Beaver Pond Saga, Chapter 3: Return Of The Mojo (Pass Creek Near Salida, CO)

Early June 2021

For my recent befuddling foray on the Trout Creek beaver ponds see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/23/__trashed/

For my more successful first outing on the Pass Creek beaver ponds see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/06/24/beaver-pond-saga-chpt-2-mojo-rejuvenation-on-pass-creek-near-salida-co/

and for some tips and techniques for beaver pond angling see: https://hooknfly.com/2021/05/27/runoff-blues-try-a-beaver-pond/

At the close of day after a successful late May Pass Creek beaver pond rehab mission I ventured another mile upstream in my SUV to check out prospects there and stumbled onto a picture-perfect beaver pond with the requisite beaver lodge.  I immediately booked Step Two of the mojo rehab treatment for early June, figuring after another good day on the Pass Creek ponds I’d be fully recovered and ready to tackle those snooty Trout Creek brownies.

So a week later in mid-afternoon I am trundling up the bumpy road that parallels the creek towards the aforementioned alluring beaver pond. Unlike the ones I fished in late May, this pond is visible from the road with easy access. Even better, when I stroll down towards the big pond, I discover there is a second large pond hiding just downstream. I hustle back to my SUV and and get suited up in my chest waders and grab my trusty wading staff. Both are essential for navigating and thoroughly fishing beaver ponds where the going is often difficult due to rough and/or mucky terrain and for doing the often necessary high-wire dance along the beaver dam to access the entire pond. I am carrying my two-rod beaver pond special combo—one an 8.5 foot, 4-weight fly rod and the other a 5-foot ultralight spincast outfit for fishing in tight spots where fly casting is not possible.

Dual Action Beaver Pond Rigs

The fly rod is rigged with a #16 Rio Grande Trude attractor with a #20 red zebra midge nymph dropped about two-feet below.  On the spincast rod are a #18 Two-Bit Hooker nymph and #16 red San Juan Worm along with a BB split shot, a good combination when the water is high and clear as is now the case or there are deep pools in a pond.

With my fishing fever rising and my mojo in good shape, I charge down the slope and head downstream to get below the second pond.  I find an opening in the thicket that leads down to the creek below the dam.  There’s a nice little pool here, but the short stretch is entirely overgrown above and below, making fly casting impossible. 

Where Angels Fear To Tread!

Instead I pull out the spincast outfit and use a pendulum cast to flip the nymphs under the overhanging branches and am immediately rewarded with a feisty little brook trout. 

Scrappy Brook Trout Starts The Day

I release the trout and move downstream, trying to peer beyond the branches and vines. I’m surprised to find there is actually another tiny beaver pond just around the bend, completely hidden from sight above.

Surprise Hidden Postage-Stamp Size Beaver Pond

I carefully move through the thicket and see there is another deeper, longer arm to the pond up against the south bank.  I flip a backhand cast with the spincast rig and as soon as it hits the water above the pool a nice-sized trout rockets from under some downed timber above, chases the nymphs, and nails the San Juan Worm.  I awake from my momentary trance and set the hook.  Battle on.  The fish runs directly for cover towards the dam and its nasty snags, but when he catches sight of me reverses course and jets back upstream.  Fatal mistake, as I now have room to fight the frisky critter.  Soon a well-fed brown trout topping 13-inches is sliding into my net for a quick pix and release. 

After checking the flies, I throw a second cast into the exact spot, and the theatrics are repeated as another big brownie zooms from his hiding place above.  But this time I yank too quickly and pull the fly right out of this mouth.  Grrrr!  Still, not a bad beginning.  Oddly these will be the only brown trout I will see all day as brook trout dominate from here on up.

The way up to the next beaver pond is completely blocked by another impenetrable thicket so I have to scramble out of the water and navigate the steep slope on the south side of the valley.  I slowly and carefully move around broken branches and thorny bushes using my wading staff to keep my aging frame from tumbling down into the undergrowth.  Finally I reach an opening in the lower big pond I had spotted earlier, and am delighted to see it is much larger than I had expected.  Better yet, there are risers dimpling the surface.  If I stand on the dam I have enough room behind me to cast a fly.

Persistence Pays Off

I wait till a riser reveals himself at the edge of a shallow flat in the middle of the pond.  My cast alights delicately a few feet away from the dimple he has left, and immediately something hits the little midge nymph, dragging the dry under. I set the hook and a miniature brook trout jumps in the air in an impressive show of aeronautical skill.  Soon another frisky 8-incher comes in for a photo opportunity.

For the next 30-minutes I circumnavigate the pond, first by prancing carefully along the dam, then wading through the mucky shallows on the upper end.  All the while the brookies cooperate.  Interestingly, all fall for the nymph and turn their noses up at the attractor dry.  A second fly rod with a midge dry probably would have done the trick, but two rods is plenty to try to carry in thickets or while walking on top of a mess of sticks and logs on top a beaver dam.

The action finally cools, and I start trudging up to the big photogenic dam that got me here in the first place.  There’s a little pond just below the big one, but it’s too shallow to hold anything, so I creep up carefully to the big dam.  Up close it’s even more breathtaking than from above. 

The dam is a huge half-moon structure, creating a deep pool above it.  The beaver lodge is the punctuation point.  I try a dozen casts with the fly rod but nothing is interested.  However, when I throw out the double nymph rig and let it sink into the deeper water, I immediately get a strong hit and soon land a beautiful little brookie on the San Juan Worm.

Can’t Resist Those San Juan Worms

I circle the pond, casting from the dam then around to the other side near the beaver lodge.  Trout usually like to stack up around the lodges with the deeper channels the beaver have dug for access, and this one is no different.  The big pond has yielded about a dozen fish, all brookies in the 8-10 inch category.

Mojo Rejuvenation Treatment Nearly Complete

It’s getting late, so I start back to the SUV, but the sound of rushing water above catches my ear.  I bushwhack upstream and am surprised to find another series of beaver ponds stepping up the hill. 

I can’t control my piscatorial urges, and a beautiful rushing pool below the first one yields four brookies, one on the dry fly and the rest on the red zebra midge. 

Another Hungry Brookie

The pond just above looks so inviting, but before I can scramble up on the dam and make a cast,  a loud clap of thunder from the dark clouds that have been rolling in argues otherwise. 

Not wanting to tempt one of the lightning bolts dancing on a ridge to the west, I pick my way carefully back to the SUV through downed logs and branches with a big smile on my face.  Trout Creek brownies BEWARE!!  My angling mojo has returned!

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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