Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: In the town of Steamboat Springs
Finally the window of opportunity, that I was anxiously waiting for, arrived. Every year I enjoy some of my best fishing, when the run off subsides to high but clear and manageable levels. During these conditions the trout are pushed up against the banks to avoid the high velocity current in the main riverbed, and I focus my efforts on the narrow ten foot band of water, where obstacles slow the ever rushing flow. I carefully tracked the flows on my three favorite freestones for this type of fishing over the past week, and all the DWR stream flow graphs displayed consistent downward curves. The most advanced was the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs.
Jane and I were committed to spend Wednesday evening through Friday evening with our friends the Gaboury’s in Eagle, CO, and I was unsure that fly fishing would be part of the scheduled itinerary. The window on the Yampa was open during this time frame, so I decided to gamble, that I could sneak in a day of fishing on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, and I estimated the flows would reside in the 1250 range. When I read the Steamboat Flyfisher report, it mentioned visibility to two feet, so this raised some concern, but I decided to make the trip anyway.
The drive to Steamboat is more than three hours, and a six hour round trip is a lot to absorb for one day of fishing, so I decided to do a one night camping trip. When I mentioned my plans to Jane, she determined that she had an open calendar, and she jumped on board. We loaded the Santa Fe on Monday afternoon and departed Denver by 3:30PM. In order to minimize the camp packing we stopped at the Grand Old West restaurant in Kremmling and savored some cowboy cooking, before we arrived at the Meadows Campground on Rabbit Ears Pass. This would serve as our lodging on Monday evening.
Tuesday morning was on the chilly side, and it reminded of me of why snowdrifts were scattered among the many campsites at the high elevation campground. Jane and I took our time to sip our coffee and tea, and then we downed some bagels and zucchini bread and broke camp by 9AM. This enabled us to arrive at the Howelsen Hill parking area by 9:30, and after I donned my waders and assembled my Sage five weight, I was on my way. Jane unloaded her mountain bike from the rack and departed on a ride on the many bike paths in the resort town.
The air temperature was in the 60’s, as I hiked downstream along the railroad tracks, and the thermometer peaked at 80 in the afternoon. The sky was clear, and the flows were indeed high in the 1250 CFS range. I was very pleased to observe that the clarity was quite good. I advanced downstream, until I encountered the sandstone rock wall just upstream from the hot spring. I knew I was close by the pungent smell of sulfur that wafted in my direction. Before I stepped down to the river, I peeked downstream and discovered a female angler twenty yards below, so I reversed my direction and retreated upstream for twenty yards to allow adequate space.
After I carefully maneuvered down some large boulders, I configured my line with a size eight fat Albert and a size 14 twenty incher, and I began to lob casts to the soft water along the right bank. The likely holding water was easy to identify, and after ten minutes the fat Albert dipped, and I set the hook and found myself connected to a twelve inch rainbow trout. I was pleased with this auspicious start to my day. After a lull in action I added a slumpbuster as the bottom fly below the 20 incher, and I was surprised to note several follows, but the chasers veered away at the last instant. Eventually I felt a bump and foul hooked a small brown trout with the slumpbuster.
I grew dissatisfied with the catch rate of the 20 incher and slumpbuster, so I executed another change, and I knotted an iron sally to my line as the top fly and followed it with a salvation nymph. I also extended the dropper to four feet and added another eighteen inches between the top nymph and the end fly. I suspected that the high flows dictated a longer leader. The change paid dividends in a wide section, where the river spread out and created some nice deep runs of moderate depth. I lobbed the three fly offering, and a nice thirteen inch rainbow nabbed the iron sally near the tail of the run.
Between 11AM and noon I persisted with the iron sally and salvation nymph, and in the process I increased the fish count from two to four. The two additional fish included a small brown trout and another twelve inch rainbow. The iron sally accounted for three of the first four fish. Jane and I planned to meet at 12:15PM at the gazebo next to the rest rooms, so I battled through some bushes and crossed a swampy irrigation canal and returned to the car.
After lunch I returned to my lunchtime exit point and progressed along the right bank, until I was at the eastern end of the town of Steamboat Springs. Along the way I boosted the fish tally from four to thirteen. All of the afternoon catches were rainbows except for one small brook trout. The salvation nymph gained attention, and most of the afternoon chompers favored the size 16 imitation with the flashback strip. Among the afternoon catch was a fifteen inch rainbow and a fourteen inch cousin. I observed quite a few golden stoneflies and yellow sallies in the 12:30PM to three o’clock time period, and a smattering of small caddis and size sixteen mayflies joined the party.
The highlight of my day occurred across from one of the many streamside restaurants on the opposite side of the river. I bashed through some dense vegetation, until I was positioned just above a string of man-made stream improvement boulders. A small narrow channel was along the right bank, and a quasi-island populated with flooded willows was straight ahead. The thirty feet of river beyond the willow island consisted of a nice deep pool of moderate depth. I landed four trout from this stretch including a fine fourteen inch rainbow. In addition I connected with three additional trout that escaped, before I could coax them into my net. During this fishing highlight film, I noticed a female diner at the restaurant, as she stood up to snap a photo of my success. Each time I landed another fish I glanced toward the outdoor seating, and she rose and focused at least two more times!
By 2:45PM I moved above the Fifth Street bridge, and in the nice deep shelf pool above the bridge I connected with a fish that felt substantial. I suspect it was a brown trout, as it never surfaced, so I could catch a glimpse. Instead it bulled and dove in the manner of brown trout, and eventually the fly pulled free.
Tuesday developed into a fine day of fishing on the Yampa River. The size of the fish was beneath previous edge fishing standards, but after three weeks of lake fishing with minimal returns, I was very pleased with a double digit day, and I am now optimistic that edge fishing on the Arkansas River and Eagle River will be just around the corner. A drop of an additional 200 CFS would improve the Yampa River, as it would enable much more manageable wading. Difficulty in accessing sections limits competing anglers, but on Tuesday this circumstance forced me to skip some fairly extensive stretches.
Fish Landed: 13