South Platte River – 08/13/2013

Time: 4:00PM – 6:30PM

Location: .5 mile below Happy Meadows Campground

Fish Landed: 8

South Platte River 08/13/2013 Photo Album

Flash floods are a real danger in Colorado, and Jane told me about a severe occurence several weeks ago in the narrow canyon along route 24 west of Manitou Springs. Apparently a local thunderstorm dumped a deluge of rain in a short amount of time and this resulted in a flash flood that caused one death and swept numerous vehicles downstream in a muddy torrent.

I left work in the morning on Tuesday and packed the Santa Fe for a three night and three day fishing/camping trip that I expected to result in a day on the South Platte River and two days on the Frying Pan River. Everything was packed, and I was on my way by around 1PM. I was quite excited to have nearly a week to explore some of my favorite waters in Colorado as I made my way south on interstate 25 through Colorado Springs and then west on route 24 toward Manitou Springs. Yes, I was traveling through the same area devastated by a flash flood several weeks ago, and in fact as I began driving up the narrow twisty stretch I saw a large flashing highway sign announcing a flash flood watch. I looked west and sure enough the sky was darkening, but I made a quick assessment that the clouds were fairly distant, and I could travel through the canyon stretch before any rain might commence.

This turned out to be an accurate decision as I reached Woodland Park west of the canyon stretch as rain began to hit the windshield. Along the way, however, I saw the result of the previous flash flood with side roads converted to deep gulleys and massive piles of red sediment along the roadway in several areas where the CDOT crews had removed it from the highway.

By 3PM I’d reached my planned destination of Happy Meadows Campground, a small campground situated right along the South Platte River a mile or two away from the Platte River Trailhead that I planned to depart from on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately I was faced with another setback as the small campground was completely full. What was I to do now? I had checked alternatives prior to departing Denver and remembered another national forest campground further west along US 24 as well as nice campground that we’d used as a family called Spruce Grove. I turned into a pullout and removed my Colorado map from the glove box and checked the distances. Clearly Round Mountain was the closest and only five miles or so west of the turn off I had taken from route 24.

I reversed my direction and returned to the highway and sure enough a five to ten minute drive led to Round Mountain. I circled the campground and there were 16 sites with only three occupied so I snagged number 16 and unloaded my water container, tablecloth, and camp stove and paid my fee for one night. It was 3:30PM by now, and I decided I could whet my appetite for fishing by returning to the South Platte near Happy Meadows and test the waters for a few hours. I always drove by this water on my way to the Platte Trail and wondered what the quality of the fishing was like.

Round Mountain Campground

Round Mountain Campground

I passed Happy Meadows and drove slowly along the dirt road while glancing to the right to review the water. I was looking for some faster stretches with rocks and pockets as other fishermen tend to avoid this type of stream structure, and with the hot August temperatures, fish are attracted to these well oxygenated areas. Roughly half a mile beyond the campground I found just this type of water and parked in a large pullout and prepared to fish.

By 4PM I was on the water with my Loomis 5 weight rod featuring a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear, and I crossed to the bank away from the road and began working my way upstream. Nothing showed in the first fifteen minutes or so, but then I added a small RS2 after spotting several tiny mayflies. In a short amount of time I landed three small trout, two browns and one rainbow. The rainbow took the RS2 on a lift, and the two browns grabbed the hares ear on the dead drift.

After this initial success I somehow broke off both nymphs even though I couldn’t recall any significant snag and I replaced them with a salvation nymph. This ended up producing quite well over the remaining hour or so of fishing as I supplemented my count by five to reach eight on the evening. The fish seemed to like movement with most hammering the nymph on the lift or on a twitch or during a poor mend.

South Platte River Near Happy Meadows Campground

South Platte River Near Happy Meadows Campground

I had difficulty seeing my flies in the first hour as I was on the east side of the river looking into the sun glare from the western sky, so I crossed back to the west side and this helped quite a bit until the shadows covered the river. In the last half hour I fished a stretch below where I parked the car, and it was more typical South Platte River water with long runs, fine gravel bars, and no large rocks or pocket water.During this time I had a pair of refusals to the Chernobyl so I switched to a light gray caddis, but this also generated rejection. At 6:30 I decided to call it quits and return to the campsite to made dinner before it got dark. I’d experienced a nice introduction to fishing in the South Platte River, and I was optimistic that I’d have a decent day on Wednesday.

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