off in my comfortable sleeping bag. I reasoned that the feeder stream and smaller fish would at least provide a faster pace, and I presumed that I would have the area to myself during the middle of the week. Most fishermen treat the Frying Pan tailwater as their dream destination, and they ignore the small fish above Reudi.
As I finished packing my camping gear on Wednesday morning, however, I experienced a change of thinking. The freestone section of the Frying Pan would offer even less in the way of hatches than what I observed on Tuesday on the tailwater, and this circumstance might translate to difficult fishing in low water conditions for small fish. I also reasoned that I drove four hours from Denver to fly fish the fabled Frying Pan tailwater, and I probably needed to give it a second chance. Perhaps the slow fishing on Tuesday was attributable to a change in the weather, and an extra day of stability would usher in more consistent hatches. Since I camped at Little Maude at Reudi Reservoir, I was merely two miles from the sought after water just below the dam, and I knew from a trip in May, that a high density of larger than average trout called this area their home.
I turned on to the dirt road that accesses the upper Frying Pan, and I continued along the north side of the river. It was immediately apparent that quite a few other fishermen had the same idea, as all the prime spots, that I envisioned as my starting point, were occupied with early risers. I was disappointed, but I continued downstream on the paved road to check out the premium locations between mile marker (MM) 11.5 and 13. The possibility of finding an open stretch away from competing anglers improved, however, quite a few vehicles occupied the many pullouts along the way.
After assessing the upper four miles, I executed a U-turn and settled into a nice wide pullout .3 miles above the downstream boundary with private water. The air temperature was in the low sixties, as I slipped on two pairs of socks and climbed into my waders. The thicker grip of the five weight had an impact on my tennis elbow condition on Tuesday, so I elected to use my Sage four weight on Wednesday. The Sage was longer than the Loomis five weight with a narrower grip, yet it possessed a stiffer backbone than my Orvis Access four weight in case I tangled with a larger than average trout. In spite of Tuesday’s disappointment I harbored some optimism for a second day on the Frying Pan River.
I walked down the road to the long pool where a fallen tree forms a semi-dam, but a guide and two clients claimed the side of the river opposite the road. I retreated back toward the car and slid down the bank just above a long fast chute, where the river splits around a long narrow cluster of tiny islands. I knotted a yellow fat Albert to my line, and then I added the ever-present beadhead hares ear nymph and a salvation nymph. I began casting to the nooks and crannies around the small islands, and within ten minutes I hooked and landed a ten inch brown trout that displayed deep coloration and vivid markings.
This approach became my mode of operation for the remaining time on the river. I experienced very little success in the large attractive pools, and most of the landed trout materialized from obscure lies along the bank or smaller midstream pockets. Two periods deviated from this approach, and I will describe them later. During the course of my dry/dropper prospecting I made several changes. During the morning I exchanged the hares ear for a size 14 prince nymph in an attempt to imitate the underwater stage of a green drake. The large nymph picked up a couple small fish, but it was not a highly sought after menu item. I also swapped the yellow fat Albert for a peacock body hippy stomper, and this conversion prompted me to abandon the prince nymph for an ultra zug bug. The salvation sacrificed its position on my line for a size 18 pheasant tail nymph in an effort to simulate the nymph stage of pale morning duns, but again the move proved ineffective. The ultra zug bug and hares ear nymph occupied my line for the longest time, and each accounted for a fair share of trout.
I progressed from my starting point to MM12, and then I reversed my direction and investigated the smaller left channel, where the river splits around a long slender island. On my way upstream I covered the south braid, so I was now interested in surveying the channel closer to the road. Typically this branch carries lower flows and provides more challenging fishing. On Wednesday I managed a refusal in the lower pool section, and then I netted a ten inch brown in the upper pocket section. I continued until I reached the abundant series of pockets scattered above the island, and I paused to observe. It was around 2PM, and I previously covered this area quite thoroughly on my dry/dropper search, so I was not optimistic regarding my prospects on the second pass.
As I scanned the deep curled pocket directly above the point of the island and next to the roadside bank, I was shocked to see a fish, as it elevated to sip an unidentifiable object from the surface. I peered into the tail of the pocket, and I was sure that the feeding fish was a very nice rainbow trout. As this transpired, another sizable fish hovered a foot below the surface, and it too snatched a drifting bug along the current seam, where the river swirled around an exposed boulder at the upstream end of the curled pocket. My heart rate accelerated with this fresh sign of surface feeding by larger than average trout.
Now I needed to determine what these feeders were consuming. I paused and observed the air space above the river, and several medium size mayflies made an appearance. They were too small for a green drake but larger than a blue winged olive, although I spotted several baetis as well. I quickly removed a size 18 cinnamon comparadun from my fly box and dropped several nice drag free drifts over the rainbow at the tail of the small pool. No luck. The trout twitched its tail and rose a bit but then resumed its normal holding position. What should I try next? Normally I downsize, but my hunch in this instance was that the pale morning duns were larger than a size 18. I clipped off the size 18 PMD and replaced it with a size 16 cinnamon comparadun. I applied a generous quantity of floatant and preened the wing to a nice vertical position, and then I dropped a cast four feet above the target rainbow. I held my breath as the sighted fish slowly elevated and drifted under the fly, and then at the last minute it turned and ate!
I was dumbfounded. I quickly lifted my rod and set the hook, and the rainbow went into intense escape mode. I held tight, eliminated slack and cautiously waited for the thrashing fish to tire. When I concluded that the battle was complete, I slid my net beneath a gorgeous fifteen inch rainbow. I removed the comparadun and snapped a photo, while the pink striped beauty rested in my net, and then I lifted and lowered it to the river, and it was gone in a flash. Was this the beginning of an intense hatch and reckless feeding binge by large Frying Pan trout?
In short the answer was no. I disturbed the active pocket, so the other fish in that vicinity stopped their feeding and retreated to safety. I scanned the other pockets in the area, but I was unable to detect surface rises. Perhaps the pool below the large cube rock on the south braid had come alive? I slowly waded along the edge of the river, but when I arrived at the pool, it was devoid of surface action. Next I carefully waded along the inside edge of the island to the bottom and then crossed to the north branch and once again moved upstream. Again I found no evidence of a hatch or actively feeding trout.
It was now 3PM, and I was reluctant to believe that the brief fifteen minute feeding episode in the pocket above the island was the extent of Wednesday’s hatch. I decided to check out the long pool near the private boundary that was occupied by a guide and two clients at the start of the day. I was pleased to discover that it was vacant, so I stood on the bank and observed. It took awhile, but eventually I noted several sporadic rises. I positioned myself at the tail and made several cross stream casts to no avail. I once again paused, and now I noticed more activity in the moderate riffle on the opposite side of the pool, so I crossed above the fallen tree and positioned myself to cast in the neighborhood of the rises.
For the next half hour I cast pale morning dun imitations and green drakes to the quality shelf riffle and center run seam, but I was unable to generate a single hook up. I spotted two green drakes, as they recklessly tumbled on the surface in an effort to dry their wings to become airborne, and this prompted me to test a parachute and comparadun imitation, but each could do no better than provoke a refusal from a ten inch brown along the center current seam.
At 3:30PM even the sparse random surface activity dwindled to nothing, and modifying my configuration for dry/dropper was not appealing. I was weary and faced a long drive to Denver, so I hooked my fly in the rod guide and returned to the waiting Santa Fe.
I accumulated sixteen landed fish on Wednesday, but aside from the fifteen inch rainbow and one or two twelve inch brown trout, the rest were small browns in the six to ten inch range, and at least six of the small fish were heavily weighted toward 6-7 inches. The hatch was sparse and brief, and I was frankly disappointed with my two days on the Frying Pan River. The upper water near the dam was crawling with anglers, and even the lower portion of the upper four miles contained a fair amount of competition. Unlike most previous ventures to the Frying Pan, large fish were absent, and I never sighted fish other than the risers during the brief hatch. The flows were a constant 181 CFS and cold and crystal clear. The daytime highs were in the middle to upper seventies. The wind was an annoyance both days, but never a show stopper. I am at a loss to understand why the two days at the end of August 2018 were so lackluster. The Frying Pan River has always ranked as one of my favorites due to the consistent hatches of green drakes, pale morning duns and blue winged olives. Where were they during August 28 and 29?
Fish Landed: 16