Like any good fisherman, winter can take its toll on me, especially now that I'm living in Colorado where winter apparently means frozen water instead of cold but fishable lakes and streams. Yes, in the short term I miss Tennessee, but just wait until summer. In the meantime, I've got to occasionally get out and fish even if the weather is nasty.
On Monday, the weather was anything but nasty. Probably just about as good as it gets in winter, the temperatures were flirting with 60 degrees, there was practically no wind, and it was a holiday so I had NO SCHOOL!!! The previous day I had already satisfied my craving for time in nature with a great hike up the Flatirons near Boulder. The views were magnificent, and I gained some much needed exercise. Oh, and those are people on top of the 2nd Flatiron pictured below...
While hiking is great, I still wanted some time on the water. My last fishing trip was over a month ago and was beginning to seem more like ages. That's why I decided to get out and do something about it! That's right, when all else fails, its time to actually go fishing instead of daydreaming. Knowing that I-70 would be clogged with traffic due to the holiday and all the skiers heading back to Denver, I opted to instead head south to Pueblo and the Arkansas River.
Having fished the Arkansas above Canyon City before, let me start off by saying that the tailwater is definitely not the same remote and uncrowded experience as points further upstream. However, the fishing is good enough that I only noticed the differences until I started catching fish.
Sometimes the drive can produce some of the memories on a fishing trip. This was the case on Monday for sure. Cruising down a mostly deserted road in Colorado is downright peaceful. Watching the scenery go by is always one of my favorite parts of any trip. What I didn't expect were the cars pulling off up ahead like something was the matter. Yep, you guessed it, a Greyhound was racing along down the road..............seriously. I'm not joking on this one although my first reaction was the same. By the time I realized I was not dreaming, I was flying by in the other lane. I'm still not sure what was going on...
Finally on the water, the plan for the day was to nymph and hope for a hatch. I rigged up my go-to 5 weight, a 9 foot St. Croix Legend Ultra that has caught many nice fish over the years. For flies, I'm not going to be any more specific than to say that larva patterns, mostly of the midge variety, were my top producers. For an indicator, I have been gravitating towards the indicator system some people now refer to as a New Zealand Indicator. I love the ease of adjustability and the sensitivity of these indicators. Byron Begley from Little River Outfitters got me started on these, and I've used the system in just about every situation since then.
I wandered slowly up the river in search of fresh water or at least some solitude. Finally, with fishermen all over the place, I decided to walk a ways. Apparently approaching another access, I started to run into more fishermen and decided to turn around and fish my way down through the open water below. Other anglers would appear above and below and then vanish again as if someone was sitting in the control room shuffling the pieces of a puzzle. My piece of river was always respected however and for that I was grateful.
Just below one deeper hole, I found a perfect run that I knew held some trout. They just weren't where I thought they should be. Continuing to drift my rig through time after time while slowly shuffling downstream, I started to get some hits...or was it ticking the bottom? The possibility of fish playing with the flies refocused me just enough so that when the indicator twitched and then slowly sucked under, I was completely ready and in command of the situation.
Upon setting the hook, I discovered more than the 12 inches of trout I expected. The fish pulled back, hard. Worrying about the quality of my 6x fluoro, I settled down to whipping the fish. Every time I thought it was ready to come to the net I was proven wrong. The strong surges were beginning to make me wonder if the fish would ever come to hand or if it would have one last trick to throw the hook. When the fish slid into my big net, I was like a little kid at Christmas. Starting a fishing trip with a 20" fish is the perfect solution for a relaxing finish. There just isn't any more pressure to catch something spectacular. A nice gentleman happened by at just the right time and graciously agreed to snap a quick picture for me as well...a good day on the water and kind strangers to boot!
I was so satisfied that I almost quit fishing right then, but of course I didn't. Surprisingly, the longer I fish, the more I occasionally consider calling it a trip at one good fish. Maybe I'm getting to the point where the experience is more important than catching fish, but I guess I'm not quite there yet because so far these thoughts end with more fishing.
Continuing slowly downstream while giving other anglers a wide berth, I picked up a fish here and there and occasionally found an especially hot run that was good for several rainbows until I either caught all the hungry fish or spooked the rest. Over the next couple of hours I caught enough rainbows to 18" to keep me satisfied. One brown was hooked but not landed. I also saw a couple of other guys stick some pigs so I have a few more ideas of where to fish next time.
Oh yeah, there will definitely be a next time. This river is pretty awesome, especially considering that I don't have to fight the ski traffic on I-70 and its only about the same distance for me as going to the Smokies was in Tennessee. That said, I can't wait for some local water to open up a little more. There are a couple of browns over on Boulder Creek that I owe some attention to...
FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 10/21/2016
Current fishing conditions in the mountains have been tough although rain overnight has bumped up the levels on Park streams, especially on the Tennessee side. Be careful as lots of leaves are going to be coming down now with brisk northwest winds behind the cold front. That can make fishing challenging. If you do fish, I would suggest fishing dry/dropper with a #14 Orange Stimulator or Orange Elk Hair Caddis up top and a bead head Green Weenie, Isonychia Nymph, or Blue-winged Olive Nymph (#18-#20 bead head Pheasant Tail will suffice here) underneath. Focus on stealth and accurate casts.
If you are flexible in where you fish, I recommend heading for your favorite tailwater to trout fish. Most tailwaters are offering good flows for wade fishermen right now and the fish are hungry. The Hiwassee River has been recently stocked for the delayed harvest and the Caney Fork continues to fish very well on our guide trips. The Watauga, South Holston, and Clinch Rivers should be great as well.
If musky are on your mind like they are for me, then be patient and hope for more rain. The musky streams and rivers are very low right now and we need some water before safely navigating those streams in the larger boats that are preferred.
A NOTE ON SPAWNING TROUT
This is the time of year that brown and brook trout as well as some strains of rainbow trout spawn. On rivers like the Caney Fork, many anglers choose to target these spawning trout. This is unfortunate, especially this year. There are plenty of pre- and post-spawn trout to target if you want to catch big fish. With low water the norm, the Caney Fork actually has a chance at producing some natural recruitment this year barring any unforeseen high water. The same thing applies in the Smokies. Spawning brown and brook trout are extra vulnerable because of the low water and should be allowed to do their thing in peace. The future of these fisheries depends upon conscientious anglers doing the right thing. If you must fish to spawning trout, please use very heavy tippets and quickly land and release all fish caught. If you want to learn how to be successful this time of year without chasing active spawners, please consider booking a guided trip, and I would be glad to teach you how to hunt these large fish.