One of the hardest things to do for a group of friends who are fishing together is to have an exit strategy to leave a river at roughly the same time. Person A hasn’t had a bite in hours and has been patiently biding his time. Just when everyone else is ready to leave, person A gets hot and catches two fish. He no longer wants to leave. The others re-start their fishing and finally, when person A is ready to go, one of the other guys gets hot and wants to stay longer. If you’ve ever been fishing with a group of friends, you know how this can go on for hours.
For us, on the second day of our Colorado outing, we decided to spend the morning in Cheesman Canyon (see Colorado Dreaming, Part 2), grab some lunch, and fish the remainder of the day on the Dream Stream portion of the South Platte River.
We made a solemn vow to each other to leave the river in Cheesman Canyon between 12 to 12:30pm, and to everyone’s credit, that’s when we left it. We left reluctantly, but we left. It was about an hour’s drive from Cheesman to the Dream Stream, and we mutually decided to stop at a fly shop in Woodland Park along the way. Everyone wanted to know why we hadn’t been able to catch the rising trout in Cheesman. We didn’t want to be caught without the right flies again.
The guys at the fly shop conjectured that the rising trout were after Tricos. I was skeptical. I didn’t see anything that looked like Tricos in the air, but what do I know? Legendary Colorado guide Pat Dorsey had posted recently on Instagram that he and his son had had a memorable morning in Cheesman throwing size 24 parachute Adams to rising fish. So we bought some teensy Adams and some Tricos to cover our bases.
We were also cautioned not to fish the Dream Stream that afternoon. The fly shop guys said the river in that section had no protection from the sun, and the water was too warm to fish. It would distress the fish if they were caught at that time of day. We appreciated the heads up and took their advice by changing our destination that afternoon to Eleven Mile Canyon, a section of the South Platte that was protected from the sun.
Do you like questions that have easy answers? I do. Any question that I can answer without overthinking is a good one. Questions like “When was the War of 1812?” and “What general is buried in Grant’s tomb?” Now I’ve got a new one. “How long is Eleven Mile Canyon?”
Yep, Eleven Mile Canyon features eleven miles of the South Platte River as it runs through a canyon. There’s one way in and one way out. The way in has a little pay booth where each vehicle gives $7 to a friendly lass who doesn’t mind joking around with fishermen while she takes their money.
We were told that the first seven miles were open to bait fishermen, and the fishing was better in the upper canyon where it was restricted to artificial lures only. It was very tempting to pull over as we drove past beautiful pocket water on the way to the upper canyon. When we finally got up there, the gradient was steeper, and some stretches were better suited for extreme kayaking than fishing. When we found a pull-off without any other vehicles, we all hurriedly got our gear on and went to different fishy-looking places. We immediately began spotting small groups of trout in knee deep water.
Waymore yelled to me that there were some 16″ to 18” browns just a few feet downstream of where he was standing and suggested that I cast to them. Because of the glare, I couldn’t see the fish, but I cast where he pointed, and there was nothing doing. A little later, Doover2 yelled at me and said the exact same thing. I cast to his trout, and nothing doing. After a morning of casting to wary trout in Cheesman with nothing doing, and then again here at Eleven Mile Canyon, I was beginning to long for the happy-to-eat-anything stockies of the freestones in New England.
As I began walking downstream to find a new place, I noticed a large group of trout about seven feet in front of me. They were darting back and forth as though they were either courting or feeding feverishly. I tried running my fly by them, but they were oblivious to it. As I dejectedly walked on, the fish went with me, staying about seven to 10 feet out in front of me. Then it dawned on me. I was being punked by these trout.
I was kicking up crustaceans, larva, scuds, and whatever from the thick, chartreuse-colored grass that covered the rocks of the river bed, and the trout were going nuts feeding off them. It was brilliant on their part.
They had no worries as long as they fed off the food that was being kicked up off the grass, and as long as they stayed so close to me that I couldn’t cast to them very effectively.
These trout had it all figured out and probably rejoiced when fishermen came to their run. I’ve fooled a few trout before, but this was the first time that I realized that trout can fool me too.
But while I was providing a free aquatic buffet for these trout, my comrades in rods were catching them. Doover2 was using his magic X Caddis to entice a net-filling brown trout. Waymore was the first to try out the size 24 Adams, and he began catching trout consistently by fishing downstream, letting the fly drift 15 to 20 yards away from him. Doover1 followed Waymore’s lead and started getting some action on an Adams too.
I hadn’t had a bite since we were in Cheesman Canyon and was starting to feel more than a little sorry for myself, as well as a little miffed at the other guys. They were catching trout, and I wasn’t. I was ready to head for the lodge, but the other guys were fishing shoulder-to-shoulder downriver to rising trout and having a blast.
Finally, I notice a couple of trout rising sporadically not far from me. With a lot of prayer, I managed to tie a minuscule Adams onto my 7x tippet. One of the trout that was rising was about 18”. I was afraid that if he took my fly, it would be a lost cause – I’d never get him to the net given the strong current and the tiny tippet.
After repeatedly drifting my fly past rising trout, finally one rose to my Adams – it was the big one.
I took my time with this trout, letting him make several runs across the stream. Eventually, he made the mistake of getting upstream of me and then drifting backwards towards me as I dipped the net under his tail. All of a sudden, a pretty dismal day of fishing transformed into a glorious day of fishing. Amazing what one fish can do.
After leaving Eleven Mile Canyon, we went to a barbecue joint in Woodland Park where we recounted our day’s victories and defeats to each other. We had the unique experience of being served by an unabashedly born-again Christian who left her job as a divorce lawyer in Boston to become a waitress in Colorado. I would never have expected it, but divorce attorneys make great waitresses. She was a lot of fun and took good care of us.
In the upcoming Colorado Dreaming, Part Four, we finally get to the Dream Stream, where Doover2 loses his cell phone. We end the day at Tomahawk. Stay tuned.