Time: 10:30AM – 5:00PM
Location: Upper Conejos at 105 bridge crossing then downstream by a 20 minute hike
Fish Landed: 30
When I awoke on Thursday morning and walked to the picnic table to start the stove and heat up water for tea, I noticed some large brown muddy spots on the tablecloth. The marks were around four inches wide and three inches tall. These were definitely larger than a squirrel or raccoon. What was going on here? I scanned the picnic table, and the water container and stove and dishwashing bin were all there. But something was missing. I remembered that I left the utensil bin on the table as well as it didn’t contain any food. I looked around and discovered a mass of crushed plastic twenty feet away from the table under some tall evergreens. I went over and inspected and found the container had been crushed into many pieces, and my utensils were scattered on the pine needles. I found a garbage bag and gathered up the plastic pieces, and took the utensils back to the table for washing. I decided to dispose of the garbage bag and walked over to the other loop to find the dumpster had been turned upside down. I later learned that the bear had been in camp at around 11:30PM. Apparently the bear had been on my picnic table and smashed my utensil container, and I slept through the entire episode! This is scary stuff.
I planned to drive back to the fly shop to buy some supplies and get information. Now I also needed to buy a new container for my utensils. After I prepared breakfast I washed all my utensils and put them in a plastic bag. The closest store was probably in Antonito, so I drove the 22 miles to a small supermarket and bought a new Ziploc container and ice and inquired on the whereabouts of the Cottonwood Meadows Fly Shop I’d read about in my Colorado fly fishing book. The store personnel gave me a brochure and apparently I’d driven by the fly shop and it was now called Conejos River Anglers. I stopped at the fly shop in Mogote and asked the proprietor a bunch of questions. I bought a tapered leader, a spool of tippet, split shot and three thingamabobbers. The gentleman in the shop informed me I had to go high and showed me where to go on the map. It required a 16 mile drive on a dirt road. He then pointed to flies that were known producers, and I bought 10 or so. I bought two bushy green drakes and two parachute green drakes with white wings. I also bought a bunch of nymphs with black beadheads, iridescent purple bodies and fine rubber legs. I bought around six of these in various sizes. I’ll refer to these in future reports as purple rubber leg pheasant tails. I asked when the hatches occurred and the storekeeper told me in the morning. I glanced at my watch and knowing I had a long rough drive on a dirt road, I quickly paid my bill and hustled on.
I stopped briefly at the campground to pick up my waders and wading boots and decided to forego preparing lunch and do that when I reached my destination. Sure enough after traveling up route 17 for six miles, I make a right turn on to CO 250 and it was dirt and quite rough with washboard sections from time to time. I couldn’t average more than about 25 MPH. I drove past some beautiful stretches of river and gorgeous countryside. This was remote Colorado at its best. After passing a two mile stretch called the Pinnacles, which I’d read about in the book, I continued another couple miles until I saw route 105 cutting off to the left. I descended this very rough dirt road a short distance and crossed the bridge and parked in a rough rocky sagebrush parking lot. While I was rigging up, two Texans came and asked me which direction I was fishing. I responded that I planned to go downstream, and they asked if I minded if they went upstream. I replied that they should go for it.
I stuffed a yogurt, trail mix bar, and some carrots in my backpack along with my Camelback, and I was off down the trail. I wanted to hike a bit and not fish too close to the parking lot, although in retrospect, I don’t think it mattered much. I hiked high above the river on some grassy ridges and then after twenty minutes cut down to the river at a point where the bank was gentler. No sooner had I arrived by the stream and started tying on the parachute green drake with one of the purple PT’s than I spotted another fisherman at the bottom of the pool. I would discover that there were only a handful of fishermen on this river, and I managed to find one of them. As I tied on my flies the other fisherman pressed upstream, so it became clear he wanted the pool, so I backed away from the river and hiked further downstream. I ended up jumping back in just below a second small tributary that entered on my side of the river.
The river was running quite strong from bank to bank, and it was quite difficult to wade upstream against the current. I was forced to fish within three feet or so of the bank as I had done on the Arkansas River on Sunday; however, this was less intimidating since it was a smaller stream. I picked up a fish on the parachute green drake and one on the purple PT, but the top fly began to sink, so I swapped it out for a yellow Letort hopper. I continued working my way upstream tight against the bank and landed three more trout on the trailing purple PT. I began fishing at around 10:30AM and it was partly cloudy. Dark clouds would roll by periodically and it looked like rain, but it never did more than sprinkle for a short time. At 11:30 a fairly large dark cloud rolled in and this triggered some sparse hatching. I spotted PMD’s and a few green drakes. At about this same time I reached the sweet pool I had originally chanced upon, and my nemesis had moved on.
I watched the water from the tail and could see at least four fish rising. I tried my hopper and dropper, but they were focused on something else. Since I saw PMD’s I switched the purple PT out for a normal beadhead pheasant tail, and that didn’t produce either. I moved up to the mid-point of the run so I could observe better and thought I noticed a fish taking a PMD from the surface. I clipped off the two flies and tied on a light gray comparadun aka the money fly. I made quite a few casts with no success but eventually on a drift over the tail of the pool a fish rose and sipped in my fly. I set the hook and eventually landed a nice brown that extended almost the length of my net. As quickly as the hatch had begun, it now ended after an hour or so of intense action.
I moved to the top of the run and decided to try the thingamabobber with a pair of nymphs and run them down through the pool and along the current seam. On one of these drifts, the bobber dipped and I set the hook and found myself attached to a fine brown. Unfortunately when I brought it to my net it was foul hooked.
Near this spot I sat down on the bank and ate my lunch, but the hatch had pretty much wound down. After lunch I tied on a Chernobyl ant with the purple PT as a dropper. The sky continued to cloud up and then the sun would break through. I believe that this combination of overcast conditions and the higher flows really helped the fishing. As I moved up along the left bank facing upstream I continued picking up fish with decent regularity. The Chernobyl and PT were probably working at equal 50-50 levels of success. The current was so strong that in many places I had to exit the stream and jump around trees and willows that were tight to the current. But whenever I found some slack water, it seemed to produce a fish.
On the day I landed 30 brown trout and several were quite nice fish for a relatively small stream, although it was probably the size of the Frying Pan, so not quite as small as many streams at this elevation. Toward the end I switched the purple PT for a prince and caught a fish on that, and then removed the prince and replaced with a bright green caddis pupa, and that produced a couple. I needed one more fish to reach 30 when I reached the bridge where the car was parked. I went above the bridge and looked through my fly pocket and spotted a Madam X with a gray body. For some reason I decided to give it a try and it produced number 30.
I now had to drive the 16 mile dirt road back to camp, and took my time as I was not in a rush to catch the morning hatch action like the morning drive. On Thursday night I took a hike along the lower level of the campground and snapped some sunset photos. Of course after dinner, I packed everything in the car including the new utensil container. At around 11:15 Thursday night I heard quite a bit of activity and assumed a new camper had arrived. I awoke again at 3AM to the sound of a thud, and I was certain that the bear returned and knocked my camp stove off the table. But when I awoke in the morning and looked out of the tent, the stove and water container where still in the position I’d left them in.