After several years of low flows, big water has returned to the Upper Colorado River and it looks like it might be around for awhile.This is good news for farmers, recreationists, and especially the fish. Being a raft guide, there is almost nothing better to see than lots of water in the river and plenty more yet to come which now exists in the form of a healthy spring snowpack.
I knew that the rocks were there, since the low water last summer laid bare all of the underlying geology that had only been hinted at in previous years by the surface waves they created. I tried running the middle of the river that year several times and always hit rocks, sometimes very hard.In the end, the only clean line past the new Red Dirt Bridge was to hug the right bank, and to run between the new pillar and the rocky bank. This year, I’d been wondering whether the river under new bridge could be run straight down the middle now with all of that extra water, and there was only one way to find out.
I made sure everything was strapped down and approached Pinball going right down the middle.The bridge seemed to come closer much quicker than I’m used to, since one property of a rising river is that as a river goes up it also moves much faster. I looked for my usual landmark rock and saw a big standing wave where it should be. I spun out of my ferry angle and turned into the wave, which my big cataraft crashed through, and that put me right into the tongue for the righthand slot. I went right down the slot with my right oar stowed, into a big wave train formed by the water being squeezed between the bridge pillar and the rocky bank, whooping and hollering. The line was just how I remembered it from the last time I’d done I so many years before.
Below Pinball the Colorado enters the heart of a red rock canyon, as pretty a spot as there is on any river anywhere.I was happy to be there and again wondered why no one else wanted to do this but me. I reminded myself that I was not here for fun, but for research, and pulled over at Barb’s Hole to see how the river would fish at this level. Barb’s Hole is so named because early in my guiding career, I was taking a couple named Mark and Barbara fishing when we approached this particular eddy on river left. Other people had already caught fish here before, so I knew it was productive, but the rub was that the river goes past it pretty quickly, and anglers usually only get one shot at it. I gave the couple a heads up before we drew alongside of it, and they both made perfect casts into it using the double streamer setups I had tied on. Mark came up empty but Barb shouted, “I got one!” as we flew down the river. Mark pulled his flies in as I looked for a place to stop the boat and land the fish. Barb was shouting excitedly, and Mark was watching her fish on the end of the line as it was pulled downriver by my boat. He called out, “There’s another one chasing it!”. We finally came up to another small eddy and I pulled the boat into it hard, dropped the anchor, and hopped out with my net to land the fish. Barb raised her rod, and as I began to put the fish into the net saw another splash right behind it. She had hooked not one but two trout, and there was a rainbow on one streamer and a brown trout on the other! It would not be the last time I had clients with a double hookup, but it was the first and the most memorable. Ever since that spot became known as Barb’s Hole, and it will be as long as I ply my craft here.