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 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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Legends of the Late Fall: Badger, Beaver, and Grape Creeks (near Cañon City, CO)

November/December 2017 

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.

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Late Fall Often Sees Snow On Shaded North-Facing Slopes

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.

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My Idea Of Ice Fishing!

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