Time: 9:15AM – 6:00PM; 30 minute lunch due to returning to the car for a camera battery issue and then 30 minutes to walk back to the car and then drive to the campground. Fifteen minutes of fishing at the campground at the end of the day.
Location: Pullout between Lake Fork Campground and the Meadows area and then upstream to the eastern/southern edge of the Meadows; 15 minutes at the campground.
Fish Landed: 24
What could I do for an encore after a spectacular day of fishing on the upper Conejos River on Wednesday, July 22? First I needed to decide what segment of the river to fish on Thursday. But even before this decision, I needed to manage some fundamental camping basics. I only paid for Tuesday and Wednesday night as I hedged my stay until I determined the quality of the fishing. Wednesday’s results certainly made that decision easy, so I returned to the pay station and wrote a check for another night.
After two days in relatively warm weather, my ice supply dwindled, and it was clear that I needed to replenish in order to remain until Friday morning. I did not relish another rough 36 mile round trip to the store at the CO 250 turn off. When I was researching the campgrounds in the area on Google maps, I thought I noticed a small town near the reservoir six miles up the road. Surely there must be a source of ice in Platoro? I noticed that the campers across from me had large heavy duty spinning rods that are typically used in lakes. I suspected that they fished in Platoro Reservoir, and this probably meant that they knew if ice was available in the small town of the same name. I mentioned all this to another camper from Texas that I became acquainted with, and he inquired of my neighbors as he passed by on his return from the pump. They replied that yes, ice was for sale at the store next to the Gold Nugget Cafe in Platoro, and they in fact just bought some there themselves. My camping friend relayed this welcome information to me, and I made plans to drive to Platoro so I could be there when the store opened at 8AM.
This worked out nicely because it enabled me to scout out the river between the campground and Platoro. There was a short stretch above the public access that I fished on Wednesday evening, and then the river made a ninety degree turn and flowed through a deep valley with high banks on both sides. This segment was probably .3 mile long and when combined with the water between the public access parking lot and the large bend, it probably extended to half a mile. I also discovered that in previous trips I never went beyond the eastern end of the Meadows section, and the water near the top of the Meadows was much more interesting with many bends and deep pools.
When I returned to the camp site after replenishing my ice supply, I considered three options. My initial plan was to drive south on CO 250 beyond the camper trailer that I encountered on Wednesday. I could park in a pullout or along the road and cut across the grass bluff and drop down to the river and fish new water back up to my Wednesday entry point. Number two would be to begin at the first public access above the Lake Fork Campground and then fish the .5 miles around the bend until I reached the Meadows where my exit would be relatively easy. A third possibility was finding some nice water in the Meadows.
I knew other fishermen loved the Meadows, and I did not wish to compete for space, so I rejected that option first. I was not certain how much open water remained below the camper trailer, and I was getting farther downstream and away from the green drake hatch, so I decided to choose the water between the campground and the Meadows. Perhaps the hatches in this area were similar to the Meadows, but the high banks and difficult access would ward off other fishermen. The key to this decision however was fishing my way through the entire canyon area, because otherwise I would be required to climb the long steep bank between the river and road.
I drove to the public access parking lot and found a dry spot to park where I could pull on my waders and boots without dealing with the abundance of mud. I rigged my Sage four weight and anxiously walked to the edge of the river and began fishing my way upstream. The bushy green drake performed in outstanding fashion on Wednesday, so why not present it again on Thursday? I did, and then I mimicked Wednesday even further by knotting a salvation nymph to a three foot dropper below the green drake.
What a great strategy! I covered the water from the parking lot to the ninety degree bend between 9:15 and 11:00 and landed fourteen wild brown trout. Unlike Wednesday when the green drake dominated, the salvation nymph produced ten fish, while the green drake fooled four. Quite a few of the fish were once again chunky browns in the twelve to fourteen inch size range. I crossed to the opposite bank as soon as I could, as I am a proponent of fishing areas that are harder for the average fisherman to reach, and this strategy appeared to pay off in a major way. I was feeling pretty smug about my choice of water as I sat down on the bank away from the road at a very inviting area just above the large bend in the river. I tallied fourteen fish landed with the prospect of hatches and seldom fished canyon water ahead of me, and I stopped for lunch at 11AM since I wanted to avoid the Wednesday situation where the hatch commenced at 11:30 as I began to eat. This meant I had five or six more hours of fishing in front of me.
Before eating lunch I decided to snap a photo of the attractive water across from me. Unfortunately as I did this, I received a battery dead warning. This happened on previous occasions, but usually it had something to do with the replacement battery not being seated properly in the compartment. I removed it and reinserted it several times, but each time I tried to test the camera by taking a photo, the battery low icon flashed across the screen. Perhaps the battery was actually low. I decided to cross the river and hike back to the car to procure my second battery. On the return trip I drove the car to a wide shoulder pullout just below the bend so that I would be closer to my exit point at the end of the day, but the entire round trip probably used up thirty minutes of prime fishing time.
Finally I ate my lunch and resumed fishing in the wide area just west of the bend. The water looked spectacular with two nice pools side by side. I approached the nearest one first, and immediately I could see several fish at the tail. I attempted to lure the fish to my green drake and salvation nymph, and with my polarized sunglasses, I did observe some looks but no takes. I cast to these reluctant eaters for quite a while and then decided to concede victory and moved across to the larger pool closer to the dirt road that was by now quite a distance above the river. As I carefully waded across the river I noticed a few golden stoneflies, fewer green drakes, and some pale morning duns. The density of all these insects was far less than what I viewed on Wednesday.
Nevertheless the green drake was not working, so I switched to a yellow Letort hopper in an effort to emulate the golden stoneflies first. The change did not elicit a response, so I countered with a parachute green drake. This fly performed quite well in the early stages of the hatch the previous day, but other than a momentary hook up, it did not live up to expectations on Thursday. As these fly changes were taking place, a fish began to rise steadily in the swirly water where the current spilled into the pool at an angle. I gently drifted the parachute drake over the area of the rises, but it went unmolested. Why not follow Wednesday’s routine and convert to a cinnamon comparadun? That is what I did, and on the fifth cast to the water where the fish was feeding, the comparadun disappeared. I executed a swift hook set and the fight was on. This fish churned and raced and put up a stiffer battle than my large rainbow on Wednesday, but eventually I coaxed a seventeen inch chunky rainbow into my net. What a thrill! For two days in a row I switched to a cinnamon comparadun and then landed a fat seventeen inch rainbow trout, and in both instances it would be the best fish of the day and the only rainbow.
The hefty rainbow was number sixteen on my scoreboard, and I continued moving deeper into the canyon with the cinnamon PMD and increased the fish count to twenty by 1PM. My thoughts were optimistic, as I had a large chunk of remaining time and barely touched the seldom fished pockets and deep runs in the canyon area. I did not know the water was lightly pressured for sure, but it certainly seemed likely.
The only certainty in fly fishing is change. As soon as a fisherman thinks he has things figured out, he discovers that he does not. I fished the remainder of the afternoon from 1 to 4PM through the highly anticipated canyon water and landed only two additional fish. The hatches on Thursday were extremely brief, and I was forced to experiment with a series of fly changes. A lime green trude spent time on the line and resulted in a small brown trout. Next a yellow Letort hopper plopped upstream for some period of time, and this did generate a nice twelve inch brown trout that aggressively smashed the large terrestrial tight to the bank above a four foot deep trough. But that was it. The major differences between Wednesday and Thursday were that the hatches began later in the day, it was overcast and windy rather than sunny and warm, and the hatch lasted only a fraction of the time that it persisted on Wednesday. On Wednesday quite a few pale morning dun stragglers continued to emerge through the early afternoon, but the wind blew any similar late emergers off the water early on Thursday.
The afternoon was a large amount of hard work for a minimal return. When I returned to the car, I decided to revisit the wide area that delivered the large rainbow, but this move only resulted in a six inch brown that crushed a size 16 light gray caddis. As I drove back toward the campground, I stopped at the public access parking lot where I began the day, and I prospected for a bit with the caddis and enticed another six inch brown to mash my fly.
When I returned to the campground I attempted one more last ditch effort to resurrect the day to something close to Wednesday by casting a yellow Letort hopper and beadhead hares ear to the juicy hole directly behind my campsite, but alas there was no sign of trout. The water looked so attractive that I took the time to rig for deep nymphing, but that move was also futile.
Normally a twenty-four fish day is something to celebrate, but I was spoiled by the best to date outing on Wednesday. The lack of action for three hours in the afternoon also left a bad taste in my mouth as it is human nature to remember recent events and discount earlier success. Did I make a mistake by not selecting one of the other segments of the Conejos River? This question will never be answered, but in hindsight, I experienced three superb productive days of fishing in a remote wild environment in the Conejos Valley, and that is something to be happy about.