Fall Edition

Fall Edition
Fall Edition

Monday, September 14, 2020

Colorado Fly Fishing Odyssey Part 2 ~ 9/14/2020

Week 2 proved to be much different simply because of an artic cold front that pushed through leaving much colder temperatures and snow in its wake. 4 to 12” of early season snowfall landed up in the mountains. Rocky Mountain States are a whole different world compared to Northern California. A higher altitude with different seasonal jet streams makes a big difference. So with that…Let’s get on with the report from the rest of my awe-inspiring trip!


Day 7 – 11 Mile Canyon / South Platte River. It was the calm before the storm, and the last day of really warm temperatures during my stay. It was pretty smokey from fires up north, but nothing like we are experiencing right now on the interior west coast, plus it only lasted a day thanks to the cold front blasting through. I picked up my long time fishing buddy @shogun_of_denver from his house in Denver and away we went to my favorite canyon water I’ve yet to experience. 

The look of a serious trout stalker

It had been 25 years since Chris and I last fished 11 Mile together, I can’t explain how special it was to go there with him – it was surreal. 

Before we left, Chris and his partner Jen’s wiener dog Charlie sat on his gear bag with a hope to tag along. Sorry pal, 11 Mile Canyon is no place for a dog of such small stature. But I tell ya, Charlie is as fierce as they come, and that dog commands respect. Don’t mess with Charlie.

Being Labor Day, it was super crowded, the most people I’ve ever seen. Back in the mid 90’s it was not uncommon for us to be alone up there fishing all day and never see another angler. Times have changed for sure. We worked two of my favorite sections that are located in a tighter canyon configuration with vertical walls, beautiful rock formations, and unmolested pocket water. 

The other anglers we saw made camp on the larger pools where they would spend hours upon. We didn’t see one bent rod from those large groups hurling over sized bobbers at all. That’s not our style, but rather stick and move, and hit every fishable pocket no matter the size of it. Those nooks and crannies is where it’s at, and nobody was fishing them – perfect.

Tight Line Nymphing is the draw here, and it is super effective. The same flies we used 25 years ago, still work today. KGB Caddis, Yellow Halo, and buggy caddis pupa patterns like Mercer’s Z Wing all proved their worth.

There was a brief Trico spinner fall with some dry fly opportunities during mid-morning, but we opted out and went for the pockets and mini plunge pools.

Water temps were in the low 60’s, and there is so much algae and moss in the system that you are constantly cleaning off your flies using the circular swing of your leader across the top of the water that is aptly named “The San Juan Slap” (which I learned there back in the day).

I hooked 19 fish from 12-18 inches but many came off as they were chunky and wiley – Super feisty! A good mix of rainbows, browns, and cut bows were slayed. We got our fill and headed back to Denver. What a fricken awesome day it was!

Day 8 – Arvada. On Monday I was wearing flip flops and shorts, and on Tuesday with a massive temperature change of nearly 60 degrees, it was long underwear, pants, and boots. With 11 Mile under a blanket of snow, it was time to catch up working on some upcoming articles for California Fly Fisher that morning. 

I finally got to hang out with @crazycat313, she had been hosting a friend that traveled a great distance to fish with her. I would spend the rest of my trip with Cat and with the current weather we opted out of fishing and got caught up since my last visit in July. A visit to Jax Outdoor Gear (the place is so cool!)

Red Robin gourmet burgers, thrift stores, and other fun stuff with lots of laughter. That night I had somehow forgot to close the side door of the van, like wide open. It snowed more that night and the interior of the van was soaked as was my sleeping bag and gear. Yes, lots of gear that anyone could have easily taken, but it was all there in the morning. That could have been an expensive brain fart to say the least!

Day 9 – Arvada. Cat and I really wanted to fish, we thought about hitting Clear Creek as the brookies are in spawn mode showing off the most spectacular colors. Instead we did more of the same from the day before, and stayed inside enjoying each other’s company. 

I had good luck on the Yampa with Midge Clusters the previous week so a tying lesson was in order for Cat at her tying area aptly called “Cat’s Corner”. She has only been tying flies for 11 months, but has incredibly good skills and is so meticulous. Cat never does anything half ass. She ties many of her own patterns for the Colorado tailwaters and her flies simply kick ass! 

After one try at the cluster, she had it down. That evening we vowed to go to 11 Mile Canyon the next morning no matter the weather. I’ve always wanted to share that special place with her, and finally it would be a reality… 

Day 10 – 11 Mile Canyon / South Platte River. We expected snow on the ground everywhere, but the ground was too warm for it to last long, and just a few small patches in the shaded areas was all that was left. Way less crowded too, and the same thing – Nobody was tight lining the nooks and crannies.

We fished the same two sections as on Monday but the fishing was off and not as good. It must have been the low pressure and the big change in the weather that affected the bite. Whatever…We still had fun and I made a little video of our day mixed in with the Yampa trip we did on day 11. You can see it HERE.

We each landed about half dozen fish, nothing big this time, just around 12-14”. We took our time that morning, sleeping in and such and only fished from noon until 5pm, then headed back to Arvada for a big dinner. What a great day spending time with Cat in the canyon, the first of many more to come…

Day 11 – Yampa River / Stagecoach Tailwater. There’s something special about the drive out to the Steamboat Springs area that brings back fond memories of when I traveled up there in the early 90’s to snowboard with a fellow team member of the now defunct Wave Rave Clothing brand of Boulder, Co. I think it’s mostly that when you leave the I-70 corridor, the pace of life slows down, and the fact that Rabbit Ear’s pass is extremely beautiful. 

Again, we took our time getting there from the Front Range and fished from noon until twilight. Fishing pressure was extremely light and the least amount of cars that Cat and I have seen in a long time. The cold front also affected the bite at Stagecoach as we really had to work to for the trout. It was nothing like the week before.

We ended up with some nice trout, and for myself the most gorgeous fish of the trip, a butter belly of a brown with orange and gold highlights and big black spots. What a specimen! It gave me a hell of a fight and came from the most obscure pocket that was half the size of a bathtub.

The bwo hatch did not materialize in the early afternoon, so it was all Tight Line Nymphing with tiny flies. We used the same patterns as my report in part 1, with the exception of some new variations of Cat’s custom guide ties. I didn’t fish as hard as I did the week before, but instead just watched Cat, and her approach do the different runs. I like that, to watch other good anglers as I always learn something from those experiences. It’s also very gratifying to watch Cat fish because of her accelerated progression of skills.

I’ve never ever seen someone learn so quickly. She’s so focused on every drift, and also changes flies a lot until she finds the winning combo of the right pattern with the right amount of weight. Many factors have contributed to this including her life skills of working as a Registered Nurse, which she’s so proficient at, plus racing motocross which teaches you that training, hard work, and determination achieves great results. Those skills combined with her outstanding work ethic makes Cat nearly peerless as an aspiring fly angler. Watching Cat gives me goose bumps. Like I said, the fishing was on the slow side, but her persistence paid off.

The original plan was to leave for home the next morning from the Travel Lodge in Yampa, but with such an outstanding fishery that is so beautiful, and my best fishy buddy hitting the water again in the morning, I had to get in one more session…

Cat Toy and the Cat Tree behind her ~ https://flyfishingwithcattoy.blogspot.com/

Day 12
- Yampa River / Stagecoach Tailwater. My last day plying the currents of Colorado water. It was chilly in the morning, but the cold front had pushed through and all the recent snow had melted. We were greeted by cloudless blue skies and plenty of sunshine. The parking lot was full, with anglers running down to the river to secure their spot. Luckily we got to hold down “The Cat Tree”, a run that you will see in many of Cat’s pictures on social media. 

Wilson's Warbler

The first thing I noticed were the abundant amount of warblers flying around eating aquatic insects, way more than the previous week. The change in the weather had them on the move with their seasonal migration. Yellow warblers, Audubon’s warblers, Wilson’s warblers, and Hammond’s Flycatchers shared the river with us. It was spectacular. We had rising fish eating midges so we both grabbed our WildStream Horizon rods (See my review HERE) and rigged up with Cat’s midge clusters that she tied the Wednesday before. She was into them quickly, and I was so stoked for her catching fish on a new pattern that she had just learned to tie. How awesome is that? Pretty damn awesome if you ask me. I hooked 6 fish, landing 4, all on the cluster. 

It was 11am and it was time for me to make the long drive back to the reality of work and fish business. Leaving Cat was so tough, and also the fact that here I am leaving blue skies for the smoke choked land of Northern California. Cat stayed a few more hours with @flyfisherjoe, a really cool young dude I met through Cat that lives in Steamboat. Give him a follow on Instagram, he’s got some rad pictures of some very large trout from the area. Like I said, persistence is one of Cat’s strong points and it paid off again while Tight Lining into the afternoon. She finally landed a big toad. As I drove away I looked down into the valley, gave a few honks of the horn, a wave, and a vow I’d be back in a couple months.

What a spectacular trip! Colorado never disappoints, great fishing, good friends, amazing landscapes, and the onset of fall colors. Yeah, fall colors comes a month earlier in the Rocky Mountains. I hope you enjoyed my Colorado Fly Fishing Odyssey. Do yourself a favor and checkout the amazing fisheries in Colorado. Just like Northern California, so much water, and so little time…See you on the water.  

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