Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
Location: Near intersection with Meadow Trail
After an excellent day of fishing on Piney River on August 2, I was anxious to explore the remote high mountain stream again during the summer of 2016. Jane and I hiked for an hour, and the effort placed us roughly 2.5 miles from the trailhead. For some reason I felt a strong desire to hike into the backcountry even farther, so I contacted my young fishing friend, Danny Ryan. Danny readily agreed to join me, so we scheduled a trip for August 21-22.
I picked Danny up at his apartment at 4PM on Sunday, and we drove west on interstate 70, until we reached the East Vail exit. From here we traveled east a short distance and found a campsite at the Gore Creek Campground. I was concerned about the availability of sites, since the campground was full when Jane and I camped there on August 1, but we had numerous options and chose site number 14. It was next to 13, where Jane and I camped on August 1 and was situated high above tumbling Gore Creek.
After a quick dinner of submarine sandwiches, we had an hour of daylight, so Danny and I took advantage and slid down the bank to fish Gore Creek. It was quite evident that numerous campers had the same idea, as the path along the creek was well worn. Danny was prepared to fish first, and on his first cast he landed a reasonable sized brook trout. We were both excited, and our expectations soared. I moved downstream to some attractive deep pockets, and I tied a stimulator to my line and began to prospect the small deep pools that beckoned me. Alas, after an hour of rock hopping and two wet sneakers, I was unable to land a single trout. Danny and I even crossed the bridge where the frontage road crossed the stream and fished below it for a short distance, but the brookie on the first cast was the only fish landed during our one hour foray.
I woke up at 6AM on Monday, and we quickly downed some breakfast snacks and packed up our camping gear. Our early start enabled us to arrive at the Piney River trailhead by 8:30 after covering the rocky and steep Red Sandstone Road north of Vail. We were disappointed to discover three vehicles present in the rough parking area, and Danny and I debated shifting our plans. Danny explored the upper Piney River above Piney Lake recently, and he was quite pleased with that outing. I had my heart set on hiking downstream; however, and I convinced Danny that eight miles of public water would surely yield a section untouched by the other fishermen.
We actually saw three fishermen from one of the SUV’s depart from the parking lot as we pulled in. After hiking for five minutes we spotted a campsite along the stream, so that accounted for a second vehicle. By the time we reached the first meadow, which was the spot where I began fishing on August 2, we overtook the threesome that left the lot as we pulled in. The three fishermen made a beeline for the meadows water, so we continued along the path. My original goal was to hike to the intersection with the Meadows Trail, so we continued beyond the area that the three fishermen elected to fish.
After one hour and fifteen minutes of brisk hiking we finally reached a sign that pointed to the Meadows Trail, and just beyond that, we spotted an old log cabin. Only the walls of the crude structure remained, but Danny and I inspected and took a few photographs. When we turned around to resume our hike, Danny spotted a fisherman emerging from the second meadow section across from us. Danny approached and chatted with the newly discovered occupant of the third vehicle, and he learned that the fisherman was vacating the meadow and moving back toward the parking lot.
This was great news. We accounted for the occupants of all the vehicles, and we now had another five miles of public water ahead of us. We decided to move a bit beyond the downstream border of the meadows to begin our quest for trout. We assumed that the time spent downstream from the meadows area would enable the wild stream dwellers to forget the presence of the departing fisherman.
By 10AM we were finally in the water, and we began our methodical upstream migration. The sun was now high in the sky, and the air temperature had warmed to the low seventies making fishing with just a long sleeved fishing shirt quite comfortable. Piney River unlike its large stream label remained fairly small at this point despite being augmented by Meadow Creek. Because of the small creek Danny and I alternated fishing the most attractive spots during the remainder of the morning.
Danny enjoyed almost instant success, as his red stimulator lived up to its name. Two noteworthy brown trout caused a sag in his net. I meanwhile began fishing with a size 10 Chernobyl ant, and the foam attractor induced three gulps, but in each case the fish quickly evaded the hook. Needless to say I was quite disappointed, and in an effort to turn the tide, I added a salvation nymph dropper. Danny added a hares ear to his lineup, and the shaggy nymph began to produce, so I swapped my salvation for one of my beadhead hares ear nymphs. By 11:30 I managed to land two small brown trout that nipped the hares ear, and Danny was having a blast working through the slow meandering pools and beaver ponds in the meadows section.
I was quite frustrated with my comparative lack of action, but more upset with my inability to land three or four decent fish that rose to my Chernobyl ant, so I sat down on a rock above the beaver pond and munched my lunch, while I waited for Danny to catch up. After lunch we moved into a section of higher gradient and narrower streambed, and this created many more plunge pools and pockets. This water type was much more to my liking.
In retrospect I was guilty of not following my own advice. Piney River was much lower than two weeks prior, yet I applied the same fishing approach. Danny on the other hand adjusted and deployed a lighter dry fly that created far less disturbance, as it landed on the low clear water surface. He also did a better job of staying back to make long casts. I stubbornly clung to what brought me success earlier, but the approach did not apply to the new conditions.
After lunch I copied Danny for a bit and tied a yellow size 14 stimulator to my line, but it did not generate the same success. Some clouds appeared, and this created an annoying glare, so I changed back to a tan Charlie boy hopper and trailed a beadhead hares ear. This move paid dividends, and I landed a gorgeous brook trout that smashed the hopper. The Charlie boy continued to be effective in the early afternoon, and I moved the fish counter to seven. During this period I landed a small rainbow and a very pretty cutthroat trout on the hopper imitation, and I added the distinction of recording a grand slam. My slam consisted of landing a brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout.
At 1:30 some dark clouds appeared, and we were mildly alarmed by the sound of distant thunder. The threat of impending rain caused us to pull on our raincoats, and our weather readiness paid off when a brief but cold rain shower transpired. The fishing was actually quite decent during the low light conditions.
As we continued to wade upstream, the canyon narrowed, and this resulted in many more plunge pools and fast water sections. The succession of pockets was temporarily interrupted by a long deep pool, and here Danny spotted some rising fish. I made a few casts with the Charlie boy, but it was ignored, and several fish scattered from the tail area when the hopper splashed down. Danny suggested a parachute adams, and I relented and tied one to my line, even though I knew I would revert back to dry/dropper fishing at the top of the pool. Near the midsection of the pool a small brown trout rose and sipped the adams, so the move was at least somewhat effective. I continued to flutter long casts over the top half of the pool, but the fish showed no interest, and it became impossible to follow the small fly from the long casting distance required by the low water conditions.
I reverted to the dry/dropper, but this time I opted for a size 10 Chernobyl ant with a yellow indicator spot. In addition I added a salvation nymph so that I was now fishing two droppers below the Chernobyl; a beadhead hares ear and a salvation. My approach now better matched the rapid tumbling water type, and I increased the fish count from seven to thirteen over the remainder of the afternoon. The hares ear and salvation were both effective in roughly equal proportions, and my best success occurred when I lifted the nymphs near the end of the drift.
At 4:45 we reached a stretch where the canyon was narrow and numerous dead logs spanned the small streambed. We agreed that it was too late in the day to undertake such a wading challenge, so we took advantage of the moderately steep bank, and angled back along the contour until we intersected with the path. A one hour hike returned us to the Santa Fe by 6PM in a totally exhausted state.
Monday proved to be the adventure I anticipated. The scenery was spectacular and we worked around the competing anglers. Danny enjoyed a banner day, as he registered a fish count somewhere in the twenty to thirty range. I managed to land thirteen, and I was slightly disappointed, but I blame myself for not adjusting my approach to the reduced water level and different stream structure. It was a great exploratory adventure, and I look forward to revisiting Piney River in the future.
Fish Landed: 13