Time: 10:15AM – 3:30PM
Location: Within the town of Steamboat Springs
My euphoria subsided on Saturday morning, as I prepared to chronicle my fishing outing on Thursday June 23 on the Yampa River. The improbable genesis of this spectacular day of fishing was our road trip to Arizona in March. On our return from Phoenix and spring training baseball, we detoured to Cedar City, UT and visited Bryce Canyon National Park. On our journey to the park entrance on Wednesday morning, we negotiated a mountain pass in the aftermath of a light snowstorm on Utah 14, and I noted that the mountains in southern Utah were not as high as the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and correspondingly the valleys seemed wider. My fly fishing obsessed mind speculated that the sun would more easily penetrate this terrain, and the run off season in southern Utah might end sooner than in Colorado. As an aside, this demonstrates that my fly fishing addiction grips me throughout the year and twenty-four hours a day.
Fast forward to June 15 2016, and Jane and I returned from Pennsylvania, and run off was in full force in Colorado. I remembered my observations regarding southern Utah, and we formulated a plan for a combined fly fishing/camping trip to that area. I researched campgrounds and earmarked three USFS areas that offered first come, first serve camping near Capitol Reef National Park. The Fremont River flowed through this national park, and this was the water that I targeted for fly fishing. Jane and I marked our calendars for a trip to southern Utah from June 24-27.
Another factor pointing me toward the Fremont River was the Fremont River Guides Instagram account. I began following this feed three or four months ago, and the guide service posts peaked my interest in this relatively small but productive fishery. In an effort to confirm my theory that stream flows were at comfortable fishing levels, I checked some on line reports. One report noted that water was spilling over the top of one of the upstream dams, and this raised some concerns in my mind. It was a long drive to Capitol Reef, so I wanted assurances that stream fishing would be possible. I called the Fremont River Guides phone number, and the person who answered assured me that the guides were on the river and enjoying decent success.
Meanwhile I routinely check the DWR web site, and I noticed that the flows on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs were trending downward at 200 cfs per day. Based on this trend I estimated that volume would be in the low 1,000’s by the date of our scheduled trip to Capitol Reef. On June 23, 2015 I experienced a wonderful day of fishing on the Yampa River within the town of Steamboat Springs, when the flows were at 959 cfs and declining. It appeared that the Yampa would be 200 – 300 cfs higher by the same date in 2016, but the Steamboat Flyfisher web site documented that edge fishing was already possible, and that pale morning duns were hatching.
Jane loves the Steamboat area and particularly Steamboat Lake State Park, so we decided to alter our plans and make the trip to the Yampa Valley rather than southern Utah. The problem was the camping situation. We desired to camp Wednesday through Saturday night, but all the campsites at Steamboat Lake State Park were reserved for Friday and Saturday nights.
I remembered camping at the Meadows Campground on Rabbit Ears pass on June 30, 2015, so I checked the Routt National Forest Service web page and learned that the campground was first come, first serve. Based on this we assumed that we could grab a campsite on Wednesday ahead of the weekend crowd and pay for four or five nights once we selected our site. The Meadows Campground is ideally located for fishing in the Yampa Valley area as well as hiking and biking activities.
On Wednesday afternoon I Initiated our plan when I began my journey to the Meadows Campground. I encountered my first hurdle as I traveled north from Kremmling on US 40, when huge black clouds rolled in from the west, and heavy waves of rain pounded against my car. I slowed my speed to a safe level and called Jane to check the radar. Fortunately she informed me that the weather app depicted only clouds and no rain for Steamboat Springs.
With this positive news in my possession I continued on north and then west on Rabbit Ears Pass until I reached the Meadows Campground entrance road. Indeed the rain ended and only high clouds remained in the western sky. I made a left turn off of route 40, and after a mile I met a gate and campground closed sign. I was perplexed by this turn of events, but road construction was in progress on the highway nearby, so perhaps the campground closing related to that.
My fallback was Dumont Lake, so I reversed direction and traveled east to the larger campground on the eastern side of Rabbit Ears Pass. Reaching the entrance requires driving on a one mile dirt road, and when I approached the Dumont Lake campground entrance, another closed sign greeted me. Now what could I do? Where could I sleep on Wednesday night? I called Jane, who helped me by using the desktop computer at home to access the Routt National Forest web site, and she discovered that both campgrounds were closed and not scheduled to open until June 25 or later.
I recalled seeing three campgrounds northeast of Steamboat Springs on Buffalo Pass Road when I reviewed the web site before leaving, so Jane clicked on them and informed me that all except Dry Lake were not currently open for the season. I decided to drive to Dry Lake, although the web site volunteered that only eight campsites existed, and the usage was heavy. After thirty minutes of additional driving, I found and circled the Dry Lake Campground only to discover that all the sites were occupied. My thoughts turned to hotels in Steamboat Springs, as I descended Buffalo Pass Road.
As I slowly negotiated the washboard dirt road, I glanced to the left and caught a glimpse of a mama bear and two darling bear cubs. They were at the end of a lane and under a ranch gate that read Moose Ridge. I backed up the car to get a better look, but before I stopped, the three bears scattered quickly into the adjacent brush. At least one positive experience surfaced on my otherwise frustrating Wednesday evening.
I called Jane again, and she suggested Steamboat Lake, since there were likely openings on Wednesday night although not for the weekend, and this jogged my memory, and I thought of the much closer option of Stagecoach State Park. I drove back through Steamboat and then southeast to Stagecoach, where I finally found three open campsites in the Mckinley Loop. Whew! I secured lodging for Wednesday night. Fortunately it was the second longest day of the year, as I needed the daylight to set up the tent, pay for the site, and eat dinner. Meanwhile some black clouds moved in from the southeast, and the wind kicked up, but only a small amount of rain developed.
Thursday morning was uneventful, although I skipped my normal cup of hot tea and oatmeal, because the camp stove was buried in the compartment under the floor of the tailgate area. Accessing the stove would have entailed removing the mountain bikes and all the camping gear, and I did not relish that undertaking. Our packing system anticipated a four night stay and not a one nighter. I improvised and quickly ate a trail mix bar and a cup of yogurt and took down the tent and headed to town.
When I arrived in Steamboat, I parked at the lot by Howelsen Hill in front of a picnic gazebo and locked the bikes and walked across the pedestrian bridge to the Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, where I purchased a cup of hot tea at the nice coffee bar. I sipped my tea as I strolled back to the car, and then I used the picnic tables to prepare to fish. The sky was overcast and the breeze suggested rain, so I wore my raincoat. After I pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod, I walked to the pedestrian bridge across from Howelsen Hill. Here I gazed up and down the river, and my spirits dipped a bit when I realized that the flows of 1200 cfs translated to bank to bank velocity. Fishing on the town side of the river appeared to be impossible since restaurants and businesses bordered the river, and this allowed minimal space for moving upstream.
The southern bank offered more flexibility as only vegetation in the form of shrubs and low trees bordered the river. I elected to explore the south side of the river downstream from the pedestrian bridge, so I circled back to the parking lot and then hiked beyond the skate park and crossed the railroad tracks and bushwhacked through some dense shrubs until I reached the edge of the river. The pattern of fighting through brush to move between the few fish holding locations would repeat itself over the remainder of the day.
I began fishing with a size eight Chernobyl ant trailing a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph at 10:15, and I moved upstream to the pedestrian bridge by noon. I was not confident that I could land any fish under these challenging conditions, but after fifteen minutes I reached a place where there was a narrow five foot slot next to the bank where the river velocity slowed. I drifted my three flies through this area several times, and on the fifth pass, the Chernobyl dipped. I lifted the rod tip quickly and found myself attached to a hot brown trout. I know it was a brown, as it rocketed out of the water several times, before it shed my hook. This jolt of action caused me to reassess my prospects for the day.
Over the remainder of the morning I landed five energized fish, and I learned how to identify the prominent fish holding spots. Several of my morning catches were healthy fish in the twelve to fifteen inch range. By 11:30 I noticed several small mayflies floating up from the edge of the river, and this observance coincided with when the fish began to chow down on my salvation nymph. I was thrilled to see emerging mayflies, and even more pleased to have a fish count of five despite the adverse wading conditions. Evidently I succeeded in finding the hot edge fishing that I seek early in the summer season.
I crossed the railroad tracks below the pedestrian bridge, and circled around the fence and wall until I was on the upside. Here I found a decent path down to the river, and this led to a juicy location by run off standards, where a log jutted from the bank and created a small slow moving shelf pool. A branch from a tree angled in front of me, but I was able to backhand casts around the branch into the very attractive riffle over moderate depth between the current break and the intrusive branch. I made a few fruitless drifts, and as I was doing this, the hatch intensified and three fish began to rise in the sweet spot beyond the branch.
Although a time consuming hassle, I decided to make a conversion from dry dropper to a single cinnamon size 18 comparadun. As I went through this process, I glanced toward my target area, and the stream residents continued to sip duns from the surface. My heart raced as I cinched down the final knot, and I began to flick casts to the lower portion of the run. Needless to say, I was rewarded for making the changeover. I landed three gorgeous fish from this small area, including a fat seventeen inch rainbow and a hook jawed brown trout that measured eighteen inches. The brown was just a brute of a fish with wide shoulders and a large jaw, and I was amazed that it sipped my tiny size 18 comparadun.
For the remainder of the afternoon I enjoyed similar success, although the three above the bridge were my only dry fly victims. The heavy cloud cover and overcast conditions persisted, and this prompted several waves of intense pale morning dun emergence. Every once in a while the sun would break through, and the dense presence of PMD’s would follow. Unfortunately I never observed additional rising fish, but it did not matter, as I returned to the dry/dropper approach, and the fish seemed to relish the salvation nymph. Sometimes it pays to fish subsurface during a heavy hatch, and this was one of those scenarios.
I landed twelve additional trout between noon and my quitting time of 3:30. Many were twelve inch rainbows, but several more substantial striped fish were in the mix thus prompting me to snap photos. One fat bow in excess of fifteen inches with a wide scarlet band was particularly memorable. The most difficult aspect of fishing on June 23 was gaining access to the relatively scarce fish holding spots. It was impossible to wade along the edge of the river due to the high velocity current, so I repeatedly punched through the brush to the railroad bed and then moved upstream. It was very difficult to see the river through the brush, so periodically I parted the branches to reach the edge of the river where I could look upstream for attractive locales. Of course all this bushwhacking led to entanglements, sticks in the face, and net grabbing. Aside from landing twenty fish, one of my major accomplishments was avoiding breaking my rod or falling.
What a spectacular day on the Yampa River on June 23, 2016! The pale morning dun hatch endured from 11AM until 3PM, and the fish were hungry and willing to grab my offerings. Of the twenty landed fish, at least eight were in the thirteen to eighteen inch range. And all the fish were energized. I attribute the strong fights to the early season, cold water and lack of fishing pressure during the snow melt window. I returned to Denver on Thursday after my exceptional day of fishing, but I am already trying to schedule another visit before the river drops too much, and the tube traffic makes fishing during the day impossible.
Fish Landed: 20