December 2010 Article
"A Winter Day in the Canyon"
The weekend had arrived and another chance for some winter fly fishing was on the calendar. The forecast weather was for 35 degrees and light winds. I headed out of town, hot chocolate in hand, ready to explore the snow-frosted canyon. I pulled off Highway 34 and parked the car. I discovered the temperature was as forecasted. However the wind was blowing at nearly 30 knots! I took a positive stance on the situation, seeing that the unexpected high winds had kept the crowds away. I was the only one on this particular stretch of water, just five minutes downstream from Estes Park.
In anticipation of my trip, I had pre-selected my choice of flies the night before; a size 20, extended body, blue wing olive (BWO) for my strike indicator, followed by a small red copper john with a size 24, black zebra midge trailing behind. All I needed to do now was get into my warm clothes and waders. Thankful that I had brought an extra layer, I bundled up against the cold and crossed the highway to the river. Light snow covered both banks and the flow of the river presented plenty of fishable water. It took a few casts to work with the wind. After figuring out how I could get my flies in the desired location, I began to fish with earnest. In less than ten casts, I had my first take, a feisty brown trout grabbing the BWO; however, a sudden reaction on my part promptly broke off the fish! Not the best start to the day---losing the fish and all three flies. It was obvious that it had been a few weeks since my last trip. The rookie “snap hook set” was a shining example of that! But it’s always good to see a fish rise.
Huddled against a large rock in a failed attempt to stay out of the wind, I retied my gear. The only change I made was using a size 22, blue poison midge behind the red copper john. I moved a bit upstream, setting out to sight some browns feeding in a small back current along the far side of the river. I landed two from that hole---one on the extended body BWO dry and the other on a blue poison midge. A bit later I netted a third nice brown just further up stream, this one taking the red copper john. It put up the best fight of the day so far and measured just over 13 inches!
The wind increased in intensity and really challenged my casting skills. I worked my way up-stream, seeing fish along the way, but I couldn't entice any of them to strike. However, the solitude in the canyon was more than enough reward for braving the conditions. Needing a break from the wind and cold, I made the short drive into Estes Park. After downing an energy bar and another cup of hot chocolate I was recharged, ready to battle the wind, and find a few more fish.
Driving downstream from town, I stopped at a small patch of quiet water. Once again I was surprised to find no one fishing there. Feeling a change was in order, I retied my flies. I stayed with the extended body BWO as my indicator fly. However, I followed that with a size 20, yellow emerger pattern trailing a size 22, flashback ju-ju bee midge. I could see a few fish feeding and cast again. The wind was still blowing hard and it took a while to get my routine down. In spite of the wind, I managed to coax three small rainbows to accept my presentation. It was an orderly affair: The first fish took the dry, the second took the yellow emerger, and the third took the ju-ju bee midge. From here the message was clear. The fish had literally reached the end of my line!
Because I was no longer willing to withstand the wind and cold, I took leave of the river and its soulful energy. I stowed my gear, stripped off a few layers of clothes, got in my car, and headed back down the highway. The fading afternoon sun glanced off the snow that hugged the canyon walls, providing a kaleidoscope of colors on my journey home. Though straining against the wind for the entire day, I had that familiar relaxed and easy feeling that the canyon and river provide. Without having to worry about time or crowds, I was able to move through the day at my pace. I enjoyed the changing skies, the early winter landscapes, and the joys of the river. It is always good to know your place of peace and then go there often.
© Dean Miller 2010
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