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A Winter's Tailwaters


I learned a couple of lessons this past Sunday trying to catch my first fish of 2017.  I could probably use a fake name right now to maintain anonymity of a humbling experience, but with 100% transparency, I will simply relate my splash-down experience on the Arkansas tailwaters.


A group of us from the shop decided to make a trip to the tailwaters of the Arkansas River flowing out of Lake Pueblo.  It’s just a short drive to the water.  The tailwaters here are urban fishing in some parts, and the river is fished pretty heavily, particularly in winter.  Because of these factors – close proximity to home, usually a lot of people fishing, familiar water and surroundings, an urban setting, – it’s easy to sort of take the fishery for granted.  At least I did, and I let my guard down.


davidfishFour of us were fishing around a productive hole when David hooked up with an obviously nice fish.  His bent rod screamed “fish on.”  I was downstream and started to make my way to David for a quick grip and grin of his fish.  First, my right foot stumbled on the sandy, silty bottom.  I corrected and thought I was good.  But on the next step, my left foot got snagged on some submerged weeds and limbs of some sort.  Down I went.  And it wasn’t pretty.  Face first, body fully stretched out.  I had on three layers – a down vest, a fly fishing shirt, and – because I let my guard down when I was getting dressed – a long-sleeved but COTTON t-shirt.  Wrong call!


It was familiar, no-big-deal Pueblo, remember? The day started out with sunny skies and the promise of a 50-degree day.  Nothing too tricky at all.  Been here a couple dozen times.


By the time I took the grip and grin (yes, I did meet my goal!) and after I drained out my completely full Fishpond chest pack (yes, it holds water) and dumped out a small portion of the Arkansas trapped in my fly box, I was getting cold.  All three layers were drenched.  I felt my Simms pants getting wet under my waders.


The 50-degree day never materialized.  It was partly cloudy, and getting cloudier, with temperatures maybe getting into the 40’s.  To be honest, I’m not sure what the high temp was for the day.  It doesn’t even matter, really.  I was somewhat surprised at how quickly I became so cold.


With a slight wind and wet clothes, my arms were shivering within 10 minutes.  Shivering is not a good thing.  Shivering is your body’s way of trying to warm up.  Shivering also drains you of energy. 


Wet. Cold. Shivering.  These conditions, unchecked, can lead to hypothermia (read more about hypothermia from Neil Luehring, retired captain on the Colorado Springs Fire Department and Angler’s Covey guide, here).   Was I on my way to getting hypothermia?  I didn’t want to find out.


I had felt the tug of only one fish that day, and I was standing there sopping wet.  With drenched pride and soggy ego, I had to let my fishing partners know I was heading back to the car to change my clothes. 

Not a great start to 2017 but some great reminders:

  • puebloDon’t underestimate the challenges around any body of water.  The bank wasn’t icy or snowy.  I’d probably make those few steps 999 times without falling.  It only took one time for a January plunge. 
  • Check the weather forecast, but don’t count on it staying the same.  The promise of a 50-degree day wasn’t fulfilled!  Be prepared for the worst conditions you might encounter – not the best conditions that may happen. 
  • In short, just be prepared.  I was lucky that I almost always have changes of clothes in the car.  I had a heavier fleece jacket, an Eddie Bauer sweater, some t-shirts, and extra socks.  I’m going to change the “almost always” to an “always.”  I have enough hoodies, socks, old pants, sweaters, shirts that I can keep enough in the car in an old gym bag or stuffed in a small backpack.

We have some great winter fishing opportunities in Colorado.  Be prepared.  Be safe.  Don’t underestimate the unforgiving nature of winter conditions!  



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