Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon within a mile of the dam
If fishing success is measured by long hatches and copious quantities of ravenously feeding fish, then Thursday ranked high on the scale. On the other hand if success depends of feeling the weight of an abundant quantity of fish in one’s net, then September 6, 2018 was a disappointment. A three hour spinner fall and abundant pods of eagerly feeding trout caused me to place my outing on the South Platte River in the positive column. The variables were present for a banner day in Eleven Mile Canyon, but this fisherman could not deliver the desired flies or the necessary presentation.
I met my friend, Steve, at 7:30 in Lone Tree, and we departed for the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. An uneventful drive enabled us to pull into a circular parking spot at the first bridge below the dam by 10AM, and we quickly donned our waders and rigged our rods. I anticipated some larger than average fish, so I opted for my Sage four weight, although I realized that the nine foot length would likely apply additional stress to my ailing elbow.
We crossed the dirt access road and met the river above the bridge. A long moderately deep run was next to our position, and this is one of Steve’s favorites, so I elected to retreat back to the bridge. The water just above the bridge was reasonably deep and flowed at a moderate pace, but a thick mat of long aquatic vegetation flourished across the entire width of the river. No fish revealed themselves, and it was impossible to spot targets among the long green waving growth.
I tied a Jake’s gulp beetle to my line and trailed a RS2, in case the trout were on the alert for trico nymphs, but after ten futile casts I moved on. I decided to explore the right bank and walked up the Spillway Campground access road, until I was across from and slightly above Steve. I began to flick the light two fly dry/dropper to gaps in the weed growth as well as the faster moving riffles at the top of the pool. The fish were ignoring my offerings, and while this scenario transpired, a few sporadic rises appeared along the current seam near Steve.
I surmised that perhaps the surface action was attributable to emerging tricos, so I snipped off the two flies and replaced them with a size 24 CDC blue winged olive. This was the closest thing I had to a trico dun. I executed some nice across and downstream drifts and managed to connect with two fish for a split second, but then the trout began to shun my tiny speck of a fly. Either they wised up to my fake, or they shifted to a new menu item.
I abandoned the area across from Steve and moved upstream along the right bank a short distance to a quality deep pool next to and below the main current, after it flowed around a sharp bend. Another angler was present just beyond the bend on the opposite side of the river, but I concluded there was plenty of space. I paused and observed, and I was very pleased to notice a quality rainbow in a deep depression next to the bank no more than eight feet from where I stood on some large jagged rocks. As I cautiously observed, the pink striped trout casually finned to the surface and sipped a tiny morsel of food on a fairly regular basis. I cast my CDC olive over the subtle riser several times, but it totally ignored the fluffy dry fly and focused on other specks of food.
This pattern of frustration continued for ten minutes, and then the river came alive with more sipping fish. Five trout in a short pool fifteen feet below me revealed their presence, as they engaged in the feeding ritual, and then after another ten minutes the deep pool above me revealed another pod of active surface sippers. A glance at my watch revealed that it was eleven o’clock, and the preponderance of sipping trout could only mean one thing…the trico spinner fall was in progress.
A few tricos fluttered by occasionally, and I determined that they were extremely small, so I opened my fly box and scanned my supply of trico spinners. The row of foam contained eight sunken trico imitations and six poly wing spinners constructed to fish in the surface film. I plucked a size 22 poly wing version from its slot and knotted it to my line, and I began to drop casts and drifts among the many feeders surrounding me. Initially I targeted the rainbow near the bank, but after a severe lack of interest, I shifted my focus to the risers downstream. Twenty minutes of unproductive casting forced me to shift my attention back to the area above my position, and an active pod of risers entertained me for another frustrating period of time.
The rainbow continued to feed nearby, and it was joined by a larger brown trout that moved from side to side and rhythmically floated to the surface to sip on a regular basis. My heart rate elevated at the thought of tangling with one of the two nearby prizes. I struggled to follow the minute trico spinner on the longer upstream and downstream casts, so I decided to focus my efforts on the close by feeders. The brown trout seemed wise to my fraud, but finally the rainbow threw caution to the wind and sucked in my trico! I raised the rod and set the hook, and this had an effect comparable to lighting a firecracker. The silver missile instantly streaked downstream, and before I could utter “rainbow trout”, my line went limp. I stripped in the leader to inspect the end, and I discovered that the spurting fish parted the line at a surgeon’s knot connection.
I dipped into the fly box and removed another size 22 trico spinner; however, this fly got snapped off while casting in my zeal to pepper the river with repeated drifts. I was depleting my supply of trico spinners, and the spinner fall showed no signs of abating. The young man that was initially around the corner had by now moved to a position within view, and he was generating more success than Steve or I.
I sorted through my remaining supply of spinners and found one that was probably a size 24, and I determined that it was my one and only of the smallest size. An angler that I follow on Instagram suggested that I tie some size 24’s with only a black thread body and a small tuft of CDC for a wing. He raved about the performance of this simple and quick to tie trico imitation in Eleven Mile Canyon, and now I rued my decision to delay my response to his recommendation.
I renewed my vigorous casting regimen and directed my attention to the pod of active feeders fifteen feet above my rocky platform. I was rarely able to track the tiny poly winged speck, but finally I saw a rise in the area, where I surmised my fly to be. I quickly lifted the rod tip and felt a solid connection with a writhing form. Could this be real? It was, as I quickly stripped up slack and then battled my first fish, while I cautiously negotiated a few steps, until I was standing in the edge of the river. My net scooped the fish, and I was amazed to discover an eleven inch brown trout; however, this was the fattest eleven inch trout that I ever witnessed. The shape of this cold water fish was akin to a bluegill or sunfish! I was not complaining, however, as I finally tallied a landed fish after more than an hour of futile casting and several fly changes.
At some point in the midst of this frantic casting I pricked the back of the prize brown trout, that I described earlier in this report, so the two nearby targets presumably moved their chowing act to another part of the river. I refreshed my size 24 trico and renewed my quest for South Platte River trout. Again I directed my casts to the area upstream, and again after a substantial quantity of unproductive drifts, I saw a rise in the vicinity of where I estimated my fly to be. I swept the rod tip upward, and a wild rainbow trout leaped into the air. Once it crashed back in the river, an adrenaline rush caused repeated surges and spurts, but I concentrated on the fight and managed to slide it into my net. The silver sided river resident measured fourteen inches, and I snapped a few photos, before it bolted back into its natural environment.
Another period of futile casting followed my second catch and release, and I began to ponder the effectiveness of a sunken dropper. Some of the visible fish rarely rose, and I suspected that they were snatching sunken tidbits below the surface. I removed the trico spinner and replaced it with a Jake’s gulp beetle and a sunken spinner on a 2.5 foot dropper. I allocated ten minutes to this tactic, but both flies were ignored so I contemplated another change.
I liked the visibility of the beetle with the orange foam indicator, so I kept it in place and replaced the sunken trico with an unweighted version. The move proved somewhat effective, as two fish grabbed the trailer and caused the beetle to dart. Unfortunately I should have used a shorter tippet, because the lag from when I saw the beetle move, until I set the hook was excessive, and both fish escaped after a brief hook prick.
I persisted with the double dry for an extended time after my brief dose of success, but for some reason the fish grew wise to the ruse. The number of rising fish began to dwindle, as I returned to a single size 22 trico spinner, so I glanced at my watch, and I was dumbfounded to learn that it was 1:30PM. Was it possible that I fished to a trico spinner fall for 2.5 hours? Did time really fly by that fast? I decided to surrender to the by now jaded trout surrounding me, and I circled back down the road and crossed the bridge and joined Steve.
We both expressed hunger, so we returned to Steve’s Subaru and consumed our lunch. After lunch I asked Steve about the river downstream from the bridge, and he suggested that we check it out. We traveled along a well worn path and intersected with the river, where it was wide and smooth with a deep channel flowing along the opposite bank. Steve moved upstream to fish a deep run next to some large bank side boulders, and I directed my attention to the area across from where I was standing. I looked up and down the river, and after a bit I observed a single rise ten yards downstream. I moved along the shoreline a bit and began to fire casts to the area of the rogue rise.
The fish did not respond, but I noticed a pair of rises farther upstream, so I migrated to a position across from the fresh evidence of feeding. I repeated the across stream casts, but again my efforts were thwarted by the failure of South Platte River fish to respond. My confidence sank to new depths, when I noted another rise downstream somewhat above the ring that initially caught my attention. I held very low expectations, but nonetheless I lofted a cast above the point of the rise and fed out line to allow a drag free downstream drift. Wham! A near miracle occurred, as a fish crushed the slowly drifting trico spinner. I quickly set the hook and felt two heavy throbs, and then the surprise responder to my cast slipped free. Needless to say I was quite disappointed to lose the unexpected feeder.
When Steve and I reached the run and riffles below the bridge, we adjourned to the car and drove downstream to the parking space on the north side of the twin tunnels. We slid down the steep bank, and Steve prospected the quality pool, while I explored the two channels that split around a narrow island just above Steve’s pool. I converted to a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and RS2; but despite some focused fly fishing, I was unable to summon interest from the river residents. When I reached the quality riffles stretch above Steve and the deep pool, I swapped the RS2 for a salvation nymph, but the change was met with similar disinterest.
Some dark clouds rolled in from the southwest, and they were accompanied by some streaks of lightening and the sound of thunder. Given our lack of action and the threat of an electrical storm, we hooked our flies to the rod guides and scaled the steep bank and departed for Lone Tree and eventually Stapleton Denver.
Two and a half hours of intense feeding is a rare experience, and I was thankful to participate. I only managed to land two trout, both quality fish, but I can only blame myself for not having better imitations. Conditions were perfect for landing more and larger trout, and I failed to capitalize.
Fish Landed: 2