In the beginning of autumn, bug hatches are dwindling and cool evening air has transformed the big rivers into streamer water. Winter will be here soon to lock up the high country and its abundant small streams. The last opportunities to flex your light-line dry fly rod are quickly waning. It’s a scramble to stretch the final weeks of summertime dry fly fishing in the high country of Colorado, but now is the time to tempt the largest fish in a mountain brook with your fly.
With the onset of cooler weather the amount of adult bugs that are prevalent in a watershed drops. Insects that don’t spend their lives in the water cycle – terrestrials – begin to be targets for hungry trout. Hoppers, ants and beetles become easy pickings for strong swimming trout. As insects that don’t belong in the water, they are poor swimmers, struggling noticeably on the water’s surface.
Grasshopper flies become the foundation for a variety of presentations. As a primary target for bankside trout, hoppers can illicit aggressive surface strikes as a single dry fly. Trout do not like anything that kicks and struggles in their gullet and will hit larger food items such as grasshoppers with tenacity, killing its prey in the process.
Large foam-bodied hoppers become the weight-supporting dry fly in a multi-fly presentation. Hopper-dropper rigs cover two different levels of the water column giving your quarry different options for lunch. Often anglers push the envelope in fly presentation by using a Hopper-Copper-Dropper rig, with the heavy Copper John nymph as a weight to sink quickly and a small nymph tied behind the CJ. Check your local regulations regarding the legality around multiple flies before fishing and you can decide on your own if multiple fly rigs is your style.
Mayflies have not left the streams completely yet, with significant numbers of Blue Wing Olives present on overcast days. The result of small mayflies and midges in the water column means trout are still looking up for both emergers and adults. BWO dry flies are proven producers when it comes to fooling summer-educated trout. Selling the presentation with a good drift is the key to ultra-spooky trout in shallow water.
The early stages of midges, mayflies and stoneflies are prevalent throughout the entire year. Cold weather merely slows the development process for these bugs, making them available throughout the year. Therefore, a midge or small mayfly droppers are effective in the summer months and going into the fall.
In actuality, we really get excited to head into the high country to throw dry flies. Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Madame X and little stimulators are the main reason we venture off the beaten path: to toss miniature dries to hand sized trout. It’s not about the size of the trout in this type of situation, but experiencing the wildness and pristine environment of small mountain streams.
Structure in little streams becomes key to finding trout in small water. Pour-overs, pools and pockets in riffles become the structure that holds hungry trout. Brook trout are the predominate fish in our Colorado high country, and cutthroat being the other. Dry flies placed alongside cutbanks will draw out the biggest of either of these species in any rill.
Concentrating on in-stream structure like solitary boulders or sunken logs can lead to pockets of unseen fish willing to eat your dry fly. Small changes in depth can be all it takes for a spooky high country trout to find the security and feeding opportunities it needs. Broken water like riffles disperse oxygen into the watershed, a key to high country trout’s midsummer survival. Riffles will also dislodge insects and trout will station downstream of the busy water, eating nymphs like a sluice box traps gold.
The gear that revolves around high country is small in nature as is the growing season and the fish. What high country trout lack in size they make up for in vibrant color and willingness to eat on the surface. Any fly riding on the surface is quickly targeted as a meal. With the feeding season as short as a few months, brookies and cutts will jump on any well-presented dry fly.
The resurgence of fiberglass in recent years had been a treat. The flex is reminiscent of bamboo, but at a price point everyone can afford. Fiberglass rods excel in real life fishing distances where a soft touch and a well-timed mend is more successful in fooling fish than an 85’ cast.
With the development of the Echo Small Water Glass series, high country fly fishing has taken on new levels of fun. Technical casting and jaw dropping scenery are two of the attributes anglers seek when fly fishing in high country streams. Shorter in length, the Echo Small Water Glass rods excel in tight casting circumstances. Overhanging branches, dead stick snags and moss-covered boulders all become obstacles to overcome and the shorter Glass series rods make the task that much easier.
The Echo Glass 2wt rod enhances the high country angling experience. Short and sweet, the 2wt is nimble on the approach to the stream but has ability to throw a considerable amount of line when needed. As my personal favorite, the 2wt places dry flies on target with a subconscious ease. During the casting cadence, your eyes will focus on small targets as the Echo Glass delivers your fly with a smooth, soulful flex.
Miniscule reels accompany the small rods found in the Colorado high country. Click and Pawl rules the game! With a classic sound and enough drag resistance to protect light tippets, click and pawl reels still have a place in the high country angler’s arsenal. The amount of fish encountered in the high country necessitating more than the feathery touch of an angler’s hand or an adjustable drag are very few. Learning the art of palming a small click and pawl reel when necessary translates easily to other angling adventures where those fish fighting skills mean the difference between landing a giant or breaking your tippet.
Flies that possess hydrophobic attributes are ideal for high gradient mountain streams. Puterbaugh’s Foam Bodies Caddis is a perfect example of buoyancy and silhouette, mimicking the shape of a caddis well. The addition of foam into the pattern enhances the ability to stay afloat in busy, broken riffles. Other traditional heavily hackled patterns like the Elk Hair Caddis, Kaufmann’s Stimulator and Renegade all possess the ability to ride high and induce a strike.
Dry fly enthusiasts often size down their fly choice for the high country. Small dry flies produce the most response from brook and cutthroat trout. The Airflo Elite series fly line mates perfectly with the Echo Small Water Glass rods to deliver your size 18 dry fly with accuracy and ease. Selling the pattern is easily achieved with good drifts and by using premium components in your rigging. Airflo’s line of supple tapered leaders and tippets pair well with the shock absorption that a fiberglass rod is well-known for.
The list of accessories wouldn’t be complete without the mention of some type of hiking/wading boot. Getting to the water can take a little effort. Often a wading boot is not necessary at all and you can get away with a comfortable, supportive hiking shoe. Nets, although the fish are small, are important. A rubber net protects the important slime layer covering all trout and aids in catch and release fishing. Stream thermometers decipher tricky water temperature conditions. Midday temperatures can reach harmful levels shutting down the bite and putting stress on the fish.
Entering the outdoor world without sunscreen is a big mistake! At the high elevations mountain streams flow, you are exposed to harmful UV rays at a mile or more closer to the sun. You will feel the exposure on any uncovered skin – back of your neck, your forehead or the tops of your feet if you’re brave enough to wear sandals. Sunscreen protects your skin and will need reapplication after exercise. Floppy hats that’s extend beyond your ears and cover a lot of area, offer vital protective shade. Bring water or a water filter to stay hydrated getting to and from your fishing location.
Autumn’s yellow leaves on the aspens and golden bellies on a brown trout possess some of the best opportunities to tackle high country trout with a pocketful of dry flies, a light weight fly rod and some good hiking boots. Anglers in the high country are singing their last dry fly hoorahs for the brookies and cutts we all love to catch. Venturing into the high country with an Echo Glass rod, a clicker reel and a few of your favorite dry flies is the best way to wrap up the season on any high country mountain stream from the Tennessee Smoky Mountains to the California Sierras.
– Michael Salomone
Michael Salomone is a member of the Echo/Airflo Ambassador team and a Vail Valley Anglers fly fishing guide. You can contact him through his website: www.MichaelSalomone.com or by calling Vail Valley Anglers 970-926-0900.