I tried to convince myself that I had no expectations for the day‘s fishing. That‘s the safe way to go and sometimes by not expecting anything the true nature of the river opens up and you see what you might have missed on a more focused day.
On this day I dawdled in the kitchen over cups of tea until sunup. Normally I‘m on the river by sunup. I admit that getting there that early is mainly a tactical maneuver. I want to beat the other anglers to the prime water below the dam, but I‘ve also learned over past winters if you have the grit to put up with the bitter cold it‘s possible to hook some large trout before the sun hits the water. They turn off like a switch when the day lightens up.
Stuart Dominick‘s “cloudy day” hangar midge. ()
This morning I couldn‘t even get out of the driveway. For an unknown reason I decided to heat the truck up. It‘s a ritual I never perform. The owner‘s manual says the oil is up in the engine block within seconds and you might well as just warm the motor on the go. I sat there listening to the radio and watching the temperature gauge. An advertisement for Visiting Angels was running.
I did, however, have a problem. I knew that even with all the posturing I still had expectations. I expected there would be a midge hatch on the South Platte River in Elevenmile Canyon. That‘s why I was headed there. The night before I busied myself tying what Stuart Dominick, the superb Montana guide, calls hanger midges. The fly is as simple as they come. A thread body and a Cul de Canard (CDC) feather tied parallel to the hook shank. The design allows the fly to float vertically in the surface film, like an actual midge pupa does. Stuart ties purple thread bodies and dark dun CDC for cloudy days and black, brown or cream bodies with tan CDC for better visibility on sunny days.
I tied a half dozen of both and threw in a few of Mas Okui‘s Hot Creek Emergers for good measure. Okui makes the fly body out of peacock herl and ties natural elk hair parallel to the hook shank in the same way Dominick uses CDC.
I‘m drawn to the hanger style midge imitations for their simplicity both in design and the way they are fished. What you do is cast this single fly to a trout that‘s rising to midge pupa. This differs from the more common practice of trailing a midge pupa imitation behind a small dry fly. The dry fly acts as strike indicator when the trout takes the trailing pupa imitation. To me fishing the single fly is the more elegant solution and serves my goal of having as little between me and the trout as possible.
A short-lived midge hatch made it difficult to catch trout on dry flies. ()
My late start to the river was not disastrous. There was only one other angler in the pool I wanted to fish. We spoke amicably and decided there was room for both of us. It was cold, for sure. I had to watch my hands tie the fly to the leader because I couldn‘t feel them. It would be a while before things warmed enough for a midge hatch so I rigged to nymph fish small midge larva and pupa imitations. If you nymph fish you know that a nymph rig with its multiple flies and weight is pretty far removed from any kind of elegant dry fly solution, but I wasn‘t going to stand around and freeze waiting for the hatch.
For the most part, I worked the midge imitations to trout I could see. Although the trout were suspended in the water column, which is often a sign they are feeding or will be feeding soon, these fish appeared to be inactive. Nonetheless, I plunked my flies upstream and drifted them past the trout. I didn‘t get any takes.
This continued until about noon when the trout began to move toward the surface. At first there were boils and rolls, which means the thrust of the hatch is still a little below the water‘s surface, but on its way up. You can often convince a trout to take a dry fly imitation at this time.
I pawed through my fly box and found the hanger midges. I tied a black Dominick style hanger with tan CDC in response to the bright morning. I thought it would be the fly that changed my day. It wasn‘t. I made a number of good drifts over trout that were clearly rising to midge pupa suspended in the surface film. It‘s the exact condition that this hanger fly is designed to solve. Still there was nothing. In desperation, I switched over to the surefire two-fly rig that I promised myself I wouldn‘t resort to. By the time I was re-rigged the hatch was already going off. I managed a few casts before the rising trout disappeared.
The hatch couldn‘t have lasted more than fifteen minutes. I decided not to re-rig for nymph fishing, so I walked the river looking for other rising trout. There weren‘t any. Put plainly, I was skunked.
I went back to the truck, got out of my waders and sat in the cab for lunch. Three or four young guns arrived and headed to the water while I was eating. They carried rods rigged for nymphing and waded into the river where I know there are fish, but these trout are incredibly spooky and difficult to catch. One of the anglers, who had his baseball-style cap turned around on his head, hooked a trout within a few casts. The fish put up a good fight. He released it and caught another. Then his friend hooked up. I told myself they must be snagging the trout. They were setting pretty hard and it was still cold enough that those fish shouldn‘t be making the kind of runs they were making. Then I saw the size of the fish they were landing and carefully releasing. No, these guys weren‘t snagging fish. They were hooking up some pretty large trout fair and square.
I wondered if they‘d come to the river with any expectations. If so, they were coming a lot closer to meeting them than I had to meeting mine. I told myself I‘d catch my share the next time.