Time: 12:00PM – 2:30PM
Location: Inlet to Upper Palmer Reservoir
Fish Landed: 1
I promised myself that I would continue fishing in Colorado through the runoff time period even if it meant exploring lakes and reservoirs in the Centennial state. Selecting lakes to fish for trout is a balancing act. The lake cannot be too high in elevation, or it will remain frozen until late June or early July. Another challenge may be getting to the lake if snow and ice remain on the trail. On the other hand, lakes that are too low in elevation will probably contain mostly warmwater species or stocked trout. I’m not opposed to fly fishing for bass and panfish; but I’d rather pursue coldwater species if that option exists.
When my daughter Amy visited at the end of January, she introduced me to Instagram, and I’ve become a serious fan. There is a significant community of fly fishermen who are active on Instagram, and I’ve actually initiated deeper conversations with several of them. Danny Ryan is one such Instagram acquaintance, and I began exchanging comments with him because his profile indicated that he lived in Denver, CO, and he posted numerous photos from fishing in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. Jane and I were planning a trip to Minneapolis to visit our son, Dan, and I included a two day detour to the Driftless Region in our itinerary.
As a result of our Instagram dialogue, Danny and I met for coffee and tea at an establishment near our places of employment. Most of the conversation centered around fishing in the Driftless Region; however, we also digressed into a discussion of fishing in Colorado. I informed Danny that I wished to explore more lakes during the runoff season of 2014, and he was kind enough to suggest some destinations that he enjoyed.
One of the lakes that he directed me toward was Palmer Reservoir near the town of Palmer Lake, CO. This interested me because it represents a shorter drive from Denver than many of my fishing favorites such as the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Jane was interested in joining me for some outdoor adventure on June 1, so we planned an exploratory hike to Palmer Reservoir.
Unfortunately our trip got off to an inauspicious start as we heard a flapping sound as we sped east on interstate 70 no more than five miles from our house. I pulled on to the shoulder and examined the tires and noticed that the left rear tire was quite low. We exited at the first ramp and found an air pump at a gas station where I used our digital tire gauge to measure the air pressure. Sure enough three of the tires registered 35 psi or greater, but the left rear tire was at 14 psi. Even though I was certain that the tire had a slow leak, I did not want to risk driving to Palmer Lake on a compromised tire, so we returned to the house, switched our gear, and traded the Santa Fe for the Forte.
Once we were underway in the Forte, we experienced no more incidents and arrived at the Palmer Reservoir trailhead by 10:30AM. I never asked Danny if wading was allowed, nor did I see anything regarding wading on any of the web sites I researched, so I packed my waders and boots and other fishing gear in a backpack. Jane and I departed the parking lot by 10:45 and after a short but steep hike, we arrived at the upper inlet area of the upper reservoir.
Apparently Palmer Reservoir is a popular location in the Colorado Springs area of Colorado, as we encountered a steady stream of hikers and dogs moving in both directions on the trail. In addition quite a few of the worn fishing spots were occupied with fishermen and families tossing spinners and bait into the clear lake. Fortunately when we arrived at the upper shoreline, no one was there so we found a nice fallen log and established a base camp. The sky was a brilliant bright blue and the air temperature was probably in the upper 70’s or low 80’s. The bright sun and lack of cloud cover concerned me from a fishing perspective, and by now we’d read signs that announced that wading was forbidden. I was a bit disappointed that I lugged the heavy waders and wading boots on the strenuous uphil hike, and now they would linger in the backpack.
I put together my rod and slid the line and leader through the rod guides and walked across the trail to the western shore of the lake. Almost immediately I discovered that the land bordering the reservoir was a quagmire as apparently the snow melt seeped through this area. I carefully tip toed my way around some obvious swampy spots, but even with the utmost care, I began to feel some cold wetness penetrating my socks just above the soles of my running shoes. I found some solid ground on a small point next to a two foot wide trench with flowing runoff water and tied on a damsel wiggle nymph and began to spread casts out in many directions. The articulated marabou damsel nymph did not seem to sink as rapidly as I desired in spite of some tiny dumbbell eyes, so after a reasonable trial period I snipped it off and replaced it with a size 14 stimulator with a green body.
This fly was ignored just as much as the damsel nymph, and I now grew curious to explore more of the western shoreline and particularly the area where the small stream entered the lake. Unfortunately I did not want to wade through the muck in my running shoes, so I maneuvered my way back to the base camp that Jane and I created near the log on the other side of the trail. I went from chastising myself for carrying the wading boots and waders on my back unnecessarily to complimenting myself on having the foresight to bring them and gain an advantage over the other fishermen.
I threw on my waders and boots and slushed through the marsh to the inlet area. The dry fly continued to underperform, so I once again decided to change tactics. I reached in my fleece pouch and extracted an olive woolly bugger with a black marabou tail and knotted this to my leader. The fly felt fairly heavy so I concluded that I had weighted it with lead wire. I began casting the weighted woolly bugger to the area where the stream entered and then gradually moved to my left until I was halfway back to the base camp.
When I reached the solid ground point that I’d first used on my initial foray without waders, I stripped the woolly bugger back toward me, and as I began to lift, I noticed a fish turning away just as the streamer left the water. I had managed to grab the fish’s attention, but I was unable to tempt it to actually take my fly. I pondered this a bit, and noticed a rare caddis skitter across the surface of the lake. Why not add another fly to the bend of the woolly bugger? I pulled a beadhead bright green caddis pupa from my fleece pocket and added it below the woolly bugger.
Once again I began spraying casts thirty to forty feet into the lake in spite of some strong cross winds that kicked up during this time period. I tried various speeds but on one of the hand twist retrieves, I detected a bump that transferred from the hook to my fingers. Could that have been a fish, or did I momentarily snag on a weed? I cast to the same area and repeated the same hand twist gathering of line, and this time I felt a jolt and set the hook and found myself attached to a fish. It fought and swirled and eventually I brought it close to shore and slid my net beneath a beautiful twelve inch brook trout. The pretty shimmering char displayed a bright orange belly and brilliant spots along its back and sides. I photographed my prize and gently released it into the cold clear water of the lake.
I now felt renewed confidence that I’d stumbled on an effective tactic for taking brook trout from Palmer Reservoir under warm bright conditions. I continued working to my left back toward the trail with renewed focus, but I was not rewarded. But what about the area from the inlet to the point where I caught the brook trout? Surely my two fly presentation would capture the imagination of fish that ignored the solitary woolly bugger on the first pass. I sloshed back to the inlet and methodically covered the entire western end of the lake a second time. These were all solid thoughts and strategies, but unfortunately the fish did not reward me, and I decided to call it quits at 2:30.
I returned to the log where Jane sat and read her book, and I removed my waders and boots and restocked my backpack. We descended the trail in 45 minutes and snapped some nice photos along the way. Despite catching only one colorful brook trout, it was a fun day in a gorgeous setting, and I might return during a weekday under more favorable weather conditions.