The big fish survived. They survived the fires, the drought, the record high temperatures and the low waters. The Arkansas River below Pueblo is a small river right now flowing at less than 50 CFS. The river is merely a trickle, a series of small runs and pools. A little “pond” with big fish.
Recently, Jim White and I found the fish to be quite healthy and willing. We caught most of the fish on a size 18 red copper john nymph and a red zebra midge with a gold bead. Gray size 22 RS2’s also worked trailed behind the bead head nymphs. In the slack water, fish rose to midges and small mayflies. I carried an extra rod rigged for drys and took fish on small (size 24) parachute adams, griffiths gnats and a black parachute midge pattern.
I have mixed feelings about catching fish in low water conditions. The conditions stress the fish and for the most part the fly fisher has the advantage. First, there are limited places for the fish to hide so finding the fish is not difficult. And then when a fish is hooked there is not much room for it to run. Usually the fly fisher can keep the fish in the pool where the fish was hooked and landing the fish easily becomes a ‘done deal.’ In some sense, the fly fisher becomes the “big fish in the small pond.” But he becomes “big” only because the conditions are stacked in his favor. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say he is a “Small fisherman in a small pond” similar to the individual who has made his mark in his small home town and never ventures beyond the town borders. “Big fish, small pond."
I guess I have the same mixed feelings about stalking fish during the spawning period on our South Platte River, particularly, the “dream stream.” Big fish can be found in small waters as they often migrate out of Elevenmile Reservoir into shallow riffles of the South Platte. Big fish that are rarely seen during most of the year are now vulnerable. The rainbows and cutthroats make the move from deeper waters in the spring time and the browns migrate in the fall. Some big Browns are up as I write. I say I have mixed feelings because I love sight casting to a huge fish in a run but I also feel a bit guilty harassing these big fish as they try to “do their thing." I guess it just doesn’t feel all that fair. If I or hoards of others continually make thousands of casts over a big fish in “small water," eventually, that fish is going to get hooked -- (fair or foul) not just once, but multiple times.
It’s really not that difficult or much of an accomplishment to hook a big fish in a small pond. Even a small fisherman can do it.
Maybe we can all try to get away from our small ponds and find deeper waters.
-- Anthony Surage
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside