The Long Draw Cutthroat

[Ed. note: I’m in Wyoming now and realized I failed to click the publish button on this post last month!]

A few years ago, I went exploring with the RV up near the top of Cameron Pass, where the scuttlebutt said that there were dispersed campsites available along Long Draw reservoir and the creek that fed it. About 12 miles away from the blacktop on a heavily washboarded dirt road, I found the only open spot available that was also the perfect size for 31 feet of Funmover.

I was there during the first week of August, and the first spot that I cast to with a big fluffy grass hopper pattern produced a fat cutthroat trout. A half mile section of creek adjacent to the campsite (spot #27) produced great fishing with generous sized fish eagerly rising to Stimulators and Hoppers.

So this 4th of July weekend I decided to head back up, having heard that the road finally opened the previous weekend. (It had been closed as I rode past to Joe Wright reservoir the previous weeks.) This time I decided I would moto-camp and I bought a new lightweight tent and sleeping bag, with a dry-bag to sling the camping gear across my Giant Loop pannier bags. When I approached the stretch near the creek, I found spot #26 available, and it was perfect.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, the air was crisp and clean and the creek looked spectacular, if a little higher flowing than the last time I visited. Patches of snow on the nearby peaks signaled that runoff was not quite done yet.

The fish were not eager though. I started with a pair of dry flies, a couple of caddis patterns, and I got no interest from the fishiest looking runs. I switched to a small Chubby Chernobyl and an emerging caddis trailer, and still got no interest. I clipped off the emerger and tied on a bead head nymph, and still saw no signs of fish. Honestly, I had been looking forward to easy fish and I started getting grumpy.

When I switched to a yarn indicator and two nymphs, I got grumpier. I had spooked a number of nice fish that were hanging out right on the bank under the overhanging brush, so of course the trick was to cast very close to the brush and let the flies drift underneath them. I broke off a few flies snagged in the willows, then I lost the whole yarn indicator as it slid off the leader and floated down into the lake. I hate littering.

Around then I noticed that the sun was entirely gone and there were thunderclaps in the distance. I went back to camp and got my rain jacket and had lunch. It began to rain.

I switched back to a hopper-dropper rig and fished upstream towards the spot that was so productive in 2017 next to campsite 27. I still found no takers, but I began spotting more fish. I realized eventually that there were pairs of fish in the fine gravel, and they were spawning, actively working over their redds.

This raises an ethical dilemma… it is generally considered poor sport to target fish in the act of spawning, and worse to walk through the gravel where they have deposited their eggs. But we also seek steelhead and salmon while they are on their way to spawn. Just two weeks prior, I was catching grayling that were stacking up in the lake at the entrance to their spawning creek, which was off limits to fishing during the spawn to protect the resource.

I was pretty tired of not catching any fish, and I admit that I drifted my flies through a group of spawners a few times, but they were busy and weren’t interested. By this point of the day, it was solidly raining, the temperature had plummeted, and I had gone about as far upstream as I wanted to go. I thought I’d try a streamer heading back downstream, so I tied on a woolly bugger with a shaggy caddis type wet fly trailer and began swinging it towards likely looking pockets, without really having much expectation of success.

I swam it down into a cutbank that looked promising, and the fly stopped, probably snagged on the vegetation trailing along the edge. I lifted the rod and the weight responded, a large white belly rolled as the fish that ate my wet fly made a break for it. I hadn’t got the hook set properly and the flies popped out of the water, back over my head and into a tree. But the first eat in three hours, woo hoo!

The black woolly bugger ending up catching a few nice fish, mostly from the middle of shin-deep riffles over rocky bottoms unsuitable for spawning, so I felt fine about catching them and they all swam off afterwards to continue on their way.

The next day was sunnier and that made the mosquitoes more annoying, but I still caught fish on the bugger and wet fly combo. I switched to a hopper/dropper again, hoping for some dry fly eats, but only got interest in the psycho-prince nymph I’d selected.

All in all, a nice holiday weekend on the water, only an hour and a half outside Fort Collins.

A perfect flyfisher’s boondocking spot, if you can scout ahead to secure a spot before taking an RV for such a washboard beating to get there. There are also many other campgrounds nearby if Long Draw is full.

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