Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
Wow! That single word sums up my day on the South Platte River yesterday in Eleven Mile Canyon, as the fishing experience evolved into perhaps my favorite of 2019. During the weekend my friend, @rockymtnangler (Trevor), informed me that he was contemplating a trip to the South Platte River on Tuesday. I quickly volunteered to accompany him; however, some scheduling complications prevented us from traveling together. Instead we drove separately and overlapped on the river for a couple hours. Prior to being contacted by Trevor, I ruled out Eleven Mile Canyon based on a fairly adverse weather forecast, but the opportunity to fish with Trevor spurred me to overlook weather concerns. By the end of the day on Tuesday, contrary to my original belief, I discovered that inclement weather was a major positive factor that contributed to my success.
I departed Denver by 7AM and arrived at my favorite pullout high above the South Platte River by 9:30AM on Tuesday morning. During my drive I encountered fog, drizzle and cold temperatures; so I was surprised by the dry roads and warmer temperatures in the canyon. I parked next to Trevor’s pickup truck, and I immediately spotted his figure standing on a large rock next to our favorite pool in Eleven Mile Canyon. I quickly jumped into my waders and rigged my Sage four weight. The air temperature was forty-eight degrees, which was better than Woodland Park and Divide, but still cool, so I slipped into my North Face down coat, which is actually the liner from my ski parka.
I carefully slid down the steep angled path to the river and greeted Trevor, who informed me, that he was enjoying success in Old Faithful pool with dry flies. He offered, that initially the fish were likely rising to midges, but recently he landed several fish that sipped his blue winged olive imitation. I crossed the river at the downstream tail of the pool and took a position along the opposite shoreline just above the midsection. I knotted a size 24 CDC blue winged olive to my line and began dropping downstream casts in a manner that allowed a drag free drift over the rising trout. This continued for fifteen minutes with no response to my fly, at which point I switched to a size 22 CDC BWO. Finally I focused on a fish that sipped a tiny morsel ten feet across from me, and because of the close proximity I could more easily track my fly. On the third cast a mouth emerged, and I chunky fourteen inch rainbow trout became my first landed fish on the day.
My expectations surged a bit, but the hatch waned, and the frequency of surface feeding trout moderated to a sporadic pattern. Trevor meandered upstream to the nice long pool that borders a tall vertical rock wall, and after a few minutes I abandoned the pool and advanced up the west braid around a tiny island. I observed a nice riffle of moderate depth for a bit, but I was unable to discern any surface activity, so I converted to a three fly dry/dropper system that featured a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph and RS2. I thoroughly prospect the riffles and nice deep eddy above them, and I managed to hook a small rainbow trout on the RS2 in a narrow ribbon of slower water along the left bank. As this venture into nymph fishing evolved, Trevor returned and announced that he landed a very nice brown trout from the long smooth pool just above my position.
We returned to Old Faithful pool, and I covered the fast runs and riffles at the top of the pool with my dry/dropper configuration, but the effort was not rewarded with success. I did observe three fish, as they elevated to peek at the fat Albert. By now my watch displayed 11:30AM, and Trevor needed to be on his way, so I waded across the river and trailed him on a steep ascent up the loose gravel path to the road. I lingered, as Trevor removed his waders and stashed his gear, and then I began to walk down the road to resume my fishing adventure, as he began his return trip to his home north of Denver.
I intended to drop back down to the river at the first nice wide pool above the narrow canyon plunge pools, but I spotted two fishermen in that area, so I adjusted my plan and slid down a different steep path to the next large wide pool above the pair of anglers. I spent twenty minutes prospecting the attractive deep runs and riffles at the head of the pool, but again the fish were not cooperating. As noon approached, and a hatch was not in progress, I decided to take a lunch break. The sun was out momentarily, and I soaked it in along with the beauty of my location, as I quickly munched the goodies in my backpack.
The timing proved to be perfect, as small dimples began to appear in the pool, as I slid my arms into my backpack and clipped on the frontpack. Some dark clouds rolled across the sky, and the wind kicked up a bit, and blue winged olives performed an encore right on cue. I quickly clipped off the dry/dropper elements and added the size 22 CDC BWO to my tippet. By now fish were rising throughout the forty yard long pool, but I concentrated on the midsection, where the faster runs fanned out to the smooth lower portion. I peppered the area with an array of across and downstream casts, but several visible fish rejected the tiny olive mayfly imitation with an upright wing. I decided to modify my approach and replaced the CDC BWO with a Klinkhammer emerger style. This alternative fly was also rejected intermittently, but it was close enough to the natural food to fool four very nice trout between 12:15 and 12:45. All the fish landed during this second hatch fell within the thirteen to fourteen inch size range. The fish count rested at six, and I was very pleased to enjoy two decent hatches on May 7.
At 12:45PM the sun broke through the clouds, and this welcome blast of warmth caused the baetis to cease their emergence. Weather that is pleasant for humans is not conducive to blue winged olive hatches. I pondered the option of converting to the dry/dropper again, as I progressed upstream through a section of faster water and pockets, but ultimately I decided to walk the stream and look for subtle rises. The strategy paid off, when I hooked and landed a thirteen inch brown trout from a relatively marginal pocket along the left bank.
After the white water area I encountered a nice deep pool just below Old Faithful, and here I paused for a few minutes to look for rises. The sun remained bright, and the hatch was largely over, but I hoped to discover some random activity to stragglers. Sure enough, I detected two above the deep section, where two moderate currents merged. I circled around a very large rock and positioned myself to drop some casts in the area of the surface disturbances. On the fifth cast a dimple appeared under my fly, and I quickly lifted the rod tip and felt some weight pass through the rod, but then the fish was quickly off. I was pleased with my approach and cast but was nevertheless disappointed with the escape act.
Another angler occupied Old Faithful pool, so I skirted around it and proceeded to the long smooth pool with the vertical rock wall. This pool seems to continually offer rising fish, and on this day I was not disappointed. I spent twenty minutes shooting casts to some surface sippers near the tail, but these targets were far too educated. I finally surrendered and exited the river and moved to a bank position above another very large boulder. Once again the sky darkened, and a breeze kicked up, and the quantity of small mayflies in the air surrounding me intensified. This combination of events coincided with a flurry of rising fish, and I responded with a series of downstream casts. Unfortunately the Klinkhammer style of blue winged olive was not getting it done, so I reverted to the size 22 CDC BWO.
Between 2:30 and 3:30 a third wave of baetis made an appearance. This surge of mayfly activity was by far the longest and most intense. I was totally immersed in the challenge of fooling the pool feeders, and I experienced my greatest success of the day. The fish count escalated from seven to fourteen, and the CDC BWO accounted for all of them. Perhaps I was overly analytical, but it seemed that applying a dab of floatant to the body after each trip to the dry shake canister was a critical step. I concluded that the liquid floatant was absorbed by the body of the fly and created a dark olive color more to the liking of the fish than the light green that resulted from a dry shake dunking. In the past I attempted to wipe off the white powder on the body, but my efforts were not as effective at darkening the abdomen as applying the liquid water repellent.
At any rate my method seemed to work, and I succeeded in landing seven very nice trout during the third hatch in the long smooth pool next to the high vertical rock wall. Downstream drifts were the name of the game, and several picky eaters responded to a slight twitch as the fly floated over their holding position. Five of the eight were brown trout, and I was particularly pleased to fool these typically discerning eaters.
Once again the sun appeared at 3:30PM, so I retraced my steps and returned to the large pool that was our starting point in the morning. Surprisingly it was vacant, so I observed the ever-present dimpling on the surface. The rises were very sporadic, but I decided to dedicate the last thirty minutes of my day to the selective trout in the pool. Quite a few futile casts ensued, but at 3:50PM a rainbow trout attacked the CDC olive, and then it put on an impressive aerial display with four jumps that cleared the surface by at least a foot. Number fifteen found a temporary home in my net, and I smiled as it swam off. That smile remained on my face until I returned to Denver later that evening.
Thankfully Trevor convinced me to overlook the marginal weather forecast. The mostly cloudy conditions stimulated three surges of baetis hatches, and I benefited from these events. I landed fifteen trout, and all except one succumbed to a dry fly. All the trout except one were in the respectable twelve to fifteen inch range. Hopefully I can repeat this success in the near future.
Fish Landed: 15