Cache la Poudre River – 08/13/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: West of the Narrows.

Cache la Poudre River 08/13/2019 Photo Album

The Cache la Poudre River reinforced itself as one of my favorite streams in Colorado. The fish are relatively small; but how can one not admire the canyon setting, the nearly endless miles of public access and the high density of fish? I was very anxious to pay the northern front range freestone a visit in 2019, and Tuesday, August 13 became that day.

I struggle to translate the DWR water gauge readings for the Cache la Poudre, but the fly shop reports were glowing; and my friend, Trevor, provided convincing testimony to the merits of making the trip. I departed my home in Denver a bit after 7AM and arrived at a paved pullout across from the river by 9:30AM. Traffic volume was a bit heavy, until I traveled north of suburban Denver. I glanced at the dashboard temperature reading, as I traveled west in the canyon and noted that it was 66 degrees, so I chose to wear my waders and new Korkers wading boots, although the air temperature eventually spiked to around 80 degrees.

Near the Start

The flows remained higher than normal for August 13, but I was actually pleased with the river conditions. High flows translate to colder water temperatures, and they enable closer approaches than are necessary at seasonally low summer flows. Clarity was excellent, and I marveled at the crystal clear water, as it tumbled over the many rocks and boulders in Poudre Canyon. The river conditions on August 13 reminded me of those that I generally encounter on July 13 in normal years.

Wild Poudre Brown

I chose my Sage four weight because of the higher flows, and when I was prepared, I sauntered down a bank across from the Santa Fe and began fishing. I knotted a yellow size 14 stimulator to my line and began to prospect likely fish holding areas, but I was unsuccessful in the first ten minutes, so I initiated a change. I swapped the stimulator for a peacock body hippie stomper and added a beadhead hares ear on a relatively long dropper. This combination produced results, and I landed two small brown trout that snatched the hares ear.

When I plucked the hares ear from my fleece wallet, I noted that my supply was shrinking, so I climbed the steep bank and returned to the car to restock from my boat box. When I arrived at the car, I decided to drive west closer to my anticipated exit point, but when I returned to the river, I realized that moving the car distracted me from my initial mission of augmenting the hares ear supply! I resumed fishing for a short distance, but then I once again scaled the bank and replenished my supply of hares ears in my fleece wallet.

Side Channel Yielded a Couple Trout

With the hares ear episode finally behind me, I returned to my last exit point and resumed my pursuit of Poudre trout. Ironically I concluded that the hares ear was underperforming, so I replaced it with a size 12 prince nymph and a salvation nymph. The hippie stomper, prince and salvation combination advanced my fish catching pace, and I attained twelve by the time I broke for lunch at 12:30PM. Most of the trout landed in the late morning time frame grabbed the salvation nymph, while a few outliers chose the prince. Just before lunch I executed some downstream drifts through a narrow seam, and a decent fish elevated and inspected the hippie stomper but turned away at the last instant.

Deep Pools Were Not Productive

As I munched my lunch, I pondered this situation and decided to convert to a parachute green drake. I knew from previous seasons that size 14 green drakes were present on the upper Cache la Poudre, but I was not certain whether they hatched during the high water of July or were delayed into August. The fly shop report did not mention them, so I assumed their time had passed. I also knew from past experience, that trout retain a long memory of the large olive colored mayflies, and I speculated that the refusals to the peacock hippie stomper were attributable to green drake lovers. The color and silhouette were close to a green drake, and this prompted a close inspection, before the fish decided that the profile and color deviated a bit from the naturals.

So Many Spots

I followed through on my idea and removed the dry/dropper components and tied a nearly perfect parachute green drake with a white turkey flat wing to my line. What a move this turned out to be! Between 12:30PM and 2:00PM I incremented the fish counter from twelve to twenty-four. A few refusals occurred, but more often than not a trout rose and slurped the parachute green drake with confidence. I also learned that most of the brown trout were holding tight to the bank in shallow to moderate water, and this observation enhanced the efficiency of my fishing. I mostly ignored all but the shallow edges of the river, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of willing eaters that emerged from fairly shallow riffles and runs very close to the bank. One might expect these to be diminutive dinks, but quite a few stretched to the twelve inch mark, and that is a respectable size for Cache la Poudre trout.

Love Those Pockets

Broke in the User Friendly Green Drake for a Pair of Trout

When I reached twenty-four landed fish, I was quite satisfied with my day, so I decided to introduce one of my Andrew Grillos user friendly green drakes to the local trout. I cast the foam enhanced green drake version for fifteen minutes, and it produced two trout, but the number of refusals increased dramatically compared to the more delicate and slender parachute green drake. By 2PM my count rested on twenty-six, and the bright sun warmed the air significantly. The riverbed narrowed, and I was pondering a change of scenery, when a group of three young fishermen appeared forty yards above me. The combination of the less desirable river structure and competing anglers motivated me to climb the bank and return to the car.

Several Trout Occupied This Run

I was not ready to quit for the day, so I drove west and crossed the bridge and parked in a single pullout above the river. I hiked back toward the bridge for .2 mile and then dropped down a short but steep bank. I resurrected the parachute green drake, and I began prospecting the pockets that were along the south bank of the river. The Poudre in this section was running faster than the area downstream, and this factor along with the preponderance of trees and branches arcing over the water made wading and casting a challenge. Some clouds and the angle of the sun created an annoying glare on the water, and this added to the challenge of tracking my fly in my new fishing stretch. I persisted and managed to land two additional brown trout on the parachute green drake, but when I reached the vertical rock wall just below the Santa Fe, I decided to call it quits. A quick glance at my watch confirmed it was 3PM, and I knew my return drive would overlap with Denver at rush hour.

User Friendly Duped This Rainbow

Twenty-eight fish on August 13 was a very successful day by my standards. Yes, the fish were small, with perhaps only one stretching to twelve inches, but hooking and landing sixteen on a green drake dry fly made it special. I never saw a green drake during my five hours on the water, so my assumption about long memories was probably accurate. A return to the Cache la Poudre River during this year of endless run off is a strong possibility.

Fish Landed: 28

Trout Creek – 08/07/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Backcountry area

Trout Creek 08/07/2019 Photo Album

I love the proximity to western streams and rivers attainable via camping, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I took advantage of this situation to fly fish in some small backcountry headwater streams. The large rivers remained higher than average due to the high snow pack and late run off, but I discovered that the smaller high elevation tributaries were transitioning into perfect conditions.

Asters in Their Prime

I arrived at the trailhead of my chosen destination by 9AM, and after assembling my Sage four weight, I pulled on my wading socks and wading boots for a day of wet wading. The temperature was in the low sixties, but I expected highs in the upper seventies, and my two mile hike was more comfortable without the discomfort of perspiration trapping waders. My choice proved to be a solid call, as I enjoyed the coolness of the cold mountain stream, while the air temperature soared to the upper seventies.

My Day Begins

I began my day at the bottom of a long narrow canyon section, where the trail veered away from the stream. Although the flows appeared to be nearly ideal, I was a bit concerned that the high gradient and slightly above average water level, would make wading a challenge and reduce the number of prime pools and pockets. This fear was realized to some extent, although I managed to land eighteen trout, and I safely reached the point where the stream rejoined the trail.

Fish Count Begins

I began my quest for wild trout with a tan pool toy hopper, and on the first cast an eleven inch brown trout rushed to the surface and slammed the terrestrial imitation. Was this an auspicious sign? I moved on with optimism flooding my consciousness, but that feeling was crushed in short order, when I set the hook on a refusal, and the hopper hurtled into an evergreen branch thirty feet above me. Retrieval was not an option, and I applied direct pressure to the line and popped off the first fly of the day.

Cutthroat

Between fish number one and my loss of the pool toy, I observed several refusals, so I used the break off as an opportunity to downsize. I replaced the hopper with a size 14 brown stimulator, and this fly renewed the interest of the resident trout. The fish count increased to four, but then the heavily hackled attractor became water logged, and I implemented another switch. I longed for a fly that did not require constant dipping in dry shake, so I knotted a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line. The over sized ant, which I suspect the trout viewed as a beetle, accounted for a few fish, but I was prospecting quality pools with no response, so I once again made a change.

On Tuesday I lost two peacock body hippie stompers, so I was conscious of preserving my limited supply for later in the season; and, therefore, I experimented with a red version, and for the first time on the day I added a three foot dropper with an ultra zug bug.This combination worked for a bit, but I sensed that the zug bug could be improved upon, so I swapped it for a beadhead hares ear. The red hippie stomper and hares ear combination clicked, and the fish count climbed to fourteen before I paused for lunch in a gorgeous setting next to a spectacular pool.

Lunch Spot

As I munched my sandwich and carrots, my state of mind was very satisfied. The quantity of fish landed in the morning was above average, and the quality of the trout was excellent. Size was not a plus, as the largest extended to twelve inches, but the coloring and species variety were exceptional. I landed two cutthroats, a rainbow and a bunch of brown trout from the high country creek.

Wow

If the story ended here, I would be an ecstatic fisherman, but it continued. Between noon and 3PM, when I embarked on my exit hike, I added four trout to the tally. Advanced math skills are not required to calculate the ridiculously low catch rate over three hours of fishing. What happened? The main factor that I blame was the increased gradient of the section that I chose to fish. Much of my time and energy were invested in negotiating the cascading water and high rock walls, and the prime holding locations were minimal. Refusals and temporary hookups far outnumbered landed fish, and I am unable to explain that circumstance.

Screams Trout

By two o’clock I reached a point where the slope of the northern side of the canyon was manageable, so I executed an exit and found the trail. I hiked back toward the parking lot for another .5 mile, until I reached a nice meadow section. A guide and two anglers were present at the downstream end of the lower gradient stretch, so I passed them and cut over fifty yards upstream. I spent thirty minutes prospecting the wider and shallower section, and I added two brook trout to the mix. I welcomed the easier wading, but the downside to this luxury was smaller fish and fewer prime holding spots. I also suspect that the more easily accessible portions of the stream attract more fishing pressure. As with life, there are always trade offs.

Deeply Colored Brookie

By three o’clock I was quite weary from the obstacle course session in the canyon, and the small brook trout failed to hold my attention, so I exited and returned to the car. After an auspicious start in the morning, the mountain creek disappointed me in the afternoon. I registered a grand slam, but this accomplishment does not compensate for the three hours of slow fishing in the early afternoon. I may return later in the season, when flows are reduced; however, the effort may not support the potential, and the return trip decision hinges on alternatives.

Fish Landed: 18

 

Elk Creek – 08/06/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 2:30PM

Location: Backcountry location

Elk Creek 08/06/2019 Photo Album

Tuesday was another gorgeous August day in Colorado with a high temperature around eighty degrees. A night of camping in the high country at a national forest campground enabled me to get an early start to my chosen mountain stream fishing destination. A DWR water gauge was nonexistent for the headwater stream, and I gambled that flows were down to reasonable levels for fly fishing.

When I arrived at the trailhead parking lot, I quickly surveyed the creek and noted that it was very clear and a bit high, but my assessment suggested nearly ideal conditions. In short I was very excited for a day of high country fly fishing. I climbed into my waders and rigged my Sage four weight and departed on a hike to escape the parking area.

Width

After a reasonable trek to distance myself from presumably the more pressured stream section near the parking area, I picked a path down a short steep bank and prepared to fly fish. I began with a size 10 Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear, and almost instantly I was attached to three decent brown trout. Was I living a dream? This pattern of wading and prospecting with a dry/dropper continued throughout the day, and it was rare that I went more than ten minutes without a fish.

Yum Yum

Eventually the Chernobyl ant segued to a peacock body hippie stomper, and the stream residents quickly registered their satisfaction with the size 14 attractor pattern. The hares ear dominated the subsurface position on my line, but I also allocated time to an ultra zug bug and bright green sparkle caddis pupa. None of the alternatives performed up to the level of the hares ear. During the heat of battle I lost two peacock stompers and one silver to presumably bad knots, but sixty percent of the landed fish smashed the trendy surface attractor designed by Andrew Grillos.

Superb Colors

The day progressed as expected and registered high on my satisfaction meter. I methodically waded upstream and dropped casts in all the likely fish holding locales. While the peacock hippie stomper and hares ear nymph were in place, nearly every probable fish lair delivered positive results. I stopped for lunch, and the fish count rested on fourteen.

A Thing of Beauty

From 12:15 until 1:30 the creek was on fire. Nearly every cast resulted in a temporary or permanent hook up. I was frankly astonished by the trout density in the small mountain creek and more importantly their willingness to attack my flies. Brown trout predominated, but a decent number of rainbows surprised me with their presence. The ratio of browns to bows was probably 65/35.

Perfection

At 2PM I lost a third hippie stomper, and in an effort to preserve my supply for the remainder of the season, I cycled through a Jake’s gulp beetle and Chernobyl ant. Jake’s gulp beetle was treated with total disdain, and the Chernobyl accounted for a couple of additional trout. The catch rate lagged what I was accustomed to, so I revisited the hippie stomper with a red body color. It also contributed a few trout, but either the prime feeding period ended, or the red version was not as desirable, because I could not recreate the magic of the early afternoon.

Streamlined

Of course the day was not perfect. I lost seven flies and suffered an inordinate number of long distance releases. Several wrestling matches with trees were also part of the program, but that is an expected byproduct of small stream fly fishing.

Trout Haven

Overall, however, the adversity remained at a lower level than that which I suffered on Monday and was more than offset by the fast paced action. The size of the fish was also a plus with many brown and rainbow trout in the eleven to thirteen inch range. I will accept wild trout of that size in a small high elevation stream all day long. A return this season is a certainty.

Fish Landed: 32

Eagle River – 08/05/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle (11AM – 2PM); Edwards Rest Area (2:30PM – 4:30PM)

Eagle River 08/05/2019 Photo Album

Monday, August 5, 2019 was one of the more frustrating days of my many years of fly fishing. I suffered through nearly every imaginable negative during my 5.5 hours of fishing, and it is a miracle that I moved the fish counter to double digits.

Flows Lower but Still Edge Fishing

New Korkers Baptized

The first sign of bad karma was the feeling of cold water penetrating my left boot foot of my third pair of replacement waders. The sensation of a wet sock and sloshing water plagued me throughout my entire time on the river. I could not stop thinking about the impending hassle of obtaining a refund, that I could apply to the purchase of a different brand.

The second impediment to an enjoyable day on the Eagle River was the preponderance of long distance releases. I counted twenty-two trout hooked throughout the day, and I landed ten. My basic math suggests a success rate less than 50%. Of course the escapees in most cases were large and muscular trout, and this fact added to my frustration. I must admit that quite a few curse words were uttered during the heat of the battle.

A related hindrance to a satisfying day on the river was the loss of a significant number of workhorse flies. I recall severing three salvation nymphs, two iron sallies, and one bright green go2 caddis pupa.

Tangles were another negative feature of my day. The typical catapult release from a lost fish occurred several times, but several novel entanglements added to my variety of frustrations. I lost two flies while attempting to photograph a prize sixteen inch rainbow, and a subsequent tangle added insult to injury. In another episode of fly fishing slapstick I wrapped my line around my wading staff, legs and fly rod.

Although I managed to not fall in the river (I suffered a wet leg and foot due to the leak), I struggled through numerous near misses on the slimy round boulders that were positioned to trip an unsuspecting fisherman. On a positive note I did not incur injuries or break any equipment, so I suppose that is something to be thankful for.

The weather was reasonable, although bright sun lifted the air temperature to eighty degrees in the early afternoon. Flows in the area between Wolcott and Eagle, CO remained in the 700 – 800 CFS range, and this allowed for more comfortable wading, but my casts were largely confined to the slack water areas along the bank.

Easily the Best Fish of the Day

Between 11AM and 2:30PM I covered nearly the same stretch of water as my previous two visits to the Eagle River in 2019. I used a yellow fat Albert and added primarily an iron sally and salvation nymph. After I lost a second salvation, I substituted an ultra zug bug, and it delivered a small brown trout, but eventually I returned to the salvation. My best fish from the Wolcott – Eagle stint was a chunky sixteen inch rainbow, and I was quite pleased with the sag in my net, that it created. The other four landed trout were sub-twelve inchers. During the first phase of my day on the Eagle River I connected with twelve trout and only landed five. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed with this ratio, and several of the escapees were bruisers.

Classic Bank Pocket

When I moved to the Edwards Rest Area for the late afternoon session, the sky darkened and some raindrops prompted me to engage the windshield wipers, but the shower was brief. Flows at Edwards were in the 600 CFS range, and this necessitated strenuous wading and edge fishing.

Big Flipper

Between 3:00PM and 4:30PM I prospected the water next to and upstream from the Edwards Rest Area. Again the fat Albert served as the indicator fly, and I trailed a hair nation and bright green go2 sparkle caddis. In the starting section downstream from the parking lot I netted two trout on the hair nation. One was a feisty eleven inch rainbow, and the other was a respectable brown trout. Another angler blocked my upstream path, so I circled around him to the long pool next to a high bank on the south side of the river. The pool failed to produce, but an hour of dry/dropper dapping in the pocket water above the long pool yielded three nice trout including two fine browns and one bronze cutbow. During this time the bright green go2 sparkle caddis developed into a hot fly, and I was pleased with the aggressive slashing takes. Of course I would be remiss, if I did not mention that I hooked ten during this period, but I landed only five. This was a pathetic ratio, but an improvement over the earlier session farther down river.

Get a Grip

Ten fish, including four of above average length, represents a worthwhile day, but I cannot overlook all the frustrations listed in the first part of this post. Hopefully Monday filled my quota of bad luck for 2019, and future days will provide good fortune.

Fish Landed: 10

Stretched Out

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/02/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM

Location: Button Rock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/02/2019 Photo Album

Friday was a watershed day of 2019. It was my first visit to a Front Range stream since June 24 on the South Platte River, and that particular trip resulted in a skunking. My last successful day spent on the South Platte River or a tributary was June 14. I endured six weeks of high flows, that prevented me from venturing to nearby drainages for fly fishing in flowing water.

Jane and I had tickets for the Giants vs. Rockies game on Friday night, August 2, so my options were limited to streams within 1.5 hours of Denver. Even that relatively minimal time constraint meant I needed to quit fishing by 2PM in order to make a 1.5 hour return drive and prepare for departure to the game via the A Line. I reviewed the Front Range options and settled on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. Flows were reduced three days prior to 85 CFS, and I knew from prior experience that these were manageable levels for wading and edge fishing.

I departed my house in Denver by 8AM and arrived at the parking lot for the Button Rock Preserve by 9:30AM. The lot was half full, but I assumed most of the visitors were dog walkers. The Button Rock Preserve is an extremely popular dog exercising destination. I pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight and hiked up the dirt access road to distance myself from the parking lot. Several fishermen tested the water below the Longmont Dam, and a spin fisherman was busy just above the inlet. These were the only competing anglers infringing on my two miles of water on Friday.

Perfect Pool, Yet No Fish

When I reached my intended starting point, I followed a hunch and tied a green drake user friendly to my line. I encountered green drakes on the St. Vrain within Rocky Mountain National Park, and I speculated that they might maintain a presence on the tailwater below Ralph Price Reservoir. Even if this was not the case, the user friendly might serve as a decent attractor mouthful for the cold water residents.

The Other Braid Around the Island

The hunch did not prove accurate, so I followed up the user friendly with a yellow stimulator, and this bold attempt to seduce trout to the surface with a dry fly was also rejected. I was certain that the pools that failed to yield willing fish contained a few wild occupants, so I converted to a tan pool toy and trailed a beadhead hares ear nymph. Finally I began to observe sporadic refusals to the pool toy and evidence of fish, but my strong desire to feel the weight of a thrashing trout on my rod was not satisfied.

I added an iron sally to the dry/dropper below the hares ear in an attempt to create more weight and deeper drifts, but this ploy simply resulted in extended futility. Between 10AM and 11:30AM I covered some very attractive water, yet the fish counter languished on zero. Could my return to Front Range streams result in a humiliating skunking?

I reflected on my morning and settled on one obvious fact. The fish were looking toward the surface and not interested in subsurface offerings the least bit. I noticed three or four refusals to the pool toy hopper but never connected with a fish with the two trailing nymphs. I decided to experiment with smaller dry flies. First I knotted a yellow stimulator to my line, and after ten minutes of prospecting it produced only a rejection. Very few insects were obvious, so perhaps the fish were tuned into terrestrials that accidentally tumbled into the stream. A Jake’s gulp beetle failed to tempt the trout, and I was back to staring at my fly box.

Red Hippie Stomper!

A hippie stomper saved many a day, so I decided to give one a tryout. Normally I default to a dubbed peacock body version, but the green drake user friendly was unsuccessful, so I chose to diverge radically from the norm and tied on a red-body hippie stomper. Voila! I stumbled into my first fish, when a ten inch rainbow slurped the foam attractor on a downstream drift. A skunking was averted, and I found a nice flat rock and munched my lunch, while I observed a nice run in front of me.

Lunch View

After a quick bite I resumed my upstream progression with the red hippy stomper, and within fifteen minutes I approached a gorgeous long deep run with a soft shelf pool along the opposite bank. For some reason I added a bright green go2 caddis pupa and a salvation nymph, and I began to flick backhand casts to the top of the run. On the first two drifts trout flashed to the hippie stomper and turned away at the last instant. I persisted and eventually tempted two browns and a rainbow to grab my flies. The rainbow nabbed the go2 caddis pupa, and the two browns latched on to the salvation nymph. The last brown to come from the quality run measured twelve inches and was my best fish of the day.

Easily the Best Fish of the Day

During my remaining time on the water I persisted with the three fly dry/dropper, and I increased the fish count from four to ten. I moved fairly quickly, and my confidence soared, as the catch rate elevated. For some reason the salvation nymph became a food item of choice, as five of the last six snatched the iridescent nymph from the drift. Another rainbow darted to the surface and mauled the red hippie stomper. For some reason rainbows seem to be attracted to bright colors more than brown trout.

Stomper in Corner of the Mouth

I landed number ten at 1:25PM, and with double digits in hand, I decided to hustle back to the car in order to meet my targeted departure time for the Rockies game. What a strange day Friday evolved into. During the morning I feared a skunking, and for some reason the fish began to eat between noon and 1:30PM. Did I progress to less pressured water? The entire area that I covered was a decent hike from the parking lot, so I doubt that location explains the sudden shift in success. I was in a tailwater and relatively close to the dam, so I believe that it took all morning for the water temperature to rise to a level, where the trout became more active. I suspect that the higher catch rate would have continued for another couple hours had I been able to remain at Button Rock Preserve. Friday was another fun day on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek, and I will certainly return, although I will not rush to arrive early.

Fish Landed: 10

Between the Water Spots

Wildflower Assortment

 

Arkansas River – 07/30/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Pridemore Lease and Tunnels Area and area near Railroad Bridge Campground

Arkansas River 07/30/2019 Photo Album

After spending Monday cycling from Buena Vista to the Railroad Bridge Campground and back with Jane followed by a mellow lunch at Eddyline, I had Tuesday available as a fishing day. Jane and I planned to camp at one of the national forest service campgrounds along Chalk Creek, but much to our amazement they were fully booked for Monday night. Since I stayed at Railroad Bridge Campground the previous Monday and Tuesday, and because Jane was able to inspect it on our bike ride, we returned and reserved campsite two for Monday and Tuesday night.

Sangre de Cristos in the Distance

I was disappointed with my three hours at the Pridemore Lease on Monday, July 22, and I remained convinced that my lack of success was attributable to the muddy conditions. In an effort to prove that Pridemore was a quality section of the Arkansas River, I returned on Tuesday, July 30. The flows on the DWR web site at Salida were 1450 CFS, and the clarity was much improved compared to the previous week.

Promising Spot

I parked by the CO 291 bridge and hiked downstream, until I encountered a fence that marked the border with a new housing development. I began my quest for Arkansas River trout with a tan pool toy, and I added an iron sally and salvation nymph. Surely these reliable producers would reverse my fortunes on a favorite section on the Arkansas River.

Different Light

From a weather standpoint Tuesday developed into a nice day with high temperatures around eighty degrees, before some storm clouds rolled into the valley in mid-afternoon. I fished the Pridemore Lease from 10AM until 1:00PM, and I managed to land four brown trout. One was a decent thirteen inch specimen, and the others were small and barely over the six inch minimum, that I require in order to register on the fish count. In short, it was a very slow three hours of fishing, and the Pridemore Lease has fallen out of favor as a quality destination on the Arkansas River.

The Type of Water That Produces

I cycled through an array of flies including a green chubby Chernobyl with a yellow body and a royal chubby as well. For nymphs I experimented with a hares ear, cranefly larva (truly an archived fly that I tied in the 90’s), a go2 caddis pupa, and a prince nymph. These flies drifted on the end of my line in addition to the salvation and iron sally that I began with. The water remained relatively high, but very little insect activity was present, and perhaps this explained the slow action.

Afternoon Starting Point

At one o’clock I returned to the car, since I reached the CO 291 bridge, and I drove to the tunnels area north of Buena Vista. I enjoyed reasonable success in this area on July 22, and therefore gravitated to the section once again. I parked between the series of three and the northernmost tunnel, and then I crossed the railroad tracks and dropped down the bank to the river.

Iron Sally Lover

Between 2PM and 3:30PM I worked my way upstream and cast a peacock hippie stomper trailing an iron sally and salvation nymph. These flies clicked, and I landed eleven brown trout in addition to the four recorded at Pridemore to reach fifteen on the day. Four browns crushed the hippie stomper on the surface, and the others grabbed one of the nymphs. The salvation nymph was preferred over the iron sally by a ratio of three to one. The trout were generally small with one or two in the one foot range.

Makes My Pulse Rise

At 3:30PM the western sky darkened, so I hustled back to the campground. I was curious about the river around the Railroad Bridge Campground, so I pulled on my raincoat and walked upriver for .4 miles. Here I found a nice gradual path to the river, and I fished my way upstream for twenty minutes, but the terrain was not to my liking, and I failed to connect with additional trout. This section of the river was characterized by a narrow canyon topography; and this condition combined with the continuing high flows resulted in minimal holding spots and difficult wading.

Not Standing for the Hold

My time at the Pridemore Lease was certainly disappointing, but 1.5 hours of fast action above Buena Vista salvaged my day and raised my spirits. The fish were small, but I loved prospecting with a dry/dropper, when my confidence was high, and trout reacted with some aggression.

Fish Landed: 15

Eagle River – 07/27/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle, CO

Eagle River 07/27/2019 Photo Album

Today, Saturday, July 27, felt like an instant replay of Wednesday. If I characterized Wednesday as spectacular, then today can be described as a bit less spectacular.

I battled 1500 CFS flows (Eagle River below Milk Creek gauge) on Wednesday with outstanding success, and I was anxious to make a return trip, before the river fell out of edge fishing status. Jane and I planned a camping trip for the first part of next week, and commitments on Thursday, Friday and Sunday left Saturday as my only open date. Since my retirement in 2015 I rarely fished on the weekend, but I decided to make an exception today, July 27. Flows on the DWR graph for the Eagle River below Milk Creek gauge registered 1100 to 1200 CFS, and this drop from Wednesday greatly aided my ability to wade and move along the still relatively high Eagle River.

I Love Water Like This

During my 5.5 hours of fishing today I landed eighteen trout, and the split was roughly 50/50 between the brown and rainbow species. The fish count improved over Wednesday by one, but the average size of the fish was slightly smaller. Five of the eighteen landed trout were under twelve inches, and this impacted the average. The other trout were very fit and hard fighting battlers in the thirteen to fifteen inch range.

I’m Looking at You Brown Trout

Another similarity to Wednesday was the high number of escaped fish. Over the course of the day I connected with twenty-six fish, but only landed eighteen. By nearly every measure today was a very successful outing, yet I remain haunted by the many fish that managed to shed my hooks. I did not lose a single fly, so all the long distance releases were attributable to the advanced fighting tactics of the Eagle River trout population.

Another Favorite Stretch

I can count five situations, where I hooked the fish, and it then streaked downstream from my position. I maintained tension on the line and held my rod upstream of the fish, and in each case the fish managed to twist or shake its head causing the fly to release and catapult into a bush or tree along the bank. Fortunately in all cases I was able to rescue the flies, although some fairly acrobatic maneuvers were required. I am not sure what I need to change in order to improve my landing percentage of fish hooked. Certainly the trout were adept at using the higher flows to their advantage, and the larger size of the fish was also a factor that worked in their favor. I also believe that the extended run off kept the fishing pressure down, so the fish that I was hooking were very fresh and fit, as they had not been caught and released since the period prior to snow melt.

Lots of Pocket Water

Pool Toy Hopper Was the Top Fly All Day

I fished the same stretch of the Eagle River as Wednesday, and I began with a tan pool toy, iron sally and salvation nymph. The same tan pool toy remained on my line throughout the day as did the iron sally. I suffered an extended lull during the two morning hours, and during this time I cycled through an emerald caddis pupa, ultra zug bug and bright green caddis pupa. The ultra zug bug accounted for two very nice fish, and the emerald caddis yielded one, but it broke off. Actually the leader remained in tact, but the shank of the fly broke 1/8 of an inch behind the hook eye. This was probably a cost to refurbishing flies on old hooks.

A Beauty

When I paused for my lunch break the fish count rested on four, including two fish that nabbed the ultra zug bug and a nice brown trout that crushed the pool toy hopper. The hopper victim was the only fish that fed on the surface during my Saturday fishing outing.

Lowering to Freedom

As I ate my lunch, I observed yellow sallies, golden stoneflies, small caddis and a handful of blue winged olives and pale morning duns. The density of aquatic insects was much reduced from Wednesday, and the dapping caddis were actually the most prevalent aquatic insect species present. Because the iron sally and salvation nymph proved very effective between 12:30PM and 2:30PM on Wednesday, I reverted to that lineup on Saturday afternoon.

A Missile

On Wednesday I observed a brief flurry of surface feeding during the early afternoon window, but on Saturday I never spotted more than one or two rises. I also lingered at several prime spots with the expectation of hooking fish, but in several cases I was disappointed. Nevertheless I had a blast popping the dry/dropper in all the quality slow water areas along the left bank, and in many cases I was rewarded with beautiful wild hard fighting trout.

The Rest of the Fish

I expect that the Eagle River will remain in prime condition for another two to three weeks, and I intend to return. In all likelihood the fish will be more spread out, and a positive of lower flows might be more surface feeding and, thus, some dry fly action. Normally this phase of water flows on the Eagle River coincides with the pale morning dun hatch, but the late run off may necessitate increased reliance on caddis and terrestrials.

Fish Landed: 18

Eagle River – 07/24/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle, CO

Eagle River 07/24/2019 Photo Album

2019 has certainly developed into an abnormal fishing season. Normally by now ideal flows greet me, as I journey about Colorado in an attempt to locate the very best conditions from a myriad of options. Loyal readers know that I am a big proponent of using a variety of resources to identify the waterway that offers the highest probability of experiencing a fantastic day. In fact I believe that fifty percent of fishing success is attributable to the choices made of where to fish on any given day. My number one resource for making this decision is the Department of Water Resources surface water tables and graphs. A second significant source are fly shop reports, although these always have a positive bias that must be tempered. My third significant source of information is my own blog. It contains nine years worth of fishing reports, and I refer to it often to recall what worked in different seasons and at varying water levels.

Every year I make a concerted effort to fish the Yampa River, Eagle River, and Arkansas River in a narrow window, as the flows from run off subside. During this time period the water is clear but high, and the fish are confined to the tight ribbon of water that borders the bank, where obstacles such as rocks and logs create slack water spots that enable trout to rest and eat. I managed to catch the Yampa River during this window in early July, and a quick check recently indicated that the Yampa in Steamboat Springs is down to 228 CFS. This example reveals the urgency required to react and hit the prime time. Fly fishing needs to be a priority, or the window will pass, and another twelve months will elapse before the opportunity once again presents itself.

Next on my list were the Eagle River and the Arkansas River. When I planned my three day and two night trip on Sunday, I learned that the flows on the Eagle River were in the 1360 CFS range, but I was spooked by a spike. The portion of the river that I desired to fish is below a tributary that muddies very quickly, and I was concerned that the lower river would be turbid. The Arkansas River on Sunday was on the verge of dropping below 2000 CFS. I prefer flows in the 1500 CFS range, but the Arkansas is a very large river bed, and I assumed that edge fishing would still be possible at 2000 CFS. On Monday morning I noticed a narrow spike in flows at Salida, but I discounted this, because it occurred for a short period of time. You can read about the ramifications of this decision in my posts for July 22 and July 23.

My original plan provided for two days on the Arkansas River to enable the Eagle to drop to 1000 CFS, and this also allowed time for the clarity between Wolcott and Eagle to improve. It was now Wednesday morning, and I decided to forge ahead with the third prong of my plan. I woke up early and packed my wet tent and drove from Railroad Bridge Campground to Buena Vista. I stopped to purchase a bag of ice for the cooler, and then I used the improved cellular network to check the flows on the Eagle River at Avon, CO. Sure enough the DWR graph showed the flows at 1110 CFS, and I was confident that this was at the upper range of my desired window. But what about clarity? I called Vail Valley Anglers and spoke to JP at the shop, and he informed me that the river was clear all the way to the confluence with the Colorado River. With this positive news in hand, I initiated my plan to fish the Eagle River on Wednesday, July 24.

Two Escapees from This Area at the Start

I arrived at a narrow pullout along US 6 by 10AM, and I quickly completed my well rehearsed ritual in preparation for a day on the river. I assembled my Sage five weight, in case I encountered larger fish in the high flows, and I negotiated my way to the river. Wednesday was a gorgeous sunny day, and the temperature rose, until it peaked in the low eighties. Very few clouds passed overhead. The river was very clear, but it rushed along at a rapid pace, and these were the conditions I was seeking.

Let Free

I began with a hopper Juan and added an iron sally and salvation nymph. I was pleasantly surprised, when I hooked two hot fish within the first fifteen minutes in the first two edge pools that seemed likely high water holding retreats. Unfortunately both escaped after torpedo-like runs to the fast water. In both cases the flies hurtled behind me to some willows, when the trout shed the hook.

Zoomed a Bit Closer

Between 10:30AM and noon I built the fish count to five, and all were very fresh and muscular rainbow trout that streaked up and down the river upon realizing that a sharp hook was in their lip. The rainbows were in the twelve to fourteen inch range, but the larger versions were quite plump and fit, and they tested my fish landing capabilities to the extreme.

Prime Edge Fishing Water

While eating lunch I noticed an abundant quantity of golden stoneflies and yellow sallies in the airspace above the river, and I was dissatisfied with the look of the hopper Juan, so I switched things up. I replaced the hopper Juan with a yellow fat Albert, and in the process I extended the leader from the foam indicator fly to the first nymph by a foot. I placed a beadhead hares ear in the upper position and a salvation nymph on the end, and I resumed popping casts to the most attractive soft water edge locations. The move paid dividends, and my catch rate accelerated, as the Eagle River residents honed in on the salvation. I noticed a handful of pale morning duns and a fair number of dapping caddis in addition to the stoneflies during my lunchtime biology study, and the presence of PMD’s probably accounted for the popularity of the salvation nymph.

Fine Finned Creature

The heavier presence of stoneflies and the lack of interest in the hares ear caused me to reevaluate my lineup, and I swapped the hares ear for an iron sally. Immediately upon making this change, two fish aggressively smashed one of the nymphs, but they managed to escape after a brief connection. Past experience suggested the hook holding ability of the upper fly is inferior to the bottom counterpart, so I switched the position of the salvation and iron sally. The offering of the fat Albert, salvation nymph and iron sally became my workhorse threesome, as I progressed through the early afternoon.

My Hand Provides Perspective

And what a job they did! The fish counter steadily climbed from five at lunch to seventeen by the end of the day, and these were not sub-twelve inch dinks. Included in the gallery of net dwellers were four brown trout, and three of these beauties were plump fish in the fourteen to sixteen inch range. Rainbows continued to dominate, and although they were smaller on average, three or four extended to fourteen and fifteen inches with broad muscular shoulders. The iron sally and salvation nymph produced in roughly a 50/50 ratio, and one of the fine brown trout crushed the fat Albert.

Gorgeous

Of course this story would not be complete without mentioning the ten fish, that I met only briefly. Connecting with these aggressive high water rogues was only the beginning of the contest. Eagle River trout are very powerful, and the high ratio of long distance releases attests to that fact. Only one loss resulted from a snapped off salvation; as all the others managed to shake, leap and twist, until the fly popped free.

Spots and Stripes

One particularly notable escape artist performed its Houdini routine late in my day. I cast the dry/dropper rig directly upstream to a deep slower moving run five feet from the bank. The fat Albert drifted a few feet and then dipped, and I instinctively reacted with a firm lift of the rod. I immediately realized that this was not the typical fifteen inch rainbow. I caught a glimpse of the rocket, as it dashed downstream, until it was just below me, and the girth and length were substantial. I feared that the runaway freight train was headed to the fast water, but inexplicably it reversed direction and swam back upstream against the current. But then the angry fighter thought better of this move, and it raced to the tumbling and frothy whitewater. I suspected that the fight was over, but I held on and allowed twenty yards of line to peel out, as the bullet streaked downstream. The river was too high and the rocks too slippery to follow, so I maintained tension until the line went limp. I was fearful that all three flies broke off, but when I stripped in the line, I was pleased to discover that the trout magically shed the annoying hook, and all three imitations were present on my line. Needless to say, this episode had me shaking a bit.

Another Soft Water Location

Wednesday, July 24 developed into a spectacular day on the Eagle River. I landed seventeen trout, and at least ten were in the thirteen to sixteen inch range. These fish were hungry, and in all likelihood they experienced their first hook penetration of the season, and they did not like it. Even the twelve inch rainbows spurted up and down and back and forth, before I was able to coax them over the lip of my net. Nearly every spot that suggested likely fish holding water delivered a hook up or landed fish. Wading was difficult, but persistence paid off with big rewards. Will I be able to return before the flows pass through the prime window? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 17

Long and Tough

Arkansas River – 07/23/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Tunnel area

Arkansas River 07/23/2019 Photo Album

After a pleasant evening at the Railroad Bridge Campground, I was within four miles of my targeted fishing destination. Eight small trout landed within the last 1.5 hours on Monday sold me on staying in the Arkansas River Valley. The weather on Tuesday was ideal with high temperatures spiking into the low eighties. The river was high, but unlike the section where I began on Monday, was crystal clear; and I realized how much of an impact clarity has on my fly fishing confidence level.

Arkansas River from the Railroad Tracks

I began with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a 20 incher and a beadhead hares ear nymph. During the two morning hours I enjoyed steady action on the nymphs. Early results accrued to the 20 incher, but as the air and water warmed up, the hares ear began to contribute. As the morning progressed, the fat Albert lost both legs, and I decided to experiment with a large buoyant hopper Juan. Unfortunately none were in my fly boxes, so at 11:45 I ascended the bank and strode a short distance on the railroad tracks, until I returned to the Santa Fe. I sat in the shade of my hatchback and munched my goodies, and then I topped off my plastic fly canister with two tan hopper Juans. By noon the fish counter rested on fourteen, and I was pleased with the steady availability of small brown trout.

Nice Early Start

Typical Productive Water

When I returned to my exit point, I paused to replace the fat Albert with a hopper Juan, and this large foam terrestrial remained on my line for most of the remainder of the afternoon. The 20 incher fell out of favor, so I swapped it for an iron sally. From 12:30PM until 2:30PM the fish count elevated steadily to twenty-four. One or two browns crushed the hopper Juan, a couple chewed on the iron sally, and the remainder grabbed the salvation nymph. The action was consistent, but not outstanding, and it seemed quite a few attractive spots failed to deliver results. Nevertheless after Monday’s early debacle, I was very pleased with my day on Tuesday.

Fly Bigger Than the Mouth

Iron Sally Worked its Magic

Between 2PM and 2:30PM the pace of action slowed perceptibly, so I opted to change things up. I knotted a size 12 yellow stimulator with an orange tip on the abdomen to my line as a sole dry fly. The bright stimmy generated a raft of refusals, but it also duped three brown trout at the upper end of the size range. I persisted, and refusals became the norm, and after seeing a handful of dapping caddis along the bank, I switched to a size 16 gray deer hair caddis. Surprisingly this close imitation of the naturals spawned a series of snubs.

Orange and Yellow

I pondered the situation and decided to try one last ditch effort with a peacock body hippie stomper. It worked! In an eddy behind a large streamside rock, a spunky ten inch brown smacked the stomper. I continued briefly, but it was now 3:30PM, and the riverbed narrowed and created a whitewater chute for fifty yards. I was not interested in persisting, so I clipped the hippie stomper to the rod guide and returned to the car.

Chubby Little Guy

Tuesday was a fun outing. The fish were small, but I needed action after waiting out the long runoff, and after hours of frustration in high murky conditions on Monday. As a bonus, I explored an expanded portion of the tunnel area, and I will likely return in the near future.

Fish Landed: 28

Arkansas River – 07/22/2019

Time: 12:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Pridemore Lease and tunnel area above Buena Vista

Arkansas River 07/22/2019 Photo Album

I enjoyed success on the Yampa River during the previous week, and I was now in hot pursuit of the temporary window of opportunity on Colorado freestone rivers, when the run off is high, but the water remains clear and cold. Under these conditions the trout bunch up in soft water areas along the bank, and they are extremely hungry after surviving weeks of high velocity thrashing current.

Originally I planned to visit the Eagle River on Monday and Tuesday and then drive south for a day on the Arkansas River on Wednesday. However, when I checked the flows on Monday morning, I noted that the Eagle River remained at 1360 CFS, and I typically desire an upper velocity of 1000 CFS. In addition I suspected a spike on Monday morning that was indicative of a rainstorm, and the area that I targeted was downstream from a tributary that muddies quickly.

The Arkansas River on the other hand was dropping nicely, and the last reading registered flows just below 2000 CFS. I typically look for 1500 CFS, but the Arkansas riverbed is quite large, and I was confident that 2000 CFS was manageable for edge fishing. A narrow spike also appeared on the Arkansas River, Salida DWR graph, but I discounted it under the assumption that it was brief, and could not significantly impact the conditions on a large river such as the Arkansas. The ArkAnglers report shed no light on the situation, as it was not updated since Sunday, a time period prior to the spike. I had all my camping gear packed, so I rolled the dice, reversed my sequence of stops, and headed to the Arkansas River. I planned to camp at the Vallie Bridge Campgroud, one of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area locations, and less popular due to the lack of trees.

High and Dirty Did Not Equal Good Fishing

A 2.5 hour drive placed me at the bridge where CO 291 crossed the river, and I suited up with my new but patched waders and rigged my Sage five weight, since I was facing big water. During my drive I crossed the Arkansas River at Fishermen’s Bridge, and it was crystal clear; however, I also passed over Chalk Creek, and it displayed the color of a cup of coffee with two teaspoons of milk. At the time I convinced myself that Chalk Creek represented a small percentage of the much larger flows of the main river, and the water would be mostly diluted before it cascaded downstream to my chosen location to fish.

This turned out to be faulty analysis, and when I looked at the river at the Pridemore Lease, it was a light brown color. My heart sank, and I considered reversing to the Buena Vista area, but I ate my lunch and reasoned that black flies for contrast and fishing along the edge with one foot of visibility could still attract fish. My original plan assumed edge fishing anyway, so the reduced visibility served as a visual reminder.

My reasoning translated to wishful thinking. I walked along the upper rim of the canyon, and after .4 mile found a marginally reasonable place to descend. My snake radar was on high alert mode after several previous encounters in this area.

One of Two Small Brown Trout from the Murky Arkansas River

I spent the next 2.5 hours working the extreme edge of the river with a three fly dry/dropper set up. Initially the top fly was a size 8 Chernobyl ant, but eventually it was replaced with a more visible and buoyant yellow fat Albert. For dropper flies I cycled through a black woolly bugger, slumpbuster, peacock stonefly, hares ear nymph, red copper john, and a salvation nymph. I landed two seven inch brown trout, and I hooked and played a thirteen inch brown as well. Unfortunately the larger fish twisted free after a brief connection, and the pent up energy of the rod whipped the three flies into a tree branch. Not only did the fish escape, but it put my flies at risk as well. Luckily I climbed around the tree trunk to the uphill side, and I bashed the dead limb with my wading staff causing it to fall to the rocks next to the river, and this fortuitous outcome enabled me to recover all my flies! I neglected to mention that I also acquired three free flies that were snapped off in a streamside bush. One was an amber body chubby Chernobyl, another was a hares ear, and the third was a slender quill body nymph.

Discouraging

After I recovered my flies, I worked quickly, until I was just below the bridge. This period was characterized by futile casting, and represented my nadir of confidence, so I climbed the steep bank and returned to the car. What should I do now? My plans revolved around two days and two nights on the Arkansas, while I waited for the Eagle to clear and drop. My planned camping destination was Vallie Bridge, and it was miles downstream from Salida. The water from Chalk Creek and downstream appeared to be very murky, and this led to difficult fishing. I remembered crossing Fishermen’s Bridge, and the river at that point was very clear. I decided to make one last effort to fish the Arkansas River before returning to Denver, if the results did not improve.

I drove north on US 285 to US 24, and then I turned right in Buena Vista and made a left on Colorado Avenue. I was headed to the tunnel area, where I fished successfully on one previous occasion. After a six mile drive on a mostly packed dirt road, I arrived at the first tunnel and turned into a wide pullout. My waders remained on, and my rod was strung, so in not time I was ambling downriver on the railroad tracks.

First Success After a Move Upriver

After .2 mile I cut down to the river, and I began probing the nice runs and pockets of moderate depth with a peacock stonefly and hares ear, and in a short amount of time I hooked and landed two twelve inch brown trout. How could this be, and why did I wait so long to change locations? Patience can sometimes be a detriment to fly fishing success.

Having Fun

The peacock nymph was not producing results, so I replaced it with a salvation nymph and kept the hares ear in the end position. Between 3PM and 4:30PM I added six more fish to my netted total, and this allowed me to reach ten on the day. I was very pleased and shocked by this dramatic reversal of fortunes. Fishing in clear water raised my confidence and focus, and landed fish were the result. Of course the trout were relatively small, but regular action was welcome at this stage of the day.

This uptick in success made me want to follow through with my plans to camp. But where? I was so certain that I would camp at Vallie Bridge, that I did not bring a map or book with campgrounds marked or listed. I returned to Buena Vista and attempted to find the Visitor Center, but it apparently moved. I finally pulled into a vacant parking lot along US 24 and called Jane. She used her iPad to go online and found a nearby Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Campground just north of Buena Vista called Railroad Bridge. Amazingly it was four miles north of the tunnels area, where I hoped to fish on Tuesday.

Wildflowers at the Campground

I crossed my fingers, as I pulled into the campground, and fortunately four or five vacant sites greeted me. I thought I was home free, but that was not the case. Little blue slips in the campsite post stated that camping was by reservation only. I was confused, so I approached some neighboring campers, and they told me that they reserved number four, but discovered it was too small for their three tents and moved across the lane. They were, therefore, certain that number four was available. They also mentioned that the campground host had temporarily left, but she was expected to return.

Collegiate Peaks Views Were a Bonus

I moved my car from site six to site four, and I was pondering my next move. If I set up the tent, and then the host told me it was reserved by others, I was in trouble. Finally my new friends suggested that I reserve an open spot. I was accustomed to a system that required reserving four days ahead, but I decided to check the web site. Sure enough all state park campgrounds required online reserving, but the waiting period was eliminated. It was not easy, but I managed to create an account, reserve a site, and charge my credit card from my phone at the Railroad Bridge Campground. Whew! What a day!

Fish Landed: 10