Monthly Archives: April 2016

Brush Creek – 04/30/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 1:30PM

Location: Confluence with Eagle River and then upstream in Eagle Ranch Water.

Fish Landed: 1

Brush Creek 04/30/2016 Photo Album

Saturday April 30 was our getaway day from Eagle Ranch, and the weather forecast appeared to be a mirror image of what Dave G and I endured on Friday. The high temperature was projected to peak at fifty degrees, and rain and snow were expected to descend off and on throughout the duration of the day. Dave G was unable to reach the owners of the private water to secure approval, so we made alternative plans.

Dave G. suggested that we begin fishing in the Eagle River at the confluence with Brush Creek. This strategy would enable us to fish in the bigger water of the Eagle in case the action and size of fish we experienced on Friday translated to the lower water by the confluence. If the Eagle was not productive, we could move into Brush Creek. I approved of Dave G.’s plan, and it was 39 degrees when we parked at the lot off of Violet Lane at 10:30 and hiked to the river. I bundled up similar to Friday, and I felt like the Michelin man of tire advertisement fame.

Two other fishermen were preparing to fish, so we hustled to beat them to the confluence. Fortunately we already had our waders on and our rods rigged, so we were successful in our efforts to reach the water first. We made a beeline for the deep run below where Brush Creek merges with the Eagle River, and I began my quest for fish with a beaded red San Juan worm and trailed an ultra zug bug behind it.

Dave G was ready before me, so he took the top half of the run below the entrance of Brush Creek, and I began in the bottom half. I fished it thoroughly for fifteen minutes with no results, so I moved to the attractive edge pockets above Brush Creek. I covered the deepest areas, and half way through this pursuit I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a salad spinner. I did not sniff any action, so I reeled up my flies and joined Dave G on Brush Creek. By now the two fishermen in the parking lot were scanning Brush Creek, and it appeared they were about to fish from the Eagle River up to Violet Lane, so Dave G and I returned to the car and moved to the shoulder of Violet Lane just below the route 6 bridge.

We advanced upstream from there and prospected a very nice long run and pool. I switched to a fat Albert with a beadhead hares ear and salad spinner, but this change did not improve my success rate to something greater than zero. Dave G was fairly convinced that Brush Creek was not going to be productive, since this honey hole did not produce, so we debated whether to move upstream to the Eagle Ranch section of Brush or to return to the Horn Ranch segment of the Eagle River, where we had decent success on Friday.

Because it was cold and Brush Creek was closer and easier to fish, and we were already rigged with dry/dropper configurations, we chose Brush Creek. Horn Ranch would have entailed switching back to a nymphing rig. We walked the short distance back to the car and drove back to Eagle Ranch where we parked at the bridge on Capitol Street and bushwhacked through the meadow until we reached the upper border of the private water. Over the next 1.5 hours we worked our way back to the Capitol Street bridge before quitting for the day.

This Pool Yielded My Only Fish on the Day

The second pool that I fished outside the private water was a huge bend pool where the current ran directly into a high bank and deflected at a ninety degree turn. I lobbed several casts directly upstream so that the fat Albert and trailing flies floated along the current seam back toward the bank. On the fourth drift the fat Albert paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a fish. Initially I thought the fish was foul hooked, but once I coaxed it into my net, I realized that it wrapped some line around its body in its efforts to reach freedom, and the beadhead hares ear was firmly embedded in the corner of the mouth. I snapped some photos, as I was not certain I would see any additional fish besides this nice thirteen inch specimen.

My One and Only Brush Creek Catch

After releasing the precious brown trout, I proceeded upstream and prospected all the likely sweet spots that delivered fish in past visits to this waterway. Nothing. Dave G., whose confidence was already tattered at the lower end of Brush Creek by the Eagle River, experienced the same success rate. At 1:30 we reached the bridge, and the fish gave us no reason to continue fishing, and the rain picked up a bit. We were both damp and chilled and hungry, so we called it quits and returned to the warmth of Dave G’s house.

A Tumbleweed Collection Point

Where were the fish? Dave G had no explanation. My theory is that Brush Creek is nearly 100% a brown trout fishery. Brown trout are much less opportunistic than rainbows or other trout species. The water was cold, and there was little evidence of any hatching activity, so the browns retreated to their prime holding lies for safety and to conserve energy until some more abundant food source lured them out to more open feeding locations. The spots we were fishing were the locations that they claimed for feeding when food was more abundant. If I were forced to return to Brush Creek under similar conditions as Saturday, I would switch to a streamer, and I would be very selective and strip the meat past the undercut banks and along logs and rocks where the brown trout might hold. Perhaps a large minnow or crawfish imitation might lure a cautious brown trout from the security of its protected lair.

My main accomplishment on Saturday was the confidence I earned in my ability to fish in relative comfort in forty degree temperatures. I wore three layers, a hat with ear flaps, a neck gaitor, and fingerless wool gloves. Dave G taught me that I needed to remove the gloves in the event of landing a fish so that they remained dry, and this was a very useful piece of information for withstanding cold weather angling. Hopefully some warmer temperatures will arrive in Colorado soon, and that will enable me to enjoy a few more days of stream fishing before the heavy run off commences.

Eagle River – 04/29/2015

Time: 10:30AM-2:30PM

Location: Across from Wolcott post office and Horn Ranch land trust in the afternoon

Fish Landed: 2 (of 7 hooked)

Eagle River 04/29/2016 Photo Album

Our friends, Beth and Dave Gaboury, invited us to visit them at their gorgeous home in Eagle Ranch for April 28 through April 30. We quickly accepted and made the 2.5 hour drive to Eagle, CO on Thursday afternoon. The weather forecast was rather forbidding with highs around fifty degrees for all three days, and the constant threat of snow and rain throughout our stay.

Dave G arranged to meet our friend Todd Grubin, who lives in Arrowhead, on Friday morning at 10AM for fly fishing, and despite the harsh weather conditions, we arrived at a pullout near the Wolcott post office at the appointed time. Todd’s SUV was visible, but he was no where in sight, so Dave G called him and ascertained that he was already in the river. Dave G and I quickly returned to the car and did our best to bundle up as the temperature on the dashboard was 38 degrees and pellets of ice were descending from the sky. I pulled on my fleece, my Adidas pullover, and a raincoat. In addition I snugged my neck gaitor up under my chin and then securely stretched my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps on to my head. At this point I did not believe that I had fingerless gloves with me, so Dave G graciously loaned me his Simms fleece hand covers. This configuration of cold weather attire served me reasonably well through the winter conditions on Friday, April 29.

Our Day Begins on the Eagle River

I began fishing in a beautiful deep pool just below the boundary with a golf course. I set up my Sage One five weight fly rod with a thingamabobber, split shot, flesh colored San Juan worm, and a salad spinner. I the first segment of water I experienced a momentary hook up on a decent sized fish. In fact initially I thought that I was snagged on a rock until I lifted in an effort to free my fly and felt a heavy throbbing weight and then caught a glimpse of a reasonably sized rainbow trout. The bright pink stripe on the side of the fish gave away its species.

I moved upstream a bit, and I experienced a second long distance release. In this case I was connected to a fighting fish for a slightly longer amount of time, and I wrestled it near the surface long enough to know that it was also a rainbow and also a decent sized fish. Two fishermen were above me at the boundary with the golf course, so I retreated along the bank and moved down the river to a place where the Eagle got wide and split around a long narrow island. On my way I passed Dave G who informed me that he landed a seventeen inch brown and a fifteen inch rainbow. He was fishing in the exact location where I began casting at the start of my morning.

I surveyed the new water for a bit and then moved a bit farther downstream, until I was just above a white water chute where the river narrowed once again. There were several slicks behind large exposed boulders that offered small pools of moderate depth, so I began probing the lowest example of this structure. On the fifth cast the indicator dipped, and I set the hook and felt active weight on my line. The object on the end of my line felt the sting of my action and immediately streaked to the top of the small pool. I applied some pressure, and I quickly realized that I was dealing with a sizable fish, and a brief glimpse revealed that it was a substantial rainbow trout.

My pressure caused the football shaped missile to turn around and it sped down the river toward the tail, and I quickly released line and allowed it to slip from my hand and the reel. Fortunately the fish stopped and rested for a bit, and this was my clue to gain back some line. I began to slowly strip line which caused the adversary to gradually move back toward my feet. Suddenly without any provocation on the part of the fish, as I made a strip, the weight disappeared, and the line went limp. When I stripped the line back to examine it, I discovered that the monofilament separated at the first knot that connected the tapered leader to the tippet. I have a habit of tying additional sections of tippet to previous sections when they get reduced to four or five inches, and at the time of the lost fish, I had a series of three of these. I can only guess that these surgeons knots were relatively old and perhaps abraded, thus the unfortunate premature release of my best fish of the day and season.

I lost my trophy fish, my split shot and two flies, so as I mourned this event; I rigged anew with another flesh worm and a size 20 soft hackle emerger. Dave G told that the two fish he landed earlier took a flashback RS2, so the fluoro fiber soft hackle emerger was the closest imitation I had to a flashback nymph. A bit above the site of the lost rainbow, a fish grabbed the soft hackle emerger as I lifted, and I finally landed a nice 13 inch rainbow. Could this be a change in my luck? Amazingly I was not bothered by the weather when fish were attacking my flies.

Pretty Fish Took Soft Hackle Emerger

I photographed the rainbow trout and released it and dried my hands before resuming my casting to another similar pocket and slick a bit farther upstream. As the flies began to swing at the end of the drift, another rainbow attacked the soft hackle emerger, but once again my connection was short lived, and the streaking silver fish shed my hook and escaped. At this point I was one fish landed out of five hooked. This is not a good average in baseball and a poor showing in fly fishing as well. Adding insult to the situation was my loss of two flies.

I waded across the river at the shallow wide area and fished some nice deep pockets behind exposed rocks that served as a current break, but this move yielded no action. Next I climbed the north bank and passed Todd and fished the top of the run across from my starting position. This water was shallower than the south side and did not produce, but as I progressed to the top of the riffle, I got snagged and broke off both flies again. I took this as a sign, and Dave G was anxious for lunch, so I circled back to the wide shallow area and crossed and returned to the car.

Dave G and I piled into the Santa Fe, and I turned the ignition and ran the engine so we could blast the heater while eating. Todd joined us, and we discussed options for the afternoon. After evaluating several possibilities, we settled on the Horn Ranch segment of the Eagle River. I parked near the railroad tracks at the western end of the land trust, and as Todd crossed to the opposite side, and Dave G worked upstream; I walked back toward the route 6 bridge. This entailed climbing some metal steps over a fence, and then I began fishing in a deep long pocket at the tail of a pool.

Lots of Length on This Fish

I was out of flesh worms, so I chose a bright pink version and added another soft hackle emerger since that fly seemed to be attracting a lot of attention in the area across from the post office. The fish showed no interest in the long pocket, so I moved to another smaller replica just above the bridge. On the fourth drift as the indicator moved beyond the midsection toward the tail, it dipped, and I executed a swift hook set. This resulted in a throbbing heavy weight on my line, and I played the fish carefully, as it executed several
escape maneuvers before I slid the net under a seventeen inch hook jawed brown trout that nipped the soft hackle emerger. What a thrill to finally land a significant fish after losing several earlier in the day.

The Bend at the Western End of Horn Ranch

I had now landed two out of six hooked fish and felt slightly better about my fishing skills, as I advanced along the left bank and reached the large bend in the river. Here it was not long before I hooked a rock or stick along the bottom of the rocky stream bed. I applied pressure from various directions until the flies eventually broke free, but the pent up energy of the bent rod caused the split shot and flies to catapult from the river until they lodged in a dense grove of sumacs behind me. I seriously desired to recover the flies, but I could not reach them, and the sumac stand was too dense to push through. I surrendered to the fishing gods and snapped off both files and replaced them with exact duplicates.

Near the top of the bend pool eddy I hooked the bottom again and repeated the break off.
At this point I was very frustrated, so I swapped my reel and floating line for a reel with a sink tip line. I tied on a sparkle minnow and on the first cast my favorite streamer snagged, and I broke off my ninth fly on the day. I was extremely exasperated, but I scanned my fleece wallet and spotted a new cheech leech and knotted it to the short leader attached to the sinking line.

I moved up to a run that Dave G had fished, and after temporarily hooking bottom twice, I lobbed the articulated streamer across the top of the run. A pause allowed the streamer to sink a bit, and then I gave the line one strip and felt weight. My MFC friends taught me not to set the hook when stripping a streamer, so I repeated a strip and felt some solid resistance. Much to my dismay the weight disappeared, as I spotted the side of a decent fish, and then I realized that my prized cheech leech was absent, and I was the victim of a second break off. I was now two landed out of seven hooked fish, but even more disappointing was the fact that the lost fish all felt like substantial trout.

I tied a peanut envy to my line for a bit, but after five half-hearted casts, Dave G appeared and informed me that it was time to depart, if we planned to meet our wives to see a movie at 3:40.

It was a frustrating day on the Eagle River, but I learned that quite a few sizable fish reside in the lower Eagle River, and they can be hooked during the time period prior to run off. I also hooked a fish on a newly tied cheech leech, so that gives me a bit more confidence to try the streamer method of fishing. I endured some harsh weather, and I will be more apt to undertake a fishing trip when temperatures are projected to peak in the upper forties. And finally I landed a seventeen inch brown trout, and that fish represents my largest fish so far in the 2016 season. All was not lost despite an abysmal fish landed ratio and the loss of ten flies.

Arkansas River – 04/26/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Down river from Cotopaxi in the morning and then Vallie Bridge and upstream in the PM.

Fish Landed: 6

Arkansas River 04/26/2016 Photo Album

After rallying to land eleven fish late on Monday afternoon including a fifteen inch brown, the largest brown trout of the 2016 season, one would assume that I was pleased and prepared to spend another day between Parkdale and Texas Creek. But one would be mistaken. The allure of finding the leading edge of the hatch gnawed at my brain, and additionally I did not wish to spend another morning and early afternoon wading and casting with no results to justify my activity.

My Five Points Campsite

I camped at Five Points on Monday night along with two other crazy early season enthusiasts. One of the other campground inhabitants had the comfort of a RV, but the other fellow was toughing it out in a tent. After I snuggled up in my sleeping bag at 9PM, light rain began to patter on the rain fly. I read for a while before dozing off, and I remember hearing the wind and rain as I entered my dream world.

Frozen Water Droplets on My Rainfly on Tuesday Morning

I planned to pack everything up in the morning before I embarked on another fishing adventure, so I was concerned that the rain fly would be wet and delay my departure. As I climbed out of the tent on Tuesday morning, I immediately inspected for moisture, and except for some large scattered drops along the top seam, it appeared that the wind had taken care of most of the rain. Upon closer review I was surprised to learn that the large raindrops were actually frozen! What happened to the forecast lows of 42 degrees? I suppose that was Canon City, and I was ten miles farther west, although I guessed that it was a combination of a missed forecast and a different location.

When I left the river on Monday, I vowed to return to Royal Gorge Anglers to obtain some local insight. The fishing in the morning was less than spectacular anyway, so why not invest an extra hour to obtain some professional direction? In addition I needed to replace the retractor for my nippers, as the cord snapped during a fishing trip the previous week.

I was pleased to discover that Taylor Edrington, the owner, was present in the fly shop, so I asked him for advice. He informed me that I was below the leading edge of the advancing hatch, and this explained my lack of success on caddis pupa as well as the late action on the adult dry. The fish were tuned into egg laying adults in the late afternoon and evening, so I caught the early portion of this activity. Taylor went on to note that his guides and clients encountered a decent emergence in Cotopaxi on Monday, and he suggested that I migrate to that area or even as far up river as Vallie Bridge, if I hoped to fish to emerging brachycentrus.

I mentioned that I had success with an RS2 in the middle of the afternoon, and he politely dismissed the RS2 as being too slender to imitate emergers, and he sold me some CDC folded wing emergers. Taylor is a persuasive salesperson. Armed with five new flies, a new retractor, and confidence that I would meet the caddis hatch below Cotopaxi; I departed and returned to the campground and took down my by now dry tent. In my absence the sun peaked over the ridge to the east, and the combination of the sun and wind removed any remaining ice and water.

In a supercharged state of anticipation I continued west on route 50 until I reached a nice wide pullout .3 miles below the Cotopaxi bridge. After I rigged my Sage One five weight, I walked back along the highway to the bend and then followed a path half way around the curve, before I dropped to a section of river that was narrow with swift currents in the center. The edge closest to me featured some nice shelf pools, so I tied on a bright green diamond braid caddis (Go2 Caddis) as my top fly and added one of the newly purchased CDC BWO nymphs as the bottom fly on an indicator nymphing system.

Another Pretty Brown Trout

Between 10:30 and 11:30 I worked the most attractive runs and pockets along the edge of the river and landed three trout. Two were respectable thirteen inch browns, and the third was a small fish barely over the six inch minimum. I was pleased with this late morning production, and I remained confident that Taylor’s advice would lead me to caddis hatch nirvana. Meanwhile the air temperature was in the low fifties and the wind was stronger than Monday but tolerable. Some large dark gray clouds were building in the distant western sky. I decided to break for lunch early, as I was roughly fifty yards below the car.

I climbed the steep bank to the car and gathered my water and lunch bag and returned to the edge of the river as I am apt to do, so I could observe any insect activity while eating. I can report that I saw no evidence of blue winged olives and only a couple small caddis dapping on the water. In fact when I brushed the trees and willows, far fewer caddis scattered compared to when I executed similar actions on Monday farther to the east.

After lunch I resumed from my exit point and fished intensely from 12 – 1PM, at which point I was getting close to the town of Cotopaxi. I landed a fourth brown during this time period, and this one was around twelve inches. In addition I had a chubby brown hooked for a split second, but it shed the fly when it leaped high above the water. This bit of action transpired early on, and then I went through a fish catching drought despite casting to some exceptionally attractive water. The sun was shining brightly at this time, and I concluded that the fish should have been responding to the caddis pupa, if they were staging for an emergence in the early afternoon. Based on this logic I guessed that a leading edge emergence was not ilikely, so I decided to move farther upstream in search of the elusive hatch.

Unfortunately there is minimal public water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and the section that is open was occupied by two groups of fishermen. I continued westward to Vallie Bridge and parked at the boat launch, and then I crossed to the south side of the river above the bridge. Here there is a long deep pool and a huge eddy where the water cycles back upstream and creates a large foam slick.

Back in the Net Big Guy

I covered this water thoroughly with no action, and then I retreated to the downstream side of the bridge. I began fishing just above the point where a small channel forks away from the main river. I made an obligatory half-hearted cast thirty-five feet across and allowed the bright green caddis pupa and soft hackle emerger to drift to the tail. Much to my surprise as the flies began to swing, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a significant weight. The angry fish on the end of my line made several speedy and abrupt attempts to free itself, but I allowed line to escape and then eventually recovered and guided a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. What a surprise! This was the type of featureless water that I typically skip, but perhaps I need to reevaluate my approach.

I fished upstream through some more appealing deep water along the current seam below the bridge, but this proved fruitless. Next I crossed back to the car and drove to the lease water two or three miles to the west on the north side of the river. I parked, and in short order I hiked down river along the railroad tracks and eventually cut to the river. I discovered that I was above another fisherman by thirty yards, so I began my upstream migration at this point. The water above me was relatively unattractive, but after my surprise below the bridge, I dutifully cast upstream to the narrow six foot band of slower moving water next to the bank.

This time, however, my hunch was correct, and I simply exercised my arm. I moved rather quickly with only one or two casts to each section, and then I approached a much more interesting wide shelf pool where the river merged after splitting around a small gravel island. I worked this twenty-five yard segment of water thoroughly and drifted the flies along the current seam numerous times, but again I was disappointed.

When I reached the top, I noticed there was a deep trough just above the point where the currents merged. I lobbed several casts to the top of the trough, and on the third drift, as the indicator passed through the merge point, it dipped, and I intuitively reacted with a solid hook set. The fight was on. Once again I released line a few times to compensate for a strong run, but again I was able to scoop a fifteen inch brown trout into my net. This brown was actually not as long as the previous catch, but it was much heftier. I snapped quite a few photos and then released the brute.

Impressive Width on This Guy

The rest of the afternoon was consumed by moving quite a distance upstream along the right bank. I skipped huge amounts of stream real estate, as the river is relatively wide with many sections of shallow riffles or wide smooth water of moderate depth. The latter may actually harbor a decent amount of fish, but without any rocks or logs or current breaks, I am intimidated by the prospect of prospecting this type of water without some sign of fish such as a rise.

Near the end of my progression, I encountered two fishermen on opposite sides of the river. I was fifty yards below them in some very attractive deep runs below some exposed boulders. The sky grew extremely dark, and the wind kicked up, and a large quantity of dainty blue winged olives emerged and tumbled across the surface. Just prior to this point in time I swapped the soft hackle emerger for a CDC emerger that I purchased from Taylor, and I was certain that the trout would attack my subsurface imitation given the large population of olives on the surface.

Nothing. The fish never rose to feed on the surface because the wind blew the adults away before they could react, and my wet fly was totally ignored. This rude rejection of my offerings caused me to reel up my line, and then I scaled the steep bank until I reached the railroad tracks and hiked back to the car. Along the way I spotted a single rise in the lower end of the wide nondescript pool, so I slid down the bank and switched to a double dry setup with a size 16 olive brown caddis and a size 20 CDC BWO. I cast to the vicinity of the rise and on the tenth drift, just when I looked away for a split second, I heard the sound of a rise and instinctively set the hook. I felt some momentary weight and then the fish was off. I don’t know if the fish refused one of the flies, and I grazed it with the trailer, because I reacted to the sound, and never saw what happened.

That was the end of my Tuesday, and I returned to the car and made the long return trip to Denver. I spent two days on the Arkansas River in pursuit of the elusive 2016 caddis emergence, and never sniffed it. Of course I second guessed my decision to leave Cotopaxi, and I imagined waves of caddis popping from the green tinged surface of the river, while swallows criss-crossed overhead, and hungry trout slurped skittering emergers. I will never know if this was the case. I convinced myself that the emergence occurred in the long segment of water between Cotopaxi and Vallie Bridge, and only a short section is open to the public. Land ownership is my excuse for not finding the caddis sweet spot on April 25 and 26.

I am not done. Cool rainy weather is forecast for the rest of this week, so the progression will likely stall. This means I may have another shot at the caddis emergence in the vicinity of Salida early next week. Stay tuned.

Arkansas River – 04/25/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: From 10:30 until 11:30 at Five Points and then the afternoon in the braided area above Pinnacle Rock

Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River 04/25/2016 Photo Album

It has become an annual ritual that I follow every spring. I did it practically every year since I moved to Colorado in 1990, yet the successful intersection of my regular pursuit and the sought after fishing experience has only occurred three or four times. The event that I am describing is the caddis hatch on the Arkansas River.

A couple times in the 1990’s I stumbled into the leading edge of the fabled brachycentrus emergence, and it was an experience I will never forget. Swarms of caddis skittered across the water and bounced and fluttered, and the trout slashed at them in gluttonous hunger. Poor casting skills and the dreaded drag were the fly fisherman’s best friend, as these presentation attributes best imitated the active skittering emergence of thousands of caddis.

My most recent encounter with the Arkansas River caddis hatch occurred in early May 2010; May 4 and May 14 to be exact. If you read these reports, you will understand my obsession with chasing this elusive hatch. A period of mild weather entered the forecast for Colorado following the heavy wet spring snowstorm during the weekend of April 16 and 17, and I estimated that by Monday most of the low level snow melt on freestone streams had passed. The last report on the caddis emergence indicated that they stalled in the lower canyon before the storm, and the local experts predicted that the progression would resume on Friday April 22 with the advent of warmer temperatures.

Based on this information I planned a fishing/camping venture to the lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon area for Monday and Tuesday. One of the advantages of retirement is the ability to make these sort of spur of the minute decisions. The low temperature for Monday night was projected to be 42 degrees, thus my intention to camp. I camped several times in the fall when temperatures dropped below the freezing mark.

Upstream from Five Points with a Cholla in the Foreground

On Monday morning I departed at 7:20, and traffic was reasonable thus allowing me to pull into the parking area at the Arkansas Headwaters Five Points access area by 10AM. This is where I planned to camp, so I made a quick circle to scope out the campsites, and only two of eighteen sites were occupied. Clearly there was not a groundswell of campers on Monday April 25 in lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. I brought the car to a halt across from the campground and pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod. The weather forecast called for twenty-four mile per hour winds, so I needed a long stiff rod in the event that this prediction was accurate.

I had no idea how far the caddis progressed, and I probably should have stopped at Royal Gorge Anglers for information, but I pressed on in my desire to get back on the river after the snowstorm. When I approached the water I noticed that it was murky, but decent visibility existed along the edges. The weather was partly sunny, and the wind was not a significant factor at 10:30.

I began with a nymph rig that included a bright green caddis pupa and a prince nymph. The caddis prepared me for emergers and the prince covered egg laying adults. Unfortunately shortly after beginning my caddis hunt, I broke off both flies, and I tied on another bright green caddis pupa and then replaced the prince with a second brighter green caddis pupa. The body of the second one was constructed with bright geen diamond braid, and it is named Tak’s Go2 Caddis.

These flies produced a momentary hook up, and I also observed the flash of the side of a brown, as it inspected my drifting flies, but I was unable to begin my fish count. I was disappointed with the lack of interest in my flies so I went through a series of changes that featured a slumpbuster, emerald caddis pupa, and ultra zug bug. At another point roughly halfway through the morning I foul hooked a fish on the green caddis pupa. When I brushed the willows along the stream, a cloud of caddis took flight in an obvious response to my rude interruption of their streamside relaxation.

By 11:30 I decided to get an early start on lunch, and based on the quantity of adult caddis on the vegetation, I assumed that the hatch progressed farther upstream. I drove farther west on route 50 until I was less than a mile below Texas Creek, and here I parked and descended to the river, where I brushed some willows and shrubs. Based on this unscientific experiment I concluded that the caddis were not as thick below Texas Creek, so I turned around and retreated to the section where the river splits into numerous side channels. It was clear that I should have stopped at Royal Gorge Anglers, and I was now shooting in the dark, but I was weary of driving and decided to make my stand.

I grabbed my lunch and found a perch next to the channel closest to the road and observed the river intently for signs of insect activity, and I was rewarded with the vision of two sporadic rises. When I resumed fishing, I fished the southern most channel first, but to no avail. Next I crossed the nearest channels and bushwhacked to the bottom of the northern branch where it entered the main stem of the reunited river. The sky became progressively more cloudy, and as usually is the case in Colorado, this spawned increased wind velocity. Finally at around 2:30 I landed my first fish, and despite its small size, I snapped a photo as I was unsure that any additional fish would find my net.

The North Braid

Normally if an intense caddis hatch is in the offing, it commences by 2PM, so I was fairly convinced that I would not meet my objective on Monday. Fortunately a fine blue winged olive emergence overlaps with the caddis hatch, and these tiny mayflies enjoy cold overcast blustery conditions. Between 2:30 and 3:30 the state of the weather did in fact conspire to create BWO activity, and this development saved my day. I landed eight brown trout during this period after I reconfigured my line with the go2 caddis as the top fly and a size 20 beadhead RS2 as the bottom food imitation.

15″ Brown Sporting a Tiny RS2 Lip Piercing

I worked my way upstream on the northern branch of the river and cast the nymphs to all the likely places. I imparted quite a bit of movement by making downstream mends to accelerate the flies as well as lifting and dropping the flies in a jigging motion. Most of the landed trout chased the RS2 on the swing, but two justified the presence of the go2 caddis on my line. One very nice pool farther up the braid than I normally progress yielded a fifteen inch brown that clobbered the RS2, and this represented my best brown trout on the season so far. Quite a few of the netted fish were chunky twelve and thirteen inch wild specimens, and I was thrilled with the turn of events.

Pretty Chunky Fellow

Eventually I reached the point where the north channel split off from the main river. My ability to move back down to the crossing point required some very cautious wading among large round boulders and deep pockets next to the brushy bank, but I endured. I crossed the two intervening channels, and then I hiked back down along the highway until I was next to some large attractive shelf pools below where the river was reunified as one channel. I managed to add a small brown to my fish count to reach nine, but as the sky clouded up again, some very spaced out splashy rises began to appear.

Bank Pockets

I was near the end of the day, and my success level dropped considerably, so I felt I had little to lose. I converted to a single size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and I began prospecting it tight to the rocks along the bank. Wham! I saw something suck down the caddis in a swirl, and I set the hook instantly. Unfortunately the stabbed trout streaked to the heavy nearby main current and snapped off my caddis in an instant. I was quite disappointed to miss my opportunity to reach double digits, but I persisted and knotted a new size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis to my tippet.

I Like the Arch

I continued scrambling my way over large boulders and added two more brown trout to my count. Of course this made me second guess whether I should have prospected the edge all day in search of opportunistic feeders that pounced on unaware dapping adult caddis. Fortunately I had another day on Tuesday, and perhaps I could employ this strategy and catch some fish earlier in the day.

In summary it turned out to be a decent day with eleven fish landed, and quite a few were in the 12-15 inch range. On the negative side, I fished for nearly four hours before I landed a fish, and I once again failed to locate the adrenaline producing main emergence of the Arkansas River caddis. I resolved to drive back to Royal Gorge Anglers in the AM to gain some insight on the best chance to meet the elusive leading edge hatch.

Looking for More Privacy

Big Thompson River – 04/21/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: A couple miles below Estes Lake before lunch and then below the first bridge after Noel’s Draw in the afternoon.

Fish Landed: 3

Big Thompson River 04/21/2016 Photo Album

After a surprisingly productive day on Boulder Creek on Wednesday, I was quite enthusiastic about the prospect of making another trip on Thursday. Based on my success on a recent visit to the Big Thompson and flows running at 35 cfs, I chose this fine Front Range stream as my destination. I did not bother to remove my fishing gear from the Santa Fe, so I saved the time of unpacking and packing before my back to back trips.

Thursday was forecast to be warmer than Wednesday, although high temperatures in Estes Park were projected to remain in the low sixties. I was prepared to depart by 9AM, but I decided to make one last minute check of the stream flow data. I was disappointed to discover that the flows spiked from 33 cfs to 49 cfs on Thursday morning. Based on history, I typically avoid fishing in rivers and streams immediately after significant change in water levels, and a 48% increase fit this criteria. Nevertheless, I rationalized that 49 cfs remained at a manageable level, and since the water is discharged from a dam, clarity would not be an issue.

I rolled into a wide paved pullout approximately two miles below the dam at 10:45AM, and I pulled on my waders and rigged my Loomis five weight rod, so that I was ready to step into the river by 11:00. I knotted a medium olive size 14 stimulator to my line, and beneath it I attached a salad spinner. This combination produced nicely on my previous trip, but on Thursday the trout showed no interest. I did observe a couple refusals to the stimulator, but then I was surprised to notice quite a few subtle rises in the beautiful run and riffles ahead of me. What could these fish be feeding on? I scanned the surface of the river, but no obvious food morsels were evident. I gazed at the air above the river, and all I saw were minuscule midges, but even this possible food source was quite sparse.

I snipped off the salad spinner and replaced it with a beadhead RS2. The fish were having none of my offerings, and they continued to feed fairly regularly. Perhaps they were attacking emerging caddis that spent minimal time on the surface? I swapped the stimulator for a size 16 olive brown caddis dry fly, and this once again elicited a pair of refusals. The behavior of these fish was maddening. Was a blue winged olive spinner fall in progress? I replaced the RS2 with a beadless size 20 soft hackle emerger, and I applied floatant to the body. Charlie Craven claims that the soft hackle emerger is often taken as a spinner cripple, so I was applying his theory to my current situation. Nothing. The fish continued to rise right next to my double dry fly combination.

In a fit of despair I stretched my seine across the opening of my net and held it in the water for a minute. When I raised the mesh cloth to examine the sample results, I witnessed ten to fifteen minute empty worm cases. I assumed these were midge larva or pupa, and the fish were eating emerging or adult midges. The cases were segmented so I opted to test a black zebra midge, as it approximated the correct size and presented a similar segmented appearance.

I resumed casting the size 16 caddis with the tiny zebra midge dropper, and finally after twenty casts, a small brown trout darted to the right and grabbed the trailing midge. Perhaps I unlocked the code? I resumed spraying casts throughout the attractive area in front of me, but I only succeeded in registering another fifteen minutes of arm exercise. Finally I decided to abandon the jaded fish in the pool in front of me, and I moved farther upstream. The small dry and dropper seemed futile in the absence of rising fish, so I made the switch to a fat Albert trailing a bright green caddis larva and zebra midge.

I progressed at a faster pace, but the fish again ignored my presentations, so I exchanged the zebra midge for a beadhead hares ear. As I sat on a midstream boulder to make the change, I spied some caddis, so I plucked one and observed a gray-olive body. This color reminded me that these adults typically emerge from a caddis worm that displays an emerald color, so I elected to exchange the bright green caddis for an emerald version. Alas, all these experiments failed, and as I reeled up my line, I remained mired at a fish count of one. In addition another fisherman arrived and assumed a position forty yards above me. With my upstream migration blocked, I concluded it was a perfect time to return to the car for a lunch break.

I stashed my gear and drove another couple miles downstream until I reached a favorite pullout just before the first bridge below Noel’s Draw. Here I quickly devoured my lunch, and then I grabbed my rod and hiked across the bridge and downstream for another .2 miles. I was unable to solve the hatch, and my favored dry/dropper technique was not producing. The only flies that produced interest were the stimulator and caddis, albeit refusals. Since I captured three adult caddis on the rock, I decided to experiment with a single caddis dry fly. I removed the three fly ensemble and tied a single size 16 olive brown adult caddis to my line.

A Brown Trout Sipped a Caddis from This Area

It was 1:30 as I began prospecting likely slow moving eddies and seams with the solitary caddis. The change in strategy was partially successful, as I landed two small trout on the caddis within the next hour. One was a small brown, and the other was a brightly colored rainbow. Both darted to the surface and smashed my small caddis in riffles that were two feet deep. I was confident I now knew the type of water that would produce more fish, and I had a winning fly on the end of my line.

Unfortunately I did not have the answers. I moved along popping the caddis to likely trout lairs, but the fish count remained locked at three. Admittedly I found it difficult to find similar moderate riffle water, as I encountered deep plunge pools and shelf pools, and these spots seemed barren of fish. Finally by 3:30 I was weary, and I lost all confidence, so I hooked the caddis to my hook keep and called it a day.

Perhaps the weather was too nice with virtually no clouds in the sky and bright sunshine during my entire visit to the Big Thompson River. A sudden spike in flows may have disrupted the feeding rhythm of the resident fish. More likely this fisherman was unable to find the key to unlock the feeding preferences of the trout of the Big Thompson River. Just when I thought I had fly fishing figured out, I was given a rude awakening. Once again I learned that change is constant in fishing, and success is a momentary state.


Boulder Creek – 04/20/2016

Time: 1:30PM – 4:30PM

Location: Approximately two miles beyond the end of the bike path.

Fish Landed: 11

Boulder Creek 04/20/2016 Photo Album

The spring snowstorm forecast for the weekend of April 16 materialized and dumped accumulations ranging from twelve to thirty-six inches along the Front Range. The snow began on Friday night and continued through Sunday, and then the air temperatures dropped to wintry highs in the thirties and low forties. Although I was extremely anxious to return to a stream after my encouraging outing on Friday, I am not fond of fishing in temperatures below 45 degrees, so Jane and I spent a day skiing at Breckenridge. It was a smart choice as the recent snow in the mountains provided excellent skiing conditions for the middle of April.

By Wednesday I could no longer avoid my attraction to spring fly fishing. High temperatures were forecast to reach the upper fifties in Denver, so I searched for a destination that was warm enough to satisfy my desire for minimal comfort, but I also sought reasonable flows unaffected by low level snow melt from the recent storm. The place that combined these criteria was Boulder Creek west of Boulder, CO. Highs in Boulder were projected to reach the upper fifties, and the flows were listed at a very manageable 33 cfs. The chart on the DWR stream flow site did not show a recent spike, so I was encouraged that rapid snow melt was not impacting the creek.

Snow Along the Stream

I took my time on Wednesday morning, as I knew the temperatures would not reach my comfort zone until the early afternoon. When I arrived in Boulder and turned left on Boulder Canyon Boulevard, I was encouraged by both the level of the water and the clarity. I hoped to fish west of the high gradient section that rewarded me with some success last summer, so I traveled west for eight or nine miles. Unfortunately as I ascended the steep grade next to the river, I realized that the amount of snow increased. The combination of snow and steep rocky banks forced me to reconsider my plan, and I executed a U-turn and progressed back toward Boulder. Approximately two miles west of Orodell I found a wide pullout and parked the Santa Fe. It was now close to 1PM, so I broke out my lunch and gulped it down before I prepared to fish.

First Trout of the Day

Even at this location quite a bit of snow remained along the road and on the banks along the creek, but the gradient of the stream was less severe, and the banks were not as steep thus enabling a safer descent. I hiked downstream along the shoulder of the highway for .3 miles and then angled down a rocky embankment to the edge of the water. At this point I tied a size 14 olive bodied stimulator to the line on my Sage four weight, and beneath the stimulator I added a salad spinner on a three foot dropper. I cast to the likely trout holding locations, and after fifteen minutes a small brown trout zipped to the surface and gulped the stimulator. This occurred after a fish refused the surface fly twice, so I assumed that the landed fish was too hungry to ignore my offering a third time.

I continued on for another fifteen minutes, but the magic of the early brown trout was not repeated. The salad spinner was not attracting attention, and I desired to switch to a larger nymph, so I clipped off both flies. I knotted a fat Albert to my line as the indicator fly, and then I added an ultra zug bug on the three foot dropper along with a bright green caddis pupa as the last of three flies. I began casting this trio to likely spots, and it was not long before a ten inch brown attacked the caddis pupa as it began to swing away from a small deep nook along the left bank.

Brown Chased the Caddis Pupa from the Slow Pool Along the Rock Wall

After releasing number two I covered quite a bit of water without any encouraging action, but eventually another decent brown trout nipped the ultra zug bug, and I elevated my fish count to three. I began to rationalize that a three fish day was decent particularly with run off reducing the stream temperatures to winter levels. Just as these thoughts filtered through my brain, I tossed the fat Albert to the middle of a foam patch, and I was shocked to see a fish smash the foam attractor. I landed four brown trout in the first ninety minutes of fishing, and each fish ate a different fly.

Smashed the Fat Albert While It Floated in the Foam

My catch rate improved over the remaining two hours, as I landed seven additional brown trout. At one point I noticed some sporadic rises, so I swapped the bright green caddis pupa for a beadless size 18 soft hackle emerger. This was a nice tactic, but the emerger never produced a fish. Two of the late afternoon seven grabbed the ultra zug bug, and I was surprised to witness the others aggressively smash the fat Albert. Landing trout on a bright yellow foam attractor pattern in the middle of April was a blast, although I am still a bit stunned that the fish responded to my surface offering.

Greedy Guy Went for Fat Albert

I also became more selective in where I cast, as I noticed that most of the fish came from slow deep eddies or small pools next to the bank. Moderate riffles and seams along faster runs are some of my favorite places to cast and catch fish in the summer, but during the cold spring conditions of Wednesday, these spots were not productive. I learned to recognize the water types that produced fish and focused my efforts in those places.

Another Fat Albert Victim

An eleven fish day on Wednesday on Boulder Creek was truly a bonus, as I did not expect to fish until Friday after enduring the storm and examining the weather for the latter half of the week. I was reasonably comfortable in fifty degree temperatures, and I unlocked enough of the code to generate some reasonable action. The brown trout were small, but wild and spunky and gorgeous with bright orange spots sprinkled on buttery yellow bodies. Best of all it temporarily satisfied my fly fishing addiction. The key word is temporarily.

Arkansas River – 04/15/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Salt Lick and Pinnacle Rock and then upstream from Pinnacle Rock to the braided area.

Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River 04/15/2016 Photo Album

Friday April 15 on the Arkansas River proved to be a good day, but it had the potential to be spectacular. The most notable accomplishment, however, was overcoming the various forms of adversity sent my way. As one would expect, fly fishing was a taxing venture on tax day.

The weather forecasts indicated that a major winter storm was bearing down on Colorado, and this caused Jane and I to postpone our plans to ski at Vail. An abundance of snow is one thing, but warm temperatures and rain at the base were more than we were willing to contend with. When I checked the weather in Canon City, I was pleased to discover that high temperatures were forecast to be 64 degrees with cloudy skies in the afternoon. 64 degrees was more comfortable than the low 50’s projected for Denver, and the highs in the higher elevations streams would be roughly ten degrees colder. Cloudy afternoon skies portended a blue winged olive hatch, so I was drawn to the lower Arkansas River as a destination where I could sneak in a day of fishing before the storm precluded further attempts.

Following an uneventful trip I arrived at a small pullout along route 50 at 10AM a mile above the Salt Lick access. I intended to continue my progress along the river from where I ended on Sunday, April 10. The temperature was 54 degrees, but it was moderately windy so I pulled on my fleece layer as well as my raincoat to serve as a windbreaker. I grabbed my five weight Sage One rod and walked back along the shoulder until I found a reasonably safe place to cautiously scramble down a boulder field to the river. This placed me just above a nice long deep slow moving shelf pool, so I stayed back from the river and moved to the tail of the attractive location. I began my day with a strike indicator, split shot, green caddis pupa, and salad spinner.

Salad Spinner Produces

I was rather excited when the indicator paused at the top of the shelf pool, and I connected with a twelve inch brown trout that inhaled the salad spinner. The generic midge imitation created by my friend Danny Ryan continues to impress. After I set the wild brown free, I resumed my progress, but I was unable to land additional fish over the remainder of my first hour of fishing. I did experience one split second hook up and saw a fish flash as it looked at my flies, but no additional trout found my net.

My Kind of Water

At 11:30 I climbed the steep bank and hiked back to the Santa Fe. I surveyed the river between where I was parked and Pinnacle Rock prior to parking upon my arrival at 10AM, and I was not pleased with the structure of the next segment, so I drove west until I reached a nice wide pullout .2 miles above Pinnacle Rock. I hoped to consume my lunch while overlooking the river, but the wind now accelerated to gale force status. I opened the front passenger door to retrieve my lunch, and my ball cap was instantly swept five feet from the car. I moved to the tailgate to remove my sun gloves, and one of them was uplifted and deposited ten feet away. Needless to say the wind became a significant factor, so I sat in the car and munched my sandwich and carrots while listening to the Rockies vs Cubs pregame show.

After lunch I swapped my wide brimmed hat for my billed cap with ear flaps, and I quickly snugged it tightly on my head. This hat was warmer and tighter fitting in light of the gusting wind. I slid down an angled path to the river and began lobbing the nymph rig to the likely deep pockets and runs along the left bank. The salad spinner was being shunned, so I exchanged it for a RS2, as the time of the day when baetis nymphs become active was approaching. I fished the nymphs in a dead drift presentation as well as with active movement. I covered some areas with moderate depth until I approached the stretch where the river narrowed, and this created smaller but deeper pockets and runs along the roadside of the river.

The wind continued to be ridiculously offensive, but I was able to power casts upstream due to the weight of the indicator and split shot, and finally I enjoyed some action. Between noon and 1PM I moved the fish count total to five with the average size of the fish greater than the landed fish in my previous visits to the Arkansas River. At one point my flies wedged beneath a large boulder, and the water was too fast and deep to rescue them, so I snapped both off along with the split shot. I replaced the shiny bright green caddis pupa with a bright green sparkle pupa tied Lafontaine style, and this fly produced two of the brown trout, while the RS2 accounted for the other two.

After this flurry of action I approached a pair of nice deep slow shelf pools, and I was certain that these locations would yield several fish each. I paused at the tail of the first one to observe, and some dark clouds moved above me, and this seemed to signal the wind to blast at greater velocity. For the first time I spied some tiny mayflies clinging to the surface of the water, and then a flurry of subtle rises caught my attention in the current seam at the tail of the pool. What was I to do? I made some casts hoping that the fish were aware of subsurface and surface food, but the RS2 did not attract interest. I resigned myself to convert to a dry fly approach, but I knew that this would take some time. Have you ever attempted to change your fishing setup while forty MPH winds shoot down the canyon? It was not easy.

Adding to my woes was a troublesome split shot. It was the type with no fins that can be squeezed to separate the opposite side. I struggled with the obstinate piece of lead for at least five minutes, but I could not open the slot to slide out my leader, so I did what any frustrated fisherman would do; I clipped off the line on both sides of the shot and reconnected it with a surgeon’s knot. Finally I was ready to configure my line with the BWO imitation, but for the sake of visibility, I first knotted a size 14 stimulator to my tippet and then tied on a size 22 CDC olive. Finally I was set to cast to the feeders in front of me.

Rainbow Lair

Of course you can probably guess what happened. The wind became such a force, that it blew the tiny olives off the water before the fish had a chance to eat them. I watched for a few minutes, and no signs of surface feeding fish remained. Perhaps they were still there looking for surface food? I threw some casts at a forty-five degree angle, but this proved to be futile. In fact the very act of getting a drift over the target area became a massive challenge, and the flies were nearly impossible to follow due to the constant wind-created riffle and my inability to follow the path of my cast. I pursued this exercise in frustration for five or ten minutes until I realized that the weather conditions were not going to enable me to fish dry flies on Friday April 15.

Fifteen Inch Rainbow Holds the Prize for 2016 So Far

I sat down on a rock and reverted to the bright green caddis pupa and RS2, and these were supplemented with a split shot (with tabs) and a strike indicator. I resumed my progression, and I landed a nice brown trout and a fifteen inch rainbow. Both fish consumed the RS2, and the rainbow trout was a huge surprise. I cast to the very top of the second shelf pool where a narrow deep slot passed a large submerged boulder. Just as the indicator passed five feet beyond the boulder, it dipped, and I reacted with a swift hook set. The victim of the penetrating hook point immediately went into escape mode, and this featured several streaking charges downstream. I managed to release and gain line while maintaining pressure and eventually guided the beautiful rainbow into my net. This fish proved to be the largest of the 2016 season, and I was ecstatic with my ability to land it.

River Divides into Four Channels Ahead

I was now just below the point where three or four braids of the Arkansas River merge. This is perhaps my favorite segment of the lower Arkansas, since one can fish the small channels similar to a small stream, yet they are connected to the much larger main river. The small braids allow easier wading and better sight fishing similar to smaller streams in other parts of Colorado. I quickly moved up along the left bank until I found a place where I could cross the closest two channels, and this placed me near the bottom of the northern most channel of the river. This is my favorite as it carries the largest volume of the water of the four.

Perhaps Best Brown Trout of 2016 So Far

Much to my surprise the wind subsided somewhat to occasional strong gusts, but the sky was slate gray, and the temperature probably dropped into the upper 40’s. I had the entire section of the river to myself, so I began casting the nymphs to the standard fish holding spots. For some reason I replaced the RS2 with a beadhead soft hackle emerger prior to embarking on this expedition up the side channel. None of the places that historically produced fish for me delivered on this day in April, until I approached a nice area about two-thirds of the way from the river to the place where two channels merge.

A Caddis Pupa Fan

For some inexplicable reason, my flies suddenly caught fire. During the remainder of my day in this area I landed four additional fish, but it could have just as easily been eight. This is just a guess, but I suspect I experienced at least six long distance releases, and I blame this phenomena on the small size 22 soft hackle emerger. At the very top of the long run and riffle area there was a very narrow long slot. I estimate the structure described ran for forty feet, but it was no wider than eight feet. This one spot produced at least six hookups, as the fish grabbed the soft hackle emerger as it tumbled tight to the current seam on the far side of the narrow trough. Fortunately I managed to land a fourteen inch brown trout and another rainbow from this area before reeling up my line and calling it quits. My heart beat elevated during this time period as a result of the wind, the fast water and the rapid pace of hooking fish.

A Second Gorgeous Rainbow Trout

In summary I landed eleven fish and the average size was definitely a notch above any of my previous fishing outings in 2016. Had I been able to convert more of my hook ups to the net, my fish count could have easily reached fifteen, and this would have elevated the day to outstanding. Of course all this was accomplished while overcoming wind that almost blew me off the water after lunch. The stubborn split shot only added to my woes, and the one minute of teasing rises put me through a twenty minute knot tying practice session. I continue to me amazed by the value of persistence in fly fishing. On this day tenacity was rewarded.

Big Thompson River – 04/13/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Approximately four miles below the dam.

Fish Landed: 19

Big Thompson River 04/13/2016 Photo Album

I suppose it is not rational to compete against a river, but that is the situation I found myself in on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. I visited the Big Thompson River the previous Thursday, April 7, and I felt like the river defeated me. I landed five trout in four hours of fishing, and I view that as a sub-par outing. In addition I made strategic errors, and I pledged to make adjustments and not repeat them. The low clear flows of the river got the best of me. My first shortcoming was my tendency to dwell in large pools where I could sight multiple fish. It never seems to work unless the fish are rising, and it did not prove to be successful last Thursday. Perhaps the greater flaw to my fishing style was my disregard for caution when approaching the stream. Darting fleeing fish were observed on numerous occasions, and this indicated my carelessness in wading and a failure to maintain a safe distance from likely fish holding locations. In reality the river did not conquer me, I defeated myself.

Wednesday was a perfect day for fishing. The high temperature reached 59 degrees and the wind was moderate. When I arrived at a pullout four miles below Lake Estes, I assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod and pulled on a fleece layer as the temperature was 51 degrees. I hiked downstream along the shoulder of the road and passed a private cabin on a bend, and when I reached the next seasonal residence, I cut down to the stream. Flows increased from 30 cfs to 40 since my last visit nearly a week ago.

Nice Water

During my previous visit I fished nearly the entire time with a Fat Albert and trailing nymphs, and I questioned whether an attractor dry fly might have worked. I decided to test this theory, and I knotted a gray size 14 stimulator to my line. Since the small stimulator is not as buoyant as a foam attractor, I opted to tie a size 20 salad spinner to a three foot dropper. The salad spinner is a black midge larva/pupa imitation, and the reports I read indicated that midges are prevalent in the morning. These two flies proved to be a fortuitous choice, as almost immediately I began landing fish. The Big Thompson rainbows and browns jumped all over the salad spinner, and I landed seven fish in the first hour. I was amazed at the reversal of fortunes. Unlike the previous week I moved at a brisk pace and sprayed three to five casts in the likely spots before moving on. One of the seven fish landed during the late morning pounced on the stimulator, but all the others snatched the small midge larva from the drift. I continue to be amazed at the effectiveness of minuscule midges, and the ability of trout to see these tiny morsels in the rushing flows of a cold mountain stream.

A Pretty Rainbow Early in My Day

A Stimulator Attacker

I was feeling rather euphoric after an hour of fast paced action, and some dark clouds rolled overhead from the southwest. I was actually concerned that I neglected to pack my raincoat, but the cloud never yielded more than a few inconsequential drops. The heavy cloud cover provoked some baetis emergence, and this event coincided with my approach to a long smooth pool just downstream from where the car was parked. I waded to the bottom left corner of the pool away from the road, and I paused to observe. Sure enough I spotted several extremely subtle rises in the light riffle. I responded by tossing some half-hearted casts to the tail of the pool, but as I suspected, this action did not elicit a response. I swapped the salad spinner for a RS2, as I hoped the trout would chase the small nymph form of the baetis, but they were also having none of it.

Productive Pool with My Car in View

By process of elimination I concluded that the fish were feeding on or near the surface. Once again I reacted, and this time of removed both nymphs and tied on a CDC olive behind the stimulator. I do not often use a double dry set up, but the CDC olive was going to be difficult to follow in the dim light, and I liked the idea of having a large leading dry fly to gauge the drift of the olive. The twin dry fly configuration proved to be a stroke of genius, as I moved my fish tally from seven to fourteen by 12:30 when I broke for lunch. I was not instigating a take on every cast, but it obviously worked often enough to gain my confidence. The game became one of spotting a rise and timing my cast to the cadence of the fish, although I picked up a few by simply blind casting to likely holding locations.

Needless to say I was quite elated with my success when I climbed the bank and returned to the car to grab my lunch and water. My day was a success regardless of what transpired in the early afternoon. I ate my lunch on some rocks above a large deep pool directly across from the car, and I noticed two rises during my twenty minute break. I filed this information in my memory and then walked back along the shoulder to my exit point. I resumed my position along the left bank just below a long downed tree branch, and I quickly landed another brown trout on the CDC olive. Unfortunately when I cast to the juicy riffles at the head of the long pool, I experienced two momentary hook ups, but this was a small setback after the hot streak of the morning.

Gorgeous Color on This Rainbow

Next I waded upstream to the large deep pool that I monitored while eating my lunch. Just as I expected, I landed a small brown from the center area where I noticed one of the rises. After releasing this fish I paused to scan for additional rises, but none materialized, so I made some prospecting casts to no avail. The blue winged olive hatch seemed to end temporarily, and the double dries ceased to draw interest, so I returned to the Fat Albert and nymphs system that yielded limited success the previous week. I chose a bright green caddis pupa as the top fly and a RS2 as the fly on the tip. I encountered a section of pocket water, and the change gave me hope when a brown trout snatched the caddis as it drifted tight to the roadside bank. This was a decent fish, but it escaped my grasp before I could snap a photo.

I moved again, and I quickly encountered a deep pocket. Here I tested my jigging and lifting technique that served me well on the Arkansas, and when I lifted the flies at the end of the deep slot, I felt a tug and landed a twelve inch rainbow. This fish sported spectacular color with many vivid black spots and a brilliant crimson stripe along its sides. Again the rainbow escaped my grip before I could snap a photo.

I wish I could report that the remainder of the afternoon yielded additional steady action, but that was not the case. I reached another long pool and once again I noticed a few sporadic rises. I cut off all my flies and tied on a single CDC olive, but I could not fool these fish into eating my fraud. I was guilty of dwelling in this pool far too long, but then I recognized the error of my ways and moved along as the stream curved away from the road. I reverted to the dry/dropper system, and finally in the last hour I landed number nineteen. It was a hungry rainbow that hammered the Fat Albert.

It was a fun day on the Big Thompson River in early April. My adjustments paid dividends, and I landed seven fish on a dry fly. The weather was cloudy, and this provoked a hatch, but it was not cold or wet enough to make life uncomfortable. Fly fishing in 2016 in Colorado is heating up, and this fly fishing blogger cannot wait to visit another stream in the near future..

Arkansas River – 04/10/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Salt Lick river access area and then upstream.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River 04/10/2016 Photo Album

On Friday Jane and I enjoyed a day of skiing at Vail Ski Resort, and one of our favorite runs was Cloud 9. Because of the surrounding trees, the snow did not get as soft and slushy as the runs in the bowls that were exposed to direct sunlight. The name of this run reminded me of Cloud Nine, a song by the Temptations that was popular in 1969. I checked the weather forecast for Canon City, CO for Sunday April 10, and my app indicated that the sky would be overcast and cloudy on the lower Arkansas River. Could all the references to clouds be a harbinger of cloudy conditions that would yield a productive baetis hatch on one of my favorite rivers?

I announced to Jane that I was making the drive to lower Big Horn Sheep Canyon on Sunday, and she elected to accompany me. We departed Denver a few minutes before 8AM and arrived at the Salt Lick river access area a bit after 10. The temperature was 63 degrees, and there was a slight breeze, but nothing compared to the gales that I endured in previous trips to the Arkansas River. I assembled my Sage One five weight and marched to the edge of the river next to the wide gravel beach that is used to slide rafts into the rushing water.

Up the River from Salt Lick

To begin I used a strike indicator with a split shot and an ultra zug bug and emerald caddis pupa. I worked my way up the left bank of the river during the first hour, and I was disappointed by a total lack of interest in my flies. I decided that a change was in order, and I exchanged the emerald caddis pupa for a bright green caddis pupa. This imitation displayed a shiny diamond braid body, and I hoped that it would be a fish attractor. I approached a huge vertical rock wall that would halt my upstream migration, but a nice run of moderate depth angled from the bank back toward the main river. I cast the flies above the riffle and allowed them to tumble through the run, and as they swept past a medium sized square submerged rock, the indicator dipped, and I quickly set the hook. I was attached to an eleven inch brown trout for a short time, and then it figured out how to slide free. I continued fishing for a bit until my path was obstructed by the rock wall, and when I reeled up my flies, I discovered that the bright green caddis was no longer attached. Apparently a bad knot enabled the thrashing fish to break off the tippet and fly.

First Fish Took Ultra Zug Bug

I decided to turn around and return to Jane and the car for lunch, as I was at a point where farther progress required a steep climb to the highway to circle around the rock barrier. It was 11:30, which is a bit early for lunch, but it was convenient to eat before continuing above the rocks. I replaced the green caddis with another one, and as I returned to the boat launch, I stopped at the location where I hooked the evasive fish. I ran the nymphs through the same run, and on the second drift, the indicator paused, and I landed my first trout of the day. It was an eleven inch brown, and I pondered whether this was the same fish that stole my fly earlier.

Streamside Lunch

After lunch I hiked along the shoulder of the highway until I was beyond the barrier, and then I scrambled down a boulder field to the edge of the river. Between noon and 2PM I worked my way along the left bank of the wide river and fished only the pockets and runs next to the steep rocks. I spent roughly half of my time rock climbing and the other half casting, but I managed to land three additional brown trout. Unfortunately I covered quite a bit of water to register this tally, so the fishing was not the heated affair I imagined. In addition the sky remained mostly blue with occasional puffy white clouds. This also was not the cloud cover that the weather app predicted.

Bright Green Caddis Fooled This Nice Brown Trout

I was beginning to resign myself to another moral victory, meaning great weather in a beautiful setting with a modest fish count, when some dark clouds appeared above the peaks to the southwest. The impact of this weather event on my fishing fortunes was almost immediate. Suddenly a few small gray mayflies made an appearance, and I spotted several fluttering up from the surface of the river. I responded to this sign from nature, and I tied a beadhead RS2 to my line and moved the bright green caddis to the top position. I executed both dead drift presentations and active movement, but I quickly discovered that the fish preferred action. Between 2 and 2:45 I experienced the hottest fishing action of the 2016 season.

Great Spot Pattern

The best results came near the tail of deep pockets and runs when I lifted the flies. In many cases this provoked a response. Less effective, but still productive, was a jigging action that I imparted to the flies when I cast directly upstream. My fish count advanced from four to twelve during this forty-five minute period, and I was quite pleased that I finally settled into a rhythm that produced hungry fish and positive results. After 2:45 the action slowed a bit, but my catch rate remained above average, as I landed another three fish. It was during this time that my indicator darted in a fairly fast run over some large submerged boulders. I quickly reacted and fought a feisty fourteen inch rainbow to my net. This was the only rainbow on the day, and it was likely my best fish of the 2016 season.

Only Rainbow Was Best Fish of 2016 So Far

Sunday evolved into the kind of fishing outing that I looked forward to in the spring of 2016. The key factors merged and produced some fast action. The heavy cloud cover and warming water temperatures activated the blue winged olives, and this food source in turn caused the fish to assume their feeding stations. I expected to catch most of my fish on the RS2, but interestingly the two-thirds of the fish that I landed chomped the bright green caddis. This probably indicates that drifting caddis larva and pupa are becoming more prevalent in the flows of the lower Arkansas River. With this successful excursion to the Arkansas under my belt, I am already anticipating another journey during the coming weeks. Cloud 9 skiing, Cloud Nine the song, and fishing under cloudy skies are all fun in the eyes of this fisherman.

Lots of Attractive Pockets and Runs Ahead

Big Thompson River – 04/07/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Began just above flooded RV park and fished upstream to private water.

Fish Landed: 5

Big Thompson River 04/07/2016 Photo Album

I did not fall in the river, and the weather was beautiful, and I only lost one fly. These were the positives for Thursday on the Big Thompson River. Actually the river was quite clear although low at 30 CFS, and I spotted many fish. Unfortunately I only landed five fish in four hours of fishing, so my catch rate was sub par for my personal expectations, but all things considered, it was a fine day.

Starting Point

Thursday was the first day in 2016 where I fished comfortably, and the wind was present but not a significant deterrent. I also scored another first, but more on that later. I arrived at the pullout five miles below the dam in Estes Park by 10:30, and I was on the water fishing a few minutes before 11AM. The water was very low and clear, so I concluded that I could use the dry/dropper approach and effectively fish most locations. An indicator with a split shot would disturb the water excessively, but a large foam dry fly would land with a natural plop.

I began with a size eight Chernobyl ant, and below that I attached an ultra zug bug on a long three foot dropper. In the first half hour I hooked but did not land two rainbow trout, and one felt like a fish in excess of twelve inches, which is decent for the Big Thompson River. Before breaking for lunch at noon I landed two small rainbows on the ultra zug bug, but I spotted many fish that did not respond to my offerings. In fact quite a few fish darted from cover next to the bank as I waded upstream. I decided to be much more cautious in my approach after lunch.

The first location that I encountered after lunch was a huge long smooth pool. I paused to observe before making any casts, and I could see at least seven fish in front of me. They were hovering a foot or so below the surface, and it seemed that they were feeding on something in the drift. In the morning I noticed a few refusals to the Chernobyl ant so I exchanged it for a Fat Albert, and I added a RS2 as a third fly. Unfortunately the visible trout in the pool treated these flies like unappetizing flotsam, so I was forced to reconsider my approach. I decided to try a dry fly, and I knotted a light gray size 16 caddis to my line after removing the other ineffective imitations. This created a refusal from a small trout, but then it was soundly ignored as well.

Gorgeous Pool

Could the fish be accustomed to blue winged olives, and should I try one of my minute CDC olive flies? I decided to throw a double dry and tied a CDC olive to an eighteen inch leader attached to the bend of the caddis. I began shooting casts to the riffle at the head of the pool and allowed the dainty dries to dance along the seam toward the tail out and the smooth water. On the fifth cast I watched in amazement as a fairly large trout moved a couple feet and sipped something on the surface. I guessed that my flies were in this vicinity, so I set the hook, and a thirteen inch rainbow trout began thrashing angrily on my line. I maintained tension, and within a minute I maneuvered the prize catch into my net. The pretty silvery rainbow trout was probably my best fish on the season to date, and I induced it to sip my size 22 CDC olive. Needless to say I grinned, and I was quite proud of this turn of events.

Ready to Be Released

I moved on, but I did not see any BWO’s in the air nor did I observe rising fish. Continuing to prospect with the small dries seemed like a difficult proposition, so I returned to the Fat Albert, emerald caddis pupa, and soft hackle emerger. A small caddis landed on my hand at one point thus the caddis pupa offering, and I continued to believe that blue winged olives would make a strong appearance at some point. I fished these three flies for the remainder of the afternoon, and I managed to land two additional trout, both browns. I covered a huge amount of stream for two fish, but both registered another first for me in 2016. They both appeared out of nowhere and smashed the Fat Albert!

First Fish on Fat Albert Tied in Winter

I feel that the lack of a significant hatch was a factor contributing to my low catch rate on Thursday; however, fisherman error probably accounted for more of the slow action. I continually fight my obsession with thoroughness by forcing myself to move rapidly and to limit the number of casts to an area. Thursday was the perfect day to adhere to this principle, since I only saw one other fisherman on the stream, and that was just before my departure. Instead of constantly moving, I tended to dwell in areas under the false belief that I could change flies and eventually dupe the visible trout before me. It rarely happened.

I was also guilty of clumsily approaching pools and likely fish holding locations. I mentioned that I saw numerous fish scatter as I waded along the bank in the morning, and although I improved my approach in the afternoon, I have to admit that fleeing fish remained a common observance. Hopefully I can learn from my outing on the Big Thompson River and improve my performance on future visits.