Time: 5:30PM – 6:30PM; 8:00PM – 9:00PM
Location: Meadow Point
Fish Landed: 0
I love the long hours of daylight that accompany the summer solstice in June. Unfortunately this generally coincides with the time when rivers and streams in Colorado are bloated with high discolored water from melting snow in the high elevations. In 2015 I decided to take advantage of ideal camping conditions and to ignore the lack of fishing options, and with this pledge in mind Jane and I made plans to travel to Steamboat Lake State Park from June 21-24.
The reports on fishing conditions at Steamboat Lake were favorable, and as an added bonus the Yampa River that flows through Steamboat Springs was running at 1000 CFS and dropping rapidly. Also the tailwater below Stagecoach Reservoir was flowing at 135 cfs, and that is also within a manageable fishing level. Jane and I camped at Steamboat Lake State Park in 2002, and we both remembered having a pleasant stay. Warm temperatures and dry conditions were forecast for the time period of our camping stay, so all factors seemed to be converging for an enjoyable outdoor adventure.
Jane and I made the four hour drive on Sunday afternoon and arrived at the Dutch Hill Campground at 7PM. Dutch Hill Campground is actually located on a large island that protrudes into the middle of Steamboat Lake, and it is comprised of two camping loops. The first loop has conventional car camping pullouts, but the second loop consists of parking spaces and ten to fifteen walk-in campsites. When we visited Steamboat Lake State Park in 2002 we camped in one of the walk-in sites, but as we cruised the loop and stopped at the parking area, we did not possess the energy to carry all our bins and gear to the dispersed camping area. We did note that site number 181 was reasonably close to the parking spaces, but the early evening wind intimidated us, so we continued around the first loop and claimed site number 178 with a convenient pull through parking space and a two tiered layout. The first level contained a picnic table and fire pit, and the lower level featured a tent pad. We quickly assembled the tent and ate a delicious meal of shrimp stir fry before taking a short walk around the loops and then crawled into our sleeping bags.
I planned to devote Monday to spending time with Jane at Steamboat Lake, but I was also hopeful that I could squeeze in some fishing. After a tasty lunch of eggs and sourdough toast, I assembled my fly rod and made a short hike to the small bay next to the bridge that connects the mainland to our campground island. The surface of the lake remained quite calm, and I observed numerous sporadic dimples in the glassy smooth lake as I began to make casts. I tied on a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis and fired some thirty foot casts to the vicinity of rising fish. There were no obvious food sources on the surface, but the entire area was a breeding ground for midges, as clouds of these tiny insects were visible nearly everywhere one looked. The small caddis dry fly has produced for me on many similar occasions while prospecting lakes in Colorado.
After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting the wind kicked up, and I decided to abandon my efforts to land a Steamboat Lake trout until later in the day. As I was reeling up my line, another fisherman appeared, and he busied himself with loading his inflatable raft with fishing gear. He paused to chat, and he seemed to be a very knowledgeable angler who fished Steamboat Lake quite frequently. The affable fisherman was quite open with advice, and he suggested that I try Rainbow Ridge and Meadow Point as they both bordered long inlets with deep drop offs. He assured me that these narrow bays harbored a strong population of trout including large cutthroats. He also suggested that it would be easier to reach the dense fish populations while fly casting in these areas. I filed this useful information in my brain and decided to explore Meadow Point later in the day.
I returned to the campsite, and Jane and I decided to begin our day with a bike ride. Jane remembered a trail that connected the campground to the visitor center, so I consulted with the state park map that I printed prior to departing from Denver. Sure enough the Willow Trail began at the marina and skirted the lake before terminating at the visitor center. Our plan was locked in, and we filled our hydration bladders with water and departed for the Willow Trail. The trail was perfect as it rolled up and down small hills and offered just the right degree of difficulty for two aging mountain bikers. The challenge was perfect, but the surrounding environment was a visual delight. All the fields were covered with dense waves of bright yellow wildflowers. The background was even more stunning with tall snow capped peaks and the lovely blue water of the lake providing a vivid back drop.
We turned around at the visitor center and covered the trail in reverse, and when we reached the marina, I convinced Jane to continue biking the access road until we reached Meadow Point. She was enthusiastic about this proposal, and so we exited the Dutch Hill Campground and turned left and followed the gravel road until we reached the turn off for Meadow Point. A half mile ride down the state park road brought us to a rough parking area where several cars suggested fishermen were present. We paused and looked more closely and sure enough several fishermen and fisherwomen occupied chairs along the shoreline. Jane suggested that I should wear my waders and cross the small inlet stream and thus position myself across the cove and away from the other fishermen. I liked this idea and filed the plan for later in the day.
After we returned to our campsite we prepared lunch and then departed for our next adventure. We drove to the marina and inquired about canoe and kayak rentals. The young man behind the counter informed us that we could rent a double kayak for $36 for two hours, so this was our choice. He accepted our payment and handed us a purple slip to hand to the attendants at the boat house. We walked a short distance to the dock, and once we provided our payment slip, the young dock assistants lowered a kayak into the lake. Jane and I climbed in and powered our way from the dock and rounded the point at the end of our camping island.
Since it was now early afternoon, the wind kicked up and provided significant resistance to our amateur strokes, but we somehow managed to acquire enough skill to move in a moderately straight line toward our destination. Once again we set the goal of reaching Meadow Point, but this time by water. I soon discovered that paddling a kayak into the wind is a tiring proposition and also hard on one’s lower back. Jane was steady however, and she pulled me along until we finally reached the Meadow Point cove where the most exciting event of our voyage occurred. Three large pelicans cruised from the cove just as we approached, and when they spotted us, they exploded into the air. It was amazing to see the power of the large white birds as they spread their wings and took flight.
After 1.5 hours we reached the narrow passage that separates the Dutch Hill island campground from the mainland, so we decided to take a risk and paddled into the small connecting stream. Two bridges were ahead of us, and we both had to slouch backward to a nearly horizontal position to avoid a beheading. Once we cleared the second bridge, we decided to cease paddling and allowed the wind to gently blow us toward the take out dock. Finally at 3:50PM we paddled next to the dock and cautiously pulled ourselves from the kayak while the attendants steadied the craft. It was another fun adventure on Monday at Steamboat Lake.
We were both quite weary from our two activities, so we returned to the campsite for happy hour. We each sipped a craft beer and munched a favorite snack, and then I decided to embark on a brief fishing adventure to finish the day. Jane declined my offer to ride along, but suggested that she would bike over later. When I pulled into the Meadow Point lot there were several cars ahead of me, and when I reached the inlet, I could see two sets of fishermen in chairs along the shoreline. As suggested by Jane, I found a place to cross the narrow cove and positioned myself near the end on the western side.
I decided to begin with a damsel wiggle nymph since I did not see anything working the surface, and it was the time of the year when damsel flies typically emerge. Unfortunately the damsel nymph did not produce, as I worked my way slowly along the shoreline by casting the nymph to the middle of the bay, and then I executed a hand twist retrieve. After covering half the shoreline with no success, I decided to use a different approach. I clipped off the damsel nymph and added a split shot, thingamabobber and a bright green caddis pupa along with a beadhead ultra zug bug. The nymphs were tossed as far as I could reach, and the indicator bobbed on the surface as the wind created riffles. The three step and cast routine continued until I was near the point of the land and across from another fishing person.
Nothing seemed to be working, so I reversed my steps and crossed the small inlet stream, and as I was walking up the hill toward the parking lot, Jane appeared on her bike, so I greeted her and told her of my lack of success. Next I scrambled down a small bank to a spot along the lake between two other fishermen. I removed the nymphs and tied on a size 16 deer hair caddis and began to cast, but again I saw no response. Meanwhile a gentleman who was talking on his mobile phone finally approached the water with his float tube and splashed into action above me. He kicked his way to the opposite shoreline and then headed for the mouth of the cove. As he passed me, he stated that the magic time was still 1.5 hours away. I asked him what worked, and ironically he replied that he had some success with a damsel nymph. Perhaps my damsel wiggle nymph choice was correct but a bit early?
Since I was 1.5 hours ahead of magic time, and I had not eaten yet, I ambled back to the car, removed my waders, and drove back to the campground where Jane waited for me before preparing dinner. As usual the outdoor environment enhanced the flavor of some delicious bratwursts smothered with sauteed onions and peppers. Jane volunteered to clean up after dinner, and this allowed me to head back to Meadow Point for magic time.
Once again I pulled into a parking space next to the inlet and climbed into my waders. The float tube gentleman by now was fifty yards below me beyond the mouth of the small bay. I headed straight down the gradual bank to the water between a woman in a chair and two male fishermen with spinning rods. A few small scattered rises were visible, but I concluded that these were largely tiny minnows, so I followed the advice of the float tube expert and reverted to the damsel fly with a split shot on my floating line. Sure enough within fifteen minutes as the clock moved past 8PM, the frequency of dimples on the smooth surface intensified.
I was quite optimistic that I was now in the right place with the right approach, and I felt confident I would break through with some Steamboat Lake trout. Alas, it was not to be. I was focused and fanned casts out in all directions while experimenting with slow hand twist retrieves and fast long strips. Nothing seemed to work. Next I began trying different flies, and this included a peanut envy and olive woolly bugger. Nothing. Since I was seeing more rises, I began to question the advice of the float tuber and clipped off my streamer and substituted a size 16 gray deer hair caddis. Surely this proven lake producer would entice one small trout to the surface.
The sun finally disappeared in the western sky and left a warm orange pink glow on the horizon. Immediately the temperature plunged, and I was near the point of shivering in the twilight magic hour. I cast relentlessly to the spots of recent rises, and I tried allowing the fly to sit for what seemed like minutes. This did not catch the attention of the fish, so I began stripping which caused the dry fly to create a small wake on the surface. Surely these fish would react to an escaping tasty morsel. Nothing could fool these educated Steamboat Lake trout, so I reeled up my line and called it a night at 9PM. As I did so, my friend the float tuber returned to the bank just below me and proclaimed he had a wonderful boat trip. Unfortunately catching fish was not part of the experience, and he admitted to joining me in an evening skunking.