Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM
Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle, CO
2019 has certainly developed into an abnormal fishing season. Normally by now ideal flows greet me, as I journey about Colorado in an attempt to locate the very best conditions from a myriad of options. Loyal readers know that I am a big proponent of using a variety of resources to identify the waterway that offers the highest probability of experiencing a fantastic day. In fact I believe that fifty percent of fishing success is attributable to the choices made of where to fish on any given day. My number one resource for making this decision is the Department of Water Resources surface water tables and graphs. A second significant source are fly shop reports, although these always have a positive bias that must be tempered. My third significant source of information is my own blog. It contains nine years worth of fishing reports, and I refer to it often to recall what worked in different seasons and at varying water levels.
Every year I make a concerted effort to fish the Yampa River, Eagle River, and Arkansas River in a narrow window, as the flows from run off subside. During this time period the water is clear but high, and the fish are confined to the tight ribbon of water that borders the bank, where obstacles such as rocks and logs create slack water spots that enable trout to rest and eat. I managed to catch the Yampa River during this window in early July, and a quick check recently indicated that the Yampa in Steamboat Springs is down to 228 CFS. This example reveals the urgency required to react and hit the prime time. Fly fishing needs to be a priority, or the window will pass, and another twelve months will elapse before the opportunity once again presents itself.
Next on my list were the Eagle River and the Arkansas River. When I planned my three day and two night trip on Sunday, I learned that the flows on the Eagle River were in the 1360 CFS range, but I was spooked by a spike. The portion of the river that I desired to fish is below a tributary that muddies very quickly, and I was concerned that the lower river would be turbid. The Arkansas River on Sunday was on the verge of dropping below 2000 CFS. I prefer flows in the 1500 CFS range, but the Arkansas is a very large river bed, and I assumed that edge fishing would still be possible at 2000 CFS. On Monday morning I noticed a narrow spike in flows at Salida, but I discounted this, because it occurred for a short period of time. You can read about the ramifications of this decision in my posts for July 22 and July 23.
My original plan provided for two days on the Arkansas River to enable the Eagle to drop to 1000 CFS, and this also allowed time for the clarity between Wolcott and Eagle to improve. It was now Wednesday morning, and I decided to forge ahead with the third prong of my plan. I woke up early and packed my wet tent and drove from Railroad Bridge Campground to Buena Vista. I stopped to purchase a bag of ice for the cooler, and then I used the improved cellular network to check the flows on the Eagle River at Avon, CO. Sure enough the DWR graph showed the flows at 1110 CFS, and I was confident that this was at the upper range of my desired window. But what about clarity? I called Vail Valley Anglers and spoke to JP at the shop, and he informed me that the river was clear all the way to the confluence with the Colorado River. With this positive news in hand, I initiated my plan to fish the Eagle River on Wednesday, July 24.
I arrived at a narrow pullout along US 6 by 10AM, and I quickly completed my well rehearsed ritual in preparation for a day on the river. I assembled my Sage five weight, in case I encountered larger fish in the high flows, and I negotiated my way to the river. Wednesday was a gorgeous sunny day, and the temperature rose, until it peaked in the low eighties. Very few clouds passed overhead. The river was very clear, but it rushed along at a rapid pace, and these were the conditions I was seeking.
I began with a hopper Juan and added an iron sally and salvation nymph. I was pleasantly surprised, when I hooked two hot fish within the first fifteen minutes in the first two edge pools that seemed likely high water holding retreats. Unfortunately both escaped after torpedo-like runs to the fast water. In both cases the flies hurtled behind me to some willows, when the trout shed the hook.
Between 10:30AM and noon I built the fish count to five, and all were very fresh and muscular rainbow trout that streaked up and down the river upon realizing that a sharp hook was in their lip. The rainbows were in the twelve to fourteen inch range, but the larger versions were quite plump and fit, and they tested my fish landing capabilities to the extreme.
While eating lunch I noticed an abundant quantity of golden stoneflies and yellow sallies in the airspace above the river, and I was dissatisfied with the look of the hopper Juan, so I switched things up. I replaced the hopper Juan with a yellow fat Albert, and in the process I extended the leader from the foam indicator fly to the first nymph by a foot. I placed a beadhead hares ear in the upper position and a salvation nymph on the end, and I resumed popping casts to the most attractive soft water edge locations. The move paid dividends, and my catch rate accelerated, as the Eagle River residents honed in on the salvation. I noticed a handful of pale morning duns and a fair number of dapping caddis in addition to the stoneflies during my lunchtime biology study, and the presence of PMD’s probably accounted for the popularity of the salvation nymph.
The heavier presence of stoneflies and the lack of interest in the hares ear caused me to reevaluate my lineup, and I swapped the hares ear for an iron sally. Immediately upon making this change, two fish aggressively smashed one of the nymphs, but they managed to escape after a brief connection. Past experience suggested the hook holding ability of the upper fly is inferior to the bottom counterpart, so I switched the position of the salvation and iron sally. The offering of the fat Albert, salvation nymph and iron sally became my workhorse threesome, as I progressed through the early afternoon.
And what a job they did! The fish counter steadily climbed from five at lunch to seventeen by the end of the day, and these were not sub-twelve inch dinks. Included in the gallery of net dwellers were four brown trout, and three of these beauties were plump fish in the fourteen to sixteen inch range. Rainbows continued to dominate, and although they were smaller on average, three or four extended to fourteen and fifteen inches with broad muscular shoulders. The iron sally and salvation nymph produced in roughly a 50/50 ratio, and one of the fine brown trout crushed the fat Albert.
Of course this story would not be complete without mentioning the ten fish, that I met only briefly. Connecting with these aggressive high water rogues was only the beginning of the contest. Eagle River trout are very powerful, and the high ratio of long distance releases attests to that fact. Only one loss resulted from a snapped off salvation; as all the others managed to shake, leap and twist, until the fly popped free.
One particularly notable escape artist performed its Houdini routine late in my day. I cast the dry/dropper rig directly upstream to a deep slower moving run five feet from the bank. The fat Albert drifted a few feet and then dipped, and I instinctively reacted with a firm lift of the rod. I immediately realized that this was not the typical fifteen inch rainbow. I caught a glimpse of the rocket, as it dashed downstream, until it was just below me, and the girth and length were substantial. I feared that the runaway freight train was headed to the fast water, but inexplicably it reversed direction and swam back upstream against the current. But then the angry fighter thought better of this move, and it raced to the tumbling and frothy whitewater. I suspected that the fight was over, but I held on and allowed twenty yards of line to peel out, as the bullet streaked downstream. The river was too high and the rocks too slippery to follow, so I maintained tension until the line went limp. I was fearful that all three flies broke off, but when I stripped in the line, I was pleased to discover that the trout magically shed the annoying hook, and all three imitations were present on my line. Needless to say, this episode had me shaking a bit.
Wednesday, July 24 developed into a spectacular day on the Eagle River. I landed seventeen trout, and at least ten were in the thirteen to sixteen inch range. These fish were hungry, and in all likelihood they experienced their first hook penetration of the season, and they did not like it. Even the twelve inch rainbows spurted up and down and back and forth, before I was able to coax them over the lip of my net. Nearly every spot that suggested likely fish holding water delivered a hook up or landed fish. Wading was difficult, but persistence paid off with big rewards. Will I be able to return before the flows pass through the prime window? Stay tuned.
Fish Landed: 17