Time: 11:00AM – 2:30PM
Location: Morning downstream from Whale Rock; Afternoon just below Deckers
Highs of 65 degrees in Denver convinced me to make my maiden trip to a northern hemisphere trout stream on Thursday, March 8. Today was exactly one month after Jane and I returned from our exciting trip to New Zealand. I contemplated traveling to the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek or Boulder Creek, but I somehow convinced myself to give the South Platte River near Deckers another try.
I recalled that my last two season openers occurred on this same section of the South Platte River, and each resulted in a day of futile casting. These thoughts were a strong deterrent; but the flows were running at 180 cfs, and the tailwater in a wide open valley that absorbed an abundance of direct sunshine convinced me to make the drive.
I descended Nighthawk Hill and made a right turn at the T and continued downstream for another couple miles, until I reached a long parking lot along the dirt road. I named this area Whale Rock, since a huge long rounded boulder in the shape of a whale is perched between the road and river at the upstream edge of the parking lot. A car was parked near the entrance to the lot, and I could see the owner fishing in the nice slow moving bend pool adjacent to the parking area. I decided to make Whale Rock my first stop and planned to hike along the shoulder to position myself downstream of the angler who preceded me.
I executed this plan and found myself perched on the edge of the river just above a steep whitewater chute, and I rigged my Sage four weight with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear and salad spinner and began to prospect the deep runs and pockets. For the next half hour I continued this cast and move sequence, until I reached the bend previously occupied by the fisherman, that I observed upon my arrival. During this time I persisted with the hares ear and midge emerger, but the resident fish population, if there was one, eluded my efforts. In fact I never spotted a fish in spite of repeated attempts to pause and observe in a manner similar to my New Zealand sight fishing experience.
At 12:15 I reeled up my line and returned to the car and decided to execute a radical shift in plan. I drove upstream for twenty minutes until I reached a large dirt parking area on a bend just downstream from the village of Deckers. Three cars preceded me, but one angler was removing his waders in preparation for departure. I was astounded by the number of fishermen along the South Platte River on Thursday, March 8. It was a weekday, and each parking lot along the way was occupied with fishermen vehicles. Does anyone in Colorado actually work?
I quickly consumed my lunch and then clipped off the two flies and extended my leader. Insanity is continuing to fish the same way and expect different results, so I swapped the hares ear for a flesh colored San Juan worm, and then I added a size 16 beadhead pheasant tail as the end fly. The San Juan worm and pheasant tail nymph were stellar performers during the halcyon days of the 90’s on the South Platte River, so why not give them a test?
When I was set, I cut directly to the river twenty yards from the Santa Fe, and here I began to drift my subsurface offerings through some quality deep runs. Again my efforts were not rewarded, so I proceeded up along the right channel where the river split around a small narrow willow-covered island. At the top of the right braid two currents merged to create a gorgeous deep run, and my expectations soared, but alas only casting practice ensued.
At this point I crossed to the road side of the river and climbed a steep bank and returned to the car. The parking lot at the Deckers Store contained numerous SUV’s, and fishermen appeared everywhere. I continued downstream from the parking lot with the intent of fishing back from the first bridge, but as I approached, I spotted a fisherman along the bank changing flies or unraveling a tangle, so I reversed my direction and cut down to the river thirty yards above him. I began drifting the worm and nymph through some attractive deep runs, until I turned my attention to a small but deep pocket along the left bank just above my position. I paused to peer into the clear water and spotted a decent trout, as it held in the deepest section of the area behind an exposed boulder.
I debated switching to a dry/dropper in order to create less disturbance in the relatively thin water, but I planned to fish deep in the runs toward the center of the river, so I was reluctant to execute a change. I lobbed a couple casts to the pocket above me, and I thought I saw the target trout follow one of the drifts, but it never grabbed a fly. I reconsidered my approach and decided to switch to a dry/dropper system, since the flows remained relatively low, and I determined I could effectively cover the deeper areas without the aid of a split shot and indicator.
I removed the indicator and split shot and converted to a yellow fat Albert trailing an emerald caddis pupa and beadhead pheasant tail. On one of my earlier drifts the hook of one of the flies impaled a greenish blue caddis worm, and this prompted the emerald caddis choice. Once I was ready, I flipped five or six casts to the area where I spotted a fish earlier, but it was no longer visible and did not respond to my new menu. I turned my attention to some deep narrow runs across from my position, and began to drift the large visible foam imitation in the beckoning lanes. On the fifth cast the fat Albert darted sideways, and I instantly set the hook and felt the throbbing weight of a decent fish.
I quickly raised my rod, and the moving shape on the end of my line plowed upstream and then reversed and headed toward some heavier current. I began to carefully move downstream with the fish, but the connection did not feel normal. I applied some side pressure to bring the fish below me, and at this point the flies popped free and hurtled back toward me feet. I clearly sensed that the fish was foul hooked somewhere in the head but not the mouth, and thus was likely not as large, as I initially perceived.
I moved upstream after this momentary connection with a trout, and I once again spotted a decent trout hovering in the deepest trough of a slow moving pool. This time I was prepared with my preferred dry/dropper technique. I carefully executed some nice casts to the area three feet above the fish, but on each successive drift the fish showed no signs of recognizing my offerings. I paused and exchanged the pheasant tail for a size 22 RS2, but this did not capture the attention of the sighted trout.
Finally I conceded to the wise stream dweller and once again moved upstream to some upcoming attractive water. The river created a gorgeous long riffle of moderate depth, where it angled around the wide curve by the parking area, and I was certain that this would yield my first landed fish in North America in 2018. Unfortunately my instincts were misplaced, and after covering the area thoroughly I reeled up my line and returned to the car and called it a day.
The weather was spectacular for March 8, and I managed to spot two fish and connect temporarily with one, but the crowded conditions were very disappointing. Given the number of competing anglers, I suspect that the area I covered was disturbed repeatedly in the morning hours prior to my arrival. Based on my limited success on the Deckers stretch of the South Platte River, I continue to be baffled by its popularity.
Fish Landed: 0