Location: In Steamboat Springs near ice arena then Stagecoach Tailwater
Fish Landed: 10
My original plan suggested driving out of the Flattops on Wednesday morning to North Park and then through Walden to the North Platte River at Northgate. However while reading my Colorado fishing guide book one evening, I read the section on the Yampa River. I would need to pass close to Steamboat Springs on my trip, and I’d fished the Stagecoach tailwater several times, and loved it. The book said the Yampa had one of the best fall BWO hatches in the state. I modified my plan to fish the Yampa then camp in one of the three campgrounds along Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday night.
I ate breakfast and packed up quickly to get an early start. But as I was finishing the packing and getting ready to depart I heard this loud bleating punctuated by occasional whistling. The campground hostess came by and informed me that a sheep roundup/drive was taking place. I asked her if I could drive through it, and she said, “Yes, but slowly”. She was worried about the sheep crapping in the campground. I jumped in the van and drove to the entry lane to the campground where I found sheep everywhere along with the herding dogs, guard dogs, and the shepherds and their horses. Apparently they were young guys from Chile who spent the summer in the mountains while watching and caring for the sheep.
I took a movie and a bunch of photos and slowly moved into the herd. Fortunately they were almost beyond the entrance road, so I was clear of the sheep and on my way fairly quickly. The road was littered with sheep manure, so I now understood what the hostess was concerned about. As I was driving back road 8, I spotted a colorful pheasant-like fowl on the left bank along the road and stopped to photograph it. I’m guessing it was some sort of grouse.
When I turned on to the road that would take me over the two passes, I stopped at several overlooks to photograph the Flattops Wilderness landscape and also to capture some of the fall foliage that was already brilliant at some of the higher elevations. On my exit trip I ran into two additional sheep herds being pushed down the road and had to slowly move through them as they parted to the side of the road. I was making the shepherds earn their pay as they had to round them back up again to the roadway. Apparently I chose to travel on Colorado sheep roundup day.
I decided to pass Stagecoach and go to Steamboat first to buy ice for the cooler, top off the gas tank, and visit a fly shop for information. The main street in Steamboat was under construction, so it was difficult to get from the north side of town to the south side. I parked the van near the convenience store where I bought ice and gasoline and walked to the south side and then a couple blocks to the fly shop on Yampa Street. I learned that the BWO’s were not yet hatching, there were some tricos in the late morning, and afternoon fishing tended to be slow. The young man behind the counter suggested fishing in town until around 4PM then driving to Stagecoach for the evening.
I went back to the van and found a place to cross to the south side and parked on the south side of the river in the ice arena parking lot. There was another fisherman in the area above the bridge where I planned to start, so I walked up along the railroad tracks on the south side of the river 50 yards or so and entered there. Steamboat Springs has done a lot of stream improvement in town creating very nice runs and pools and a lot a slicks and pockets behind large boulders. I was at the east end of town near where all the stream improvement ended. I started across from a huge deep hole where the water eddied back toward some large boulders. I kept the Chernobyl ant on with a BHHE and began casting. Much to my surprise a medium size brown charged up and inspected the Chernobyl, and then I spotted a quite large fish move up from the depths to within a foot or so of the attractor. But I couldn’t induce either fish to take. The smaller fish actually bumped it a couple times.
I moved on to the next attractive area where a long deep run created a soft shoulder 20 to 30 yards long. I methodically cast the two flies along the seam and then over closer to shore. One-third of the way up, a trout surface and grabbed the Chernobyl, but when I set the hook, the fish slipped off as quickly as it emerged. Next I moved upstream to where two channels of roughly equal size merged. I believe this was two braids of the Yampa separated by a wide island. I stayed to the right and discovered a huge hole below a railroad bridge. I worked this very attractive water to no avail. The next section of water was a long smooth pool, and there were fish occasionally dimpling the surface. I half heartedly began casting my huge Chernobyl in the smooth pool without structure, and as I was doing so the frequency of rises increased particularly along the right bank midway through the pool. I cast the Chernobyl to the spot where I’d seen a couple rises at the downstream end of the area but not even a look. I clipped off the two flies and tied on a parachute ant, and a fish swam up and inspected but did not take.
As I observed, there were three or four browns stacked up in a row along the bank rising fairly regularly now sipping in something. I stared at the water near me but couldn’t find anything significant that might represent food. I tried a CDC BWO and a light gray comparadun to no avail. In retrospect I’m wondering if they were sipping a sparse trico spinner fall even though it was after noon. The rising slowed down and I finally abandoned the pool and the fish and headed up to the railroad tracks and used it as an expressway to return to my starting point. Additional fishermen now occupied the upper stretch where the river came back together below the island. I jumped back in at the deep pool/eddy where I’d interested two trout earlier and gave it another try. This time I couldn’t get the large fish to show. I tried switching flies and removed the Chernobyl and BHHE and started trying other attractors. First I tried a yellow Letort hopper, and it wasn’t floating well so I removed and tied on a bushy caddis. Again no interest so I replaced with a royal stimulator. On around the fifth drift the smaller brown came up and nosed the fly and I set the hook and had a momentary hookup, but that was it. I now decided I need a new approach and fresh water so I decided to continue beyond the bridge where I started to the next bridge crossing. I never made it that far and hopped back in where some stream improvement boulders jutted out in the river and created a flume with some nice slack water behind it. I was now directly across from several restaurants on Yampa Street with dining decks along the river. I returned to the Chernobyl ant with a beadhead hares ear and added a beadhead RS2 in case some BWO nymph activity developed.
My fortunes made a significant improvement. Fish started grabbing the small RS2 aggressively. Between 2:30 and 4:00PM I landed 10 trout; three cutthroats, two browns, and five rainbows. The fishing was extremely hot during this time, and I had quite a few hookups of fish that felt like decent size that I didn’t land perhaps because of the small size 22 RS2 nymph. In one area of riffles of moderate depth I was amazed to hook at least five fish as they attacked the small RS2 practically before it hit the water. Three of the rainbows that I landed were tough heavy 14 inch fish that fought me hard. Most of the fish hit at the end of the drift as the flies started to swing a bit or several times the Chernobyl sank a bit below the surface so I lifted to recast and the fish grabbed on the lift.
Toward the end of this time period the rainbows and cutthroats stopped hitting aggressively, and I had to make numerous drifts, but I managed to catch the two browns at the tail of the drift. The final brown was a 15 inch bruiser that took the beadhead hares ear. In fact, both browns took the BHHE, one small cutthroat took the Chernobyl, one rainbow hit the BHHE, and all the other fish slashed and took the RS2.
When I caught and landed the last brown a younger father was fishing above me, and he immediately commented “Nice fish. What did you catch him on?” I told him and circled around and above him. After the flurry of action, I was now bored by the lack of action so at 5PM, I decided to follow the fly shop’s recommendation and drive to the Stagecoach tailwater of the Yampa. Unfortunately the road construction really delayed me, and I didn’t arrive until 6PM.
Even this late in the day, the parking lot was nearly full with six or seven fishermen stationed in the prime spots. The reservoir was being drawn down so the flow was higher than I expected. Nymphs probably would have been the preferred method with a RS2 or tiny midge larva, but I thought perhaps I could interest a fish or two in a caddis. I fished several spots for an hour with no success. I didn’t see anyone else around land any fish and I was concerned about driving to a campground on Rabbit Ears Pass in the dark, so I quit at 7PM.
I was planning to camp at the Walton Creek campground right along US 40, but I must have driven past it and missed the sign. I finally saw a sign for a campground, Dumont Lake, so I pulled over and checked my camping book to see how far off the highway it was. 1.5 miles worked and I drove on the paved road to the campground. It was now dark so I picked off the fifth site as it appeared to have a relatively flat pull through for parking the van and sleeping. It didn’t appear there were any other campers, and I had the place to myself.