South Platte

October 30th, 2006

Tributary One - Part 2
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

I worked the streamer down through the deeper holes created by the flow of the current as it hit the walls of the bank. The water was clear and higher than normal. I used fast-water fishing techniques I had learned through trial and error. The best way I found to work the water with a streamer was with lots of patience. I would stand on the inside of a bank and cast at a forty-five degree angle upstream. The streamer would drift down, as I applied small jerks to the line to give action to the maribou-feathered streamer. For maximum effect, I fished the streamer until the line extended completely downstream, and then tug a few times to bring the streamer slowly upstream against the current. After this, I retrieved the line and another cast made three feet downstream from the previous cast. The process is repeated until the last cast was at a forty-five degree angle downstream, then I would move about three to four feet downstream and repeat the cycle. I start this method of fishing upstream from the hole and continue it until I am at the downstream side of the hole.

As luck, and weather, would have it, the fishing was excellent when the sun was behind the cloud cover. We noticed the fish would tend to stay on the bottom when the sun appeared. This gave us the opportunity to rest, relax, and enjoy the surroundings when the sun was out. As soon as the clouds hid the sun, we were back on the stream fishing our hand tied flies. As I recall, I had several successes with smaller fish. I had been casting as close to the bank as possible and letting the fly drift toward the middle of the stream. I was expecting most of the action near the riverbank, and that is where the action of the smaller trout was taking place. When I got to the middle of the second stretch of undercut banks, I was not expecting anything to attack the fly at midstream. I saw the water break with a swirl of a good fish in the midst of the rippling water. With fast water, a good fish, and a 4x tippet, I knew I would have to work the fish carefully. Since I fish with no backing behind the fly line, I walked downstream with the fish until I could safely land the sixteen-inch trout. I was overjoyed; the first excursion to the South Platte produced a quality fish. A sixteen-inch trout is not an outstanding fish, but combined with the strong current and the light tippet, I enjoyed catching the fish.

My excitement got the best of me. I had to walk the fish a short distance upstream to Bill and display the success of my labor. As I got closer to Bill, I could see he was busy flipping dry flies upstream. He had only a brief second to turn and glimpse at the fish I was holding. After Bill got a look at the fish, I carefully returned it to the stream.

* * * *

I was free for fishing and camping the following weekend. I had no doubt in my mind where I would fish. The 'first' experience with the South Platte made me anxious, if not whole-heartedly determined, to return to that decrepit railroad bridge. I drove to the same turn-around where Bill and I had parked the previous week, arriving about six that evening. The weather was much different this time. The cloud-filled sky threatened rain. This was great. I had such a feeling of exhilaration as I readied the fly rod and waders.

This time, I started fishing further upstream from the remains of the railroad bridge. I had plenty of fishing time, so I wanted to fish and explore the river where I had not previously been. The weather had turned cold and windy, but I would not have my hopes and dreams of hunting down a monster trout dampened by wind and rain. I am always prepared for rain. I carry a rain poncho in my fishing vest and, as I started fishing downstream, it was necessary to use the rain poncho. I was pleased. The weather was cooperating, and the river was clear. The fishing anticipation was high.

I had fished for over an hour when I arrived at a bend in the river just upstream from the railroad bridge. As I came to the deepest undercut in the bank, I was beginning to get a little discouraged. The wind made casting difficult and inaccurate. The rain was covering my glasses with droplets that made visibility unclear. The cold was making my fingers numb. I fought off discouragement with the thought that somewhere on this bend was a fish that I would like to have hanging on my wall in a mount that would make any fisherman envious. As with most fishing, persistence paid off. I saw a strike just off the edge of the undercut bank. As I set the hook, I knew this was a good fish. The fish stayed deep in the water. My biggest fear was the fish would head downstream to the bridge and wrap itself around one of the log pillars. It started to go that direction but inexplicably turned around and headed upstream. I was able to land the large brown trout without the aid of a net. The streamer hooked the fat trout in the roof of the mouth. A best estimate revealed the trout just short of 20 inches in length, but the girth suggested the trout might approach the four-pound mark. Not being sure of the size, I released the trout. I immediately promised myself some day I would return to this section of the South Platte and would catch a trout that would hang from my wall. I have had more enjoyment returning to Hartsel in anticipation of catching a 'wall' trout than I have ever had in the actual catching of trout. This experience has always reminded me that the hunt is always more pleasing than the actual success.

* * * *

As Bill and I recounted the 'first' fishing experience on the South Platte, we noted the beauty of the area more than the fishing itself. The vast high plain setting with the distant views of both mountains and bluffs would keep us talking for the hour drive back to the campsite. We noted the sound of the water as it rippled past the rocks. We mused over the decrepit railroad bridge, the smell of the grasses and flowers of the meadow, and the feel of the wind as it raced across the plain. The most vivid memory I have of the first fishing experience on the South Platte was the weather. I have not seen the same conditions on that stretch of the South Platte since the first day I fished it with Yooper Bill. The near and distant rain clouds, the recurring lightning, and the booming thunder stands out as a memorable experience. Since that day, I have fished that stretch many times. I still enjoy fishing there. Each time I fish there, my mind wanders as I fish the many rippled stretches, the undercut banks, and the slow meandering corners. Whenever I fish there, I recall the 'first' encounter of fishing the South Platte at Hartsel.

South Platte at Hartsel

To be continued. ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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