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.
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.
Note: For additional information about Beaver Creek fishing, see my articles from November and December 2017
I am just back from my winter fishing haven in Everglades City, Florida. The dust has settled from my settling back in my cabin near Salida, Colorado, and I am hankering for some trout action. This time of year that usually means smaller creeks, because the big rivers like the Arkansas are blown out by spring runoff and too high to wade. The choices are good this year compared to last when even the smaller creeks were running high well into July (See my 2017 blog on Silver Creek.). Because of low snow pack and lack of rain, many nearby streams are low and clear.
I decide that Beaver Creek near Canon City, Colorado, where I had some great fishing last fall may be the ticket. It’s only about 1 ½ hours from the cabin, and I can also catch it on the way back from Denver after visiting my son Matthew and little granddaughter Aly. When I check the Colorado Water Talk website, I figure now rather than in July or August—Beaver Creek is already running very low at about 5 CFS—late summer conditions. I also want to scout out the creek as a possible trip with my Matthew and Aly in a couple of weeks. She’s about 2 ½ years old and ready to catch her first fish!!
Note: Please read this article in tandem with my earlier blog on late fall fishing (December 6) that contains more detailed information on essential gear, flies, and technique.
I ease into the crystal clear pool where Beaver Creek cascades up against a big cliff. True to the inside scoop from a Colorado Springs fly shop, I have already caught a couple of beautiful small browns. The skinny is that lots of 4-to-11 inch trout inhabit this pristine little stream near Canon City. Nothing much bigger. But then I catch sight of a silver blue form undulating deep in the hole.
Then it’s gone. Maybe a rainbow trout? I gently loft my two-fly rig—a Royal Trude dry on top trailed by my old reliable green hotwire caddis nymph—into the cascade and watch it drift down gracefully, enticingly up against the cliff then bounce downstream. How could any fish resist? I try again…and again. Nobody home? I am just about ready to move on, when a small swirling back eddy above the craggy rocks catches my eye. I reach out with my rod, using my 36-inch long arms to maximum advantage, and flip the dry/dropper against the rock wall into the foam of the eddy, which is swirling slowly upstream in reverse. The dry twists and turns, then disappears. I reflexively set the hook and feel the bottom. Grrrr! But then it begins to move, and I see the light-colored back of a big rainbow. He knows his home territory and dives under the rocks, but my stout 5-weight rod is up to the task and slowly he comes my way. Then he jets downstream into shallower water, a fatal mistake—I can more easily play him out in the open. In a minute he is sliding into my net for a quick measure and photo. I am astonished to find he is a tad over 15-inches!! So much for Lilliputian trout!! And just a couple of days before December! Another legend of the late fall.
It’s mid-November, and I am traversing down a steep slope into the canyon where Grape Creek runs free. It’s a balmy 50 degrees, but I’m crunching through a few inches of snow left over in shaded areas from a storm earlier in the week.
After stowing my RC Cola and Almond Joy candy bar in a snow bank, I ease into the water. It’s icy, and I do mean icy cold–only increasing my growing doubts about finding any willing fish. The sun is just climbing over the canyon rim, lighting up the good-looking u-shaped pool created where the creek plunges over a riffle and head first into a big rock palisade. I start throwing a line, and to my surprise on the third cast something big nails the caddis nymph that trails a couple of feet below the Royal Coachman Trude dry. After a good tussle, a brightly colored 15-inch rainbow eases into the net. All doubts evaporate. It’s the start of another banner late fall angling escapade.