Time: 11:30AM – 2:30PM
Location: Cheesman Canyon
Fish Landed: 0
I’ve never been a huge fan of winter fishing, but the mild weather of Thanksgiving weekend in Colorado induced me to overcome my reluctance. The high temperatures for Thursday through Saturday ranged from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s, and Jane suggested that we take advantage of the weather and hike into Cheesman Canyon. I signed on to the late fall trek, and we arrived at the Wigwam parking lot at 11AM on Saturday morning. I put on my waders and wading boots and prepared my Sage four weight while Jane grabbed her lunch, stadium seat, and book. We were on our way on a pleasant .5 mile hike to the rim of Cheesman Canyon.
The temperature was in the low 60’s as we began, and when we began the descent to the river in the brilliant sunlight it felt more like 70. The flows in the South Platte tailwater were 125 cfs and crystal clear. As we traveled upstream on the red gravel trail, we passed quite a few fishermen. Our destination was Cows Crossing, but as we approached this ninety degree bend in the river, it was clear that the large rock that Jane loves to frequent was covered by shade. We shifted our destination and found another nice large flat boulder bathed in sunlight, and Jane made this our base camp.
I began my quest for a late November fish by moving fifteen yards downstream from Jane, and I tied on a Chernobyl ant with a trailing ultra zug bug and orange scud. I stood on some large rounded boulders and began covering some very attractive water, but I saw no signs of fish. I began to doubt the effectiveness of the dry/dropper configuration in the cold flows of the South Platte River, but when I approached a nice current seam just below Jane’s position, I observed a pause in the foam attractor and set the hook. Much to my surprise I was attached to a tiny rainbow trout that measured four inches, so I quickly removed the ultra zug bug and allowed the small gem to return to the icy flows. I gave my camera to Jane before I began fishing, so she actually captured me netting the hungry little fish.
I moved on above Jane to the large bend at Cows Crossing and found a place where the river was shallow enough to cross, and I then continued fishing upstream along the opposite bank. I prospected some nice current seems, riffles over moderate depth and deep runs; but none of these typically productive stream structures produced any action. In fact I was surprised that I did not see any fish since the flows were low and clear.
At 12:30 I returned to Jane’s base camp and enjoyed my lunch in the company of my lovely wife. Jane noticed that the shade was rapidly advancing toward her rock perch, so she announced that she might move before I returned. I meanwhile decided to walk farther up the trail and around the next ninety degree turn that is called Rainbow Bend. I discovered that this area was quite popular with other fishermen and passed four fishermen working the slow moving deep pool just above the bend.
Eventually I moved above the last fisherman and approached a nice wide pool. I abandoned the dry/dropper approach and configured my line with a hot pink strike indicator, split shot, ultra zug bug and zebra midge. I noticed quite a few minuscule midges buzzing about above the river, and this observation caused me to experiment with the midge larva. I began drifting the nymph combination through the pool, along the juicy current seams and through the tail out, but none of this focused fishing attracted any fish. Meanwhile another fisherman that was originally below me circled around my position and then entered the river forty yards farther upstream.
Aside from the lack of action and absence of any signs of fish, the most frustrating aspect of this Saturday outing was the constant need to remove moss and scum from my flies. I estimate that scum removal was an every other cast event. After exhausting the prime pool that I optimistically claimed, I advanced upstream a bit, but after an hour of casting and moss removal, I began to think more about the snacks I packed for the return trip than the likelihood of landing a fish.
I clipped my flies to the rod guide and trudged back along the trail to our base camp. As Jane suggested, she was no longer there, so I hiked another .3 miles until I spotted her bright blue long sleeved shirt on the beach next to another juicy pool. She was now in the sun and sheltered from the wind by a huge boulder. Seeing no competing fishermen in the pool, I decided to make one more attempt to land a substantial trout from the South Platte River. Well, I have to admit that a nine inch fish would have exceeded my expectations at this point.
Alas, after another half hour of fruitless casting, I decided to call it quits, and I waded back to Jane’s resting place. I acknowledged that she probably had the right idea about Saturday November 29. It was a rare opportunity to enjoy a pleasant hike through gorgeous scenery and bask in the warmth of the late autumn sun. Catching a fish was really secondary.