The calendar says November, and while snow may be flying on the peaks to our west, the temperature around here is still balmy and very much September like.
And except for a nasty wind that seems to invade our air space and send tumbleweeds on a stampede across the prairie with increasing regularity, the toasty rays of the sun are enough to make me want to spend a lot more time on the river.
Contrary to most fisheries that you might find around the state, the fishing on the tail water doesn’t really get good until the midpoint of the NFL season.
Some may say that it’s simply better now because a lot of the other rivers are starting to show ice along their edges and the fish have slowed their feeding way down.
Others may say that the river is best in late fall because the water coming out of the bottom of the dam is consistently warm and the fish feed better.
I agree with both those reasons, but as a fly fisher, I love the fact that I can find consistent hatches on the river at this time of year and there’s nothing better than hauling a bunch of fish from the flowing river when others are starting to think about breaking out their ice fishing gear.
The key to tail water success at this time of year, and as we progress further into winter, is size.
I have a special fly box for this time of year and nearly every fly it contains is sized 18 or smaller.
Tied in traditional patterns, with a heavy emphasis on baetis and midge nymphs, this box has everything I need for a good day on the water.
Mayflies and midges are the bread and butter of fall fishing and, as the mercury begins to drop, these two insects and their nymphs are the patterns that I turn to most of the time.
There are other patterns like the egg, Prince nymph, and copper john, that are good in certain situations and will out fish just about anything else in your arsenal on occasion, but the staples are the ones that mimic the most prolific bugs in the water.
My most productive flies from November to May are the bead head pheasant tail, RS2, blood worm, disco midge, CDC emerger, and a fly of my own invention called a glass midge.
Given a choice, though, for my starting lineup, and if no other flies were available to use, I would stick with the pheasant tail and the CDC emerger for just about every single day.
Besides looking like a mayfly nymph, the pheasant tail also looks like just about every other creepy crawler on the riverbed.
And, since mayflies tend to hatch every day on the tail water, the pheasant tail and Barr’s emerger combination is one that is hard to beat.
When talking about winter fishing and downsizing flies, the conversation should also include tippet size and leader length. A lot depends on the clarity of the water which, in the late fall and throughout the winter, tends to be ultra clear, but can range from a light tea color to slightly green.
For most situations, though, I stick with a 5X or 6X tippet and a 9 foot leader. I also prefer to go with a lighter line and rod, with a 9 foot 4 weight being my go to stick, but I’m not afraid to break out my big 6 weight any time the wind is forecast to blow more than a dozen miles per hour.
Cold weather fishing on the tail water isn’t much different from summer fishing on the upper part of the river.
With its consistent hatches, you can expect to find fish on the front ends of deep runs and behind current breaks from bank to bank during any other time.
With clear water and typically lower flows throughout the winter being par for the course, longer casts are necessary for most situations.
It’s not necessary to be able to place the fly on a dime at fifty feet, but the general rule is that the cast should be at least three times the length of the rod and should be placed slightly upstream of the intended target.
A small foam or poly yarn strike indicator will help keep tabs on the fly’s location and will help you see those light pick ups that are so typical of winter strikes.
The weather may be getting cooler around here but the fishing is just starting to heat up.
Going with smaller offerings, combined with lighter lines and longer casts, will spell lots of successful days on our neighborhood river and, as long as the wind behaves itself, every day is good day to be on the water.
Pueblo West resident Bill Claspell is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman who also enjoys writing about his adventures. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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