I knew that the Snowmageddon of March 2021 was going to put a lot of water and color into the Denver South Platte River. My strategy for a short three-hour carp session adjusted accordingly. Before I get into river tactics and the fishing report, here is some river information from the day I went fishing.
Date: March 20th, 2021
River Flow: ~150 CFS (USGS 06711565 SOUTH PLATTE RIVER AT ENGLEWOOD, CO)
Water Clarity: not great
Water Temperature: surprisingly warm (and I was wet wading).
Fly rod: 8 wt
Fly line: #8 weight forward cold floating
Fly selection: Aggravator Nymph and Umpqua Barry’s Carp Fly
One nice thing about the DSP is that if you fish it enough in a wide variety of conditions, there are very few days of the year that are non-starters. If the river is high or low you can still target and catch fish. Same thing with water clarity – both clear and off-color – both have their advantages and disadvantage. Put another way – fish the conditions you get and enjoy it as a learning experience.
Knowing that the water was going to be off-color I chose to explore sections of the river where I could take advantage of high banks. Getting up high on a bank, especially with full sun or intermittent cloud cover can make the difference between catching fish – and not catching fish. For me, getting that elevated view of the river, even with poor water clarity will give me enough of an edge to find fish.
And finding carp is just the first step of the sight fishing game.
Now the catch: 90% of the time I can’t cast from high on the bank. I either have trees in front of me or behind me…. Or both. So, when my ability to backcast or roll cast is encumbered, I have to make a quick and calculated move to an effective casting position below.
Two tips to think about if you are going to play the high bank sight fishing game.
#1: When you move from the high bank down to the river’s edge or rip rap below, know that your visual cues and your ability to see your target fish are going to change drastically. Because of this, make sure before you make your move to get into a casting position, to study your fish. Is the fish moving? If so, how fast and in what direction? You most likely are going to have to use that calculation of speed and direction when you make it down to your casting position. Is the fish happy and static or tailing in one spot? If so, create some type of landmark below that will help you key in on the fish’s location once you’re ready to cast. The view from your lower position is most likely going to look very different than from your perch on the high bank.
#2: Be careful and watch your step. Whether you are hopping around unstable riprap or sliding down a slick muddy embankment, pay attention to what you are doing. I often get very excited when I’ve finally found a happy or feeding fish. I sometimes get “tunnel vision”, ignoring my surroundings and foot placement and solely focus on the fish as not to lose visual contact. I also have taken a few good falls while “high banking” in pursuit of carp on the DSP. Wear a sturdy pair of wading boots - this is no place for flip flops or open-toed sandals. Play it safe.
On my relatively short outing on Denver’s South Platte River, rolling on the high bank worked out for me. I was able to identify a number of fish that I would have never seen if I was wading at the river level. The fish I connected with was tailing in about three feet of water. If you’ve ever seen a suspended redfish tailing in deeper water, it is a very similar visual experience. When I moved from the high bank to the lower casting position, I could still make out the tail (just barely) so I had a good idea of where his head was pointing. After that, I made a relatively short cast and two quick strips once the fly settled into the carp’s small dinner plate. Fish on.
If you know where the fish live on the DSP and especially if there are shallow flats in the area, that’s a great place to start. With the temperatures increasing, our dynamic spring weather, and feeding activity on the rise - if you can find them, the fish are willing to participate.