South Platte River – 04/19/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/19/2017 Photo Album

Of course four letter words are common among fly fishermen particularly after losing a monster fish or after breaking off three flies on an overhanging tree branch. But another word that is relatively benign in common usage takes on the characteristics of the established four letter words in the broader English vernacular when applied to fly fishing. That word is wind, and wind was the overriding theme for our fly fishing adventure on Wednesday, April 19.

My friend Steve and I set out from Lone Tree at 7:30 on Wednesday morning with visions of a repeat of our successful trip the previous Thursday, when we fished from 12:30 until 4:00 to ravenously hungry trout on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. High clouds blocked the sun and created conditions conducive to a sustained baetis hatch on that date, and Steve and I took advantage of the feeding frenzy.

We arrived at the parking lot at the first bridge below the dam at 9:30, and we were in our waders and on the river fishing by ten o’clock. After I lathered up with sunscreen, I attempted to open the driver’s side door, but the gale force wind made me lower my shoulder and push with exceptional force to combat the gusts. This was an ominous harbinger of what was in our future. After I pulled on my waders, I assembled my Sage four weight rod, and I wandered across the dirt road along with Steve to inspect the wide but relatively shallow pool that entertained us for most of the afternoon on April 13.

The area upstream from the bridge was empty, so Steve took his position next to the prime water fifteen yards above the bridge, and I migrated a bit farther upstream to a nice deep run that passed along some large rocks on the opposite bank. It was too early for dry flies, so I rigged with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear, and RS2; and I executed a large number of drifts through the very attractive deep run. After half an hour of this futile activity my only accomplishment was to remove a decent amount of moss from the river rocks, as it accumulated on my bottom dredging nymphs.

I turned the corner and discovered a quartet of fishermen spread over the next forty yards, so I reversed my direction and crossed the road and surveyed the river below the bridge. Since I was rigged with a nymphing configuration, I decided to probe the nice deep runs immediately below the four culverts that carried the river beneath the bridge, but once again my efforts to land a fish were stymied. I saw fish hovering and moving from side to side in a manner that normally indicates feeding, so I concluded that they were grabbing small nymphs or emergers from the drift. I cycled through a soft hackle emerger and salad spinner with no impact on my lagging fish count. Pat Dorsey indicated on an Instagram post that he was having luck with stoneflies, so I replaced the salad spinner with a size 12 peacock stonefly imitation, and finally I witnessed a deep dive in my indicator. I set the hook and immediately felt the power of a fat streaking fish, but eventually I fell back into a demoralized state, when I netted the beautiful sixteen inch rainbow trout and discovered that it was hooked in one of the fins.

It was now 11AM, and my confidence reached a new low, as I pondered my next move. I decided to cross the bridge and fish the opposite side and then explore the stretch of water downstream to the next bend. The area was strangely vacant, so it was a good opportunity to take advantage. Just below the fast moving runs and riffle below the bridge there was a large round depression with a light sand bottom, and these conditions made it easy to spot five large trout, as they held in the current and intercepted subsurface food morsels. I executed some dead drifts and swings through the deep hole, but the fish maintained their feeding rhythm with no apparent recognition of my offerings. My frustration mounted, as I shifted my attention downstream to a nice long section of relatively smooth slow moving water of moderate depth.

The clock ticked toward 11:30, and I noticed several sporadic rises twelve to eighteen inches out from the high bank on the other side of the river. At least now I saw some targets to pursue, and this renewed my focus after halfheartedly lobbing nymphs for the first 1.5 hours. I removed the nymphing paraphernalia and tied a size 18 CDC BWO to my line. During this entire morning period the wind continued to gust in an unrelenting manner, and as I evaluated the challenge ahead of me, it once again announced its strong presence. In order to tempt the bank feeders I needed to launch a relatively long cast across the current to within a foot of the bank, and then allow the tiny barely visible fly to drift downstream without drag, until it passed over the uppermost feeder. While doing this I needed to combat the strong wind that was rushing directly downstream.

For the next fifteen minutes I endeavored to conquer the difficult challenge, but I must report that I was not equal to the task. Reach casts and mends were thwarted by the blasts of chilly air. I may have completed one or two decent drifts over the sporadic feeders, but they were not fooled by my efforts. In a fit of frustration and despair I reeled up my line and returned to the car at 11:45. Along the way I checked in with Steve, and he reported landing three nice fish, two on a RS2 and one on a prince nymph. He was not ready for lunch, so I returned to the car and sought shelter from the ever present wind.  At least I now knew that catching South Platte fish on a blustery day was possible.

After lunch I pulled my raincoat over my light down coat to serve as a windbreaker. I considered resuming my position on the opposite side of the river from Steve similar to the previous Thursday afternoon, but when I stood on the bridge, I learned that a pair of fishermen were below Steve and another was pinching him from above. I surrendered the idea of fishing above the bridge and circled back to the car to consider other options. I remembered the bank feeders and decided to approach them from the high bank on the same side of the river as the parking lot. I made a short walk on a worn trail and then slid down a dirt path to the water. The bank feeders were no longer active, but as I gazed upstream I spotted a nice feeding fish in shallow water next to the point of an exposed rock anchored to the bank. As I watched the trout, it casually rose and sipped tiny morsels as they drifted overhead.

I was fearful that I would line the fish if I cast directly over it, so I sprayed some casts to other visible fish farther out in the river, but they were hovering beneath the surface and focused on emergers or nymphs in the underwater drift. As this was transpiring, Steve relinquished his pool to the upstream invaders, and he returned to the car to grab a quick lunch. I returned to the parking area to unlock the Santa Fe.  After lunch Steve pulled on a raincoat as a windbreaker, and then he crossed the bridge and approached the river from the opposite side. I was now upstream of the regular sipper, so I decided to attempt some downstream drifts. I persisted at this approach for twenty minutes, but the wily feeder avoided my fraud and continued to sip naturals in a carefree manner. This entire episode served to heighten my frustration, and I finally turned my attention to other large fish present in the area below the bridge. The distinct possibility of a skunking flooded my thoughts.

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A Roll Cast to Avoid the Brush

As I pivoted toward the center of the river, I once again spied the large trout hovering over the large round sand bottom depression. Perhaps they were more open to a surface fly now that the baetis emergence appeared to be in a more advanced state. I cast across and above these fish numerous times and attempted to offset wind drag with exaggerated mends and upstream reaches, but I never observed the slightest evidence that the fish looked at my surface fly. I checked off another blunted strategy and turned my attention once again to the twenty foot section of run and riffle directly below the bridge.

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Number One in the Net

As I paused to consider my approach, a brown trout rose and created a popping sound in the slow shelf pool no more that five feet above me. I watched it return to its feeding position, and then I dropped a cast upstream. The fly drifted no more than six inches, and the targeted brown trout bolted to the surface and inhaled the size 20 CDC BWO. What a thrill to suddenly tempt a trout with my dry fly! I lifted the rod tip and felt a deep bend, as I was connected to a healthy fourteen inch brown. I registered my first fish of the day and unleashed some trash talk to the scoffing wind, as it taunted me to overcome its adversity again.

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Just a Beauty

After releasing the prize first catch, I paused and once again surveyed the run. I thought I saw a dark shadow along the fast current seam fifteen feet above me, so I overpowered some forward casts to combat the head wind, and on the third such effort, the fly landed and was immediately engulfed by a fish. Was this a dream? This fish launched from the river and revealed itself to be a corpulent rainbow trout, and it executed the characteristic rapid runs and streaks that one would expect from the rainbow species. I expertly played the agile fish from my reel and allowed it to strip line several times, until I was able to lift its nose over the lip of my net. The fat sixteen inch rainbow was the best fish of the day, and I was very pleased.

Once again I released the fish and returned my attention to the the bridge riffle. I remembered spooking a fish from the shallow water next to the bank on April 13, so I scanned that area. Sure enough there was a decent rainbow facing downtream, but it seemed to be in a comatose state and not an active feeder. The shallow area bordered a small tight eddy, and a slight movement caught my attention. I focused my eyes on the swirling water, and as I stared another fish materialized. In fact as I peered attentively at the eddy, a second brown emerged from the green and brown rocky stream bed. Both were brown trout, and each darted to the surface and snatched food as I looked on. The riseform on the surface was extremely subtle and easily overlooked if not for the subsurface movement.

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I was now prepared, so I began dropping short casts to the eddy. The swirl and sucking action prevented me from following my fly for more than a few seconds, but on the fifth cast I noticed that the larger of the two fish elevated and shifted slightly to the left, so I lifted my rod in case my fly was the object of the brown trout’s affection. It was. My rod tip throbbed, and the brown slab thrashed, and then after a minute or two of battling I elevated the fish and slid my net beneath its broad body. What a thrill to catch a third above average size trout on the South Platte River in spite of the wind tunnel that surrounded me!

Unfortunately the remainder of the day was not very rewarding. The fishermen above the bridge abandoned our sweet spot, so we returned to our favorite haunt from the previous week. I resumed my position on the opposite side of the river next to the lane that leads to the campground. I repeated my strategy from April 13 with dapping downstream casts at the top of the riffles and long downstream drifts with stack mends through the midsection and lower area. None of my ploys produced. Steve had some sporadic success with an emerger dropper, so I converted to a dry/dropper set up with a fat Albert and RS2 and soft hackle emerger, but this tactic met with zero success. Unlike April 13 I never observed steady risers, but only sporadic random surface feeding, and this probably explains my inability to repeat success with downstream dry fly drifts. The wind was sweeping the tiny BWO’s from the surface before fish could react, so they compensated by nabbing rising emergers below the surface.

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By 3:30 we were both chilled to the bone and beaten down by the nagging windstorm. Our arms dangled limply from our sides after forcing repeated casts into the unrelenting headwind. We agreed to quit so we could begin the long return trip. It was a tough day on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon, but I managed to land three gorgeous trout in the fourteen to sixteen inch range. Although the fish count was low, I remain quite proud of my ability to overcome the adversity of the four letter word, wind. I landed three quality fish, and for that I am very thankful.

Fish Landed: 3

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