Angus Drummond takes a break from the oars and tries his luck fishing a line of foam near the river bank. Note the discolored water. (Ed Engle/Courtesy photo)
While Angus Drummond was busy backing his drift boat down the ramp and into the Lower Colorado River, I walked a short distance along the bank to where a fisherman was busy landing a fish.
An above-average size brown trout caught in the lower Colorado River. (Ed Engle/Courtesy Photo)
“That’s a very nice brown trout,” he exclaimed as he carefully removed his bait from the trout’s mouth and released the fish.
When I witnessed the return of the trout to the river, Angus had the boat in the water and John Gierach was preparing to come aboard. I motioned for him to move to the front seat of the boat and headed for the back seat.
I took the bank angler’s success as a good omen for our day’s fishing. This was a leap of faith because when John and I got to Silt the day before and went down to check out the river, it was definitely colorless. You might even say gross. Several other words more descriptive of “potty mouth” were uttered, but I won’t go there.
The state of the river was not a total surprise. When I spoke to Angus a week earlier, he said there had been a few mudslides over the past few years and the discolored water had become close to a permanent feature. However, it was fishable early in the season and tended to moderate and become fishable later in the season. However, it was still a shock when we saw the water for the first time.
Initially, he hoped to repeat a memorable trip he had taken with Angus before the pandemic. We hit the banks with lobster imitations for most of the float all day. It was dry fly heaven.
This time, Angus told me about the impact of the mudslides, which at one point actually precipitated some fish kills. He said we might still catch some trout on the surface, but we’d probably want to suspend a nymph or two below our dry fly to increase our chances of success. Also, we should also come prepared to fish streamers.
“You will catch trout, but it may not be exactly what you expected,” he said.
When we first saw the river I briefly wondered if we would catch any fish, but I quickly reminded myself that you have to trust your guide and I trusted Angus. Several years ago we had worked for the same company that guided fly fishermen on the South Platte River. By then he was already a superlative guide. I told people that no one has a better dragless drift whether fishing a dry fly or a nymph than Angus, and no one can teach that skill better than him.
Over time, Angus became increasingly interested in float anglers on the Gunnison River and eventually moved to Newcastle on the Colorado River where he opened his Colorado River Fly Fishing Guide Service.
I let John know what Angus told me about the river conditions and we agreed that we would still make the trip. We’ve both been at it long enough to know that when it comes to guided trips, or any fishing trip for that matter, it’s a 365-day day and you take what comes your way.
Before we hit the river, Angus suggested we try to cover all the bases when it comes to fishing techniques. One of us started streamers and the other went with a dry fly and two droppers. John’s fly rod was already rigged with a sink tip fly line to which he tied a black streamer to the tip. I went with a big dry fly similar to Chubby Chernobyl with a Pheasant Tail nymph and a Zebra nymph as the dropper.
Angus headed to river left to start us off and John hooked a rainbow trout on his first cast. After that, the discolored water didn’t seem so threatening. I fished the dry fly dropper rig for a while, but after John came back online I switched to a streamer. We managed to land several nice trout each during the morning and had plenty of follows and “near-takes” before things slowed down.
Then we went to the dry fly dropper rigs and fished the foam lines near the banks. Angus kept us focused on getting good drifts on the edges between slower moving water and well defined foam lines. Also made sure to pessimize any softer riffles near the banks.
We didn’t catch one fish after another, but I would say that for the most part the fishing was consistent. We caught mostly brown trout with a few rainbows.
A day’s fishing comes in all shapes and sizes. There are those perfect days when you blow the hatch and catch trout left and right. There are other days when all you can do is hook and land any trout. I like the days in between where things can look a little bleak, but the river surprises you. The weather may be awful, but the fishing is great. The river may be out of color, but trout are biting streamers.
Then, on a day when conditions seem most difficult, signs of hope appear. You see a fisherman on the bank catch a trout before putting the boat in the river. Your friend connects with their first cast. A nice brown trout takes the big dry fly you are drifting on a foam line.
As the day progresses, you are still catching a trout here and there. At the end of the float, you realize that you have taken your part in difficult conditions, and you say to yourself, “This is miraculous!”
Visit EdEngleFlyFishing.com for Ed Engle’s blog, “The Lone Angler Journal.”
Angus Drummond guides wagon tours on the Lower Colorado River, Roaring Fork River, Gunnison River Gorge and Lower Gunnison River. For more information, see coloradoriverflyfishing.com.