Waterton Canyon opened up briefly for recreation December 18th and I decided to look in on what I consider to be an old friend. Waterton Canyon has been one of the few sections of the South Platte River that I can reach without a lengthy drive. At times it has provided me with some amazing catches and simply given my legs a workout at others.
The canyon itself is a 7-mile hike or bike from the parking lot to Strontia Springs Reservoir. The reservoir is being dredged to remove a heavy amount of ash sediment left over from the Haymen fire. The recent cold snap made me concerned. My plan of attack would be to drive up and see if there was open water. Going over the bridge fishing conditions looked “possible” but not perfect. Rather than risking the bike on an icy path I chose to use the shoe-leather express. This was a decision I smiled about at times and then cursed at others. All things considered the bike would have allowed me to cover more distance at a faster pace. Hiking in only allowed me to view the water better at a much slower pace. In truth this is the dilemma I face every trip through Waterton.
Finally reached the water’s edge. The water itself was clear but filled with some heavy ice chunk floating on the top. The air was cold, about 18-degrees making ice buildup on the rod a problem after only a few casts. As the sun rose so did the temps and fishing became more comfortable by the hour. It took several miles of walking and casts before the fish started warming up to me. It was as if these fish were waiting for the lunch bell to ring before they considered budging. From there on the action picked up.
(Above: One-hander brown with 45-degree rotation. Normally I crop out the black but there is not enough room to do so on these shots.)
After being held from public access for so long I really expected to get into some fantastic quality. My thoughts were aimed at large, fat fish just lying in the trough. This was not the case. Fish were hanging closer to the white riffles and a bit more wary.
It is not that I wanted this to be a slam-dunk gimmee with big fish jumping in my bucket. But after busting my hump and nearly a few bones in my body for fish on other outings, I really wanted, dare say needed some big fin slappers for the year ending photo thread worthy of my Mattsabasser dreams. But I love fishing too much to scoff at these “average” catches.
(Above: Another average brownie with some ice in the background. It was as if someone was making these fish with a cookie cutter.)
After some experimentation the gold and red stood out over the minnow presentations or other spin patterns. Steady retrieve for the more aggressive fish and sometimes a quick drop would seduce the curious following fish. Normally I would say “Number two this and 1/8oz that.” But I did that once on this stretch only to pick up three or four empty packages of number two this and 1/8oz that two weeks later.
To make matters worse, when I caught and released one fish out of a decent spot…it would rush back into the pocket and warn all the other fish. This tattletale activity was corroborated by the fact I would get a small flurry of activity the first few casts but after the release the action would die instantly. At that point my only choice is to move on to the next spot. And that is one of the amazing parts about fishing small rivers and creeks nestled in deep canyons…there is always another fishing spot just up ahead.
(Above: One of the larger pools that call out to anglers on the road. Definitely one of those “Oh I gotta hit that” spots along the 7 mile canyon stretch.)
As I approached the water my hopes, dreams and expectations were as high as they had ever reached this day. If there were going to be a large fish pulled out on this trip, this would be the time. First cast in and wham! Nice beauty brown. Not the huge fish I am looking for but not too shabby for the first cast into a gorgeous fishing spot like this. Fix the line, take another cast, another cast and another. Nothing. Change up and cast. Nothing.
“Dang fish must have ratted me out. Sonofa…”
(Above: Tattletale fish pic from the one hole-one fish trip. Something tells me these fish may have formed a union of some sort.)
I made it as far as this gorgeous pool of water a half-mile past the Mill Gulch Bridge before heading back which is a 5.5-mile trek one way not including cliff dives and rock hops to and from the water. My legs felt every bit of the 11 mile round trip. With the bike I surely would have reached the top of the stretch and viewed the Waterton Canyon fish-stretch in its entirety. But I would have most likely missed the first active pool tucked away in the trees that I found on the way up. Second-guessing myself is a bit of a hobby for me. Without a crystal ball or psychic powers it is the only option that I have to ponder the big fish possibilities that I might have missed.
(Above: A trimmed up map shot taken from the sign at the trailhead.)
No bighorn sheep sightings. This was as much of a disappointment as the ho-hum fish size. Tracks and droppings were everywhere so they simply had moved to another area. The work being done by Denver Water most likely moved them off.
For more information on Waterton Canyon as well as other areas Denver Water manages with public access, please check out the recreation section of their website.
My name is Matt and I’m a fishaholic.