Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Eagle Lease, western end
My goal for 2016 was to experience prime edge fishing conditions on the Yampa River, Eagle River and Arkansas River. All three of these rivers are essentially freestone rivers, and each offers excellent action as the high run off volume of water recedes. Under these conditions, the hungry trout are forced to seek relief from the high velocity by migrating to the banks and places with large rocks or logs. A fly fisherman can enjoy hot fishing by seeking out the locations where the fish are forced to congregate.
In 2016 I checked off the Yampa River, as I enjoyed superb days on June 23 and June 28 by focusing my efforts solely on the thin band of water within eight feet of the bank. I was rewarded with a decent quantity of larger than average healthy hard fighting fish. The Eagle River was next on my list, but unfortunately Saturday July 2 proved to be very challenging. The weather was uncooperative, hatches failed to materialize, and the flows elevated to very difficult levels between 1500 – 1600 cfs. The Arkansas River was on my to do list, but flows on that large river remained in the 1500 level. The same storm system that hammered the Eagle River affected clarity and levels on the Arkansas River, so I designated that as a near future destination.
The Eagle River remained foremost on my mind as an unfulfilled edge fishing goal, and the window was quickly closing. Jane and I planned to undertake a camping and fishing trip to the Arkansas River on July 5-8, but the impact of rain reported above caused me to reconsider. I decided to insert a day trip to the Eagle River on Tuesday July 5 and delayed the Arkansas venture to July 6 – 9.
Jane and I dropped Dan off at the Central Park light rail station on Tuesday morning, so I was up extra early, and this enabled me to depart the house by 6:15. I avoided rush hour traffic and made great time. I decided to return to the western end of the Eagle Lease if the water was clear, and once I passed Wolcott and drove along the river on route six, I realized that water clarity was perfect. I quickly pulled on my new waders and stuffed my lunch and raincoat in my backpack and strode down the shoulder of the road to the designated entry point to the lease. The raincoat turned out to be only a safety net, as the weather was perfect for my entire day on the river. The high temperature reached the upper seventies, but long periods of cloud cover permitted shirt sleeve comfort.
Because of my difficult day on Saturday, I began fishing with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear and 20 incher. I assumed that I needed to fish deep given the elevated flows, although it was obvious that the water was lower than my previous venture to this same spot on Saturday. In the first juicy shelf pool I was unable to interest any fish, and the next stretch of water was more conducive to dry/dropper, so I made the conversion. I began with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a beadhead hares ear and emerald caddis pupa.
These flies also failed to arouse interest in the next couple attractive areas characterized by slower moving water, so I once again made a change and placed my fortunes with an ultra zug bug instead of the emerald caddis. Again I was stifled in my attempt to catch a fish. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 10:30, so I gambled that the fish would be tuned into pale morning dun nymphs. I moved the hares ear to the top fly and added a salvation nymph to imitate the nymph state of the PMD.
Success. Between 10:30 and 11:30 I landed four trout, and three were absolutely stunning and powerful 15-16 inch rainbows. Each of these fish put up an intense battle before I was fortunate enough to slide it into my net. Given the hot action on the salvation, I was fairly certain that an emergence would transpire, so I sat on a log and munched my small lunch at 11:45.
Sure enough after lunch the population of adult PMD’s intensified, but I only spotted one or two rises. I removed my three flies and tried a size 18 cinnamon comparadun for a bit, but the fish did not respond, so I changed back to the dry/dropper configuration. The next phase of my day was one of frustration, as I hooked but failed to land at least four very nice fish and remained entrenched on a fish count of four for quite awhile.
Finally I approached some nice riffles and runs of moderate depth, and I succeeded in landing three additional fish to bring my total to seven. Two were relatively small, but one was another powerful rainbow trout that forced me to employ my best fish landing skills. By this point I progressed farther up the river than any of my previous ventures to the western edge of the lease, and I arrived at a gorgeous section of flats. The water in this area was relatively smooth, and the depth was only two to three feet. I could see three or four fish working in the surface film, so I paused and once again removed my dry/dropper lineup and pinned my hopes on the cinnamon comparadun.
The move paid off handsomely, as I landed four additional trout including another rocket fueled rainbow that streaked up and down the flats, until I finally pressured it into my net. What a thrill it was to catch a chunky fifteen inch rainbow on a size 18 dry fly. I moved up into the flats to get a closer look at the riffle at the head beneath a tree limb, and sure enough I saw a decent fish feeding fairly aggressively. On the fourth cast my heart jumped, when the fish turned its head and sipped my dun. I fought this brown for a minute or two, and then it escaped my hook.
I now had a bit of confidence in fishing the small comparadun solo, so I continued with the approach, and I was surprised to witness another slurp when I prospected a long slick behind an exposed rock. This was another quality rainbow and brought the fish counter to twelve on the day. I attempted to continue with the comparadun, but the water type changed into faster deeper flows. A small fish actually refused the PMD near the bank, so I swapped it for a light gray caddis because quite a few adults were dapping on the surface. The small picky eater rejected this fly as well.
I decided to forget about the little guy and moved to the next section, but this water was more conducive to dry/dropper, so I once again invested time to make the change. This time I used a Chernobyl ant as the top fly along with the standard hares ear and salvation combination. I tossed the trio of flies directly upstream to a nice deep run within three feet of the bank. As the flies drifted back toward me, the Chernobyl dipped, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a brute of a brown trout. I am sure this fish was in excess of fifteen inches. I battled the angry brown for a couple minutes and then for some unknown reason the hook released. Adding insult to injury, the pent up energy in my bowed fly rod caused the three flies to lurch high into the air, and they landed in a willow tree behind me. It was impossible to reach the flies, so I grabbed the line and tugged forcefully, and the flies broke at the knot that attached the Chernobyl ant. The foam ant dangled two feet below the tree limb and mocked me for attempting to match my strength with the big brown.
I sat on a log and grieved my bad luck for a few minutes, and then I replaced the three flies, but I only lasted for another fifteen minutes before I noticed it was 3:30, and I was not sure what my exit strategy was. I climbed a steep bank and then paralleled the river for a bit until I saw a rope fence. I walked along the fence for twenty yards and then found a dirt path that eventually led me to the road.
I achieved my goal of successfully edge fishing the Eagle River in 2016, and I landed quite a few large powerful rainbows that caused me to apply my best fish fighting skills. Unfortunately I lost the battle at least six times, but that is what makes fly fishing so interesting. Another negative for the day was the loss of five salvation nymphs. I am consuming them at a rapid pace, and the bulk of the best fishing lies ahead, but then again, that is why I tied a large quantity of them during the winter. It was a fun day in beautiful weather catching lots of hefty energized trout. That is what edge fishing is all about.
On to the Arkansas River.
Fish Landed: 12