Time: 12:30PM – 3:00PM
Location: Waterton Canyon special regulation water
It only takes one bad day, and I begin to doubt my ability to catch fish. Apparently I have a fragile fly fishing confidence level. My fears are totally illogical, as I amassed a fish count in excess of 1,000 in 2017, yet my body of work includes a fair number of fishless days. Sunday was one of those.
On Saturday Jane and I cycled up Waterton Canyon to Strontia Springs Dam and back, and the trail followed the South Platte River for nearly the entire route. My eyes were constantly drawn to the gorgeous water in the canyon below, so I decided to give the area a shot on Sunday. The high in Denver on Saturday poked into the eighties, and although Sunday was gorgeous, the temperature peaked in the low seventies. The weather could not have been nicer for a day of fishing.
The meteorologists were also projecting a winter storm beginning Sunday evening with measureable accumulations on Monday and an overnight low on October 9 of twenty-three degrees. This prompted Jane and I to winterize the sprinkler system on Sunday morning. In addition we transplanted some herbs to pots and brought them in the house for protection. These activities delayed my departure for fishing, but I assumed that the best part of the day was noon to three o’clock, and I targeted that time frame.
The Waterton Canyon parking lot was quite full, but I was fortunate to grab a spot after someone departed. By the time I stuffed a few remaining items in my backpack and unloaded my mountain bike, it was 11:30, and thirty minutes of pedaling delivered me to a location .5 mile above the Rattlesnake picnic pavilion. I consumed my lunch along the dirt road, and then I removed my gear from the backpack. After a few minutes I was attired in my waders, and I assembled my Sage four weight. I stashed my bike and backpack below the lip of the road and found the least risky path down a bank to the river. I emphasize least risky, because the steepness and loose granular soil presented a difficult challenge.
The water before me was fairly fast with deep slots and pockets. I was fairly certain that deep nymphing was the recommended approach, but I decided to test the dry/dropper method before going deep. I knotted a hopper Juan to my line and added a beadhead hares ear and ultra zug bug and began probing the likely holding lies. I persisted with this method for thirty minutes, but despite some expert drifts, no signs of trout revealed themselves to my anxious eyes.
I acquiesced to the conventional wisdom and arranged a deep nymphing system on my line. For this approach I tried an emerald caddis pupa as the top fly and added a RS2 beneath it. Once again I simply exercised my arm, and then I arrived at a section of fast rapids, where the current ripped along the bank. This forced me to battle through some scrub oaks and prickly bushes in order to arrive at a nice bend pool. I was about to resume casting, when I was startled to see another fisherman twenty yards above me. This forced a retreat up another steep bank, whereupon I circled around the deep pool using the road.
When I passed the rock outcropping between the road and the river, I descended a worn path to an area above the bend pool. Here I encountered a nice long deep section, and I began to lob some casts in the lower end. As I did this, two random rises appeared, and I paused to observe a couple tiny mayflies, as they skittered across the surface. I began to sense that this might represent my only opportunity to catch a fish, so I removed the dry/dropper system and tied a size 24 CDC blue winged olive to my line. I proceeded to cover the bottom one-third of the pool with the tiny mayfly with some very delicate fluttering casts, but the river residents ignored my speck of fluff. I switched to a black parachute ant in case the sporadic rises related to terrestrials, but this move was equally ineffective. In fact I never spotted another rise in this area, and one additional surface ring farther up in the pool represented my total evidence of the presence of fish on the day.
I moved on to another section of fast pocket water, and the small dry fly approach seemed futile for this water type, so I reverted to the nymphing set up. In this phase I combined a beadhead hares ear with a copper john, but the fish were once again showing no interest. Eventually I found a couple longer pools, and the small olives reappeared, so I swapped the copper john for a juju baetis and WD40. I used a dead drift, swings, lifts and bad downstream mends; but none of these techniques initiated action from South Platte River trout.
I told Jane that I would quit by 3PM, so I decided to climb the bank to the road, and I returned to the pool where I spotted three rises earlier. I positioned myself at the tail and rested the water, while I once again removed the indicator, split shot and flies and then tied a CDC BWO back on the tippet. I probably stared at the water for five minutes, when I heard a voice high above me, and Jane announced her arrival. I told her I was giving the river one last chance for ten minutes, and then I would meet her at the Rattlesnake picnic pavilion.
After another three minutes I lost my patience, and I fluttered ten casts to the smooth bottom end of the pool with the hope that blind prospecting might draw the interest of the fish that rose earlier. A glimmer of hope sparked, as I spotted several tiny olives that skittered across the surface in their attempt to become airborne. Alas the positive vibe was short lived, and the dry fly casts were as fruitless as my earlier efforts. In one final act of desperation I removed the CDC olive and attached a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. Five casts with vigorous plops did not arouse interest, so I hooked my fly to the guide, scrambled up the bank and walked my bike and backpack down the road to a rendezvous with Jane.
The weather was perfect, the leaves were glowing, and the bighorns were butting horns, but I was unable to connect with a single trout on October 8. The flows were 219 CFS, and that is higher than ideal for the narrow canyon below Strontia Springs. That is my excuse, and I am sticking with it. Flows above the diversion need to drop before I make a return trip.
Fish Landed: 0