Time: 2:30PM – 5:00PM
Location: Stagecoach tailwater
Fish Landed: 7
Our friends, Steve and Judy Supple, invited us to spend the Fourth of July with them at their condominium in Steamboat Springs, so we quickly accepted and found ourselves in that fine western town by 11AM on July 3. We took a walk to the ski area to check out an art fair, and then returned to the condo for lunch. Steve was anxious to do some fishing, so we discussed the options and settled on the tailwater at Stagecoach. I knew the odds were in favor of a crowd since Friday was a holiday for most of the United States, but counterbalancing that factor were the warm temperatures in the upper 80’s and the fact that we would reach the water in the mid-afternoon. The flows were running at 84 cfs, and that is quite favorable compared to other streams in Colorado at the time of the July 4th weekend.
The other option was the Yampa River within Steamboat Springs, but the high temperatures assured a never ending stream of tubes and flotation devices, so we agreed it really was not a valid choice. I drove to the Stagecoach State Park parking lot below the dam, and seven cars greeted our arrival. I was disappointed, but Steve accurately commented that it was not that bad for the Fourth of July weekend, and there were actually some decent gaps visible as we looked down at the stream. If only the state of Colorado could somehow extend the public access for another .5 mile.
As one would expect, many of the fishermen were stacked at the upper end of the public segment starting with our favorite wide riffle pool, and then more anglers occupied the next two downstream pools. Steve and I stepped in between the bend below the parking lot and a long pool occupied by two fishermen. I tied on a size 16 cinnamon comparadun and began to cast to a short shelf pool where some slow water slid off from the main current. In this comparatively obscure spot a deeply colored fifteen inch rainbow rose and slurped my comparadun, and I was quite pleased to begin my July 3 outing in such an auspicious manner.
I tossed another cast a foot from the bank and witnessed a refusal, and then dropped a cast at the top of the short pool and registered a momentary hook up with a rainbow that was visible as it leaped above the water and tossed aside my fly. I could not have asked for a faster start to my day.
The cinnamon comparadun was on fire, as I landed an eleven inch rainbow in the next short pool, and then I turned my attention to some twin side pools on the opposite bank. This led to a second momentary hook up on a decent fish, but that was the extent of the action from the stair step short side pockets in this area. I’m sure most fishermen skip these areas, so I was quite pleased to have such heated action under hot sunny skies and relatively crowded conditions.
Next I moved to the very bottom of a long deep pool where two fishermen occupied the top third. The pool was probably thirty yards long, so I felt that it was proper etiquette for me to cast to the bottom third, and they seemed to be paying no attention to the area I was targeting. I spotted a few rises along the bank but spent way too much time here with no results. Making the situation even more challenging was a muskrat that worked busily along the bank gathering grass and sticks. The bank risers ceased their feeding as the muskrat frolicked and performed aquatic movements eight feet in front of me.
Finally after wasting half an hour in this area I met up with Steve, and we decided to hike up the road to the area above the riffle pool. As we grew closer we realized that even the next area above the riffle pool was occupied so we settled for some faster pocket water more typical of a high gradient mountain stream. I stood on a rock high above the river and looked down on many large rocks and numerous pockets and runs. Steve took a pair of moderate sized upper pools, and I carefully waded toward the center of a lower section so I could reach some narrow slots and pockets on the opposite half of the river.
I began executing mostly drifts that were across and downstream from my position, but the fish were showing no interest in my cinnamon comparadun, so I switched to the scraggly sulfur from my formative years of fly tying. This fly also lost its magic, so I defaulted to a size 16 gray comparadun which exhibited a nice full upright deer hair wing. This fly drew immediate interest, although I was disappointed to witness two momentary hook ups with rainbows of decent weight on downstream drifts. Downstream presentations are tricky as they require a bit of hesitation before setting the hook, and I have a very quick trigger when I see a fish react to my fly.
I shifted my focus back to a narrow pocket across from me where I spotted a fish on an earlier drift. I dropped a very accurate cast right along the short current seam by a large exposed rock, and a deeply colored fourteen inch rainbow gulped the comparadun. Unlike the two escapees that occupied my line for a brief period, this feisty fish found a brief home in my net.
I attempted some downstream presentations to some swirly water in front of a large boulder where I experienced one of the momentary hook ups, and I finally enticed a rise from an eleven inch brook trout. Eleven inches is a nice size for a brook trout in a western stream, and I could not recall ever catching a brookie in the Yampa tailwater previously.
By now I exhausted my limited holding locations, so I climbed the bank and investigated the remaining stretch of water to the outflow from the dam. It was quite fast and could be described as a white water chute, so I reversed my direction and circled back to Steve. The sweet series of upper pools remained occupied, but Steve claimed the bottom of a long deep area. Steve told me he observed a pair of rises along some rocks on the far bank, but he was unable to attract any surface bites, and he invited me to take some shots at the difficult stream dwellers.
I made some decent across and downstream drifts a foot or two away from the bank with no results, so I decided to gamble and shot a longer cast that landed on top of the largest rock. I twitched it so it fell off the rock and into the water and instantly a fifteen inch rainbow pounced, after which I worked the thrashing trout across the current and guided it into my net. I was quite proud of this success under some fairly challenging conditions.
Once again I moved downstream to the area with three cascading side pockets on both sides of the river. As a first step I addressed the first pocket directly below me. I checked my cast high and piled some slack, and the pale morning dun slowly drifted toward the tail of the short side slack water. I watched intently as a beautiful rainbow slowly drifted up from the bottom and sipped my fly. What a visual! Unfortunately after a brief tussle the ‘bow managed to shed the hook, and I was back in stalk mode.
The lower two pockets on my side did not yield any interested trout, so I turned my attention to the mirror images along the opposite bank. Using the slack cast technique with a downstream drift, I managed another connection that lasted for five seconds, but then I repeated the scenario in the lower pocket and played a nice rainbow to within five feet of my net at which point it flopped free.
After completing the six side pocket episode, I made some downstream drifts along the center current line and hooked and landed an eleven inch rainbow. I wandered upstream a bit to the top of the big pool with a long back eddy since the occupying fishermen departed. Steve preceded me, and he suggested that I take a crack at the location where he spotted some risers. I accepted his suggestion and fluttered some casts to the eddy line, but I did not generate any interest, and I perceived that the fish shifted to a new food source.
It was now close to 5PM, so Steve and I agreed to call it a day, and we returned to the car. We were both curious about a second stretch of public water a couple miles north of the tailwater called Sarvis Creek, so we decided to return to Steamboat Springs via the dirt road that passes that access point. The Sarvis Creek public water did indeed look very interesting, but there were many cars along the road and in the parking lot, so we posited that it may have been almost as crowded as the tailwater. We discovered the main impediment to future trips to this intriguing water was the extremely rough dirt road that we suffered through on our return trip.
Once again I enjoyed a fun visit to the Yampa River at Stagecoach Reservoir. I was unable to cast to the prime pools, but I managed to work around this hurdle to land seven nice rainbows, and I am embarrassed to admit that I probably could have landed another six fish that escaped before reaching my net. After two successive outstanding visits to Stagecoach, I was probably due to be humbled, and Friday certainly served that purpose.