Time: 11:45AM – 4:00PM
Location: National forest
When I made plans to visit the Flattops during the last week of September, I was uncertain whether I would attempt my annual hike in to the South Fork. This venture is typically my most arduous day of the week, and after enduring a three week layoff and significant illness, I reasoned that it was a good idea to skip it in 2023. That was before the area was blessed with balmy early fall temperatures that hovered in the sixty to seventy-five degree range. Tuesday and Wednesday were solid from a health standpoint, so I took the plunge and invested one day on the South Fork.
When I arrived at the trailhead, the temperature registered 50 degrees, but I knew that once the sun crept over the mountain ridge to the east, the atmosphere would quickly warm. I elected to deploy my Sage One five weight, as I favored the long and heavier rod, in case I tangled with some energized South Fork rainbows and cutbows.
After I established a decent buffer from the trailhead, I cut to the river, and my watch displayed 11:30AM, so I immediately devoured my small snack. As I munched my sandwich, a decent trout darted to the surface to sip a food item trapped in the surface film of a small eddy twenty-five feet above the log I was resting on. I continued to observe, and a second subtle surface grab appeared several feet away from and below the eddy. Given this activity I decided to open with Jake’s gulp beetle. I plopped ten casts in the area, but the targeted sipper never made a move. Maybe the second rise was focused on a caddis? I replaced the beetle with a size 14 light gray deer hair caddis, but it was also ignored.
I decided the random feeder was no longer hungry, so I changed my lineup and waded across the river to the south side. I was now in prospect mode, and I tied a size 8 tan pool toy to my line followed by a 20 incher on a four foot dropper and then added another twelve inch leader with an emerald caddis pupa. I flipped some casts to a slow-moving deep run between an exposed boulder and the swift main current, and on the third cast the hopper disappeared. I suddenly found myself connected to a hard fighting cutbow, and after a five minute battle I dipped the net beneath my prize. My net was occupied with a fat fifteen inch fish that grabbed the 20 incher.
My optimism soared, but I had to endure an hour of fruitless casting, before I enjoyed more action. In this case I lobbed the three fly dry/dropper in a narrow but deep slot between two faster currents. Near the end of the drift the hopper disappeared, and once again an angry fish streaked down and then up the river. I held tight and after a short but spirited fight, I witnessed another fat slab of a cutbow in my net. This adversary was also fifteen inches but definitely very thick and heavy, and it displayed vivid colors particularly the bright orange-red cheeks. Between “red cheeks” and 2PM I endured nothing but fruitless casting and boredom.
I continued to focus on deep areas with slower current velocity, but spots that matched this criteria failed to deliver. Finally at 2PM I changed up with a major new rigging. I went to my stalwart peacock hippie stomper with a beadhead hares ear in the upper nymph position and a salvation nymph at the end of the line. Finally in a small slow side channel, I landed a small rainbow on the hares ear, and then shortly thereafter another ten inch rainbow smacked the hippie stomper. I was beginning to wonder what happened to the small fish that I typically slide in my net on the South Fork.
I advanced up the river to the point, where the main river was once again one channel. The riverbed was narrower in this stretch, and this created more attractive deep pockets and runs. Since I had success with the small rainbows in slower water near the bank, I began focusing my casts to slow pockets and deep slower runs along the left bank. For the next hour I was on fire. I landed four hard charging rainbows and cutbows, and it felt like I was in a different river. This transpired between 2:30PM and 3:30PM. Casts along the bank that were previously ignored suddenly drew aggressive attacks. The first of this quartet of eaters was a magnificent seventeen inch cutbow that smashed the hippie stomper. I could hardly believe my good fortune, when I guided the behemoth into my net. What a beast of a wild fish!
Two of the others were very respectable thirteen inch chunks, and these wild fish put on noble displays of streaking, rolling and head shaking. As quickly as the river turned on, it ended. I once again made an exorbitant number of futile casts to similar water types, but now the trout had lockjaw. The shadows extended across the river except for a narrow band along the left bank. I continued in spite of glare and difficulty following the white wing of the hippie stomper, and finally a drift through a deep and narrow band of slower water produced another feisty thirteen inch rainbow. I celebrated reaching double digits and initiated the hike back to the car.
Thursday was all about quality over numbers. I remain curious over the status of the smaller fish. It was a struggle to achieve double digits, but six quality fish found my net including a seventeen inch beauty and two fifteen inch slabs. The one hour window between 2:30PM and 3:30PM saved my day. Of course the weather and scenery were perfect, and the fall foliage remained near its prime. I have one more day, before my Flattops trip reaches its end.
Fish Landed: 10