Fishing Tips and Techniques
Welcome to the third installment in our wilderness fly fishing series. In case you missed them, part one covered types of waters found in Colorado’s wilderness areas, and part two discussed wilderness access. Here we’ll get into some specific techniques for fishing remote, high country waters.
There are a wide variety of waters to be found in Colorado’s wilderness areas, and each one requires a unique approach. While there will be some overlap between them, let’s break them down separately to help keep it simple.
Creeks and rivers in the upper reaches of the Rocky Mountains tend to be compact bodies of water. Near their headwaters, most of these streams run cold and clear, providing excellent habitat for native cutthroat trout. These waters are also ideal habitat for wild reproducing brook trout and occasionally, rainbow and brown trout as well.
Except for a few weeks during runoff toward the middle of June, the crystal clear water makes approach and presentation of flies a delicate matter. Because of their opportunistic diet and lack of fishing pressure, these trout are seldom picky eaters. However, they are easily spooked by movement along the bank or a careless cast into a calm pool.
We always recommend starting a prime stretch of water from the downstream end and working your way up, approaching the fish from behind. Even when approaching from downstream, it’s important to keep a low profile and sometimes, remain several feet back from the bank.
When you’ve found a good spot below a pool or run, cast your fly upstream, using a long leader to avoid laying your fly line right over the trout’s head. We recommend using 9-foot fluorocarbon leaders in 6x or 7x. As your fly drifts back toward you, carefully strip in the slack so that you’re ready for a strike, but without altering the natural drift of the fly.
This upstream-cast approach is ideal for dry fly fishing and dry-dropper rigs. However, when nymphing is necessary, a high-stick approach is often best. Situating yourself directly across from the run you intend to fish, simply cast your fly about 45 degrees upstream. Immediately mend, carefully laying your leader upstream of your fly. Then, with your rod tip held high, keep your fly line off the water and let your rod tip follow your strike indicator, allowing a perfect dead drift down through the hole.
High Alpine Lakes
Alpine lakes present a whole new set of challenges. Here, fish aren’t facing any one direction. And instead of holding in runs or riffles, they’ll be cruising along shorelines or structures in search of food. But like streams, the crystal clear water will make stealthy presentation a priority.
There are two primary techniques that we use on lakes – still-fishing dry flies, usually with a dropper dangling below it, or stripping streamers and nymphs.
When still-fishing dries, patience is key. Instead of trying to chase rises across the surface of the water, we recommend casting your fly to an area where trout have been rising and leaving it there until another cruising trout passes by. If you try to cast toward each new rise, the disturbance on the water can easily spook fish. If you fly is in a good position, just hang in there and wait. It’s only a matter of time before a trout comes along.
When fishing dries, it often pays to have a dropper beneath the surface. This gives trout a second menu option. Patterns that represent a drowned or suspended caddis pupa, mayfly larvae, or worm can be great options to offer beneath your dry.
When no dry fly action is apparent, stripping streamers and larger nymphs can be a great tactic on lakes for big cutthroat and brook trout. The key is casting over underwater structure or in areas where fish are cruising for food. Steep drop-offs, brush piles and weed beds are all likely spots. When stripping your fly, experiment with different speeds and depths until you find hungry fish. On hot sunny days, it may require a sinking line and a good deal of weight to reach the fish. Other times, they may be cruising the shallows, right along the bank.
The calm, glassy waters of beaver ponds can be some of the most challenging and most rewarding places to fish in a wilderness area. Prolific insect life can make for incredible trout habitat, and the cutthroat trout in some of our beaver ponds in the Flat Tops Wilderness become quite large.
Like alpine lakes, using streamers can be a useful tactic on beaver ponds. However, the best time to fish a beaver pond is during a good dry fly hatch. A delicate presentation is the top priority, so gently dropping a caddis or mayfly pattern onto the surface is often your best bet. We recommend using very fine, 12-foot leaders and lightly weighted flies that will land on the water with minimal disturbance.
When approaching the water, be sure to keep a low profile. It might even be necessary to cast from your knees or use small willows for concealment. But any trouble required to get into position will be rewarded when a trout crashes through the surface after your fly. There are few things more exciting than catching an evening caddis hatch on a beaver pond full of hungry trout.
In our next article in this series, we’ll get into specifics on recommend flies and equipment. Look for that sometime next month. In the meantime, if you have any questions about wilderness fishing expeditions with Winterhawk Outfitters, please check out our website, send us a message, or give us a call at 970-487-3011.