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.
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.
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:
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.
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!’