In the Wheelhouse of the Season’s Best Fishing

07/23/14 | By | More
SEASON OF THE FLY FISHER - Excellent fishing began in mid-June on many sections of the Dolores, but an early start does not ensure a long season.  (Photo courtesy of Brad Foley)

SEASON OF THE FISH – Excellent fly fishing began in mid-June on many sections of the Dolores, but an early start does not ensure a long season. (Photo courtesy of Brad Foley)

Rain Rebound:  San Miguel and Dolores Hover in the Wheelhouse of the Year’s Best Fishing

The first two weeks of summer monsoon have favored the south, the great band of moist air fanning the New Mexico/Colorado border, swaying east and west like an old palm in a gale.  One day the rain falls in the Four Corners, the next in the heart of the San Juans.  When the monsoon heaves to the east, rain falls on the margin of the land, the dense, dark air a curtain between mountains and Great Plains, lightning riddling a landscape barren and beautiful.

Rain has fallen evenly but not excessively;   air temperatures have moderated; spring winds have calmed to nothing more than a breath before and after each thunderstorm.  High summer in Southern Colorado: this is the season of the fly fisher, the finest hour for trout. Fish in the San Miguel and Upper Dolores do most of their growing in ten short weeks between mid-June and late August.  Water temperature, clarity and insect life are all optimized. Cold-blooded trout respond as they must:  by feeding on every hatch, wasting no opportunity to put on weight for the long, high altitude winter.

Aquatic insect hatches seem monstrous this year. Pale morning duns have been popping on the Dolores for four weeks with no sign of slowing down. The Gray Drake, found at highest elevations of the Dolores, has hatched in unmatched clouds, settling by the hundreds upon the riffles and pools of the river’s magical tributaries. Nowhere are fish more inclined to take the dry fly, nowhere in trout fishing.  The San Miguel now falls into shape. Fishable above 300cfs, both the structure and wadeability of the San Miguel improve as flows drop between 150 and 250cfs. Aggressive locals have caught their share of early season fish, but now the San Miguel becomes more accessible, adding 30 miles of public water to our impressive back yard trout grid. The Uncompahgre now flows less than 400 cfs, PMDs pouring off its glassy surface. The Gunnison, too, has come around. Roaring through the Black Canyon at over 8,000 cfs for most of June, water managers have finally dialed back the release from Crystal Reservoir to just under 1,000 cfs, arguably the best possible fishing level for mid-summer in the Gunnison Gorge.

Following is the July fishing report from Telluride.

Dolores:  Dry Fly Heaven

Periodic, moderate rain has graced the Upper Dolores Watershed, the radiant green of late spring lingering now well past the solstice. Excellent fishing began in mid-June on many sections of the Dolores, but an early start does not ensure a long season. In fact, it is generally true that any part of the Dolores that fishes extremely well in one month will not in the next. No river in southwest Colorado experiences greater fluctuations in water volume and temperature. The gentle gradient of the Dolores Valley offers superb habitat for trout and classic dry fly water for the angler, but as flows drop, water temperature invariably rises, the water loses oxygen and trout become grumpy. Rain is the moderator.  Rain has steadied the dropping flows, stretching the heart of dry fly season on the Upper Dolores and West Fork.  Aquatic insects hatch by the millions, now colliding with terrestrials such as grasshoppers, beetles and ants.

FISHING THE DOLORES - The gentle gradient of the Dolores Valley offers superb habitat for trout and classic dry fly water for the angler, but as flows drop, water temperature invariably rises, the water loses oxygen and trout become grumpy. (Courtesy photo)

FISHING THE DOLORES – The gentle gradient of the Dolores Valley offers superb habitat for trout and classic dry fly water for the angler, but as flows drop, water temperature invariably rises, the water loses oxygen and trout become grumpy. (Courtesy photo)

Upper Dolores dry flies

AK’s Melon Quill, #16-18
Burk’s Silhouette Dun, PMD, #16-18
Stalcup’s Extended Body PMD, #16-18
Furimsky’s BDE #12-14
Harrop’s CDC Pink Albert, #16-18
Parachute Adams, #10-18
Sodom and Nemora, #12-14
Hackle Stacker Dun, PMD #16-18
Kicking Hopper, #12-14 (and all small hoppers)
Chubby Chernobyl, #16
Bloom’s Para Caddis, #14-16
Slickwater Caddis, #16
PMX, #14-16
Perry’s Bugmeister, #14-16

Dolores Droppers

Superflash Pheasant Tail, #16-18
Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail, #16-18
The Mayhem, #16-20
Micro May, #18-20
Copper John, #18-20
Tungsten Sally, #16-18
Iron Sally, #16-18
San Miguel River: High Water Heals the Canyon

Easy comes the silt in the San Miguel’s red rock corridor. Even moderate rains can trigger significant sloughs from the canyon’s dusty alcoves. Last summer’s rains were anything but moderate. The San Miguel suffered a series of mud flows and small flash floods that caused it to run red below the Silver Pick Bridge for most of summer and fall.  This year, a larger snowpack pushed powerful runoff, the river peaking for almost 2 weeks above 1,200 cfs in the Nature Conservancy stretch below Placerville. The upper river is clean once again, yards of silt transported on high water to points further west. Trout generally endure periods of prolonged silt.  It is remarkable, however, that microorganisms such as caddis and mayfly larva survive burial. When the San Miguel peaked and cleared in mid-June, aquatic insects exploded throughout the watershed:  caddisflies, Yellow Sally stoneflies, golden stones, craneflies and the largest aquatic of them all, the giant stonefly pteronarcys californicus. Trout numbers may be slightly diminished, but as competition for food is reduced, the size of our fish tends to increase. At this moment of reveal, we expect excellent fishing on the San Miguel in late July, August and September.

Large flies will dominate over the next few weeks.

San Miguel Dry Flies
Perry’s Bugmeister, #6-10
PMX, yellow or peacock, #6-10
Chubby Chernobyl, #10-16
Yeager’s Tantrum, #10
Hippie Stomper, #12
Sodom and Nemora, #12-14
Various caddis patterns, #12-14

Money nymphs for late July
Pat’s Rubber Legs (and variations), #8-12
Poxyback Stone, #12-16
Iron Sally, #14-18
Tungsten Sally, #14-18
Prince Nymph and variations, #14-18
Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear, #14-18
The Dirt Snake, #12-14

Uncompahgre PMDs:  Cherry Picking on a River of Convenience

For many locals, fishing the Uncompahgre at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk is a convenient distraction from one’s drive to Montrose, but not a serious fly fishing destination of its own, except for right now.  The Uncompahgre PMD hatch has become locally famous.  Intense hatch action between mid-morning and early afternoon, followed occasionally by a happy hour round of evening risers, provides the best match-the-hatch fishing in our corner of the state. The Uncompahgre is running 388 cfs below Ridgway Reservoir, a dream flow for anglers who seek full bank dry fly water with maximum complexity of structure and holding lies.  Finding trout is not an issue. During the daily hatch, fish rise like mad to the pale sails. Matching the Unc’s PMD hatch requires much more than choosing the right fly. Every aspect of fine presentation is put to the test:  loop control, long tippet turnover, slack-line technique and accuracy with a margin for error no wider than a trout’s nose, all toward the common objective of sliding a dead drift to a rising fish in feeding rhythm. Of this, we never tire.

Fly recommendations for the PMD hatch are superfluous if the angler fails in presentation. We recommend 8 ½’-9’ 3-weight and 4-weight fly rods, lines with presentation style tapers (such as the Rio Gold or SA Sharkwave Ultimate Trout) and, perhaps most importantly, a leader that tapers abruptly to a long, supple tippet; 6X fluorocarbon is probably your best choice, but standard nylon will also present the fly with adequate stealth, provided the tippet length is at least 3 feet. To learn more about leader building and tippet strategies, stop by the shop for a quick tutorial. Dry fly leaders and nymph leaders vary as much as 3-weight and 6-weight fly rods. At least, they should.

Uncompahgre PMD Dries

Hackle Stacker Dun, PMD, #16-18
Harrop’s CDC PMD patterns, #16-18
Burk’s Silhouette Dun, PMD, #16-18
AK’s Para PMD, #16-18
Stalcup’s Extended Body PMD, #16-18
AK’s Melon Quill, #16-18
Hairwing Dun, PMD #18
Spent Wing PMD Spinners, #16-18

…and droppers, should they prove necessary

Red Headed Stepchild, #18
The Mayhem, #16-18
Anatomical PMD, #18
RS-2 Emerger, short wing, #16-20

The Gunnison Returns to Normalcy After High Flows

The Gunnison, river king of southwest Colorado, was brutally unfishable during the famous stonefly hatch (except the very tail). Having missed June, many local anglers will dedicate July and August to the Gunnison, part out of necessity, but also opportunity. There is nothing more promising than when a long drought ends on the Gunnison. Brimming with aquatic insects and heavy trout, locals know that when conditions eventually allow, the Gunnison’s famous residents will make up for lost time. Comes now the best fishing of the year. Unpressured trout roam the periphery of their waters.  Terrestrials erupt from chest-high grasses, grown tall from recently flooded banks. Early summer hatches were pushed back.  Salmonflies have faded, but yellow sallies, PMDs and caddis emerge daily. Every day produces excellent opportunities for both the nymphing angler and dry fly fisherman.

Black Canyon dry flies

Parachute Hopper and variations, #8-10
Morrish’s Foam Hopper, tan or gold, #10
Yeager’s Tantrum, tan or gold, #10
Flopper, #8-10
Chubby Chernobyl, #8-16
Bloom’s Paracaddis, #14-16
Elk Hair Caddis, #14-16
Stalcup’s Extended Body PMD, #16-18
Harrop’s CDC PMD patterns, #16-18
Melon Quill, #16-18

Nymphs/droppers
Pat’s Rubber Leg Stone, #8-12
Red Headed Stepchild, #16-18
The Mayhem, #16-18
Pulsating Caddis, #14-16
LaFontaine’s Deep Pupa and Emerger, ginger, #14-16
Tungsten Sally, #16-18

 

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