If you like Dry Fly Fishing.... Read This! August 13 2016
You look ahead towards the left hand bend in the river. It disappears around the corner, the waste high summer grass obscuring your view of the water ahead. Then you see it…. 20 yards up. The rise form makes a perfect circle on the dark glassy surface, increasing in diameter as it moves slowly towards you on the surface of the water. You take note of the spot that tiny circle first appeared – just about 10 inches from the right side waters edge, beneath the slight overhang created by the eroded bank.
The alpine meadow is pristine. You’re surrounded by twelve thousand foot peaks. A few patches of snow still linger above tree line in the alpine bowls and basins, where it drifted in deep during the winter storms. Above them the perfectly blue Colorado sky is dotted with soft white clouds, which every so often pass over the sun, masking your view into the gin clear water. Lodgepole Pines blanket the surrounding hills in a rich green, but give way to Aspens closer to the edge of the meadow, their leaves flickering in the breeze.
The river here is in no hurry. The meadow itself is surprisingly flat. Small feeder streams trickle and cascade down the steep rocky slopes, coming together at the head of this meadow to create a braid of intertwining channels and cut bank streams – some so narrow you could leap across them. The braids come together quickly, within the first mile of the meadow’s length combining to form the headwater stretch of this famous river.
A mile further down the meadow, where you stand now, the river snakes and bends. Small bubbles drift slowly across its glassy face, revealing the deepest and truest path of the current. The glass is broken only when the water shallows, tumbling over smooth red stones and creating a riffle as the current increases, and the surface takes on the uneven characteristics of the eroded rock on the river bottom. Hoppers take flight as you move slowly through the tall grass, and Pale Morning Duns hover at eye level above the stream.
The hopper pattern you started the day with served its purpose, receiving explosive strikes from the brookies that dominate this section of river. Earlier you felt fortunate to land a twelve-inch Cutthroat – one of the few remaining, though they are the only fish native to this water. After the mallard feather segments on top of the hopper’s body became mangled, and the right leg went missing, you switched to a PMD imitation. The hopper was the last in your box, and while the hatch is not overwhelmingly thick, the duns clearly are emerging in numbers.
You shuffle forward 10 steps through the knee-deep water on the left side of the channel, careful to move slowly and silently. That perfect circle appears again, in the same spot, just 10 inches from the undercut right bank. Patiently, you slide six feet to your right, into the center of the stream. The water is nearly waste deep, and you gauge the speed of the current between your position and the spot where that rise form appeared. Satisfied that you’re positioned for a drag free drift, you pull a length of floating line through the tip guide, and pull another 20 feet or so from your reel. The click-click-click of the old spring-and-pawl reverberates above the hiss of the grass in the breeze.
You raise the tip of your Drifter Covert, make two false casts, and feel the rod load as twenty five feet of floating line stretches out behind you. You punch forward, upstream and across, delivering the line on point as leader turns over, and 6x fluorocarbon and your PMD imitation fall softly on the smooth surface. The fly lands 3 feet ahead of where the rise from appeared, then drifts. One second, two seconds, three seconds, then - the take.
Your right index finger clamps down on the line as you bring the rod tip to the sky. The line pulls taught, and the fury of splashing at the end of that line signals success. You crank hard on the reel with your left hand to keep the line taught as the splashing moves back towards you with the current. The fish gains its bearings and dives deep, pulling ahead and upstream, nearly doubling over your eight foot three weight. You feel the pull and fight back, pulling the rod tip high, as the reel whines and spins. The fish returns to the surface, tired from the run. You crank the reel and a few short moments later, the sixteen-inch cutthroat is landed in your net.
The flip of a tail and a splash, and the fish is gone. Your left hand still submerged just below the surface of the water, you swish it through the water and stand upright, the cold, clear water dripping from the tips of your fingers. Another gentle breeze rustles the grass, the Aspen leaves flicker, and the river is still. You place your fly in the hook keeper, reel the line tight, and step out of the water on the left bank. Slowly, you prod forward, upstream, through the tall grass. Your mind wonders, what will you find around that left hand bend?