Conejos River – 07/21/2015

Time: 3:00PM – 6:00PM

Location: Below CO 105 bridge; walked downstream past Lake Fork to huge nice pool and then fished back up to within .2 mile of the car.

Fish Landed: 9

Conejos River 07/21/2015 Photo Album
Conejos in Spanish means rabbit. The white rabbit in Alice and Wonderland leads Alice down the hole to Wonderland, so could this be the rabbit that the Spanish named the Conejos River after? The chronology does not work, but the Conejos River Valley was certainly a wonderland for me during the past week. Perfect weather, nearly ideal flows, multiple hatches, camping next to the river, and lots of fish made this a trip to remember. Oh, and I did spot several very large rabbits thumping about the campground, so I suppose these are the rabbits that engendered the name for the river in south central Colorado.

I visited the Conejos River in 2011 on the dates in July that coincide with this 2015 trip, and I enjoyed some wonderful fishing on the upper Conejos below Platoro Reservoir. The Conejos River Angler pointed me to this water and sold me perfect flies to match the aquatic insects that I encountered. It was this magic that I hoped to recapture with my trip on Tuesday July 21, 2015. I got off to a nice early start, and after 5.5 hours of driving to the southern border above New Mexico, I arrived at Lake Fork Campground. The last 18 miles of the trip consisted of a rough dirt road with a speed limit of 25 MPH. CDOT can save the speed limit signs for another location, because it is nearly impossible to drive faster without damaging one’s vehicle.

Upon my arrival I quickly placed some of my belongings at camp site number 7 and paid for two nights. I actually planned to stay for three, but I hedged my bets until I evaluated the quality of the fishing. There were eighteen camp sites and approximately seven were occupied, so I had my choice from quite a few locations. I chose seven since it was spacious, had a nice surface on which to place my tent, and it bordered on the Conejos River.

I was anxious to sample the fishing, so I delayed assembling the tent until I returned in the evening. I jumped back in the car and drove a mile back down CO 250 to the CO 105 turn off, and after making a right turn crossed a new one lane bridge and parked in the crude grass and stone area on the other side of the river. I was nearly ready to fish when another vehicle arrived, and three anglers emerged attired in waders. After a brief chat I learned that the single man was from Albuquerque, NM and the other couple was from Maryland. They fished the Meadows area upstream in the morning with outstanding success, and they now planned to continue their good fortunes in the river at the 105 bridge. The gentleman from Albuquerque suggested that it was easier to hike downstream along the river on the side next to the road, but I stubbornly planned to emulate my 2011 visit with a twenty minute hike along the west side.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Conejos River Flowing Strong at 150 CFS” type=”image” alt=”P7210007.JPG” ]

I followed my plan exactly and hiked across the meadow grass for twenty minutes and then dropped down to the edge of the river. When I pushed aside the willows and stepped into the water, I realized I was at the same beautiful pool where I attempted to begin fishing on my first visit on July 21, 2011. Unlike that experience when the pool was occupied by another fisherman, it was totally vacant and available for me to prospect. I tied on a parachute green drake since I read that this large mayfly was hatching. From past experience I know that fish tune into green drakes all day long during the emergence period. Unfortunately on this day they were not interested in my parachute style fly, so I clipped it off and experimented with a size 14 elk hair caddis with a medium olive body. Again this was ignored, but the pool looked too juicy to not harbor fish, so I opted to switch techniques and converted to deep nymphing.

I configured my line with a strike indicator and knotted on a 20 incher as my top fly and a salvation nymph as the bottom attractor. The 20 incher covered the possible presence of stoneflies or the nymph form of a green drake, and since it was weighted, it also sank the flies to the bottom. The salvation nymph was a bet on the presence of the nymph stage of pale morning duns. These were great ideas, but neither excited the fish, so I swapped the salvation for an emerald caddis pupa. I noticed some splashy rises, and several fish actually cleared the water in their attempt to inhale something from the air. This always surprises me, since it seems leaping from the water exceeds the caloric value of any food captured with this maneuver.

None of the nymph offerings enticed any fish, so I decided to revert to dry flies. I continued to believe that caddis were causing the late afternoon erratic rises, so I responded with a size twelve olive stimulator. I decided that I was wasting my time in the huge deep pool and began moving up the river at a regular pace, and I prospected the stimulator in likely pockets, riffles and runs as I carefully waded against the strong current. When I later checked the streamflows for July 21, I discovered they were running at a stiff 150 cfs pace. This new tactic quickly produced four eleven to twelve inch brown trout, so my faith in the Conejos River gradually returned.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Typical Small Pockets That Produced” type=”image” alt=”P7210010.JPG” ]

Unfortunately after the initial flurry of success, the stimulator ceased to produce, so I elected to reprise the dry/dropper technique that served me well in 2011. I tied a Chernobyl ant to my line and then added a salvation nymph and ultra zug bug. My initial introduction to the salvation nymph occurred in 2011, when I purchased a half dozen from the Conejos River Angler, and they were extremely productive during that trip. Since then the salvation nymph has become a mainstay in my fly box.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Nice Brown on the First Day” type=”image” alt=”P7210009.JPG” ]

The three fly dry/dropper combination was an effective choice, as I landed five more brown trout over the remainder of the afternoon as I worked my way upstream at a steady pace to a point .2 miles below the 105 bridge. The majority of the brown trout consumed the ultra zug bug, but one snatched the salvation and another decent brown trout slurped the Chernobyl ant from the surface right along the bank. This was the best fish of the afternoon as it measured thirteen inches and exhibited a chunky profile.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Best Fish of Tuesday Slurped a Chernobyl Ant” type=”image” alt=”P7210011.JPG” ]

I was pleased to land nine fish in three hours of fishing in the late afternoon. 3PM – 6PM is typically slow, since it unfolds after any emergence activity in the Rocky Mountains. Also the flows of 150 cfs were a bit high, and this yielded fewer prime holding locations and made wading a challenge. On the positive side, it was cool for most of the afternoon with partial sun. Offsetting this was a constant wind, and this made accurate casting an ongoing battle.

I returned to my new campsite and assembled my tent and ate dinner. That evening two campers mentioned fishing in the Meadows area, so I became concerned that I was missing the best fishing by gravitating to the section of river below the 105 bridge. I decided to stick with my plan for Wednesday. If the fishing was sub par, and hatches did not materialize, I could join the crowd in the Meadows on Thursday.

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