Beaver Pond Saga, Chpt. 2: Mojo Rejuvenation on Pass Creek (near Salida, CO)

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. 

Pass Creek Lake With Chipeta Mountain Above

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. 

Let The Bushwhacking Begin

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 Spy!!

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.

Dynamic Duo Is Good Combo To Tackle Overgrown Beaver Ponds

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. 

Close Encounter Of The Cougar Kind

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! 

Catch Of The Day

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.

Eager Little Brownies In Fast Run Help End Good Day With A Chuckle

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. 

Who Could Possibly Resist?!?

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.

Beaver Pond Recon: The Perfect Antidote For Post-Covid Second Shot Fishing Fever

February 28, 2021

While being a septuagenarian has increasingly few benefits, one major exception is jumping to the head of the line to get the coveted Covid vaccinations.  After scoring my second one last week, I didn’t suffer from any serious side effects–except found myself nursing a mild case of fishing fever in its wake.  No one warned me about that!! What to do??  Fortunately I found the perfect antidote:  A two-hour recon mission scoping out the beaver ponds on a little creek near my cabin just outside Salida, Colorado, that produced some good brownies last spring. 

Spring 2020 Beaver Pond Magic

And with spring just a few weeks away so must the spring thaw that will let this small stream aficionado get on back on the waters he loves.  What I found definitely lifted my spirits but oddly only stoked my fishing fever.  What’s an angler to do??

It was a bright and sunny day when I embarked on my exploratory mission, albeit a brisk 29 degrees at 8,000 feet.

Sunny Day For Beaver Pond Recon

Nevertheless, the first big pond I came to that produced that nice brown trout was already showing some open water! And in the creek up above I even heard and then caught a glimpse of running water!!

A Hint Of Open Water Already!
See That Running Water?!?

To further stoke the fever, a mile upstream I stumbled on a promising series of beaver ponds, replete with a picturesque lodge, that had been hidden by overgrown vegetation last time I was up that way. Got to be some decent fish in there!

Hopefully it won’t be long before I am boasting about my piscatorial acumen accompanied by photographic proof of my beaver pond exploits. To all my fly fishing friends out there, keep the faith—winter is about over!!

Goodbye To A River: A Sweet Afternoon On The Big Ark Near Salida, CO

Late October 2019

For some earlier articles on fishing the Arkansas River, see my posts from late 2018

I was well into packing up for my annual migration to the Florida Everglades for the winter.  The first snow had already fallen, leaves were falling fast, and the wind had been blowing like a banshee all week, making fly fishing a dangerous sport.

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Early October Snow Cools Fishing Fever!

But then as if by magic, the winds relented and the angling gods beckoned, an irresistible siren’s call.   I hadn’t been out on my old home water, the Arkansas River, that flows close by my cabin near Salida, Colorado, since March.  When I moved to Colorado back in the late 80s, the Big Ark was undiscovered.  I could fish all day on a weekend back then and rarely bump into another angler.  But it wasn’t long after that rafting on the river turned into a big business, industrial-style tourism.  Then the state designated the Arkansas as Gold Medal trout water, followed soon thereafter by creation of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.  Both events were the equivalent of putting a big neon sign that said come on over, ye hordes from Denver and recreate.  And they did.

Today Denver has over a million more residents than back then with easier access to Salida, the result being flotillas of rafters, kayaks, SUPs, float fisherman, and other assorted riffraff to drive wade fisherman berserk.

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It’s virtually impossible to find a quiet spot on the river for piscatorial pursuits, even on weekdays.  Now if I am sounding like an old curmudgeon, I plead guilty.  Rant completed.

But suddenly to my wonder, the winds have died down, the water level on the Ark is 275 cfs, perfect for wading but too low for most rafters and kayaks, and the cold weather dipping into the 30s at night has sent fair-weather anglers scurrying to warmer climes.  Now if I can dodge the increasing legions of placer miners on the river and avoid the smoke bellowing down valley from the big Deckers fire, I may find some solitude like the old days and even some fish.

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Beaver Pond Perspicacity: Solving The Puzzle

For another article on beaver pond fishing see my article from late May 2020: https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

July 2019

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??

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Close Encounter Of The Moose Kind In Beaver Pond Country

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.

Blown Out Beaver Dam

Here Today…Gone TomorrowHere 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.

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The Big Ark: Row vs. Wade Revisited

Late September 2018

The creeks around my home base of Salida, Colorado, are barely a trickle reflecting the drought gripping Colorado.  The Big Arkansas River, my home water, is running at 200 CFS, the lowest I have ever seen it since I started fishing here in the early 1990s.  I can wade across it just about anywhere.  Normal is about 350 CFS.  But at least it has some water and is fishable.  Indeed, the fishing gurus at the Ark Anglers fly shop report that the fish are actually doing better than usual because they haven’t had to fight the usual artificially high summer flows that result when upstream reservoirs dump water to support the recreational whitewater rafting industry.  The Arkansas is the most heavily rafted river in the world bar none!  Literally thousands of rafts careen down the river each day all summer and into the fall.

Back in the 90s, the Big Ark was my favorite water.  During the week, it was mostly deserted, with only a few hearty anglers scattered over almost 50 miles of good trout water.  But even then, it was starting to be a battle with the recreational rafters.  I was writing a conservation column for American Angler back then, and penned an article titled “Row vs. Wade” that documented the growing conflicts between the rafters, float fishermen, kayakers and the lonely angler like me in chest waders.  After having boatloads of cheerful whitewater rafters plunging through honey holes I was targeting and asking me “how’s the fishing?”, flotillas of kayakers porpoising in rapids only a stone’s throw away that I knew held big rainbows, and float fishing guides letting their clients cast in pools just upstream from me on my side of the river, I suggested a river code of civility that respected the traditional wade fisherman with his limited range on the water (e.g., if you are a float fisherman and see a wade fisherman downstream, quit casting immediately and hug the bank on the other side of the stream till you are a quarter mile below him).

Unfortunately, when the Ark was declared a Gold Medal Water by the State of Colorado, which was like erecting a big neon sign for every angler in Denver and Colorado to come get it, and the creation of the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area (AHRA), a joint federal-state effort ostensibly to better manage the 148 miles of river between Leadville and Pueblo, that actually resulted in attracting more hordes of campers in RVs and every other imaginable form of shelter to primitive campgrounds along the water, things just deteriorated.  The weekends are a total write-off for any sane fly angler, and even during the week it isn’t unusual now to see dozens of anglers along the river in addition to all the hoi polloi on it in watercraft (oh, did I mention the addition of SUPs stand-up paddle boarders to the mélange??).

Now I know I am sounding like a curmudgeonly, grumpy old F**T, but as a result I just gave up fishing the Ark altogether during the summer and, like this year, just waited to early fall for my first outing on my beloved home water.  This September I chose a stretch far enough above the AHRA campground at Rincon where float fisherman, rafters, and kayakers often use the boat ramp to launch and far enough below access points upstream that I might get lucky and not have to curse and wail when I got run over by knucklehead watercrafters—at least until later in the day.  On a beautiful sunny fall day, I set out with high hopes….

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