Time: 11:00AM – 2:30PM
Location: Waterton Canyon near Rattlesnake picnic area.
Fish Landed: 3
November 3 and the high temperature in Denver was 75 degrees. What should one do when such a fortunate break in the weather presents itself to a Denver resident? Well of course if one is an avid fly fisherman, one must visit a local stream.
After three consecutive visits to Clear Creek, I was ready for a change. At least five years passed since I last visited the South Platte River in Waterton Canyon, so I decided to make a trip to this historically productive location. During 2007 I fished the catch and release water below Strontia Springs Dam in late fall several times and experienced decent results including some fairly dense blue winged olive hatches. The stream strayed from my favorites in recent years due to a host of reasons. First it was closed for nearly a year while repairs were made to the dam. After that closure I read reports that the number of fish diminished, and fishermen were disappointed with results despite DOW assurances that the fish density remained the same.
More recently it seemed that the flows were either too high or too low, and I regularly found alternatives that seemed more promising. For the last two months when flows were constantly in the ideal range, the area was closed due to bear activity. Finally Jane read in the newspaper that Denver Water was reopening Waterton Canyon on Friday October 30. With this welcome news we decided to undertake a bike ride, and I packed my fishing gear.
Because of the time change to standard time, I set a goal to be on the water fishing by 11AM, and Jane and I managed to adhere to this intention. As forecast, the weather was gorgeous with the only negative being intermittent wind, although I did not complain as I was fishing in a long sleeved shirt in November. It took me 45 minutes on my mountain bike to reach the Rattlesnake picnic pavilion .75 mile above the diversion dam, and I established this as my base camp. A Denver Water employee later informed Jane that this was the center of the bear activity! I removed my backpack and climbed into my waders and then assembled my Sage four weight.
I decided to walk down the road to the bridge that was nearby, but I quickly discovered another fisherman in the huge deep pool next to a picnic table above the bridge. I considered fishing downstream of the bridge, but when I peered over the guard rail, I noted that the water was covered in shadows, so I reversed my direction and headed for the nice long run and pool nearly across from the picnic area. I found a marginal path that led to the edge of the river and tied a tan Charlie boy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and ultra zug bug to my line.
Most of the water in this area was also covered in shadows except for a five foot band above me along the left bank. Unfortunately the water in sunlight was even more difficult to fish than the shaded portion because of the wicked glare. I began to prospect the bottom part of the pool, but I observed no signs of fish until I reached the top third. Despite the sharp glare on the water, I tossed a cast directly upstream and allowed the flies to drift through an attractive shelf pool. I decided to lift my rod to determine where the hopper was, and suddenly I felt weight and movement. I did a perfunctory hook set, and as I stripped in my line, I noticed a foul hooked brown trout thrashing on the end of the line.
I was disappointed by this turn of events, but I was at least reassured to learn that trout did in fact continue to inhabit Waterton Canyon. Next I began to prospect a narrow but long slot that ran down the center of the run. A large boulder served as a current break, and then a thin slower moving ribbon of water extended down stream for 25 feet to just above another large submerged rock. I made five drifts with no result, but on the sixth a large dark shadowy figure emerged from the deep swirly area at the tail. As I watched, the fish moved slightly to its right, and I surmised that it snatched one of the nymphs, so I executed a swift lift of the rod. Suddenly the fish felt the sting of a hook, and it began to thrash and exert pressure on my line. I held tight, and within a minute I applied side pressure and guided a fourteen inch rainbow into my net. Needless to say, I was shocked by this turn of events, yet quite thankful as well.
I released the rainbow and moved upstream a bit, but the water was wide and shallow and quite marginal. I was slipping and slogging along the bank to reach a stretch of deep water that ran along a vertical rock wall, when Jane passed by on her bike. I shouted that I would be up to Rattlesnake for lunch, but she apparently did not hear me and continued on to the dam. Since I now had more time before I planned to break for lunch, I waded back to shore and then carefully worked my way downstream to a location where the river narrowed and created another deep run and several juicy pockets. I skipped around this spot when I climbed the bank and walked up the road, but now I had time to inspect it.
Unfortunately I was approaching from above, and the many shrubs and willows did not allow me to stay back from the low clear river that was running at 72 cfs. I gave it my best effort and focused on some deep runs on the opposite side, but my flies were ignored. By now I estimated that Jane might be at the picnic pavilion, so I found somewhat of an opening in the willows and climbed the steep bank. Sure enough Jane was seated at the table, and I joined her to eat my light lunch.
After lunch Jane decided to take a walk to the dam, and I accompanied her up the road until I reached the path that delivered me to the wide shallow area that was my farthest advance prior to lunch. I splashed upstream until I was across from the deep run that rushed along the tall vertical rock wall, but again the fish were not tuned into the three flies that I presented to them. I was about to advance upstream again, but as I turned and surveyed the river, I noticed another fisherman blocking my path. This was the same person who occupied the emerald pool above the bridge when I first started to fish.
I reversed my direction and climbed back to the road, and then I hiked back downstream toward the bridge. I paused at the deep emerald jewel pool and covered the attractive runs at the top with no success, and then I moved along the bank and fished some nice pockets between the pool and the bridge. I continued to see no signs of fish in the after lunch time period.
Since my upstream migration was blocked by another fisherman, my only option was to continue downstream below the bridge. This area was now engulfed in shadows as the sun was low in the southwest sky and blocked by some high hills on the western side of the canyon. I walked down the road for .3 miles until I found a place where I could safely negotiate the steep bank. The water in this area was quite attractive with a series of cascading deep runs and short pools, so I began tossing the dry/dropper combination to the likely fish holding spots. By now my Charlie boy hopper was quite saturated, and after three or four foot drifts, it sank. I decided to switch it for a more buoyant top fly and chose a chubby Chernobyl with an orange body. From below this fly actually looked like an adult stonefly. I was not interested in catching fish with my top fly; I simply wanted something that was very visible and that suspended the two beadhead nymphs effectively.
The chubby Chernobyl did its job, as I landed two brown trout in the last hour of fishing. Both fish snapped up the hares ear nymph, as it drifted along several feet below the surface. After I released the second fish, I was faced with the prospect of fishing the last .2 mile to the bridge where the river executed a bend away from the road. There was no obvious path before the bridge, so I elected to call it a day. My original plan called for quitting at 2PM, which was really 3PM by daylight savings time, so I reeled up my flies and hooked the ultra zug bug to my rod guide. I climbed the steep bank and returned to the base camp via the road, and there I discovered Jane seated at the table and reading her Kindle.
We packed everything up and rolled down the road on our bikes at a fast pace while enjoying the gradual downhill. We did pause halfway back to the parking lot when we encountered a cluster of male bighorn sheep. The sheep put on quite a show for the gathering of photographers, walkers and bikers as the rams sniffed each other and then backed off and butted their horns. In one amazing display of toughness, two rams suddenly backed up and then cracked their horns forcefully. I was stunned by the loud crack that this encounter generated.
It was a slow day on the South Platte River, but I had a great time nonetheless. The weather was delightful, the scenery was spectacular, and the wildlife was very entertaining. Outdoor time in November is priceless, and Jane and I appreciated our day.