Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM
Location: Between Avon and Edwards
Wow. I am not sure there are enough superlatives to describe my day yesterday on the Eagle River. Yes, twenty-one trout landed is a nice quantity, but the size was fairly average, with most falling in the twelve to fourteen inch range. The mix of brown trout vs. rainbow trout was around 60/40, and I landed two rare cutthroats as well. Why was it so special?
Last spring and fall I experienced three outings when dense blue winged olive hatches developed, but I was unable to fool trout on a consistent basis. The common factor in all these instances was strong wind. Two memorable occasions when BWO frustration ruled were on the Frying Pan River on 10/26/2017 and the South Platte River on 04/19/2017. My last visit to the Eagle River on 11/01/2018 was another similar example of baetis hatch frustration. So here I was along side the Eagle River again on April 16, 2018 with relatively high winds in the forecast. Would Monday be another exercise in frustration?
When I planned my day on the Eagle River, I reacted to two critical pieces of information. The weather forecast called for highs in the low sixties accompanied by 16 MPH winds. I banked on the warm air temperatures to create comfortable conditions for a day of fishing. The stream flows were in the 150 CFS range; and my friend, Todd, who lives in Arrowhead near Avon informed me in an email, that fishing has been been excellent with consistent blue winged olive hatches in the afternoon. I took the plunge and made the two plus hour drive to Avon.
As I prepared to fish, the air temperature was around fifty degrees, and slate gray skies suggested, that it would be awhile before the warming rays of the sun would have an impact. As projected, the wind gusted on a regular basis, so I pulled on my green light fleece jacket in addition to my waders. I eschewed my New Zealand hat with ear flaps, and left my gray fleece in the car. I banked on sunshine and a warming trend in the afternoon.
As the day evolved, the sun rarely peaked through the clouds, and I rued my decision to forego the ear flaps and extra layer. The weather did not create comfortable conditions for fishing, but it did provide an ideal environment for blue winged olives. Once my Sage four weight was assembled, with the fly line pulled through the guides, I crossed the highway and followed the bicycle path down the hill to the river. I was overjoyed to discover that I was the first arrival at the targeted section of the stream. I configured my line with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear nymph and sparkle wing RS2 and began drifting the nymphs through some delightful deep runs at the top of the long pool. I was quite optimistic; however, thirty minutes elapsed with no action.
I shuffled to the bank to warm my feet and then retreated to a nice wide run just downstream of the pool. Once again I probed the depths with my nymphs, and again there was no evidence of Eagle River trout. I abandoned the faster run and returned to the midsection of the large pool, and at this point I exchanged the beadhead hares ear for a beadhead emerald caddis pupa. The emerald pupa generated a few nice trout in the early going in Eleven Mile Canyon, so perhaps the same would occur on Monday on the Eagle River. I began drifting the nymphs through the middle of the pool, where the faster water spread out over nice moderate depth, and simultaneously I began to see sporadic rises.
I scanned the water several times, but I was unable to detect any surface food source of significance. I debated shifting to a blue winged olive dry fly, but I was not certain that was the answer. As these thoughts were swirling through my brain, another fisherman arrived, and I carefully watched him. He had a large backpack, and he changed into his waders and assembled his rod among the large boulders next to my pool. I was eager to see where he planned to fish. Eventually he was ready, and he began fishing the faster run below the pool, that I prospected fifteen minutes earlier. After a bit he signaled, and asked if I minded if he crossed to the the very lower portion of the pool, and I responded with an OK. I was a bit concerned that he would occupy the slower moving lower section of the pool above the natural rock dam, but the area was quite large and could easily accommodate two fishermen.
I returned my attention to the prime matter at hand, catching fish. I resumed drifting the nymphs through the midsection, and I continued to observe sporadic rises from trout throughout the area. Finally at the end of one of my drifts I allowed the nymphs to dangle, while I took a few steps to change positions, and suddenly I felt a bump and a throb on my line. I reacted with a quick hook set, but just as quickly the fish escaped. Clearly this fish reacted to the fluttering nymph, so perhaps that was the key to enticing the feeders surrounding me. I began to impart movement to the drifting nymphs including bad down stream mends, jigging action, and strips toward the end of the swing. I managed a couple more momentary hook ups with trout, and then as I attempted to lift the flies to recast, a fish struck. This time I set the hook and succeeded in eventually guiding a fine fourteen inch rainbow trout to my net. It apparently had a hankering for the sparkle wing RS2. I shot a video and snapped some photos and released number one on the day.
I thought I solved the puzzle, as I began lifting and swinging the nymphs, but my confidence was misplaced. The other fisherman was now slowly working his way downstream along the north bank toward the golf course, and I noticed quite a bit of activity in the tail area. I circled back to shore and then carefully waded to a position, where I could easily cast to the risers at the tail. I carefully observed the water once more, and I spotted a few gray or tan colored midges. I suspected that this was the source of food, but I had no adult midge imitations in my fly box. What should I do?
It was clear that the trout were focused on a food source in the surface film or just below it. I thought of the Craven soft hackle emergers without beads. Perhaps I could apply floatant to the small wet fly, and fish it right on the surface. It was worth a try. I plucked one from my fleece wallet and dabbed some floatant on the body and began to fire casts to the area of rising trout. It was a stroke of genius. Within the next forty minutes I landed three additional trout to increment my fish count to four.
It was around noon when something equally surprising occurred. I began to note small blue winged olives on the surface, and the Eagle River trout never skipped a beat. They simply shifted their preferred diet from midges to baetis. I, meanwhile, continued fishing the wet fly as a dry, and by the time I stumbled to the boulder strewn beach on stump-like feet to eat lunch, I registered eight fish landed and released. After lunch I waded back into the pool but more toward the midsection, where an abundant quantity of fish were chowing down. The wind continued to gust frequently, and when the river surface riffled, the trout ceased their feast, and I rested my arm.
The soft hackle emerger continued to fool fish, and the fish counter climbed to twelve, but then I suffered through a significant dry spell, when the tiny wet fly was ignored. Was I overly focused on my newly discovered technique? Would the Klinkhammer style emerger outperform the Craven soft hackle if given playing time? I made the switch, and the Klink model produced five more decent trout. Similar to the soft hackle, I cast it across and executed downstream drifts. The main reason downstream drifts excelled was the advantageous light, but the lack of presence of a line may have also been a factor.
If this sounds like I had the perfect flies, that was not the case. For each fish landed I lobbed twenty or thirty casts over the feeding trout clustered in the pool. Many times I could not follow my fly and simply set when a rise occurred in the vicinity of where I anticipated the fly to be. But in some cases particularly with the higher floating visible Klinkhammer, I witnessed looks and refusals. The pool dwellers definitely preferred naturals, but as evidenced by the fish count, my flies worked often enough to maintain my interest.
Toward the later part of the afternoon, the other fisherman returned to the beach next to the pool, and I invited him to wade into the lower end. His name was Kevin, and he was fishing a size 20 olive body parachute fly with a red wing post. While I shared the pool with him, he notched three or four trout.
At one point we both rested on the shoreline to warm our feet, and I noticed a large rainbow trout hovering in very shallow space just above a large submerged rock. It darted to the surface and picked off a tiny morsel. I pointed it out to Kevin and gave him first shot, but he was having difficulty locating the fish. He managed to put two casts over the rainbow with no reaction, and then as we observed, another similar sized rainbow joined the first one. I told Kevin it was my turn. I dropped two casts above the two trout, and the trout were so close, that I did not have to strip additional line from the tip of the rod. On the third cast as Kevin and I watched, I lifted the soft hackle emerger to recast, and before the fly got off the water, the rainbow closest to the bank lifted and snared the emerger! I was frankly a bit surprised, but I continued lifting and felt momentary weight, and then the fly slipped out of the jaw of the hungry rainbow. I failed to catch the sighted trout, but I enjoyed the challenge of generating a take.
After this exciting episode I returned to fishing the soft hackle emerger as a dry fly, and I tallied an additional four landed trout. Again there was a significant amount of fruitless casting, but the catch rate was reasonable. During this late afternoon time frame I had some success with drifts that were twenty feet below me, and in one instance a fish grabbed the fly just as I made a quick mend that translated into a tweak of the fly.
By 4:30 my feet were once again stumps, and my entire body was quite chilled from the relentless wind and standing in frigid snow melt water. I reeled up my line, and Kevin decided to quit as well. We hiked back up the path to the road, and together we marveled at the day we experienced.
The greatest thrill on Monday was discovering a technique that produced fish on a fairly consistent basis during a hatch of tiny blue winged olives in windy conditions. This situation frustrated me in the past, and I was ecstatic to land fifteen wild fish on the Craven soft hackle emerger fished in the surface film. I now have three weapons for blue winged olive hatches: the CDC BWO, the Klinkhammer BWO and the Craven soft hackle emerger fished like a dry fly. Fly fishing is a lifetime experience that provides a never ending learning curve.
Fish Landed: 21