Time: 9:00AM – 2:30PM
Location: Thirty minute hike downstream from CO 105 bridge and then back to the confluence with the Lake Fork.
My anticipation for a day of fly fishing could not have been any more intense than it was when I emerged from my tent on Monday morning July 18. Arriving at the rough parking area across the CO 105 bridge at 8:00AM was ample proof of my eager anticipation of a day on the Conejos River. Were my expectations met?
I assembled my Sage four weight and began hiking at 8:15 and reached the edge of the river above an island by 8:45. I tied a yellow pool toy to my line as a visible top fly, since shadows stretched over the eastern half of the river. Below the pool toy I attached a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph; my favored lineup of fish candy. I was ready to cast by 9AM, and I worked my way upstream and prospected viable fish holding areas until 11:30, when I found a nice place on the bank to eat lunch. During this period I landed two fish; one was a twelve inch brown that grabbed the salvation, and the second was a smaller brown trout that favored the hares ear nymph. Both fish arrived in my net in the first half hour, and thus the 10 to 11:30 time period was a long unproductive grind.
During the 1.5 hour fish catching famine I cycled through a medley of flies. First there was the size 12 Harrop deer hair green drake. This fly was a favorite in the pre-hatch morning time period in 2015, but in a year’s time it developed a disease, because the trout stayed away. A year ago I fished the Harrop in combination with a salvation nymph, so I tried that duo again on Monday, but the fish were having none of it. Maybe stoneflies were at the top of the menu? A yellow/orange stimulator was ignored. I now knew that the spruce moths had a cream body. so I knotted a cream size 14 stimulator to my line and prepared for the voracious attack. It never happened.
I decided to return to the dry/dropper technique, except I substituted a size 8 Chernobyl ant for the pool toy. This adjustment had no impact on my non-existent catch rate. I encountered a nice section of the river that consisted of shallow flats, and I spotted a fish that surfaced twice to eat. This situation was not conducive to the cumbersome dry/dropper arrangement, so I chose a size 16 gray caddis adult and a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis, and neither excited the rising fish, or any fish in the prime location. Suddenly a flurry of yellow sallies exploded from the riffles so I tied a size 14 yellow stimulator to my line and then a size 16 yellow sally. These efforts were unappreciated by the Conejos River trout.
Despite an early start and unlimited optimism, I fished from 9:00 until 11:30, and my fish count stalled at two. Concern began to overtake my positive attitude, but I clung to the expectation that green drakes and pale morning duns would explode from the river in another half hour. At 11:30 I sat on a rock across from a prime fish holding location and consumed my sandwich, carrots and yogurt cup.
Across from me the main current deflected off a high vertical rock wall just above a large angled deadfall. These dynamics created an attractive eddy, and during lunch I noticed four green drakes and a fairly heavy pale morning dun emergence. Surely these circumstances would create the perfect storm, and the river would come alive with rising fish. Unfortunately after lunch I discovered that these conditions were not the perfect storm for the Conejos River, and as I moved upstream to equally attractive honey holes, the trout continued to hunker down and avoid surface feeding.
As far as fly selection, with the expectation of a green drake emergence and after noticing four over lunch, I returned to the Harrop deer hair green drake, but once again the fish were unimpressed. Next I resorted to a size 16 light gray comparadun, also known as the money fly. This fly is typically a killer during pale morning dun hatches, and quite a few PMD’a were visible in the lunch hole. The comparadun generated a pair of refusals, and that was the extent of its effectiveness. In the morning I was suspicious that the flows were elevated from Sunday’s ideal levels, and now I was certain of this eventuality. I did not have access to the internet, so I could only judge by how tight the velocity was to the bank, and by the reduced number of spots that enabled trout to hold out of the fast current. The brief hatch, the lack of rising fish, the wading difficulty and the infrequent locations that I could fish all confirmed my suspicions. When I returned to Denver on Thursday and checked the stream flow graph, I discovered that flows elevated from 115 on Sunday to 180 cfs on Monday. I never experienced positive fishing results shortly after a significant increase in stream flows, and Monday continued the trend.
The pale morning comparadun was too difficult to follow in the high flows, so I decided to once again test the dry/dropper style with a yellow Letort hopper trailing a salvation nymph. Surely the light yellow hopper was a close imitation of the stoneflies hovering in the air, and certainly pale morning duns were present in the drift given the number of adults in the air. My theory was somewhat confirmed as I landed two thirteen inch brown trout between noon and two on the salvation nymph. Both of these fish snatched the nymph as it drifted along the seam in smooth slicks behind exposed midstream boulders.
The Letort hopper was ineffective, so I went the foam route with a tan pool toy, and this improved the buoyancy but did not impact fish feeding behavior. In addition for brief periods I auditioned an ultra zug bug and bright green caddis pupa along side the salvation nymph. Besides landing two fish, I devoted a lot of time to knot tying practice. By 2:30 I was totally bored with the inactivity and cursing the water managers for ruining my day and potentially impacting my trip by ramping up the flow rate. It was around this time that I intersected with the Lake Fork, a small tributary of the Conejos.
The elevated flows and lack of surface activity certainly lowered my expectations for my long anticipated trip to the Conejos. I consciously arranged to visit the area several days earlier, since it seemed that the main body of green drakes had already migrated to The Meadows area in 2015. I was sorely disappointed and uncertain how to best utilize my two precious remaining days in south central Colorado. Four fish in 5.5 hours is simply tough fishing, and I dreaded enduring two more full days of sub-par catch rates.
Fish Landed: 4