Dunking For Trout

June 2019

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…..

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Trout Haven

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.

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Angler Beware!!

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. 

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Homeward Bound

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! 🥴

 

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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Happy New Year: Going Balmy In The Balmy Banana Belt (near Salida, CO)

“Nothing Makes A Fish Bigger Than Almost Being Caught!”

December 30, 2017

Some of my cheeky friends accuse me of being a tad balmy for my dedication to piscatorial pursuits.  Just to confirm these suspicions, I decided this last week of 2017 to take advantage of balmy weather in Colorado’s Banana Belt to chase trout several times in the Big Ark River around Salida, Colorado.

Locals use the term “Banana Belt” somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  At an elevation of some 7,500 feet, Salida admittedly does not have tropical or even subtropical weather any time of year.  But in truth, it is a remarkably warm high mountain  valley when compared to surrounding alpine communities–Fairplay, Gunnison, Saguache–just over the passes to the north, west, and south.  They are truly frigid!  Indeed, this past couple of weeks we have been just as warm in Salida, and often much warmer, than mile-high Denver.  The temps pushed 60 degrees several times.  That’s not to say the fishing is a snap.  Some tips follow that may put a big rainbow trout or brown on your line before winter really arrives.

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Beaver Creek: Legend Of The Late Fall #3 (Near Cañon City, CO)

Late November 2017

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.

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Rainbow Lair??

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.

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Beaver Creek Surprise–15″ Rainbow

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Old Man Winter Descends On Grape Creek (near Cañon City, CO)

Mid-December 2017

Perfect weather for my last angling excursion of 2017 into Lower Grape Creek in Temple Canyon Park–upper 60s, bluebird sky, gentle breeze. Alas, Old Man Winter got there before me last week and locked things up till next spring. Saw some nice bows but ice made a decent drift almost impossible and all of the deeper holes where the trout were holding a couple of weeks ago were iced in. Oh well, on the bright side got great exercise walking 4 miles in waders and boots, was shadowed by a friendly little Dipper, and the ice on the creek was artistic. Everglades here I come!!