Monthly Archives: May 2015

Big Thompson River – 05/28/2015

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Just above the destroyed RV park in the canyon special regulation water and then upstream a mile.

Fish Landed: 13

Big Thompson River 05/28/2015 Photo Album

Sometimes it pays to be a contrarian. This was the lesson I grasped today on the Big Thompson River.

With above average rain in May and unseasonably cold temperatures, Colorado streams were swollen and discolored, and the snow melt had yet to commence. This limited my options for a day trip, but a review of the department of water resources web site yielded two possibilities; South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River. I chose the Big Thompson since I visited this local stream once this year and once in 2014 with reasonable success. The flows were a steady 125 CFS, and I knew from experience that this level is quite manageable. Also the stream reports from the area fly shops indicated that clarity was decent, and they reported angler success was fair to good. The shops suggested fishing deep with prince nymphs, San Juan worms, and scuds; and they recommended adding a baetis nymph imitation in the afternoon.

My Starting Point on the Big Thompson River

When I arrived at a pullout just above the RV park that got destroyed in the 2013 flood, I checked the water, and indeed it was flowing somewhat high with a bit of stain. Before rushing to a starting position, I checked my fleece pouch and added some pink San Juan worms, orange scuds, hares ear nymphs, prince nymphs, ultra zug bugs and marabare nymphs. I was dutifully following the recommendations of the area fly shops, and when I moved next to the river, I rigged with a strike indicator and split shot along with a bright pink San Juan worm and beadhead ultra zug bug.

With this configuration I worked through three attractive deep runs with no success, so I began experimenting with different fly combinations. I snipped off the ultra zug bug and replaced it with an orange scud. At the point I also experimented with a beadhead hares ear, a classic prince nymph, a bright green marabare, and a copper marabare; but none of these favorites produced fish. Perhaps the top fly was too bright? I swapped out the bright pink worm for a less obtrusive light pink version. Finally this did the trick, and I quickly landed two ten inch rainbow trout on the light pink worm.

Light Pink San Juan Worm Visible

My fish count remained at two as noon approached, and then I suffered through a half hour dry spell before I once again hooked a fish. This catch was a brown trout, as I got a good look before it broke off at the San Juan worm. I cursed the abraded knot, and unfortunately I only had one more light pink worm in my fleece book. I discovered that the thread was unraveling on my choice of a replacement, but then I uncovered another pink worm made with a sparkle chenille. I found this fly on a tree many years ago, so I elected to give it a try. Much to my chagrin on the third cast I snagged bottom, and it was in a deep fast run, so I was forced to snap off two more flies.

It was now noon so I returned to the car to soothe my frustration with a quick lunch. After lunch next to the river, I returned to the car and configured my line yet again. I had plenty of light tan or beige worms, so I tied one of these to my line in the top position and then added a salvation nymph to the point position. I fished this combination with confidence after lunch, but either the fish lost interest in worms, or they favored only light pink, because an hour elapsed with no action other than rigid sticks and rocks along the stream bed.

125 CFS and Slightly Stained

As I was stuck on two fish and time was rapidly passing, I began to fear that I was destined for a two fish day. On several occasions I witnessed a refusal to my strike indicator. How should I interpret this? Despite the conventional wisdom of the fly shop reports, some fish were looking toward the surface for their food. Surely dry/dropper fishing could be no worse than the slow action of my worm and nymph combination, and at least this would allow me to drift along the bank more effectively. I took the plunge and tied on a tan Charlie boy hopper with an ultra zug bug on a long three foot dropper.

Unfortunately as I made this change in tactics, a strong cross wind began to torment me, and it became very difficult to place casts within six inches of the rocky bank. I persisted however and managed to provoke a couple refusals to the hopper. Again I was forced to reconsider my approach, as this confirmed that a surface fly was receiving attention, but apparently the Charlie Boy was not what they desired. I decided to change to a size 14 stimulator with a gray body. This was a smaller offering yet still quite visible in the swirly currents and variable light.

The Stimulator Was My Best Producer

Another Pretty Rainbow

My choice proved to be a colossal success. For the remainder of the afternoon I cast the gray stimulator along the very edge of the river and experienced great success while landing eleven more fish. Most were brown trout with a couple rainbows in the mix. On two instances I allowed the dry fly to slowly creep upstream to the source of a vortex, and a brown came out of nowhere to slurp the fly. Clearly the fish were tucked tight to rocks and stream side structure, but they could be coaxed to the surface with a drag free drift over their secure holding positions.

Nice Colors

The fly shops recommended fishing deep with the usual suspects of high run off offerings, but I was a contrarian. I fished a single buoyant dry fly and created success. Today the choice of fly was key, but more important was the presentation and the choice of where to drift the fly. Fishing in high water is a challenge, but I’ll continue my efforts to beat the odds as long as reasonable options exist.


South Platte River – 05/26/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Cheesman Canyon from Jamboree Pool upstream

Fish Landed: 3

South Platte River 05/26/2015 Photo Album

While Jane and I were enjoying gorgeous spring weather in the Carolinas; rain, snow and cold continued to be the norm in Colorado. I did not even bother to check stream flows or fishing reports for the first six days after we returned, but then I received a text message from my new fishing pal, Danny Ryan. Danny informed me that the South Platte River in Cheesman Canyon was reputedly fishing very well with San Juan worms, scuds, eggs and leeches. These are the typical high performing flies when flows increase dramatically, and that was the case in Cheesman Canyon.

I checked the stream flows and discovered they were at 1,160 cfs. Another fishing report stated that the above normal rain filled Cheesman Dam, and water was spilling over the top. Despite these leading indicators of difficult fishing, I agreed to a trip with Danny on Tuesday, May 26. We managed an early start and arrived at the Gill Trailhead parking lot by 9AM. As we drove along the South Platte River between Nighthawk and Deckers, I was disheartened to see very high flows and brown murky water conditions. Above the town of Deckers and Horse Creek, the water color improved to pea green.

The small stream that flows from the parking lot into the South Platte near the Wigwam Club was swollen to twenty times its normal size, and it also was carrying a significant amount of silt. Danny and I set off on our thirty minute hike to the canyon, and as we crested the rim, we gazed down upon the river below. Clearly the flows were high, but the clarity of the river was much improved over what we observed near Deckers above Horse Creek, We were both encouraged by this revelation, but I remained somewhat concerned about our ability to land some fish from the abundance of water.

Normally a Placid Pool

We continued hiking along the river for quite a distance until we arrived at the pool that spreads out below some huge boulders that are positioned in the middle of the river. On this day of flows in excess of 1,000 cfs, the pool was more akin to a deep run with a large shelf eddy on our side of the river. I began my fishing experiment with a conehead pine squirrel leech and a bright pink San Juan worm and began to drift these morsels through the deep slow moving eddies and sloughs created by current breaks.

Looking Across

I endured thirty minutes of fruitless casting until I reached the eddy above the huge boulder described above. Here I actually cast downstream and allowed the subsurface offerings to drift back toward me in a large eddy, and on the fifth such pass, the indicator dipped and I set the hook. It did not take me long to strip a small nine inch rainbow in to my net. It wasn’t a very exciting catch, but I at least eliminated the possibility of a skunking.

We moved on along the north bank of the river and played leap frog between ourselves as well as with another personable fishermen who joined the fray in our area. We skipped the water between Cow Crossing and re-entered at Rainbow Bend. When I rejoined Danny, I discovered that he had some fantastic success as he landed two large rainbows near our starting point on one of his red San Juan worms.

With this news I replaced the pink worm with a red version, but eventually I broke off both the leech and worm on an underwater snag despite using 3X and 4X tippet sections. By 11:45 I was feeling quite hungry, so I found a nice rock to rest on while I ate my lunch. Danny continued to cast relentlessly as I watched him from my perch.

Danny Makes Some Drifts

After lunch I decided to change things up a bit, and I knotted a Cathy’s super bugger to the top position, and then below that I tied on a red San Juan worm. I picked up the pace and began moving more frequently until we encountered the gentlemen that unofficially became part of our leap frogging progression. We exchanged information, and he revealed that he landed a nice brown trout on a green scud. I did not have many light olive or green scuds in my fleece pocket, but I did have five orange scuds, and many years ago these performed quite well during the high water of May. I decided to give one a try. In addition I swapped the woolly bugger for an egg sucking leech with a hot orange bead head.

A 17-18 Inch Ranbow

This move proved to be quite fortuitous, and in short order I hooked a medium sized rainbow at the tail of a long deep run next to the bank. Unfortunately the feisty fish managed to elude my hook after a brief battle. I took a few steps up along the bank and fished the middle portion, and once again a fish tugged my thingamabobber below the surface. A swift hook set ensued, and once again I found myself connected to a fish; however this time it proved to be a large combatant. The fish thrashed near the surface and revealed itself to be a large rainbow, and after several powerful runs, I applied side pressure and maneuvered it to a spot along the bank where Danny swooped his long handled net beneath. This fine pink-sided fish deserved more attention, and I snapped a few photos while Danny steadied it in his net.

U-Turn When It Spotted Me

Two fish grabbed the orange scud in a short amount of time, so I was now convinced I stumbled into an effective fly for high water conditions in late May on the South Platte River. With renewed enthusiasm I forged ahead and worked my nymphs in all the likely slow pockets and eddies that I could reach. I continued to move more quickly than the morning, and this approach brought me to a short eddy behind a large exposed boulder. I was skeptical that this spot would produce a fish, but I decided to allocate three casts to the area. The first two were fruitless as the indicator hovered in a dead spot in the middle of the eddy behind the rock, but I allowed the third cast to drift back upstream toward the rock. When I became concerned that the flies were getting snagged under the rock, I gave my rod a lift and instantly felt throbbing weight on the other end.

Out of the Net

Another fish put up a spirited battle, but this one decided to dive and shake in the manner of a brown trout. Sure enough when I raised my rod and leveraged the fighter to my net, I gazed at a wild fourteen inch brown trout that also savored the orange scud. I found Danny and gave him one of the orange scuds, and then we continued to move along the Gill Trail toward the upper sections of the South Platte River.

One Final Attempt

Danny Displays His Catch

Unfortunately, the hot streak of orange scud feeders ended, and Danny and I continued for another hour with no activity. We realized that we were approaching the end of the trail, and consequently we faced a lengthy return hike, so we decided to make our exit. As we hiked back along the trail, we returned to a nice long deep run where Danny foul hooked a brown trout during the early afternoon. He decided to give it another try, so we paused and he added a pink San Juan worm to his line. On the seventh drift through this attractive stretch of water, his indicator paused, and he set the hook. His six weight rod throbbed but after a tough battle, he landed a handsome fourteen inch brown with thick shoulders. This was a fitting end to our day in Cheesman.


Tuckasegee River, NC – 05/12/2015

Time: 9:30AM – 12:00PM

Location: One mile upstream from Dillsboro in delayed harvest section

Fish Landed: 9

Tuckasegee River, NC 05/12/2015 Photo Album

Jane and I attended our son Dan’s graduation from Fuqua Business School at Duke University on Saturday May 9. We are so proud of Dan’s accomplishment; graduating from the top ranked business school in the United States. Dan’s girlfriend, Ariel, joined us for the weekend, and on Sunday we drove west across North Carolina to Sylva. Ariel is enrolled in the physical therapy program at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, which is a small town a few miles away from Sylva. Since Ariel did not have to work on Monday, we visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park and completed a moderate hike to Rainbow Falls.

On Tuesday Ariel was scheduled to return to work, and we planned to drive from Sylva, NC to Kannapolis to visit my sister, so this provided us a morning to explore more of southwestern North Carolina. Dan indicated that he would like to fish, and of course I was on board with that suggestion. The main outstanding question was where? I did some online research on Sunday evening, and we scouted some attractive Great Smoky Mountain freestones during our drive to hike on Monday.

When we returned to Sylva on Monday afternoon, we attempted to visit some fly shops in town, but Hookers Fly Shop was closed and the fishing expert in another outdoor store on the main street was absent. I abandoned the idea of obtaining local intelligence, so we adjourned to Innovation Brewing Company for some Smoky Mountain craft beers. While the four of us sat at a table relishing the excellent frothy beverages, I noticed that the bartender was wearing a fishing shirt, so I approached him and asked for fly fishing recommendations. He replied that he indeed was a fly fishermen, but suggested that I would probably obtain better information from two young gentlemen seated at the end of the bar.

Indeed Kyle and Thomas were guides for Fontana Guides, and they were enjoying a quick bite to eat before returning to the river. I peppered them with questions, thanked them for sharing information, and bought them ginger ales. They recommended fishing the delayed harvest area of the Tuckasegee River which was only a few miles away from Sylva. They said we should fish between Dillsboro and the 107 bridge, and they actually recommended a few flies with golden stonefly dries and nymphs mentioned several times. Thomas checked his phone and concluded that the flows should be nearly ideal on Tuesday morning. I also asked if the river contained entirely stocked fish, and they both vehemently emphasized that there were a lot of stocked fish, but it was also possible to catch some sizable carry overs.

Armed with this local information, Dan and I decided to give it a try. Dan fished the Tuckasegee once earlier on a visit to see Ariel, but it did not sound like he spent much time there. Tuesday morning was cool and misty as Dan, Jane and I pulled off the road that borders the delayed harvest section of the Tuckasegee River. We planned to gear up and fish while leaving the keys for Jane, so she could explore Dillsboro or hike one of the nearby trails or dirt roads.

Dan Tests the Tuckasegee River

We parked near a nice stretch of the river that contained numerous small islands and exposed boulders with attractive deep troughs and runs behind many of the current breaks. The river was wide and quite easy to wade at the flow levels in place on Tuesday morning. Based on Thomas’s recommendation I gave Dan a rubber leg stonefly nymph to begin, while I meanwhile tied on a conehead pine squirrel leech plus a beadhead hares ear. Dan waded toward the middle of the river, and I began casting closer to the roadside bank, and it was not long before I landed a small brook trout and then a brown trout. Now that I was in the river, I was even more encouraged by the structure of the stream as numerous nice deep runs behind large exposed boulders beckoned my nymphs.

Second Landed Fish Was This Brown Trout

Judging from the washed out colors of the two trout that I landed at the beginning of our outing, they were stockers, but we were pleased to have early action in unknown water. Dan was working the runs in front of his position with no success, so I waded over and gave him a pine squirrel leech. When I returned to the river closer to the road, I began to feel cold water rapidly running down my legs inside my waders. I immediately assumed that I somehow tore a hole in my waders and began cursing my luck since I was having such a perfect experience in a new river in North Carolina.

Picture Perfect

As the water continued to soak my long underwear and reached my thick Smartwool socks, I realized that the bite valve on my hydration bladder had fallen off. I quickly grabbed the tube that was tucked inside my wader bib and tossed it outside, but the damage had been done. It was a cruel joke from the fishing gods to have cold water sloshing around inside my waders when I never fell in. I really had no option except to accept my bad luck and move on with the fishing.

I collected my thoughts and shifted my focus to fishing and waded to the bank next to the road where I exited and moved upstream to the tail of a long slow moving pool. Normally I skip this sort of water, but I guessed it might be a gathering hole for stockers, and sure enough on the third drift I felt a tug and lifted my rod. I found myself attached to a rainbow trout that attacked the leech, and this meant I had already achieved a Tuck trifecta with a brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout landed. In addition the natural pine squirrel leech was responsible for my first three fish.

No. 3 Was a Rainbow

Despite my hope that the deep slow water would prove to be a honey hole for stockers, this theory did not prove correct, so I moved on. Dan joined me, and we walked up the road .2 miles until we reached a place near Dan’s car. Here we encountered a nice long run, and I took the bottom position while Dan waded in near the top. Somehow in the process of landing the rainbow trout, I snapped off the hares ear nymph, so I replaced it with a salvation nymph.

Dan Nets a Nice Brook Trout or Rainbow

In short order I landed another brook trout from the lower portion of the run, and then I circled above Dan to explore a deep run that was above him. Dan meanwhile chose to work his way across the deeper current to move toward the far side of the river, but he fished out the middle section as he moved across. This proved to be a productive choice, as he enjoyed his greatest success of the morning by landing three fish including a decent rainbow and then a very nice brown trout. Judging from the bulge in his net, the brown was probably fourteen inches and represented the largest fish landed by us collectively during the morning. The brown trout attacked the leech as it dangled in the current downstream from his position.

Displaying His Catch

Next I moved upstream to a position above a long skinny island, and I was able to extract five additional stocker trout from this area. Four were brook trout and one was another rainbow. Two of the last five landed fish attacked the salvation nymph, and the other three chased and grabbed the leech.

Dave Holds a Brook Trout, Completing the Tuck Trifecta

At noon we decided to call it a day, so we waded back to the car where we found Jane, who returned from a hike to the Riverbend shops in Dillsboro. Jane drove us to the boat launch changing room that was .5 mile downstream, and there I removed my soggy socks and underwear and pulled on some dry clothes. It was a very enjoyable 2.5 hours on the North Carolina tailwater, as Dan and I landed a combined total of fourteen fish. Somehow I chose a pine squirrel leech, and the Smoky Mountain fish found it to their liking. I yearned to spend more time on the area streams, but we had other commitments to honor on our southeastern tour.



Little River, VA – 05/07/2015

Time: 3:30PM – 7:00PM

Location: Private water

Fish Landed: 2

Little River, VA 05/07/2015 Photo Album

David L. is friends with Jake, the owner and operator of Riverbound, which is located in southwestern Virginia. As an investor and member, David arranged for us to fish the Little River on Friday May 7, 2015. David referred to these streams as “managed”, which meant that they are stocked and contain a reasonable quantity of hatchery reared lunkers. The Little River was an hour plus drive from Bristol, TN, and we arrived and began fishing by 3:30PM on Friday afternoon.

Friday turned out to be another nice day, although temperatures climbed into the high 80’s. Given the meandering nature of Little River with long slow moving pools and thinner overhead streamside coverage, the high temperatures translated to warmer water and more difficult fishing conditions especially given our late afternoon arrival. We did hear some thunder and dark clouds appeared on the southern horizon, but we never felt any drops of rain as we prospected the placid waters of Little River.

In order to reach the pastoral stream we had to pass through a locked gate, two cattle gates, and then traverse a short but very rough dirt road. David L. possessed the combination to open the locked gate, and shortly thereafter we arrived at the edge of the river in a parking spot that was no more than a worn off portion of the pasture. The river was a nice width; roughly thirty yards wide at most spots, and it flowed across numerous ledge rocks. This geology produced some very steep drop offs, so we were very cautious whenever we were required to wade. For the most part the section of river that we fished consisted of long pools punctuated by short riffles and runs at the beginning of each slow moving area. The surrounding terrain was a huge pretty pasture, and the stream executed two large oxbow turns in the course of its flow through the private land. The entire pasture and streamside vegetation were decked out in varying shades of green as spring had recently arrived in southwestern Virginia.

This Stocker Slurped a Stimulator

A Pretty Pool Where We Began

When we were prepared to fish, we crossed the river near our parking space and immediately encountered a gorgeous deep pool that ran along a rock ledge wall on the far side with several fallen tree limbs adding more structure. I spotted a handful of caddis as I disturbed some streamside bushes, so I tied a size 14 stimulator with a medium olive body to my line. As I was doing this, I noticed a couple sporadic rises along the current line that slid by the ledge rock walls that bordered the far bank. This prompted me to execute some downstream drifts, and much to my surprise a nine inch rainbow rose and slurped in the stimulator. I was pleased to avoid a skunking almost immediately at the start of my fishing outing.

After releasing the rainbow, I moved up a bit to an attractive place where some branches hung over the current seam, and as I positioned myself I heard and then saw several more random rises. In addition to the presence of small caddis, I now spotted two large mayflies fluttering up from the river. Could these by march browns? David L. arrived at the top of the pool as I switched to a march brown comparadun that I placed in my fly box in case I encountered this large eastern mayfly species. While I was switching flies he caused my anticipation to rise as he landed an eighteen inch rainbow on a sculpzilla streamer. Why was I messing around with these delicate dry fly imitations?

Once I had the march brown attached to my line, I made quite a few prospecting casts to the areas where I spotted rises, but the fish were having none of it. The march brown hatch that I anticipated never materialized, so David L. suggested that we hike to the downstream border of the private water and then fish back to the car. We forded the river again below the long pool and then shortcut across the open end of the oxbow on a tractor trail. We each began fishing large pools with overhanging sycamore limbs, and while I was nearby, David L. experienced a momentary hook up on the streamer. Could this be where I would land my first trout on my peanut envy articulated streamer?

Horses Graze Next to Little River

I decided to defer streamer fishing for a bit and converted to a nymphing rig with the productive ultra zug bug and hares ear nymphs as my offerings. I quickly realized that the deep pools were unproductive and quite boring to fish with my nymphing approach, so I left them for David L. and his streamers, while I moved on and fished the faster runs at the head of each pool. Finally after an hour of fishing in a relatively nondescript riffle about three feet deep, the indicator darted, and I set the hook. I instantly realized that I had a large fish, so I carefully worked the big boy and allowed three or four long runs before it tired, and I was able to gain control. My net barely contained the hefty pink striped rainbow, but once I had it over the rim, I snapped some photos and removed the hares ear and gently revived it. The finned torpedo measured three inches beyond the end of my net opening, but the girth of the lunker was even more impressive.

A Fat Rainbow Was My Second Fish

This episode naturally raised my interest level, but as I moved on I could not replicate my success. I was hoping that some sort of eastern mayfly hatch would commence as darkness approached, so I experimented with a sulfur wet fly with this eventuality in mind. It never happened, and eventually I worked my way completely around the oxbow and returned to the first pool near the car. As the light faded, I spotted a cloud of black caddis above the water, but my efforts to imitate with a dark bodied stimulator dry produced only a brief hook up with a medium sized rainbow trout. I was not able to entice any more action on the stimulator despite some violent rises in the area, but they were quite random and spaced out.

A Nice Area on the Return

As I waited for David L. to return, I tied on a Cathy’s super bugger and stripped it near the beginning of the pool, but once again my attempts at streamer fishing proved fruitless. When David arrived we decided to call it a day and waded back to the Suburban to begin our trip back to Bristol, TN.

South Holston River, TN – 05/06/2015

Time: 3:30PM – 7:00PM

Location: Boat launch just below dam

Fish Landed: 0

South Holston River, TN 05/06/2015 Photo Album

As mentioned in the Beaver Dam Creek post, the telephone report informed us that the South Holston River was carrying elevated flows due to releases from the dam. My host and guide, David L., therefore concluded that we would enjoy better success if we drifted the river and worked streamers by casting to the bank and retrieving. Once we finished fishing Beaver Dam Creek we reversed our course until we reached David’s brother’s house where we reconnected the trailer and boat to the Suburban. A short drive later brought us to the boat launch just downstream of the dam on the South Holston River.

David L’s John Boat

As suggested by the report, the flows lapped over the river bank where it was low, but the water was crystal clear with great visibility. Before we launched the boat, David L. configured two streamer rods with lead core sinking heads and large articulated sculpzilla style flies. David L’s john boat had a keel and outboard motor which meant we did not need to arrange a shuttle pick up for the end of our float; instead we would motor back upstream with the aid of the outboard.

David L. Prepares to Fish

At the start of the float, David powered on the motor, and we moved up the river a short distance to a position just above the bridge and below a low head dam. We shot casts to both sides of the boat with no luck, and then I pulled up the anchor and we began drifting along the bank opposite the boat launch. For the remainder of the three hour trip, David L. toggled between positioning the boat with his oars and fishing. I felt guilty that he was burdened with navigation duties and thus unable to log as much fishing time as me.

Good Looking Slick Next to a Tree

I was using one of David’s six weight rods with the sinking head, and the afternoon and evening session evolved into an exercise of slinging the heavy rig to the bank and then rapidly stripping the fly back to the boat. Initially David suggested that I was not stripping fast enough, so I accelerated my strokes, but even with this change in tactics I managed only one momentary hook up with a small brown trout. David switched to a smaller sculpzilla that was not articulated, and after the change he hooked and landed two small brown trout. If he could have relinquished paddling duties, he probably would have landed five or six fish during our float.

David L. Works His Streamer

Eventually we drifted to a point just above a large bridge crossing, and here we turned around and motored back up the river to the launch site. Much to our surprise, the propeller struck bottom in one relatively shallow riffle stretch, but we still managed to return safely, albeit at a somewhat reduced speed.

The river was beautiful and mostly bordered by bright green leafy woods. I could see that it would be a pleasant river to wade fish when flows were down as it was wide and offered numerous current breaks. I practiced and improved my streamer technique, but the feedback from the denizens of the South Holston River indicates that I still have much to learn.


Beaver Dam Creek, TN – 05/06/2015

Time: 11:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Cherokee National Forest above Shady Valley

Fish Landed: 6

Beaver Dam Creek, TN 05/06/2015 Photo Album

My son’s graduation from Fuqua Business School, my niece’s wedding, and visits to my sister and friends were all in the plans, as I boarded a U.S. Airways jet and made the flight from Denver to Tri Cities, TN. While working at Air Products and Chemicals I became acquainted with David Luther, the owner of an industrial gas distributor business that was acquired in the 90’s, and we discovered that we both had a passion for fly fishing. David L. vacationed in Colorado several times since my departure from Air Products, and we met on the stream several times. David L. offered me an open invitation to visit him in Tennessee to sample some of the local quality rivers, so I decided to accept his offer, and I added three days to the front of my southeastern U.S. tour.

David picked me up at the small northeastern Tennessee airport and transported me to his beautiful home on the edge of Bristol, TN. After dinner at Quaker Steak and Lube, we returned to the house, and David L. called the information line for the South Holston River. Unfortunately he discovered that the operators were releasing water all day on Wednesday, and this made flows too high to effectively wade fish. I read articles about the sulfur hatch on the South Holston, and I was quite anxious to experience the quality fishing that was described. David L. was undeterred, and he suggested that we would float the tailwater in his john boat, and he was confident that we would have success.

Because our day now involved a two pronged approach that included wade fishing a nearby Appalachian freestone waterway called Beaver Dam Creek and then floating the South Holston in a boat in the afternoon, we were delayed a bit with the task of hitching the boat to David L.’s Suburban and then dropping it at his brother’s house near the river. We then continued without the burden of the boat trailer over a high mountain ridge to a town called Shady Valley, home of an annual cranberry festival. David told me that Shady Valley was the farthest south that cranberries could be grown, and he pointed to an area to our right that used to consist of bogs formed by Beaver Dam Creek.

Beaver Dam Creek Is a Beautiful Mountain Stream

We turned left in Shady Valley and proceeded along the gorgeous stream until we entered Cherokee National Forest, and then we found a nice wide parking space among the dense trees and rhododendrons and prepared to fish. David had a neat way of marking the entry points to the stream that facilitated playing leap frog. He pulled a wide yellow tape from his bag, and then we found a suitable stick to which he knotted the highly visible yellow ribbon. When the upstream angler entered the stream, he planted the stick along the bank. When the downstream fisherman arrived at the marker, he simply removed it and then walked upstream to a point above the upstream fisherman and planted the marker again.

The weather was ideal with sunshine and high temperatures in the low 80’s, but the thick forest canopy along Beaver Dam Creek blocked the sun’s rays, and the air temperature was comfortable in the shade. The size of the stream was also ideal with a width that was somewhat larger than Brush Creek in Colorado. The flows were high but clear and probably perfect for early May in eastern Tennessee.

I planted the yellow marker and waded into the stream below an inviting pool, while David L. hiked along a faint path to a position farther downstream. I assessed the circumstances and decided to launch my southeastern tour with a Chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug and hares ear nymph. This trio of flies have been my most productive imitations over the last year, so why not see if they worked in the southeast? Unfortunately the strategy did not pay dividends, and I fished for twenty minutes and through several nice holes with only a refusal. If they refused the Chernobyl, could this mean they were looking to the surface for their food? I noticed a few caddis buzzing about near the surface, so I switched to a size 14 gray stimulator.

This Stimulator Produced Two Trout

The bushy single dry fly changed my fortunes and yielded two buttery wild brown trout. The second fish slurped the attractor dry after I spotted a rise in a run near the head of a deep pool. Catching the brown on a high floating stimulator on a swollen crystal clear mountain stream lined with rhododendrons was exactly the vision I had when I began fishing. Unfortunately I could not get comfortable with this style of fishing, as I covered more very attractive water with no results. Doubts crept into my mind over the effectiveness of a dry fly in high cold spring flows, so I decided to convert to a nymphing approach.

A Bright Brown Trout with a Stimulator Lip

A Rainbow Snatched the Ultra Zug Bug

I knotted an ultra zug bug to my line as my top offering and then added the hares ear nymph as my point. This move paid off, and I began catching fish. One especially delicious deep run yielded two nice rainbows and my best fish of the afternoon; a thirteen inch chunky brown trout that tugged the ultra zug bug at the very top of the run. By 2:30 I landed six feisty trout from Beaver Dam Creek; two rainbows and four browns. At this point David L. caught up to me, and he suggested that we should find our way back to the car if we hoped to sample the South Holston River.

A Pretty Section of Beaver Dam Creek

The three hours on Beaver Dam Creek turned out to be my favorite outing for the Tennessee and Virginia portion of my southeastern United States trip. The ice cold clear mountain flows, the thick mountain vegetation, and the bright green of fresh spring growth supplemented the brightly colored wild trout. It was a sensory delight.

Brilliant Colors on This Brown Trout


Arkansas River – 05/01/2015

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Fremont – Chafee county line

Fish Landed: 10

Arkansas River 05/01/2015 Photo Album

When we discussed our plans for Friday, Danny decided he wanted retribution for all the lost fish on Thursday and therefore wanted to return to the same place that we fished the previous day. Our plan was locked in, or at least we thought so until I met one of the other young campers at Vallie Bridge. He was wearing a Duke hoodie so I asked him if he was a Duke fan or graduate, and the conversation eventually led to a discussion regarding the whereabouts of the caddis. The young man volunteered that he and his friend were heading downstream toward Texas Creek as some fishermen told them the heaviest hatch was in that locale. Now Danny and I were faced with a dilemma. Should we change our plans to search for the much hyped caddis hatch, or should we return to the Fremont – Chafee county line so Danny could seek vengeance on unsuspecting Arkansas River brown trout?

I suggested that we could spend the morning on a return tour of the Fremont – Chafee area, and then if the fishing was slow, we could make the drive east to Texas Creek in search of the elusive caddis hatch. We packed up all our camping equipment and drove west on route 50 to the Fremont – Chafee county line where we parked and then crossed the river at the tail of the long pool. Once on the north side of the river we ascended the steep bank and hiked down the railroad tracks to the spot below the small island. On Friday we continued farther down along the river and began fishing in a long shelf pool.

I elected to test an old producer; a yellow Letort hopper, and added a beadhead ultra zug bug on a 3.5 foot long dropper. Danny began with a nymphing rig, so I relinquished the deep portion of the pool to him and moved immediately to the narrow top section where the river spilled over some large rocks. In a very short amount of time I foul hooked a brown, and then added two momentary hook ups in two very short marginal pockets along the bank. In the next attractive shelf pool I experienced a refusal, so I began to question my choice of the Letort hopper. It was extremely effective in catching the attention of the trout, but they were turning away at the last instant.

Once again I ceded most of the next pool to Danny and moved to the riffles at the top, but unlike Thursday this area did not produce a fish nor even a refusal. I was eager to approach the right channel around the island, but Danny was still methodically working his way through the pool below me, so I called out that I planned to fish up along the left side of the island and then return when he caught up.

Out of the Net

Top of the Island

In the first small pocket next to the bottom tip of the island I observed yet another refusal to the size 10 hopper. The shape of the hopper is similar to a caddis although ten times larger. Could these fish be drawn to the body shape, but then execute a reversal when they discovered the excessive size? I decided to test my theory and tied on a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. This proved to be a winner, and I landed two medium sized brown trout from pockets along the island until I reached the whitewater at the top, at which point I turned around and walked back to the bottom where Danny was beginning to cast his dry/dropper arrangement. I told him of my success with the size 16 caddis and offered him some of mine.

Danny and I now began to move into the long pool at the bottom of the north channel. Danny’s water looked more attractive than mine, but he was seeking retribution so I relinquished it to him. My side was largely wide shallow slow moving water, whereas, deep runs and pockets screamed big fish all along his side of the river. Sometimes you cannot go by appearances. There were very few caddis in the air particularly when compared to the cloud of small tent wing insects that hovered over the water on Thursday afternoon at the Vallie Bridge lease site. I began tossing long casts to the shallow tail of the pool on the left side and much to my amazement, two fat fourteen inch brown trout rose and confidently sucked in my fly. This was too good to be true. There were no visible caddis on the water, minimal evidence of a hatch in the surrounding bushes, and I was catching nice fish in the less attractive shallow side water.

Danny Ties on a Deer Hair Caddis

As I photographed and released the two brown trout, I certainly caught Danny’s attention. I suggested that he switch from the dry/dropper approach to a single deer hair caddis, and he wandered over to my position to receive two of the ten imitations that were arranged in my front pack. We resumed our casting, and I quickly picked off another fine brown from left side of the current seam that ran down the middle of the pool. Next I moved up five feet or so and made a long cast to the middle portion of the shallow slow moving left side, and once again I was amazed to witness a slow confident slurp of my deer hair caddis. Again this proved to be a solid healthy fifteen inch brown, and I once again snapped some photos.

Very Nice Chunky Brown Trout

Danny meanwhile observed a refusal to his size 16 caddis, and then I nabbed a fifth chunky brown from the center current seam. I could sense that Danny was feeling left out of the fun, so I offered a switch, and he readily accepted my offer. We switched positions, and he resumed the progression up the left side of the north braid, while I crossed to the north bank and began working up along the right side of the center current seam and prospected all the likely deep pockets and runs. The water looked ridiculously delicious, and it did in fact produce two additional nice fish plus one foul hooked escapee, but it paled in comparison to the left portion.

Close Up of the Healthy Brown

While I moved cautiously forward, Danny began to connect with regularity similar to my previous experience. I counted at least five landed fish, and Danny guided one downstream to a point across from me so I could photograph a sixteen or seventeen inch leviathan. I rarely catch fish on the Arkansas in excess of fifteen inches, so this catch was quite noteworthy.

Best Fish of the Trip for Danny

We both now converged at the top of the island, and we decided to use a leap frog strategy to cover the right bank as we moved up the river. It was slightly after noon, so I found a nice grassy spot on the bank and munched my sandwich and carrots, but Danny was still working off his adrenalin rush from the holy water. He wolfed down his sandwich in five minutes and resumed his manic casting and wading.

Unfortunately after lunch the game changed considerably. Since we never saw an abundance of caddis during the red hot action of late morning, I can only assume that the bright sun and warmer temperatures caused the fish to become lethargic and less interested in snatching our deer hair caddis from the surface. We moved upstream through some attractive areas, but neither of us were able to resurrect our morning success.


When we reached our crossing point, we debated returning to the car to seek another location, but I saw some large gray clouds building in the west, so I guessed that the action might improve if we continued on the north bank toward the west. I was familiar with this water, and I knew there were some very productive stretches ahead of us. Danny agreed with my suggestion, and we continued on, but my theory did not prove out. Danny’s confidence sank and there were several periods where he sat down and rested and watched me.

When the fish ceased showing interest in my size 16 caddis after lunch, I switched to a dry/dropper configuration with a Charlie boy hopper, beadhead ultra zug bug and beadhead hares ear, and these flies remained on my line for the remainder of the day. During one of the time slots when Danny watched and rested, I lobbed a backhand cast to a deep run behind a large boulder, and as we both looked on, a mouth appeared and engulfed the Charlie boy. I set the hook and an underwater missile rocketed downstream. I applied pressure as best I could but in short order the fish broke off all my flies, and I reeled up a vacant tapered leader. This bit of excitement provoked Danny to resume casting.

Long Slender Rainbow

Finally after several hours of fruitless casting, I approached a juicy section of the river consisting of large submerged and protruding boulders with nice deep pockets and runs flowing around the current breaks. Normally I view this type of water as prime brown trout habitat, but on Friday the browns seemed to be spread out in shallow riffles and next to the bank. Sure enough as the Charlie boy drifted down along a current seam, it took a dip and I set the hook and fought a spirited fish. When I slid my net beneath the rugged fighter, I discovered a seventeen inch rainbow. I was proud to make this my tenth catch of the day, and the long slender rainbow gave me a temporary boost in confidence.

I convinced Danny to make one more forward leap, so we ascended the steep bank and walked west along the railroad tracks for another 100 yards and then descended to some nice shallow runs and riffles, where we split the sections. I fished my way upstream once again and finally after twenty minutes without success, a fish emerged near my Charlie boy. I set the hook, but either I was premature or the fish refused my fly, and this resulted in another foul hooked incident. The fish got free before I netted it, but the tussle created a huge tangle of all my flies, so I used this as an excuse to call it a day and waded back downstream until I found Danny.

Did we succeed in finding the elusive Arkansas River spring caddis hatch? When compared to several of the exciting experiences of my past when caddis blanketed the river and crawled into every available nook of my physical person, the answer is no. But for two hours on Friday morning, the brown trout in the area of the Arkansas River where we were fishing were feasting on our deer hair caddis with reckless abandon. It may not have been the core caddis emergence, but it was an incredible period of fast action, and we were rewarded with nice fish in the 13 – 17 inch range. No complaints will be voiced by Dave and Danny.

Arkansas River – 04/30/2015

Time: 11:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: Upstream from Vallie Bridge; Fremont – Chafee county line

Fish Landed: 8

Arkansas River 04/30/2015 Photo Album

Every year at this time I visit the Arkansas River in my perpetual quest to locate the sweet spot of the annual grannom caddis hatch. In my 25 years in Colorado I discovered this to be a frustrating hit or miss proposition. In 2015 Danny Ryan joined me in the difficult search for the mythical leading edge of the emergence, as he read the stories but was too new to Colorado and the sport of fly fishing to have experienced the madness. The ArkAnglers report indicated that the hatch advanced to Salida, and caddis were present throughout Big Horn Sheep Canyon. I’ve grown to distrust the fly shop reports as they are always bullish in an effort to attract front range fishermen and their wallets. I’m sure they are truthful in stating that caddis are present, but the density of the hatch and precise location are left to one’s imagination.

I picked Danny up at 8AM on Thursday, and he added his fishing and camping gear to the Santa Fe. We made the uneventful drive southwest on US 285 and then turned left on CO 291 and passed through Salida. We decided to begin our caddis hatch exploration upstream from Vallie Bridge between Coaldale and Howard. This was near our targeted campground, and it was farther downstream than Salida and, therefore, we felt offered a higher likelihood of stumbling into the center of the hatch progression. As we traveled via US 50 along the river below Salida, we were disappointed to find nearly every pullout occupied with multiple vehicles. Was this really a weekday, and would we find fishing space farther downstream?

We made the turn off and crossed Vallie Bridge and then drove west on the dirt road that paralleled the north shore of the river until we reached the lease parking lot. Two vehicles occupied spaces, but we noticed that the owners were returning from the river. We were pleased to discover that we had our choice of river real estate, at least for the moment. It developed into a rather warm day with temperatures eventually peaking in the high 70’s, so we lathered up with sunscreen and made sure we carried adequate water supplies. I broke out my new Sage One five weight, and together we found a nice path across a dry irrigation ditch and then moved through some willows that opened up at the tail of a long deep pool.

Danny claimed the tail of the long pool while I advanced to the head and set up my nymph rig with an ultra zug bug and bright green caddis pupa. I worked the deep run for fifteen minutes, and then I snagged the bottom in an area that was too deep to approach. I eventually pried my flies loose, but the pent up energy from the whipping lift launched the flies into a large branch in a tree above me. I was unable to reach the limb and resigned myself to a total break off. The tree clung to my split shot and two flies. I sat down and reconfigured my nymphing arrangement, but substituted a prince nymph for the ultra zug bug.

Five casts later I lost track of my position under a tree, and I launched my backhand cast into another tree limb. The result of this error in judgment was the same as the previous stroke of bad luck, and I once again donated a split shot and two flies to mother nature. I was now uttering unspeakable words and exhibiting outward signs of extreme frustration, so I sat down once again and decided to abandon the nymph game and instead converted to a double dry fly strategy. I rarely fish two dries, but I loved the idea of showing the fish a Chernobyl ant and a size 16 olive-brown caddis. The Chernobyl was on fire on Clear Creek and the Big Thompson River, so why wouldn’t it work here? The caddis was a no-brainer since quite a few of the winged creatures were on the willows, and we were on the Arkansas River in search of a caddis hatch.

A Caddis in the Corner of This Fish’s Mouth

The ploy worked in short order and a nice chunky 13 inch brown tipped up and slurped in the trailing caddis in a nice run near the bank above the fly thieving trees. My optimism surged as I moved along the bank and popped long prospecting casts to likely trout havens, but alas the success became fleeting.

Danny approached from below and given the lack of action and the warm temperatures, we decided to retreat to the car for lunch. While we ate our small meal, several additional fishermen arrived, and when we returned to our exit point, we discovered that a trio of hopeful anglers usurped our continuation spot. We were not experiencing great success so we circled around them and dropped back to the rivers edge a respectful distance above the other fishermen. I resumed casting the double dry upstream along the bank, and in a twelve foot long and ten foot wide run I enticed a second brown trout to gulp the trailing caddis.

Unfortunately our progress was once again impeded by the presence of another fisherman, so we circled around by climbing a high bank, and then we found a gradual dry wash that enabled us to approach the river’s edge again. We fished some attractive water in this area but then our upstream migration was once again impeded by a large vertical rock wall. The quality of the fishing did not merit continually climbing and descending, so we decided to return to the car and move to another spot.

Upon our return to the car we debated our options. Perhaps moving downstream would put us in the midst of a heavy caddis emergence. On the other hand, I was quite familiar with the quality stretch between Wellsville and Salida, and could attest to the dense population on large brown and rainbow trout. There were no guarantees that we could locate the hatch sweet spot, so we elected to travel west. At a minimum it would be an opportunity to introduce Danny to some quality water, and we could scout it for Friday. There had to be a reason so many fishermen were present in the morning as we traveled east on our trip from Denver.

Danny Walking the Railroad Tracks

We drove thirty minutes west on US 50 and parked along the highway high above the river between Wellsville and Salida. It was now around 3PM and some large dark clouds were building in the western sky as we descended the steep bank and crossed to the north side of the river. After a five minute hike down the railroad tracks, we reached the river and resumed fishing. Since we spotted far fewer caddis on the branches and rocks along the river, we abandoned the caddis dry fly approach and converted to dry/dropper fishing.

I began with a Chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug and beadhead hares ear and started prospecting a wide shelf pool. A shelf pool is a place where the main current pushes water to the side creating a steeply tapering trough between the main current and the shoreline. My attitude improved when I foul hooked a brown in the first pool because at least the fish showed interest. I circled around Danny and advanced to the wide riffle at the top of the shelf pool, and here I began drifting my trio of flies along the inside seam. Yikes, the Chernobyl dipped, and I reacted with a swift hook set and instantly felt the weight of a decent fish. I carefully landed a nice chunky brown trout and gently removed the ultra zug bug from its lip.

Next I waded across the riffle, and as the flies dangled downstream in the current a small brown slammed the ultra zug bug. Clearly I was experiencing a dramatic change in fortunes. The sky was now quite overcast and a brisk breeze kicked up from time to time. The weather changed, and it seemed the fish grew more active. I released the small brown and positioned myself in the middle of the riffle so I could effectively reach a nice deep seam where the currents merged below the tip of the island. I made several casts and allowed the flies to drift through the deep slot created by the merging currents, and on the fifth such pass, the foam top fly dipped at the downstream tail of the trough. The weight on the end of my line streaked upstream and then down until I applied side pressure and maneuvered a hefty fifteen inch brown trout into my net. Nice!

Zoomed in on a Gorgeous Brown

Next we moved into the right channel around a small narrow island, and Danny worked the middle and right side while I advanced along the left half of the braid. My dry/dropper combination covered the length of the left side of the north channel, and I landed two additional quality brown trout. In the process of landing the first fish, the bottom fly broke off, so I replaced it with a soft hackle emerger with no bead, and this fly yielded the second brown.

Still Working

Meanwhile Danny was working through some ill fortune. He managed to land one nice brown, but this was the only fish to find the net out of six opportunities. Two Amy’s ants were left in the lips of fish, and one heavy fighter sawed off Danny’s juju nymph on a large subsurface rock.

Definitely an Ultra Zug Bug

We skipped the water above the island and then covered the quality deep pockets and runs before reaching our crossing point. In one sweet spot where two currents merged near the bank, I hooked a hot rainbow, but as I guided the feisty fish toward Danny to net, it performed a quick U-turn and slipped free of my hook. Danny got a good look at the fish and described a rainbow in excess of fifteen inches.

The soft hackle emerger seemed to be irrelevant in the late afternoon, so I swapped it with a LaFontaine dark gray diving caddis. I was anticipating egg laying adult caddis becoming active in the late afternoon and early evening. The ploy worked as I landed a medium sized brown from a run behind a boulder as the wet fly began to swing at the end of the drift. When we reached our crossing point, we decided to call it quits and  returned to the car and ultimately to the Vallie Bridge Campground.

After a tasty chicken red curry dinner, Danny spotted some rising fish along the south bank of the river below Vallie Bridge, so he put on his waders and made the crossing. I tagged along and stayed on the bridge to watch his persistent efforts to dupe one of the risers. The fish continued to rise sporadically throughout the twilight period, but the activity seemed to happen in brief waves. Danny rotated through an array of flies until finally trying one of my Chernobyl ants at dusk. I looked away momentarily, but upon hearing some serious thrashing, I whirled around in time to see a fish shake the fly from its lip. Danny was disappointed for a moment, but eventually we both celebrated his ability to actually entice a take on a Chernobyl ant in near darkness.

Danny Works the Water at Dusk Below Vallie Bridge

It was a fitting way to end a strange day on the Arkansas River. We failed to locate the fabled caddis hatch and suffered through a dead period during the middle of the day only to stumble into some decent action on a portion of the river that appeared to be largely devoid of caddis. Danny was frustrated by his inability to land a higher percentage of his hook ups, but he did generate some action. He was haunted by the large brown that sawed him off on a rock, and his goal for Friday became seeking revenge on the elusive Arkansas brown trout in the area we fished on Thursday late afternoon.

Our Campsite Viewed from the Bridge



Big Thompson River – 04/29/2015

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: Downstream from the end of the catch and release at Waltonia Road
Fish Landed: 12

Big Thompson River 04/29/2015 Photo Album

Three hours of fishing on Tuesday were merely a tease, and I was itching for a longer stint of fly fishing with enough time to sink into a nice steady rhythm. Since I made plans for a two day excursion to the Arkansas River with Danny Ryan on Thursday and Friday, I did not wish to commit to a long drive on Wednesday. I surveyed the local options and settled on the Big Thompson River. The Big Thompson was severely impacted by the September 2013 flood, and I read that significant mileage was now devoid of fish, but electroshocking results in the eight miles below Olympus Dam actually yielded higher fish counts than prior to the high water event. I fished the Big Thompson one time in 2014 with fair results, so I decided to make a second post-flood visit.

Prior to departing I checked the CDOT web site in case significant delays continued on the main arteries to Estes Park and the Big Thompson River. Sure enough the map displayed construction cones on route 36 between Lyons and Estes Park, and when I tapped the cone, I learned that seven miles of my favorite route were reduced to one-way traffic Monday through Friday. Armed with this valuable information I chose the slightly longer but unobstructed route through Loveland and along the lower Big Thompson River. The water between Loveland and Drake was significantly stained, and I began to worry that I made a bad decision, and I would be fishing in murky conditions similar to Clear Creek on Tuesday.

I was relieved to discover however that the source of the  turbid flow was the North Fork of the Big Thompson which entered at the town of Drake, and once I traveled above this confluence, the water appeared to be nearly clear. Even though I’d driven this way in May 2014, I was still shocked by the stark scene of a stream tumbling through a wide trough covered with large boulders with virtually no vegetation along the banks. The flood apparently scoured all the trees and shrubs, and vegetation has not yet repopulated the riparian corridor. The riverbed rocks were stained an amber color, and this color bled through the stream flow to create the appearance of rusty water.

Flood Destroyed Vegetation

When I reached the Waltonia Bridge at the extreme downstream border of the catch and release area, I pulled into a wide pullout and prepared to fish. I chose to use my Sage four weight rod for the comparatively narrow Big Thompson, and since the Chernobyl ant served me well on Clear Creek, I decided to offer it to Big Thompson fish. In fact I knotted the very same fly to my line that hooked all the Clear Creek fish. I began casting to pockets below the bridge and quickly moved to a position above the special regulation water. In a short amount of time I hooked and landed two tiny rainbow trout that were no more than three inches long. These fish caused me to suspect that the DOW stocked fingerling rainbows in an attempt to replenish the fish density after the flood. I began to have misgivings about my choice to fish so far downstream from Olympus Dam. How far downstream did the positive electroshocking results extend?

The One and Only Producer on Wednesday

Nice Beginning

In a deep slot behind a large boulder just above the bridge, I was somewhat reassured when a nice twelve inch brown darted to the surface and slurped the Chernobyl ant. At least I knew there were some fish in the lower portion of the catch and release water. After the brown trout I covered quite a bit of water with no action and once again doubts crept into my head. Perhaps the brown was an aberrant fish, and fish density was quite low? I observed a few caddis in the air, so I decided to cover my bases and added a three foot dropper to the Chernobyl ant and then added an emerald caddis pupa as the point fly.

Nicest Fish on the Day

For some reason the dropper caused the fish to refuse the Chernobyl, and the caddis pupa was drawing no interest, so I clipped it off and returned to the single foam attractor as my offering. With the air temperature now climbing, the fish became more active and I landed four more brown trout before breaking for lunch. I was now convinced that sufficient fish remained in this section of the Big Thompson River to keep me entertained, although I was puzzled that they were all brown trout. The Big Thompson historically yielded 60-70% rainbow trout. Were the rainbows congregated somewhere for spawning or did they not survive the flood as well as the brown trout? I could only speculate on this sudden shift in the species ratio of my catch on the Big Thompson.

After lunch I crossed to the bank away from the highway and resumed my upstream progress while adding seven more brown trout to my fish count. It was a beautiful day with mainly bright sunshine and a cloudless blue sky, and the high temperature peaked in the low 60’s. A slight breeze rushed through the canyon from time to time, but it never impacted the fishing.

Nice Fish Smacked Chenobyl Next to the Foam

The water I fished was nearly all pockets and plunge pools, and the lower catch and release area became my private domain. This allowed me to move quickly without any concern of bumping into other fishermen. I scrambled over rocks and moved from pocket to pocket while popping the Chernobyl in all the likely spots with typically three to five drifts. As I prospected in this manner, I held my rod high to keep the fly line off the water and prevent drag. The most productive locations seemed to be deep slow flows next to structure. Most of the time the structure was large bankside boulders, but occasionally a log or an irregularity in the bank served the same purpose.

After my fish count reached twelve, the fish became more tentative toward the Chernobyl, and I experienced a streak of four or five hookups that escaped before finding my net. It seemed the fish were barely nipping the fly, and my hook set consequently had minimal staying power. My son Dan texted me that he had success on Scott Creek in North Carolina with a woolly bugger below a thingamabobber, so I decided to experiment with his approach on the Big Thompson. It was a nice thought, but it failed to produce so I reversed everything and returned to a single dry, albeit a size 14 stimulator with a medium olive body. This fly failed to live up to the Chernobyl performance, and I was about to return to the black oversized ant when I checked my watch and noticed it was 3PM. I was feeling quite weary from rock climbing, so I decided to halt my quest for trout at twelve and returned to the car.

Wednesday was a fun day. Fly fishing was reduced to its simplest form as I moved frequently and often and used only a size 10 Chenobyl ant. Success was totally dependent on a stealthy approach, reading the water, and executing a drag free drift. I’ll be returning to the Big Thompson again during the 2015 season.