Piney River – 08/02/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Downstream from Piney Crossing trailhead

Piney River 08/02/2016 Photo Album

On October 5, 2015 Jane and I explored the Piney Lake and Piney River area ten miles north of Vail, CO. We enjoyed a wonderful fall hike at high elevation, and afterward I sampled some fly fishing in heretofore unexplored Piney River. I landed seven fish in 1.5 hours, and I was impressed enough by the potential to pledge a return trip. Tuesday August 2 I honored my 2015 pledge.

Unlike my previous visit I planned to spend an entire day on the small headwater river, and I also hoped to hike along the Piney River Trail for an hour. I estimated this would place me three miles from the trailhead and beyond most of the fishing pressure closer to the Piney Crossing bridge. It normally takes two hours to drive to Vail and another forty-five minutes to negotiate the relatively rough Red Sandstone Road that leads to the Piney Crossing trailhead. Add on an hour of hiking and fifteen minutes of preparation time, and the cumulative elapsed time required to be on the water fishing projected to four hours.

In order to reduce the morning drive Jane and I reserved a campsite at Gore Creek Campground just east of Vail, CO for Monday evening. Our site, number 13, was very nice, as our tent was positioned along the upper reaches of Gore Creek. On Tuesday morning we consumed a light breakfast and efficiently packed up the camping gear and departed the campground by 8:15. An hour later we pulled into the crude parking lot at Piney Crossing, and after gathering all the essentials for a day of remote fishing, we were on the trail by 9:30. True to my plan we hiked for an hour, and this enabled us to reach a meadow section of Piney River. At this point Jane changed direction and returned to the parking lot, while I cut down a gradual hill and then followed the edge of some tall grass to the bottom section of the meadows.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Meadows Was Challenging” type=”image” alt=”P8020016.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I did not have access to stream flows for the upper Piney River, but I estimated the volume was roughly double that of Octoboer 5, and perhaps in the 40-50 cfs range. The weather was perfect, as the temperature on the dashboard was 57 degrees when we embarked on the trail, and the high reached the low seventies. High clouds blocked the sun for much of the afternoon, and a very light sprinkle commenced at 3PM, but the rain was never heavy enough to cause me to pull out my raincoat.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Brown Trout from the Meadows Area” type=”image” alt=”P8020014.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Between 10:30 and 11:30 I methodically prospected the slow moving meadows area. Numerous fish showed their positions sporadically, but I suspect many of these rises emanated from very small fish. Nonetheless I landed a nice eleven inch brown trout and a similar sized cutbow in the first fifteen minutes, and I was quite pleased with this beginning of my adventure. My catch rate diminished during the remainder of my reconnaissance of the meadow area, but I did add three more fish to the count including a twelve inch brown and another eleven inch rainbow. The last fish of the meadow harvest was a small cutbow. A size 12 light yellow stimulator was the attraction for all these trout. In addition to five landed fish, the meadows section frustrated me with four times as many refusals as takes and several long distance releases, but I was satisfied with my initial hour in the remote area of the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Early Cutbow” type=”image” alt=”P8020015.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

At 11:30 I reached the end of the meadow section and entered a narrow canyon that was characterized mainly by pockets and plunge pools. The remainder of my day was spent in this environment, and my main concern was how I would exit the steep sided valley and find the Piney River Trail to return to the car. Fortunately the fly fishing action was intense enough to take my mind off of this concern for most of the day. In the lower canyon stretch above the meadow I continued my cautious upstream migration by adding three more small trout to the fish count ledger, but then I stalled at eight. I set a personal goal to reach double digits by lunch, but the fish were no longer slurping the stimulator, so I decided to adopt the dependable dry/dropper approach.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Tough Wading” type=”image” alt=”P8020022.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line, and a foot behind it I added a beadhead hares ear, and then a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail. The pheasant tail was responsible for the next three fish including an eleven inch brown trout, before I paused for a streamside lunch at 12:30.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Showing Off the Slash” type=”image” alt=”P8020018.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Shortly after resuming my upstream progression after lunch, I grew dissatisfied with the catch rate, and I swapped the pheasant tail for a salvation nymph. This move paid off handsomely, and I moved the fish counter from eleven to twenty-five by 2:30. This was my favorite period of fishing. I carefully moved over the rocks and tossed upstream casts to the deep pockets and plunge pools. In many places I could see the trout in the center of the pocket or the tail. My catch rate was obviously solid, but I also observed numerous subsurface looks, refusals, and temporary hook ups. Roughly half the fish smashed the Chernobyl, but quite a few of these connections evolved into long distance releases. I was not excessively upset by the LDR’s, as the majority of them were associated with small fish. Most of the other landed fish favored the salvation, but the hares ear produced enough action to justify remaining on my line.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Perfect!” type=”image” alt=”P8020029.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

For me the unique aspect of my afternoon on Piney River was the number of beautiful cutthroats and cutbows that found a home in my net. None of these fish exceeded twelve inches, but they were absolute jewels, as they displayed fine spots over a lemony cream background in sharp contrast to the vivid orange slashes beneath their mouth. These species of fish in the backcountry environment were a nice contrast to the more typical brown trout and rainbow trout, that I catch in the lower reaches of Colorado rivers and streams.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Rock Ledge Wall Ahead” type=”image” alt=”P8020031.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

The scenery was also spectacular, as I passed through numerous canyons with high vertical red rock walls adjacent to the small tumbling stream. Fortunately in all these situations, one side of the stream offered me terrain that allowed relatively easy passage.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”One of the Better Brown Trout on the Day” type=”image” alt=”P8020027.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

At 2:30 the beadhead hares ear nymph unraveled, and I spotted one solitary green drake, so I decided to test a parachute style. Perhaps the trout were accustomed to seeing more of these meaty mayflies? The large mayfly did induce a refusal and temporary hook up, but then it ceased to be a factor, so I changed back to the Chernobyl but with only a salvation dropper. This combination enabled me to add four more fish to the count, but then I suffered through a longer than normal stretch with only refusals and temporary hook ups with tiny fish. I reached a place where the slope on the left side of the valley was gradual enough to allow an exit, so I resigned myself to a twenty-nine fish day.

[peg-image src=”–WB-iKdX7kI/V6Kot4MDjQI/AAAAAAABBks/MdQgEXYgJw4COZoAGo9utJz1rK2dv88IgCHM/s144-o/P8020032.JPG” href=”″ caption=”Fireweed” type=”image” alt=”P8020032.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

But perhaps the yellow stimulator still retained some magic? I tied one to my line and moved upstream a bit beyond my exit point, and in one attractive short but deep run along a submerged log, a ten inch brown could not resist the bushy attractor. I released number thirty from my net and retreated a short distance to a place where I circumvented the raspberry bushes and climbed the short but fairly steep hill until I intersected with the well worn Piney River Trail. I was elated to discover the path without much searching. Forty-five minutes later I was back at the parking lot, where I found Jane relaxing in her chair beneath the camping canopy.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”This Ended Up Being My Exit Point” type=”image” alt=”P8020013.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

My Piney River adventure was a success, and I am already planning more forays into the Eagles Nest Wilderness. The fish were small with my largest probably a thirteen inch brown trout, but I had the place to myself, and I was lost in my own thoughts in a remote corner of Colorado for five hours. Cutbows and cutthroats were a nice deviation from my familiar catches, and this only added to the allure of the backcountry. The beauty and remote location created a unique fly fishing outing, as I began my August 2016 fly fishing adventures.

Fish Landed: 30

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