Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
Location: Town of Steamboat Springs.
Thursday represented another spectacular day of June fishing on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. June 22 was an example of how great fly fishing can be when fishing during the high but receding flows of run off. The Yampa was flowing in the 850 cfs range and crystal clear, and I capitalized with some superb action.
I woke up at 4:30AM in order to drop Jane off at DIA for her flight to Philadelphia. I packed most of the necessaries for fishing and one night of camping on Wednesday, and I returned to the house to change, eat a light breakfast, and pack a few remaining items. I was on the road by 6:35, and this enabled me to pull into the Howelsen Hill parking lot by 9:45. Before I started, I walked out on the pedestrian bridge across from Howelsen Hill, and I was pleased to see that the flows remained high enough to push the fish against the banks, but low enough to facilitate reasonable wading. I repeat reasonable not easy. Obvious spots remained where a fair amount of bushwhacking was required to reach the railroad tracks, advance to another location, and then blast through the brush again to gain access to the river.
I began my day by hiking downstream until I was just above the hot springs, and there was no mistaking the strong scent of sulfur. I was on the water shortly after 10AM, and I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph, and a salvation nymph. Almost instantly I experienced two momentary hook ups, and then I connected with four trout that inhaled the nymphs. One was a fat brown trout in excess of fifteen inches, and another was a long lean rainbow. Of the four netted fish one took the hares ear, and the other three snatched the salvation nymph. I hooked fish almost instantly, and I fully expected to have a day of hot dry/dropper fishing, as Yampa trout moved aggressively to active nymphs.
I departed the productive deep narrow pocket and moved upstream until I approached some attractive deep troughs next to the steep rocky bank. I tossed a backhand cast to the very top of a deep run that fed into a narrow pocket. As soon as the nymphs sank, the fat Albert darted upstream. I reacted with a decent and not overly aggressive hook set, and my heart sank as the line popped back toward me minus two nymphs. I was certain that this fish was a prize.
I replaced the nymphs with new versions of the same type, and as I continued upstream, and I hooked and landed two more moderate sized trout. Another move brought me to a very attractive wide shelf pool, and I observed three or four rising fish. Initially small blue winged olives were fluttering up into the air, but then I noticed a smattering of larger mayflies, likely pale morning duns. It seemed the fish shifted from subsurface nymph gobbling to emergers and adults, so I made the switch to dun imitations. I removed the dry/dropper flies and tied a size 18 gray comparadun to my line. Previously after snapping off the two nymphs I reconfigured my leader with a 4X tippet. I debated adding a 5X extension for dry fly fishing, but in my haste to pursue the surface feeders, I gambled that the trout would not be leader shy in the high flows and swirling currents.
The size 18 gray comparadun failed to seduce the feeders, so I swapped it for an 18 cinnamon comparadun. This duped one twelve inch brown, but then it generated a couple of refusals. Judging from the pale morning duns in the air, I surmised they were size 14 or 16. I grabbed a fairly large cinnamon version from my front pack foam, and this fly created only refusals as well. The flies I observed appeared to possess gray-light yellow bodies, so I changed again, this time to a size 16 light gray comparadun also known as the money fly. Of course this fly was on the money, and one might ask why it took so long to test a money fly?
I extracted two more trout from the gorgeous hole, where I noticed the first rising fish, including a fifteen inch rainbow. I was now brimming with confidence, and the money fly did not disappoint. Between 11AM and 1:30PM I moved the fish count from six to fourteen, and the money fly accounted for all but one of these fish. The lone outlier was the twelve inch brown that sipped the size 18 cinnamon comparadun.
I recounted the numbers story, but the size saga was even more impressive. The eight dry fly eaters included a sixteen inch hook jawed brown that was feeding in extremely shallow riffles among submerged willow tops. Another beauty found my net in the form of an eighteen inch rainbow that streaked into fast current and then leaped out of the water. In a rare display of fish fighting skill, I allowed the hot fish to run and then shifted the rod tip to allow slack to absorb the jump. What a blast! Several additional fish in the 13-14 inch range were among the dry fly eaters.
By 1:30 the hatch subsided to occasional stragglers, and I approached the pedestrian bridge, so I fought through the brush, crossed the tracks, and returned to the gazebo next to the Santa Fe. I chowed down, made a couple phone calls, and added a hydration bladder and raincoat to my backpack. I was now ready to attack the river, and I was pretty optimistic.
I returned to the a spot below my exit and covered a portion of the river a second time with a dry/dropper setup. It featured the yellow fat Albert, iron sally and salvation nymph. These choices resulted from reading my blog covering historical trips to the Yampa River at this time of year. The hatch was essentially complete, although a brief wave of blue winged olives appeared and generated a few slashing rises. I guessed emergers and replaced the salvation with a soft hackle emerger, but the strategy failed to click, and eventually I replaced the soft hackle emerger with a hare nation nymph.
During the middle to late afternoon time period I managed to land four additional trout. The slow catch rate highlighted how much a hatch energized the trout’s eating habits earlier. Two of the four after lunch catches crushed the fat Albert including a thick rainbow that measured around seventeen inches. Another fourteen inch brown trout joined the afternoon mix. The iron sally duped one of the trout, and the hare nation accounted for the other.
What a day! Eighteen fish were landed, including five in the fifteen to twenty inch range.. This count does not include the four or five long distance releases, and several of these felt substantial. The hatch period was insane. Mayfles were popping off the water surface everywhere, and the blizzard included blue winged olives and pale morning duns of varying body colors. The whole scene was electric with hungry trout assuming feeding stations to chow down on the abundance of food. The trout took the money fly with confidence once I settled on it, and I caught several nice fish by prospecting the comparadun in obvious trout holding water.
Tomorrow I hope to be on the water earlier in order to probe likely spots with nymphs before the hatch. What will tomorrow bring? Stay tuned.
Fish Landed: 18