Time: 9:30AM – 1:00PM
Location: Christina Lease downstream end and then upstream
Fish Landed: 7
The fishing on the Yampa River within the town of Steamboat Springs on Tuesday was not enjoyable enough to offset the annoyance of the heavy traffic of flotation devices, so I decided to gamble a bit and try new water. When Jane and I camped at Steamboat Lake, we drove along the Elk River for much of its length, and at the time it was flowing at 1,200 cfs. The Elk River streambed is smaller than the Yampa, yet the flows were 25% greater. While I was in cell range in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, I checked the department of water resources web site, and the velocity had dropped to the 750cfs range. This is still quite high, but I hoped that edge fishing might be a hot ticket so I made the trip.
Other than the headwaters in the national forest along Seedhouse Road, there is only one 1.2 mile section of public access on the lower Elk called the Christina lease. I arrived at a pullout at the downstream edge of this area after 9AM on Wednesday morning and prepared to fish with my Sage five weight rod. As I looked down at the water, I could see that it was indeed high but also very clear. Unlike Tuesday the weather was cool as the sky was quite overcast, and it would remain this way for most of my time on the Elk.
Once I was ready I walked along the shoulder for a short distance to check out the water and to find a reasonably safe path down the very steep bank. A dangerous fall before I even wet a line was not in my plan. After some searching I discovered an angled path and very cautiously side stepped my way down to the edge of the river. Since I was hoping for robust edge action, I tied on a buoyant Charlie boy hopper and trailed a beadhead hares ear and ultra zug bug. This was virgin water for me, and I did not remember the recommended flies from the online fishing reports.
Despite my optimism I covered quite a bit of water in the first half hour with only a small six inch rainbow to show for my efforts. The hungry rainbow inhaled the hares ear, but I was hoping for more size and quantity. The river was somewhat intimidating due to the high fast flows and my lack of familiarity with the river. In addition I was in the shadow of the high eastern bank, and this made it difficult to judge water depth as I moved upstream. As an added hindrance dense thick bushes hugged the shoreline, and this did not facilitate walking, so I was forced to carefully negotiate around branches and trees that swept over the river. I was quite fearful of being knocked off my feet at these spots by the swift run off currents.
After an hour or so of unproductive dry/dropper fishing, I decided to try deep nymphing. I added a split shot, thingamabobber, pine squirrel leech (no bead), and juju emerger. I spotted a few PMD’s floating up from the surface thus the choice of a juju emerger. On nearly the first cast the indicator paused, and I set the hook and saw a large brown trout thrash near the surface. What a shock! I played it for five to ten seconds, and then it made a sudden twist, and the fly came free. Needless to say I was quite disappointed.
I moved on, but the pine squirrel leech did not appear to be producing, so I removed it and added a salvation nymph but kept the juju emerger, since I thought the escaped brown was fooled by it. The salvation/juju combination improved my fortunes, and I landed six more fish until I quit at 1PM. It was not especially hot fishing, but at least it was steady enough to keep me interested. Among these fish were a feisty thirteen inch rainbow and a very nice thirteen inch brown. The brown had vivid spots and deep gold coloring and was quite thick. As expected by this description, it put up a tenacious battle with much head shaking and deep diving. The brown trout took the juju emerger.
Not long after the first hefty brown, I also hooked another that appeared to exceed fifteen inches. This bruiser came from a nondescript relatively shallow rocky chute right along the edge. I fought this fish longer, but as I was finally guiding it to within 10 feet of my net, it worked free, and the pent up energy in my rod caused the flies to catapult into an evergreen tree high above me on the bank. Somehow I stretched as far as I could and managed to break off the tip of the evergreen branch to recover the fly.
Another lost opportunity was a rainbow that also appeared to be in the fifteen inch range. This fish actually took one of the flies from a slick behind a large boulder farther out away from the bank. I fought this fish for awhile, but it managed to break free on the third or fourth hot dash toward the middle of the river. In the case of all the lost fish, the fly did not break, but worked loose during the heat of the battle.
At 12:30 I approached a point where the river split around a small island. The right or eastern channel created a lovely pool where the current spilled around a curve toward the bottom tip of the island. I tried the nymphs, but this water screamed for a dry/dropper approach, so I made the conversion with a Charlie boy on top and the salvation and juju emerger on the bottom. I sprayed casts along the main current seam and spotted one refusal, as a rainbow finned toward the hopper but then turned back. A secondary current ran toward the island above the main one that I prospected, so I launched a long cast to the slow area above the tongue of the current. A swirl to the hopper surprised me, so I set the hook and stripped in an eight inch brook trout and took a photo. While not much size, this gave me a trout trifecta on the Elk River…one brown, one brook, and five rainbows.
After releasing the brook trout, I noticed a worn path on the other side of the river, so I found a safe crossing point and climbed to the road and then walked down the shoulder to the car. The Elk River fishing was steady, and I missed some decent opportunities for better fish, but I was quite weary from all the climbing and scrambling required to negotiate the bank with the high flows. I never found a great rhythm and was not clear on what type of water produced the better fish. There did not seem to be any commonality to the productive areas. I decided to return to Steamboat Springs to check out the Yampa in town and assess the tube traffic while I ate lunch. I was keeping my options open for the afternoon.