Time: 11:00AM – 1:00PM
Location: Red cliff area below the route six bridge downstream from BLM campground area near Wolcott
Fish Landed: 4
Early in each new season I am torn between experimenting with new flies I constructed over the winter or going with my old productive standbys. It is fun baptizing new flies, but at the same time I am anxious to catch fish, and I reserve the most confidence for flies that served me well in the past.
Our friends the Gaboury’s invited Jane and I to join them at their new home in Eagle Ranch over the last weekend of March, and naturally we jumped on this opportunity. The weekend projected as a fly fish and ski adventure, so I packed skiing equipment and fishing equipment and in a streak of foolish judgment, I loaded our mountain bikes to the rack as well. When would I have time for all of this over two days?
Jane and I had just returned from Big Bend National Park, so we busied ourselves with unpacking and repacking on Thursday morning before departing at 3PM. We were on the go since Friday March 20, and we were both feeling mentally fatigued with travel and the associated disruption to our routines.
Skiing conditions were spring-like on Friday with afternoon temperatures touching sixty degrees, and this translates to slushy sticky snow. The morning was decent, but Saturday’s weather projected to be even warmer, so Dave Gaboury and I decided to trade our ski poles for fly rods. Dave G.’s friend Tom Buchanan was visiting as well from Kansas City, so three of us made plans for a fun early season outing. Dave G. always prefers to fish Brush Creek, and the stream did in fact look quite attractive with clear water and ideal flows, but we opted for the Eagle River as it afforded more space for three fishermen to spread out.
After a stop at the Vail Valley Outfitters in Edwards where Tom and Dave G. purchased fishing licenses, we reversed our tracks to a downstream area of the Eagle River below Wolcott and then below the route six bridge. A tributary was dumping stained snowmelt above our position rendering the river a light pea green color with around 18 inches of visibility along the edges. Dave G. and I decided that this was good enough for hungry fish, and the young gentleman at the fly shop suggested that we could expect a blue winged olive hatch between 11AM and 2PM.
The three of us rigged our rods and pulled on our waders, and Dave G. and Tom preferred to fish downstream, so I grabbed the chance to fish some nice deep side pockets just below the car. After I carefully descended the steep bank and arrived at the river, I spent a fair amount of time rigging with a thingamabobber, pine squirrel leech, and ultra zug bug. This is where the decision described in the first paragraph became reality. I was anxious to break in the pine squirrel leeches that I produced during the winter, but I did not have extensive experience with them in Colorado. They certainly delivered a lot of rainbows on the North Platte River in Wyoming, but would they be favored by Eagle River trout during the early spring season?
I decided to give one of the conehead varieties a try, as I hoped this would act in lieu of a split shot, and the dark color of the natural leech fur would contrast nicely with the green off color water. I began lofting the flies upstream and allowed them to dead drift back toward me, and as I lifted to make each cast, I marveled at the pulsing lifelike movement of the pine squirrel strip. Surely this would attract the attention of any fish present in the Eagle River.
Sure enough as I moved to the second attractive section of soft water between the bank and the swift current seam, I felt a jolt and set the hook and fought a feisty 13 inch rainbow to my net. I was thrilled with this early success and paused to photograph the iridescent rainbow trout that vindicated my fly tying efforts.
I moved on and went through a bit of a dry spell, and I observed a few blue winged olives fluttering up from the stream. The ultra zug bug was proving to be an irrelevant trailing dropper, so I swapped it for a RS2. This proved to be a solid move, and as I jigged the large leech and the tiny RS2 in front of a set of large boulders, a fish latched on to one of my offerings. Again I intuitively set the hook, and this time I felt more weight and battled a strong fighter for a minute or two. Eventually I slid my net beneath a fifteen inch rainbow and noted the tiny RS2 in the lip. Apparently fishing the fly actively with a lifting motion fooled my catch into mistaking the RS2 for an emerging BWO.
Again I moved upstream along the bank, and in a more shallow area at the tail of a long run, the indicator paused and I hooked and landed a small brown trout. This fish chose the meaty leech over the tiny RS2, so now I counted two rewards for tying and selecting the pine squirrel leech.
Unfortunately the hot action waned, and I covered quite a bit of water with no additional action when I reached a nice tail out below some riffles. The pine squirrel leech had ceased to produce, and the number of blue winged olives in the air increased, so I decided to move the ultra zug bug to the top position and jettison the leech. Because I removed my weighted conehead fly, I crimped a split shot above the ultra zug bug. I did not experience immediate action, but after I worked the deep riffle with a number of casts, I resumed the jigging action by lifting my rod repetitively and also by introducing bad downstream mends that accelerated the flies periodically. Finally this approach paid dividends and I landed a twelve inch rainbow that responded to the movement and gulped the RS2.
By now it was approaching 1PM so I decided to exit the river and find a path to the road so I could check the fortunes of my fishing friends, but before I could execute this plan, I heard Dave G.’s voice below me. I waded downstream to his position, and he informed me that he landed one rainbow, and he and Tom were ready to return to the house. We found a reasonably clear path through the brush to the road and returned to the car and subsequently to Eagle Ranch.
Four fish in two hours including a fifteen inch rainbow and two others over a foot was a nice result for early spring fishing in a mountain freestone stream. Two fish gulping my pine squirrel leech was icing on the cake.