Time: 9:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Town of Steamboat Springs
Friday by any measure other than the prior day was a solid day of fly fishing. Unfortunately Thursday was outstanding, and June 23 suffers by comparison.
I snagged a campsite on the McKindley Loop at Stagecoach State Park on Thursday night, and this positioned me to be on the stream by 9AM on Friday morning. On Thursday morning I experienced some decent action on nymphs just prior to the spectacular hatch that commenced by 11:30, so I surmised that I missed some great pale morning dun nymph action earlier. I planned to corroborate this assumption by taking advantage of my close proximity to be on the water early.
It was a great theory but in reality the day did not evolve that way. Once again I parked at Howelsen Hill, and I was fortunate to find a parking space. A Triple Crown baseball tournament was on the schedule, and the 8AM games were already in progress, thus attracting a large number of spectators. I managed to grab one of the few remaining spaces and quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight. I was an obvious outlier compared to the men and women carrying folding chairs and coolers from their vehicles to the ball fields.
I was averse to covering the same water that entertained me on Thursday, so I crossed the pedestrian bridge and walked downstream along the bike path until I was just above the location where the river narrows and picks up considerable velocity just upstream from the hot spring. I once again tied the yellow fat Albert to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph and began my search for hot Yampa River trout. I worked my way upstream on the Steamboat Springs town side of the river, and I popped down the bank where gaps appeared in the streamside brush.
The river was flowing at roughly 800 CFS, and this rate was very comparable to Thursday. The main current surged toward the north bank, the side I was on, and for this reason fewer locations with slow holding water were present. I spent an hour casting the dry/dropper to likely spots, and I managed to land one trout, although I also registered two momentary hook ups. Needless to say this was not the fast paced nymphing action that I anticipated, when I decided to arrive at the river early.
When I approached the pedestrian bridge, I advanced thirty yards above it and prospected a couple places, but then I was directly behind the boat, kayak and tube rental shop; so I reversed direction and crossed the bridge. I skipped around the section between the pedestrian bridge and Fifth Street, since I knew from Thursday that access was difficult due to high flows up against the bushes and trees. When I reached Fifth Street I cut down to the river just above the bridge, and I began to fish the deep run in that area. Another fisherman was directly across from me, but with the main channel crashing between us at high velocity, I was not interfering with his success.
For the next hour I progressed upstream until I reached another bridge serving the bike trail, and at this point I exited and returned to the car for lunch among the baseball madness. The segment covered before lunch was nearly as difficult to fish as the portion I skipped, so I cherry picked a few marginal places, until I reached a relatively nice shelf pool below the bridge and also downstream from the confluence of two channels that flow around a large island. In this area I managed to hook a second trout of moderate size; however, it flopped off my line just as I lifted it from the water and toward my net. This prevented me from capturing a photo, but I added it to my fish count. During the last fifteen minutes I began to notice a fair number of blue winged olives, so I removed the hares ear and replaced it with a RS2. As I made this change, I elevated the salvation to the top position and knotted the RS2 to my line on the end. Despite the baetis activity the fish did not respond to my RS2.
As I munched my sandwich and crunched some carrots while perched on the tailgate of the Santa Fe, I pondered my path forward in the afternoon. I was running out of water to fish in town, and I concluded that the most comfortable section to fish at high flows was also the most attractive stretch for the fish. The strong current favored the north bank, and therefore the south bank provided more areas with moderate riffles that were popular with the trout. They could spread out and chow down on the abundant food source created by the blue winged olive and pale morning dun hatches. I also noticed the occasional caddis and golden stonefly in the mix. I decided to fish the same section on Friday afternoon that provided outstanding action on Thursday.
I hiked down the railroad tracks until I was just above the hot springs, and here I carefully maneuvered over some large boulders until I was standing at the bottom of a nice narrow slot where the current slowed down. There was a cable overhead that was littered with lures and flies and dangling monofilament, and I managed to avoid that small impediment to casting. I scanned the water and immediately noticed that a thick emergence of mayflies was in progress. As was the case on Thursday, a fairly dense population of blue winged olives and pale morning duns were gracefully floating up from the river. I recognized this as my sign to remove the dry/dropper, and I tied on a size 16 light gray comparadun.
I spent some time casting in the narrow spot in front of me, but no fish rose to take advantage of the windfall of food, as mayfly after mayfly popped off the surface of the river. Hatch time is precious, and I did not wish to waste it, so I climbed up to the railroad tracks and moved to the first substantial pool. The same pool on Thursday was where I spotted rising fish and made the conversion to fishing a single comparadun. Sure enough the same situation presented itself. The main current rushed around a man made barrier of large boulders, and then it curled back toward the south bank and swirled by a large submerged boulder. This created a beautiful eddy and shelf pool, and I positioned myself at the bottom next to the submerged boulder. I scanned the scene and immediately noticed several rises. One fish smacked the surface twice along the seam in front of the submerged boulder, so I focused on it first. On the third cast a shadow elevated and sipped in my comparadun, and I reacted with a swift hook set. The fish streaked downstream a bit and then paused, while I reeled the slack on to the reel and exerted some pressure. By now I could see that my combatant was a strong rainbow trout, and it accelerated once again and streaked toward the barrier at the top of the pool. Suddenly the throb on the rod ceased, and my heart sank, when I realized that the cagey rainbow had shed my fly on a submerged stick.
I paused and observed for a bit, but I was certain that the wild commotion disturbed the pool, so I moved on to the nice moderate riffle area just above the stream improvement barrier. Surprisingly no fish were showing in this wide area. I made some obligatory prospecting casts to no avail, and then I moved farther upstream to some marginal slots behind exposed rocks. Once again I did not see any rising fish, so after some desultory casts I returned to the bank. I was convinced that more fish resided in the pool where I hooked the angry rainbow, so I carefully waded along the edge until I was back at the man-made structure. I stood motionless for a few minutes, and I was surprised to see three fish smacking the surface in the shallow riffle below the submerged rock that deflected the current. I made some nice downstream casts over the trio, but the aggressive eaters simply showed their disdain toward me with splashy refusals.
I was standing along the edge of the pool near the reversing eddy, and for some reason I directed my attention to the surface of the water. What do you suppose I saw? Lying motionless with outstretched wings were a large quantity of size 16 spinners. No wonder the residents of the pool were eschewing my dun. The river was feeding them a steady supply of motionless easy to eat spinners. I checked my fly box, and I had a few rusty spinners, but I guessed that they were a bit large. Last summer on the Conejos I enjoyed success with a cinnamon comparadun with the wing mashed down during a spinner fall, so I reactivated the ploy. I knotted a size 18 cinnamon comparadun to my line and mashed down the wing. This ugly fly delivered four trout to my lonely net over the next thirty minutes. Three resulted from the downstream drift, and another sipped the fraud spinner in another nice eddy below a structure farther upstream.
The spinner ruse worked for awhile, but then I reached some water that was a bit faster, and several fish showed their position with rises, but they paid no attention to the size 18 comparadun. I focused on these fish and cycled through a series of fly changes. First I experimented with a size 14 light gray comparadun, but the targets ignored it. Quite a few of the naturals in the air displayed light olive bodies, so I plucked a sulfur style fly from my front pack and gave it a spin. Amazingly this fly delivered two medium sized fish, but through wear and tear the wing was reduced to a nub, and the fish then snubbed the handicapped fly. Finally I settled on the classic, a size 16 light gray comparadun, and the Yampa trout gave it a vote of confidence.
I persisted with the light gray comparadun for nearly the remainder of the afternoon, and I built the fish count to thirteen. At one point I was directly across from a family of four, and while they observed I landed an 18 inch rainbow and a 16 inch brown. The size of my fish on Friday paled in comparison to the previous day, but these two fish were exceptions. By three o’clock the hatch was essentially over except for the everpresent stragglers, so I converted back to a dry/dropper system. This time I used a size 8 Chernobyl ant as the indicator fly, and below that I added an iron sally and an emerald caddis pupa. This change enabled me to add two more small fish to the fish count with one falling for the iron sally, and the other craving the emerald caddis pupa.
By 3:45 I reached a huge wide eddy pool behind another stream improvement structure. This pool was four times the size of the one I described earlier. I made my obligatory casts of the dry/dropper along the current seam, but they were futile. I paused for a bit to evaluate the situation. A pair of kayakers were oppposite me, and they made periodic attempts to buck the whitewater chute just below the pedestrian bridge. Three thirteen year old girls dangled in hammocks beneath the bridge, and from a distance they reminded me of a colony of fruitbats. Suddenly I was aware of a huge swarm of miniscule mayflies. They could not have been larger than a size 24, and they hovered above the eddy, and as I watched, several gusts of wind scattered the delicate insects.
Shortly after this observation I noticed three very subtle dimpling rises in the center of the eddy where the current was barely perceptible. The fish at the farthest outside point of the eddy was the most persistent riser, so I decided to focus on that spot. I removed the dry/dropper offerings and tied a size 24 CDC olive to my line. I fluttered a short cast to a spot above the rise, and I allowed the eddy to feed the small morsel toward the target, and suddenly a small trout darted to the surface! I set the hook, but my action resulted in a brief connection. I rested the water a bit after this disturbance, and two fish closer to the center of the eddy resumed feeding.
I decided to try for the feeder closest to the large barrier rocks. I floated a cast farther upstream than the last one, and again the eddy slowly fed the fly back toward the nook. I was astonished by what followed. I assumed that I was fishing to small rainbows in the nine to eleven inch range based on the nature of the rise, which appeared to be an almost insignificant dimple. The CDC olive crept along, and I detected a subtle barely perceptible sip. I lifted the rod tip to set, and instantly a hulk of a rainbow thrashed to the surface and then leaped from the river and fell back in a thunderous crash. I stayed connected, and the football shaped opponent executed an array of escape maneuvers, before I lifted its head and slid it into my net. I gasped at this late day stroke of good fortune. Never underestimate the size of a fish based on the nature of the rise!
Now it was nearly four o’clock, but my heart was racing, and my optimism was peaking. I circled around the wall of rocks and passed under the bridge and spotted a couple rises in a nice run along the bank. An occasional PMD appeared during the late afternoon, so I concluded that the rise was instigated by the straggling emergers. I once again knotted a size 16 light gray comparadun to my line, and I began shooting some searching casts near the scene of the rises. Several drifts bobbed right along some submerged willow tips, but no response was forthcoming. I was about to call it quits, but I decided to send one more long cast to the very top of the narrow run. The comparadun fluttered down and after a one foot drift, a large mouth appeared and engulfed my fly. I could not believe it. I set the hook, and the point penetrated causing an underwater freight train to streak upstream. The water was not more than two feet deep, but the fish dashed toward the bank, while I allowed line to spin from my reel. Suddenly it slowed down slightly, and then it hit the accelerator a second time, and I heard the gut wrenching sound of my line popping.
All I could do was tip my hat to the fish. It was just after 4PM, and I was not about to tie another fly to my line, so I slowly shuffled to shore and returned to the car. By the end of Friday I landed seventeen trout including three very nice fish in the fifteen to eighteen inch range. I had shots at two additional beauties that foiled my attempts to land them. The average size of the other landed fish was beneath the high standards of Thursday, but overall it was still a fine outing during the late run off time frame. Two fish consumed the salvation nymph, four favored the cinnamon comparadun, two slurped the size 14 sulfur comparadun, the iron sally and emerald caddis pupa accounted for two in the late afternoon, one fat glutton sipped a size 24 CDC olive, and six fish plucked the size 16 light gray comparadun. The fish on the Yampa River were not narrowly selective on June 23.
Fish Landed: 17