Fall Impressions & Iced Guides

Once again, Old Man Winter has arrived in Colorado – although as of this writing, we’ve been experiencing seasonably milder temperatures, which have certainly not been ideal for snowpack levels. But, things can change over the course of a week, and we’re expecting some moisture this weekend.

Since mid-October, I’ve continued to observe (translation: fish) the South Platte river ecosystem, and am excited to share my experiences as the conditions and fishing were absolutely remarkable! I’ve never before experienced a Fall fishing period with this much activity, and I can only hope that it continues, as this is my favorite time of year (next to winter) on this river.

18″ of quality rainbow can be had all winter long

The South Platte system experienced a higher than normal volume of outflow especially from Elevenmile and Cheesman Reservoirs most of the spring as the runoff was significant compared to previous years. Although Denver Water attempts to maintain consistency of water volume throughout the runoff season, 2014 posed a challenge as the reservoirs were at capacity, and at times were spilling over the top of the dams. As a result, CFS averages were increased, causing a rapid spike in water temperature (warmer water at surface), that can have a dramatic effect on the stream biology. I’m not a fisheries biologist, but I have enough time on this river to know that the increased volume in the spring and early summer had (and is potentially having) an effect on the trout feeding behavior this Fall all the way up until right now.

As I mentioned, beginning in early October, I decided to focus my efforts on the Platte about 7 miles downstream from Deckers, toward Nighthawk. This section of river receives about half the pressure than upstream, yet from my observances, trout hold in much more selective runs and pools that are not as easy to identify than those upstream closer to the tailwater. But, if you happen to settle upon one, you’ll be surprised to find that there are many eager trout (browns, rainbows and an occasional cutbow) willing to take a suggestive pattern.

Gorgeous coloring on these prespawn October browns

While moving upstream one day, I discovered a bend in the river that I never would of even considered fishing. Often, in our pursuit, we tend to gloss over prospective spots. Much of it has to do with making a judgement from a distance, and because there is so much water to cover, we often gravitate to areas fished before. Nevertheless, this new revelation became my new emphasis, and I have returned to this run 5 times since, and have landed numerous fish covering a wide range of sizes and species. The great thing about finding a run like this is there are others very close upstream that also hold quality (and quantities of) fish. You just have to be willing to explore a little bit more than usual when downstream from the immediate tailwater.

Using a drone, I photographed this run from about 100′ above, and put together this diagram of the stream dynamics:

Red markers indicate three prime areas by which to target seam, midchannel, and edge.

As you can see, the main outflow channel covers approximately 100′ beyond the large rocks, which break up the feeder flow, creating ideal conditions as they slow down the flow, and churn up bug life in the process. As the rocks break up the laminar flow of the stream, aquatic life will tend to be distributed at varying depths, forcing fish to move more for their food. Food sources like caddis cases, worms, and pupae drift though this immediate section and eventually will settle to the bottom further down the run. What this means for the angler is to mimic this behavior and adjust for weight as needed. In my experiences fishing here, not much weight is necessary for a drift that begins above the rocks as the churning action will place the flies in the ideal midcurrent spot for feeding trout. Much of the use of weight is dictated by the flies themselves, and the amount of flies on your rig. I will add weight only if I’m not getting hung up on the bottom – mainly below the first 30′ of this run. Again, these are my observations, and things can change here depending on CFS, a spike in temperature, or seasonal oddities.

I’m looking forward to winter fishing, and I hope you are too. I used to be the guy that hung up his gear after September, because I assumed it was too cold and the fish were done until the spring. While some of this is true, you can fish tailwaters year ’round, you just have to be able to stay warm and dry on the river in January! Some of the fly patterns that I have found work well in the winter on the Platte are are:

- Red/Tan/Wine San Juan Worms – smaller, the better seems to be the trick. Also, consider using rubber legs instead of worm chenille. It keeps the worm from folding over underwater and the wiggling movement is more lifelike. Some flash tied into the body of a SJW sometimes results in strikes otherwise not had in deep, dark water.

- Red/Hot Pink midges, this includes zebras, mercs, Top-secrets, and brassies, in #22, #24, and even size 26 – a good thing to remember is the midges come off even with the smallest amount of sunlight. And when you see them in the air, look at how small they are – that is the reason for the micromidges!

- Rock worm and similar worm-y looking deep running flies may produce a hit.

- Egg patterns: Pink/Red/Green nukes, any other round yellow or orange egg pattern will do. Especially during the late brown spawning period.

Many of these guys lurking further downstream from Deckers than you think

Get out there and enjoy these incredible trout!

Part of winter fishing is getting out, even if its just for a few hours. Cabin fever can set in very quickly. Winter is also a great time to sit down at the vise and start cranking for the year ahead. Happy Holidays and to a prosperous and healthy 2015!’


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Finally the Waters have Receded

With an abundance of snowmelt in 2014, Colorado’s rivers were full up, and it took a long time to finally recede to good fishing levels. Even the tailwaters experienced high volumes, but have come down also, and have been excellent for trout fishing! As long as everything stays in its proper place (i.e. no flooding), we should have an epic next few months until the snow flies yet again.

Even the browns coming out before the spawn

Hard to believe it is already September, too. As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, the biology prepares for the long winter ahead. And a long winter it could be, according to the meteorology experts, we could experience another record-breaking snow season in the high country, all thanks to El Nino. But, we can use the water, and the ski resorts love snow, so nobody’s complaining.

Just gorgeous rainbows all around the river

I’ve had the luxury of fishing the Platte system for the past few weeks, as the water levels have become manageable. About a month ago, Cheesman Canyon was up around 550cfs, not bad for fishing, but dangerous for wading, and hard to keep a fish from going downstream and losing them. Since the levels have dropped, the typical fare has been really effective. This time of year, I’m noticing the hatch pattern of:

– 8:30 to 10:30am there is a BWO hatch that excites the surface feeders. In fact, last week I only caught fish on dries during this time.
– 11:00 – 1-ish there appears to be the Trico hatch and a spinner fall shortly thereafter.
– 1pm to about 3 I witnessed the PMD/PED hatch, and switched over to light nymphs and softhackles for this and couldn’t believe the activity.

Of course, all day you can rely on big patterns, like worms, stones, and other big bugs as attractors. Keep your rigs low enough to catch some weeds occasionally, and the fish will eat. Another thing I’ve noticed is if you are wading, trout will stack up downstream behind you and eat. They won’t eat anything you send their way, unless it’s far enough downstream. I was able to catch a few using this high stick method, which is sort of funny…

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You Too Can Fish The Blue!

The Blue River… that elusive, heavily pressured, love-it or hate-it tailwater that flows through the Outlets at Silverthorne, is the real deal. In fact, it is rather forgiving, even in ridiculously high water. Two weeks ago it was flowing at 1130cfs when I stopped by. 1130 is just slightly higher than the 75th percentile for the tailwater. Highest ever recorded is 1890, back in 1984. Median? 580. Right now as of this writing, she’s back down to 540 – and ripe for action.

A little high-sided but still action on the edges

Getting back to my trip two weeks ago – it was a Monday, and I was a lonely angler on the reaches from the bridge down to the Outlets. A few others showed up, one guy was fishing, and a few others decided not to bother. From a glance, I can see why one wouldn’t bother, but I came from Denver (hour drive) and I wasn’t going to bail on this opportunity.

Because Dillon Reservoir is one of three reservoirs in Colorado that are habitat to the Mysis Shrimp, a small crustacean that, when the reservoirs begin to spill over, tumbles downstream and are a prime food source for trout. If you are able to mimic this in a fly pattern, you will most certainly catch numerous very large fish on this section of the Blue. And by “large”, some fish upward of 26″ have been reported – but many never landed!

With this knowledge, I rigged up my 7wt with a Red San Juan Worm, and size #16 Mysis dropper, with two large split shots with my large strike indicator. High water, fast moving current requires dredging, and it proved to be quite fatal. About 5 casts into a side channel of slower water, fish on!!, but I wasn’t ready for it and the swift current swept the fish downstream so fast that I only saw it jump once and then it was a goner. But, what I did see was probably a 20″ rainbow come clear out the water. I knew it was on.

Stay close to the edges during high water. Fish don’t want to be in the swift current

A few casts later into the same channel and WHAM! Another. This time the fish stayed close and actually swam in my direction, but quickly broke off. This fish had taken the Worm, so I knew that they were eating a mixed diet. The remarkable thing about this fish is that I saw it clear enough to determine it was a dark red cutthrout – so dark that it stood out against the yellow rocky bottom. This was the fish I wanted to land! After another 30 minutes of no more luck in this spot, I moved downstream closer to the Outlets.

1130 cfs near I-70

After scouting a safe location to fish from, I dredged the same rig right under the willows, and first drift, another fish on! In an instant, though, it was swept downstream and eventually broke off, but this fish was HUGE – I’ve never felt that 7wt bend like that before!! Atfer a few more drifts, I finally got into a fish that put up a massive fight, but stayed close to shore. By keeping the rod tip at an angle you can ‘direct’ the fish’s head to some extent, and it defintely worked in my favor, but I had to get downstream FAST. After being in a semi-dangerous position of waist-deep fast-moving water (which wasn’t exactly the smartest move), I landed a nice 17″ rainbow, which took the San Juan Worm. In the high current, a 17″ fish feels like a 25″ fish in steady water.

Nice looking rainbow finally landed on the big Blue

Guys who talk about the Blue are correct. The key is presentation and persistence. And, the most important thing: treat others like you would like to be treated. Seen a few anglers breaking this unwritten rule lately.



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