Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
On April 5, 2018 I enjoyed a fantastic day on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. A dense blue winged olive hatch commenced at 12:30PM, and it endured until I left the river at 4:30PM. I took advantage of this good fortune and landed nineteen trout, and many were in the fourteen to sixteen inch size range.
The weather forecast for April 5, 2019 was very favorable, and @rockymtnangler and I exchanged messages to determine whether we had mutual interest in making the trip to the South Platte. Trevor (@rockymtnangler) accompanied me on a venture on 04/11/2017, and we experienced a fantastic outing in the vicinity of my successful visit on 04/05/2018. Common interest was quickly determined, and we scheduled a day in Eleven Mile Canyon.
Trevor drove his new pickup truck outfitted with a double rod vault, and he picked me up at 6:30 on Friday morning. My rod was in an assembled state, so he slid it in to one of the rod vault tubes, and after we transferred the remainder of my gear, we were on our way. The early departure enabled us to reach our desired destination along the South Platte River by 9AM, and we quickly donned our waders and descended a steep slick path to the river. The air temperature was in the low thirties, and the footing was very precarious, as the surface consisted of frozen mud and ice. We somehow managed to survive the ordeal and arrived next to the river intact but mentally unnerved by the incident.
Trevor spotted some huge pike from the road high above the river, so he migrated to that area first. I meanwhile waded across one of the channels that split around a small island, and I positioned myself to fish in the west braid. The flows were in the 55 CFS range, and this allowed relatively easy wading but necessitated fairly stealthy approaches. I began my quest for South Platte River trout with a size 8 Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear nymph and a classic RS2. I thoroughly covered the deep runs and a couple pools in the west branch and then followed a footpath on the opposite shoreline, until I reached the spectacular pool below the island.
My body and head were in a tolerable state of warmth, but the wind and low temperature caused my hands to sting for the first 1.5 hours. I fanned some nice casts across the wide riffle at the head of the pool with no response, and I imparted movement at the end of the drifts frequently to imitate the rapid movement of baetis nymphs. After I made casts that spanned the riffle section, I walked downstream to the next smaller pool. While these actions transpired, Trevor arrived and occupied a nice long boulder on the road side of the pool.
I grew frustrated with the unresponsive trout, so I decided to assess the effectiveness of other flies. The South Platte River was where I first observed spawning suckers, and this motivated me to tie sucker spawn flies over the winter. I plucked one from my fleece wallet and replaced the RS2. I spent ten minutes prospecting the pool that bordered a huge rock with a vertical wall, that deflected the current, and then I migrated downstream to the next section that contained some nice short deep runs that bounced off of some large midstream exposed boulders. In spite of some very focused fly fishing and expert drifts, none of these efforts yielded a fish to my waiting net.
I returned to the large attractive pool that was the center of our attention and rested a bit to warm my stinging hands. After they returned to a reasonable state of feeling, I perched on a large rock next to the bank and began to lob casts to the riffle section once again. I presented a hares ear and sucker spawn, and finally on the tenth drift along a gentle current seam fifteen feet across from me, the Chernobyl dove, and I quickly connected with a spirited fish. Not wishing to lose my first hooked trout of the day, I quickly gained the upper hand and slid my net beneath a shimmering fourteen inch rainbow trout. Initially I sensed that the trout gulped the sucker spawn, but upon final close inspection it was clear that the hares ear was the food that duped fish number one on Friday.
This small bit of success elevated the optimism of Trevor and myself, and we resumed casting to the large pool next to us. The next hour was maddening, as we could see a fairly abundant array of fish, many of above average size, but they were not the least bit interested in our offerings. Adding to our feelings of futility were infrequent sporadic surface rises, but neither of us could spot the food source that provoked these periodic trips to the upper layer of water. Some very tiny tan midges buzzed about, so perhaps they explained the activity.
Trevor and I were trapped in an uncomfortable quandary. We wanted to guard our positions in the prime pool, but this desire was predicated on the belief, that it would come alive with a blue winged olive hatch that would induce steady feeding. But what if it never materialized? If that eventuality played out, we preferred the alternative of walking downstream and then prospecting promising lies with a dry/dropper configuration. The frequency of rising fish elevated a bit in the one o’clock time frame, but the action was a fraction of the heavy feeding that greeted us in 2017. We both switched to single dry flies, and I managed some looks; and although trout could be seen feeding in the upper third of the water column, they were not interested in our flies.
Trevor decided to climb back to the truck to prepare lunch. He packed a small gas grill along with some hot dogs and rolls, and he was anxious to rest the fish and divert his attention to another matter. We decided that I would hold the pool and then join him after twenty minutes, if the hatch did not intensify. If the bugs cooperated and began to pop in greater numbers, I would remain, and Trevor would bring lunch streamside.
As you may expect, the scene at the pool remained unchanged, and I carefully ascended the torturous path and joined Trevor for lunch. The lunch spot was rather spectacular with franks grilling on the tailgate and a splendid view of the river and canyon below us. We both inhaled two frankfurters and drained Odell craft beers, and then our thoughts returned to fly fishing. From our post next to the dirt road, Trevor identified a steadily sipping trout in the long smooth pool directly below us. This was the same section that contained six huge pike that resembled logs with pointy snouts.
We decided to return to the main pool that dominated our strategy for the day, and if the hatch was not improved from earlier, we planned to advance to the next large pool to stalk the steady riser. When we arrived at the money pool, the feeding had indeed escalated, and I began dropping downstream casts near the midpoint. I cycled through a size 22 CDC olive, a size 22 Klinkhammer BWO, and a soft hackle emerger fished in the surface film; and although these flies provoked several looks and refusals, they never clinched a hookup. I desperately wished to feel the throb of a fighting trout, so I reverted to a size 24 CDC BWO. This finally turned the tide, and a rainbow that could have been a twin of the first fish landed, sipped the tiny CDC tuft. I raised the rod and set the hook, and then I quickly battled the finned thrasher into my net and snapped a few photos.
After I released the hard earned prize, I resumed casting, while Trevor adjourned to the pike pool upstream. After another ten minutes of futile casting to fish that continued to feed infrequently, I decided to vacate to explore the west braid and the pool beyond.
I ambled along the path on the west side of the river, but rising fish were absent, so I arrived at the long pool. Trevor was fifteen yards farther upstream, and he was positioned to stalk the steady feeder, that we observed above a wide exposed midstream boulder. On the third cast his rod arced, and he felt a throb, but then he surmised that the fish wrapped him around a submerged obstacle. He continued to feel the steady throb of a live attachment, but pressure from the rod failed to elicit any substantial movement to open water. He took a few steps upstream, and then the adversary made a sudden move and escaped additional harassment. Needless to say Trevor was disappointed with this turn of events, since he spotted the fish from our lunch spot and then cautiously approached and carefully developed his plan of attack. His cast was accurate, and he expertly set the hook, but the trout had the last move and capitalized on it.
Several fish continued to rise farther upstream in the pool, and Trevor approached the pod next the high vertical rock wall on the left, while I carefully moved into position for a shot at two sippers in slower water twenty yards above. Fortunately Trevor managed to land a nice rainbow and brown from the area along the left bank, but my attempts were less productive. Both of the steady risers ceased their feeding, so I climbed the bank and circled around to the faster entry run near the head of the pool. I waited next to a large rock and observed, until finally a few sporadic dimples materialized along the rock wall on the far side of the fast run. I made some downstream drifts with the Klinkhammer emerger and managed one refusal. I then swapped the Klinkhammer for the size 24 CDC BWO, but repeated drifts over the scene of a few rises failed to elicit a response.
By now my watch displayed 3PM, and Trevor was anxious to embark on our return trip, so I retreated down river and then scaled the bank once again. By now the warmer temperatures converted the frozen path to a mud slick, and I scraped my finger attempting to arrest a slide within eight feet of the road. I adjusted my path to zig and zag using small exposed rocks as foot holds and crested the shoulder. Whew! What an unwanted adrenaline boost to end my day on the South Platte River.
In conclusion Trevor and I each landed two trout on Friday, April 5. Obviously this outcome was not what we expected, but we enjoyed the beauty of our location, good conversation and the relative lack of competition from other anglers. We theorized that the spring of 2019 was colder than the previous two years; and, therefore, the baetis hatch was lagging. We agreed that the fairly decent emergence between two and three o’clock was a harbinger of better things to come. We were on the leading edge of the peak emergence, and the fish were not totally tuned in yet. Perhaps another trip will be forthcoming in the next week or two when the main hatch peaks on the South Platte River.
Fish Landed: 2