Salomone: Salmonfly Hatch 2023

Michael Salomone
Vail Vailley Anglers
Holding a brown trout at waterline.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

 I talked about it already. Timing is key. Temperature, time of year, run off level, there are a lot of variables. Each year has its own flavor. This year was no exception. The local salmonfly hatch signifies a passage of the seasons. And now with words scribed into the surface of paper in journals, the salmonfly hatch of 2023 proved to be worthy of remembrance.

A beacon signaling the arrival of the summer fly fishing months, the salmonfly hatch falls during the high water time on the river. With the heavy snowpack from this year, the runoff was anticipated to be massive.

The flow appeared low when we arrived. Normal expectations hold visions of much higher water. The river held color but not the mocha tone I expected, more of a Colorado green. A familiar shade with visibility better than any hatch in recent years.

Anglers were scattered on the island across from the upper boat ramp at Pumphouse. Eager to embrace the experience these anglers were whipping the air with giant dry flies anticipating the gluttonous reaction from a brown trout built more like a buffalo. We left our rods unrigged, on purpose.

Up the trail we walked. Familiar stones laid in the path, requiring a short, shifting weave to pass. New slides showed their age with freshly scarred rock and raw edges exposed. The atmosphere seemed remarkably quiet. Where were the hordes? Not here.

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Empty trails and normally occupied pockets sat empty. A couple of walking, talking anglers in no apparent hurry to reach any particular spot hiked ahead but that was it.

My friend Billy and I kept moving. The big island confluence appeared deserted. Billy flinched at the tasty section. Why not? We started fishing. If only for a few minutes before we resumed the trail.

Billy’s brown caught during salmonfly hatch 2023.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The pair ahead dropped into a flooded side channel. We continued on. Toward the top of the island, it became apparent the whole thing was unoccupied. The flow was still not at the high level I expected. We could easily wade across. Choosing a broad, shallow section of river to cross, off we went.

As anticipated the island was vacant of anglers. We crossed to the best water we could find. Immersed in angling we both chose different offerings to tempt a bite. I stuck with the salmonfly nymph imitations, Pat’s rubber legs and Kaufmann’s stonefly nymph. The cool morning air had not lifted from the river corridor. With a lack of adults in the air, nymphing made sense.

Giant insects huddled in the bushes and trees awaiting the warmth of the sun. Overcast skies allowed only glimpses of hope. The radiant heat from sunlight would warm the air and haphazard fliers would skitter through the sky. But only in singles, not the numbers I’ve witnessed fill the air. Numbers that command an insatiable frenzy. But not today.

Every time I noticed a flying insect or two I would tie on the dry fly. Giving some shallow pocket water, a few cut banks and a section of overhanging willows, attention yielded no response to a couple of different dry flies so back to the nymphs.

Cool rainy weather has held the hatch in a stagnant progression. The nymphs are still gathered in the shallows and adults huddled in masses. The emergence has been stifled by weather. One benefit of the slow arrival is the extended length of the hatch as emergers are still appearing on the banks. Reports of activity along the upper Colorado River are still coming into the fly shop.

Billy and I during salmonfly hatch 2023.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The rewards from the day were memorable. We arrived. We worked the river and the hatch. The bugs were there. The hatch was happening. The fish weren’t keyed into the indulgence yet. But what a great day on the Colorado River fly fishing a hatch some anglers only dream about.

The big nymphs coerced some attention. Billy made his offerings connect. But for the most part the fishing was tough. We didn’t mind. The salmonfly hatch was going on and we were in it. This weekend will be the last opportunity to fish the salmonfly hatch of 2023. Make the kind of memories that deserve to be archived in angling journals. It’s the salmonfly hatch of 2023, get after it.

Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.

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