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March/April 2023 – Extended CO Trip and A Lot of DIY Fly Fishing Learning

Fly fishing has steadily climbed to become one of my favorite things to do and my fastest-growing obsession over the past few years. Bar none. To the point that I would take a full-speed dry fly bite on a river as much as a wide-open tuna or yellowtail live bait bite offshore. Just don’t tell anyone…. 

Trout don’t live in ugly places. 

Likely an overplayed line, but the sentiment is 100% true for me. As much as I absolutely love the fishing aspects of fly fishing, it is also just as much about the rivers, hikes into, and the stunning backdrops many of the fisheries out west provide. So with all the wonderful (extreme sarcasm) weather California has had this winter and spring, we decided to load up the truck and point east to a home away from home – Colorado. 

I have heard that the spring fishing season can be phenomenal, albeit a bit unpredictable. Perhaps, even a little technical. 

The game plan was to really dive into DIY style. Try to dial in some local hot spots just outside of Denver (nearby where we were staying) as well as, sprinkle in a few destination spots I often read about. So for this edition of Student of Slay learnings, I want to break down the lessons per each spot. Each came with its own set of challenges, discoveries, and victories. 

First up, Deckers CO: The main attraction and the closest to Denver spot. These “Gold Medal” waters, which in layman’s terms means a hell of a fishy river with a lot of fish per mile. One trip is all it took. I immediately understood the draw. The famous South Platte River meanders through some pretty quintessential Colorado landscapes. Being just an hour outside the city, it is no wonder why it draws such big crowds. The Gold Medal label was quickly evident, being able to spot good quality and quantity of fish hanging by banks or sitting in pools. I was able to sneak out maybe half a dozen or so times on my trip and here is what I learned from Deckers:

  • Presentation isn’t everything. Flies do matter too. Damnit….. I have always landed on the presentation > fly selection side of the debate, but it didn’t take long to realize these fish prove that wrong. You can’t just rely on good drifts and well-placed casts. Or be lazy, sticking to what worked yesterday. You have to bring both pieces of the puzzle. I’m unsure if it is caused by all the angler pressure, the water clarity, or the abundant food sources, but I’ve never met such picky trout. I mean, some of the best nymph drifts I’ve ever made (which may not be saying much) straight into groups of fish I could see in tail-outs. For zilch. Nada. No love. Some very delicate and well-located dry flies that they would literally come to nose and turn off of. No doubt these trout can be tricky. If you don’t dial in exactly what they want on any given day, it can be a tough day on the river. But it can also be one of the best places to fish and the days it was good, it was good!  

The Dream Stream: This was one of the top spots on my CO fishing bucket list and it did not disappoint. Between the stellar views and a quick firsthand glimpse of the monster trophy trout that puts this on many lists, Dream Stream is just as the name implies. Dreamy. I got to log 2 trips (1 guided) to the Dream Stream, both very successful! Besides the standard, yet always important depth variable (and it really is important) of nymph fishing, the Dream Stream taught me:

  • Persistence and pace. You have to be fast and slow. This fishery lends itself perfectly to the fast “run and gun” style of fishing, where the more you hike and the more river you cover the better your odds. But as you increase your step count and scout for fish, those deep pools and under bank cuts that seem to be “super fishy”, typically are. So, that is where the slow piece comes in. Fish those spots hard and take your time making drifts through each lane and the entire pool, front to back. Once you feel confident you covered every fishable inch of that bend or section, keep moving. On to the next hole, keeping your eyes locked on the water for signs of trout. 

The Blue River – Silverthorne CO: Hard not to be wowed by the surrounding views. I have been lucky enough to fish this gorgeous river a few times prior, but this was my first true spring outing. Arguably one of the best parts of this fishing spot, aside from the proximity to all-time ski destinations & 360-degree views of snow-capped peaked, is its access. The Blue, like many Colorado fishing spots, has great access. One of the most popular spots is right in town. I am a proponent of easy-to-reach, easy-to-fish spots, but something in the Rocky Mountain air begs you to wander off the beaten path. My biggest takeaway from the Blue River was:

  • Push a little further and explore. The biggest part of my pre-trip planning is hitting the local fly shop beforehand. There is nothing more helpful than local knowledge. So, popping in to chat up with the guys & gals at the fly shops can make your day. Tip: ask them what has been fishing well and let them hand-pick some flies for you. Being a patron and showing some humility will go a long way in the intel relayed back to you. So with a stop into my favorite shop in the area, The Mountain Angler (in Breckenridge), we got a tip that the Blue River campground area was fishing well. But with the campground closed, it would take a bit of hiking in and around to find the spots holding fish. Sure enough, as we got further from where we parked the truck and deeper into the gorgeous stretches of the Blue, we found some great deep holes tucked a ways back from the main access point. Without another soul in sight. Nothing better than fishing with a good friend, mountain views, and no other pressure. 

The Arkansas: Firstly, the day we drove out from Parker was perfectly bluebird, a little over a day and a half after the mountains got a fresh coat of snow. The scenery en route to fishing did not suck. The fishing, however, for us novice kooks – did. We ended up with a single brown trout for the entire day, coincidentally in the first spot, in the first hole, on my second drift through. Talk about getting your hopes up! This leads me to less of a lesson learned and more of I know better:

  • Do your homework. Especially if you are like us, where we both had never fished this water nor did much research beforehand. Outside of reaching out to one Instagram (who was happy to give tips and help point in the right direction – thanks MacKenna!) friend, we went in blind. No stop in a local fly shop. No real research or YouTube deep dive prior. Just a bit of overexcitement and some overzealous optimism that applying the fundamentals would yield trouty rewards. Well, outside of the initial brown and one pocket water with a brief moment of 2 or 3 feeding risers, we sucked. Struggling to find fish or even fishy water. Water that looked really good from the truck above the river turned out to be shallower, dirtier, or faster moving than it looked from afar. Plenty of access but with semi-short divided segments and only a couple (at most) fishable pockets, it was tricky to effectively cover ground via walk and wade. I caught myself thinking, 1) I’ll bet this would be a great river to float and, 2) despite the struggles we endured, this place is absolutely amazing. 
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