Sunday, May 11, 2014

Don't listen to your mother about the Arkansas River Mothers Day Caddis Fly Hatch.

Does Mother know best about fishing the Arkansas River Mothers Day Caddis Hatch?  Does anyone know?

     The Mothers Day caddis fly hatch on the Arkansas river from Cañon City upstream to Salida is legendary.

     But just like the explanation of the birds and bees, why Aunt Greta has a mustache, why Uncle Bert wears a dress, and why Grandma Porche won't talk about her "husband" there is more to the story than momma is telling you. 
     I now have 5 days experience fishing this hatch, spread over ten years and will share with you what I've been told, what I've found, and what I just can't figure out. 

     First the object of our affection, a caddis fly. Some time around Mothers Day when the river temperature, flow, phase of the moon, atmospheric pressure and no one knows what else, is just right the caddis will start to hatch around Cañon City, en masse. Conventional wisdom is that the hatch will move upstream as water temperatures rise during this period before the major snow melt from the Collegiate Peaks begins to runoff. 
     Brenda and I had made reservations for a couple of days in Salida at the renovated old time Palace Hotel and it looked like the caddis hatch would hit town just as we would, a week before Mothers Day on May 4th. I tied some caddis emerges in the Lafontaine style according to the Midcurrents video. I also tied some goddard caddis dries to use on rising trout or as a strike indicator for the dropped emergers as well as some barrs emerges that were working well the last time I hit the Ark a week or so ago. 

     The Arkansas was flowing at a healthy 800-900 cfs due to releases from upstream reservoirs trying to make room for the above average snow pack. Our room was only a hundred yards from the river. I fished the afternoon we arrived from 3:00 to 5:00 PM downstream in town and saw none else fishing. Who would come all the way to Salida and then fish in town? Ha. Don't tell the fish that. I landed 5 or 6 on the barrs emerger but didn't see anything rising to the sparse caddis hatch. A local fly shop reported that the fabled hatch from Cotopaxi to Coaldale in Big Sheep Canyon. Water temperature was a surprising 55 degrees.
     The next morning (7:00AM to 9:00AM) I scouted a spot upstream to fish with Brenda and landed a couple nice browns on the caddis emerger. I was driven to stick with the three flies I tied for this outing. From 10:00 to Noon there was a nice hatch of both blue wing olives and caddis along the bank that Brenda got into with fish jumping at her feet. Brenda tied into a nice brown that gave her a good run.
     Fred, the owner of the Palace and obsessed fly fisher advised against trying to get right in the middle of the hatch that was reported to have moved upstream to Howard on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. We fished above Howard at the Stockyard Bridge in the evening hoping to get into the hatch and sure enough, a carpet hatch started about 5:00 PM. But for some reason, the fish were not rising.

     The flow was now over 900. There not many places to fish the edges without risking a dunking. Brenda said, "This river is just too big for me." I landed a couple more nice fish on the bead head barrs emergers.

     Ten years ago in the same area, the hatch was 10 times the size with caddis covering the bushes, crawling into our ears, and driving feeding fish crazy. It could very well be that the same thing is happening somewhere just down stream from where we were but intelligence from flyshops, locals, and other fly anglers, was very sparse. To find the peak spot ten years ago, Terry Stegehuis, would not stop his truck on the hour ride from Cañon City until he saw the peak. I guess that's how you have to do it. 
     Although all the fishing reports advised staying below Salida, we decided to go back to Denver through Leadville and check out Hayden Meadows. Much to my surprise, it was snow free and above the magic 42F in temperature. I landed a nice brown in this gorgeous area.   

     No fishing trip is complete with a stop in great gritty Colorado bar, like the iconic Silver Dollar Saloon in Leadville. When we walked in the place had the ambiance of a funeral parlor. The Rockies game was on flat screen in the corner playing with the volume off, the juke box was silent, and none of the other patrons had anything to say to each other. Finally, a guy at the bar went to the internet connected jukebox and announce, "Well what does everyone want to hear? This place is like a funeral parlor." That cracked the ice, the music and conversation started to flow and the Fat Tire kicked in.

     Three days later, I returned with Fred and Ned to fish the Cotopaxi to Coaldale stretch, thinking that the hatch certainly had moved upstream but Taylor, at the Royal Gorge Flyshop, told us the hatch had stalled at Howard for the last week and his guides were fishing up river. We fished at the Trading Post, just downstream from Coaldale and it seemed to me that the fish were gorged and very uninterested in whatever I was throwing. I landed a couple on caddis emerges and barrs emergers again but only after a lot of work. How can a hatch "stall?" Where are the pupa coming from for the stalled hatch? Does anyone understand this massive static hatch? I guess if ten times the bugs could hatch in a short period of time, a smaller but still blanket hatch could go on for a longer period of time in one place. 
Fred. WTF is going on.
     After all the experience with this hatch, it appears that even something as predictable as the yearly coming of Mothers Day, still has too many variables to figure out. Just like mothers and fishing.