I'm between jobs so I did what any of us would do if at all possible: I went fishing. I decided to head up to Salida on Highway 50, through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. I'd stop along the way at as many of those pullouts as possible, fish them, and move on. Early Monday morning, I started on my journey.
At 8:30 a.m., I pulled off Highway 50 just downstream from Five Points Recreation Area. The riffles and pools along that half-mile stretch offer some good chances for a fish. By 8:40, I had my first fish of the journey on a #16 Red Quill. The 14" Brown flashed back into the current after the release. I worked my way up to the next hole and had a few strikes before I moved further upstream. A nice pool offered up another Brown at just a little after 9:00. It quieted some, so a little bit later, I decided to get on up the road.
At around 10:15, I pulled into the Texas Creek area. I've had good luck there in the past but usually in the evening. It was beginning to get hotter now with the sun shining in its full glory. The monsoons of a couple of weeks ago, followed by the hotter days of early August, have really resulted in a lot of green! And a lot of pollen. I hadn't experienced allergies for quite some time, but by the time I reached the bend in the river downstream from the Texas Creek bridge, my eyes were watering and I was sniffling like nobody's business. As I made my way through the high weeds to the river, I figured I better switch to a hopper-dropper rig. The next two hours of fishing were fruitless. Maybe a stike or two -- but I may be lying about that! Different combinations -- a Charlie Boy Hopper trailing a Copper John; a foam hopper trailing an RS2; a yellow stimulator trailing a Red Quill -- got some attention but nothing to the net. I do know that from about 11:00-1:30, the fishing on the Ark takes a different touch than what I have, especially if the sun is in that cloudless Colorado sky.
I made my way back to the car to go grab a burger at the Cotopaxi store. I was also reminded to drink a lot of water. The heat and bright sun gets to you after awhile. I also think that standing in the cooler water gives a false sense of how draining the heat can be. As personal trainers will tell you, if you wait until you are thirsty, it's too late. Drink plenty throughout the day.
After lunch, I fished downstream but Cotopaxi produced the same frustrating results as Texas Creek. I fished the banks with grasshoppers. I fished deep pools with hopper-dropper rigs. I gradually became more convinced that I cannot nymph fish to save my life, so I decided to head into Salida. The thermometer in my car read 87 degrees when I pulled back onto 50 and headed west.
One of my favorite spots to fish is just upstream from Salida off of Highway 291. A long stretch of two or three riffles produces some nice sized Browns. A deeper hole by a beaver's home consistenly offers good sized fish. Between 6:30 and 7:45 that night, I had seven fish all on the #16 Red Quill. They were striking by the bank and in the riffles.
For the day, then, the morning and the evening proved productive with Red Quills. The midde of the day...well, the burger at the Cotopaxi store was good.
After a quick breakfast at the Patio Pancake Place, I headed back to the stretch of water by the beaver hole. Within a few minutes, I had two fish again on the Red Quill. Fish were hugging the bank, mostly, but they were also behind the submerged rocks more in the middle of the river. Like a light-switch shutting off, though, they were done rising at just about 10:00. I messed around with some hoppers against the bank and had a few strikes, lost a fish or two, before heading to lunch.
Rather than fight the mid-day heat on the Ark after lunch, I decided to head to Chalk Creek. Chalk Creek was the first small stream I ever fished, so it holds a special place for me. It's a beautiful stream -- flowing at about 35 cfs on these past few days. It's fishable for a long ways up the valley between the Cascade campground and the St. Elmo ghost town. And above St. Elmo, it offers a beautiful meandering stream to fish both through a meadow and through some more covered, forested areas. I stopped and fished a little ways after the Cascade campground.
As with many small streams, the fish were active. Small streams offer a lot of different challenges -- precise casting, getting a good presentation with a natural drift in tight surroundings, hitting a pool or riffle and then moving on. Because of the low flows, fish were congregating in pools. Some of the nice looking pools produced nothing. Other pools and riffles were full of fish. I'd throw a few casts and if nothing rose, I moved upstream 20 yards to the next pool. Keep moving on smaller streams to find fish.
I decided to make my way back down Bighorn Sheep Canyon and fish the morning hours. I stopped around Wellsville on the way down. The Red Quill was the go-to fly again. The water was clear and very wadeable with flows just around 400 cfs. It took just a bit of time to find fish, but they were rising to the fly again this morning. And, just like the previous two mornings, at around 10:00, they were done rising. I slid my rod back in the car and headed east. I wasn't sure if I would fish any more that day or not, but I kept my rod set-up ... you know, just in case.
At the last moment, I pulled over just downstream again from Five Points. I had on a hopper from earlier in the morning, and thought I would fish the opposite bank. At this point in the adventure, I was water logged and leg-weary from wading. I had spent more time wading in the previous 48 hours than not being in the water. I set my eyes on the rocks and bushes lining the opposite bank and stripped out some line. Then some more line. The hardest part was to get the drift right. The water was slower and enticing against the bank, but there was so much faster water and tricky current between me and the bank.
I positioned myself behind a rock in the middle of the stream and let it fly. Nothing. The grasshopper mimicked a little speed boat. Another cast, perfectly placed in slow water right beneath a rock outcropping, and I saw the fish flash to the hopper. The fish even seemed to lunge, but the fly sped past him. I cursed the current. I took a few steps about five feet upstream and flung the hopper to the far bank. For that few seconds, it had a nice natural drift. And a strike. But not a hook-up. I reeled the drowned hopper in. And called it a day.
The Drive Home
In the canyon, I don't particularly have great radio reception and I had gotten tired of the Johnny Cash CD playing. I had the music down low as I wound my way back toward Canon City. I thought about the fish I had caught over the past two and a half days. One of them stuck out in particular. It was a tiny pool against the bank on the stretch of water above Salida. The pool was very calm water between two large rocks. I put the cast right behind the upstream rock and the fish struck almost immediately. It was one of those times when you read the water right, get the nice cast and presentation, and then just enjoy the fight to the net.
And I thought about the missed fish. The two that just struck the hopper even though my drifts were not great. The satisfaction of reading the river but just being slightly off on getting the presentation right. I thought about the fish earlier in the morning, the ones rising to the Red Quill but just not taking it. The simultaneous feelings of satisfaction and disappointment on the same cast.
I thought about the beauty of the sunset on Monday night on the Ark and then enjoying the early morning sun on the river in just about the same spot on Tuesday morning. The smell of the trees and cool soil at Chalk Creek. I thought about how I fished those places before yet they were different every time.
And how I am different every time. A man never steps into the same river twice, right?
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