Time: 11:00AM – 2:00PM
Location: Downstream end of Eagle River lease above Eagle, CO
Fish Landed: 13
Each year as the streamflows decline in the Rocky Mountains I search for the sweet spot characterized by tolerable water levels, but stream conditions that are still high and clear. This confluence of factors pushes the fish up against the banks to conserve energy, but they continue feeding on tasty morsels that drift by. This gives the fly fisherman a solid advantage particularly on large rivers as casts can be confined to the five feet of water next to the edge. I’ve experienced success in these circumstances on the freestone rivers in Colorado, primarily the Arkansas River and Eagle River, but in 2012 and 2013 I largely missed out. Would I be able to experience hot edge fishing in 2014?
The flows on the Eagle River in Avon, CO on the Fourth of July in 2014 were 900 cfs. This is roughly double what I consider to be ideal, and the highest I’ve ever dealt with on the Eagle was 650 cfs. Dave G., however, suggested we give it a try on Saturday morning so I jumped on the idea. I tend to favor the water above Edwards as I believe it stays colder during the hot summer months and, therefore, holds nicer trout from season to season, but Dave G. wanted to try the lease that is several miles above Eagle, CO. I was skeptical that this water would yield a positive experience, but I was agreeable to giving it a try.
We drove along the river on route 6 until we saw a sign indicating that we were next to the leased water. We continued looking for a public entrance point, and approximately .5 mile from the upstream border with private land, we found a point where some stairs enable fishermen to climb over the fence. There were some cars parked at this access point, so we decided to execute a U-turn and return to the western boundary. We parked in a wide spot west of a large cattle gate and prepared to fish, and when ready, we quickly climbed over the gate. This was probably not a sanctioned entrance point, but it was clear from footprints that others had done it before us, and we weren’t damaging the fence in any way.
Dave G. selected this stretch because it carried a lower gradient and spread out in a wide riffle. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves at the edge of the river where there was a nice long and wide run with a decent amount of slack water between the bank and the current. Dave G. began with a nymphing rig and cast at the tail of the narrow pool and almost immediately hooked and landed a decent rainbow. I, meanwhile, tied on a tan pool toy and added a bright green caddis pupa as a dropper and began prospecting the narrower top 1/3 of the area. Dave G. hooked another fish, and I began to question whether I was employing the best technique for fishing this high cold river.
After covering some very attractive water, I noticed a short pocket just above an exposed boulder at the very top of the run and decided to flick my hopper/dropper into this area. On the second or third cast as I lifted to make another, I felt some weight on my rod and realized I was connected to a feisty 15 inch rainbow. I was somewhat reassured that my choice of method might produce, but I looked back downstream at Dave G., and his rod was bent with yet another nice fish that consumed a prince nymph.
I decided to press on upstream and called to tell Dave G. my intention. I worked up along the edge of the river with no additional success for fifteen minutes or so, and then added a beadhead hares ear as a second dropper below the pool toy. This action began to pay dividends, and I landed three small rainbows in some marginal shallow pockets next to the willows that lined the bank. It was at this point that I approached a more enticing stretch with a series of deeper cascading pockets that ran eight feet wide and at least four feet deep. My pulse began to race with the anticipation of fishing this water as my confidence in the dry/dropper offering had increased.
On one of my drifts at the beginning of this section, I observed a decent trout that looked at my pool toy and then returned to the bottom of the river. Was this fish just teasing me, or could I entice it to take one of my nymphs? I made a few more casts and executed a lift near the spot where I guessed my target was holding, and sure enough a 16 inch brown trout snatched the beadhead hares ear. I managed to steer the strong fighting beauty downstream and netted it in some shallow water. Perhaps I had stumbled into the exciting runoff edge fishing that I was searching for? I wasn’t sure of this, but I was now confident that my dry/dropper combination could be effective in the high flows of the Eagle River on 7/5/14, and this was important because prior to this fish, I was still debating whether to convert to indicator nymphing.
Next I cast to the head of the narrow slot where some frothy water spread out into the slower moving pool, and the pool toy disappeared in a heartbeat. My arm reacted with a solid hook set, and I was once again engaged in a thrilling battle. This fish made some strong runs but did not utilize the faster current to its advantage as much as the previous brown, so I was able to net the 17 inch rainbow and snap a photograph. All my doubts about the relative effectiveness of dry/dropper compared to nymphing disappeared as did my reservations about fishing this “warmer” western section of the Eagle River.
As I was releasing the 17 inch rainbow, Dave G. arrived, and I informed him of my dry/dropper success so he began the time consuming process of converting from nymphing to dry/dropper. While he was doing this, I continued on my path along the left bank and landed a small brown and a rainbow in the 12-13 inch range. I was enjoying my time on the Eagle River immensely as I fell into a routine of casting the pool toy and nymphs directly upstream and carefully watching the big foam indicator fly for a pause or dip.
Finally Dave G. was ready, and he moved 30-40 yards above me to an area where the river spread out and braided around some clumps of willows that protruded from the surface. As he disappeared from my view, I landed another thirteen inch rainbow, and as I released the silvery fish, I heard him call, so I scrambled over some slick boulders to find out the reason for the shout. As I approached him, he was netting and releasing a 20 inch rainbow, so I snapped a series of photos to capture the exciting moment.
Next on our path was an area where the bank grew quite steep, and it was covered with thick brush and dead branches thus forcing Dave G. and I to wade in some fairly deep water with lots of obstacles jutting out over the water. Dave G. and I decided the only way for two of us to fish this water was to alternate. Dave G. took a turn at the bottom of a nice deep section and landed three small browns, and then turned the pool over to me. I flipped a cast to the relatively shallow oxygenated head of the pool, and the pool toy instantly disappeared. A battle with a feisty 16 inch rainbow ensued, and I successfully landed and photographed my foe, but in the process I looped my line over a bare but not dead branch. I didn’t want to damage my tip by putting too much tension on it, so I grabbed both lines on either side of the branch and tugged hard. Everything released but much to my dismay the flies broke off from the tapered leader at the uppermost knot.
I was now forced to relinquish the water to Dave G. as I tied on a new pool toy, hares ear and salvation nymph. Eventually I returned to action and resumed alternating and landed several more decent rainbows that inhaled the salvation nymph. After quite a run of decent action, Dave G. and I encountered another fishermen who had come in above us, and the bank was not quite as steep and devoid of thick vegetation so we used this as an opportunity to make our exit. We climbed the bank and traversed a pasture and discovered that we were at the access point that featured a set of stairs to climb over the fence. We took advantage of this luxury and then hiked back along route 6 for close to a mile.
I was quite euphoric as we drove back to the Gaboury’s as I’d stumbled into the very situation I was seeking. The fish were concentrated along the edge of the river and hungry, and the water level was clear and low enough to enable us to fish successfully. Of the thirteen fish I landed, ten were rainbows, and I discovered that a stretch of the Eagle River that I’d grown to bypass contained lots of nice trout. I immediately began formulating a plan to return.