I posted a blog and some photos the other day
and I got a few folks asking about fly fishing the Cache La Poudre River
this time of year. The few times I fished it recently Iíve cycled through a few different techniques. This is a brief rundown of a typical late-summer and fall fishing day for me in the canyon.
To me the Poudre River is one of the simpler rivers to figure out Ė it is a fairly steep and harsh river that scours life from the bottom, and while there definitely is specific insect life for fishy diets, for the most part the fish are opportunistic. This means they eat whatever morsels come their way.
When the water flow lightens from its summer peak, I roam the river casting attractor dry flies. This means hoppers, stimulators, humpies, etc., which are larger and easier-to-see patterns. I focus on moving a lot, covering a lot of water and hitting a lot of lanes, riffles and pockets. Fish are all over the river, deep and shallow, fast and slow. They are mostly on the smaller size, but theyíre fun. If you blindly walk into the water my guess is youíve walked right into a few fish. Before wandering about in the stream, start fishing from dry land and fish the water closest to you.
Keep moving, keep casting, and donít overlook any spot. Riffles are great this time of year, even the ones that look too shallow. Find spots in these riffles that have slower moving bubbles or are obviously disturbed by a larger boulder or depression. Cover it all, and donít spend too much time in one spot.
If the fish arenít super active, Iíll throw on a dropper Ė a nymph of some sort that is weighted and drifts sunken below the dry fly. Youíll notice a take on the dropper when your dry fly stops or jerks in the direction of the nymph. When there is hatch activity occurring underwater, (which may be more apparent later as adults fly off the water) fish will focus on swimming nymphs/larvae or their emergent pattern. But you canít really see when theyíre doing this, so change to this if youíre not getting many looks on the surface.
For the hopper-dropper method, Iíll tie a surgeonís knot leaving a long tag end (6 inches or so) to attach the dry fly. When fishing for meatier fish, Iíll take time to use a blood knot in the same manner. The nymph goes on the end of the line, hanging below. I usually leave about 18 to 24 inches to the nymph, depending on what type of water Iím in. For deeper water go longer, for shallower water go shorter. A general rule of thumb is that the nymph will sink about half the distance of the length of the line below the dry. If you want a deeper-running nymph go with a bead head. For a higher-riding nymph, go beadless.
Regarding nymph flies, you really canít go wrong with a pheasant tail or hareís ear nymph. I also use stoneflies and caddis nymphs often. Iíve yet to see a river without an abundance of stoneflies, and theyíre relevant all seasons. The pheasant tail and hareís ear are very standard mayfly nymph patterns, no need to get too fancy. Most of the nymphs in my box are variations of these two in different sizes and weights, with a large majority of my other nymphs being caddis and stonefly imitations. In the Poudre, carry a healthy number of golden stonefly nymphs.
If the fish are surface happy, then I may throw two dry flies using the same setup. Iíll fish a larger dry that can stay afloat in rifles and is easier to see, in tandem with a small dry or emerger pattern which is intended to run in the surface film or sink slightly. They hover close together, so if you get a strike on the one you cannot see, itíll be very close to the one you can see.
The type of water dictates my approach. I love to nymph rivers, finding good deep runs of the right speed, and drifting two flies through it. I like to get as deep as possible without constantly hanging on rocks or moss. Every once in a while is OK, but snagging every cast means you need to change your setup.
I move a lot this time of year, and because of that I fish a lot of different water types. I change my setup a lot. I tie a lot of knots. Iíll walk shallow stuff and hit pockets, riffles, and side currents with an attractor pattern. Then Iíll run into a slightly deeper set of runs and riffles and may throw on a dropper nymph rig off of it if the fish donít like my cooking. Iíll reach a deep run and turn to straight-up nymphing. And so on, never spending too much time in one spot.
I had three hours to fish a couple weeks ago and it evolved into an ďahaĒ moment. I wasnít seeing much action during the high sun. But as it lowered I saw some good insects coming off the surface. I recognized them, did my best to match them, and the action was much better for me. Armed with the new knowledge, I re-loaded my fly box selection, hit the river a couple days later, and tore it up. I used dries, emergers, cripples, and nymphs all to fit in with what I learned a couple days prior. During this particular window, the fish were definitely keyed in on a highly available and desirable food source. This isnít all that common here. If it happens to you anywhere, visit a reputable nearby fly shop and open your wallet to buy some flies with advice attached.
This is a fairly quick and broad rundown on my approach, but hopefully it gives you a picture of how I fish this river late summer and fall, and helps you enjoy your time on the water a bit more. Iíve met many folks who would consider themselves beginner fly anglers, and they have a tough time catching fish on the Poudre. It shouldnít be difficult. Donít complicate things here. If you remember one thing only, remember this Ė just keep moving.