Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Downtown Steamboat Springs
What can I say? If measured by pounds and not fish count, Tuesday June 28 may have been the most successful day of 2016. After my fishing visit to the Yampa River on June 23 was truncated by the reluctance of the National Forest Service to open my preferred campground, I restlessly waited for another shot at edge fishing while flows remained high enough to force the river’s residents to the banks. I checked the DWR web site daily, and the river’s flows were plummeting by 200 cfs per day, and I was fearful that the window of opportunity had closed.
As I departed early on Tuesday morning for the 3.5 hour drive to the Yampa Valley, I was aware that stream flows collapsed to the 600 cfs range. Upon my arrival in Steamboat Springs I parked next to the gazebo at the Howelsen Hill parking lot and assembled my Sage One five weight rod for a day of fishing. My expectations were low, but one can never predict what the fish and weather have in store for an optimistic fisherman.
When I climbed the pedestrian bridge to scout the river it was evident that the flows were in 500 – 600 cfs range, and I was concerned that they may have dropped below my desired level for edge fishing. On a positive note I was able to wade along the edge more easily than June 23, and the flows remained high enough to create a decent buffer between the ever present tubers and me.
I began fishing on the town side after crossing the pedestrian bridge and then went downstream until a polite distance above a fisherman, who was located just above the fast water near the confluence with a small creek. A fat Albert, bead head hares ear, and salvation nymph adorned my line, and these flies accounted for the first eight fish. In a sweet area below an overhanging tree limb, the fat Albert dipped, and I hooked and landed a fat 17 inch brown on the hares ear. What a start to my day!
Despite the early success represented by the seventeen inch brown trout, I discovered quickly that the bushes and trees were tight to the water making upstream wading very difficult. In addition the shade created by the stream side vegetation made visibility very challenging, so I crossed the bridge again and then walked down the railroad tracks until I was just above an area popular with kayaks and stand up paddle boarders. I carefully scrambled down some large rocks and tossed my flies into a deep shelf pool. As the flies passed below me and began to swing gently, I felt a sharp tug and set the hook. This reaction resulted in a fifteen inch colorful rainbow squirming in my net with a salvation nymph in its mouth. My first two fish were in excess of fifteen inches, and I was losing my concern about the river level being too low for hot edge fishing.
Tuesday developed into a hot day with temperatures reaching the upper eighties, but by 11:30 some pale morning duns appeared. I continued working my way up the river, and although I was tempted to switch to a dry fly, I never spotted rising fish. Consequently I maintained the dry/dropper set up and landed six additional fish to reach eight by 12:30. Many of the late morning catches were in the 14 – 16 inch range, and unlike my visit the previous week, brown trout predominated. I offer the explanation, that I was focused on edge fishing where the brown trout tend to lurk, and the rainbow trout spread out more as a result of the lower flows.
At 1PM the presence of an occasional yellow stonefly transitioned into a fairly dense hatch, and these adult insects approximated a size 12 fly. This observance prompted me to shift my offerings to a fat Albert trailing a solo iron Sally. I should have played the slot machines in Blackhawk, because I hit the jackpot with this move. The Yampa River trout loved the iron Sally, and I progressed through a period when I could count on a nice fish whenever I encountered slower water with depth along the bank. Fish numbers nine though fifteen attacked the iron Sally, and this tally included a gorgeous fifteen inch cutbow and three or four brown trout in the thirteen to fifteen inch range. All my reservations about the water level being less than ideal melted in the euphoria of landing many larger than average Yampa River trout!
Two failures accounted for more excitement than the successes that I just described. One twenty plus inch brown that I failed to land will remain in my nightmares for months. I cast upstream a couple feet from a three foot high bank, and as the fat Albert drifted eight feet from my position, a huge object elevated and slurped the large yellow foam attractor. At first I thought it was an animated log, but I set the hook and marveled at the huge moving bulk in front of me. Had this fish remained in place as I waded upstream, it would have tripped me.
At first the massive form was quite docile, as it lumbered back and forth and in a circle within ten feet of where I hooked it, but then it calmly swam down and across to the edge of some faster water. I maintained constant side pressure on the beast, but it was so large that I was forced to relent and feed out line. As the behemoth reached the current seam, it felt like the top fly released from the fish’s mouth, and one of the trailers embedded in the fish. This certainly angered my foe, and it reacted by wrapping the line around something. I stripped some line in an attempt to determine if the fish was still connected, but alas my monster catch was free. When I brought my flies close for inspection, I determined that the salvation nymph was gone. I am still shaking as I describe this exciting but frustrating incident.
Another notable long distance release evolved as I fished across from a couple guys seated on a rock structure. In this instance the fat Albert dipped, and I set the hook instantly and found myself attached to another very large torpedo. The observers let out a hoot immediately, so they must have been watching my efforts. Unlike the previous lunker, this fellow did not mess around, and it charged immediately into some fast water downstream. I allowed the line to zing from my reel, but when the fish turned slightly in the heavy current, the flies released and shot back toward me. The opposite bank observers shouted, “what happened?”, and I could only grieve over another lost opportunity at a trophy. Unlike the previous fish, all my flies remained, and a break off was not the root cause of the release.
My last fish of the day, number sixteen if you are counting, was another highlight. I took a break and returned to the river thirty yards below the Fifth Street bridge. By now it was 3PM, and temperature was near its peak, which of course created an inner tube hatch. I found a nice riffle/run area off to the side of the main current, where the river swept most of the rafts and tubes toward the opposite bank in a rush. I now sported a Chernobyl ant as my top fly with an iron Sally trailing beneath it, but the flies were not producing. I glanced to the edge of the river before wading farther upstream, and I was startled to see a very large fish hovering next to the bank in water that was no more than two feet deep. The newly discovered target was only ten feet away, and I attempted a few drifts with the dry/dropper with no success. I was reluctant to toss the two flies too close to the bank, as I feared hooking the dropper in the bushes would destroy any chance I had to interest the big boy in my flies.
The long trout next to the bank was quite dark in color, and I suspected that it was a rainbow. As I pondered my next step, I was amazed to see the elongated form slowly float to the surface, and then it sipped a straggling pale morning dun! My dry/dropper combination was not producing, and I therefore had nothing to lose, so I switched to a single size 16 cinnamon comparadun. Two drifts failed to attract interest, but I dropped the next cast four feet upstream and within inches of the bank. I held my breath as the small fly bobbed along the bank and then right over my quarry. I was about to salute my foe, when it slid sideways with the current and then calmly moved two feet and sipped my fly!
I felt like I was watching a slow motion replay of a fishing movie! I calmly set the hook, and after a spirited battle, I slid my net beneath another 17 inch brown trout! I was stunned to discover that it was not a rainbow. This fish was full of surprises. After releasing the prize brown trout, I realized that it was quite hot, and the tube traffic intensified. I was extremely tired from fighting the strong current and ducking in and out of thick bushes, so I quit at 4 o’clock.
Since I suffered through a fifteen minute delay due to road construction at the entrance to the Meadows Campground on Rabbit Ears Pass during my morning drive, I decided to return to Stagecoach State Park. Only two sites were occupied on the McKinley Loop, so I quickly grabbed site number 86.
I can usually remember all my big fish within twenty-four hours of a day on the river, but they were in such abundance on Tuesday, that I lost track. It was another phenomenal day of fishing on the Yampa River, and I was fortunate to enjoy it before the run off window closed. Could Wednesday be another day of intense action in Steamboat Springs? Stay tuned.
Fish Landed: 16