Time: 12:00PM – 2:30PM
Location: One mile upstream from Big Hole
Fish Landed: 1
Jane and I planned a combination fishing and camping trip for July, and the date finally arrived. Originally I hoped to visit Flaming Gorge and then Strawberry Reservoir and end at the South Fork of the Snake River, but we decided that was too much for six days, so we eliminated the Strawberry Reservoir stay from our itinerary. I used the online reservation system to reserve a campsite at Firefighters’ Memorial Campground in Flaming Gorge Recreation Area for three nights, and then Jane called the Hansen Guest Ranch in Swan Valley to reserve a room for three nights. Our trip would begin on July 23 and end on July 29.
For lodging near the South Fork of the Snake River we originally considered the South Fork Lodge or The Inn at Pallisades Creek, but these proved to be too rich for our tastes, so we downgraded a bit. After three nights of camping we felt it made sense to stay in a hotel and gain access to showers and a bed.
We packed the Santa Fe on Wednesday morning and made the seven hour drive to Flaming Gorge. We discovered that the heat wave that enveloped Colorado also rested over northeastern Utah when we arrived at our campsite on Wednesday afternoon. When we picked our campsite on the reservation system, it only offered sites on Loop C, and it was difficult to see what we were choosing. Upon our arrival we found site number 87 and discovered it was close to the highway, lacked shade and was quite near the neighboring site. We circled loop C and found site 80 was much more desirable and unreserved for our stay period, so we traded sites and left a note for the campground host.
The other complication to the camping portion of the trip was our tent. On a camping trip the week before, I experienced some severe winds ahead of a rainstorm, and the rain fly ended up sheared in five or six locations. We were unable to contact Eureka, the tent manufacturer, over the weekend, so we purchased a new tent from REI on Saturday. Before I departed for work on Monday morning I called Eureka and discovered that I could purchase a replacement rain fly for our Equinox 6 model tent. I placed an order for the rain fly and paid for overnight shipping, and sure enough the new covering arrived on Tuesday, and Jane returned the back up tent to the REI store in downtown Denver for credit.
Once we determined that site number 80 was our home for three nights, we put up the tent and covered it with our new purchase. Our original rain fly was a silver cover, but we soon discovered that the replacement was gold even though the salesperson called it tan. After a quick dinner and an evening exploratory hike on the Bootleg Trail across from the entrance to the campground, we decided to crawl into our tent and read and then go to sleep. It was quite warm, so we decided to sleep on top of our sleeping bags rather than curl up in a toasty down cocoon, but it didn’t take long for the new rain fly to be put to a difficult stress test. For some reason the wind began to blow relentlessly and continued through the night. At one point I woke up and exited the tent and discovered the tablecloth had blown off the table and came to rest fifteen feet away. A towel was on the ground and the tent actually shifted several feet from its original position. The poles supporting the awning over the entrance were on the ground and the rain fly flapped repetitively against the tent. Much to our amazement, we were able to fall asleep again, and when we woke up on Thursday we took inventory of our belongings and found nothing missing. The rain fly had managed to survive the night and high wind without tearing.
As the wind continued in the morning we repositioned the rain fly, and then I pounded stakes through the rings at the bottom of all the tent poles. When we shopped for a new tent, we discovered that all modern tents are equipped with stakes that hold the tent poles in place, so this became valuable information for our camping success.
To start our day Jane and I took a three mile bike ride on the Bootleg Trail to the canyon rim and back, and then Jane prepared a tasty meal of eggs and cornbread muffins. We were now confident that the tent was secure, and my thoughts shifted to fishing. For my first day I decided to drive to Little Hole, seven miles below the dam, and hike up the river to fish. Jane decided to accompany me, but we hiked a short distance up the trail and encountered a long slender silver snake wrapped around the dead branches of a shrub next to the trail. Jane is deathly afraid of snakes, so that would be the furthest penetration of the Little Hole trail for her, as she returned to the parking lot and the comfort of her book.
We said our goodbyes, and I agreed to meet Jane back in the parking lot no later than 3PM. I was now by myself so I increased the pace and hiked for another twenty minutes until I reached an area that I remembered from my visit in September 2013. This stretch reminded me of the Arkansas River as the current swept parallel to a rocky bank, and there were numerous pockets and deep slots in the space in between. I decided to approach the river in the same manner that I approach this type of water in Colorado, and I tied on a Chernobyl ant, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph and began prospecting all the likely fish holding spots. After some time elapsed, I saw a handful of caddis on the water, so I swapped the salvation nymph for a bright green caddis pupa, but again my efforts were stymied.
Unfortunately more time transpired with no success other than a rainbow that followed the Chernobyl ant as I lifted to recast. This all took place no more than four feet in front of me. My allotted time to fish was slipping away, and I wasn’t having any positive results, so I decided to change tactics and removed the dry/dropper configuration and replaced it with a size 12 gray stimulator. This took place just before my turnaround point.
I began prospecting the same type of water that I was casting the dry/dropper to and in some swirling water along a current seam, the large dry attractor disappeared. I reacted with a timely hook set, and my line began spinning off my reel at a rapid clip. I allowed the fish to make a furious run, and when it slowed down, I applied a bit of pressure. This produced several acrobatic leaps in which the entire fish cleared the water, and I was now able to see the wide crimson stripe of a silvery glistening rainbow trout. Eventually I was able to tire out my noble foe, and I slid the net beneath the bright and hefty rainbow and then migrated to the bank for a photo. Catching and landing this fish was a thrill and totally unexpected given my lack of action before and after this episode.
I glanced at my watch and realized I needed to start my return hike in order to meet Jane by 3PM, but as I walked briskly along the path, I observed closely to spot fish. I was quite successful in recognizing numerous fish in slow moving water hovering near the bank. In fact within .2 miles of the parking lot I noticed a pair of fish close to the bank, and I cast to them for a short while. Initially I drifted the stimulator, but that was ignored, so I clipped it off and tied on a small fur parachute ant. Surely with all the strong wind and with the fish positioned within several feet of the grassy bank,. the fish would jump on an ant! Unfortunately my strategy was a near miss, as the closest rainbow rose in the water column and put its nose against the ant only to drop back down to its holding spot near the river bottom.
With that rude refusal firmly planted in my memory banks, I retreated to the parking lot and met Jane at 3:10PM. One fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is not great, but at least it was a fat 17″ brightly colored rainbow. I decided to fish below the dam on Friday and to use my hard earned Thursday experience to my advantage and fish to spotted trout. Would this improve my catch rate? Stay tuned.