This past weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to fish two days with my brother, Shawn, on the Arkansas River in Colorado. In fact, my good brother gave me the airplane ticket as an early birthday present. It just so happened that our trip fell right on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. What better day could there be to go fishing?
When we arrived at the river early Friday morning, we drove across a bridge to scope things out. Upon seeing the river’s conditions, Shawn excitedly stated to me, “The river is perfect! The runoff is almost over and the fish will be stacked up in the clear water right along the banks. We are in for a banner day!” Shawn first learned this fact from Bill Edrington, the man who wrote the book, Fly Fishing the Arkansas River: An Angler’s Guide and Journal. With this information, Shawn soon learned firsthand that Edrington hit it right on the mark. We had been listening to the new Barenaked Ladies’ song, “Odds Are” that morning, and Shawn jokingly changed the lyrics to “Odds are that we will probably be on fish. Odds are we gonna be on fish, Odds are we gonna be on fish tonight.”
After an excellent breakfast at a nearby diner, we drove across the bridge to a sportsman’s access and parked. I rigged up my three weight TFO with a Stimulator as the lead fly and a Gold Ice Nymph as the dropper. We first fished a stretch above the bridge. Right off the bat, we were into trout. Shawn was right: The fish were all within 1 to 4 feet of the bank in the clear ribbon of water, especially around the bigger boulders.
After fishing this area, we walked downstream through a cactus-covered old homestead along the banks of the river. Shawn wanted us to fish this side channel of the river so we bush-wacked our way through the willows to an awesome boulder-strewn stretch. The character of the river in this area reminded me so much of the Madison River below $3.00 Bridge, except in a desert setting. Like the Madison, the boulder bottom is super slippery and some areas were harrowing to wade. Like the Madison, the river is stacked with brown trout.
Shawn knows his river well and with his help, I was hooking into browns regularly. The Ark holds about 90% brown trout and 10% rainbows, but I hooked no rainbows that first day. Shawn and I fished together and took turns. With the strong headwind, I was at a disadvantage with the 3 weight rod, but the number of fish and their willingness to bite made up for my handicap. There were multiple times when Shawn and I had on doubles.
As Shawn had earlier predicted, the fishing slowed in the early afternoon. So we drove to a small creek in the Sangre De Cristos Mountains that Shawn has lovingly dubbed, “Can’t Tell Ya Creek.” The alpine scenery was very beautiful, but the forest was way too mature and unhealthy in many areas. As soon as I saw the creek, I knew we were in for some serious bush-wacking and mountaineering. The creek is surrounded by every obstruction imaginable and makes for tough casting and even tougher hiking. Shawn then told me that I should have worn pants because my legs would get shredded by the end of our time there. Admittedly, pants would have been nice, but fortunately, I didn’t shed too much blood that afternoon.
The bulk of the fish we caught were brook trout, which were more colorful than any I have ever observed. But I did catch one gorgeous native Greenback Cutthroat that was as beautiful as any fish I have ever caught. I also caught a weird silver brook trout that had no spots or typical coloration. At first, I thought it might be a bull trout, but then realized that there are no bull trout in Colorado. Whatever it was, it was weird.
At one point, Shawn snuck up to a hole on his hands and knees through the tight surrounding trees. He then cast and caught a fish. When it came my turn, I crawled into a little divot, sat on my rump, and had to do a short, ridiculous side-arm cast to get my fly out on the water to hopefully hook what we thought would be a nice cutthroat only to find that it was another brook trout. Shawn was really concerned about the cutthroat because the stretch we fished usually holds Greenbacks. Shortly thereafter, we decided to hike out of there and get back to Barry’s Den, a restaurant at Texas Creek, for a brisket dinner, which was a great call.
After dinner, we fished a different stretch of the Ark with some success. Shawn let me use a 5 weight Winston rod, which is much better suited for this river than my three weight, especially in the wind. To get out of the wind, we drove back downstream and fished another stretch of river that was sheltered by the surrounding landscape and large cottonwood trees. I used a foam body Yellow Sally pattern invented by Shawn and the trout absolutely loved it. We named it, the “Mustang Sally” and I had to sing the song in a growly voice as I hooked into so many fish. In a shallow area around a willow-lined bend, I hooked this 18 inch brown trout that put on a show of acrobatics like a rainbow. “That’s a monster!” Shawn said with eyes the size of dinner plates. I fought the brownie all the way to the bank and tried to beach him when he came unhooked. Shawn lunged to try and bring the fish to hand but it quickly escaped. Heck of a fish!
The smoke from the surrounding Colorado fires caused the setting sun to shed a blood red light on the river and the surrounding desert landscape . It was quite stunning. And the fishing that evening was simply phenomenal. I can see why Shawn loves this river so much. We caught brown trout all day primarily on dry flies. There’s not many places where you say that. Shawn fittingly posted on facebook: “Colorado may be burning, but the Ark is on fire!” It was truly one of the most memorable days of fishing I have ever experienced. Not just any day mind you, but the longest day of the year. We literally fished from dawn to dusk.