Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: MM10 and then upstream beyond the spring
Fish Landed: 16
I read my post from a visit to the Frying Pan River in September 2014 when I fished the area near the spring with much success despite the absence of any significant hatch. On Tuesday I chased hatches in vain on the upper four miles while working around quite a few other fishermen, so I decided to drop down lower to avoid crowds, and perhaps capture the same magic that favored me in 2014.
The wet weather continued in the Frying Pan Valley, as I woke up several times during the night to the sound of steady rain on the Big Agnes tent roof. Since I planned to return to Denver after fishing on Wednesday, I needed to pack up all the camping gear including the tent, and the tent was quite soggy after two nights of rain plus a shower late Tuesday afternoon. In order to keep my sleeping gear and fishing bag dry, I conceived a packing plan that worked out quite well. I placed the tablecloth, tent footprint, tent and rainfly on the waterproof mat in the rear of the Santa Fe and then stacked the cooler and food bins on top. The strategy worked quite well as all the intended items remained dry for a day of fishing and for the return drive. My fishing clothes were an exception, but more on that later.
By the time I completed the elaborate packing configuration to work around rain soaked gear and yet keep my fishing equipment accessible and dry, I arrived at the parking pullout next the spring by 9:30. Once again it was quite overcast with heavy gray clouds blocking attempts of the sun to break through, and this translated to chilly temperatures in the low 50’s. I wore my raincoat as a windbreaker, and extracted my Loomis five weight for duty. I planned to chuck a heavy foam top fly in a dry/dropper configuration to mimic my successful day in 2014, and the eight foot six inch Loomis performs this task quite well and also seems to place less strain on my aging right shoulder. The weather on Wednesday was shaping up to be very similar to what I documented during the previous September. The flows were a bit high for my tastes at 270 CFS, but I guessed that this was also comparable to the September 2014 outing that I was attempting to replicate.
There are two small islands in the segment of water between mile marker ten and the spring. One tiny snip of land surrounded by water is just above the border with private property, and I fished from that point to the second larger island on Tuesday. I planned to cross the river across from the spring after lunch, so for the morning session I elected to fish from the tip of the second island back up to the car but along the bank next to the road. During 2014 a Charlie boy grasshopper was favored by large Frying Pan rainbows, so I tied one of these buoyant flies to my line as a top fly, and then knotted on a hares ear nymph followed by a salvation nymph.
I worked my way up to the car by 11:00 and registered two small brown trout. It was too early to eat lunch, so I decided to sample the left edge from the spring upstream and along the road until 11:30. Because of dense trees and vegetation, there were limited paths down to the river, and it was difficult to wade due to the swift flows tight to the bank. I did manage to land a couple more small browns during this time to advance the fish count to four before I returned to the car and devoured my light lunch.
The weather after lunch improved moderately with some extended breaks in the clouds that allowed the sun to break through, although long segments of dense cloud cover made me appreciate the decision to continue wearing my raincoat. Before I resumed fishing, I took the time to replace the Charlie boy hopper with a tan and gray pool toy. As was my intention, I crossed the river across from the spring after lunch and fished some small pockets along the way. I carefully angled my way upstream and across until I approached one of my favorite spots where a nice deep riffle moves from the center of the river toward the opposite bank. Here I managed to land a small brown, but missed an opportunity to land a large rainbow. As the dry/dropper drifted along the current seam near the tail, a huge football shaped rainbow rose to inspect the pool toy. My pulse exploded, but the big boy did not like what it saw and dropped back to its resting position. I attempted quite a few more drifts, but unfortunately the bruiser ignored the trailing nymphs, and waited for something other than what I was offering.
I moved on and continued fishing upstream along the right bank for the remainder of the afternoon. I managed to land quite a few additional brown trout, but I never settled into a smooth rhythm akin to my 2014 experience. In addition, the fish were mostly in the nine to twelve inch range with the two best catches extending to thirteen. I made some excellent drifts through some very attractive pockets with no reward for my efforts. I was handicapped by being right handed, and as I progressed upstream, this necessitated backhand casts. I felt that I needed to use three flies, and the combination of three flies and backhand casts is a recipe for massive tangles. Wednesday confirmed this theory.
One highlight occurred when I approached a wide smooth pool behind a large rock that provided a significant current break. Just as I was about to loft my flies to the middle of the slick behind the rock, a huge rainbow tipped up and sipped in an unidentifiable morsel of food. I decided to give my flies a try and dropped the pool toy and trailing nymphs five feet above the scene of the rise. Once again my heart stopped as the big boy slowly elevated and slurped my fly. Initially I thought it gulped the large pool toy, but as I applied pressure to leverage the beast toward my net, it became clear that the rainbow had inhaled one of the trailing nymphs. The fish did not show much early reaction to my attempts to steer it toward me, but apparently it had a slow fuse, because as I guided it within eight feet of my position, and as I was about to pressure it across some faster water in between, it suddenly grew concerned. The fish was clearly in excess of twenty inches, and now it began to throw its weight around. First it shot back to the center of the midstream pool, and then it did what I feared. It shot to the tail just above the fast water chute, and once again I thought I arrested its retreat. This proved to be momentary, however, as it made a sudden turn and shot down the chute. I made a futile attempt to allow my reel to spin and prepared to follow the prize downstream, but before I could make one step the pool toy came flying back toward me minus two nymphs. It was that sort of day.
I cannot understate the effort required to negotiate my way upstream along the south bank. Dense brush bordered the river, thus I was required to wade the rocky edge. This was not an easy task, and twice one of my feet slid on angled mossy rocks causing me to fall softly on my side next to the water. At 3 o’clock however, the ultimate indignity transpired. I found myself in a predicament where there were overhanging branches and a very large mossy angled rock ahead of me. The river at this point was a white water chute, so I had a tiny gap where I hoped to slide around the large boulder. It was a mistake. I placed my foot next to the base of the rock, and immediately it slide out toward the river. In addition, my other foot glided toward the flowing water as well, and the next thing I knew, I was on my back in the small pocket below the large rock. I managed to drop my rod and avoid breakage, and I righted myself as fast as I could but not before ice cold bottom release river water rushed over the top of my waters. It was quite a shock to my system, and I despise the sound of water sloshing inside my wader feet.
Fortunately the sun was out to warm me a bit, and I was close to a wide shallow section where I could cross to the road. But before doing so, I spotted a nice run of moderate depth ahead of me, so I flicked a couple casts along the current seam and induced a twelve inch brown to grab the hares ear. I was a soggy mess, but I still persisted in attacking the Frying Pan trout population.
When I reached the car, I found a dry change of clothes, and then I created a new layer of wet items on top of the rain soaked section in the back of the Santa Fe. I probably quit an hour before I intended due to my mishap, but this enabled me to get a jump on my return drive.
Sixteen fish is a decent number for the Frying Pan river in September, but I was disappointed by the absence of hatches, the lack of size, and of course my opinion was tainted by my unintended swimming lesson. I have fished the Frying Pan in September and October and enjoyed fairly dense hatches of green drakes, pale morning duns, and blue winged olives; so I am perplexed to explain the lack of hatches during my recent visit. The only explanation I can suggest is the cool weather. The week before on the White River was nearly perfect, so perhaps the fishing gods were throwing some adversity my way to even things out.