Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM
Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle, CO
Superb is the word that enters my mind, as I reflect on my day on the Eagle River on Monday July 3. How did it compare to June 22 on the Yampa? Read on to find out.
After four excellent visits to the Yampa River, I was itching for a different river experience. I kept my eyes glued to the stream flow data and singled out the Eagle River and Arkansas River as potential near term trips. Both are freestone rivers, and historically I enjoyed great days during receding snow melt conditions. On the July 1 – 2 weekend I checked all the Colorado flows, and I noted that the Eagle River was at the upper range of the window that I desire with flows below Wolcott in the 1250 cfs range. Originally I planned to make the trip to the lower Eagle on Wednesday, but seeing this information caused me to adjust.
Monday was not a holiday per se, but it did occur in the middle of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, so I was certain this timing would generate swarms of anglers. I was correct. I reached Wolcott, CO by 10:15 on Monday morning, and as I drove along the river on US 6 nearly every pullout that allowed access to public water contained two or three vehicles. When I reached my target access point, one SUV occupied a space facing west, so I executed a U-turn and pulled into a narrow gravel area facing east toward Wolcott.
The sky was quite overcast, and it felt as if a small storm was imminent, so I hustled and assembled my Sage One five weight and prepared all my associated fishing gear. Once again I was hopeful for some larger than normal fish thus the five weight rod. Just as I was ready to depart some light rain began to fall, and this prompted me to undo my suspenders and pull on my raincoat. I also stashed my lunch in my backpack, as I planned to make a full day of it. Returning to the car for lunch would subtract too much fishing time given the distance I planned to walk.
After a 30 minute hike with a couple challenging obstacles along the way, I arrived next to the Eagle River to begin my day of fishing. The sun returned to its normal spot, and the light rain and clouds moved on to the east. I overheated during my hike, so I removed my raincoat and jammed it in my backpack underneath my lunch. I surveyed the river, and as expected it was churning at high velocity. Clarity however was excellent, and these were the exact conditions I was seeking. Now it was time to determine whether the fish were hungry and aggressive.
I began with a tan pool toy, beadhead emerald caddis pupa, and a salvation nymph. The fly shop reports advertised afternoon hatches of yellow sallies, caddis and pale morning duns; therefore, the caddis pupa and salvation covered two of the main anticipated food sources. The starting point featured a nice wide shelf pool, where the river widened before it rushed over some rocks into a narrow chute. The shelf pool was fifteen yards long and began as a narrow five foot wide run that fanned out into a slower moving fifteen foot wide pool at the downstream border. I began making drifts along the current seam and then worked casts back toward the shoreline. My eager anticipation was not rewarded, until I moved to the midsection. I shot a cast to the narrow top area, and as the pool toy bobbed through some riffles, it sank, and I set the hook. I half expected a snag, or the foam fly to be waterlogged, but fortunately I was totally mistaken. A large torpedo reacted to the hook set, and it charged toward the faster current. I let it expend energy, and line peeled from my reel, until it applied the brakes and turned. I quickly gained line and put it back on my reel, and after a few more spirited sprints I guided a husky seventeen inch rainbow into my net. I may have shouted an exclamation of joy. What a start to my Monday on the Eagle River. Surprisingly the pool toy was solidly wedged in the corner of the big boy’s mouth.
I was still shaking from the previous tussle, as I moved uptream along the bank and prospected any area with depth and slower current. After a short time I lifted the flies and felt some weight, and this resulted in a twelve inch brown trout. After this success, however, thirty minutes elapsed with no further action, and this prompted me to make some changes. I observed several instances where a fish elevated and looked at the pool toy, and this situation bothered me because attention was diverted from the nymphs. I removed the pool toy and replaced it with a size 8 yellow fat Albert. This fly would easily support two beadhead droppers, and I hoped it would not attract attention, unless the look translated to a take. In this case the droppers were an iron sally and a beadhead hares ear nymph.
As noon approached I drifted the trio of flies in a nice wide run that was four to five feet deep, and toward the tail the fat Albert paused, and I set the hook. Once again pandemonium broke loose as another pink striped missile streaked toward the fast water and then launched into the air. I simply allowed line to peel from the reel until the combative fish calmed down, and eventually after several additional outbursts I had another huge sag in my net. I paused and photographed my prize and rejoiced at my good fortune, and then I resumed my migration. Three fish in 1.25 hours is not an exceptional catch rate, but two of the catches were muscular rainbow trout in the 15 – 18 inch range. I covered a few more marginal runs along the edge, and then I approached a place where some flat rocks and grass invited me to settle down for lunch.
I quickly consumed my sandwich, carrots and yogurt, while I observed the water in front of me. Much to my amazement the river suddenly came alive. Caddis left their stream side perches on the willows and began to dap the surface. Occasionally a small blue winged olive mayfly fluttered up from the edge, but the star attraction was the vast number of yellow sallies. Unlike their large lumbering cousins, these small stoneflies actually flew very smoothly, and they were everywhere.
I reattached my frontpack and backpack to my body along with my wading staff, and grabbed my fly rod and resumed my pursuit of Eagle River trout. The early afternoon was simply a spectacular experience. Despite the blizzard of yellow stoneflies that coasted up from the surface of the river, I spotted very few rises. I surmised that I was properly armed with the iron sally and hares ear nymph for the underwater imitation of stonefly nymphs, and I was correct. Between 12:30 and 3:00 I moved the fish count from three to fourteen. Three of these fish were quite small fish that latched on to the trailing hares ear, but two matched the earlier rainbows for size, energy and fighting ability. A couple brown trout in the twelve to thirteen inch range rested in my net as well, and the remainder were feisty medium size rainbows.
If I found water with good depth and slow to moderate current, I generally hooked a fish or two. This period also included a couple foul hooked rockets, and trying to leverage a large fish across the surface with a fly embedded in its fin or side is a very tiring experience. Of course I also suffered several requisite long distance releases, but only one of these resulted in the loss of a fly. All the significant netted fish featured the iron sally in their mouths, while the hares ear seemed to attract the dinks. Off and on the sun blocked large clouds, and it seemed that when full sunlight returned, it prompted the stoneflies to resume their emergence. This cycle resulted in three or four waves of thick stonefly clouds. I experienced many summer days when yellow sallies popped off the surface, but I never witnessed a scene such as this, where they overshadowed the caddis and mayflies.
By 3PM I began to see a handful of pale morning duns, and I reached a place where a shelf pool existed just below a large branch that protruded over the river for five feet. I lofted some casts just below the branch, and as I followed the drift of the fat Albert, I noticed a subtle rise five feet below the branch. I tried lifting my flies in that location in the hope that the rising fish might grab one of the nymphs as if it were an emerger. The ploy did not work. I was fairly certain that the fish before me reacted to a pale morning dun, so I snipped off the three flies and tied a size 18 cinnamon comparadun to my line. I checked my cast high so that the PMD fluttered down, and just as the small comparadun reached the location of the previous rise, a mouth elevated and engulfed the imitation. When I saw the rise originally, I assumed it was a medium sized fish, but the streaking fish now attached to my line suggested otherwise. The annoyed trout shot to the faster water, and just as it seemed to decelerate, I attempted to gain some line, and at that moment it turned its head, and the cinnamon fraud released and catapulted into a bush on the bank. The whole scene was so visual, that I was not overly upset with the loss.
I moved on and reached a point where the river spread out into a very wide section. On the left side in front of me, however, there was a large wide riffle that angled toward the middle of the river, and then it merged with the main current that was flowing from the right. Surely this water would reveal some rising fish? It did, but the rise I noticed appeared to be a small fish. I tried some prospecting casts in what I perceived to be the gut of the run, but the comparadun was ignored. Eventually I returned my attention to the spot where a fish continued to rise, and after six casts it elevated and sucked in my dun pattern. In this case my instincts were correct, and I netted a ten inch rainbow trout.
The next section was a wide relatively slow moving area with depth of no more than three feet. I paused and noticed several tiny sipping rises, so I positioned myself at the tail and shot some long casts to the deeper trough areas. One fish looked at my fly and returned to its position, but that was the extent of the action. I fully expected this area to reveal more larger fish, but the density of the pale morning dun hatch did not seem to spur the Eagle River trout to spread out in shallow lies. As the river drops and the hatch intensifies, the occupation of shallow exposed areas may evolve. Just beyond the top of the wide shallow pool, I tossed a cast into the middle of a marginal pocket and picked up a ten inch brown. This brought the fish count to sixteen, and I was quite pleased with my edge fishing venture.
I was reluctant to convert back to the dry/dropper configuration so close to when I planned to quit, so I decided to cover a lot of water, and look for slow sections, where I could spot rises and cast the small comparadun. Unfortunately I did not encounter any, but I did find a nice wide deep run similar to productive stretches from the early afternoon. With the abundant supply of yellow sallies, could the trout opportunistically pounce on a yellow stimulator? I decided to give it a try. I replaced the comparadun with a size 12 light yellow stimulator, and I began to cast it to the appealing run above me. On the fifth drift a mouth appeared, and it crushed the attractor dry fly. My jaw dropped, but that did not prevent me from setting the hook, and another series of streaks and dives and jumps and turns ensued, but the stimulator and fisherman did their job, and a deeply colored solid muscular rainbow slid into my net. What a way to end my day on the Eagle River!
In summary I landed seventeen trout on Monday, and all except four were rainbows. Five of the bagged trout were hard fighting hefty fish in the 15 – 18 inch range. For some reason my percentage of hooked to landed fish was much better than my success rate on the Yampa. Perhaps I have learned to relax more and not force the issue. As one might expect, and I am already planning another visit for this week.
Landed Fish: 17