I have been fly fishing for the better part of ten years now, and have (somehow) never made it to Pueblo to fish the Arkansas tailwater. I guess yesterday I decided enough was enough so I headed down there.
Arriving in Pueblo to find that Google Maps had led me astray concerning the most direct rout to the river, I resolved to flow, like water, down hill. This led me again and again to vistas overlooking the Ark, but with limited access due to private property. Increasingly annoyed with the less than practical layout of the city, I finally found a place to park that was neither posted nor perilous.
My first sight as I parked the car was a bald eagle perched in a cottonwood tree, scanning a slow pool formed by a diversion structure. There was not a breath of wind, the air was tolerably warm considering the time of year, and enthusiastic birds heralded my coming with a cacophony of song. In winter, we keep bird feeders stocked with oiled sunflower seeds and suet. They attract mostly finches and sparrows, with a smattering of chickadees, creepers and the odd woodpecker. Clearly this river bottom was better habitat than my front yard. A surprising array of bird life was in evidence along the wooded river corridor, and I was delighted to observe it. Geese and mallards of course, but also ducks of many sorts, from grebes to coots, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers and a small flock of what I took to be teal flying by at a terrific speed. The sound of the wind ripping through their primaries, a course vibrating rasp, was the only evidence of their passing.
I saw kingfishers and herons, and besides the eagles (there were several patrolling the corridor) there was an assortment of hawks. The hawks claimed their perches with high, piercing calls. A number of smaller birds including robins, finches, wrens, chickadees, flickers, and a great flock of starlings rounded out those I was able to identify. An unfamiliar bird caught my eye, robin sized, with a dusty greyish breast and slightly curved beak. It was rustling in the undergrowth and looked quite content.
The sky was overcast, and a sparse hatch of blue winged olives was coming off. One alighted on my chest pack, and I paused to consider the fact that I never carry dry flies. When I started fly fishing, I foreswore dries and streamers in an effort to develop my high-sticking chops. I suppose I should discontinue that practice, as I am now fairly confident in my nymphing abilities. Still, sight fishing to a trout feeding sub-surface, with fine tippets and tiny flies, is my preferred way to fish. The mechanics of nymphing are more tricky (as a rule) than those of the dry fly, and streamers have always reminded me of fishing with a Rapala. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but personally I do not derive much satisfaction from catching trout on lures. Why the same does not hold true for me when it comes to other species of fish is anyones guess. Perhaps I am an idiot.
I waded out to a current seam at the head of a long slow pool, armed with a tiny glow-bug (Oregon Cheese) and a red and black Go-Go Dancer, size twenty. I was soon fast to a decent fish, and a flash of gold made me think I had hooked a walleye. There are a few warmwater fish in the Arkansas tailwater, but what I had was not a walleye, it was a sucker. Luckily for the sucker, my freezer is stocked to overflowing with sucker meat, which makes excellent laker bait. He went back to the river, as did his chums that followed. A couple small browns came to hand, much too small for me to pump their stomachs for clues, and I quit for another location.
All the “perfect” looking winter spots yielded nothing, so I resolved to fish imperfect water. I prospected swifter runs at the heads of pools, using a large amount of Mojo Mud for weight. A couple decent rainbows resulted. The better fish I caught were eating anything red. A red San Juan Worm, a red Miracle Midge (properly dressed!) a red Go-Go Dancer. Red flies in swifter water is a pretty flimsy pattern. Still, a few fish in a new river, in low flows, in the middle of winter, is something I can take.
I was making my way up stream, passing the occasional riser, loathe to tear down my nymphing rig, when I came upon a pod of steady rising trout. They looked small, but there were at least twenty of them, and perhaps more. "To hell with it" I thought, and I broke down my rig. The emergers the trout were eating were alarmingly insubstantial, perhaps a size forty. Nothing I could match. Still, I tie some pretty sparse midges, so...
I tapered my leader down to 7X, and tied on a single midge. The pattern is simple, but extremely effective. It is essentially a Disco Midge on a Tiemco 2488, with an Organza wingcase, divided over the thorax. You might call it a guide fly, it is as quick and easy a tie as exists. The variant I tied on was blue with a cream thorax, in a size 28. I straightened and greased up my leader, and put it in front of the fish.
I am not sure how many trout were actually in that pod, but I think I caught most of them. I need to fish greased leaders to risers more often! They were small fish, eight to fourteen inches, but acrobatic in their efforts to rid themselves of the annoyance.
It was beautiful.