The in-between season

Joel L. Evans/Special to The Daily Sentinel The calendar says it is winter, but fall hangs on for a late-season float trip on the lower Colorado River downstream of Glenwood Springs. Mac Cunningham readies a streamer rig, hoping to catch an aggressive brown trout. Floating on the river allows an angler to cast to the edges, where the fish are likely hiding.

It's that weird weather time of the year.

Mother Nature can't make up her mind if it's the end of fall or the beginning of winter. Western Colorado has had snow in the high country and to varying degrees into the lower elevations.

Yet this week we are experiencing clear and sunny days with higher than normal temperatures.

The river fisherman side of my brain rejoices in the extended season.

It means a few more days to fish during one of the best catching times of the year.

The water is low and clear, giving access to some of the deeper areas trout favor — they have less places to hide. The pressure that comes from higher numbers of summer-time fishermen has abated, both for the fish and for me. And fish continue to feed as they sense the coming of lean times.

The opposing side of my brain isn't disappointed at the hint of winter. Ice fishing season is on its way.

Although I definitely prefer summer, I also enjoy winter for its change and opportunity for different activities. Ice fishing is fun and definitely a change.

So what shall we do in this in-between season? Float the Colorado River.

Many of the rivers in Colorado don't have enough water to be floated in late fall. Popular summer floating areas such as the Roaring Fork and Eagle rivers get thin, making floating very difficult.

That dynamic is the opposite on the Colorado River. As the largest river in Colorado, collecting its volume from the Roaring Fork, Eagle and others, its summer flows are high when those tributaries are just right for floating. Then when those tributaries slow down, the Colorado is just right for floating.

Coinciding with the low flows, the brown trout are becoming more aggressive as they enter their spawning season.

Inflatable rafts and drift boats are the main choice of transportation to negotiate the river downstream of Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado is wide. Even at these relatively late-season low flows, much of the middle of the river is fast and deep, making it difficult to effectively fish as the boat moves along too fast for a nymph or streamer to sink. So what the boat primarily does is get you away from the edges so you can cast into the edge.

The edge has rocks, pockets, and breaks to hold fish. Even then, casts are frequent and drifts are short. The most common technique is to use streamers. Big, heavy streamers, maybe even with a sinking line. One luxury of a float over wading is the ability to have two or even three rods pre-rigged, such as with a streamer, a nymph, or a dry.

Streamer casts are fast in, pause for two beats, then strip. Landing a fly just off the bank allows just enough sink time in the shallowest water at the edge. The occasional deeper run or boulder pocket needs more sink time if you can get it in and down against the moving boat.

The special opportunity here is access to big fish that would otherwise be hidden deep in higher flows earlier in the year. Browns are the primary target, but big rainbows, even cutbows, like a chunky meal. They are all there.

No boat? No problem. Although confined to the edges, wade fisherman have the same opportunity in the edges. But the typical upstream casting may need to be reversed, especially if casting streamers. Navigate the edge, cast out, and work the swing downstream.

One advantage waders have is the ability to cast out, which allows a longer sink time before the swing sneaks into the downstream edge. But on the other hand, backcasts are necessarily short, so roll casting is the solution. Roll, mend, sink, swing, strip. Take two steps downstream, repeat.

Although you can start early and end late, the cooler nights, suggest a lazier mid-morning start is OK. Cool days can fool one into ignoring the sunshine, but during these late-season days, the sun is lower in the sky even at mid-day, so sun protection is not to be forgotten.

It's a big river — foremost be safe. Extend that open water river season. Then go sharpen the ice auger.

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