South Platte

December 31st, 2006

Tributary Seven
Fun with Rapids
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

"Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly.." Proverbs 13:16

I had observed how the sprightly patrician of the South Platte had been able to catch many fish and I had waited patiently to hear his secrets. I had fished waters on the South Platte the gentleman so apply described, but never saw any sign of fish. What was his secret? Was he poking fun at me because he observed my fishing technique, a technique so filled with impatience, irreverence, and irresponsibility? Was I one of those he referred to as 'uninformed', 'inept', and 'uneducated'? I yearned to hear how he was able to catch fish. Yet, I realized, he was not about catching fish. Was he more concerned with out-smarting fish and rival fishermen?...

"I saw a large rock piercing the surface of the rapid water just 15 feet upstream and to my right. I worked into a position where I could reach the exposed rock with precise casts. My first cast on the upstream side of the rock dropped the white marabou streamer within inches of the rock but attracted nothing. On the next cast, I gently dropped the streamer within inches of the downstream side of the boulder. The streamer washed downstream only seconds when the red middle stripe of a rainbow turned and hammered the furred and feathered hook. After a short battle, I unhooked and released the fifteen-inch rainbow trout. There are many treasures sitting in the rapids of the South Platte, the rapids where any fisherman can have lots of fun.

The most fun I have with fishing is exploring, and I don't just mean finding different sections of the South Platte to fish. I like to explore in terms of using different fishing techniques, using different casting styles, and fishing water where few fishermen have the courage to traverse - rapid water. Frequently I see fishermen, both novice and seasoned, skip water that holds trout, many trout. The water these anglers avoid, ignore, or just plain miss is the fast-moving water, the rapids. Since most fishermen avoid rapids, there is less fishing pressure, and fewer fishermen. I always like to go where there are fewer fishermen.

Fishing rapids involves techniques different from those used in slower waters. For example, I can be sloppy at casting. The faster water is more forgiving to those who do not cast well, an excellent place to train the novice. Along with training the novice in the faster water, you occasionally get to see the diving event of a novice swimming meet. Novices are usually not very good waders, and I get to see some very acrobatic dives in the cold onrushing water.

The fast water of the South Platte will have lots of cover for the trout, most notably, rocks. Large rocks and small rocks, exposed rocks and submerged rocks strewn through the width of the river are excellent sources of protection for the fish against the current. The current is also a means of transporting food to the fish. Unsuspecting sources of food wash around the base of rocks. Trout will dart out, consume the food, and just as easily dart back into the cover of the rock. This darting action will result in very noticeable tugs on the fly line, again a good reason to take novices to the rapid water for instruction.

One of our favorite haunts for fishing trout is the stretch of the South Platte River at Happy Meadows Campground. The campground brings in all sorts of fishermen, spin casters, bait soakers, and of course fly fishermen. The river at Happy Meadows is easy for all fishermen to navigate from the shore, allowing access to most of the fishing holes. There are some places rarely touched by the uneducated. One such stretch of fast water is a favorite of mine. It has large and small rocks, fast water, deep undercuts, grassy banks, and bushy banks. Rarely do I see people fishing this stretch. This is perfectly fine with me. I get to fish some challenging and productive water. The technique most successful with this stretch involves moving upstream as I fish. Fishing downstream is acceptable also, but I have a theory about the fact that fish face upstream. If the fish are facing upstream, then I can get closer to the fish without spooking them when I approach from downstream. I have no idea if the theory is valid, but over the years, I have had better success fishing upstream than downstream.

Depending on the width of the river and the amount of midstream cover, I may fish the water in different ways. I may cast both above and below the rock cover. I will work my way into a position where I can reach one side of a rock, then move to a position where I can reach the other side. I may even just settle in the middle of the river and cast to both my left and right. Whatever I do, I concentrate on fishing around all rock cover and backwashes.

By using these techniques, I have been able to bag many trout. Little pools behind rocks will hold an occasional good fish. These little pools are the places most overlooked by the uninformed. I have often followed other fishermen through rock-infested rapid water, and caught fish where the naive failed to even coax a strike. The key to fishing the rapids is patience, patience not only in the sense of fishing the holes, but patience in navigating the rock-cluttered rapids.

Often I have seen fishermen stumble through holes where I have caught fourteen and fifteen inch trout. I have seen fishermen trip on submerged rocks and spoil the possibility of catching fish and enjoying the hunt. I have seen fisherman totally ignore places where the fish are patiently waiting for food to drift their way. I just resign myself to a patient wait of fifteen to twenty minutes, a time in which the novice moves to the next hole where he will disturb the fish again. I just follow in the footsteps of the imprudent, always with a sufficient time lag, to enjoy the hunt of the fish others so ineptly disregarded.

To be continued... ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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