Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle, CO
I was disappointed with my June 12, 2018 outing on the Eagle River, and I kept my eye on the flows of my big three choices for fishing Colorado Rivers during receding levels, as snow melt waned. Monday was an open date for fly fishing between a Rockies’ game and another doctor appointment, so I scheduled a fly fishing day trip. The Yampa River and Arkansas River dropped to post run off levels, so the Eagle River was the one remaining option, and even that western slope freestone was down to 400 CFS. The online fly shop fishing reports were out of date for the Eagle River, so I took advantage of my reservoir of information on this web site. I learned that the late June time frame coincided with dense hatches of caddis, pale morning duns, golden stoneflies and yellow sallies.
As I perused other Front Range options, I discovered that the Big Thompson River and Cache la Poudre River dropped to levels within my upper range of acceptability, but I decided to gamble on another two hour drive to the Eagle River. I theorized after my June 12 visit, that my history of success at high run off levels was more attributable to excellent insect hatches rather than the phenomenon of fish stacked along the banks to avoid the raging mid-river currents. Actually I suspect the combination of both factors produced outstanding fly fishing in the time period after peak run off. I hoped to return to the Eagle River during a strong aquatic insect activity time frame to test my theory.
After a two plus hour drive I arrived at my intended destination along the Eagle River on Monday morning. I was surprised by the number of anglers present in the many roadside pullouts on a Monday, but thankfully none were present at my chosen entry point. I quickly climbed into my recently repaired waders and assembled my Sage four weight and negotiated the stile provided to access the river. A short hike delivered me to my starting point, where I tied a yellow Letort hopper and iron sally to my line. I prospected several quality sections with the two fly combination for fifteen minutes, but the absence of action caused me to make an early change.
I replaced the Letort hopper with a yellow pool toy, kept the iron sally as the top nymph, and added a beadhead hares ear as the point attraction. Another solid thirty minutes of exploration yielded no activity, so I once again stripped in my flies and replaced the hares ear with a salvation nymph. This proved to be magic, as a fifteen inch brown trout mauled the salvation shortly after the conversion. It took me forty-five minutes to put a notch on the scoreboard, but the chunky brown made the wait worthwhile.
By the time I paused for lunch at noon, the fish counter incremented to three including a rewarding fourteen inch plump rainbow. My confidence in the iron sally and salvation was gradually climbing along with my frustration, as I hooked and failed to land two additional muscular combatants during the period before lunch.
As I sat on a nice flat rock next to the river and munched my snack, the river came alive with a smorgasbord of trout delicacies. Dense swarms of caddis continued to dap the surface of the water, and their animated actions continued throughout the day. New stars took center stage in the form of yellow sallies, pale morning duns and golden stoneflies. I concluded that I was well positioned with the iron sally, as it represented a golden stonefly or yellow sally. The salvation nymph served as a decent copy of a pale morning dun nymph.
By 12:15PM I was back on the river, and the period between noon and 2:30 was electric. The air above the river was alive with stoneflies and caddis and mayflies, and I debated switching from the dry/dropper approach to a single dry fly. I resolved to stay with the nymphs, until rising fish became prevalent. How did this tactic work out?
The fish counter surged from three to sixteen during the period between lunch and 2:30, and many of the netted stream residents were fit and muscular specimens in the thirteen inch to fifteen inch range. In addition I endured three or four escapes, and as is usually the case, these fish felt quite heavy. In one scenario the hooked trout morphed into a jet powered submarine, as it streaked immediately into the heavy current. I attempted to follow it, but before I could cover ten yards, the surging weight on the end of my line disappeared. When I reeled up line, I discovered the reason, as the aquatic freight train broke off all three flies. When I rigged anew, I replaced the pool toy with a yellow fat Albert. The top fly was not attracting attention, so I opted for maximum buoyancy.
The intense action of the hatch-driven two hour and thirty minute trout-fest was an absolute blast, and I was very pleased to confirm my theory, that the hatches drove the outstanding late June and early July fly fishing on the Eagle River. The Eagle River contains one of the densest yellow sally hatches, that I ever encountered in my fly fishing lifetime.
By three o’clock I suffered through an extended lull, and I approached a very attractive section with several deep runs and slots behind large boulders that served as current breaks. I paused to develop a plan of attack, and a fish elevated to gulp a natural insect. The dry/dropper tactic was in a slump, so I abandoned the three fly set up and knotted a size 14 yellow stimulator to my line. I applied floatant and lobbed a cast above the scene of the recent rise. On the fourth drift over the nearby target area, a fish elevated and sipped the heavily hackled stonefly imitation.
At first the greedy feeder angled across the run in a relatively calm manner, but when I applied side pressure, it apparently realized that the insect in its mouth possessed a metal point. The powerful rainbow trout went into crisis management and executed a series of leaps and high speed sprints. When I finally sensed that it was tiring, I guided it upstream, and this action caused the valiant fighter to roll on the line several times in an attempt to shed the pointy object that constrained its freedom. After three or four minutes of intense resistance, the rod lost its deep bow, and the rainbow trout celebrated its freedom. Needless to say I was less than thrilled by this turn of events, but the entire episode was an adrenaline inducing thrill.
I moved upstream a bit and waded into position below a quality section that featured a fifteen foot wide riffle over moderate depth next to the left bank. A branch from a deciduous tree extended over the bottom portion of the riffle, and before I could cast, a trout revealed its position next to a streamside boulder and under the large tree limb. One rise does not equate to steady feeding, but I was armed with a dry fly and pleased to at least locate a rare surface feeder. I side armed three casts under the tree limb and allowed the stimulator to bob over the area that featured a rising fish. I allocated two more casts to the effort, but only one was required, as a thirteen inch brown trout crushed the fuzzy yellow dry fly. The wild brown trout represented fish number seventeen and my first and only fish on a dry fly for the day.
I continued my upriver progress with the hope of spotting additional rises, but the quality of the river diminished, when long shallow riffles predominated. I stopped at a few deep runs and pockets to prospect with the stimulator, but these late attempts with a dry fly were not met with success. At four o’clock I reached a convenient exit point and took advantage and ended my day on the Eagle River.
Seventeen trout was an excellent accomplishment, and the average size was very satisfying. The hatches between noon and 2:30 were first rate, and I hope to take advantage of the early summer insect activity with a second visit this week.
Fish Landed: 17