Friday, March 25, 2011
On a hot tip I got from a good buddy of mine, undoubtedly a conversation he overheard at a gas station pump while signing the second mortgage papers required to fill a tank these days, I was told he heard a rumor that the rainbows were coming up out of Chatfield Reservoir and were staging to spawn in the South Platte River below Waterton Canyon. Naturally, I dropped everything and headed to the river.
This spawn run has been notoriously difficult to catch each year, if it ever gets going at all. We have Denver Water to thank for the stingy disposition of this amazing big fish fest. In truth, I've only been able to assemble the right ingredients twice in the last ten years to enjoy a truly great spawn run. It requires the right amount of water release from Strontia reservoir, which hardly ever happens this time of year.
Oblivious to the odds and blinded by the memory of two of the largest trout I've personally caught in Colorado, I raced to the river with depth charge gear and yummy flies fit to satisfy a lunker searching the deep for eggs. Hind sight being 20/20, I should have paid more attention to the suggestion that, "I should go check it out first and figure out if WE should go fishing together this weekend." I'm an idiot.
After a lengthy but enjoyable walk to the river in the early morning light, I arrived streamside to find unbelievably clear conditions and perfect water temperature, but sadly very little flow. Without the right amount of flow, there simply isn't enough water to allow the trout to move up out of the reservoir to spawn in the river.
Rigged with my favorite deep big fish rig, I sat down at my favorite hole in despair, braced for a good helping of lemons. Then, a nose... lemonade? I made a few drifts, watching my indicator as it navigated its way through a landmine of surface rings. After a few attempts to locate some big bottom dwellers, the surface action proved to be too much to resist. I changed my mindset, my leaders, and my flies, and got ready for a change in venue. I spent the majority of the day chasing snits rising to dry flies the remainder of the day.
It was a good day. It wasn't quite what I had hoped for, but at the same time, it was so much more.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Weather is always a consideration this time of year. One thing about Colorado, if you don't like the current weather, just wait five minutes or so. Just last Wednesday we set a record high temperature of 79 degrees that was followed by snow that evening. There's something to be said for variety I guess.
In any case, yesterday Mercury must have been in retrograde. All the pieces of the puzzle came together. The weather was gorgeous, the streamflow on the Big Thompson was perfect, the water clarity was awesome, and the sight fishing was incredible. Some afternoon clouds even rolled in, setting in motion a terrific BWO and midge hatch that closed out my day.
It's been a while since I visited the Big T, although it's one of my favorite rivers. I like it because it affords me the opportunity to break out my small gear. Plus, I can make it as easy or as difficult as I want. It fishes pretty much like a freestone even though it's a tailwater river below Estes Lake. There are plenty of big boulders and pockets as well as highly oxygenated plunge pools to collect fish. It's a very healthy river filled with tons of 12-18 rainbows and browns in every suspicious looking lie. Of all the variety that comes with this stretch of water, the dry fly hatches throughout the winter are simply extraordinary.
The grip of nymphing continues to tighten its hold on the fly fishing community, at least in Colorado. I suspect it's the instant reward resulting from higher catch rates when fishing sub-surface. Still, with so many excellent dry fly opportunities, I struggle to understand why people wouldn't want to strap on a dry and enjoy the visual high that comes from getting a few surface takes.
I caught a pleasant number of fish. They were taken on some nymphs in the morning in colder water temperatures, a couple on a midge cluster before lunch, and a combination of dries and emergers in the afternoon. A tiny (#24) cobalt blue thread midge tied beneath a black Tung bead and UV black ice dubbing with blue Lagartun fine wire proved very effective as a dropper. This fly is a variation on Charlie's Deep Blue Poison Tung. All of my fish ranged between 9-16". It was a very good day.
- Spring fishing on Blue River is paradise (denverpost.com)
- Tailwater below Pueblo Dam great for winter fishing (denverpost.com)
- Winter Fly Fishing in Colorado (midcurrent.com)
- Video: How to Tie a Blood Knot (midcurrent.com)
Friday, March 11, 2011
The object in life is to satisfy as many appentencies as possible. A small stream satisfies one of these appetites for the fly angler, providing a unique winter opportunity to site cast to holding fish moving out onto sunny flats, inviting delicate presentations offered with tender tippets, small rods and tiny flies.
Tailwater rivers are an essential, a food group for the winter fly angler. Yet while the virtues of consistent unfrozen water in February cannot be argued by the fly fishing addict, there's only so much yarn watching, weight plunking and short line mending one can do. Casting is the grace and calculated measure of fly fishing, the cadence of life and the counterweight to the heavy burden that comes with responsibility.
The Big Thompson is unique in its winter presentation. Steady flows, clear water, and reliable hatches throughout the winter offer a taste of something different, and a whisper of what's around the corner as the earth trims its sails and tacks toward spring and summer.
If you own a lightly weighted short rod (6.5'-8.5' #3), this is the place to use it - bamboo would be even better. We'll be concentrating our efforts beneath the dam and down through the canyon on through to Drake. There is plenty of open water throughout this stretch and an abundance of public access to fish. The river is small though. Consequently, we'll likely spread out in pairs a bit to work holes and pockets together, taking turns to fish likely holding spots. This is my favorite way to fish! We'll schedule a rendezvous at mid-day to share a roadside lunch and fishing news.
You'll want to bring some nymphing equipment and small flies for the initial start of the day, but keep an eye out for midges as the sun moves in to warm the canyon. As the water temperature comes up, midges will hatch and fish will begin looking up. Some emerging midges are good options, but it's hard to go wrong with a small Griffith's Gnat. Make sure to bring plenty of BWO's both nymph and dry. If cloud cover settles in, you can bet we'll see some given the time of year.
We'll meet as always at the Board of Realtors parking lot. Plan to leave at 7:30 a.m. It will take about two hours to get to the river. This is the season of heavy snowstorms. Be sure to watch the weather and check back here for cancellation notices on Friday 18th.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Passion. It's a white hot fire when present or a bitter tasting course bitch when absent, or charged against you. I have not truly enjoyed a day with a rod in my hand in a very long time.
A moment of personal calm ignites, suppressed by the turbulence in my life. The river invited me yesterday, and I responded with vaguely familiar enthusiasm blunted by the passage of time.
Mild temperatures, clear water, slow current, a little cloud cover, and a few blue wing olives hatching signal a change in season.
The river was generous, yet at the same time required effort and concentration. Picking my way through boulders, moving from one hole to the next, I settle over a finicky hen for a stretch who tests the limits of my midge box. Finally, a subtle take and a gentle lift. She came with willing agreement to the net.
A while later, waiting on the sun to clear a canyon wall, I stumble across a foam slick swirling in a back eddy. Waiting for the lights to come on, I notice a few noses poking through the surface film. I rig an emerger and fool an angry snit on a greased line with a wet fly fished just below the film. The first surface take of the year. Things are looking up. It's good to be fishing again.