Time: 10:15AM – 4:15PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
My new friend, Nate, expressed an interest in wrangling with a fish that put a significant bend in his rod, and I suggested the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. During the run off season, the South Platte River was a rarity, with flows running at 47 CFS, so we made plans for a day on the tailwater west of Colorado Springs on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. Unbeknownst to both of us, the day held several surprises.
We arrived at my favorite roadside pullout a bit before 10:00AM, and this allowed us to be on the river by 10:15AM. I chose my Sage One five weight, and Nate went with a five weight as well, as his reel that held a four weight line was out of commission. We walked up the road for .3 mile, and then we dropped down an angled bank to the river across from some huge exposed boulders and deep surrounding pocket water. We both began our days with dry/dropper rigs, and in my case I chose a tan pool toy hopper, beadhead hares ear nymph, and salvation nymph. Between 10:15 and noon, Nate and I pushed our fish counters to two. Both my trout were fine brown trout in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and one nipped the salvation nymph and the other crushed the pool toy hopper. I was standing to the side and slightly above a small but deep hole in front of an exposed boulder, and I spotted a fish, as it darted to the surface to grab a small food item. I dropped a very short cast to the pocket, and almost immediately the same fish aggressively smashed the hopper. What a start to my day!
We quickly discovered that the most productive water was deep pockets and runs around large rocks, such as the area where we began. The popular pools seemed devoid of fish, and we quickly lost confidence in these spots. As we approached the next extensive section of pocket water, we encountered a group of three anglers, so we decided to circle around them. At the time we were on the west side of the river, and we normally travel on the east side to navigate our way upstream. I could see a large vertical rock wall ahead, but I assumed that we could sneak by in the river with flows at their low levels. Wrong. As we grew near, we realized that we had to do some rock climbing, if we stayed on our side of the river, or backtrack and cross. We chose the first option, and we endured the first surprise of the day. We clambered up a fairly steep rock face for sixty feet using crevices to gain footing and handholds. However, upon reaching a more level area, we followed the contour of the rock to a position that we hoped would allow us to descend back to the river. Nate went ahead to scout the situation, and he announced that the drop off was too steep, so we resumed our ascent for a distance that more than doubled our initial climb. We were now perched high above the river, so we cut in a southern direction. but once again we encountered an impediment to our progress. The drop off remained more than either of us were willing to risk, so we angled away from the river. At one point I was faced with maneuvering my aging body around a large protruding rock, but I was unable to find good hand grips, even though I handed my rod off to the much younger fishing companion in order to free up two hands. Instead of risking the dicey balancing workaround, I followed a large deadfall, and eventually I found a line that allowed a more gradual descent. Whew! Nate and I were both relieved to return to the river, but we were also pleased with our ability to overcome the rock climbing obstacle.
When we approached the river again, we were just downstream from one of my favorite pools, the one that I named big bend pool. The river splits around a narrow island and then merges into the pool where the western braid curls around a large ninety degree bend. We noticed a few sporadic rises, but for the most part the pool was dead. Nate chose the upstream portion of the pool, where a nice wide riffle section extended for fifteen yards before the river spread out into the middle section of the slow moving pool. I waded to a position opposite the mid-section, and I began lobbing long casts to a deep trough between two large boulders. One of the boulders was subsurface, and the other peeked above the waterline. I allotted ten minutes to my prospecting, but my confidence was low, and I moved around Nate to some small pockets just above the entering run on the western braid. Nate was focused on a massive tangle that consumed twenty minutes (his estimate), but he announced that he would continue fishing the riffles once the snarl was rectified.
First I dropped a few casts in a marginal shallow run, but then I fired a cast to a very short but deep pocket above the shallow run. I was just killing time, but almost immediately a hot rainbow trout grabbed the salvation nymph, and the game was on. I battled the cantankerous trout for a few minutes and then landed it for some beauty poses. I love extracting nice trout from obscure areas, and this was a classic example. I continued working my way around the bend and along the west channel, and suddenly I heard Nate cry, “Come here, Dave”. I quickly reeled up my line and hooked my fly to the rod guide, and then I stepped down a worn path on the narrow island, until I was across from Nate. He was enmeshed in the second surprise of the day, as he valiantly battled a very large trout. I whipped out my camera and videotaped three sequences, as the long, fighting cold water species made four or five determined runs away from Nate’s net. Nate performed like a pro, and each time the trout stressed the situation with a bold streak, Nate released line and allowed the combatant its space. Eventually the behemoth tired enough that Nate was able to hoist it over his Fishpond net. I waded across the channel to get some closer photos, and when I approached, I peered down at a twenty inch cutbow. Nate beamed from ear to ear, and why wouldn’t he? I snapped some fin and grins, and then Nate allowed the prize to recover before he nudged the beast back in the river. Nate’s day was already compete at noon, and so was mine.
I returned to my exit point and fished my way up to the tunnel pools. By now my watch displayed 12:30PM, so I found a comfortable spot on a grassy bank to eat, and I was joined by Nate within a few minutes. He reported that his legs and arms were still shaking from the adrenalin rush initiated by the largest fish of his young life. As we chomped our snacks, we observed the pool, and we were entertained by a smattering of rises. I also spotted a handful of small mayflies, and we surmised that a very sparse mayfly hatch was in progress. We debated switching to dries to focus on the risers, but I was reluctant to remove my dry/dropper configuration, and I was not certain that the rises were steady enough to create reasonable success or just a tease that would lead to frustration.
We moved on to some faster entering currents, and at this spot Nate bumped into his third surprise. His three fly rig snagged near the vertical rock wall on the far side of the river, and in his effort to disengage, he snapped off all three flies. He undertook the laborious task of reconfiguring his flies with three new versions, and when he cast near the same spot as the snag, his drift was once again interrupted. Upon lifting the flies to free them, he realized that he was connected to the three flies he just broke off. In this instance, however, he waded through some moderately deep water, freed his active flies and recovered the ones that he broke off!
With this bit of good fortune in hand, we decided to vacate the troublesome hook grabbing environment, and we advanced around two ninety degree bends to a wide slow moving pool. A couple was perched on the bank eating lunch, so we circled around them and progressed to a long stretch of pocket water that I targeted early on. I continued fishing the dry/dropper for the next hour, and I covered some gorgeous deep pools and pockets, but only had some refusals to the hopper to show for my efforts. I cycled through a number of nymphs including an emerald caddis pupa, a bright green go2 caddis pupa, an RS2, and an iron sally. I concluded that the fish were not in tune with nymphs, but the refusals to the hopper suggested that surface food was on their menu. I removed the three fly dry/dropper offerings and moved to a double dry set up. The front fly was a peacock body hippie stomper, and it trailed a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis.
Although the last two hours of fly fishing would not be characterized as hot fishing, I did increase the fish count to six with three fish netted while deploying the double dry approach. One of the afternoon trout hammered the hippie stomper, and the other two nabbed the trailing caddis. Two of these fish were quite nice including a fourteen inch rainbow and a thirteen inch brown trout. I made a large quantity of fruitless casts for these trout, so the catch rate remained subpar. Nate mostly stuck with the dry/dropper approach, and he advanced his fish count to five, although the monster cutbow made his day, and everything else was gravy.
Six fish in five plus hours of fishing is quite slow, but I managed to land some very fine rainbows and browns. Stream productivity in the middle of June is always welcome. Of course, the highlight of the day was Nate’s cutbow, and the euphoria extended into the next day, when I saw him at physical therapy. We already discussed some future trips. His goal of putting a significant bend in his rod was easily surpassed.
Fish Landed: 6