Time: 10:00AM – 4:30PM
Location: Northgate Canyon
Fish Landed: 2
Humility is a good thing, and the North Platte River humbled me on Thursday. Last September I did a camping/fishing loop through northern Colorado around the same time of the year and had a blast on the White River, Yampa River and then on the last day on the North Platte River. Spending time with Amy during her visit took precedence over a fishing trip, but I was anxious to return to the North Plate River. During my visit in 2010 to the North Platte I felt I did more exploring than serious fishing, and I wanted to give it another opportunity with the scouting trip behind me.
It takes three hours to drive from Denver to Walden, and then another 20 minutes from Walden to the trailhead, and then another half hour to one hour to the good fishing depending on how deep one wants to go. This is really too much to turn around in a day trip so I reserved a room at the North Park Inn and Suites for Wednesday night. I packed the car when I arrived home from work, and then Jane and I went to Wahoo’s for dinner. I departed directly from Wahoo’s and drove to Walden and arrived at the NP Inn at around 9:45PM. As it turned out the hotel exceeded my expectations for $75 per night including taxes.
I woke up at around 7AM on Thursday morning eagerly anticipating my North Platte adventure. I drove a short distance from the hotel down the main street and decided to have breakfast at the Moose Creek Café. There was a large group of fishermen having breakfast so I was concerned I’d have a lot of competition in the canyon. After a hearty breakfast I walked over to the North Park Angler fly shop and the breakfast group was milling about the store purchasing flies and preparing to fish. The owner came over to greet me and helped me purchase five sinking tricos. I commented that I would have some competition in the canyon, and he told me that the group was fishing private water, and I’d likely have the canyon to myself.
As I drove back to the hotel to gather my belongings and check out, I looked at the dashboard thermometer, and it was 19 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit not centigrade! I took off and made the twenty minute drive north to the Northgate trailhead and arrived at around 8:40AM. It took me awhile to organize all my gear for a full day in the canyon…lunch, raincoat, flies, etc. A year ago I put my fishing gear in my backpack and hiked the trail, but getting to my target stretch of water involved a stream crossing, so I elected to put on my waders and hike in fully geared for fishing. It was 25 degrees on the car at the trailhead so I wore my fishing gloves and several layers under my waders. By the time I’d sorted through my flies and embedded additions in my front pack my fingers were curled up and barely functional from the sub-freezing temperatures.
I began my hike and welcomed the body heat I was generating from walking at a rapid pace. My previous trip paid dividends as I knew approximately where I needed to cross the river to the opposite bank, and then I hiked downstream a considerable distance to the last stretch of boulders and deep pockets and runs before the river widened out into a largely barren shallow stretch.
In addition to the cold air temperatures, the wind was whipping down the river through the canyon adding wind chill as I struggled to tie a yellow Letort hopper on my line and then a beadhead hares ear. I prospected the first series of pockets and runs below mid-stream boulders with no luck and skipped through some flat nondescript water to the next boulder area. Here on a drift along a current seam a 10-12 inch brown grabbed the trailing hares ear, and I was on the board. Little did I know that my North Platte adventure had pretty much peaked at this point.
I continued up the river to the next attractive boulder area and on one of the drifts on a current seam, the hopper darted to the right and I set the hook and felt the weight of a substantial fish. I played it for a minute or two when it made a change in direction and both trailing flies popped off. I didn’t feel like I made a mistake with the amount of pressure I applied, so I attribute the lost fish to a bad knot. Given the cold temperatures and the long buildup, I was quite disappointed with this turn of events.
I moved up the river again to a spot where several currents merged to form a nice deep run between several large boulders. I replaced the hares ear with a beadhead pheasant tail and cast to the sweet spot at the top of the run. As it drifted by the boulder on the left I noticed a refusal and then on the second cast a large fish rose, inspected and refused the hopper. I continued to cast and cover the area and then brought a cast back to the left so that the drift was similar to the first two. I could see the larger fish rise and this time it broke the surface. I set the hook and again I was attached to a substantial fish. This time as I played the fish I felt the telltale skip as I believe the fish shed the initial hook and the trailer found its mark and eventually the trailing hook was no longer attached as well. This fish may have felt larger than it actually was due to foul hooking, but I was upset nonetheless.
Once again after covering the area thoroughly I moved to the next boulder field. After working the side that I was on, I waded to the center of the river to fish a nice run that ran within ten feet of the far shore. I replaced the pheasant tail with a shiny bright green caddis pupa fly that I tied this winter after seeing it demonstrated at the fly fishing show. On the fourth or fifth drift along the outside current seam a fish grabbed the bright green pupa and charged downstream. I let it run and when it slowed down applied some side pressure to bring it across and below me. As I did this the line released and flew back toward me, and I discovered that the caddis had broken off and I noticed the telltale curly line that signifies a poor knot.
At this point I had landed one out of five fish hooked and lost a bunch of flies, but at least I was experiencing sporadic action. At noon I waded to the opposite shore and found a large flat rectangular rock surrounded by water and sat down on the edge and ate my lunch. It was still quite chilly with a cold breeze blowing up the canyon on a fairly frequent basis. I didn’t really see much insect activity on the water. After lunch as the sun climbed higher in the sky it finally warmed up a bit and I began to see some midge activity.
During the two hours after lunch I switched to a strike indicator with a beadhead hares ear and RS2 and worked the likely spots deep. I got snagged on the outside of a deep run and lost my flies once and rigged the entire system again. At another point I tied on an olive and black woolly bugger and did some streamer fishing in a large deep pool.
I finally reached the area where I had success in 2010 on sunken tricos, and I was certain that I could pick up a bunch of fish on BWO’s or RS2’s. It was now around 2:30, and I’d fished for a couple hours with nothing to show for it. Sure enough I began to spot some small BWO’s emerging in the afternoon sun. I kept working the RS2 with dead drifts and then swings but nothing was doing. When I got above the narrow canyon where it opens up a bit, the very spot where I caught numerous fish on sunken tricos, I switched back to the hopper and trailed a light yellow caddis pupa and RS2. Here in the center of a nice run I landed an eleven inch rainbow on that light yellow caddis pupa that I’d tied on when I saw an abundance of caddis. Surely this was a sign that the fish were getting hungry for BWO’s as the emergence intensified.
But alas the BWO hatch came and went and I never saw a fish rise nor could I get fish to take my subsurface BWO nymph offerings. I decided to call it a day at around 4PM as I faced a half hour hike back to the car and a 3.5 hour drive back to Denver. As I hiked out of the canyon the sun was shining brightly and it was the warmest part of the day. I had a few chances for decent fish, but I was quite disappointed with the quantity of fish.
The highlights of my time in the canyon were a bald eagle that flew above me late in the morning and two dragon flies that perched in my net and stayed with me for an hour or so as I waded upstream. I can only assume that I served as a valuable wind breaker for them as they tried to extend their lives in the chilly temperatures.