Late May/Early June 2021
For my recent befuddling foray on the Trout Creek beaver ponds see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/23/__trashed/
and for some tips and techniques for beaver pond angling see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/27/runoff-blues-try-a-beaver-pond/
Beaver ponds are my go-to alternative when my favorite rivers and creeks in Colorado are blown out from spring runoff. This year I decided to try some inviting new waters close to home that I had overlooked for years. Based on decades of experience, mostly in the school of hard knocks, I fancy myself a fair-to-middling beaver pond angler. However, as documented in a recent blog post in May (See link above.), my first beaver pond outing of the season on a stream near Buena Vista, Colorado, one with a very promising name—Trout Creek—left me bewildered and despondent. After some four hours of hacking my way through a willow jungle and numerous casts on picture-perfect ponds, I netted only three modestly-sized fish! Needless to say, my piscatorial mojo was severely depleted. Undaunted, I promised I would return to take on the insolent critters, but decided first I better get some semblance of my full mojo back. To do so, I settled on a series of beautiful beaver ponds that dot Pass Creek, a small stream only a mile from my cabin near Salida, Colorado, as a potential antidote.
Pass Creek originates high up near the Continental Divide at the foot of 12,850-foot Chipeta Mountain, flowing out of beautiful Pass Creek Lake which holds some gorgeous cutthroats.
It then cascades some eight miles to its confluence with Little Cochetopa Creek just below my cabin. I had fished the lake and upper four miles of the creek a number of times over the years and had a ball catching some nice cutts in the lake and smaller cutts and brookies in the creek below, with a few surprise out-sized cutts mixed in. However, further down below the remnants of a little mining ghost town, I hadn’t given the stream much attention, primarily because it is heavily overgrown in its lower stretches or runs through private land.
In 2020 curiosity had finally gotten the best of me, and I sampled a couple of the beaver ponds a mile or so above the Little Cochetopa Creek confluence, landing several hefty brownies.
Alas, sometime in the past year those little waters had been blown out by the runoff, which often happens with beaver ponds. Fortunately, one fine winter’s day in 2021, I had decided to get some fresh air and drove up the bumpy gravel road that parallels the creek to do some recon. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a series of beaver ponds that had been invisible all those years, hidden by a thicket of bushes, vines, and trees.
I marked the location on Google Maps and then bided my time. Now that time had arrived with my beaver pond mojo needing some readjustment!
On a sunny afternoon in late May I was bouncing up CR (County Road) 212 that winds above the creek. The breeze was light and temperature in the 70s. I could see the creek was high from the runoff but reasonably clear and definitely fishable. I drove up about two miles up from the junction of CR 210 and 212 and pulled over at a turnout in the road where I had spotted the ponds earlier, then walked about a quarter mile back down just below where I estimated I would find the last of the ponds in this stretch.
The ponds were completely hidden, but relying on my keen navigational skills and some prayers, plunged into the thicket for a serious bushwhacking session.
Soon the wild roses and other assorted thorny bushes were grasping at my waders, and just as I was about to utter some choice expletives, I spied what looked to be a pond and could hear the rush of the creek.
I navigated carefully around a waterfall above the pond, but despite my stealthy approach, sent a squadron of small trout in the shallows scurrying for cover. Well, I thought, at least the fish are here. I decided to let the denizens of the pond settle down and fish the creek right below the waterfall. I checked some stream rocks and found them loaded with small mayfly and caddis nymphs. Caddis and mayflies along with midges were also flitting around in the air above the water. All signs were looking good! I was carrying two rods, one a 7.5-foot three-weight fly rod that I rigged with a bushy #16 Rio Grande King Trude attractor below which I tied on a #18 red Two-Bit Hooker to imitate the mayfly nymphs. The other, blasphemously, was a 5-foot ultralight spincast outfit that I figured I might need to be able to cast in the overgrown stretches above where fly casting would be impossible or to get down deep in the ponds. It was rigged with a beadhead sparkle caddis nymph and a #20 red zebra midge.
I knelt carefully on a sandbar 20-feet below the waterfall and targeted my cast at the foam line along the grassy undercut bank. The trude floated jauntily down the little run and promptly disappeared. I set the hook and was on to a trout that scampered back and forth in the small pool. Finally a Lilliputian brown came to the net.
Given my baffling experience on the aforementioned Trout Creek, I celebrated with a victory dance. Never has there been such rejoicing over an eight-inch fish as there was for this little guy.
Now I was ready to tackle the beaver pond. I concentrated on the darker, deeper water near the dam, but came up empty. Next I proceeded cautiously up the long south arm of the pond. Despite my stealth, again I scared the daylights out of a school of small trout that promptly jetted to safety above, no doubt alerting their brethren. Cracks began to appear in my still fragile, recovering mojo.
I retreated to the north arm of the pond and climbed back around the waterfall. Above, the creek narrowed, requiring me to claw through the overhanging branches and brush to reach open water. But the effort was worth it as I emerged just below the next good-looking beaver pond.
I crouched below the dam to avoid spooking any fish in the pond, and had just enough room to make a short backcast. As soon as the dry hit the water it was inhaled by a spunky brown pushing 9-inches. That was more like it! Surprisingly, however, a dozen more casts came up empty. I decided to mount the beaver dam and use the spincast outfit to probe the deeper water with the double-nymph rig to which I had added a split shot. No sooner had the flies sunk out of sight into the dark pool than something hit hard. It was another brown enticed by the zebra midge, this one a little bigger.
Now the action turned fast and furious, and I quickly fooled five more. The mojo meter was inching steadily up! As I worked to the upper end of the pond where the trees and brush receded, I switched back to the fly rod and fooled several more browns on the Two-Bit Hooker.
As I continued wading upstream I stepped out on a sandbar for easier going and immediately saw some fresh animal tracks. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I realized they were those of a mountain lion. Yikes.
Chaffee County is reputed to have one of the largest cougar populations in the state, but I have yet to see one here. I had the feeling something was watching me, but fortunately didn’t see or hear anything the rest of the afternoon if the big cat was indeed spying on me. He probably figured there wasn’t much worth gnawing on this old grizzled body.
From here on up, the going thankfully got easier as the ponds were spaced more closely together. The next one featured a big dam and plenty of casting room for the fly rod on the south side. I carefully scaled the south end of the dam and worked my way to an open spot where I knelt carefully in the shoreline grass. A few fish were rising along the opposite shoreline where the water was deepest. I unfurled a long cast that alighted delicately near the risers and was rewarded with an immediate strike on the dry. I set the hook and was onto the biggest fish of the day. He immediately headed towards the safety of the deepest part of the pool up against the dam and its riot of sticks and branches. My little rod was bent double as I tried to horse the trout away from danger. It was nip and tuck, but he finally relented and came in—a 14-inch beauty!
After my nerves calmed down, I made several more long casts with the dry/dropper rig but to no avail. So out came the spincast outfit. I cast across the pond again and let the nymphs descend to the depths of the pool. I cranked the reel handle a couple of times and was jolted by a hard strike. Another good-sized brown had inhaled the red zebra midge. He would also go near 14-inches!! This was definitely the honey hole, and three other brownies over 12-inches soon followed. My mojo meter was spinning wildly!!
When things quieted down, I proceeded to the next pond immediately above that was smaller and required a tricky backhand, sidearm cast to squeeze the flies into the main current under some overhanging dead branches. My first two casts were just out of the flow, but the third swung in gracefully just below the little waterfall created by the dam above and glided under the twigs. BAM! There was a miniature explosion as another nice brown that would measure 13-inches gulped down the dry. He dove for the undercut bank but I was able to winch him out into open water and into my net.
This would be the last of the good-sized fish, but who can complain.
The next pond upstream turned out to be shallow, yielding only a couple more diminutive trout. From there I ventured back into the fast-running creek upstream. As my flies floated pell-mell past a little brush pile at a bend in the stream, several miniature browns came flashing out in hot pursuit. I decided to have a little fun and made several more casts. They tried fearlessly again and again to nail the little imitations, but to no avail. Nothing like ending the day with a good laugh, a smile on my face, and the mojo meter recharged.
After I bushwhacked my way back up the slope to the SUV and had shed my waders, I quaffed a good NA beer. With another hour or so of daylight, it entered my trout-addled brain that maybe I should drive another mile upstream to where the creek flowed out of a stretch of private land to see if there were any more decent looking ponds up that way. Look what I discovered that some busy beavers had built since my last sojourn up here a couple of years ago.
Guess I’ll have to sample them next week…somebody has to so might as well be me, and maybe I’ll supercharge my angling mojo for the return bout on Trout Creek. I think I’ll need it.