Rio Grande River – 09/02/2012

Time: 3:30PM – 5:30PM

Location: Soward Ranch

Fish Landed: 2

Rio Grande River 09/02/2012 Photo Album

As mentioned on the previous post, Jane and I forgot to load our bikes on the Santa Fe so we rented bikes for two days over Labor Day weekend in Creede, CO. Sunday was the day we planned to use them on a bike ride. In addition we hoped to do a hike and perhaps go horseback riding. Unfortunately we ran out of time for horseback riding, and it was partly my fault for selecting a biking trail that required too much driving time.

The Rio Grande originates in the San Juan Mountains northwest of Creede, and on its way to the Soward Ranch goes through Rio Grande Reservoir so the river below the reservoir is essentially a tailwater. There are two campgrounds below the dam with the downstream one called River Hill Campground. I read articles that mentioned parking at River Hill Campground and hiking downstream two miles to a box canyon and only during the low flows of fall is one able to move about in the box canyon and fish. This translates into light fishing pressure and it aroused my curiosity, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to fish, however, I was interested in stopping at the campground and scouting for future trips.

Natural Rock Wall and Aspens Turning Color

In addition I read in one of my Colorado fishing books that the river above the reservoir fishes quite well with attractors, but to reach it one must travel on a 4 wheel drive forest service road or use a mountain bike. I noticed on my detailed national forest map that there was a hiking/biking trail called Lost Creek Trail that began at Lost Creek Campground two miles above the reservoir. Jane and I researched this trail online, and it didn’t sound exceedingly difficult, so we decided to give it a try. We loaded the two bikes in the back of the Santa Fe along with our Camelbaks and some granola bars and drove to Lost Creek.

Lost Creek Trail Aspen Section

Unfortunately the road became quite rough once we reached Rio Grande Reservoir, so it took approximately 1.5 hours to drive to the trailhead. We debated whether to bike the Lost Creek Trail or simply bike out the forest service road along the Rio Grande but opted to try the trail. As it turned out, the first .5 mile of the trail was a fairly steep uphill and quite muddy so we pushed our bikes a good portion of the way. However, once we cleared the initial ridge, we covered rolling terrain that fluctuated between aspen groves, evergreen forests and open grassy areas. It was a pleasant ride but then we encountered a creek crossing of West Lost Trail Creek. In order to continue on our bikes we would need to pedal through the creek where it was eight feet wide and a foot deep. Neither of us wanted to get wet feet so we elected to stash the bikes by some trees and cross on foot using a crude log bridge.

Balanced on Log Bridge

Once we reached the other side the trail split, and we chose to hike up the West Trail Creek path. We continued hiking for 15-20 minutes and then as some gray clouds moved in and the incline of the trail accelerated, we decided to return. When we arrived back at the stream crossing, I detoured to the junction of Trail Creek and West Trail Creek and spotted a fish or two. This would be a nice small stream destination to try in the future. We then once again balanced ourselves on the log bridge and mounted our mountain bikes and negotiated our way back down the trail. We were amazed at how quickly we arrived back at the trailhead with the benefit of gravity.

Cruising Around the Curve

At the trailhead we decided to attempt biking west on forest road 520, but after .3 miles or so we crested a hill and realized the road was going to represent a fairly continuous climb, and we were no longer in the hard core climbing mindset so we turned around and returned to the car. We loaded the bikes back in the Santa Fe and returned to Creede. Along the way I stopped at River Hill Campground and scoped it out for a possible future camping and fishing venture. The campground was very nice with only a few campers present on Labor Day weekend. The river was quite attractive at this area with lots of rocky structure and pockets and runs. The river was slightly larger than the Frying Pan but yet quite intimate compared to the Arkansas or Colorado. It was probably somewhere between the Frying Pan and Taylor Rivers in terms of size.

Jane and I decided to go directly to Creede and return the bicycles so we wouldn’t have to deal with that chore on Monday morning. After returning the bikes, we went back to the cabin and ate lunch. It was 3PM by now and Jane wanted to take a walk and a shower, so I decided to return to the Rio Grande private water for a brief fishing session.

I threw all my gear in the car and drove back to the junction of the Rio Grande and Trout Creek. The western sky was now fairly dark and gray and I could hear occasional thunder. In fact I had to sit in the back of the Santa Fe with the tailgate open to put on my waders as light rain fell for a short time and sparked hopes that a BWO hatch might take place and improve the action on the Rio Grande.

The parachute hopper and headhead hares ear remained on my line from the previous afternoon on Red Mountain Creek as I waded into the riffles at the head of the long deep pool. Once again I began systematically casting high in the riffles and allowing the flies to drift across and down to the deeper water. Similar to the previous day, on the fifth or sixth cast, a trout rose and engulfed my flies. I set the hook and played a strong thirteen inch brown to the net and photographed, and then resumed fishing and gradually stepped downstream closer to the deep drop off. Unfortunately just like Saturday, only one fish seemed to be interested in my flies, and I retreated to the bank with no additional action.

Brown from Rio Grande on Sunday

I debated crossing to the far bank and trying the hopper/dropper behind the large boulders, but then I decided to try running some nymphs deep with a strike indicator. I rigged up with a split shot, indicator, and BHHE and BHPT and began putting deep drifts through the riffles. After a few drifts I detected a pause of the indicator and set the hook and felt the sensation of a strong heavy fish. I fought the fish up and down then towards me, and I could see it was a strong brown trout. Eventually I scooped it with my net only to discover that it was foul hooked. Perhaps I hooked it in the mouth initially, but in the battle the top fly slid out and the fish got snagged by the trailer. I’ll never know.

I returned to nymphing and several casts later as the flies began to lift, another fish hammered my line. Once again this fish jumped numerous times and put up a strong fight, and once again I noticed it was foul hooked when I introduced it to my net. I’d now covered the sweet spot at the head of the pool numerous times and wasn’t experiencing more action so I decided to change scenery. I hiked down along the river beyond the long deep pool to an area where the river braided into three channels. I continued to fish the nymphs through some attractive runs and pockets, but once again this yielded no interest from fish. When I reached the bottom of the closest channel I crossed to explore the other two which carried more volume. In this area at the bottom of one of the other channels I landed a nine inch brown on the beadhead pheasant tail.

After a bit more nymph casting I decided to return to the parachute hopper and beadhead hares ear and prospect in the pockets and medium depth runs ahead of me. I executed this strategy for another half hour or so with no success and decided to call it quits by 5:20. The sky remained threatening, but it didn’t rain and a BWO hatch never commenced. The Rio Grande seemed to be in a down period before the arrival of cooler fall temperatures and BWO hatches. Or else I wasn’t using the right flies or fishing at the right places. Nevertheless I enjoyed my two days of limited fishing time on the fabled Rio Grande River.


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