Colorado Expedition Part 1: The Fryingpan River

Well, I managed to make it to Colorado again this year for some fly fishing and some family fun. This is the first post (in a series of three or four) that will cover the trip.

To start the adventure, I flew into Lincoln, NE and met up with my buddy (and my personal fly-fishing guide/outfitter) Larry. After about a 12-hr roadtrip we made it to the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. For fly fishers this valley is most famously known as the home and meeting place of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers. On the final approach to the Basalt area and our campground, we stopped off in Carbondale for a couple of slices. Upon Larry’s recommendation we ate at Peppino’s Pizza – I had the excellent, NY-Style, thin crust. If you’re in the area I highly recommend it.

Location of Basalt, CO

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The view from the river is not of mountains but of looming, pine-covered ridges and outcroppings of red rocks. Being an easterner I never get tired of looking at the red rocks that rise to the deep-blue sky along the Fryingpan. This is a nice change of scenery for me, it’s quite different from anything that I can get back in Penn’s Woods.

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The first morning we fished just below the dam of Ruedi Resevoir. The water was a little high but fairly clear and imminently fishable. As we got to the stream, rigged up and squeezed through the willows we immediately found rising fish. After we got our fish eyes on – we could see fish everywhere. And as a bonus we were mostly alone – and grateful for that. The fishing was a game of midges. We both hooked some fish (Larry more than me), and had a great morning on the Pan.

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After the action slowed down, we stopped for a lunch of PB and J. The fishing story after lunch was a little different. It was a story of hunting for water. The Fryingpan has a lot of fish – but there seems to be an angler (or two or three) in every pool. It’s hard for me to complain, as I am a visiting angler, and thus part of the problem, but none the less… The stretch we fished in the morning was now occupied, as was all the decent dry-fly water that we could walk to. So it was in the car and down the road – without much success. Every pull off was full of cars. The problem with the Fryingpan is not finding the fish – the problem is finding a place to fish. After trying to fish some of the faster water that we could find open we headed back up to the Dam in search of dry-fly action.

I couldn’t resist checking out the ginormous mysis-eaters at the outflow of the dam, in the “Toilet Bowl”. You can stand on the rip-rap bank here, and watch the submarine-sized trout, pick off the mysis shrimp that wash out of the reservoir – there are some very large fish. Some seem to be half as wide as they are long. Fly Fisherman has a great article online about fishing for Colorado’s mysis-fed trout.

The Mysis Shrimp or a Cautionary Tale: Mysis shrimp were released into Colorado’s cold water lakes and reservoirs in the early 1970s to provide prey for kokanee salmon, also an introduced species. This did not work out as planned. The shrimp avoided the salmon (a mid-water fish), staying in deep water during and coming up only at night when the kokanee couldn’t see them. Worse yet, the shrimp fed on large zooplankton, out-competing the salmon for this food. Kokanee populations crashed in some places; growth at some sites went to zero. Introduction of mysis shrimp ended up ruining the fishery it was meant to enhance. The silver lining is the huge mysis-fed trout in the tailwaters below the dams.

Well, I had a few mysis that I tied – so I figured I’d give it a go. My expectations were not high – I’d read that these fish were just a little picky and not too easy to fool. There was some interest on my first few casts, a few hits and misses, and then Woohoo! I had one on – it was a pretty good fish maybe a little over 20-inches, but fat! It took me downstream fast – I had 6x on so I didn’t want to horse him too hard. I scrambled up the bank, ran down the road, till I couldn’t get past some willows, then back down to the stream. At this point he’s across the river maybe 150 feet away. An angler on the far bank is getting his net out to net him, then…the line goes slack. He’s gone. I reel in, I still have my fly, and it’s got a little bit of fish lip on it. I fished a few more minutes there but moved on – after all it is a little like fishing for fish in a barrel. And I didn’t think that I could stand the idea of hooking and losing another one of those monsters – my fish landing confidence had been shaken.

The episode with that trout inspired a little poetry – so at the risk of driving away my already small audience I’m going to wax poetic.

Mysis Eater

The fish is so close. For a moment, I can see the fiction reflected in his eyes,
the repeated story that grows in time along with the fish.

Then it’s back downstream, the reel screaming (in spite of the cliché),
and I’m scrambling over the rip-rap on the river bank, up to the gravel road, this is a fish worth running for.

He and I are now only distantly related, like childhood and adulthood.
Within site of each other but separated by some irreversible path (I’ll never land him now).

The line goes slack like a dream that mostly fades upon waking,
but still lingers at the edge of your mind avoiding the snare of words.

Here is an aerial view of the outflow and the Toilet Bowl. I hooked the big one in the, turbulent water, that shows up white in the image below. I ran downstream with him, till I got to the willows that you can see along the bank.


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Here’s the mysis pattern that I used to fool that trout- obviously I can hardly claim that it is a great new pattern that will fool lots of mysis-feeding fish, but It fooled at least a couple in very short order. Maybe it was just close enough to the natural but different enough from the other imitations presented lately. Anyway, it is easy to tie (no messy epoxy).

simple mysis

Simple Mysis
Hook: Size 16 standard Dry Fly (or whatever else you have handy)
Tail/Body/Shellback: White Anton
Thorax: Blend of white rabbit, white antron and Pearl Ice Dub
Eyes: Melted Climax Brown Monofilament
Notes: The tail, body and shellback are all one piece of white antron. I first tie-in the antron leaving a little for the tail, then twist the strand to form the body. Wind body, tie-off antron, dub the thorax, then pull the antron over the top.

After the mysis-eater episode, I went downstream a little and managed to find a spot to squeeze in. There were sporadic PMD’s coming off and I managed a few on a PMD emerger. Then a few green drakes started to escape clumsily from the surface. It wasn’t a huge hatch – but it got some fish feeding on the top. The bugs were large – I’d say a size 10 or so, and they were much lighter in color than anything that I had tied. A large Adams would actually have been a pretty good match. The closest thing that I had was a size 10 March Brown. This fly fooled a couple of trout, that I managed not to hook.

A “new” trout behavior observed:
The most interesting thing about this hatch though was a “new” trout behavior that I had never observed before. I noticed what looked like a trout with very bad aim – he’d come up at a natural and invariably miss it, the bug would try to flutter away and then the fish would try again and this time suck the fly in. I watched this happen several times. When I cast to the fish it hit, but I missed, I cast again – with the same result. Then I cast and I let the fly drift without striking: The fish came up, watched the fly, tapped it, watched, then drifted away. I cast again and watched the same behavior. The trout soon lost interest in that fly – so I switched, and I watched the same behavior. This fish was “testing” the flies, if the fly didn’t flutter away after the initial tap, he “knew” it was a fake and didn’t take it. Just another example of how these C&R waters condition fish and create some very selective fish (even if unnaturally so). I know some folks won’t believe me – but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Fryingpan is a great river – but with that greatness comes great crowds. If I fish the Fryingpan again it will be in the off-season, if there is an off-season on the Fryinpan.

3 Comments on Colorado Expedition Part 1: The Fryingpan River

  1. Wow, great mysis story! Great perseverance too (I’d have just wandered off looking for a little trib somewhere away from the people). You did take a picture of the fish “lip” as proof…didn’t you! ;-)

    Trout behavior is sometimes odd. I had a potentially similar experience just a couple of days ago. I had missed a couple of strikes, but it didn’t seem like the fish were actually taking the fly. So the next couple of “strikes” I didn’t try to set the hook, just like you. A fish came and bumped my fly, turned away, came back, bumped again, then disappeared. I had no idea what was up with that. But, now that you mention it, maybe it’s the same response.

    -scott c

    • Anthony Naples // September 10, 2009 at 7:50 AM // Reply

      I didn’t think of taking a picture of the fish lip! That would have been a good visual.

      Were you in a heavily fished C&R area when you observed the fish behavior? It seems like conditioning from being caught and released is the best explanation but maybe it’s something else.

  2. Not heavily fished. When it is fished with flies, it’s c&r. But I think it’s more frequently fished with bait and/or spinning rods. This was a dry fly I was using and it only occured in this one small stretch.

what say you?