South Platte River – 05/08/2024

Time: 11:00AM – 3:15PM

Location: Cheesman Canyon

South Platte River 05/08/2024 Photo Album

Four days of wind had me on edge and yearning for a day of fishing. Wednesday weather was not ideal, but at least the wind subsided, although the temperatures were forecast to be on the cold side. When will I ever be able to once again fly fish without wearing a hat with earflaps?

I checked the weather in Cotopaxi and Salida and Lake George, as I searched for a lower elevation fishing destination that might provide warmer temperatures. Lake George forecast highs in the forties, so I quickly eliminated that cold spot. The Arkansas River locales showed promise with temperatures in the low fifties; but I invited my friend, Nate, and he camped and fished the Arkansas over the weekend, so he was burned out on that large river. What about lakes? I scanned my list of lakes at lower elevation that would be ice free in early May, and I settled on Pine Valley Ranch Lake. When I proposed that spot to Nate, he countered with the South Platte River at Deckers or Cheesman Canyon. I pondered this, and came to the realization that the weather in those South Platte destinations would be similar to Pine Valley Ranch due to their proximity, so I agreed on the South Platte River.

I met Nate at a Park and Ride on Wednesday morning, and we continued on to the Cheesman Canyon Trailhead parking lot. Our preference was Cheesman Canyon with Deckers our back up, but we were fortunate to snag a parking space in the Cheesman lot. Fourteen vehicles preceded us, so we knew that we would encounter company on our river trip.

The dashboard thermometer registered 45 degrees, so I pulled on my long sleeved thermal undershirt, fishing shirt, fleece hoodie, and light down parka. For head gear I snugged on my billed cap with earflaps (will it ever be left behind?). I stuffed my fingerless wool gloves in my parka pockets, and then I assembled my Sage One five weight, and I was ready for action. Nate also wore layers, and he decided to carry two rods into the canyon; a light three weight for dry flies and his fast action Douglas four weight for dry/dropper and nymphs.

We completed a 1.5 mile hike and found a spot among the massive rounded boulders to begin our day of fly angling. I rigged up with a New Zealand strike indicator, split shot, flesh colored San Juan worm and size 18 beadhead pheasant tail. Nate spotted some large fish in a pool a bit downstream from our starting point, so he shuffled over to the river to begin casting his four weight. As I rigged my indicator nymph set up, Nate returned with a frown on his face and held up his fly rod. Instantly I recognized the cause of Nate’s sadness, as one of the sections of the rod was split in two. Nate broke his rod, and he was not even certain how it happened. What can one say to comfort a fellow angler, who encounters such misfortune at the outset of the day? The only positive was the presence of his three weight that he transported into the canyon along with the four weight, so he had the wherewithal to continue fishing albeit with an undersized three weight fly rod.

Gorgeous SpotsAnother Before Lunch Brown Trout

In the hour before lunch we progressed up the river, and I was able to land three quality brown trout. All three grabbed the beadhead pheasant tail, and all sported deep yellow coloring, and the size range was between twelve and thirteen inches. All three were hooked by blind casting, and the trout seemed to materialize from a sandy bottom, where I was unable to observe fish of any kind before casting.

Number Two From Here

After lunch Nate crossed the river, while I remained on the side next to the main trail. In this way we could work upstream in parallel rather than adopt a hopscotch approach. The river at 270 CFS was easy to fish from both sides simultaneously. I suffered through a long fish drought between 12:15 and 2:30PM, as I cast repeatedly to long sweeping runs, deep current seams and moderate riffles, but the fish were averse to approaching my offerings.

Nate Focused After CrossingLooking Down on Nate from High Above in the Canyon

After this long fishless period, I paused and replaced the San Juan worm with an orange scud. Voila! Not long after the transition, my indicator dipped, and I swiftly raised my arm and connected with a burly brown trout. This fifteen inch fighter proved to be the best fish of the day, and upon inspection in my net I realized that it sucked in the orange scud. It was gratifying to experience success so soon after a fly change. The prize catch emerged from a short but deep trough in front of a submerged boulder in an area that frankly looked rather marginal. I thanked the fishing gods and moved farther upstream.

Lemon Butter Brown, Best of the Day

One hundred yards beyond my fourth catch, I approached a long sweeping run that angled away from my bank and then curved straight down the river. I began flicking backhand casts to the top of the run, and allowed the nymphs to tumble through the slower moving deep center trough between two rushing deep runs with current seams. Suddenly the indicator dipped, and I was connected to another head-shaking brown trout that also measured in the fourteen inch range. In this case the fighter displayed the beadhead pheasant tail in its lip.

Last Fish Was a BeautyHome of Number Five Was Straight Ahead

I fished on for another fifteen minutes, but I was unable to repeat my success story, so I hooked my fly to the rod guide and called it a day at 3:15PM. My feet were chilled as was my core, and I was ready for the two plus mile hike back to the parking lot. Meanwhile, Nate was across from me, and he eagerly agreed with the decision to leave. He landed one very nice rainbow on the day, but he was overwhelmed with frustration. The broken four weight forced him to utilize his three weight, and the combination of the weighted dry/dropper, wind and undersized rod led to an abundant quantity of tangles. Nate suggested that he probably spent more time untangling his line than fishing.

Scenic View on Return Hike

Our return hike took one hour and twenty minutes, and the parking lot had thinned considerably. We quickly removed our waders and prepared for our return trip. My expectations for a day in Cheesman Canyon are always tempered by the selectivity and wariness of canyon trout. A five fish day in the canyon is a huge success in my opinion, and the quality of the brown trout was first rate. The weather was definitely chilly, but for much of the time I was shielded from the worst wind. One section that ran east to west between sharp bends challenged me with a headwind, and this in turn led to some significant shoulder fatigue. It had been quite a while since my last visit, and I was reminded of the beauty of the wonderful state that I live in. Spaced out ponderosa pines, massive round boulders, and red sandstone gravel are the signature qualities of the canyon, and I love them all. Five wild trout were icing on the cake.

Fish Landed: 5

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