Saturday, August 15, 2015
With my home water, the Arkansas River, once again blown out by rain and inundated by rafters, float boats, and stand-up paddleboarders, I decided to head to an old reliable remote creek deep in a gorgeous red rock canyon for a day of quiet and solitude. Four Mile Creek arises near the old mining town of Cripple Creek then plunges through a long, deep red-rock canyon. It emerges near Canon City where it empties into the Arkansas…if it isn’t dried up first by irrigators. I usually fish the creek in June when other rivers and creeks are running high and the temperatures haven’t begin to soar–90s are typical in Canon City in July and August.
I hit the road at 6:15 a.m. at Salida and am in Canon City by 7:30. After a little searching and backtracking, I locate Field Avenue and head north out of town, where the road transitions into scenic Red Canyon Road and winds its way to the historic mining town turned gambling mecca of Cripple Creek.
While not blown out, the creek is running at 32 cfs just at Cripple Creek, the nearest gauging stating–substantially above the normal 20 cfs for this time of year. Still, from my vantage point high above on Red Canyon Road, the water looks inviting and definitely fishable. The climb down is short but very steep. I stow my fishing tackle and wading gear in my big day pack leaving one hand free to carry a small insulated bag with lunch and drinks and the other to navigate with the essential hiking pole. The first time here 5 years ago I made the mistake of trying to hike down fully suited up in waders and wading boots with fly rod unfurled at the ready. After slipping down the slope, sliding over prickly pair cactus, dodging jumping cholla cactus, and narrowly avoiding disaster, I swore never again. Now I pick my way carefully across the slope somewhere above road mile marker 11, using the hiking pole to slow my descent and keep my balance. The trip down always generates new respect for mountain goats.
I reach the creek at 8:30 and am soon rigged up and on the water. The creek is more overgrown than ever with willows and other assorted waist high vegetation thanks to all the snow and rain this year. Small green grasshoppers whir about, and I make a mental note to try a hopper pattern in the afernoon. This is rattlesnake country–I had a too close encounter several years ago–so I tread carefully along the streamside boulders. The first pool I creep up on looks inviting, although the water is a bit more off-color than usual and the current is strong. I try a hot pink bead San Juan worm that glows invitingly in the brownish water, dragged down deep by two BB split shot.. I watch intently the bright fluorescent yellow strike indicators wrapped on above the split shot…but no dice. Same story in next pool. I am already beginning to worry. So I try another worm pattern that did me right last year–an improbable red/pink combo–and add a little more weight. That results in a fat little 8-inch brown trout on the first cast.
Continuing upstream, I hit several beautiful pools that have produced in the past, but nada now. Too much water, too much current. I spy a little back eddy that looks promising and flip the SJ worm into the hold–and bam! A fiesty brownie streaks into the current and after a couple of nice jumps the 12-incher comes to the shore. That’s the ticket as I move upstream–the fish are hanging out in slow deep runs and back eddies. By two in the afternoon I have ten, including a 13-incher that qualifies as a lunker in this water–most everything is 6-10 inches, although I spook one in the shallows at the bottom of one pool that looked at least 15 inches. I usually catch a couple that big, but not today.
By now the sun is high and baking the canyon. The temperature is near 90 degrees so for a lunch spot I seek out shade under a grove of tall Gambel Oak. Sitting above the creek for lunch I watch as a couple of little trout smack something on the surface. I dig through my fly box and find a yellow parachute Madame X (PMX), size 12, that does a decent job of matching the hoppers in the tall grass. I drop a small beadhead pink SJ worm on a short leader below it. Two flies are tough to fish on this narrow creek if the dropper is more than 18 inches below–the willows have a hearty appetite for trailing flies. Then I bushwhack downstream. And I mean bushwhack.
When I finally emerge at a likely looking pool, I make a mental note that wet wading will be in order if I come back in August next year–the water is cool but not cold (which probably explains why only brownies seem to inhabit the creek). But the rocks are smooth and slick so wading shoes with felt are highly recommended. I step gingerly into the swift current, step into an unexpected hole, and take my first full-body dunking of the year. My waders fill, not an entirely unpleasant experience given the heat. I struggle to my feet, laughing, and empty the water from various fishing vest pockets then check my waterproof Iphone case which did its job, and get on with the fishing.
The first float produces a showy rise by a voracious 10-incher on the PMX. Next pool up the pink SJ produces, then another on the PMX. Heading back to my gear cache, I miss quite a few strikes on the worm as I have all day–the trout seem almost to nibble on it, hitting it lightly, not the slashing strikes I get on the PMX. I hook but lose a couple of solid foot long browns, then decide to call it quits around 5 p.m. By now it has clouded up and thunder is booming above me on the canyon rim. The hike up is slow–30 minutes–but without incident and cooler–down to 75 degrees or so. Back on the road, I look down at the roaring little creek and tip my cap, giving my regards till next year. As usual, didn’t see a soul all day, not even a boot mark. A good Mex dinner and margaritas at Los Girasoles in Salida beckons.