Ark Anglers – May
This email comes to you from ArkAnglers General Manager Braden Baker.
As we near the end of April, it’s hard to believe how far into spring we’ve traveled. And what a spring it has been. With more temperate weather than normal, the river has offered us great fishing opportunities since mid-February. Successful winter water management has yielded low flows this spring that have greatly benefited the health of our brown trout population as well as a provided a consistent environment for our spring hatches. This weekend’s cold front looks to be short-lived, as we see warm temperatures and sunshine return next week. Considering all forecasts, nothing suggests that our high-elevation snowpack will begin melting until the second half of May, which gives us at least another two and a half weeks of excellent spring fishing conditions before the runoff begins. We are blessed to be located on a river than runs clear through the spring, when other rivers are already blown out and unfishable. On top of that, the opportunity to fish dry flies
Since mid-March, afternoon mayfly hatches have provided excellent early season dry fly fishing opportunities in Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and now that the Mother’s Day caddis activity has moved to occupy most of the river below Salida, it’s an incredible predicament to need to be prepared for multiple hatches on any given day. Just in the past week or two, we have also started seeing good numbers of larger craneflies skimming the surface of the river, with fish leaping with reckless abandon to intercept them as they hover near the water’s surface. The presence of all three of these insects on the river below Salida has offered not only good “match-the-hatch” fishing scenarios, but also chances to prospect likely water with double-dry and dry-dropper rigs, much like you would see in the summertime. The difference here is that the low flows that have so benefitted the trout population are also fully to the advantage of the wading fisherman, in contrast to the high, challenging flows of the summer season. Currently the river at Wellsville is hovering around 400cfs.
The most common questions that our staff are faced with day-to-day are “Where are the caddis?” and “How has the Hayden Pass fire affected the lower river?” Coaldale is probably the best landmark for the change in water quality. As temperatures have increased the past couple of weeks and low- and mid-elevation snow has begun to melt, we’ve seen dramatically discolored water run from the streams that drain the burn area. Most of these hit the river near the town of Coaldale, below Vallie Bridge. At times, the water has appeared nearly black with less than six inches of visibility from Coaldale down to Parkdale. The recent cool, overcast weather has slowed the early runoff, and clarity has improved considerably, but it remains volatile and unpredictable. Fortunately, the upper 20 miles of Bighorn Sheep Canyon, from Vallie Bridge up to Salida, remains clear and fishable.
Observations from both DIY anglers and local guides trips have told stories of as many caddis as have been observed in the canyon since the population was knocked down in 2007. We are currently seeing caddis activity from Parkdale all the way up to Salida, and though this weekend’s cold front will likely pause any emergence, next weeks return to warmth should get those insects hatching again. Though no longer the blizzard hatch of the past, the pockets of intense caddis activity on sunny days that seem to be more the norm now are in many ways more fishable. The volume of food available is enough to get fish actively engaged and feeding, but not so much that it makes one’s fly lost among the masses. Pupa fished subsurface upstream of the hatch and in the middle of it are deadly as droppers and on the swing, and anglers opting to fish a single caddis dry will find more than enough willing trout in riffled and pocket water, particularly in the afternoons when caddis are hatching or returning to the water to deposit their eggs.
On cloudy afternoons, blue winged olive hatches still dot the river from the headwaters near Leadville all the way down to below Salida. Though more isolated and localized in emergence, it is rare to find mayflies on the water where you do not also find fish rising to intercept emergers and duns. The contrast to a caddis rise is obvious: splashy rises and leaping fish typically coincide with caddis, where fish keyed in on blue wings rise with purpose and patience, with the classic nose-to-tail riseform replacing the chaotic caddis chase.
If you’ve yet to get out to fish the Arkansas this season, the next couple of weeks look very promising. Though we still have some availability for guide trips this spring, we are booking up quickly, particularly Fridays-Sundays. Call us at (719) 539-4223 for bookings, or if you have any questions about the fishing conditions on the Arkansas. We look forward to fishing with you soon.
Arkansas River Fly Shop & ArkAnglers Fly Fishing