Eagle River – 07/05/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle CO.

Eagle River 07/05/2017 Photo Album

Three common vexing fly fishing problems are: the line to leader connection gets stuck in the last rod guide necessitating the awkward practice of grabbing the fly rod in the middle in order to pull directly on the fly line, flies get embedded in one’s sungloves, and lids on dry shake canisters come loose resulting in the powdery substance disbursing all over one’s front pack. Thursday was one of those days. All three occurred, but the dry shake dump was the most irritating. I will highlight this more later.

Needless to say I was very anxious to return to the Eagle River after my splendid outing on Monday July 3. The flows dropped by 200 cfs to the 1050 range, and I suspected that the fish would remain in their bank lies to avoid the surging volume in the middle of the river. Packing my gear for a fishing trip was a breeze compared to loading the car for a camping/fishing/bicycling trip, such as the one we completed the previous week to the Steamboat Springs area.

Lower Flows Reveal More Slow Water Along the Left Bank

I managed to depart Denver by 7:45, and light traffic placed me at the access point to a public section of the Eagle River by 10:00. One might assume that many of the fishermen who cluttered the pullouts along the river on Monday would be back at their place of work on Wednesday, but that supposition might be questionable. Nearly every spot along US 6 contained a vehicle of some sort, and fishing appeared to be the chosen activity of these outdoor enthusiasts. I parked near the same place that attracted me on Monday, and in fact after I assembled my Sage One five weight and stashed my lunch, I entered the public area at the same location and began fishing at the same spot.

I began my quest with a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and beadhead hares ear. If this sounds familiar, it is the exact same lineup that served me so well on Monday. I began fishing at the tail of the long shelf pool that yielded a supercharged rainbow on July 3, and on the seventh cast toward the midsection the fat Albert darted sideways causing me to set the hook. I was instantly connected to a gallant fighter, and it displayed its displeasure of having a pointy object in its mouth by streaking into the fast current. I allowed line to spin from my reel at an alarming rate, and then a football sized rainbow trout launched from the river and crashed back in some frothy waves. I was essentially a spectator to these histrionics, as there was no stopping the freight train. The performance was fun while it lasted, but then the missile made a quick pause and acceleration and ended the affair. I reeled up my line and discovered that the beadhead hares ear was missing in action. What a shame.

I paused to arm my line with another hares ear, and as I was doing so, I heard the sound of something moving through the willows to my left. I gazed toward the dense cluster of whippy trees, and another fisherman appeared. He asked if I was going downstream, and I shook my head in the negative and pointed upstream. He muttered that he would move a good distance above me, and I resumed fishing. It was obvious that this gentleman had entered the area at an unofficial entry point, but I decided not to inform him of this, although I was annoyed that I followed the rules and spent thirty minutes fighting through some adverse conditions, while he jumped the fence and walked directly to my starting spot. I was more upset that he interrupted my karma, and he undoubtedly would disturb some prime bank side runs and pockets that yielded nice fish on Monday.

I continued on my way and picked up three very small trout until I finally hooked and landed a thirteen inch brown on the hares ear. After thirty minutes I spotted the other fisherman actively engaged in casting, so I exited and circled around him. I intentionally walked quite a distance away from the bank, so he would not see me, and I cut back at the point where the river split around a small island. A clump of willows downstream blocked any view he would have of me. This maneuver cost me a significant amount of quality water, but I did not want any additional interaction.

Nice Brown in Early Afternoon Action

At the top of the smaller left braid I cast the dry/dropper system to the deepest part of the relatively shallow flow. I did not expect much from this half-hearted plop, but suddenly the top fly paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a fourteen inch brown trout. This surprising turn of events was quite welcome, and I celebrated after releasing the feisty catch with a brief lunch break.

Top View of a Yellow Sally

As was the case on Monday, the air was filled with an explosion of yellow sallies after lunch. Most of the stoneflies were small and approximated a size 16 fly; however, some size 12 and 14 adults were in the mix. The stoneflies were the predominant insect in the air, but I also observed some small blue winged olives and pale morning duns. I adhered to my strategy of July 3 and continued to fish with the yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and beadhead hares ear. The iron sally and hares ear were aggressively attacked two days ago, but the fish nearly ignored my offering on Wednesday. I landed one small rainbow trout just over six inches to push the fish count to six, and then I endured a long dry spell that involved repeated casts with unproductive drifts over numerous very attractive deep runs, riffles and pockets. Stoneflies, caddis and mayflies were everywhere; yet no fish were rising, and the hares ear and iron sally were blatantly ignored.

I cycled through a pheasant tail and salvation in case the trout preferences shifted to the nymph state of the pale morning duns, but these were also ineffective. A go2 caddis pupa and bright green sparkle pupa also failed to end the drought. The dry/dropper method was simply not getting the job done, so I removed the trio of flies and experimented with a single yellow stimulator, and I also tested a light gray comparadun. These seemed more futile than the dry/dropper approach, since surface feeding was a non-event. I remained mystified that such a dense source of food did not encourage binge feeding by the Eagle River trout. My only explanation is that the trout were locked into a phase of the insect life cycle that my flies failed to imitate.

Chunky Brown Was a Late Afternoon Surprise

By three o’clock I resigned myself to a six fish day that included four trout barely over six inches and two medium sized brown trout. The flow conditions were prime, and insect activity was impressive, yet I experienced a mediocre outing. For some reason I decided to convert back to the dry/dropper approach; however, this time I chose a size 8 Chernobyl ant as my top fly, but I resurrected the iron sally and hares ear. The main hatch was now history, but a few stragglers made infrequent appearances over the water. Sometimes persistence is rewarded, and on Wednesday this was definitely the case for me. The section that I finished the day on was wider and thus offered more wide riffles and runs over moderate depth. I executed solid drag free drifts over these stretches, and suddenly brown trout and rainbow trout demonstrated interest in my flies.

Scarlet Striped Rainbow

In the next hour I landed one gorgeous fifteen inch brown trout, and three rainbow trout in the 13 – 14 inch range. All four grabbed the hare ear. The only difference between the late afternoon and early afternoon fishing was the time of day, fewer hatching insects, wider gentler structure, and a Chernobyl ant lead fly rather than a fat Albert. The late afternoon success salvaged an otherwise lackluster outing.

Just Gorgeous

At 4PM I approached a very nice wide riffle, run and pool area. Some large clouds slid in front of the sun and dimmed the lighting, and this prompted caddis of varying sizes to begin dapping and dancing above the riffles. The active adult caddis in turn encouraged surface feeding among the residents of the large attractive area in front of me. I removed the dry/dropper configuration and tied a size 16 light gray caddis to my line. I was confident that this fly would appeal to the slashing eaters, but instead four trout surfaced and put their nose against my fly before diving back to their holding lie. How could this be? I waited all day for surface action, and now my fly was rejected. I searched in my fly box and cycled through an olive size 16 caddis, an olive muggly caddis, and a size 14 gray stimulator. The muggly caddis generated some looks, but the others were ignored.

Nearing My Exit Point

I decided to look for a size 18 caddis, since refusals generally suggest downsizing. I remembered tying light gray size 18’s during the winter, but I could not find any in my MFC fly box. I cursed the fact that they were in my boat box in the car and not available at this critical time. Eventually I stumbled on a tiny CDC puff of a caddis dry fly with a light cream body. I gambled that size mattered most and tied this to my line. Amazingly on a drift along the current seam, a rainbow trout surfaced and inhaled my fake. The fish was clearly in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and I battled it for a minute, until it slipped off the hook. I finally managed to dupe one of the selective feeders, but it never put a sag in my net.

The most active feeders at the bottom of the run ceased to rise, so I shifted my gaze to another wider riffle area on the opposite side of the strong run that sliced the section in half. Rises were not as frequent in this area, but I did spot a few. I decided to move above the main center current, and this allowed me to execute some downstream drifts to the new target area. Remember the capsized dry shake canister? I reached in my front pack for the dry shake, and I discovered it was upside down and wedged on the bottom. I attempted to wrap my fingers around the bottom to prevent a release, but the safeguard did not matter. I guessed that the contents had already dumped. I attempted to dip the CDC caddis in the powder on the bottom of the front pack, but this was largely ineffective. Drying out CDC is difficult under normal circumstances, but it was nearly impossible in this scenario.

I decided to ad lib, and I once again tied on the sparse size 16 light gray caddis that I began fishing with upon seeing the rises in the riffle. Unlike earlier, however, I cast across and down, and this new approach achieved success. I landed a twelve inch brown trout and a similar sized rainbow. Both slashed at and grabbed the dry fly as it twitched slightly near the end of the drift. Perhaps motion was the missing ingredient to fooling the trout in the lower half. I will never know because I decided to call it quits at four o’clock.

I landed twelve trout on Wednesday, and six landed in my net during the late afternoon portion of my day. Normally my most productive period is between 11AM and 3PM, but on this day the timing was reversed. The July 5 fishing outing transformed from mediocre to better than average, and my net felt the weight of a fifteen inch brown and several muscular hard fighting rainbows. I anticipate that the Eagle River will continue to be in prime fishing condition for two more weeks. Hopefully I can schedule another day or two on the beautiful freestone tributary to the Colorado River.

Fish Landed: 12


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