Bear River – 08/24/2016

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the national forest border for .75 mile

Bear River 08/24/2016 Photo Album

A zero fish day on the South Platte River combined with hot temperatures suggested that Colorado was in the August doldrums. During this time period the main insect hatches end, and the hot afternoons prompt the trout to feed early and late. These conditions motivated me to seek high elevation creeks or tailwaters, since these stream types continue to produce through the slow period. Air temperatures are moderated at high elevation, and constant cold releases from dams delay aquatic insect emergence from July into August and September.

I was in search of a high elevation destination or tailwater for August 24 and 25, when I remembered that Steve Supple and I sampled Bear River on October 8, 2014. This small stream on the eastern edge of the Flattops is a tailwater and a high elevation drainage, thus satisfying my selection criteria on two counts. When Steve and I visited, the flows were in the 80-100 cfs range, which made wading difficult and limited the number of fish holding locations. I checked the DWR stream flow web site on Tuesday, and the graph displayed a relatively constant 25 CFS. I theorized that this was probably in the ideal range, and I resolved to make the trip to the Flattops southwest of Yampa, CO.

After a three hour drive I arrived at the entrance to the Routt National Forest, and I drove the first mile along Bear River to scout options for an afternoon of fishing. The small stream was next to the road and easily accessible just beyond the national forest gate, but then a steep hillside developed between the road and Bear River. After a mile the creek angled back to the road where the bank was more gradual thus allowing a reasonable exit. I speculated that most fishermen would not undertake the task of wading for one mile before returning to the road, and I executed a U-turn and parked on the south side of the cattle guard at the national forest border.

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Starting Point on Wednesday

Since it was approaching noon, I downed my modest lunch, and then I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and tromped down a short path to the edge of the creek. The sky was mostly cloudy with brief periods of sunshine, and the air temperature never broke out of the sixties, so my fleece provided comfort during my four hours of fly fishing. My fishing friend Danny Ryan demonstrated the effectiveness of the red stimulator on Piney River on Monday, so I copied his choice and knotted a size 12 to my leader. The visible high floating attractor with a high wing was somewhat effective, as I landed a brown trout and rainbow trout barely over six inches in the first fifteen minutes. These two netted fish, however, were accompanied by numerous refusals, so I elected to change the size and color of my offering.

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Keep Them Wet

Off came the red size 12 stimulator and on went a size 14 gray version. I am not sure which variable made the difference, but I incremented the fish counter to twelve with the gray dry fly on my line, and this included a few brown trout in the eleven to twelve inch range. It was a fun couple hours, but fishing Bear River was not a walk in the park. Many overhanging branches reached out to grab my backcasts, and thick brush lined the banks and forced me to wade through the middle of the stream. As one would expect, the best fish emerged from the deepest pockets, but it took a bit of experimentation for me to reach this conclusion. This meant that I devoted excessive time to unproductive marginal pockets during the first hour, before I learned to skip through wide shallow fast stretches.

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Pretty Brook Trout

The first dozen landed fish included two small rainbows, one brook trout, and nine brown trout; and therefore, I was a cutthroat short of a grand slam. When I reached twelve, I decided to experiment with different flies, in case I was missing out on a more reliable fish attractor. First I tried a size 10 Jake’s gulp beetle with a peacock ice dub body, but it tallied only a refusal. Next I floated a size 10 Chernobyl ant with a trailing beadhead hares ear through promising runs and pockets, and my success rate improved. Netted fish thirteen through sixteen succumbed to the dry/dropper arrangement. Two smacked the Chernobyl and two snatched the hares ear, and one of the Chernobyl maulers was a fine eleven inch brown trout from one of the best holes encountered during the afternoon.

As I waded a short distance above the home of the Chernobyl eating brown trout, I approached a long riffle over moderate depth, and this prime trout habitat produced two of the best fish on the day. First a thirteen inch rainbow slashed at and ate the foam top fly, and then it streaked under some dead branches that dangled along the edge of the stream. I was certain that I lost my prize catch, but for some reason it rested beneath the branches assuming it escaped my reach. This naive posture enabled me to wade over to the branches, where I scooped the fish into my trusty net.

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Best Fish on Wednesday

Once I photographed and released the shiny rainbow, I lofted a cast to the top half of the riffle, and as the Chernobyl danced along the seam, it paused, and I set the hook. After a brief tussle, I discovered a twelve inch brown trout with a hares ear nymph in its lip. Three of the four victims of the dry/dropper accounted for the best fish of the day, although the frequency of trout engagement slipped compared to the early afternoon stimulator phase. The dry/dropper period also coincided with a brief rainstorm that forced me to slide into my raincoat.

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A Nymph Consumer

Unfortunately as my confidence peaked on the Chernobyl and hares ear, I suffered a thirty minute fishing drought. I am not certain of the cause, but I speculated that the dim light and the rain forced me to approach closer to likely holding locations in an effort to follow my flies, and perhaps this spooked the stream residents. At any rate, I decided to return to the approach that worked earlier, and I knotted another size 14 gray stimulator to my line. The change proved effective, and I built the fish count to twenty, before I executed my exit strategy for the day. Three of the last four fish were in the 6-7 inch range, but catching small fish was superior to futile casting.

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Quite a Set Up

I surmised that I reached the place where the road bordered the stream accompanied by a moderate bank, but I overestimated my progress. I was forced to climb a fairly steep bank and then fought through some dense evergreen branches, but eventually I overcame these obstacles and found myself on the shoulder of the dirt road .75 miles above my car.

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Great Stove Pedestal

After I packed away my rod and gear, I drove back to Yampa, CO to check in with Jane. I discovered that Penny’s Diner offered free WiFi access, so I parked outside the restaurant and called and chatted briefly. After our conversation I once again covered the seven miles of paved road to the national forest entrance, and then the remaining seven miles over a rough washboard gravel surface delivered me to the Bear Lake Campground. I circled both loops and elected campsite number twelve on the west loop. I was quite impressed with the fairly large campground, as it provided a metal pedestal to support my camp stove as well as a bear bin to protect my food overnight.

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Bear Lake on Wednesday Evening

Wednesday was a fun day, and I looked forward to another full day on Bear River on Thursday. A twenty fish day during the August doldrums is always welcome.

Fish Landed: 20

 

Piney River – 08/22/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Near intersection with Meadow Trail

Piney River 08/22/2016 Photo Album

After an excellent day of fishing on Piney River on August 2, I was anxious to explore the remote high mountain stream again during the summer of 2016. Jane and I hiked for an hour, and the effort placed us roughly 2.5 miles from the trailhead. For some reason I felt a strong desire to hike into the backcountry even farther, so I contacted my young fishing friend, Danny Ryan. Danny readily agreed to join me, so we scheduled a trip for August 21-22.

I picked Danny up at his apartment at 4PM on Sunday, and we drove west on interstate 70, until we reached the East Vail exit. From here we traveled east a short distance and found a campsite at the Gore Creek Campground. I was concerned about the availability of sites, since the campground was full when Jane and I camped there on August 1, but we had numerous options and chose site number 14. It was next to 13, where Jane and I camped on August 1 and was situated high above tumbling Gore Creek.

After a quick dinner of submarine sandwiches, we had an hour of daylight, so Danny and I took advantage and slid down the bank to fish Gore Creek. It was quite evident that numerous campers had the same idea, as the path along the creek was well worn. Danny was prepared to fish first, and on his first cast he landed a reasonable sized brook trout. We were both excited, and our expectations soared. I moved downstream to some attractive deep pockets, and I tied a stimulator to my line and began to prospect the small deep pools that beckoned me. Alas, after an hour of rock hopping and two wet sneakers, I was unable to land a single trout. Danny and I even crossed the bridge where the frontage road crossed the stream and fished below it for a short distance, but the brookie on the first cast was the only fish landed during our one hour foray.

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Stealthy Approach

I woke up at 6AM on Monday, and we quickly downed some breakfast snacks and packed up our camping gear. Our early start enabled us to arrive at the Piney River trailhead by 8:30 after covering the rocky and steep Red Sandstone Road north of Vail. We were disappointed to discover three vehicles present in the rough parking area, and Danny and I debated shifting our plans. Danny explored the upper Piney River above Piney Lake recently, and he was quite pleased with that outing. I had my heart set on hiking downstream; however, and I convinced Danny that eight miles of public water would surely yield a section untouched by the other fishermen.

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Backcountry Beauty

We actually saw three fishermen from one of the SUV’s depart from the parking lot as we pulled in. After hiking for five minutes we spotted a campsite along the stream, so that accounted for a second vehicle. By the time we reached the first meadow, which was the spot where I began fishing on August 2, we overtook the threesome that left the lot as we pulled in. The three fishermen made a beeline for the meadows water, so we continued along the path. My original goal was to hike to the intersection with the Meadows Trail, so we continued beyond the area that the three fishermen elected to fish.

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High Country Still Lush

 

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Remains of a Cabin

After one hour and fifteen minutes of brisk hiking we finally reached a sign that pointed to the Meadows Trail, and just beyond that, we spotted an old log cabin. Only the walls of the crude structure remained, but Danny and I inspected and took a few photographs. When we turned around to resume our hike, Danny spotted a fisherman emerging from the second meadow section across from us. Danny approached and chatted with the newly discovered occupant of the third vehicle, and he learned that the fisherman was vacating the meadow and moving back toward the parking lot.

This was great news. We accounted for the occupants of all the vehicles, and we now had another five miles of public water ahead of us. We decided to move a bit beyond the downstream border of the meadows to begin our quest for trout. We assumed that the time spent downstream from the meadows area would enable the wild stream dwellers to forget the presence of the departing fisherman.

By 10AM we were finally in the water, and we began our methodical upstream migration. The sun was now high in the sky, and the air temperature had warmed to the low seventies making fishing with just a long sleeved fishing shirt quite comfortable. Piney River unlike its large stream label remained fairly small at this point despite being augmented by Meadow Creek. Because of the small creek Danny and I alternated fishing the most attractive spots during the remainder of the morning.

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A Fine Prize

Danny enjoyed almost instant success, as his red stimulator lived up to its name. Two noteworthy brown trout caused a sag in his net. I meanwhile began fishing with a size 10 Chernobyl ant, and the foam attractor induced three gulps, but in each case the fish quickly evaded the hook. Needless to say I was quite disappointed, and in an effort to turn the tide, I added a salvation nymph dropper. Danny added a hares ear to his lineup, and the shaggy nymph began to produce, so I swapped my salvation for one of my beadhead hares ear nymphs. By 11:30 I managed to land two small brown trout that nipped the hares ear, and Danny was having a blast working through the slow meandering pools and beaver ponds in the meadows section.

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Beaver Pond

I was quite frustrated with my comparative lack of action, but more upset with my inability to land three or four decent fish that rose to my Chernobyl ant, so I sat down on a rock above the beaver pond and munched my lunch, while I waited for Danny to catch up. After lunch we moved into a section of higher gradient and narrower streambed, and this created many more plunge pools and pockets. This water type was much more to my liking.

In retrospect I was guilty of not following my own advice. Piney River was much lower than two weeks prior, yet I applied the same fishing approach. Danny on the other hand adjusted and deployed a lighter dry fly that created far less disturbance, as it landed on the low clear water surface. He also did a better job of staying back to make long casts. I stubbornly clung to what brought me success earlier, but the approach did not apply to the new conditions.

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Dave Records a Brook Trout

After lunch I copied Danny for a bit and tied a yellow size 14 stimulator to my line, but it did not generate the same success. Some clouds appeared, and this created an annoying glare, so I changed back to a tan Charlie boy hopper and trailed a beadhead hares ear. This move paid dividends, and I landed a gorgeous brook trout that smashed the hopper. The Charlie boy continued to be effective in the early afternoon, and I moved the fish counter to seven. During this period I landed a small rainbow and a very pretty cutthroat trout on the hopper imitation, and I added the distinction of recording a grand slam. My slam consisted of landing a brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout.

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Dave's Legit Cutthroat

At 1:30 some dark clouds appeared, and we were mildly alarmed by the sound of distant thunder. The threat of impending rain caused us to pull on our raincoats, and our weather readiness paid off when a brief but cold rain shower transpired. The fishing was actually quite decent during the low light conditions.

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Yummy Run

As we continued to wade upstream, the canyon narrowed, and this resulted in many more plunge pools and fast water sections. The succession of pockets was temporarily interrupted by a long deep pool, and here Danny spotted some rising fish. I made a few casts with the Charlie boy, but it was ignored, and several fish scattered from the tail area when the hopper splashed down. Danny suggested a parachute adams, and I relented and tied one to my line, even though I knew I would revert back to dry/dropper fishing at the top of the pool. Near the midsection of the pool a small brown trout rose and sipped the adams, so the move was at least somewhat effective. I continued to flutter long casts over the top half of the pool, but the fish showed no interest, and it became impossible to follow the small fly from the long casting distance required by the low water conditions.

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Interesting Background Coloration on This Brown Trout

I reverted to the dry/dropper, but this time I opted for a size 10 Chernobyl ant with a yellow indicator spot. In addition I added a salvation nymph so that I was now fishing two droppers below the Chernobyl; a beadhead hares ear and a salvation. My approach now better matched the rapid tumbling water type, and I increased the fish count from seven to thirteen over the remainder of the afternoon. The hares ear and salvation were both effective in roughly equal proportions, and my best success occurred when I lifted the nymphs near the end of the drift.

At 4:45 we reached a stretch where the canyon was narrow and numerous dead logs spanned the small streambed. We agreed that it was too late in the day to undertake such a wading challenge, so we took advantage of the moderately steep bank, and angled back along the contour until we intersected with the path. A one hour hike returned us to the Santa Fe by 6PM in a totally exhausted state.

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Signs of Autumn

Monday proved to be the adventure I anticipated. The scenery was spectacular and we worked around the competing anglers. Danny enjoyed a banner day, as he registered a fish count somewhere in the twenty to thirty range. I managed to land thirteen, and I was slightly disappointed, but I blame myself for not adjusting my approach to the reduced water level and different stream structure. It was a great exploratory adventure, and I look forward to revisiting Piney River in the future.

Fish Landed: 13

Clear Creek – 08/19/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: First bridge after tunnel 1 and upstream

Clear Creek 08/19/2016 Photo Album

I endured three consecutive single digit fishing outings punctuated by a blanking on the South Platte River on Wednesday. Was I losing my touch, or was I a victim of the August doldrums, when hot sunny days and the absence of aquatic insect hatches doom a fly fisherman to empty drifts and miles of futile wading?

My sister and brother-in-law returned to Pennsylvania on Thursday, and Jane scheduled tennis for Friday, so I had an opportunity to search for answers. I packed the car with my gear and made the brief drive to Clear Creek Canyon. My visit to Clear Creek on August 5 was mainly an exercise in frustration; however, the other local options offered various issues as well. On August 5 I concentrated my efforts on the water above and below Idaho Springs, and on Friday August 19, I occupied Clear Creek Canyon. I was hopeful that the shift in venue would yield improved results.

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Clear Creek Starting Point

I parked just beyond the first bridge crossing of Clear Creek above Tunnel One and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod. As I was preparing to fish, I heard a loud voice ring across the narrow canyon, and I automatically looked up to the side of the canyon wall directly above and across from me. There I spied a young rock climber, and he continued to shout. I was unable to discern his monologue, but I could not spot any fellow rock climbers, so I wondered if he was attempting to communicate with me? This was a passing thought, before I concluded that other climbers were below him, but a small rock ridge blocked them from my view.

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Indian Paintbrush

Friday morning was cool with the thermometer hovering in the low sixties, as I crossed the road and climbed over the guard rail to access the path that led me one hundred yards below the bridge. When the trail faded, I found myself amidst an area covered with a green invasive vine species, so I used this as an excuse to carefully pick my way down the bank to the edge of the creek. The flow remained in the upper nineties, and the creek exhibited a tinge of discoloration most likely originating from the area upstream where work continues on the Clear Creek Bikeway. I viewed the off color water as a positive, as it most likely enabled closer approaches to fish holding locations.

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Nice Start

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Close Up of the Productive Morning Fly

I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant with longer than normal rubber legs and a pink indicator to my line and began casting to likely trout lairs. Ten minutes elapsed with no action, and visions of Wednesday crept into my head, but then I lobbed the foam imitation to a small foam covered nook next to a rock, and an eleven inch brown trout slammed the fly. I was relieved to remove the possibility of a fish count of zero from my list of worries. For the remainder of the morning I covered the section of the stream below the bridge and landed three additional browns to raise the fish count to four. Four fish in two hours of fishing was average, but given my previous four sub-par outings, I accepted my catch rate as improvement. The size of two of the brown trout was actually above the norm for Clear Creek, so that added to my satisfaction. Of course all was not perfect in my small world of fly fishing, as frequent refusals and temporary hookups marred perfection.

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Too Fast for a Pocket Water Enthusiast

After lunch I decided to experiment with alternative flies with the hope of reducing the refusal rate. First I tested a size 10 Cathy’s super beetle, and the large foam rubber legged imitation yielded one fish, before it also generated looks and refusals. Next I downsized a bit more to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle with a red underbody. This terrestrial fraud provoked a few refusals from likely small fish, so I once again paused to evaluate the situation. It was relatively clear that the fish were looking toward the surface for food, but what would match their appetites? The Chernobyl ant worked in the morning, so perhaps I needed to give it more time.

I knotted a different attractor ant to my line that displayed shorter legs and a chartreuse indicator, and in case the fish were also opportunistically tuned into subsurface nymphs, I added a beadhead hares ear on a three foot dropper. This arrangement accounted for one small brown trout, but after covering quite a few delicious pools, I concluded that the dry/dropper was not the answer. What should I try now? I was actually approaching a state of despair, as the day was evolving into another experience similar to the Big Thompson when the fishing turned off in the afternoon.

It was late August, and the only aquatic insects available were small caddis that fluttered up from the streamside rocks as I passed by, but this source of food was not on the water. I was convinced that terrestrials were the answer, and I had not yet tested a grasshopper or ant. I removed the dry/dropper components and replaced them with a parachute hopper with a gray hares ear body. I experienced success with this fly previously on Clear Creek, and it likely represented my most realistic hopper imitation. I gave the hopper a fair trial, but unfortunately, similar to Jake’s gulp beetle, it simply created a few uncertain looks from the residents of Clear Creek.

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Jake's Gulp Beetle Size 10 with Peacock Ice Dub Body

At this point I sat down and pondered my plight. In 2015 Jake’s gulp beetle was my savior on several occasions. I tried one earlier, but it possessed a red body. How many natural beetles display red underbodies, and in reality I tied the red versions as attractors and not imitators? I decided to revert to a Jake’s gulp beetle, but this time I chose a size 10 with a peacock ice dub body.

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Beetle Showing

Guess what happened? Over the remainder of the afternoon I pushed the fish counter from six to fifteen as the Clear Creek denizens gave the beetle a solid thumbs up. I scrambled over the large boulders that bordered the narrow section of Clear Creek and dropped the beetle in all the likely pockets and pools in front of me. Certainly there were some refusals, but overall it was evident that the trout found the peacock beetle to their liking. As this turn in fortune was transpiring, some large gray clouds emerged in the western sky, and as three o’clock approached, I cringed at the distant sound of thunder. I needed to return home in time to prepare for the Cubs vs Rockies game at Coors Field, so I interpreted the thunder as an alarm, and I quickly climbed the steep rocky bank and returned to the car.

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Pretty Clear Creek Brown Trout

My timing was good but not perfect, and sheets of rain descended just as I removed my waders and wading boots. I sat in the car for ten minutes until the heavy rain subsided, and then I packed up my belongings and returned to Stapleton. Friday evolved into a fun day, as I finally found the key to unlock the jaws of the Clear Creek brown trout. I climbed from a valley of despair after lunch to a state of elation, once the beetle tempted numerous trout. I was grateful for a fifteen fish day in late August.

Fish Landed: 15

 

South Platte River – 08/17/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: First .5 mile below Scraggy View where the road makes a 90 degree bend, and then the Oxbow area in the special regulation section.

South Platte River 08/17/2016 Photo Album

I avoided breaking my rod or falling in the river. Those are the two positives I can cite regarding my fly fishing trip to the South Platte River below Deckers on Wednesday August 17.

My sister and brother-in-law were in Colorado Springs at a bed and breakfast celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and Jane made plans to golf, so I had an unexpected day to myself. I checked out the local options, and given my shift in focus to tailwaters, the South Platte River at Deckers flowing at 300 cfs attracted my attention. The reports on the local web sites seemed encouraging with tricos, pale morning duns and blue winged olives in the picture, so I took the plunge and made the one and a half hour drive. Nearly all my trips to the Deckers area since the Heyman Fire were disappointing, but I was hopeful that the fishery recovered, and I expected reduced fishing pressure on a Wednesday.

The weather was gorgeous for human beings with the morning temperature in the low seventies and a clear bluebird sky. Unfortunately these conditions are typically not popular with cold water fish. When I departed the stream at 2:30, the thermometer reading on the dashboard registered 84 degrees. It would have been a great day to wet wade, but the pockets on my fishing shirt were not large enough to contain my fly box, and I had no alternative places to stash the flies besides the bib pocket on my waders.

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Starting Point on the South Platte River

My first stop was approximately one half mile below the Scraggy View picnic area, where the river made a ninety degree bend and flowed below a small narrow island. I began fishing with a tan pool toy and a salvation nymph and beadhead hares ear, but after fifteen minutes and no interest, I made a change. I removed the hares ear and replaced it with a size 22 sunken trico. Given the warm temperatures I assumed that the trico hatch and spinner fall occurred early in the morning, but I speculated that some laggards remained in the drift. As I was configuring my line, a young tuber appeared at the bend, and then she paused across and slightly above my position. I was surprised to encounter a tuber at 11AM on a Wednesday, and I suspected that she was waiting for friends before continuing.

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Upside Down Pool Toy

As this observation was taking place, I saw my hopper disappear, and I quickly reacted with a lift. My rod bent and the inertia of my hook set brought a thrashing brown trout to the surface, but just as suddenly it escaped and returned to the deep run. Given the brevity of the hookup, I assumed that it grabbed the tiny sunken trico.

I was now anxious to move up to the deep juicy run where the currents merged below the small island at the bend, but as I took my first step, three more tubers appeared from the left braid. Two teenage girls were balanced on the one tube, and they towed a second flotation device. Twenty yards behind them was a lucky young boy, and he splashed and floated right over the deep run that I anxiously planned to probe in pursuit of his cute friends.

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The Channel Away from the Road

The tubers gathered across from me and went on their way, as I waded along the bank and approached the area below the island. I was not deterred by the disturbance and spent ten minutes covering the deep seam, but the fish apparently were affected, and my casts went unheeded. Since the swimmers floated along the left channel, I elected to work my way up the right braid, although it was shallower and much less enticing to this fly fisherman. I made long casts to the deeper areas next to the bank, which contained tall grasses with the expectation that some brown trout might lurk intending to ambush wayward terrestrials. My premise was solid, but the vision never materialized on August 17.

By 12:15 I reached a wide shallow section of the river that was unappealing as a fish holding area, so I crossed and climbed a steep bank and returned to the car. I decided to move to another location farther upstream, and the choice resulted in pulling into a roadside parking space next to the oxbow section of the river. The river at this juncture makes a large loop away from the road and then returns below a campground. I ate my lunch in the shade of some ponderosa pines, and then I gathered my fishing gear and hiked along the top of the knoll that causes the river to make a large double bend.

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Oxbow Area

I began fishing on the northeast side of the loop, but once again the river seemed to be devoid of hungry fish. I moved up a bit and swapped the sunken trico for a RS2, and finally in a relatively shallow run behind an exposed rock a small brown trout slurped the surface fly. Or at least that is what I thought, until I played the fish and discovered that the trailing fly hooked the fish in the cheek. A second opportunity to move the fish counter was squandered.

The next segment of the river at the tip of the oxbow was very attractive, as the main current of the river ran against the far bank and created a huge deep run and shelf pool. I waded to the eastern side and began working my way through this stretch with renewed optimism. I made long casts and fixed my gaze on the hopper, as it bobbed along the current seam and through ideal trout holding areas. Finally I spotted a sudden dip and set the hook, and I was connected with a decent fish. I played it cautiously as it streaked back and forth several times, and then as I applied side pressure to bring it closer to me, the fly hurtled from the mouth of the finned resistance and crashed against the rock ledge wall behind me. Needless to say I was disappointed and discouraged simultaneously. My one brief glimpse suggested that the fighting fish was a thirteen or fourteen inch rainbow.

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Soft Hackle Emerger

I moved on and fished the remainder of the juicy shelf pool, but my casts proved fruitless. A significant amount of loose aquatic vegetation floated by me, and this suggested that scuds were knocked loose and floated in the drift. I reacted to this theory by knotting an orange scud to my line, but it also was completely ignored. In a last ditch effort to solve the South Platte puzzle I replaced the orange scud with a size 20 soft hackle emerger, but this only served to temporarily boost my optimism.

The next area was marginal and characterized by a wide shallow streambed, so I quickly skipped around it until I stumbled across four fishermen. This group appeared to be two guides with their clients, and after greeting them with a hello, I circled around them. I was now back where the river flowed along the road, so I crossed and climbed the steep bank and returned to the Santa Fe. It was quite warm, and the adverse fishing weather seemed permanent, so I cut my losses and quit.

It has been quite a while since I was skunked, but Wednesday was one of those days. I had a few opportunities to land a fish, but three trout engagements in three and a half hours of fishing is a testament to difficult fishing conditions. The scenery was a positive, and I experimented with my new camera a bit. but overall Wednesday was not one of my better experiences. The August doldrums are clearly the new order.

Fish Landed: 0

Boulder Creek – 08/13/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM

Location: Below Boulder Falls between zip line wires.

Boulder Creek 08/13/2016 Photo Album

Marcia and Greg, my sister and brother-in-law, departed to visit an old friend, and Jane scheduled a golf outing, so I decided to sneak in a fishing trip to a local stream. I was justifiably concerned about weekend crowds, but I concluded that Boulder Creek was the best nearby option. Flows remained at 80 CFS; the same level that I experienced on a successful trip at the end of July, and I wagered that the high gradient section that I prefer was not popular with Boulder anglers.

I skipped my run and workout and launched the Sante Fe from the garage at 8:35AM, and despite a construction backup on the Boulder Turnpike, I arrived at a large pullout by 9:45. Several cars were present in the dirt lot, but I attributed them to the profusion of fanatical rock climbers in the area. The air temperature was already in the seventies, but I elected to wear my waders rather than wet wade. I was probably haunted by the chilling experience on Chalk Creek, but Saturday would have been perfect for cooling off.

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80CFS

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Peacock Body Stimulator Was the Ticket

After I assembled my Loomis five weight, I walked downstream along the narrow shoulder of Canyon Boulevard to a location where the stream arched away from the road a bit, and here I executed a careful steep descent of the rocky bank. I pondered my fly choices and recalled having success with a stimulator on Boulder Creek on July 29, so I plucked a size 14 peacock stimulator from my fly box and knotted it to my tippet. I began casting the bushy attractor to the edges and center of the abundant plunge pools. The first two failed to produce, but as I moved upstream, the fish became more cooperative. Between 10AM and 11:45 I notched eight small brown trout utilizing the cast and move strategy.

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Early Success

The morning was not littered with complete success, as I also experienced a few temporary connections and twice as many refusals as takes. Also my theory that other anglers would avoid the steep section was refuted, as a man and three young boys appeared above me at 11, and this forced me to climb the steep bank in order to circle around them.

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Super Macro Rocks

After lunch I decided to mimic my July 29 strategy, so I converted to a dry/dropper proposition. I utilized a tan pool toy, hares ear nymph and salvation and began to probe the likely fish holding haunts of Boulder Creek. By now the sun was above me, and the thermometer was assuredly touching the eighties. I managed to connect with one small brown trout and felt the brief tug of several others. The gap between these fish encounters extended, and then I spotted numerous looks at the pool toy, but no take. The heat and bright sun were obviously having an impact on the willingness of trout to feed, and then a pair of pre-teen girls wandered toward me, as they splashed and played in the cold tumbling creek.

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Trying Out the New Selfie Mode

Instead of navigating around the splashing water enthusiasts, I decided to call it a day. The quality of the fishing was deteriorating, and I was certain that additional swimming parties existed ahead of me. My fear of weekend crowding was realized, but I was pleased to land nine fish in three hours, and I captured some nice photos with my new camera. I am now certain that the August doldrums are present, and I will search for high elevation and tailwater destinations until the weather cools after Labor Day.

Fish Landed: 9

Chalk Creek – 08/10/2016

Time: 3:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Upstream from Cascade Campground.

Chalk Creek 08/10/2016 Photo Album

My sister, Marcia, and brother-in-law, Greg, arrived from Pennsylvania on Monday August 8. In planning for their visit, Jane and I attempted to balance travel time with personal time, and one of our agenda items was a one night camping/fishing/whitewater rafting trip to the Arkansas River Valley. We wanted to avoid overloading them with scheduled activities, but we also anxiously anticipated introducing some of our favorite Colorado spots.

We departed Denver on Wednesday morning with two cars stuffed with camping gear and made the three hour trip to the campgrounds along Chalk Creek above Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. We attempted to reserve a campsite ten days prior, but all that was left were first come first serve sites, so we gambled that a Wednesday arrival would allow us to grab one of the unreserved spaces. We lost our bet. Mt. Princeton, Chalk Lake and Cascade campsites each displayed campground full signs. We improvised and drove another forty-five minutes, until we turned into the dirt lane that leads to Angel of Shavano Campground. A campground full sign was absent from the pay station area, and fortunately we were able to choose from five or six spots. We grabbed number three, as it offered a nice large tent pad.

Jane graciously offered to team up with Marcia to set up the tents and canopy, so Greg and I could salvage some fishing time, since we unexpectedly drove the extra time and distance. Greg and I thanked Jane and took advantage of the offer and departed the campground by 2PM. Initially I decided to drive east through Salida to the Arkansas River, but after a bit of discussion with Greg, we decided to persist with our initial plan to fish in Chalk Creek. At most the drive to Chalk Creek was fifteen minutes longer, and I felt that the fishing in a small stream would be easier for Greg, who was resuming fly fishing after an absence from the sport in excess of ten years. Prior to departing from Denver I read my blog posts from Chalk Creek, and they chronicled decent success with stimulators and Chernobyl ants, so I was hopeful similar tactics would apply on August 10.

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Greg Prepared to Fish Chalk Creek

As we pulled into a large pullout along the dirt road that borders Chalk Creek above Cascade Campground, some large dark clouds appeared in the western sky. Greg packed only some old wading boots, and we planned to wade wet, so I hoped for a warm sunny day. Unfortunately that was not the case, as we endured cold light rain, a breeze and a temperature drop during our two hours on Chalk Creek. These weather conditions did not help us offset the ice cold flows of a crystal clear mountain stream.

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Rumbling Small Creek

I set up Greg with my Orvis four weight rod and tied a size 10 Chernboyl ant to his ten foot leader. I guided him for the first fifteen minutes, but we were unable to generate any interest from the resident trout. Greg felt comfortable enough to proceed on his own, so I assembled my Loomis two piece five weight and began alternating with him using a yellow stimulator. After twenty minutes I took my turn and dropped a short upstream cast to a nondescript shallow pocket along the bank, and a ten inch brown suddenly emerged from the chalk colored stream bottom to inhale the bushy attractor. I was pleased to land my first fish, and I debated converting Greg to a similar fly.

The stream widened a bit, so I used my wading staff to maneuver to the opposite side, and Greg and I continued our parallel upstream migration. Just as I was considering switching Greg’s fly, and decent brown smashed the Chernobyl along the current seam in a nice pool, and although Greg failed to coax it into his net, I was now assured that the fish would recognize the black foam attractor as a viable food item.

Surprisingly the stimulator was ignored by fish, as I progressed upstream, and I was disenchanted with our success rate. I was baffled by the fewer number of refusals, temporary hook ups and landed fish, since I experienced reasonable success on prior visits. My usual fallback in these situations is a dropper, and that is exactly the direction I chose. I switched to a size 10 Chernobyl ant that matched Greg’s, and I added a thirty inch tippet to the bend and tied on a beadhead hares ear.

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Best Fish of the Day

Over the remainder of our afternoon I landed five additional brown trout including a scrappy eleven inch battler, and all five of the landed fish chowed down on the hares ear. Six fish in two hours may sound like a fine day, but I was actually somewhat disappointed. I repeatedly executed nice drifts in very favorable water that did not generate any action. I added a hares ear dropper to Greg’s lineup for the final half hour, but it failed to produce action. Greg reported hook ups with two additional fish, but overall the fish did not respond to dry flies in the manner I expected.

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Casting Form

In addition to the lackluster fishing, the weather presented further adversity to our day. At one point I approached Greg, and he was shivering quite vigorously. Normally I am the first to chill in these situations, so I was surprised by Greg’s condition. I offered him my raincoat, but he declined and insisted that we fish on. I was not about to allow the extra layer to go to waste, so I pulled on the raincoat and continued casting. The rain was steady but light, but the quality of the fishing was not enough of an inducement to merit enduring the chill. We finally agreed that a warm campfire and beer were more appealing and called it quits at 5.

 

 

Clear Creek – 08/05/2016

Time: 12:30PM – 2:30PM

Location: Stairstep area west of Idaho Springs and area just upstream from I70 bridge that crosses the stream below Floyd Hill.

Clear Creek 08/05/2016 Photo Album

Clear Creek is an enigma. I attended a presentation at Blue Quill Anglers in March several years ago, and the speaker vouched that Clear Creek trout are easy pickings. He proclaimed in his talk that a fly fisherman simply needed to tie a large foam attractor to one’s line and fish only the edges, and this approach yielded prodigious quantities of fish. I have rarely found this scenario to be true, and Friday August 5 reinforced my opinion that Clear Creek is a tough proposition. The fish were extremely picky, and the few that I landed were quite small. Despite my complaints, I continue to return since I do have productive days, and the proximity is difficult to overlook.

When I checked the flows on Thursday, Clear Creek at Lawson was running at 113 cfs. I knew from prior experience that this was high for early August, but I was also certain that edge fishing was possible. Perhaps the higher flows served as a buffer against the ninety degree temperatures that settled over Colorado during the previous week.

After three consecutive days of fishing, I took my time on Friday morning and followed my non-fishing routine by going for a run and doing my workout. I did not depart from Stapleton until 10:30, and this placed me at the pullout just west of Idaho Springs by 11:30. Friday’s weather was cool and overcast similar to Thursday, but the threat of rain seemed more imminent. For this reason after I ate my lunch and assembled my Loomis five weight, I reached in my fishing bag for my raincoat. Uh oh. I realized that I left it on the drying rack in the bedroom and neglected to stow it back in my bag. Instead I pulled on my light fleece and prayed that it would not rain. I decided to fish until 3PM or the until the rain drove me from the creek, whichever came first.

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An Early Afternoon Fish

At the same presentation at the Blue Quill Angler I learned of the stairstep area just west of Idaho Springs. The young expert on Clear Creek suggested that this area was public and productive, and I never tried it, so Friday was the day. I scrambled down a very steep path very slowly, and when I reached the creek, I encountered a wide segment of water. At fifteen yard intervals man-made rock dams spanned the stream, and these created riffles and runs that expanded into fairly shallow flats and pools. These structures were staggered through the entire section that I fished on Friday before I moved downstream.

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A Fast Trough

I began with a size 8 Chernobyl ant since I bought the notion that any large foam attractor would catch fish. It did not, but several refusals caused me to downsize to a size 10, and then a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. None of these surface flies induced a take, although they all prompted refusals. At some point I added a beadhead hares ear on an eighteen inch dropper, and this fly accounted for a few small brown trout. In fact, the hares ear hooked all five small brown trout that I landed during my hour and fifteen minutes west of Idaho Springs.

Unlike most of the other places that I fish on Clear Creek, the deepest and most attractive spots were in the center of the stream below the man made rock dams. I was unaccustomed to casting to spots other than right along the bank. In retrospect I probably should have abandoned the dry/dropper technique and instead experimented with indicator nymphing or even a streamer. I observed virtually zero insect activity, and the overcast cool weather and higher than normal flows perhaps suggested a deeper presentation to the Clear Creek trout.

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Best Fish of the Day

After an hour and fifteen minutes of disappointing fishing, I decided to move downstream below Idaho Springs to the location just above the I70 bridge that spans Clear Creek. From past visits I knew that this stretch of water offered numerous nooks, pockets and eddies along the rocky bank, and brown trout love to hold in these areas. I made the quick four mile drive to the Boulder exit and parked just above the bridge. Several vans with trailers designed to transport inflatable rafts were parked in this area, so this should have been a clue.

I ignored the rafting warning signs and walked along the bike path a short distance. As I remembered, the shoreline contained numerous deep holes, but the dry/dropper offering failed to attract any fish. In fact I only spotted a few during my hour of fishing, and this is quite unusual for this segment of Clear Creek. As I worked my way upstream spraying two or three casts to each likely holding position, a flotilla of rafts drifted by. Clear Creek is a narrow creek, and certainly the large inflatable watercraft were visible to the underwater residents of the stream. I blamed the rafting industry for my lack of success between 1:30 and 2:30, and I reeled up my fly and called it quits early.

Five small fish in the 6-9 inch range did not represent an interesting outing, so I plan to avoid Clear Creek until the flows drop to the 50 – 100 cfs range. This level would likely deter the rafting industry and also make the fish more accessible. Despite the disappointing day on Friday, I cannot complain about the first week of August, as I enjoyed two fantastic days on Piney River and South Boulder Creek. Days like Friday are what make the sport challenging. If every day were easy, more people would be fly fishing, and I would complain about crowded rivers and streams.

South Boulder Creek – 08/04/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/04/2016 Photo Album

A slow day on Wednesday on the Big Thompson River concerned me, so I resolved to target high elevation headwater streams and tailwaters until the weather cooled off a bit. As I perused stream flows prior to the Big Thompson trip, I noticed that South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir was reduced to 41 cfs. During a trip in early spring with flows at 30 cfs, I enjoyed a wonderful day, so I decided to make the short trip. South Boulder Creek is a tailwater, so it suited my recent resolution.

I left the house by 8:15 and after over an hour drive, I climbed into my waders and assembled my Sage four weight and departed down the steep trail to the creek. Unlike Wednesday the temperature was in the upper fifties as I began my hike, and high clouds blocked the sun and created a cool summer day in the mountains. The cloudy sky and intermittent breeze caused me to wear my raincoat for added warmth for nearly my entire day on the water.

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Pocket Stretch Near the Start

Five other vehicles populated the upper parking lot, so I hiked for nearly an hour to position myself away from other fishermen. I was on the water and casting by 10:30, and I began with a yellow stimulator. The fish were either too cold to eat, or my fly was not recognized as food, so I exchanged the stimulator for a size 14 gray deer hair caddis. This fly was also ignored by the South Boulder Creek trout, so I once again opted for the dry/dropper technique. I knotted a tan pool toy to my line as the top fly, and below it I added a salvation nymph. As is normally the case, the nymph attracted attention and by the time I paused to eat my lunch along the side of the stream, I built the fish tally to six. Most of the morning landed fish were brown trout in the nine to ten inch range, and all except one impetuous pool toy eater snatched the salvation from the drift.

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Vivid Spots on This Brown Trout

I finished my lunch at noon and resumed fishing, but I was curious if a second nymph might attract more interest. I inserted a beadhead hares ear above the salvation, and it did seem to boost the catch rate. As I paused to photograph one of the fish landed after lunch, the salvation somehow broke off, and since three successive trout grabbed the hares ear, I decided to preserve my salvation stock. I copied the Wednesday legacy ploy, and inserted the size 12 gray wet fly with a copper wire rib. This fly delivered two decent fish, but then its effectiveness seemed to wane, so I revisited the archives and tied a dark cahill wet fly to my line.

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Deep Honey Yellow

Again the antique wet fly revival paid off, as the dark cahill yielded four nice brown trout, and the fish counter climbed to the mid-teens. I began to skip the marginal pockets, and focused all my attention on deep runs and slots as well as pools. The most effective approach seemed to be casting across and allowing the flies to drift along deep current seams with a lift at the end. Of course the beadhead hares ear was also connecting with fish during the wet fly renaissance.

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Attractive Water Ahead

By 2PM I decided to return to the trusted combination of the beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph. I sensed that perhaps a pale morning dun hatch might be approaching, and I hoped that the salvation would imitate the active PMD nymphs. The move paid off, and I built the fish count to twenty-three by 3PM with many fish grabbing the salvation, as it plunked into the water at the top of deep pockets and runs. Twenty-three fish was a fine day, and I was feeling quite weary and faced a long hike back out of the canyon. so I contemplated quitting early.

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Colorful

As this thought passed through my head, however, I approached a gorgeous deep and wide pool. The main current divided the pool nearly in half with shelf pools on both sides. I was moving upstream along the right bank, and the top of my side was a bit wider and contained some swirling currents. Before I could cast my dry/dropper to the inviting area above me, I observed three or four rises. I scanned the air in case some obvious insect was spurring the sudden surface activity, but nothing was evident. I waited a bit longer, and a small fish slashed at something five feet above me and to the right. It appeared that the fish rejected the natural insect, because I could see a natural riding low in the film. I took a couple steps to look at the live insect more closely, and as it got trapped in a slow spot in front of a log, I scooped it with my hand.

Upon close examination I discovered that the mayfly was a size twenty blue winged olive. This caused me to take the plunge. I clipped off the three fly dry/dropper arrangement and switched to a single CDC blue winged olive size 22. I was sure I matched the hatch, but the fish destroyed my confidence. As four or five fish continued to rise in front of me, they totally ignored my imitation. I stopped casting and watched more intently, and I realized that the rises were actually the dorsal fins of the trout breaking the surface, as it seemed the trout were snatching emergers subsurface.

Could there be a concurrent pale morning dun hatch, and I happened to spot the less prolific blue winged olive? I tested this theory and tied a size 18 cinnamon comparadun to my line, but this was not the solution to the riddle. I debated trying an RS2 or soft hackle emerger, but before I could make this change, I observed two green drakes, as they floated up from the surface of the stream. Would the trout respond to a huge green drake, even though they appeared to be tuned into tiny emergers? I did not have anything to lose, so I tied a size 14 green drake comparadun with no rib to my line and began to cast it to the area of visible rises above me.

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Another Scarlet Striped Rainbow

Initially it was refused, but then as it danced in some swirly deeper water behind an exposed rock and next to the main current, a fish slashed at it and sucked it in! I landed a spunky rainbow trout and my first South Boulder Creek green drake victim of the year. The next half hour was amazing. As I focused on the area above me on the right side of the center current, I spotted occasional rises near the tail on the other side of the main seam. I pivoted and delivered downstream casts to this area. The change in tactics proved to be a stroke of genius, and I landed seven more trout on the green drake comparadun. I was dumbfounded by the number of fish in the left shelf pool, and nearly all were rainbow trout in the 9 – 12 inch range. The other fascinating facet to this phase of my day was how aggressively the fish attacked the comparadun. Several fish darted from the depths and lunged at the fly with their momentum taking them above the water. In one case I began to lift to cast, and a fish apparently feared its meal was about to flee, so it launched and grabbed the fly.

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Tasty Green Drake in Lip

Finally after landing seven fish from the productive pool, I went five minutes without a take, so I moved to the next area which featured a nice riffle over moderate depth. The green drake yielded its eighth hungry victim here, but then it ceased to produce. I was curious if green drakes hatched in other segments of the stream, so I moved greater distances in search of obvious juicy pools, where I could more easily spot rises and follow my fly. Alas, the strategy was sound, but I was unable to net additional fish, so I called it quits by 4 o’clock and made the forty-five minute hike back to the car.

What a great day Thursday proved to be! Cool overcast weather allowed fairly consistent action through the day punctuated by the green drake frenzy over the last hour. When I returned home and checked the flows, I discovered that the water managers doubled the flows from 41 cfs to 85 cfs during the morning. I was skeptical that the velocity was 41 cfs when I tried to cross, and my skepticism was vindicated. Nevertheless I enjoyed a fantastic day on South Boulder Creek, and as the dog days of August continue, I plan to return.

Fish Landed: 31

 

Big Thompson River – 08/03/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Upstream from the border with the RV park that was destroyed in the September 2013 flood

Big Thompson River 08/03/2016 Photo Album

After three consecutive days of outstanding fishing, I was due for a reality check, and today August 3 served that purpose. Hopefully today’s results are not a sign that I need to select tailwaters and high elevation headwaters over lower valley rivers and streams at this early juncture in August. The high temperature reached 98 degrees in Denver, so I suspect heat is the main explanation for my slow day on the Big Thompson River. The DWR web site displayed flows of 103 cfs, and this is actually relatively high for early August, so I cannot blame the challenging fishing on the amount of water.

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103 CFS

I arrived at a pullout along US 34 approximately six miles below Olympus Dam at 10AM, and by the time I assembled and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and gathered my fly fishing essentials, it was 10:30. I began fishing with a size 14 gray deer hair caddis, and three fish in the wide relatively smooth starting pool found it to their liking. The moderate flows enabled me to cross at the wide starting point, and I love the idea of fishing along the bank that is away from the road, so I adopted this approach. As I slowly moved up the river prospecting with the small caddis, I upped my fish count to four, but then the fish began to ignore my offering.

The type of water may have had something to do with this, since it transitioned into faster runs and pockets. In an effort to make my fly more visible to me and the fish, I swapped the size 16 caddis for a size 14 stimulator with a gray body. This change did not tempt the stream residents, so I defaulted to one of my favorite lineups. I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line and dangled a 20 incher and salvation nymph below it. By 11:45 as I climbed the rocky bank to return to the car for lunch, I added one more small fish to my tally, after it struck the salvation nymph, as I lifted to make another cast.

I walked back to the Santa Fe and executed a U-turn and parked high above my lunchtime exit point. I sat on a large rock with a great vantage point, while I munched my sandwich, but I failed to spot any insects or fish. It is very unusual not to see fish in the deep pools of the Big Thompson River.

After lunch I continued from my quitting point, and within minutes I was perched at the tail of a long deep run that transformed into a wide pool. The entire area was 25 yards long and the pool covered the entire width of the river. I made some long angled casts to cover the lane along the opposite bank, and I noticed a refusal to the Chernobyl, and the brief glimpse suggested a decent fish. In the midsection of the pool, another fish flashed to the top fly. What could these fish be looking for?

It was a bit late in the season for green drakes, but I recalled encountering them in the Big Thompson in prior years, so I decided to test one. I knotted a Harrop deer hair green drake to my line, and it also generated a look but no take. Next I switched to a size 14 parachute green drake, and the large low floating mayfly created interest from three fish that elevated to inspect and then turned away. I had one more style to try, so I tied a size 14 comparadun to my line, but this was totally ignored. Since the parachute style prompted the most action, I reverted to it. I made a forty-five degree cast up and across, and as the parachute drifted across from me, a decent brown trout rushed to the surface and nipped the fly. I felt weight for a split second, and then the fish was gone. After this weak endorsement of my offering I wasted an excessive quantity of additional futile casts, before I finally conceded defeat and moved on.

The next section of water consisted of large pockets and deep runs. The green drake induced a couple more refusals along the edge, so I gave in to my instincts and returned to the dry/dropper approach. Unlike earlier I selected a tan pool toy as my top fly and added a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph.

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The Fly Is Almost Larger Than the Fish's Mouth

It was now early afternoon, and the intense rays of the sun were shining directly on the Big Thompson River. It was quite warm and bright, and I regretted not selecting wet wading for this unusually warm summer day in the mountains. Over the two and a half hours between 1:00 and 3:30, I worked my way upstream and covered a significant amount of water. I limited my casts to three or four and then moved on. I also attempted to focus more on the banks, although the level of the river and the large population of rainbows should have supported fish in the attractive pockets and pools in other places.

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A Legacy Fly Accounted for Two Fish

I feel fortunate to report that I increased my fish count to eleven before I quit for the day. Three fish grabbed the salvation nymph, and one aggressive bank dwelling brown smashed the pool toy. Part way through this period of slow action, I decided to experiment with some old flies that I carry in my fleece pouch and rarely tie on my line. I grabbed a long narrow gray wet fly with a copper rib and replaced the hares ear. Miraculously this fly accounted for two small rainbows that snatched it, as it drifted through a run of moderate depth. This was probably the most significant positive for my day on the Big Thompson River on August 3.

Fish Landed: 11

 

Piney River – 08/02/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Downstream from Piney Crossing trailhead

Piney River 08/02/2016 Photo Album

On October 5, 2015 Jane and I explored the Piney Lake and Piney River area ten miles north of Vail, CO. We enjoyed a wonderful fall hike at high elevation, and afterward I sampled some fly fishing in heretofore unexplored Piney River. I landed seven fish in 1.5 hours, and I was impressed enough by the potential to pledge a return trip. Tuesday August 2 I honored my 2015 pledge.

Unlike my previous visit I planned to spend an entire day on the small headwater river, and I also hoped to hike along the Piney River Trail for an hour. I estimated this would place me three miles from the trailhead and beyond most of the fishing pressure closer to the Piney Crossing bridge. It normally takes two hours to drive to Vail and another forty-five minutes to negotiate the relatively rough Red Sandstone Road that leads to the Piney Crossing trailhead. Add on an hour of hiking and fifteen minutes of preparation time, and the cumulative elapsed time required to be on the water fishing projected to four hours.

In order to reduce the morning drive Jane and I reserved a campsite at Gore Creek Campground just east of Vail, CO for Monday evening. Our site, number 13, was very nice, as our tent was positioned along the upper reaches of Gore Creek. On Tuesday morning we consumed a light breakfast and efficiently packed up the camping gear and departed the campground by 8:15. An hour later we pulled into the crude parking lot at Piney Crossing, and after gathering all the essentials for a day of remote fishing, we were on the trail by 9:30. True to my plan we hiked for an hour, and this enabled us to reach a meadow section of Piney River. At this point Jane changed direction and returned to the parking lot, while I cut down a gradual hill and then followed the edge of some tall grass to the bottom section of the meadows.

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The Meadows Was Challenging

I did not have access to stream flows for the upper Piney River, but I estimated the volume was roughly double that of Octoboer 5, and perhaps in the 40-50 cfs range. The weather was perfect, as the temperature on the dashboard was 57 degrees when we embarked on the trail, and the high reached the low seventies. High clouds blocked the sun for much of the afternoon, and a very light sprinkle commenced at 3PM, but the rain was never heavy enough to cause me to pull out my raincoat.

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A Brown Trout from the Meadows Area

Between 10:30 and 11:30 I methodically prospected the slow moving meadows area. Numerous fish showed their positions sporadically, but I suspect many of these rises emanated from very small fish. Nonetheless I landed a nice eleven inch brown trout and a similar sized cutbow in the first fifteen minutes, and I was quite pleased with this beginning of my adventure. My catch rate diminished during the remainder of my reconnaissance of the meadow area, but I did add three more fish to the count including a twelve inch brown and another eleven inch rainbow. The last fish of the meadow harvest was a small cutbow. A size 12 light yellow stimulator was the attraction for all these trout. In addition to five landed fish, the meadows section frustrated me with four times as many refusals as takes and several long distance releases, but I was satisfied with my initial hour in the remote area of the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

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Early Cutbow

At 11:30 I reached the end of the meadow section and entered a narrow canyon that was characterized mainly by pockets and plunge pools. The remainder of my day was spent in this environment, and my main concern was how I would exit the steep sided valley and find the Piney River Trail to return to the car. Fortunately the fly fishing action was intense enough to take my mind off of this concern for most of the day. In the lower canyon stretch above the meadow I continued my cautious upstream migration by adding three more small trout to the fish count ledger, but then I stalled at eight. I set a personal goal to reach double digits by lunch, but the fish were no longer slurping the stimulator, so I decided to adopt the dependable dry/dropper approach.

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Tough Wading

I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line, and a foot behind it I added a beadhead hares ear, and then a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail. The pheasant tail was responsible for the next three fish including an eleven inch brown trout, before I paused for a streamside lunch at 12:30.

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Showing Off the Slash

Shortly after resuming my upstream progression after lunch, I grew dissatisfied with the catch rate, and I swapped the pheasant tail for a salvation nymph. This move paid off handsomely, and I moved the fish counter from eleven to twenty-five by 2:30. This was my favorite period of fishing. I carefully moved over the rocks and tossed upstream casts to the deep pockets and plunge pools. In many places I could see the trout in the center of the pocket or the tail. My catch rate was obviously solid, but I also observed numerous subsurface looks, refusals, and temporary hook ups. Roughly half the fish smashed the Chernobyl, but quite a few of these connections evolved into long distance releases. I was not excessively upset by the LDR’s, as the majority of them were associated with small fish. Most of the other landed fish favored the salvation, but the hares ear produced enough action to justify remaining on my line.

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Perfect!

For me the unique aspect of my afternoon on Piney River was the number of beautiful cutthroats and cutbows that found a home in my net. None of these fish exceeded twelve inches, but they were absolute jewels, as they displayed fine spots over a lemony cream background in sharp contrast to the vivid orange slashes beneath their mouth. These species of fish in the backcountry environment were a nice contrast to the more typical brown trout and rainbow trout, that I catch in the lower reaches of Colorado rivers and streams.

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Rock Ledge Wall Ahead

The scenery was also spectacular, as I passed through numerous canyons with high vertical red rock walls adjacent to the small tumbling stream. Fortunately in all these situations, one side of the stream offered me terrain that allowed relatively easy passage.

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One of the Better Brown Trout on the Day

At 2:30 the beadhead hares ear nymph unraveled, and I spotted one solitary green drake, so I decided to test a parachute style. Perhaps the trout were accustomed to seeing more of these meaty mayflies? The large mayfly did induce a refusal and temporary hook up, but then it ceased to be a factor, so I changed back to the Chernobyl but with only a salvation dropper. This combination enabled me to add four more fish to the count, but then I suffered through a longer than normal stretch with only refusals and temporary hook ups with tiny fish. I reached a place where the slope on the left side of the valley was gradual enough to allow an exit, so I resigned myself to a twenty-nine fish day.

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Fireweed

But perhaps the yellow stimulator still retained some magic? I tied one to my line and moved upstream a bit beyond my exit point, and in one attractive short but deep run along a submerged log, a ten inch brown could not resist the bushy attractor. I released number thirty from my net and retreated a short distance to a place where I circumvented the raspberry bushes and climbed the short but fairly steep hill until I intersected with the well worn Piney River Trail. I was elated to discover the path without much searching. Forty-five minutes later I was back at the parking lot, where I found Jane relaxing in her chair beneath the camping canopy.

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This Ended Up Being My Exit Point

My Piney River adventure was a success, and I am already planning more forays into the Eagles Nest Wilderness. The fish were small with my largest probably a thirteen inch brown trout, but I had the place to myself, and I was lost in my own thoughts in a remote corner of Colorado for five hours. Cutbows and cutthroats were a nice deviation from my familiar catches, and this only added to the allure of the backcountry. The beauty and remote location created a unique fly fishing outing, as I began my August 2016 fly fishing adventures.

Fish Landed: 30