Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM
South Platte River 05/17/2021 Photo Album
The cycle of bad weather early in the week and nice weather late in the week repeated itself once again for the week beginning on May 17. I reviewed the forecasts for various fishing locations and concluded that Monday was a slightly better option than Tuesday. Monday morning projected highs in the upper fifties with the chance of afternoon thunderstorms, while Tuesday predicted rain for most of the day. I decided to designate Monday as my fishing day.
Choosing a destination was my next task. As is my custom, I reviewed all the stream flows for potential day trip options. All the Front Range freestones and most of the tailwaters were already blown out except for South Boulder Creek, and even that small tailwater was rushing through the canyon below Gross Reservoir at 177 CFS. Originally, I harbored thoughts of squeezing in a trip to the Eagle River prior to run off, but flows on that west slope river elevated significantly over the last couple days, so I was reluctant to undertake the two plus hour drive with the risk of murky conditions.
The Arkansas River was up 50 – 100 CFS, depending on the section, and I was intrigued to try the upper river near Leadville, until I checked the temperatures. Leadville is two miles high, and this translated to high temperatures in the upper forties. The middle section weather was more tolerable, but I was reluctant to make the 2.5-hour drive having just endured that journey on Friday.
Looking Back to My Starting Point
My thoughts turned to the South Platte River, where the water managers were holding back releases to fill the various reservoirs for later in the summer. The Lake George area was flowing along at a steady 55 CFS, and I knew from prior trips, that this represented solid conditions. As I pondered yet another trip to Eleven Mile, the idea of testing the Deckers area crossed my mind. The Heyman fire ruined the Deckers fishery twenty years ago, and I could not recall any successful results during my infrequent visits over the intervening years. My friend, Steve, reported some solid results recently, and a young angler on Instagram also cited some decent catches. I decided to make the trip on Monday to see if, in fact, the river had recovered to a semblance of its previous glory. The DWR water chart displayed flows of 90 CFS at Trumbull, a small town several miles down river from Deckers. Temperatures in Deckers were also milder than some of my other options.
I arrived at my chosen spot by 9:30AM, and I quickly assembled my Sage four weight. The sky was gray, as thick clouds dominated the southwestern horizon. I elected to wear my fleece cardigan and raincoat and snugged on my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps. The temperature was fifty degrees, and an intermittent breeze made it seem even chillier.
I hiked down the road for .4 mile and then dropped down a steep angled rock to the river, where I outfitted my line with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a salvation nymph and hares ear nymph. A prime spot existed adjacent to my starting position, but after ten to fifteen drifts, I abandoned it with no sign of a fish.
Three Hooked and Two Landed in This Narrow Pool
I moved to the next attractive section in a narrow but deep run on the west braid around a tiny island. On the first cast a rainbow trout aggressively grabbed the salvation, and after I photographed and released it, I placed a second cast in the same deep channel. Much to my amazement a twelve-inch brown trout copied the actions of the rainbow, and my fish count climbed to two in a short amount of time. I released the brown, and I was surprised to momentarily connect with a third fish, but it quickly jettisoned the hook and escaped a photo session.
I wish I could report that the rest of my day evolved in similar fashion, but it did not. I stuck with the dry/dropper until 2:30PM, and the fish counter climbed to eight. After numerous disappointing sessions on the Deckers section of the South Platte, I was ecstatic over these results, even though the catch rate was average at best.
In the morning session I added another rainbow on the salvation, before I arrived at an interesting eddy near the parking lot. This location produced some positive results on previous visits, so I was optimistic that fish were present, and this was quickly confirmed by several sipping rises in the foam of the back eddy. I made the commitment to a double dry configuration and removed the dry/dropper and switched to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle with a Klinkhammer BWO as the trailer. The current between me and the foam patch grabbed my fly and created drag, so I moved to the top of the run and executed some reach casts to counter the drag on the line. Downstream drifts with the reach cast created some drag free floats, but the trout ceased feeding, and I surrendered to the pool.
Some thunder announced the onset of some stormy weather, and the sky darkened considerably, so I adjourned to the Santa Fe to eat my lunch. My return to the car afforded me an opportunity to brace for rain and foul weather, so I added my Northface down coat and topped off all the layers with my rain jacket.
Proud of This One
I returned to a beautiful wide riffle of moderate depth thirty yards upstream from the eddy, and I noticed a few sporadic rises. I considered the combination of dark overcast skies and rises and concluded that baetis activity might be commencing, so I exchanged the hares ear nymph for a classic RS2. This proved to be a prescient move, as a fourteen-inch brown trout nabbed the RS2, as I applied an exaggerated mend, while the flies glided along a high bank on the opposite side of the river. Needless to say, I was very pleased with this turn of events.
A bit farther upstream I lobbed an obligatory cast to a marginal and narrow slack area next to a fast current, and a fifteen-inch brown trout snatched the RS2. This trout dove deep and exhibited a strong effort to escape, before I guided it into my net. Things were getting interesting in the Deckers section of the South Platte River, and I was a believer in the reports from my friend, Steve. The fish count was perched at six including two robust wild brown trout, and I already exceeded my low expectations.
Rock Garden Yielded the Rainbow
I continued upstream to an area characterized by several deep runs and pockets among some huge sandstone boulders. My arrival at this locale coincided with a five-minute downpour, but I was more than prepared with my rain jacket and hood in place, so I continued fishing through the brief weather event.
Chunky Rainbow after a Long Lull
Between the end of the storm and 2:30PM I prospected upriver through various runs, pockets and pools, and this focused effort yielded an eight-inch rainbow trout and a muscular thirteen-inch rainbow. Both rainbows favored the salvation nymph, and the larger of the two came from a forty-yard section of rocky structure that contained numerous deep pockets and runs that swirled around submerged and exposed boulders.
Above the rocky section I encountered a long riffle area with a depth of three to four feet, and once again some sporadic rises announced the presence of several trout. In fact, some clouds darkened the sky, and the wind escalated, and the number of rising trout multiplied to six or seven. A cluster dominated the slow-moving shelf pool on the left side, and the rest rose more sporadically in the faster moving riffle directly above me.
Lots of Rising Trout in This Section
In an effort to capitalize on the windfall feeding activity, I swapped the orange scud for the classic RS2, but it was obvious that the fish were not tuned into food at the bottom or midlevel of the river. Next, I reverted to a double dry method with a hippie stomper as the indicator fly and a Klinkhammer BWO emerger as the trailer. Again, fish rose within inches of my offerings, and I resigned myself to yet another change. I snipped the Klinkhammer off, and replaced it with a beadless soft hackle emerger.
It required a ridiculous quantity of casts, but eventually another fourteen-inch brown trout latched on to the trailing soft hackle emerger, and I was proudly in possession of another quality wild trout, and this was my first of the day on a dry fly. A wide smile occupied my face, as I snapped off a few photos and released fish number nine.
Took a Soft Hackle Emerger
The next thirty minutes were pure frustration. The sky darkened once again, and the breeze kicked up, and I could now clearly discern a flotilla of tiny mayflies with upright wings in the glare on the surface of the slow-moving water of the shelf pool. The aquatic insect sailboats seemed to be slowly circling back upstream toward the shoreline, and trout were aggressively dimpling the area. My adrenalin activated, and I fired cast after cast to the area, but my fly was rudely ignored. In an act of desperation, I switched the soft hackle emerger for a size 24 CDC BWO, and the tiny tuft provided a similar silhouette with an upright wing, but the trout were having none of it. As a last-ditch gambit, I removed the hippie stomper and cast the CDC BWO solo, but, alas, this was yet another failed human intervention in a natural process.
Finally, the sun peaked out briefly and halted the feeding frenzy, so I hooked the CDC BWO to my rod guide and scrambled up the steep bank. I saluted the cluster of South Platte River baetis feeders and marched back to the car. Some dark clouds were in the southern sky, so in all likelihood another wave of feeding was around the corner, but my arm and mind were fried. I already surpassed my meager expectations for the day, so I returned to the car and prepared for the return drive. The South Platte River at Deckers is back on my radar as a fly-fishing destination.
Fish Landed: 9