Time: 4:00PM – 6:30PM
Location: The first area with a large pullout traveling north about a mile from the Lake Fork Campground.
Fishing frequently and chasing green drakes were my two goals for July, and I anxiously anticipated my Sunday July 17 trip to the Conejos River in south central Colorado. I enjoyed spectacular success during trips to the Conejos River in July 2011 and 2015 around the same dates, and green drakes were the common thread. I was unable to contain my high expectations for another memorable visit to the high elevation tailwater.
The five plus hour drive is a grind, but fortunately it was uneventful, and I arrived at the Lake Fork Campground and selected site number six by 3:45. The worst aspect of the long haul is the last eighteen miles on CO 250, a rough dirt road that dictates maximum speeds of 25 MPH. I quickly set up my tent and had time to burn, so I jumped back in the Santa Fe and continued north for another mile until I reached a nice wide pullout next to the Conejos River. I reviewed the flows before I departed, and they registered 115 cfs, and I knew from past visits that this was nearly ideal. As I stared down at the river, it was apparent that the flows remained at the 115 cfs level. The temperature was in the low seventies as I began, and optimism flooded my conscience.
Since fishing on Sunday was unexpected bonus time, I decided to experiment with a slumpbuster streamer. I tossed the conehead weighted creation upstream, across and downstream for thirty minutes, but the approach yielded two follows from small fish and no hook ups. The one negative I observed was the existence of dense bright green moss on all the underwater rocks and stones, and this substance constantly adhered to the streamer and stubbornly resisted removal.
As the afternoon moved into early evening, the shadows lengthened, and a variety of insects appeared. I observed dipping spruce moths, amber hued large caddis, small caddis, a smattering of mayflies, and a few golden stoneflies. With this smorgasbord of surface insects available, I switched to a dry fly and knotted a size 16 gray caddis to my tippet.
The change paid dividends as I landed a small brown and then a nice thirteen inch brown trout that confidently gulped the caddis along a short current seam. Two fish in bonus time Sunday raised my spirits and increased the intensity of my focus. All was not perfect, however, as I experienced two refusals for each fish that ate my fly. I waded upstream a bit to a gorgeous deep shelf pool, and as I paused to scout the area before casting, a decent brown trout leaped out of the water to eat a large caddis that appeared to be rust colored from a distance.
At this point I probably over analyzed the situation, since the gray caddis produced two fish albeit accompanied by numerous refusals. I reasoned that a better match existed, so I cycled through a size 14 gray stimulator (refusal), a Harrop deer hair green drake, a size 12 peacock stimulator (attempted to imitate the spruce moth, although I later caught one at the campsite, and it possessed a cream colored body), and a size twelve yellow adult stonefly with tinges of orange. I can report that none of these imitations produced a fish. I should have adhered to the old saying, “don’t mess with success”.
Finally I defaulted to a yellow Letort hopper in an attempt to match the golden stoneflies, and this move generated three refusals. In 2015 I fished a Letort hopper with a beadhead hares ear dropper with moderate success, so I resorted to this same combination, and I finally landed a twelve inch brown that nabbed the drifting beadhead hares ear. In the final thirty minutes a fifth brown trout crushed the yellow Letort hopper, and this last fish was another fine twelve inch fighter. By six o’clock I reached the point where the river made a bend away from the road, so I decided to end my first day at five fish, and I returned to the campground.
The two and a half hours of Sunday fishing were an auspicious start to my four days in the Conejos River valley. I was very pleased with my initial success, and anxiously looked forward to a full day on the river on Monday.
Fish Landed: 5