BOULDER, Colo. - South Platte River fly fishers have lived
with more uncertainty over the past year than I can remember since
the Two Forks Dam threatened it 20 years ago. The Hayman wildfire
took center stage last year when it devastated the watershed in
the Cheesman Canyon/Deckers area. Although the fire is long past,
the great uncertainty is what might happen if there is heavy
runoff or severe thunderstorms in the area this summer. There is
nothing left to hold the soil in place over much of the drainage,
and a gully washer could cause catastrophic silting in the river.
Behind it all looms the drought. Antero Reservoir was drained
last year and there is a rumor going around among fly fishers that
Spinney Mountain Reservoir or even Elevenmile Reservoir could be
next if we don't get some relief. There's even talk that the Two
Forks project will raise it's ugly head once again. Some of my fly
fishing friends are even going as far as saying things will never
be the same.
I can't say what the future holds, but what I can say is that
if you want a little good news for a change, this winter's hatches
of the tiny two-winged flies that fly fishers call midges below
Elevenmile Reservoir and Spinney Mountain Reservoir have been as
good as the great midge hatches I witnessed in Cheesman Canyon in
the 1970s and 1980s.
I began hearing the first reports of the hatches and the trout
that were hungrily feeding on them in January. Fly fishers in the
upper sections of Elevenmile Canyon were talking about
double-digit days. Most of the trout they were catching were
feeding on tiny size 22 to size 26 midge pupa and larva under the
water's surface. But there were also stories about afternoons when
trout of all sizes were rising freely to emerging midges on and
near the surface.
The reports from below Spinney Mountain Reservoir were similar.
That's where I headed last week.
I've found that crowds are seldom a problem below Spinney
Mountain Reservoir in the early season because January and
February can be pretty inhospitable in South Park. It was 6
degrees when I got out of my truck at 9 a.m. The bright side was
that the temperature had doubled from what it was when I'd first
driven into South Park. Anyway, it was dry cold, and we all know
that dry cold doesn't hurt near as much as wet cold (that's a
I ran into three other heavily bundled-up fly fishers in the
parking lot. They all were veterans of South Park winter fly
fishing and carried two rods each - one rigged for dry flies, the
other for nymphs. When I told them I was taking only one rod, they
kind of shook their heads and looked at their feet. The one thing
I was taking was a Ketchum Release tool rather than my landing
net. The release tool allows me to pop the hook out of a trout
without removing the fish from the water and more importantly,
without getting my hands wet. Dry gloves and hands are a key to
winter fly fishing.
At the river the clear, low water revealed plenty of trout. I
spent the first hour nymphing a shallow, very clear slick with a
trough in the middle of it. My better judgment had told me the
water was too skinny, but you have to try, don't you? The key to
the fishing now, skinny or not, is to use very small imitations. I
chose a size 24 black midge pupa imitation which produced just one
strike after an hour and led me to decide to move to
Upstream I found a deeper run boiling with trout. A bit of
experimentation with fly patterns revealed that the fish were on
to a size 24 gray midge pupa imitation - at least for awhile. True
to form for trout taking subsurface midges, their tastes changed
about every 20 minutes necessitating a hand numbing fly change.
Eventually, enough trout were taking flies near the surface
that I switched over to dry flies. A tiny size 24 Griffith's Gnat
didn't work, but a size 22 olive biot CDC midge emerger did. I
hooked up several nice rainbows and a few above average brown
trout. I devoted the next four hours completely to dry flies.
There were periods when I caught one fish after another and other
periods when I was frustrated, but the drama pushed the cold from
my mind. I fished until the rises stopped at 3 p.m. That's when I
realized my feet were very, very cold and headed home.
So was it worth frozen hands, iceberg feet, and a sunburned
For four hours dry fly fishing heaven in February - you bet.