Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Call Noah, We’re Heading to the Ark

Fly fishing on the Arkansas River near Salida
25 – 27 April 2014

This April my wife graciously took our little man when she went away for the weekend and told me to go fishing. My good friend from high school obliged and we wrangled up three others. After some debate we agreed to fish the Arkansas River near Salida, CO.

Planning adventures

I have personally found the Arkansas River to be a tough nut to crack. I have never really spent multiple days-in-a-row on it. I had always fished the Arkansas River in Colorado for an hour here or there on the way back from a dedicated effort on some other stream. This was going to be my chance to really give the river a fair shake. For a moderate fisherman like myself, I find that it takes a day or so to learn what works on a particular river for a particular conditions.
Bella surveys the river and offers her thoughts

River and Conditions

This particular weekend had tricky conditions for fishing. Spring run-off was beginning (early this year) and a lot of the other good candidates were blown out or on their way to being blown out. There was also a call for snow on Sunday. The snow made us think twice about the North Platte or some of our other favorites in Wyoming. The Gunnison and Rio Grande also looked a bit high. The Arkansas was running around 900 cfs which was higher than ideal, but we determined it was fishable.

About 18 miles upriver from Salida
It had come down since Wednesday. Ideally we were hoping for a good freeze to make the water levels drop, but this was not to be.

Description of the Raft

The rod holders are worth their weight in gold
While I am the part-owner of this Super Puma raft, Justin is by far the leader in making it awesome. The entire set-up of the raft would be worth its own article – at some point. For this trip the chief improvement was a gear bag and a deck. The gear back is not a wet bag (although you can put on in it). The gear bag just keep stuff from cluttering the raft. On many trips water bottles, hats and other gear gets under foot  if you are not careful. The gear bag helps prevent this.

Blue gear bag under the dog platform

The deck was primarily inspired by the fact that we like take a dog or two with us. Boze often likes to sit on the cooler which becomes problematic when we need the occasional beer or the front man wants to rest his legs. The deck allows the hound to lay down. It can also be a nice fishing platform (when stopped).

Floating and Fishing Logistics

We had five of us on the trip. While the raft is impressive in its carrying capacity it is dangerous enough to have two fly fisherman slinging lines. Instead we opted for a swap. Three of us launched at one site. The other two would transport the vehicle with the trailer to a take-out spot and then take the second vehicle to a mid-way point. We would meet up for lunch around noon, eat, drink a beer and swap tales of fishing glory and then rotate two of the fishermen. The two left on land would find another fishing hole and meet up at the take-out at the end of the day.

Big Bend to Salida East

For this trip we did two floats. On the 25th we did Big Bend to Salida East:
·         Start: 38° 34.437'N 106° 4.703'W
·         End: 38° 30.575'N 105° 57.808'W
·         Total Distance:  9 miles
·         Drop: 370 ft (0.8% slope)
·         Low Dam – Sluice River Left: 38° 33.127'N 106° 1.813'W
·         Total time: 4.5 hours

We launched around 3 pm. Justin felt that we missed a beatis hatch which probably would have improved our odds on the day.

This was a pretty float with a lot of decent looking holes. The one thing to watch out for on this site is a low dam. There are three or four signs warning you as you approach it, so it is pretty easy to catch. In the past we have had some luck with dry flies right above the dam. Unfortunately, this day there was nothing rising.

Below the dam there were plenty of good holes, but sadly, no fish. We went through the kayak course and the downtown waterfront. We mostly fished with stoneflies and various droppers. Justin also tried some streamers, but to no avail.

Salida East to Rincon

This was the float that we did on Saturday and Sunday. We divided it into two parts: Salida East to Wells Bridge and Wells Bridge to Rincon. Both days we ate lunch and switched raft fishermen at Wells Bridge.
Salida East to Wells Bridge
·         Salida East: 38° 30.575'N 105° 57.808'W
·         Wells Bridge: 38° 29.603'N 105° 55.078'W
·         Rincon: 38° 28.343'N 105° 51.950'W
·         Salida East to Wells Bridge:  ~3.25 miles (about 3 hours)
·         Wells Bridge to Ricon: ~3.9 miles (about 2 hours)

Wells Bridge to Rincon
We had much better luck on these sections. As with all things in fishing it is difficult to tell if it was the river conditions, weather or our tactics. However, one member of our group had gotten  a tip that purple was where it was at. We still used a stonefly with a nymph dropper but we focused on some darker nymphs.

We also found the insides of bends in the slower water close to the banks were more productive (at the 900 cfs flows at least). I did catch one brown in a traditional spot at the top of the eddy in one hole, but the others were in slower water. It was mostly browns and mostly in the 10-12 inch range.

Nice brown at the top of the run

Camping & Cooking
Pitched the tent near this cool old mining shelter
The crew I was with preferred more non-traditional campsites. The first one we tried got us a note to scram. While we thought we were on public land, we saw no need to confront the locals. We were firmly in gun owning country – far from the Boulder bubble. We settled on a nice site overlooking an old mine off of one of the roads off the Wells Bridge. You did have to watch where you set you tent as low-lying cacti abounded.

This camping trip I finally got organized enough to pre-cut my vegetables. At home where I have a nice big cutting board and a good chef’s knife I prepped some onions, peppers and mushrooms. I should have pre-sliced the meat too. I borrowed my friend’s wok which worked much better than the griddle that I had for turning the vegetables and meat without scattering them over the sides.

Other Stops

There is a gas stop on 285 just before it connects with 24 on the southern outskirts of Buena Vista. We tried the food at a the American n Asian Cuisine. The trailer attachment to a nondescript gas station served some pretty tasty Asian fair for a good price. The energy engineer in me was pleased to see that natural lighting allowed them to run the dining area with nary a light on.

After a long day on the river on Friday we did not have time to cook so we checked out Currents in downtown Salida. The place had a fine burger and a decent selection of about a dozen good beers. I would check it out again. And with my first bit of luck fishing this river, I would definitely hit up the Ark again.


  1. Looks like a fun trip. I'm thinking out here I might try a fastpacking/fishing combo. There are all sorts of little trout streams all over the place and more than enough trails to make it fun. Though here, too, you're always in gun country.

    1. Nice. I have always wanted to do more of that but have never really made the time. You'll have to let me know how it goes. Hope your ultra training is going well.

    2. We'll find out on Saturday . . . 50k and there are still sections of snow 20" deep on the course.

      I'll keep you posted on the fishpacking experiment.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.