Friday – Roaring Fork River – Aspen (flows around 360 cfs) & Fryingpan River (flows around 208 cfs) – Basalt
Chad and I did our annual Pan trip for a long weekend. His wife had a friend (and three children) in so it was a perfect time to get away. We left late on a Thursday night with the camper and pulled into a campground in Carbondale just after 10pm – the camper was up and we were asleep by 11pm. The campground, which will remain nameless, was essentially a dump – at $33 a night they were robbing us – but it was nicely placed on the Crystal River and it was one of the few that was close to town and the Aspen/Glenwood corridor. Not having any specific plans was a good thing. When we woke up Friday morning the Crystal was badly browned out by the previous nights sprinkles and we knew we'd have to hit the upper Roaring Fork if we were going to fish it at all. The Fork has tons of access along the Rio Grande trail and we took advantage of it. We hit the first access a Lower Woody Creek Bridge and fished a quarter mile section that looked particularly fishy. We hit the water at 7am – over anxious of course – and the hatches and fish were on. Caddis of all colors were popping and the fish next to the bank were actively taking in the low morning sun. The water was still off color in this section and Chad stuck to streamers while I pitched larger than normal nymphs. After about 2 hours fishing this stretch, Chad had hooked two nice 16 inch browns, and 18 inch brown and a 20 inch rainbow all within about a 30 yard stretch. I on the other hand manage 2 small browns and not a whole lot else. It was a slow start for me and a fast start for Chad (as usual).
We moved up the frontage road and stopped at Henry Stein Park. This was a nice section of river that stretch through some pristine park land right on the Rio Grande Trail. Some of the luxury homes actually stretched right down to the water – but it appeared to be all public water and I didn't notice any land owners being picky about you fishing on their section of river. The river was beautiful. Clear as a bell and cold. I went south while Chad went north – I wade some sections that were moving fast, but were fishy. I caught a couple smaller fish – including my first on a streamer/nymph rig. While standing on a rock tying on a new rig, I saw out of the corner of my eye a brown log coming diagonal across the river towards me, when I looked up I noticed it was a small otter that was making his way to me – he hadn't really noticed me and I yelled at him to get the hell out of my hole – he looked up scared and then dove under a nearby rock. It was funny as hell – he was the cutest little guy I had seen, and the look on his face (yes, otters give looks too) was priceless.
Chad met up with me after a while and talked me into heading down river to the boulder filled, deep pool section. We stopped under the walking bridge as we could see fish – I cast to one particular eager fish that was next to the concrete pillar – of course the fish took on the first cast and I managed to pull the fly out of his mouth. That was basically my luck. I watched Chad catch a couple in the pool and then moved down. After getting broken off completely I was relaxing on the grassy section of bank – walkers/bikers were sitting close by watching Chad catch fish. As I was retying my rig I noticed a 14 inch rainbow in the shallows working the current – after tying on I cast to him and had him hooked on the first cast. He made a slight run and popped off. More back luck. Chad and I kept walking north along the trail to hit the plunge pool section – the water was much faster and you could see where the fish were holed up, but I couldn't get them to take at all. I caught a few small browns, but nothing over 12 inches. I moved down again and stumbled (literally – the water was very tough to move in and the rocks were extra slippery) upon a nice dark colored brown spinning in front of a rock holding his section of slick water picking of bugs before they moved left and right as they parted around the rock. The fish was in rods reach but I had a ton of weight on so I just stiff armed my flies by him a few times – after 3 'casts' I had him on – he was probably 16 inches and had some major fight – and of course within 10 seconds of hooking him he had wiggled off too. I have NEVER had this bad of luck on hooking or landing fish. This river is not unlike many many I have fished and I always have decent luck.
After fishing for almost an hour more I met up with Chad and we headed out. It was just about noontime and we wanted to hit the Pan. We hightailed it for the Ruedi Canyon. We headed straight for our favorite section – mile marker 12.5, just below the turn out for the dam. We had a quick lunch, a couple of beers and were very excited to be on the world famous Fryingpan. This is easily my favorite river to fish. Huge fish potential, lots of fish, spunky fish, no crowds (except at the dam), and very pretty fish.
We had the pull-out to ourselves, so we would be able to choose our stretches of river. I jumped in right at the big rock and hit all the normal spots. Flows on the Pan were about 206 cfs (which was slightly higher than the 180 cfs we had heard about) – this was almost twice as high as last years trip – so some of the normal spots were a bit trickier for me. Nymphing in fast water is difficult, especially with very small flies that the Pan is known for. I consider myself a good nympher, but I could not figure out what fly, what size or how to fish the water. Most water was different depths and slightly off color – so I went up a size in my nymphs. I caught a few fish – nothing impressive – some actually very unimpressive (less than 10 inches). I managed one of the prettiest browns I have ever seen. He was orange – not yellow/brown or brown – but orange. His spots were deeply colored with great halos and he was feisty – most were 14 inches long. Of course I saw some great fish, but couldn't get into them, and the one time I did – of course he got off very quickly. Chad returned with his same old story – great fishing, lots of big fish, and damn – he had the pics to prove it.
We fished this stretch for quite a while. During this time the thunder was rolling in and then we got one hell of a rainstorm. It down poured for about 20 minutes – soaking us for the rest of the night. We moved up to just below the dam – the bend pool area. Fishing that stretch is always crazy – you line up and fish for the same 6 huge fish as they tailwag in your wake, endlessly feeding on microscopic bugs that must be tinier than anything you are fishing. I caught a few – most were small (of course I'm going to catch the 10 inchers when I'm fishing to five 20 inch fish!). I did manage to ass hook a huge rainbow that was about 19 inches. I swiped at him with the net, but snagged the loose nymph and broke him off before getting him in the net. Just my luck.
We grew tired of the same stretches of river so we decided to head back down the canyon. Stopping at mile marker 12 to hit some smooth water. It was still raining and getting kind of late. It seemed like it was 8 pm at night all day long – the light was off the river and it just seemed gloomy all day long. I fished the stretch next to the river and Chad hiked down river. I still could not get into fish and I was starting to get cold as the water was seeping through my rain coat. I hike down to find Chad – he hit a couple of pools and then a huge rock pool where he pulled fish after fish out of the hole – nothing huge. I tried fishing the hole without a bite. I kept moving down river – not doing any fishing. The rain had caused the river to fog – so there were some great picture opportunities. I met up with Chad and took his camera and took some pictures of him while he was standing next to a huge log jam on the river. Chad told me he had just hooked the fish of the day, but the fish slammed his streamer and then shot straight under the jog jam snapping the tippet. I grabbed his camera and headed upstream to get a cool angle while he tied on another fly. He was below the log jam now and within one cast he was screaming for me to come down river. The fish had hit again with unreal power and then darted straight across river at Chad and he quickly beached it in some slower water. This stretch was very fast water with a small tail out on the far bank about 15 feet across – this fish could have gone any direction and would have broken off Chad – but it went straight across river and into somewhat slower water. I arrived to see Chad with a monster rainbow in his net – I couldn't even begin to imagine how big the fish really was. While fumbling with the camera it did not start up correctly and I had to restart it – in the 15 seconds this took Chad was working to get the fly out of his mouth and noticed his old streamer there! All he could say is "I can't believe I got my fly back!" He struggled to get the fish out of the net – his tail was completed out of the net, and his head was touching the wooden rim. As Chad went to hold the fish up and I had the camera ready, the rainbow made a suicide run for the water – Chad literally could not hold his hands around the fish and control it and it flipped back into the water right in front of me – the fish actually was tired and slid back towards Chad, but as he reached for it, it moved 6 inches to its right and was back in fast water and gone. This fish was the fish of a lifetime. It was easily 26 inches long, 9 inches tall and probably 8 inches wide – it looked as big as a human thigh, silver slick colored with a slight strip of pink. We high fived each other a couple of times, I was amazed by the fish, Chad continued to be amazed that he got his fly back. We got the hell out of there after that. Another rainy night – we made burgers on the grill inside the camper, were done eating at 9:15, considered tying some flies – decided sleep was more important and were asleep by 9:45pm.
Saturday – Fryingpan River – Basalt (flows were 206 cfs to start the day and 260 cfs to end the day)
When we woke up at 7 and looked outside, the Crystal River was literally red – not brown – but a distinctive red. The rain all night had blown out the river and would continue down river to the Fork. So it looked like another day on the Pan – ah schucks! We hit the lower section of the river and worked our way up towards the dam. We hit one of the first pull outs on the lower stretch around Quaalude Corner around 9am. I was struggling to get going after the previous days suckitude, so I took my time – Chad took off for a good run. This section was again very fast water with few places that were ideal for nymphing. So I tied on a streamer and nymph rig and tried my luck. I managed to hook a decent fish that was sitting in a slow pool on the far side of the river. After hooking him I had to figure out how to get him back to me across some rough river. Somehow I had managed to drag him over two waterfalls, he got hung up on a stick, then wiggled free and I surfed him over to my side of the bank about 20 yards down from where he was originally hooked. He was a pretty rainbow, fat, but not too large, only about 14 inches. He had taken the Czech nymph (that looked a lot like the green drake nymphs and the caddis nymphs – big black head with a bright green body) in size 16, and somehow didn't shake free. It was a good start to the day. The river started to get more crowded in this section so we moved again.
The next stretch we hit was just down river from Strawberry Rock. The river is again very fast and most of the fishable areas were spin outs across river that required great casts and great mends of the line. But, you ran the risk of having to drag the fish back to your side of the river to land it – which again, proved very difficult for me. We parked in a small turn out and I jumped in just below the truck. My first cast was to a small plunge pool that I was literally standing in – I hooked a monster brown and the fish took off into the fast water and within 5 seconds was easily 80 feet down river. Within another second or two he had popped off in the fast current. Damn, it was a nice fish too.
I fished my way up to Strawberry Rock catching a couple small browns. Chad met up with me and passed me. There was some beautiful water up there – in particular a section of chunked red rocks that was like shelves in the middle of the water, the water was spinning all around this shelf, cascading over it and making multiple water falls. It was such a cool spot – unfortunately this picture does not do it justice. I fished a little further up river, watching Chad's rod bent about every 7 or 8 minutes or so. I had a couple on, but couldn't land anymore. On the walk back to the truck Chad told me how he landed a 22 inch brown that he caught in the pool right next to the truck – he said the damn fish took off down river after he hooked it. Yep, same hole as mine and yeah, I'm thinking the same thing. Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don't – and I didn't this weekend.
We moved down again – to our normal stretch (I think it is called Old Faithful Pullout). I again jumped in just below the rocks and had very little luck. I did manage to catch one very memorable fish on a streamer – it was for sure the largest fish I had caught all weekend on the streamer. Unfortunately the fish was only 3 times bigger than the inch and a half streamer!
I saw another otter (my 2nd of the weekend) – this one was much longer, he was two toned, lighter colored brownish blonde in the upper body and dark brown on his butt and tail. He was running along the bank maybe 7 feet from me and didn't even see me at all. I spent about an hour fishing over and changing flies on one fish in particular. It was a cuttbow with spectacular ruby coloring and was actively feeding in a side pool where the current would relax and the fish could just feed. I tried everything for over an hour with no luck. I waved Chad over and told him to catch the fish – which he did in under 10 casts. The fish was in fact a spectacular color – red along its entire bottom.
I continued fishing and hooked a couple fish in the faster water – I nice rainbow not more than 6 inches away from the bank on an errant cast, and a small brown – both of which popped off. I did manage to land a tiny (under 9 inches) brown. I was pretty much done fishing, but we decided to try the dam section again, so we moved up. The section just below the falls was completely empty – so we hit it. Chad was working just under the falls as I was stalking fish when again I saw his rod bent and he was jockeying a fish my way (not on purpose either). I helped him land a huge rainbow (technically I didn't land him – I beached him because he wouldn't fit in the net) – I took a couple of pictures, although they weren't pretty. The fish was huge – about 22 inches (maybe more) but it's mouth was very disfigured and it had other scars on it. The fish was pretty undeterred when we let him go as he swam right back to his spot.
I moved just above the falls and hooked and landed a nice 17 inch brown that fall well. I fished this section for an hour – hooking and landing 2 more 15 inch fish. I did see a HOG of a rainbow – brightly colored red on its bottom – move into my hole. As I was fishing towards him I hooked onto a nice fish – thinking it was the 20+ rainbow – but it ended up being a 14 inch brown that pulled like a log! The upper stretches along the flat water head towards that dam were stacked with guides and rednecks – all standing within casting distance, and all dry flying. Chad and I hiked into this section not knowing that there was such a crowd – we headed down one of the many bush corridors that lead to the river – when we popped out there was a guy 50 feet to our right, and 30 feet to our left. But, right in front of us feeding in the shallows were about 10 fish between 18 and 20 inches. Of course they saw us and we saw them, but they wouldn't hit for the world. Just before I left Chad to go get the truck, we saw one fish making his way up slowly from the lower stretches towards us. The shear size and length of this fish is indescribable. He was easily 24 inches low, and easily 15 lbs. But he wasn't a trout – Chad and I both agreed on that – the fish had a pouty face like a carp or whitefish, and he was a bluish dark gray in color. We weren't sure what kind he was – but if anyone knows if there are whities or carp in that river that are that big, please let me know.
I went back and got the truck and parked at the pull out with the toilets and picnic tables and waited for Chad. We headed back to the campsite around 8:30, fried up burgers again in a pan, and hit the hay at about 9:30. No tying flies, no chatting, we were completely exhausted.
Sunday – Eagle River – Wolcott (flows around 300+ cfs, water was very dark and off color but not muddy)
We got out of bed around 8am, no rain that night so perhaps the Fork would be clearer. We packed up the camper and headed down to the lower Fork. The water was again way off color so we decided to try the Eagle River closer to Vail. Well, the Eagle was also chocolate milk in color and a mess. We kept going towards Vail and eventually saw it clear up near Edwards/Wolcott. We pulled into Edwards and followed the river down a frontage road, but the entire section was private – of course it was prime water too! We finally kept heading west to Wolcott where it became public land and we stopped at a campground/picnic area and jumped in. The stretch was along some railroad tracks and was fairly flat but awefully silty. The water was about knee to waste deep and Chad and I started working runs with streamers. We waded to the far side of the river and Chad immediately hooked 2 nice browns at about 16 inches. I hooked one fish while I was trying to get my footing and just letting the fly drag as I wasn't paying attention. I never got him in as he popped off in the faster water due to the force of the river.
Chad kept moving down river and I saw his rod bent and he was moving back towards me – he motioned that he might need help so I headed his way. I helped him land a nice 17 inch brown that was thick and feisty. I fished the hole Chad was just working and again he vanished over the railroad bridge onto the other side of the river. I continued working great looking runs, but couldn't even get a strike. I too worked my way under the railroad bridge onto the other side. I managed to hook a 6 inch brown – but that was it. We maybe fished another hour and then we were ready to head home. I was surprised that a Vail guide shop was working this free/public stretch of river and actually was guiding clients on that stretch for the day. It seemed too easy of a stretch to figure out yourself, and I couldn't understand why they couldn't work a deal to get them on the better sections further upriver in the private sections.
We hit the road right around 12:30pm. The ride home was quite eventful – about 10 miles outside of Edwards I blew a tire on the camper. We pulled over and changed it. We stopped to get lunch briefly in Vail, then were back on the road. Coming down highway 70 into Silverthorne the traffic stopped dead only ½ mile from the Asbestos Alley exit in Silverthorne. We sat there for 45 minutes without moving. Obviously an accident had happened, but when we went by it looked like no one was injured – just some banged up cars. After getting going again, we flew all the way to Idaho Springs where the traffic was stop and go again for several miles. We finally got home around 4 – 4:30pm.