Category Archives: Rio Grande River

Big Meadows Reservoir – 06/25/2023

Time: 10:15AM – 2:30PM

Location: Black Creek inlet/South Fork of the Rio Grande inlet

Big Meadows Reservoir 06/25/2023 Photo Album

As I discovered on Saturday, stream fishing in the Creede area was a very challenging proposition. Before departing for Creede, I tracked the flows on the Rio Grande River, so I knew that the river was high compared to the average due to the above normal snowpack. In anticipation of this circumstance, I studied my Easy Access Mountain Lakes book, and I determined that five lakes existed in the Rio Grande Valley within reasonable distance of Creede. One that caught my attention was Big Meadows Reservoir, as it also offered hiking trails for Jane and Amy.

At the Start

The three of us arrived at the parking lot on the northwest corner of the lake by 9:45AM. I assembled my Sage One five weight, while Jane and Amy departed on the Archuleta Trail. The temperature was in the low sixties, and I set out along the northern shoreline and followed the same Archuleta Trail, until I crossed a small creek on a rickety pedestrian bridge. I cut down to the inlet and knotted a tan pool toy to my line and trailed a beadhead hares ear and prince nymph. I waded into the shallow area, where the creek dropped into the lake, and I began casting the dry/dropper into the plume. Almost immediately I noticed quite a few rises, so after ten minutes of fruitless casting, I switched to a double dry approach with an olive hippie stomper and a tiny size 24 midge emerger. The trout continued rising next to my flies, so I concluded that the tiny midge was a non-starter. I swapped it for a size 16 light gray deer hair caddis. Over the next 45 minutes I fired cast after cast to the entering flume, and I managed two rainbow trout. One nipped the caddis, and the second gulped the hippie stomper. I was happy to register two trout, but this was by no means easy fly fishing. The trout in the area rose confidently to natural food morsels and ignored my offerings with the exception of the two rainbows that settled in my net.

Small Creek Inlet

Caddis Eater

The book described good fishing at the inlet of the South Fork of the Rio Grande, and I was interested in exploring it, so I hooked my flies to the rod guide and continued westward on the trail. Eventually it was clear that the trail was veering away from the lake, so I made a left and bushwhacked my way to the South Fork of the Rio Grande. For the most part the creek was churning at high velocity, but I found a bend, and I was sure it would deliver a trout or two. My certainty was misplaced, so I reeled up and stumbled upstream through some dense low lying shrubs searching for more water that could hold trout. I found nothing except high gradient runs and riffles right up against the banks.

I reversed direction and scrambled through some marshy land, until I was in some slower-moving bends just above the inlet. A deep run along a deadfall looked promising, but it failed to deliver, so I advanced upstream to a narrow ribbon of slower moving water along the left bank. A cast to the extreme top of the run yielded a flash, and I set the hook and found myself connected to a hard fighting rainbow trout with an iron sally in its lip. I brought it to my net and celebrated with several sips of water.

South Fork of the Rio Grande Beauty

Productive Spot

Next I retreated to the mouth of the South Fork of the Rio Grande. A shallow sand bar ran into the lake for thirty yards with deep drop offs on either side. A cluster of spin fishermen were along the deep channel between the sandbar and the bank, so I confined my casts to the left side. My lineup consisted of a yellow size 8 fat Albert, a 20 incher, and an iron sally. On one of my casts the fat Albert dipped, and I was connected to a rainbow trout that chowed down on the 20 incher. By the time I released my catch, it was 12:30PM, so I sat in the grass on the peninsula and ate my lunch.

After lunch the wind kicked up and the dry/dropper was not delivering results, so I changed tactics. I pulled an olive-black woolly bugger from my fleece and added it to my line after removing the dry/dropper configuration. Below the woolly bugger I knotted a black mini leech on a ten inch tippet extension. I began spraying casts and stripping along the sandbar drop off. Two rainbows were duped by this approach, with both nailing the mini leech. I cast and counted to 15 or 20 seconds and then began my retrieve. Next I pulsed the line with two very quick strips, and then I resumed my choppy retrieve. Quite often I felt a soft bump with the resumption of movement after the initial quick burst, but on two occasions the trout made aggressive grabs.

Afternoon Waves

At one o’clock Jane and Amy arrived and announced they were ready to leave. I negotiated two more hours and hiked with them along the southwest side of the lake to the parking lot. I continued one-third of the way around the lake, where I scooted back down to the Black Creek inlet, but a family with two young boys occupied my desired fly fishing position. By the time I re-rigged my line, however, the family departed, and I had it to myself. I began casting the bugger and mini leech across the entering current, and within a short amount of time a nine inch brook trout flopped in my net. Brookies are wild and brilliantly colored in Big Meadows Lake. The bugger/leech combination failed to interest additional trout, so I replaced the leech with a Mickey Finn that I tied forty years ago. Hooray. My classic fly produced two more brook trout and a rainbow before the streamer disintegrated. A trout apparently locked its teeth on the bucktail fibers and pulled them free of the thread wraps without getting the hook in its mouth. What a wily trout! I was left to stare at a hook shank with an unraveling tinsel body and nothing else.¬†Another Mickey Finn replaced the denuded version, but I ended my day of fishing at 2:40PM, when the wind accelerated to ridiculous speeds leaving whitecaps on the lake and making every backcast a life threatening event.

Decent Brook Trout

Ten trout in 3.5 hours of fishing is respectable. I learned about Big Meadows Lake and in the process found productive areas. I gained confidence in streamer fishing and advanced the renaissance of the Mickey Finn. It was not all bad for a windy day during run off.

Fish Landed: 10

Rio Grande River – 06/24/2023

Time: 3:15PM – 4:15PM

Location: Across from and upstream from Marshall Park Campground

Rio Grande River 06/24/2023 Photo Album

As I grieved over my wasted opportunity to land some fish on Saturday, June 14, I considered the idea of edge fishing the Rio Grande River. I was familiar with a public section across from and upstream from the Marshall Park Campground, and it was conveniently along my return path to the cabin. I decided to give it a try. I continued beyond the Marshall Park Campground turn off and made a right turn on to Middle Creek Road. I passed the campground area and found a narrow pullout along the dirt road. I walked downriver along the shoulder of the road a short distance, and I surveyed the river in the process. After a short distance I spotted a nice slack water spot behind a jumble of sticks and branches, so I decided to make the approach. I thrashed through some picker bushes and attempted to plant my right foot on a branch, but the branches parted ways, and I found my right leg extended below the branches, which were now even with my thigh. I was in an extremely awkward position, and in the process of trapping myself I hooked my flies and the leader on the thorny plants that grew in thick clumps along the bank. I was stressed out by my time limitations, but I eventually raised myself out of the hole, and cut off the flies in order to free myself from the trap. I revisited the tan pool toy, hares ear nymph and added a prince nymph; and I managed to edge into some shallow slow-moving water, so that I could extend some backcasts beyond the branches of a tree below me.

Prince Nymph Eater

I began lobbing short casts to the top of the bankside pool behind the log jam, and much to my surprise an eleven and a ten inch brown trout gobbled the prince nymph. My skunking was a thing of the past, and I smiled accordingly. During this short bout of success, massive quantities of size 18 caddis flies were buzzing about. I climbed back up the bank and tried three additional spots with no success. The Rio Grande fishing represented a very difficult game of climbing and sliding down the steep bank, because it was impossible to wade along the shoreline due to the powerful current at high flows.

During the last two bank scaling exercises I noticed a cluster of salmon flies, as they flew across the river, and one perched on my hat brim in an upside down position. It would have been a pretty cool photo opportunity, but it flew away before I could ready my camera.

Fish Landed: 2

South Fork of the Rio Grande – 06/20/2022

Time: 3:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Lake Fork Trailhead

South Fork of the Rio Grande River 06/20/2022 Photo Album

During the last week of June in 2021, I spent three days drifting the Rio Grande River with a guide in the vicinity of Creede and South Fork, Colorado. On June 30, 2021 we launched in the town of South Fork and drifted to Hanna Lane. As we waited for the guide to unload the raft, I noticed a small train station and a line of rail bikes, so I wandered over to the gentlemen fine tuning the bikes and asked them about their operation. The name of the business was Revolution Rails, and the company was based in the northeast with rail biking operations in New York and New Jersey. As it turned out, June 30 was their grand opening of the South Fork Revolution Rails section of track, I was intrigued by the concept, so I picked up a brochure, and when I returned home, I shared it with Jane and described the operation and my interest. Fast forward to Christmas 2021, and I received a gift certificate for a Revolution Rails trip in 2022. Jane and I went online in April and booked a Revolution Rails excursion for the morning of June 20, 2022. It was this booking that generated the trip from Denver to Creede on Sunday, June 19, and we arrived at the South Fork Rev Rail station early on Monday morning.

Dave and Jane Ready

The out and back ride of three plus miles was physically a breeze, and Jane and I both commented that we yearned for a longer trip. Nevertheless, there was something addictive about pedaling along in a light two person rail bike with no steering required. We agreed that another trip might be in our future.

Since we were bursting with excess energy, we stopped at the South Fork visitor center and asked the young man behind the counter for ideas for a five mile hike. He quickly unfolded a free map and highlighted a trail that was ten miles south of South Fork off the highway that ascends Wolf Creek Pass. Jane and I agreed to investigate the Lake Fork Trail, and rather than driving back to Creede, we stopped at a local grocery market and picked up some lunch snacks.

Exotic Wildflower

Jane drove south on CO 160, while I navigated, and eventually we found a wide paved pullout with a well marked crosswalk, and it was bordered on the west side by some large boulders. This fit the description provided at the visitor center, although we were unable to find a trail sign to confirm that it was the Lake Fork Trail. We trusted our directions and completed the out and back five miler and returned to the parking lot by 2:45PM. The hike was moderately challenging with several steep climbs, but the spectacular scenery spurred us on. We passed through a narrow valley, forested mountain sides, and open meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Another section consisted of a toothpick forest with charred trees devoid of limbs. The trees were likely damaged in a past wildfire.

Toothpick Forest

When we returned to the parking lot, I told Jane that I would like to cross the highway to inspect the South Fork of the Rio Grande. Jane agreed and accompanied me to a very attractive pool directly across from the trailhead. We stood on some huge boulders fifteen feet above the river, and Jane spotted two large trout finning in the shelf pool on our side of the river. This sighting elevated my heartrate, and Jane suggested that I retrieve my rod and reel. Who was I to reject that idea? I crossed the highway and quickly pulled on my front pack, backpack and net; and I assembled my Sage four piece and returned to the South Fork. Jane remained at her perch high above the river, and she reported that the fish closest to the bank remained within view, and it was feeding periodically on something small.

I cautiously moved below the target trout and knotted a size 14 parachute green drake to my line. I knew drakes were present on the main stem of the Rio Grande and hoped that perhaps they also progressed up the South Fork. I made four casts, and the trout ignored each one, before it disappeared from view. I decided to downsize and attached a size 18 cinnamon comparadun to my tippet in place of the green drake. By the time I was ready to resume, the trout returned, but once again my offering was not to its liking. As this scene unfolded, I managed to hook a tree limb to my left and right on four separate occasions. This only reinforced Jane’s aversion to fly fishing, as she observed.

Amazing Pool

I gazed across the pool and noticed three or four decent fish, as they held their position in the slow moving shelf pool across the way. I moved upstream to a large exposed rock and executed quite a few long casts across the main current. Drag became an immediate concern, but a few short drifts suggested that the comparadun was not a favored food source. I resorted to a black size 18 parachute ant, and I managed a very brief connection in the deep eddy behind a group of boulders at the top of the pool. I eventually admitted that the long casts across the strong main current were too challenging, and I redirected my attention to some sporadic risers on my side of the river.

Jane remained as my guide high above on some large rocks, and she informed me that a fish returned to the spot that I initially targeted. In addition, a few splashy rises occurred along the near seam of the main current. I concluded that these were not ant sippers, and I spotted a size 16 mayfly in the air, so I switched to a size 16 light gray comparadun. I positioned myself tight to a large rock along the bank to hide, and I began lobbing downstream casts to the trout that Jane sighted. On the second drift the comparadun slowly moved above the trout, and the fish suddenly darted upward and sipped my fly. Jane saw the entire development and shouted, just as I lifted the rod and hooked a deeply colored twelve inch brown trout.

Worked Hard for This One

I ended the day with a single fish, but it was very satisfying after being rejected  earlier. I never expected to fish at all on Monday, so the South Fork brown was icing on the cake!

Fish Landed: 1

Rio Grande River – 06/30/2021

Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: South Fork to Hanah Lane

Rio Grande River 06/30/2021 Photo Album

Wednesday was our third day of guided float fishing with Brandon of Cutthroat Anglers. The weather forecast projected temperatures and precipitation similar to Monday and Tuesday, so I wore my waders on board the raft, but ultimately the day was warmer with no rain, and for the first time on the trip I fished with just my fishing shirt and no extra layers. The river on the stretch downstream from South Fork was larger and wider than the Monday and Tuesday beats, but it was very clear and perfect for fly fishing. I manned the bow position in the morning, and Dave G. and I switched positions at 1PM after a lunch break. During our drive to Creede on Sunday I noticed the symptoms of a sore throat, as swallowing created a catching feeling. On Wednesday afternoon I developed a persistent tickle in my throat that caused intermittent coughing. Fortunately the early stages of a cold progressed slowly, and the first two days of the trip elapsed mostly symptom free, but Wednesday signaled the onset of a more severe stage of a summer cold.

Wide Riffles

I was plagued by poor casting technique for much of the morning, as I was over zealous and failed to allow the double dry flies to extend enough on the backcast. This resulted in a significant number of snarls, where the leader on the trailing fly wrapped around the forward fly. The tangles were not severe, but I spent a significant amount of time unwinding the twisted leader, and this subtracted from the time my fly was on the water, when I held the advantageous forward position in the raft. In spite of this angler error, I landed fourteen trout by the time of our 1:00PM changeover. Similar to Tuesday most of the landed fish were vividly colored wild brown trout in the fifteen inch range. They battled valiantly, and Brandon warned me not to count them before they were secure in my net.

Showing Off

Because Wednesday was our last day, we planned an earlier end point in order to jump start our four plus hour return drive to Eagle, CO, and this explained the earlier than normal lunch time. At around 11:00AM a dense hatch of gray drakes commenced. This aquatic insect event caught the attention of the Rio Grande trout population. Brandon purchased a batch of gray drake cripples the previous evening based on the recommendation of some local guides, and these flies were close approximations of the naturals, because the trout crushed them. In fact, we agreed to eat only half of our lunches to take advantage of the long lasting emergence.

Gray Drake Cripple Rocked

Rising trout remained a sporadic occurrence in the afternoon, but our prospecting attracted interest on a regular basis. As we drifted past the heads of riffles, we encountered clouds of mating gray drakes, and they bounced off our faces and glasses. I mention this only to emphasize the abundance of gray drakes on the South Fork section.

After lunch the drake population waned a bit, but eager eaters remained, and we continued to pick off trout with regularity. I increased the fish count from fourteen to twenty-four from my rear position in the raft, and I concentrated on better casting form. This resulted in my flies spending more time on the water and less time in monofilament snarls. We fished double dries all day, and the gray drake cripple was far and away the top performer. During the afternoon time frame, Brandon switched us to purple hazes, and the size 12 parachute versions contributed additional netted fish.

Typical Scene

Wednesday was another excellent day on the Rio Grande. Steady action kept me focused, and most of the trout were hard fighting brown trout in the fifteen inch or greater range. Compared to the first two days, we caught more fish from bubble lines five feet or greater from the bank or wide riffle sections over cobble bottoms with a depth of two feet. The drop in flows and wider river bed clearly allowed the resident trout space to spread out and feed on the abundant quantity of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies.

Twenty Inch Beauty

My most vivid memory of the day and trip was created by a twenty inch bruiser that put a substantial sag in Brandon’s large net. We were casting to nice pockets tight to the left bank, and I was popping short casts into a stairstep series of pockets for short, quick drifts. On the sixth such flick, the cripple floated ahead of the point fly and crept in front of a large exposed boulder. Suddenly a large head and then body emerged from the shadow of the large rock, and the cripple disappeared. It was a very visual take and the highlight of my day. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with the Rio Grande River during our three day stay at the end of June 2021.

Fish Landed: 24

Friends Checking Us Out

Rio Grande River – 06/29/2021

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: Sneaky boat launch to below Deep Creek ramp near Creede, CO

Rio Grande River 06/29/2021 Photo Album

The weather on Tuesday was similar to Monday with highs in the low sixties. I wore my waders for the second day in a row, and I was comfortable all day. Between 1:00PM and 2:00PM some storm clouds gathered, and I wore an extra layer for thirty minutes, until the sun reappeared. For most of the day I wore a fleece and raincoat.

This Is a Boat Launch?

Could Be an Ad for a Toyota Truck

Once again our guide was Brandon from Cutthroat Anglers. The river was in fine condition, and we launched the inflatable raft at Sneaky Boat Launch, a crude rutted area that was barely more than a slanted meadow bank. This put in was upriver from Creede, CO, and consequently the river carried less volume.

Tuesday evolved into a day just as productive as Monday. My fish count was twenty-six, but the size of Tuesday’s catch was on average larger than Monday. Other than four brown trout barely above the counting threshold, the remainder of the netted fish were easily within the fourteen to eighteen inch range. I landed four hard charging rainbows, and the remainder were robust brown trout. These fish were dogged fighters, and they put a significant strain on my arm.

Zoomed in on the Purple Body

Fuzzy Wuzzy?

Dave G. and I registered at least three doubles, when we were both hooked up at the same time. The upper section was somewhat smaller than the day one stretch, and this created a more intimate feel. I manned the stern position in the morning and switched to the bow at 1:30PM. Sixteen of my landed fish were recorded in the morning, and ten reached my net in the afternoon. Arm and body fatigue played a significant role in my afternoon fishing experience.

Nice One

During the afternoon I connected with three very strong fish that streaked for logs and branches, and my efforts to prevent them from reaching their destination resulted in break offs. A thirty fish day was easily attainable with better luck and skill. Dave G. and I spent the entire day tossing dry flies. The most productive of these flies were a size 14 purple haze and a fuzzy wuzzy foam surface fly. The fuzzy wuzzy imitated both a grasshopper and stonefly. Twice during our drift I witnessed a lumbering egg laying stonefly, as it crash landed on the water. The egg laying proved short lived, as ravenous trout crushed the large morsels of meat in confident swirls.

Swallows Everywhere

Before lunch quite a few PMD’s, caddis, and drakes made an appearance, and I observed the most rises of my cumulative time on the Rio Grande. I spotted four or five green drakes, and I was tempted to try one of my parachute style flies, but I stuck with Brandon’s expert recommendations.

Another Prime Rainbow

Tuesday represented another outstanding day on the Rio Grande River. All the necessary elements of superb fly fishing were present; cool weather, cloud cover, clear water, large and hungry wild trout, insect hatches, productive flies, and expert guiding. Bring on day three.

Fish Landed: 26

Rio Grande River – 06/28/2021

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: Creede, CO to Palisade Campground

Rio Grande River 06/28/2021 Photo Album

My friend, Dave Gaboury, and I scheduled three days of guided float fishing with Cutthroat Anglers on the Rio Grande River in the Creede, CO area, and on Sunday, June 27 we completed the five hour drive from Denver. We arrived at The Grove in Creede on Sunday at around 6:00PM. MIchelle of Cutthroat Anglers was our chef for the three days, and she prepared our breakfasts and dinners at the modern cabin in addition to making box lunches for our daily float trips.

Monday Morning

We met our guide, Brandon, at 8:00AM on Monday morning, and we were on the river by 9:30AM. Monday was a cool day with a high in the low sixties after a decent amount of rain on Sunday night. I wore my waders and wading boots in case of afternoon thunderstorms, but they never materialized. Nevertheless, I was only a bit warm for a short window in the afternoon. The flows on the Rio Grande at Wagon Wheel Gap were 900 CFS, and the river was very clear. Conditions seemed perfect to this newbie to the Rio Grande River.

Some Whitewater

We began our morning with double dry flies, but this approach yielded no success, so we switched to dry/dropper rigs that featured a chubby Chernobyl and pheasant tail nymph on a jig hook. The move to dry/dropper paid dividends, and we began scoring fish with some regularity on the pheasant tail. By 11:00AM some pale morning duns appeared, and Brandon switched us back to double dries with a pale morning dun comparadun paired with a chubby Chernobyl. My fish count surged to twenty-one by the time we paused for lunch at 1:30PM at Wagon Wheel Gap.

PMD Comparadun

Chubby Chernobyl on the Point

After lunch Dave G. and I switched positions in the boat, and we continued presenting double dries. During this afternoon time frame the most productive fly was a size 12 parachute adams. The water type that delivered the most fish was tight to the bank with moderate depth and velocity. Casting to bank side pockets next to large rocky structure was particularly advantageous. All the trout landed were browns except for two rainbows. The standard size of the fish was 13 – 14 inches, but I also landed a decent number of trout in the fifteen to eighteen inch range, and Dave G boated an eighteen inch beauty.

Showing Off a Fine Brown Trout

A Double!

Monday was a blast, and a thirty-three fish day was certainly a healthy introduction to floating the Rio Grande River. As I curled under the blanket listening to the rain outside our modern cabin on Monday evening, I was filled with anticipation for what Tuesday might bring.

Fish Landed: 33

Entering More of a Canyon