Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
My fishing outing on Wednesday, April 8 was an example of quality over quantity. In an ideal world I enjoy both, but sometimes my fortunes follow an either/or scenario. On Tuesday I learned that the surgery that was scheduled originally for March 16 and then cancelled was rescheduled for April 16. Because of the corona virus pandemic, I was surprised to learn of the resumption of elective surgery this soon, but I made the decision to go with it. Hopefully the surgery will progress to completion this time, and I can recover to reasonable fishing shape by the time the rivers and streams recede to fishable levels in late June or early July.
With the advent of the scheduling change I decided to take advantage of another fine spring day to visit a Colorado river, and I chose the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon for my Wednesday adventure. The high temperature was forecast to reach the upper fifties, and the stream flows were tumbling through the canyon at 80 CFS. I knew from this blog and previous experience that these levels are very conducive to fishing. The fly shop reports touted dry fly action on midges and blue winged olives.
Quite a few vehicles were parked along the nine mile access road, but I was fortunate enough to claim a spot just before the first of the twin tunnels. A surprising amount of snow remained on the north and western facing canyon walls, but the open areas that received plentiful sunlight were clear. When I arrived, the thermometer was stuck on 41 degrees, so I pulled on my North Face light down coat and assembled my Sage four weight rod. I hiked down the dirt road a short distance, until I found a reasonably manageable path down the steep bank to the river. Once I reached the shoreline of the river, I continued downstream for another .2 miles, until I reached a nice pool.
I began my search for South Platte River trout with a yellow fat Albert, 20 incher, and super nova baetis; but when I paused for lunch at 11:45, the fish count was locked on zero. Needless to say it was a frustrating morning. I did detect two very brief nips, but never felt the weight of the fish. Just before lunch I prospected a very attractive run and pool, where I normally add a fish or two to my count, but I was disappointed by a lack of success despite covering the water very thoroughly. I experimented with a few fly changes and switched the super nova for a sucker spawn fly and my recently tied partridge and orange, but luck was not my friend. In a last ditch effort to turn my fortunes around I substituted a sparkle wing RS2 for the partridge and orange.
As I sampled my lunch goodies, I observed the pool and spotted two very separate rises in the shelf pool on the right side of the fast center run. This observation prompted me to wade to the opposite bank to approach the area of rising fish from a different angle. Unfortunately the rises never repeated, so I shifted my attention to the riffle on the opposite side of the run, that I covered quite exhaustively prior to lunch. Amazingly on the third cast the fat Albert dipped, and I set the hook quickly, and a very nice trout with a bright pink stripe announced that it was not happy with the hook prick. I fought the battler up and down the run a few times, before I managed to thump it into my net. My first fish of Wednesday was a beauty that created a significant sag. It probably measured in the sixteen inch range, but it displayed an ample amount of poundage coming out of the winter. I was also interested to learn, that it grabbed the 20 incher, although I was certain that the RS2 would be the productive fly.
Once I photographed and released my highly sought after prize, I resumed casting to the riffle on the opposite side of the fast current. I allowed some casts to float deeper in the run below me, and on one of these longer floats I felt a grab, as I began to lift the flies to make another cast. Although this rainbow did not approach the size of the first one, it may have been stronger pound for pound, as it put up a spirited fight, before I slid it into my net. The muscular rainbow approximated thirteen inches, and my optimism spiked considerably compared to the morning session.
Having disturbed the lunch run and pool considerably, I pressed on in an upstream direction. While eating lunch I noticed another angler in the appealing pool above me, but as I prospected some deep pockets in between, I was pleased to see that the pool was vacant. I lobbed three to five cast to three promising pockets with no results, and then I quickly claimed one of the better pools in the canyon. Two nice deep runs fed the wide smooth area, and since I was rigged with a dry/dropper arrangement, I skipped immediately to the top. I carefully covered both entering runs with my three fly offering, but I was disappointed to discover that the trout did not savor my menu choices.
As this scenario unfolded, I began to observe rising fish where the larger of the two entry runs fanned out into the wide, smooth pool. I abandoned the dry/dropper approach and quickly knotted a CDC blue winged olive to my 5X tippet. The timing of the rises was relatively spaced, but clearly several trout were attuned to the small mayflies that now began to dance and flutter on the surface. It took me quite a few casts and a few position changes, but eventually I lobbed a cast directly across and accompanied it with an upstream midair mend. The small speck of fluff imitating a blue wing olive was smacked aggressively, and I swooped a very fine thirteen inch brown trout into my net. I anticipated the blue winged olive hatch, and now I notched my first dry fly success of the day.
The hatch at this stage in the early afternoon was relatively sparse and developed in small waves. A cloud would block the sun, and this created a breeze, and BWO’s appeared. They were blown by the wind and tumbled across the surface, and a series of feeding fish would respond. After a short frenzy the sun reappeared, I basked in the sun, and the surface action abruptly ended. During one of the extended calm, sunny periods I decided to move on to sample another segment of Eleven Mile Canyon.
A man and woman arrived in the section characterized by a series of deep pockets just above the pool, so I circled around them and re-entered the river thirty yards upstream. I converted back to the dry/dropper technique for the faster pocket water; however, this time I featured a size 8 black Chernobyl ant, bright green caddis pupa, and sparkle wing RS2. The pockets were not productive, nor was the nice long pool downstream from my favorite bend pool on the entire river.
I was actually astonished to see the bend pool just down from the first tunnel vacant of fishermen, as this sight is a rarity. The river braids around a small narrow island with one channel feeding the bend pool from the south and the larger branch feeding water from the west. I was on the northwest side of the pool, so I advanced to the section at the top where a wide riffle enters. The dry/dropper remained on my line, so I opted to take advantage of the set up in the faster water of medium depth while observing the lower pool for rising activity. I could see a cluster of quite nice trout spaced throughout the riffle, but despite some very focused prospecting, I was unable to tempt any of them to nab the drifting caddis or RS2. Meanwhile the middle and lower sections of the pool were alive with actively feeding fish.
I once again went through the re-rigging process, and I began with a CDC BWO. The next hour was the most frustrating segment of my day, as I cycled through two sizes of CDC olives, a Klinkhammer style BWO, and a Craven soft hackle emerger; but none of these options appealed to the selective feeders in front of me. I cast to the middle area, the current seam, the eddy between two exposed boulders and the slow moving tail section. They all contained actively feeding fish, but I failed to guide any into my net. I pricked two fish, and I attribute the quick escapes to very tentative takes. My flies were clearly missing a key triggering characteristic compared to the naturals. During windy conditions I always assume that movement is the missing element.
Deming’s quote, “Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results” looped through my brain, and I cut my losses and moved upstream. I gravitated to the western channel and fired some casts to several likely fish holding areas, but the the tiny olive was not a solid searching fly, so I moved on fairly quickly to the next favorite pool. This spot with slow moving water is directly below the tunnel and features a tall vertical rock wall on the east bank. Half the river was shrouded in shadows by the time I arrived, but I circled around a huge boulder and positioned myself in front of it while looking across to the shaded portion. I was immediately pleased to see some regular rises twenty-five feet across and down from my position, but how was I to follow my tiny tuft of CDC in these unfavorable lighting conditions? I decided to give it a try and simply lift, when I saw a rise, where I approximated my fly to be. It worked on the third drift, I raised the rod tip and felt decent weight, as a fish sent vibrations through my four weight. Unfortunately the joy of hooking a fish in challenging conditions was short lived, as the attached live body quickly slipped free of the tiny size 24 hook.
I paused to blot and dry my fly, and luckily the feeding fish resumed their afternoon routine. Once again I executed a straight across cast and immediately flicked an upstream mend. This time a fish rose five feet downstream from the previous one, and I once again elevated the rod tip and felt a connection. Unlike the previous episode, however, I remained in touch with an eleven inch brown trout and quickly slipped it into my net. When I resumed casting, the wind died back, and the sun broke through the clouds, and the calm sunny break halted the ravenous feeding. Some sporadic activity remained, and I attempted my blind cast and set method for a bit, but then rising futility drove me onward.
I investigated the very attractive faster run at the top of the pool, but I was armed with a tiny dry fly, and the trout were not revealing their presence. I quickly waded through the wide shallow connector section and approached a vast wide pool. The lower half of the pool was only a few feet deep and extremely clear. I deemed this another recipe for frustration and immediately waded to the midsection, where I could reach the upper and middle portion of the pond-like section. I paused to observe, and several larger than average trout hovered below the surface and sipped olives in a rather leisurely manner. Could I fool these discerning eaters? I began making long casts to the area, and I managed to elicit several nose to fly inspections, but something did not conform to the standards of my potential eaters. I gave up on these middle of the pool snobs, and waded toward the feeder lanes in the top third. I once again stopped to observe, and I spotted a couple rises in a moderately faster current close to the boulder strewn west bank.
I began flinging casts across the current with an upstream reach and tracked my tiny fly through the area between the bank and a large exposed boulder to my right. It took ten drifts, and I was about to surrender, when a fourteen inch brown trout smacked the olive, just as the fly began to drag at the end of the float. This brown trout fought more like a rainbow, as It made several long streaking runs upstream, but I maintained a tight line and swept my net underneath another wild prize. I was actually contemplating quitting, but this burst of success refocused my attention.
What next? I moved back toward the east bank and looked once again at the midsection, where I failed to fool some nice trout earlier. They were now rested, and they resumed their finicky feeding. The hatch at this point was more advanced, and although not very dense, quite a few airborne mayflies were visible. Should I try for the center stage trout a second time? Why not? I began to toss casts above the sporadic feeders with an air mend and allowed the fly to drift downstream to their position. Shockingly, after six fruitless casts I saw a nose tip up, and my fly disappeared. I executed a swift lift, and chaos ensued. A fifteen inch rainbow rocketed upstream and then reversed direction several times, while I maintained constant upward and then side pressure. In this instance the fly fishing gods favored me, and I dipped my net beneath a gorgeous, fat rainbow trout. A sub par day was morphing into a quality day after all.
After my heart rate subsided, I sopped the moisture from my fly, dipped it in desiccant and fluffed the wing. I peered across the pool and noted several fish rising at the base of the current seam that earlier produced a brown trout twenty yards upstream. I targeted these fish, but they were ignoring my tiny olive. My peripheral vision revealed several active fish at the extreme tail of the pool, just before where the water tumbled over a wide flat submerged rock. I examined the flies on the water, and I noticed that they were in a state of constant motion, as they fluttered in their attempt to break free of the surface film. My CDC olive by comparison looked very rigid and inert. I pondered the matter and wondered whether one of my soft hackle emergers might imitate a cripple, and whether the soft hackle and fluoro fiber might create a greater illusion of motion?
I gave it a try. I replaced the CDC olive with a size 22 soft hackle emerger with no bead and applied floatant to the body and wing. I moved downstream toward the shallow tail, and flicked a cast above the scene of the feeders. On the third drift a fish aggressively smacked the wet fly, and I paused a fraction of a second, before I set the hook, and once again a tussle developed. Similar to the first brown trout from the pool, this fish battled hard, but I once again held the upper hand. Again my net sagged under the weight of a robust fourteen inch brown with a vivid black spot pattern over a light silvery body. Needless to say I was on a cloud.
The sun reappeared, and the hatch waned, and a glance at my watch revealed that it was nearing 4:30PM. I did not wish to advance farther upstream, and I was averse to waiting out the lull in the hatch, so I clipped my hook to the rod guide and sought a reasonable path up the very steep bank to the road. I barely succeeded in cresting the lip of the bank and returned through the tunnels to my waiting Santa Fe.
What a day! Of course, seven fish in six hours of fishing is a below average catch rate, but the quality of the fish was outstanding. All but one landed fish were thirteen inches or greater, and several exhibited exceptional heft. Five of my netted fish were on dry flies, and I always favor surface action over subsurface. Getting skunked in the tunnel pool was a huge disappointment, but how was I to know? If this is my last outing before surgery, I will fondly remember the day.
Fish Landed: 7