Time: 11:00AM – 5:30PM
Location: River’s End and across from Lodgepole Campground
Danny and I agreed that we would remain on the Arkansas River if the quality of fishing was decent on Sunday, but in the event that the fishing was slow, we would move to another river. Clearly the results of our Sunday exercise in frustration made the decision easy. We agreed to make the drive to the Taylor River on Monday morning, as this offered three options. Option one was to fish the hog trough below Taylor Reservoir, and the second option was the upper Taylor River above the reservoir. Of course the third alternative was to wet our lines in the public canyon area downstream from the hog trough.
We spent the night in the Woodland Hotel in Salida, and for dinner we walked to the Boathouse Cantina that overlooks the Arkansas River near the kayak course. We snagged seating next to the open window, and as we waited for our dinners, we marveled at the regular feeding of ten to fifteen trout next to the restaurant and above the F Street Bridge. We concluded that a small midge hatch was in progress, and several of the trout were feeding quite voraciously. It was entertaining to watch, but were not motivated to retrieve our fishing gear.
We woke up at 6AM on Monday, and this enabled us to depart before eight o’clock after a small breakfast at one of the local coffee shops. The drive over Cottonwood Pass was uneventful, and we arrived at the hog trough just before 8AM. The dashboard temperature registered 22 degrees, and a crisp wind ruffled the grasses and bushes next to the parking lot. I decided to remain in the car, while Danny braved the elements in an attempt to land a trophy from the tailwater immediately below the dam. I read for an hour and a half, and then I drove to the parking lot overlooking the marina, where I obtained a strong cellular signal. I checked in with Jane and noted that the temperature advanced into the low forties, so I returned to investigate Danny’s success.
While I was by the marina, Danny moved below the bridge, and a huge cluster of ridiculously large fish were visible in the center of the slow moving pool. Most of the fish appeared to be temporarily dormant, but some were moving and occasionally rising to sip something from the surface. Quite a few of the regular risers were at the point where the moderate current fanned out into the pool. Danny asked if I had any griffiths gnats, so I secured one from my fly box and watched as he executed some downstream drifts, but the fish were ignoring his tiny speck of a fly. Next I gave him a size 22 CDC blue winged olive, but again the fish served him frustration. Finally I returned to the car and retrieved a plastic canister that contained various small flies, and Danny selected a minuscule parachute Adams and presented that to the ultra selective residents of the pool. Once again the fish treated Danny’s offering like a tiny speck of inert dust.
Finally by 11AM Danny surrendered, and we returned to the car and drove to River’s End Campground. The gate was closed to the campground, so we parked along the entry lane, and we prepared to fish the smaller upper Taylor River. The campground was located .3 mile above the inlet, so we hoped that spawning brown trout were present. We hiked along the ridge next to inlet, and then we began fishing our way back to the campground. Danny deployed a dry/dropper approach, while I deviated from my normal habit, as I attached my sinking tip line and opted for a cheech leech streamer. I worked the deep section where the lake backed up into the river channel, and then I moved rapidly along the eastern side of the stream and cherry picked the deepest locations with streamer casts and various forms of retrieval.
Danny and I thoroughly covered the area upstream of the inlet for an hour and never saw even a sign of fish. The water was 43 cfs, but the stream bed was wide, and this yielded long stretches of shallow water. In truth the river was not very attractive at the low fall flows, and we probably wasted too much time in this marginal half mile of river.
Just before noon we acknowledged our poor choice of stream section, and we returned to the car and drove to the canyon section across from Lodgepole Campground. Here we quickly downed our lunches, and then we migrated to the large pool next to the parking lot. My confidence was at a low ebb, but the air temperature warmed nicely to the low forties, so at least my level of comfort was a positive. I selected the very bottom of the pool to probe with my cheech leech, while Danny began to cast his dry/dropper rig in a nice deep run a bit upstream. I generated two follows, when I cast to the far bank and rapidly stripped the leech, but that was the extent of my action. Meanwhile Danny hooked a nice fish on his trailing nymphs, so we were encouraged that the possibility of landing fish was within our grasp.
I circled above Danny to a nice deep run, and after some ineffective streamer retrieves, I took the plunge and converted to a dry/dropper configuration as well. Ironically as I switched to dry/dropper, Danny shifted to an indicator nymph system. I tied a gray pool toy to my line and then added hares ear nymph and salvation nymph droppers. Almost immediately after making the change, I observed a double refusal to the pool toy. A medium sized brown rose to the surface and nosed my fly and then dropped down a foot, drifted back at the same pace as the hopper, and then made a second inspection. I was not encouraged by two refusals on one drift, but at least I attracted the attention of a Taylor River brown trout.
I waded across the river to the north bank and continued working my way upstream. I managed a temporary hook up on a brown that snatched one of the nymphs, and then frustration once again weighed on my being, as a string of refusals to the pool toy ensued. A top fly that takes attention away from the nymphs, but does not result in takes, is one of my worst nightmares.
Finally I accepted that the pool toy was not going to produce netted fish, so I swapped it for a size 8 Chernobyl ant. In a short amount of time the Chernobyl produced a take, but within seconds the hook pulled free, and I remained fishless on the Taylor River. Fortunately I persisted with the dry/dropper setup, and I finally landed a thirteen inch rainbow that consumed the salvation nymph from a deep run near the north bank. After enduring a long drought from Sunday through Monday afternoon, I paused to snap a photo of my first landed fish on Monday.
Onward I advanced using the dry/dropper technique to positive advantage and between 2PM and 5:30PM I incremented the fish count to seven. I persisted with the Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear, but I changed the salvation for a soft hackle emerger and then an ultra zug bug. The zug bug produced two small rainbow trout, but all the other landed fish responded to the hares ear. During this period on Monday afternoon I finally fell into a rhythm, as I moved quickly from deep pocket to deep run and popped the dry/dropper combination in likely holding spots.
During the summer the pace of action generally fades in the late afternoon hours, but on Monday it seemed the opposite was true. This can probably be explained by the very cold overnight temperatures, and the water required a much longer time frame to warm to the optimal feeding range.
At 3:30 Danny and I approached a place where a huge boulder forced the river to churn through a narrow chute, and this effect created a large pool, where the current fanned out into a wider stream bed. The large rock formed the outside anchor for a massive jumble of dead branches and logs that were likely deposited there during run off. Danny worked the deep center portion of the pool with his nymph set up, since we spotted at least three sizable trout hugging the bottom. While he was probing this area, I lobbed a couple casts to a small deep pocket just behind the giant boulder. Much to my amazement as I lifted to make another cast, a large brown trout grabbed the hares ear nymph. I managed to fight off several dives and head shaking episodes, and then I lifted the beast toward my net, and it shook its body and broke off the two bottom flies. Danny and I both marveled at the bright orange belly of the wild fish, and I named it my pumpkin brown. I was sorely disappointed that I missed the opportunity to capture a photograph.
After venting a bit over losing the brown trout so close to my net, I climbed up on top of the log jumble and dropped a cast to the slow eddy above the sticks. The Chernobyl ant slowly crawled along the edge of the branches, and then the top fly dipped, and I set the hook and realized that I was connected to a thirteen inch brown trout. I was standing five feet above the eddy, and I recognized that the fish was large enough to prevent hoisting it to my position high above the water. I sat down on the stick mound, and allowed my body to slide toward the pool, and fortunately I caught myself on some larger branches just above the water. While this was happening, the fish sought shelter under the sticks, but I was able to leverage it out once I settled near the eddy. Unfortunately I broke off a second ultra zug bug in this process. It was worth the effort, however, as I netted the brown and photographed the deep olive-brown wild specimen.
By 5:30 I reached a location where the river spread out, and I carefully waded across to the road. Before I did this, however, I made some casts to a nice wide moderate riffle section, and on the fourth drift, a fish smashed the Chernobyl ant. I responded with a swift hook set, and the fish dashed toward the middle of the river, and then the line snapped, and my line fell limp in the current. When I reeled up the line, I realized that the two bottom flies were gone, so I suspect that I foul hooked the fish when it refused the Chernobyl.
After a woeful day on the Arkansas River on Monday, I was pleased to regain my confidence on the Taylor River tailwater. Danny experienced similar success, and we commiserated on the time wasted on the upper Taylor, but we both recognized that sometimes it pays to experiment with new locations, and not all investments pay off. Seven wild fish late in the season is certainly something to savor.
Fish Landed: 7