Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
Location: South Platte River
Fish Landed: 3
After a nine day road trip and four days in the heat of Arizona, I was anxious to get my waders wet in a Colorado trout stream. My young friend, Danny Ryan, sent me a text message to check on my availability for Monday March 28. Danny did not need to initiate even slight coaxing, as I was on board immediately. Weather was another positive factor boosting my urge to fish, as high temperatures were projected to reach the low sixties on Monday.
I picked Danny up at his apartment at 8:30, and we made a quick stop at the Discount Tackle shop on South Santa Fe to restock our supplies of tippet material. Before long we pulled in to the parking lot near the South Platte River and began our quest for our favorite cold water species. Danny logged several days of fishing at this location, so he stepped into the guide role. We expected to do mainly subsurface nymphing, so I set up my thingamabobber configuration with five feet of level line below the indicator. Next I tied on a salad spinner and an RS2 and began to dead drift nymphs through a nice run of moderate depth. I began fishing on the gravel beach side of the river, whereas Danny assumed a position on a high bank.
From Danny’s high vantage point he could more readily spot fish, but he also shouted out positions to me so I could take advantage of his observation. We fished for only fifteen minutes when Danny shouted that he had a fish on. I glanced in his direction, and sure enough a large football shaped rainbow was thrashing on the end of his line, and his five weight rod exhibited a massive bend. Danny followed the fish down the river until he found a spot where he could clumsily slide down the bank, and here he was finally able to wiggle the large thrashing fish into his net. I immediately dropped my rod and line and rushed to a position opposite Danny, and he then waded across the shallow tail of the run so I could snap some photos. It was a thrilling start to our day on the river. Danny’s trophy fish for the day snatched a salad spinner from the drift.
We each resumed our positions and continued drifting nymphs through the twenty yard section of the river. Danny could spot numerous decent fish, and the prospect of landing another large rainbow kept us very focused on our venture. After another twenty minutes of fruitless casting I heard Danny once again shout that he hooked a fish. Again he carefully maneuvered his way downstream along the high bank, until eventually the rebellious foe wrapped his line around a branch that was protruding from the bank. I was certain that the fish was gone, but Danny carefully moved into the river and found the fish just downstream of the branch. Once he marked the position of the trout, he was able to slide his net underneath while lifting the branch. The effort was worth it, as he held a gorgeous cutbow in front of his chest so I could once again snap a photo. The cutbow displayed a vast quantity of fine vivid speckles, and Danny grinned from from ear to ear.
Of course I was elated for Danny’s early success, but at the same time seeing the two nice trout in his net spurred me to focus even more on my effort to join the party. Danny traded positions with me, and I assumed the perch on top of the high bank. From where I was standing I could see four or five decent sized fish in addition to three or four active spawners that we avoided out of respect for ethical fishing practices. I executed drift after drift over the sighted fish and watched both my indicator and the movement of the fish, but none of my efforts yielded a hook up.
There was a very nice deep run and pool thirty yards below our water, but another fisherman claimed first rights by arriving before us. Late in the morning, however, we looked downstream and noticed the area was devoid of fishermen, so we quickly moved. As we began drifting our nymphs, we noticed a pod of at least fifteen large fish hovering along the current seam where the river bottom transitioned from light sand to a dark color. Initially we were quite excited with the opportunity to fish to this significant quantity of large targets, but after a few minutes we realized that it was a school of spawning walleye that held in the deep run. Of course I was not opposed to catching large walleye on a fly, but our next discovery was that these fish had an acute case of lockjaw, and they were not showing interest in our flies.
After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting we abandoned the popular hole and walked upstream to a nice riffle and run area above our starting point. As we waded across the river, Danny spotted a rainbow in some riffles, so he paused to cast to his fish. I went farther downstream and worked my nymphs along the bank in some narrow slack water areas, but I was prospecting and quickly grew weary of blind casting. Danny circled around me and approached a deep section next to some downed timber, and once again he hooked up on a monster fish. This time however the potential trophy spit the hook, and Danny was in a state of disappointment. I began drifting my nymphs so that they tumbled over some gravel and then dropped off into the top of the deep hole above Danny’s position. Again I was thwarted in my efforts, so I made several half-hearted casts to a narrow deep run along some brush on the far bank. Much to my amazement, a fish darted from cover and snatched the RS2. The rainbow that splashed on the end of my line did not measure up to Danny’s earlier conquests, but I was nevertheless exuberant to land a thirteen inch fish and register my first fish of the day.
A nice deep slow moving pool was just upstream from the location that Danny and I were fishing, but another fisherman occupied it when we first arrived, and he appeared to be casting dry flies. While Danny continued to pursue the behemoth that he hooked momentarily, I noticed that the pool was now vacated, so I made my move to claim it. I waded into the tail of the pool, and I did indeed observe several rises. In addition I could see five or six fish cruising the pool. These fish however seemed to be more interested in a mating ritual than eating. Since I did see a couple rises, I decided to abandon the thingamabobber nymph rig, so I sat down on the gravel and made the laborious switch to a tapered leader. To the end of the tippet I knotted a size 22 CDC blue winged olive, and then I paused to observe. It was not long before I noticed a rise near the center of the pool so I began stripping line to lengthen my cast.
Have you ever had one of those days when adversity finds you at every turn? As I began stripping line from my reel, I made repetitive tugs, but after I had twenty-five feet of line out, I felt no more resistance. I looked down at my reel, and I could not believe what I was seeing. The fly line was coiled on the gravel, and the severed end of another end of line protruded from my reel. Somehow my fly line tore as I was stripping line. What should I do? The tear was 25-30 feet from the end, so I concluded that I could knot the line and fish with the length beyond the knot. If I hooked a large fish that stripped line, I was out of luck as the line knot would surely catch, but the only other option was to hike back to the car and retrieve my four weight rod.
I threaded the spooled line through my guides and tied a square knot to reconnect the green line. The square knot eventually unraveled, so I replaced it with a loop to loop connection, and that endured for the remainder of the day. Initially I was disturbed by this turn of events, as I could not get into my normal casting rhythm, but eventually I learned to deal with the shortened amount of running line. I resumed casting to the vicinity of the observed rises and moved up along the bank, so I could reach the midsection without making long casts. I wish I could say that I matched the hatch and landed a batch of large rainbows, but the best I could do was two splashy refusals across from me next to a large submerged boulder. Another fisherman arrived and prepared to fish above me, and Danny approached from below, and I was weary of exercising my arm with no results, so we looped around the new arrival and moved farther upstream.
At the next attractive spot I ceded the nice water to Danny, as I sat down on the bank and ate my lunch. When I resumed I converted to a Fat Albert foam attractor matched with a beadhead hares ear and soft hackle emerger. Unfortunately this approach and fly combination did not pay dividends, so I continued up the river. It was now around 1PM, and although the sky was mainly blue and devoid of cloud cover, I began to notice sporadic small mayflies taking flight. A sparse blue winged olive hatch commenced, and I began to notice occasional rises in the slow moving pools.
I reached a long smooth section of water above a large deadfall, and here I paused and observed four rises from separate fish spaced out across the pool. I clipped off the three fly dry/dropper set up and tied a different CDC olive to my line and began drifting the tiny imitation over the scene of the previous rises. Nothing. Perhaps I needed to try a different fly? I tied on another CDC olive and this was similarly unmolested. Next I gazed in my fly box and noticed a size 22 parachute olive with a tiny white wing post. The body on this fly appeared to be narrower than the CDC versions, so I gave it a shot. I cast the parachute three quarters upstream and allowed it to drift along the bank, and thwack, a fish surged and slurped my offering.
The confident eater proved to be a nine inch brown, but I was nevertheless excited to have found a fly that a fish regarded as food. I continued casting to the places where other rises occurred, but the hatch waned, and the fish showed no interest. Danny was downstream working his nymph magic, and it was getting late in the afternoon, so I decided to once again move to new scenery.
I waded upstream a bit and noticed another twenty to thirty yard long pool. As I paused and observed, I saw a dimple along the right bank near the top where the current angled toward the bank. I crossed to the other side, so I would be opposite the high bank and worked my way to the top where I spotted the single rise. When I arrived I stood motionless for a few minutes, and my patience paid off when I saw another greedy rise in front of a long submerged rock a couple feet out from the bank. My heart beat ticked up a bit, and I began to toss casts five feet above the location of the rise. I made five or six such casts, and I was about to give up, when I saw a decent fish dart from cover. The yellow missile chomped on my tiny blue winged olive offering, and I set the hook and played a thirteen inch brown trout to my net. It was not fat and was evidently recovering from the winter, but I was thrilled to net this gold colored beauty.
I continued upstream and scouted another very tempting bend pool, but the hatch was now over, and I saw no rises to straggling mayflies. Continuing to fish the size 22 olive was a fools errand, and I did not relish changing back to the dry/dropper configuration, so I retreated downstream and found Danny. We both agreed that it was getting late, and I was tired and hungry, so I cajoled him into calling it a day. We progressed so far up the river that it took thirty minutes via a well marked path to return to the parking lot.
It was a gorgeous early spring day, and although I did not catch many fish, I did enjoy fishing dry flies to rising fish. This was my first surface fishing in 2016, and I was rewarded with three brightly colored jewels. A day of fishing is always a success in my book.