For an account of my earlier sojourn on Four Mile Creek, see my July 2015 article.
The epic runoff of 2019 in Colorado has put the fishing for most of us on the shelf. So what better way to break the hex but to fish Four Mile Creek below scenic Shelf Road near Cañon City! I haven’t been back to this little wilderness canyon gem for almost four years, so am anxious to see what changes time has wrought. Four Mile Creek usually runs clear and fishable most of the year, being a tailwater of private Wright Reservoir upstream near the historic mining and now-gaming town of Cripple Creek. The Colorado Division of Water Resources gauge near Cripple Creek reports a flow of 13 CFS, which is about perfect. Flows between 10 and 20 CFS are best in my experience.
I’m on the road at 7 a.m. from my spot at the Indian Springs RV Campground just north of Canon City.
I’m doing a shakedown trip this week to test out my new mobile mini fish camp travel trailer and to salve my fishing fever. I head into town on US 50, looking for the turnoff at the Burger King onto N. Raynolds Avenue. Raynolds goes north and turns into Pear Street, and then I take a right onto Fields Avenue. After a few miles I intersect Highway 9 that climbs into Red Canyon. The striking western scene sends out good vibrations of a fine fishing day to come. The weather outlook is excellent—barely 60 degrees now with a predicted high of only in the lower 80s while Cañon City will be cooking in an early summer heat wave. I stay away from the creek in late July through early September—too hot in the canyon and rattlers likely to greet you then.
When the pavement ends I start to wend my way down the gravel road into Four Mile Creek Canyon. Highway 9 turns into one-lane Shelf Road perched high above the canyon and creek. I stop at a turnout and hold my breath as I edge to the steep drop-off to take my first peek at the water…and am thrilled to see it is in good shape.
The epic runoff of 2019 continues and with it my search for fishable trout waters. Most of my favorite rivers and streams—the Arkansas, Gunnison, Saguache, Cochetopa, and Tomichi—are still blown out. But Beaver Creek below the gambling and mining town of Cripple Creek appears to be candidate based on the latest reported water levels. It’s running at 18 cfs downstream at Penrose, eminently fishable, and the fact that it is a tailwater below Skaguay Reservoir means it’s probably clear as well.
I had a fun day on upper Beaver Creek late last summer and want to explore the next section further down. Last trip I hiked in about two miles below the reservoir, stumbled on a small beaver dam and pond, then fished back up from there. I caught dozens of brownies in the six-to-twelve inch range and a few bigger in the spillway just below the dam. Now my plan is to hike another mile or so below that point and explore some new water.
I’m off a bit after 7 a.m. from the Indian Springs Campground near Canon City where I am giving my new smaller mobile fish camp a shakedown run (For the story of the demise of my former rig, see my article “A Trip Through Hades.”).
My route is up through Phantom Canyon, an endlessly scenic but rough track that everyone should do at least once. It’s very slow going, taking me almost two hours to cover the 25 miles or so to Cripple Creek/Victor and Skaguay Reservoir.
It’s hard to believe this route was carved out of this rugged country for a railroad in the late 1800s. But my mind is on fishing, so I push on.
Per-spi-ca-ci-ty: The quality of having a ready insight into things; keenness of mental perception; shrewdness
With the epic runoff this year and most rivers and streams blown out till mid-July or later, smart anglers are turning their attention to beaver ponds, many of which remain fishable. But truth is, beaver ponds can be honey holes any time of the fly fishing season and loads of fun.
They are usually lightly fished and often hold scads of eager fish plus occasional lunkers. Did I mention the wildlife that abounds around them??
But they can be challenging, often calling for a distinctly different approach than the waters that feed them.
I still remember clearly that first beaver pond I met in Colorado as a novice teenage fly fisherman. I saw trout rising everywhere in a picture-perfect pond featuring a big beaver lodge in the middle, and promptly spooked them to the next county as I confidently walked up to the shoreline and started casting. Bass and bluegill never did that in the Kansas farm ponds where I had practiced learning this new art. Like most small mountain trout waters, stealth is critical, and even more so on the often clear, shallow, and still waters of beaver ponds. But as experience taught me over time, there is much more to successful beaver pond angling than stealth. They are not all alike, sometimes differing dramatically on the same creek. They can also vary radically from year-to-year, sometimes disappearing completely as high flows bust them up or silt fills in the best holding water.
Here Today…Gone Tomorrow
Never fear! Here are some tips on solving the riddle of these unique and intriguing waters that I have gleaned over the years in the school of hard knocks.
I had a few hours on a beautiful remote creek last Friday not far from Salida, Colorado, and got my annual full body submersion out of the way early this fishing season. Hooked and lost a large brown trout on a #20 red zebra midge…..
Then a few minutes later proceeded to step off the shoreline onto a raft of water cress that was hiding a four-foot deep hole.
Soon was dog paddling in ice cold water up to my neck wearing chest-high waders and a fully loaded fishing vest. Never in any danger, but thankful no one was videoing this misadventure! Continued on resolutely dripping wet, then recovered nicely 10 minutes later to catch this gorgeous 17”+ brown trout on a #20 black foam midge.
He was one of the most beautifully colored I have ever seen. Red and black rings on a field of gold. Nature’s gift. Ah, persistence! 🥴
There is nothing more disheartening for a Rocky Mountain angler than to drive over a favorite creek or river in late May or early June and discover overnight it’s transformed from a clear rushing stream into a churning chocolate brown runaway torrent. It’s a sure sign that the snow-fueled runoff is underway and with the high-elevation lakes still iced in, that the fly rods will be mothballed till July.
But wait!! It does not have to be. With a little sleuthing there are almost always some waters that are fishable. Here are some tips on how to find them and a list of likely candidates in my neck of the woods—south central Colorado.