Time: 11:15AM – 4:00PM
Location: Eleven Mile Canyon
Monday, April 10, 2023 was finally a gorgeous spring day in Colorado, and I took full advantage. I was unhappy with the sparse blue wing olive hatch that I encountered on the Arkansas River, so I made the drive to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. I knew from past years that the BWO hatches in the canyon tailwater were dependable, and they consistently spurred the wild fish population to feed ravenously.
I arrived at a pullout along the dirt road that borders the river by 10:45AM, and the dashboard thermometer registered 48 degrees. I pulled on my fleece hoodie and added my raincoat as a windbreaker layer and a means to retain my body warmth, and then I assembled my Sage One five weight. Wind and the potential for larger fish dictated my choice of rod. Once I was prepared, I hiked up the road for .3 mile and then dipped down a steep gravel bank to the edge of the river. Flows were running low at 64 CFS, so I elected to deploy a dry/dropper rig to minimize the impact on the water. I knotted a yellow size 8 fat Albert to my leader as the surface fly, and then I added an translucent apricot egg and a sparkle wing RS2. I began fishing in a narrow section of the canyon that featured some attractive pocket water, and I experienced four split second connections in the first forty-five minutes, before I broke for lunch. Needless to say I was frustrated by the lack of landed fish, but I was pleased that my flies were attracting attention.
After lunch I advanced up the river to the gorgeous, long pool that entertained me on many a spring day during baetis hatches. I also used lunch to adjust my offerings, and I replaced the egg fly with a size 18 crystal stone as well as swapping the sparkle wing RS2 for a new version with a more pronounced wing. Unfortunately the pool was devoid of activity, so after I prospected the entering runs with no success, I moved up the river once again. I covered some marginal pockets with the dry/dropper, and then I arrived at a nice riffle and run that flowed into a small pool. In the past I had a bit of success here, but never the level of action that I derived from the long pool or the big bend pool that was fifty yards upstream. I flicked some casts to the entering run along the left bank, and then I turned my attention to the deeper riffles directly above me. On the fourth drift the fat Albert dipped, and I set the hook and found myself in a struggle with a very rambunctious rainbow trout. After some torrid runs I turned the tide and netted the river warrior that extended across the mouth of my net thus measuring fifteen inches. The wild chunk displayed the crystal stone in its lip. I reloaded and fired some casts upstream and to the right, and in a short amount of time I connected with another feisty rainbow trout. This one was in the thirteen inch range, but it fought quite heroically, and this fish nailed the sparkle wing RS2.
As these two battles evolved, I began to notice a few blue winged olives, as they emerged and fluttered in the air above the river. The hatch was very sparse, but I decided to circle back to the long pool just in case the mayfly emergence initiated some feeding. The move paid huge dividends, as I observed three or four fish gulping food morsels from the center of the pool. Not wishing to waste a minute of dry fly time, I removed my nymphs, split shot and fat Albert, and I replaced the deep set up with a single CDC blue winged olive. The choice was spot on, and I quickly advanced the fish count from two to eight, as the active feeders slashed at my blue winged olive imitation with confidence. These trout were not as large as the two nymph feeders, but they were mostly in the 11-13 inch range, and I was not complaining. Fast paced dry fly action is always a welcome circumstance in my opinion.
Eventually the density of the hatch waned a bit, and the frequency of the rises slowed, and the fish began to ignore my drifts. My CDC olive got wedged in the hard cartilage of the mouth of one of the browns, and it required significant pressure to pull the fly free thus putting a bend in the hook. I replaced the fly with another, however, it possessed a fluffier wing, and the fish seemed put off by the larger CDC puff. During the fall of 2022 I discovered that a size 20 Craven soft hackle emerger fished in the surface film fooled selective trout, so I gave that ploy another try on Monday. Voila! it worked, and I added three more trout to the fish tally. The eaters of the soft hackle emerger seemed to pluck the fly from the surface just as it began to drag or skate, so movement seemed to be an attractor.
Finally the hatch slowed to a trickle of stragglers, and the rises diminished as well, so I decided to stroll up the river to investigate additional favorite spots. My first stop was the large bend pool just below the tunnel, and as I arrived on the west bank, another angler occupied the east side at the tip of the narrow island just above the pool. I asked his permission to fish the side opposite him, and he graciously approved. I spotted several fish rising in the entry riffle fifteen feet from the head of the run, and I began to place downstream casts above the feeding fish. On the fifth cast a very nice fourteen inch rainbow sipped the soft hackle emerger, and I quickly scooped it in my net. One more trout nabbed the soft hackle emerger in the bend pool, but then I entered a period of frustration, as sporadic risers ignored my soft hackle emerger and a new CDC BWO dry fly. Eventually I surrendered and moved up the river and wished my pool partner good luck, as he persisted with the picky pool residents.
I advanced around the bend and quickly moved to the smooth pool along the steep left bank downstream from the vertical rock wall. I paused to observe for a few minutes and eventually spotted a few small rings toward the opposite bank. I executed some expert downstream drifts over three or four sporadic risers, but they treated my flies with disdain. I reverted to the soft hackle emerger, but neither style of fly could generate interest.
My next stop was the pool next to the vertical rock wall, and quite a few trout were feeding in this section. The area where splashy rises persisted was entirely within a shadow, so tracking my tiny tuft of a fly was nearly impossible. I deployed the technique of guessing where my fly was and then lifting, if I saw a rise in that vicinity, and I managed to prick a pair of fish, but never brought one to my net.
Once again I adopted a nomadic state, and I wandered farther upstream to another wide and smooth pool with several very attractive deep entering runs. I spent ten minutes at the top of the pool, and I spotted two trout hovering just below the surface in a nice run toward the far bank. I caught a glimpse of two fish, and one rose one time, but my small olive imitation generated one look, and then I concluded that the trout were wise to my presence. I retreated to the shoreline and carefully waded to the tail. A young man was seated along the bank across from the tail section, so I asked his permission to fish, and he granted it saying that it was going to be a while until he wet his line. He was feverishly working on his line and flies, so I took advantage and waded to the extreme tail and along the far bank. I saw two sporadic rises, and I may have generated a refusal from the closest fish, but that was the extent of my action at the tail of the wide and smooth pool.
It was now approaching 4PM, and the hatch essentially ended. The sky was a brilliant blue with no clouds in sight, so I concluded that additional waves of baetis hatches were not going to be forthcoming. I hooked my BWO into the rod guide and found a fairly accessible path up the steep slope to the road and hiked back to the car.
I finally fulfilled my goal of encountering a blue winged olive hatch in 2023, and I was very pleased with the result. My best trout grabbed nymphs just before the hatch, but then I landed eleven additional trout on blue winged olive dry fly imitations. I had a blast, and April 10 qualifies as my best day of fly fishing in the new year in terms of size of fish and quantity of fish. I can only imagine the feeding frenzy should I hit a day with heavy afternoon cloud cover. I will keep my eyes on the weather forecasts over the next week.
Fish Landed: 13