Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
Based on my many years of fly fishing, I can attest to the fact that history rarely repeats itself, but Thursday was mostly an exception to that rule. I made plans to return to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on April 13 with my North Platte River fishing companion Steve. We met at 8AM at his home in Lone Tree, and after a two hour and fifteen minute drive to the tailwater below Eleven Mile Dam, we arrived at a small parking lot next to the river.
One major deviation from my experience on Tuesday aside from a different fishing buddy, was our location, since we drove the length of the canyon, until we were two hundred yards below the dam. As was the case on Tuesday the flows remained at 80 CFS; however, the sky was clear blue for the entire day, and the high temperature peaked in the upper sixties.
I assembled my Sage four weight and then ambled to the bank just downstream of the bridge, while Steve chose to explore the river on the upstream side. I hesitate to call the structure a bridge, since it was an earthen embankment with four large culverts carrying the cold volume of water under the road. The upper river where we fished on Thursday was wider and shallower than the stretch that Trevor and I covered on Tuesday. Before I chose my approach, I paused and observed the deep run and pool in front of me. Immediately I spotted five or six fish in the two depressions downstream from the riffle and run, where the river poured through the pipes.
The low clear water dictated that I avoid a strike indicator and split shot, and I also concluded that the plunk of my revered size 8 fat Albert would create too much disturbance. I pulled a size 12 olive stimulator from my fly box and knotted it to my line along with a size 20 soft hackle emerger and a mercury black beauty. I sprayed casts over the depression near my position and then covered another one directly across, but the large trout continued to hug the stream bed, as they were unimpressed with my three fly offering. I exchanged the black beauty for a size 20 RS2, but that failed to reverse my fortunes.
After twenty minutes of futile casting I advanced to the nice deep runs just below the bridge. The water was faster in this area, and I could observe some decent fish hovering in the depths next to the heavier current. I executed an abundant quantity of drifts over the elusive trout before me, but once again the fish treated my flies like inert flotsam. How could I interest these fish in my offerings? I conjectured that my flies were not getting deep enough given the position of the trout on the stream bottom, so I swapped the RS2 for a heavier beadhead hares ear nymph. My minor attempt at change was also soundly rejected. During this entire episode I witnessed only one or two surface rises, and I concluded that any potential baetis hatch was not yet in progress. I was puzzled however by the lack of interest in my blue winged olive nymph imitations, since they generally provide some action in the hours before an emergence.
I glanced at my watch and noted it was 11:30, so I decided to check out Steve’s results on the west side of the bridge. He reported that he landed one nice brown trout on a blue winged olive emerger. The water on the upstream side of the bridge was slower, and a series of quasi rock dams created some deeper troughs in the middle. Steve was positioned below the widest concentration of rock structures, and once again I could see an abundance of nice fish spread throughout the area. As I observed and chatted with Steve, several active fish slowly rose to the surface and sipped a tiny morsel of food from the film. Several fishermen were above Steve, and we were unwilling to abandon his location, so we decided to eat lunch in shifts. I took the first time slot and returned to the car and ate my lunch quickly, while I sat next to the river where I fished during the morning.
When I returned, I noticed another fishermen between Steve and the bridge, so I claimed the position vacated by Steve, and he retreated to the car to grab a quick bite. During Steve’s absence I removed the three fly dry/dropper arrangement and tied a size 18 CDC blue winged olive to my line. Based on my experience on Tuesday I tied five new size 18’s and three new 20’s in anticipation of the Thursday return to Eleven Mile Canyon, and one of the 18’s found a home on my line. I began making reach casts across the current lanes, and then allowed the flies to drift downstream. These drifts floated my fly over numerous prospects, but the only response was a pair of refusals by a small brown trout eight feet below me.
Steve returned quickly, and I allowed him to reclaim his spot. I actually preferred fishing from the opposite side, where I could employ long downstream drifts similar to my approach on Tuesday, so I announced my intention to Steve and then crossed the bridge and walked along the dirt road that led to a campground. The northwest side of the river would become my home for the remaining 2.5 hours of fishing on April 13. From my vantage point at the top of the riffles I could see an abundant quantity of sizable fish spread throughout the deep riffles, the downstream pool, and the smooth flats next to the bank.
The hatch intensified a bit by 12:30, but it never achieved the intensity of Tuesday, nor did it last as long. The clear blue sky, warmer temperatures and intermittent wind probably explain the inferior baetis hatch, but there was enough mayfly activity to interest the residents of the South Platte River. The fly fishing was more challenging than Tuesday, but I managed to land ten fish over the course of the afternoon. All the netted fish responded to my newly tied CDC BWO, as seven sipped the size 18, and the last three fell for the size 20. More impressive than the number of fish was the size and variety. My net felt the weight of two trout in the fifteen inch range with most of the remainder occupying the 12 – 14 inch slot. I was quite pleased to land two absolutely magnificent cutthroat trout that displayed a deep copper-gold body color and vivid fine spots. A fourteen inch cutbow exhibited the stripe of a rainbow and the prototypical slash of a cutthroat. Three rainbows were among my fish count, and four brown trout rounded out the day. One of the rainbows and a cutthroat stretched the measuring tape to fifteen inches.
All my landed fish responded to a downstream presentation. I stood at the very top of the riffles above the cluster of large rocks, and I made casts directly downstream. I checked my cast high and allowed a substantial amount of slack fly line to pile in the current, and then I executed stack mends and wiggled my rod tip to allow a long drift. I recall several cases where a fish bulged and inhaled my fly fifty to seventy feet below me. Needless to say the surge of excitement that resulted from landing sizable fish on dry flies presented with long downstream drifts was exhilarating.
Meanwhile nearly all of Steve’s success resulted from upstream casts to the faster water with a three fly set up that included two dries and an emerger. All of Steve’s landed fish crushed the emerger, and this made me puzzle over this circumstance. Perhaps the fish in the fast runs and riffles were keyed on emergers, while the fish in the slower areas spread out and sipped duns? I vowed to test this theory in a future visit.
In summary it was another banner dry fly day on the South Platte River. I landed ten gorgeous cold water fish, and all sipped a CDC BWO that was presented on a downstream drift. The day was not total perfection, as I experienced a large number of surface refusals and underwater snubs, and my arm ached from the huge quantity of casts, but the superior size and variety of fish made the trip worthwhile. Prime time in Colorado is commencing.
Fish Landed: 10