May 14, 2004
Little-known tail waters may offer fantastic fly
Todd Grooms shows off a trophy cutthroat recently taken in
an area tail water. Grooms caught the trout using a size 22 Mayfly Emerger.
one tail water gets blown out from rains and muddy tributaries, lake
turn-over, or inordinately high or low flows - somewhere in your area,
there will be one that probably affords outstanding fly fishing
Tail waters are, by fly fishing definition, those streams
or rivers below reservoir, lake or pond impoundments that provide an
almost constant supply of excellent water quality, generally consistent
flows and an exceptionally rich entomological subsistence base for trout.
Actually, the majority of our touted fly fishing
destinations are tail waters. Most of us have either fished or intend to
fish such famous waters as the San Juan, Green, Bighorn, Madison, South
Platte, Frying Pan and numerous others. But, many of these noted waters
are more than a few hours drive.
So, what do we do if our area freestone rivers or creeks
are running like chocolate syrup from rains or springtime snowmelt, we
desperately need to wet some flies, and we only have limited time?
Stop - go back, and re-read the simple description of tail
water. Then, think about your immediate vicinity. Get a copy of the
DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer State Topo Maps and do some homework that most
fly fishers have fortunately overlooked. You will, of course, find the
highly publicized area fly fishing tail waters below prominent lakes and
reservoirs - but, you will also discover innumerable trout waters that are
When I checked my state DeLorme Atlas, I found over 30
possible tail water fly fishing options within a two-hour drive. Most will
have public access and you can literally park within 50 feet of the stream
or riverbank of many. I have seen record-class Brook and Cutthroat trout
along with gorgeous browns and rainbows released in some of our area's
Thousands of motorists pass by some of these streams and
rivers daily and never "have a clue" about their fly fishing potential.
More than a few of these productive tail waters run through USFS
campgrounds and are presumed to be just another "over-fished public
water." Typically, these inconspicuous or seldom-publicized tail waters do
not have fly-and-lure only, or catch-and-release restrictions that serve
as announcements to attract fly fishers. Also, they won't have impressive
reports of "thousands of trout per mile" or be acclaimed as "trophy trout
water." Consequently, there won't be hoards of fly fishers jockeying for
position as with some of the bigger and more prominent rivers. But
knowledgeable fly fishers won't regard "the absence of fly fishers or
publicity" to be a relevant factor.
Do we really need thousands of trout per mile to have an
outstanding day on the water? For me, a few "spunky" smaller trout or the
chance to hook-up a 14- to 16-incher that goes ballistic with spectacular
aerobatics is one of the ultimate fly fishing experiences. Some of these
seldom-if-ever-caught trout will definitely exhibit the impressive
vitality and beauty of truly wild fish.
Riparian ambience and privacy can usually be found by
walking a mere few hundred yards away from access points. A 15-minute hike
may allow a fly fisher to become immersed in the outback quiet of a
pristine tail water stream or river as peaceful and serene as any
Presumptions of not being able to fly fish because your
local river may be high or muddy are just not all that valid if your or
your friend's automobile is still operative. A little outback tail water
adventure is the perfect reason to overcome flimsy "can't fish" excuses.
Many of these "below dam" waters are in alpine settings
that are vacation or weekend get-a-way paradises where visitors may have
somehow forgot to bring their fly rods. Round up your friends or family
and bring your fly gear. Escape the heat, the crowds and all those famous
fly fishing destinations.
Besides, I don't think you would have been able to catch
thousands of trout per mile anyway!
L. David Grooms is senior
He can be reached at (970)