Arkansas River – 09/20/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Lunch Rock and then downstream from the Chaffee – Fremont County line.

Arkansas River 09/20/2016 Photo Album

The one positive to a five fish day is that I can remember each fish, and Tuesday September 20 was one of those days. I slept at the Rincon Campground in John’s casita, and I was overwhelmed with fine food and comfort. On Tuesday morning we arrived at Lunch Rock in time to begin fishing by 10AM after a tasty breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, breakfast sausages, and hashed brown potatoes.

It was quite overcast and windy when we began, so I wore my raincoat for a windbreaker, until I stopped to eat lunch at noon. We spent the first half hour just above Lunch Rock, and John and I attempted to coax a nice brown trout to accept our offerings, but our efforts were in vain. After John covered the deep pocket with many futile casts, I took my turn, but I was equally unsuccessful. Initially I used a strike indicator, split shot, iron sally, and zebra midge; but after I spied a couple blue winged olives, I swapped the midge for a RS2. The new offering did not phase the trout.

I suggested that we leave Lunch Rock and move to the Fremont – Chaffee County line, so we would be in a good position before an anticipated blue winged olive hatch. On Monday the hatch commenced between 12:30 and 1:00, and given the overcast conditions, I suspected the hatch might materialize sooner. We parked at the pullout off of route 50 and crossed the river at the tail of the long pool, just as I had done on Monday. Next we climbed the steep bank, and then we hiked down the railroad tracks, until we arrived at my normal starting point fifty yards below a narrow island.

I retained the strike indicator, split shot, hares ear nymph and RS2; and I worked the bottom half of the huge shelf pool, while John patrolled the juicy top section. I covered the entire bottom half with no action, so I added a second split shot in order to fish the deep seam along the fast current effectively. Finally near the midsection of the pool, the indicator paused, and I set the hook and landed a nice eleven inch brown trout to register my first fish of the day.

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John Downstream above a Raft

John meanwhile snapped off all his flies on a rock, and this required a significant time commitment to rig anew, so I progressed upstream to the next nice riffle and run below the point of the island, where the two channels merged. Surprisingly the nymph tandem failed to deliver results, so I worked up along the left side of the island to kill time, while I waited for John to join me. The water was relatively marginal here except for a riffle of moderate depth at the top of the island, but it also proved to be unproductive.

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Lowering

I circled back to the downstream point of the island and ate lunch while I waited for John to catch up. After lunch I prepared for my foray into the smaller and shallower right channel by switching to a dry/dropper configuration. I tied a size 12 medium olive stimulator to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a RS2. I fired a long cast upstream to the top of a relatively shallow run below the main pool on the right channel, and almost instantly a fish rose. Initially I thought the fish hammered the stimulator, but when I slid the net under the thirteen inch brown trout, I discovered the hares ear in its lip.

I immediately went back to our starting point to check on John, and I informed him of my good fortune, and I discovered that he landed a brown trout in the shelf pool on a nymph. He decided, however, that he was ready to move, so we waded upstream and approached the right channel again. When we arrived, we spotted a flurry of rises at the bottom of the long shallow pool, so John made some nice casts, but to no avail.

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Rises by the Rocks Along the Bank

While he fished the bottom portion of the pool, I made some upstream casts along the left side, and I managed one splashy refusal to the stimulator. I was certain that the fish would respond to the subsurface RS2 as an imitation of the blue winged olive nynph, but I was mistaken. Finally as I approached the prime area at the top of the long pool, I switched to a size 16 gray comparadun, since I also spotted a few pale morning duns floating in the air among the smaller blue winged olives. I was hopeful that the trout might recognize the larger mayfly and go for it, but again my wish was misplaced.

When the money fly was ignored, I relented to my instincts, and tied on a size 20 CDC BWO. Timing is everything, and by the time I defaulted to the tiny imitation, the hatch ended, and the fish ceased their surface feeding. I prospected with the CDC BWO for a bit, but the tiny fly seemed futile, so I reverted to the stimulator, hares ear, and RS2. I experienced one foul hooked twelve inch brown that refused the stimulator, and I dragged the trailing nymph into its tail. Another small fish inspected the stimulator but returned to its holding position.

When I reached the top of the island. I remained at two fish, and it was 1:30, and I was not optimistic about my prospects for Tuesday. John and I met and decided to fish the deep run and riffles between the island and our crossing point. I waded toward the center of the river and fished back toward the north bank in the likely deep pockets, riffles and runs. Since the hatch was over, I converted to a gray pool toy hopper as my top fly, and retained the hares ear, but swapped the RS2 for a size 20 soft hackle emerger.

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Soft Hackle Emerger Lover

Halfway through my search of the faster water section, a fifteen inch brown attacked the soft hackle emerger, and I was quite pleased to net and photograph this beauty. This was the best fish of the day at that point, and it boosted my energy level. I moved upstream a bit and tossed a cast into a narrow slot behind an exposed boulder, and I was shocked to see a fish rise and gulp the pool toy hopper. I set the hook, and this fish put up a dogged fight, but I eventually subdued a gorgeous sixteen inch brown trout. I thought that perhaps my fortunes had turned.

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Hopper Fancier

Alas I covered the second half of the deep riffle area with no success to reward my hard work, and wading in the relatively fast current over slippery boulders was indeed a challenge. Once I reached the top, I noticed that John crossed to the bank along the road, so I joined him. He expressed a desire to fish the side that is conducive to right handed casting, so I left him at the bottom of the long pool, and I climbed to the high rock wall to watch. It was now late afternoon, and the sun broke through the thick clouds, and I anticipated a repeat of the dead time that evolved in the late afternoon on Monday.

As I sat on the rock perch, I spotted the same rainbow that haunted me in the late afternoon the previous day. I watched its movement and made some half-hearted casts with the dry/dropper, but the circling rainbow ignored the flies. John meanwhile joined me and waded upstream of the deep pool. I observed the rainbow as it sipped something small from the surface, so I clipped off the hopper and nymphs and knotted a size 22 CDC BWO to my line. I was now prepared, but I waited and observed for another ten minutes. Finally the rainbow came into view, and it cruised in an oval below me, and then it slowly drifted to the surface and sipped another small morsel.

This was my sign, and I flipped a cast above the fish’s position. I held my breath and lost sight of the tiny fluff of a fly, but then I spotted a subtle disturbance near the position of the rainbow. I raised my rod and executed a swift hook set, and the fish darted toward the middle and made a quick dive while thrashing fiercely. I was six feet above the water and not in a good position to land the fish, so I asked for John’s assistance, since he arrived from above. As I slid down the rock precipice on the bank, I applied side pressure and guided the rainbow toward shore, where John scooped it with his net.

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Hooked from the Overlook

What a team effort! It was an exciting ending to a tough day on the Arkansas River, although four of my five fish were very nice, and I remembered each one.

Fish Landed: 5

Arkansas River – 09/19/2016

Time: 12:30PM – 4:30PM

Location: Chaffee – Fremont County Line

Arkansas River 09/19/2016 Photo Album

A couple days of rest and relaxation at the Timbers Bachelor Gulch Resort near Beaver Creek allowed me to recover from my intense but satisfying four days of camping in the Flattops region of Colorado. A weekend with no fishing had my thoughts turning to my next fishing adventure. I contacted my friend, John, and we decided to undertake a joint trip to the Arkansas River. John owns a small Casita travel trailer, and he invited me to join him in the relative plush accommodations compared to my normal REI two person tent.

John planned to stay for four days; whereas, I needed to return on Tuesday evening to prepare for a trip to Utah to visit my daughter. Consequently I drove separately, and we devised a plan whereby John would meet me on the river on Monday afternoon. I arrived at the pullout at the Chaffee – Fremont County line by 11:45, and after gulping my lunch, I assembled my Sage four weight rod and crossed the river at the tail of the long pool below the parking area. I climbed the bank on the opposite side of the river and hiked down the railroad tracks until I reached my usual entry point. By 12:30 I was in the water casting a yellow Letort hopper, beadhead hares ear, and a RS2.

The fishing reports from the local fly shops indicated that the fishing was decent after the cooler weather that moved across Colorado while I was in the Flattops and at Bachelor Gulch, and the web sites suggested blue winged olive imitations for the late morning and early afternoon. This explained the RS2 attached to my line. I read my blog posts from 2011 when I fished the Arkansas River at the same time of year, and the Letort hopper was productive, so I attempted to repeat the success.

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Starting Point on Arkansas River

 

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Better Lighting

In the faster water below the narrow island I landed three brown trout, and all of them nabbed the RS2, as it drifted in the wake of the hopper. I observed several rises at the top of the juicy shelf pool where I began, so this indicated that the blue winged olives were active. With this auspicious start behind me I approached the bottom of the narrow right channel that flows around the island, and once again I noticed a few rises from likely small fish at the tail of the long smooth pool. I knew the dry/dropper approach was not appropriate for the shallow smooth tail of the pool, so I skipped around it, and executed some long casts to the deep run that flows through the center. On the first cast the hopper paused, and I set the hook and found myself attached to a gorgeous fifteen inch brown trout. I managed to land the beauty despite repeated attempts of escape, and my optimism reached a new peak.

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More Poundage on This Guy

The faster runs at the top of the long pool are really the prime real estate in this section of the Arkansas River, and my heartbeat raced with the anticipation of probing my favorite place. Alas, the fish were there on Monday, but I suffered three temporary hook ups toward the center of the deep channel. My momentary elation after landing the fifteen inch brown trout plummeted to new depths. Fortunately I persisted, and another fifteen inch brown trout nipped the RS2, as I lifted near the end of the drift. This trout also generated a spirited fight before I coaxed it into my net.

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In the Water

I moved on to the top of the right braid, and I induced two more temporary connections before I reached the top of the island. I was back in the main river now, and I skipped past the wide shallow section in order to quickly reach the long deep riffle with an abundance of deep pockets. I swapped the Letort hopper for a foam pool toy hopper, since I desired better visibility and flotation for the faster water, and I thoroughly prospected the fifty yard section of the river. The difficult wading and constant casting finally paid off, when a rainbow trout aggressively snatched the hares ear from the drift in a riffle that was four feet deep. Unlike the brown trout, the bow streaked across the river and then downstream, but I allowed my line to spin off the reel until the scared fish paused. This allowed me to regain line, and after a five minute battle, I scooped the sixteen inch beauty into my new net. Needless to say I was rather pleased with this reward for a tough couple hours of wading and prospecting.

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Recovery

By 3 o’clock the sun was directly overhead and beating down relentlessly on the Arkansas River. The temperature climbed into the upper eighties, and I spotted a black truck parked behind my vehicle high above the river. A car door slammed, and I guessed that my friend John arrived. I was at a transition point in my progress upstream, so I veered to the left, climbed the south bank, and then found John in the river just west of the deep long pool with the high rock overlook. I greeted him, and while he began to cast, I surveyed the river below me. I was pleasantly surprised to spot a very nice rainbow trout hovering just below the surface downstream from John, so I guided and coached him in an effort to position his fly over the prize fish below.

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John Intense

Apparently John’s chubby Chernobyl and RS2 were not favored by the rainbow trout, so we surrendered and moved upstream between three and five o’clock. I was weary from my earlier adventures, so I decided to be a contrarian, and I swapped my floating line for a sink tip and tied a cheech leech to the staunch leader. I spent a half hour stripping the streamer through likely holding spots, but the river was dead. By 4:30 my confidence was at a low ebb, and I sat on a rock and converted into a cheerleader for John, but even this added encouragement could not open the mouths of the Arkansas River trout. I suspect that their state of mind in the late afternoon approximated mine.

Fish Landed: 6

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John and the Casita

 

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2016

My expectations were sky high as I drove along the dirt road toward the North Fork of the White River on Wednesday morning after experiencing a spectacular day on Tuesday. I decided to fish in the same segment of the North Fork, but a different stretch. My car was packed with a wet tent, rain fly and footprint; the result of a heavy rain shower while in the midst of assembling my tent on Tuesday evening. Fortunately the inside of the tent remained dry, and I enjoyed a peaceful night of sleep, but the wet contents in my SUV would require some significant drying time. I decided to fish until late afternoon on Wednesday, and then drive to Avon, CO, where my wife was staying at the Timbers Bachelor Gulch Resort with a friend. Such a drastic change in lifestyle within twenty-four hours made me wonder if I could adjust.

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Better Focus

I once again assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod, as it is shorter and lighter than my other fly rods, and I discovered that it is nearly perfect for small stream conditions. The storms that passed through on Tuesday evening left behind a trail of heavy cloud cover, and I wore my raincoat for warmth and protection against rain for the entire day. This proved to be a solid choice, as two periods of rain passed over my fishing location, and the second storm delivered a fairly heavy downpour for ten minutes.

Similar to Tuesday I began my fly fishing day with a pool toy with a beige body, and beneath the foam terrestrial I attached a salvation nymph. My choice of flies seemed perceptive, as I landed two fish fairly early in my progression up the North Fork, but then a fairly lengthy dry spell ensued. This pattern of landing a few fish and then fruitless casting would repeat itself throughout the day, and it resulted in a cumulative fish count of fifteen. This may sound like an enviable day, but it took place over five hours of fishing, and some simple division reveals a catch rate slightly over two per hour. I covered at least a mile of stream in the process of landing fifteen fish, and this entailed some fairly strenuous climbing and scrambling to circumvent rocks and fallen trees.

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Another Fine Catch

I adhered to the dry/dropper approach most of the day, although given my success rate, I probably should have experimented with different methods. I was mistakenly fixated on the idea that what worked on Tuesday, would bring success on Wednesday. Adding to this certainty was the unsettled weather and thick cloud cover which normally provokes insect activity and active fish. Part way through the afternoon, I lost the pool toy, so I tested a fat Albert with a red body, but this exchange did not enhance my success rate. Eventually I reverted to the pool toy as the top fly. The bottom flies were another story, as I cycled through an ultra zug bug, pheasant tail, copper John, and dark cahill in an effort to find a consistent producer. The copper John accounted for a couple fish, and the ultra zug bug added one; but the best combination remained the beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph.

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Narrow Shelf Pool Was Inviting

Once again I lost three salvation nymphs, and I seem to go through this fly faster than a fraternity house consumes beer on a party weekend. The largest fish on Wednesday were several twelve inch cutbows, and for some strange reason only two brook trout languished in my net. During the afternoon I hooked two hot fish that immediately dashed beneath some fallen logs and snapped of the flies. In the first instance the trout gulped the hopper, and the break off resulted in the loss of all three flies and a time consuming reconfiguration of my line.

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A Work of Art

Unlike Tuesday I performed a huge amount of fruitless casting throughout the day. Places that appeared similar to trout magnets of Tuesday, did not produce. How do I explain this dichotomy of results? I can only speculate. Perhaps the stretch of water was subject to more fishing pressure? It was moderately more accessible, so that is a possibility. The gradient seemed steeper, and the stream offered fewer deep holding spots, so this may have played into the slow day. For some reason rainbows and cutbows were the predominant species, so perhaps a reduced population of gullible brook trout offer another clue. On Tuesday I fished numerous juicy pockets where I experienced a refusal or temporary hook up with a rainbow, and I followed up with a second cast that yielded a brook trout. This sequence did not play out on Wednesday. Another factor may have been the weather, which was more adverse to a human fly fisherman; however, I generally find that adverse weather is a positive for fish. Finally I seemed to spend more time hooked to branches, rocks and sticks, and this detracted from the amount of time that my flies were in the water.

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Color in the Flattops

At any rate I spent another day in the remote backcountry of the Flattops, and it is hard to find fault with that. The fish I landed were gorgeous jewels, and I had my share of long distance releases, so the connection rate was better than the count might suggest. The foliage was changing, and the leaves were spectacular, and I bumped into only one other fishermen in four days on the streams. Health permitting I will likely return to the Flattops again in 2017.

Fish Landed: 15

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Bad Weather Moving into the Flattops

North Fork of the White River – 09/13/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/13/2016 Photo Album

Some days are just magical, and the White River historically accounted for many memorable experiences. A tough day on the South Fork, however, triggered serious doubts in my fishing obsessed brain. Was 2016 simply a bad year for the waterways in the Flattops region?

After a career in finance and accounting I confess that I am a chronic counter. This character trait applies to money and baseball stats, and unfortunately it transfers to my passion of fly fishing. The reader can confirm my tendency by clicking on the fish counter tab on this blog. A quick glance at the first table reveals that my record year for cumulative fish count was 2012, when 930 trout found my net. As an aside I only count trout greater than six inches long, and I do not count foul hooked fish unless the fly is in the vicinity of the mouth. I do count fish if they slide free of the fly, as I begin the process of elevating toward my net.

In 2015 I narrowly missed setting a new record, but cold weather halted my progress by Thanksgiving, and I fell short by seventeen fish. In 2012 when I set my new high, my son’s girlfriend suggested that I should target 1,000, since I was so close, but time ran out before I could accomplish her challenge.

I underwent a significant surgical procedure in January 2016, and although I scheduled it during the winter intentionally, so that I could recover before the main season, I suspected that the rehabilitation period would crimp my ability to attain a new record. Fast forward to September 13, 2016, and I found myself perched on a fish count of 975, as I anticipated a day of fishing in one of my favorite places, the North Fork of the White River. I attributed my standing to a faster than expected recovery from surgery, some unexpected high fish count days, and a retired status that enabled frequent outings to Colorado streams.

I departed the South Fork Campground on Tuesday morning and made the one hour drive over mostly dirt roads in an hour, and then I pulled into the North Fork Campground and paid for site number 24 for Tuesday night. Three deer and two ringneck pheasants made an appearance, as I traveled along the remote backcountry roads. After securing my lodging for the night, I proceeded to a pullout along the road that leads to Trappers Lake, and I prepared for a day of fishing. The temperature was 55 degrees so I pulled on my raincoat as a windbreaker, and this layer remained in place for the remainder of the day, and I never felt overdressed. The temperature never surpassed the low sixties, and the cutting wind was brutal.

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Tree Debris Everywhere

Before I stepped into my waders, I hiked across the burnt hillside, so I could gaze at the river, and miraculously I encountered a feint trail that scaled the steep hillside and led to the edge of the stream. I accepted this good fortune, and after I assembled my Orvis Access four weight, I utilized the access trail. Once I reached the North Fork, I scrambled farther downstream along the base of the hillside for one hundred yards, and here I began my quest for trout and hopefully number 1,000.

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Cutthroat Loved the Pool Toy

I tied the tan pool toy, that I utilized Monday, to my line; and I began to prospect the obvious deep holding spots. The stream in this area was relatively narrow with a steep gradient, and a large quantity of downed trees leftover from a past wildfire crossed the river at various intervals. This combination of natural obstacles made wading a challenge, but it also created some very attractive trout holding structure. Fairly early in my pursuit of trout it became obvious that the pool toy was a popular fish attractor. I landed six fish on the hopper, and this included some beautiful trout in the twelve to fourteen inch range. The first resident of my net was a deeply colored cutbow, and it was followed by a colorful brook trout. The first six also included some gorgeous rainbows, and I was quite pleased with my early good fortune.

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Gorgeous Cutthroat

 

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Submerged

By 11:30 I was locked on five fish, and I set a goal of reaching eight by noon, when I planned to break for lunch. I am not certain why I set these ridiculous fish count goals, but I suppose it is part of my nature. As the morning evolved, I felt that I covered productive spots that failed to yield fish, so I added a salvation nymph dropper to the foam hopper, and this change delivered number seven.

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Crimson Is Amazing on This Fish

As I sat on a long log and enjoyed my lunch, the weather peaked for the day, and the sun made a rare appearance. I mentally reviewed my morning, and I realized that significant holes with depth and length produced fish. In the afternoon I would discover the reason for this observation. In addition to the seven fish that I successfully landed, I also experienced four or five temporary hook ups with the pool toy hopper, and this frustrated me.

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Lunch Log

After lunch I discovered why the marginal small pockets and shallow riffles failed to produce in the morning. These places were the domain of the brook trout, and they preferred the smaller salvation dropper over the large surface hopper imitation. Between 12:30 and 5:00 the greatest hurdle to my fish catching success was determining how to maneuver around and over the plentiful natural obstructions to my progress. Dead fire damaged logs criss crossed the stream everywhere, but if I managed to circumvent the obstacles to get in the proper position, the fish appeared, and they relished my offerings. I landed my share of rainbows, cutthroats, and cutbows, but the brook trout were insatiable.

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What a Jewel

I estimate that I landed five cutthroats in the afternoon, ten rainbows/cutbows and twenty-six brookies. That is a lot of brook trout, and they were not universally six and seven inch dwarfs. Four or five were in the nine to twelve inch range, and that is a nice length for brook trout in a small stream. More stunning than their size was the intense color of these wild jewels, and I could not resist photographing them.

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Deep Background Color

Just before 3PM I realized that my fish count on the day was twenty-four, and therefore, the cumulative count was 999. I hoped that the next fish would not be a six inch brook trout, and I was not disappointed, as a brilliant twelve inch rainbow shot to the surface and crushed the pool toy. It was an appropriate conclusion to my quest for 1,000, and I took a moment to celebrate.  A brief shout of joy sufficed, and then I resumed my search for more trout in the North Fork of the White River.

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Number 1,000!

In the afternoon momentary hook ups on the pool toy continued to frustrate me, and the escaping fish appeared to by above average size. In the past I blamed the dropper for this circumstance, but the same long distance releases plagued me in the morning, when only one fly was attached to my line. Midway through the afternoon the pool toy lost all its legs, and I suspect that rubber knotted legs are a key triggering characteristic of a hopper. I removed the handicapped hopper and replaced it with a Charlie boy with the hope that perhaps a different grasshopper imitation would eliminate the failed hook ups. Perhaps it was purely coincidental, but ten minutes elapsed with no action on the Charlie boy/salvation combination, so I returned to a new tan pool toy with its legs intact.

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Best Brook Trout on Tuesday

On Tuesday September 13 I had a blast. The annoying wind was a negative factor, but the fish were responsive to my flies, and they generally emerged where I expected. I easily fell into a smooth rhythm, and an almost certain top ten day resulted. Judging from the lack of worn paths, I suspect that I was off the fisherman grid, and this is understandable given the impediments to accessing the stream and the difficult wading. 1,000 fish says it all!

Fish Landed: 48

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A Waterfall Enters the Main Stream

 

 

South Fork of the White River – 09/12/2016

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: 2 – 5 miles above the South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/12/2016 Photo Album

My journey into the backcountry of the Flattops along the South Fork Trail qualified as the number one day of fly fishing during 2015. Needless to say I was exceptionally excited about my prospects on Monday September 12, 2016. Originally I planned to have a fishing companion on my 2016 excursion, but John’s participation was quashed by a tennis tournament. My buddy John read about Lost Solar Creek, a tributary of the South Fork, in a Colorado fly fishing guidebook, and fishing in Lost Solar Creek immediately found a place on his bucket list. A five mile hike to Lost Solar Creek was in our plans.

Ironically I had a conversation with a fellow camper on Sunday evening, and he informed me that there was a wild fire in the Lost Solar Creek drainage, and it was closed to fishing and hiking. John’s tennis tournament saved him the disappointment of being denied access to his dream destination. When I woke up on Monday morning, I experienced firsthand confirmation of the wildfire, as the smell of thick sooty smoke smothered the campground. My camping friend warned me that the smoke was the worst in the morning, until the wind picked up and pushed it toward the north and east.

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Panorama of Ridge

Given my elevated state of eager anticipation to renew my success on the South Fork, I was ready to hike by 8:30. I pulled on my waders, assembled my Sage four weight, stuffed my backpack with a lunch, and set out at a vigorous pace. It was quite chilly at the outset, but I blocked the urge to wear an extra layer, as I knew the exertion from hiking would quickly overheat my body. The trail was worn deeply by the impact of horseshoes, and the lack of rain caused each foot strike to kick up a small dust cloud. After I hiked for two miles I paused to look at a steep vertical ridge to the north, and here I gazed upon several dense clouds of smoke obscuring the gray rock face. I snapped a few photos to forward to John upon my return.

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Lots of Smoke to the Northeast

After an hour of hiking at a rapid pace, I veered to the right and approached the edge of the river. Once again I was mesmerized by the clarity of the stream, but I quickly refocused on fly fishing and knotted the same tan pool toy and salvation nymph to my line that I deployed on Sunday, but on Monday I began with a hares ear instead of the ultra zug bug as the middle fly. Between 9:30 and noon I landed four small rainbow trout, and I can assure the readers that it was tough fishing and not even close to my elevated expectations based on my 2015 venture. I limited casts to water at least three feet deep, as I leveraged my Sunday experience near the campground, but even this discretionary approach did not aid my efforts to establish an above average fish count.

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Fine Speckles

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Sending Away

After lunch I began to doubt the dry/dropper strategy, so I experimented with different approaches. First I tried a solitary dry fly in the form of an olive stimulator, but the fish showed no interest, not even a look or refusal. Because the flow was higher than normal, and I was fishing deep spots, I tested a deep nymphing setup with an indicator, split shot, iron sally and beadhead hares ear. This ploy did not last long, as I repeatedly got hung up, and the lack of attention from fish did not justify the hassle.

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Crystal Clear South Fork

Finally I returned to the dry/dropper method with a yellow fat Albert leading the way, and below that I dangled an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph. When I reviewed my 2015 post I recalled that these two flies were heavy producers. These three flies remained on my line from 1PM until 4PM, and I accumulated seven additional fish to bring my total on the day to eleven. In addition I endured five long distance releases, so the action was better than the morning, although it was never comparable to 2015. From 2 – 3 PM I passed through a very attractive area where the river narrowed and created an abundance of deep runs and pockets among numerous exposed boulders. This segment produced generous quantities of above average trout in 2015, but history did not repeat on September 12. The highlight of the afternoon was a fourteen inch rainbow that grabbed the salvation, and this connection generated a significant test to my fish battling skills.

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The South Fork Trail

Insect activity was completely absent, unlike 2015 when pale morning duns, blue winged olives and caddis made appearances around mid-afternoon. The wind was quite blustery, and this circumstance made accurate casting quite a challenge. I wore my raincoat as a windbreaker for the duration of the afternoon, and I was never too warm. It was a tough day on the South Fork, and I am baffled for reasons. It felt like the season was more advanced than previous trips, so perhaps the late summer hatches were over, and this explained the lack of activity? The water was higher and colder, so perhaps the metabolism of the trout was already reduced? Should I have persisted with the single dry fly longer, as the presentation of a lighter fly with a soft landing may have been more to the liking of the trout? Did a group of fishermen pass through during the summer and catch their limit of fish repeatedly, thus, reducing the wild population? Perhaps the wind announced the arrival of a cold front, and the weather change put down the fish?

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Aspens Golden

I will never know the answer, but I am not giving up on the South Fork. Historically it has been more temperamental than the North Fork, so I will continue to take my chances. The slow day did make my decision on where to fish on Tuesday easy. I prepared to move on to the North Fork Campground and the North Fork of the White River to fish.

Fish Landed: 11

 

South Fork of the White River – 09/11/2016

Time: 3:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Upstream from South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/11/2016 Photo Album

Since the inception of this blog I enjoyed nearly annual trips to the Flattops area of Colorado to fish the North Fork and South Fork of the White River. If you search on White River, you can read about these historical adventures. Generally the fishing has been excellent for abundant quantities of small rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout; but the true attraction is the beauty and remoteness of the Flattops area. During September quite a few hunters make the trip, but they tend to set up camp along the high ridges and mountain passes. I generally have the streams to myself during this time.

Sunday September 11 was the start of my 2016 trip to the White River. I checked the weather forecast before my departure, and I noted that the best days were Sunday and Monday with cooler temperatures and a greater chance of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday. During 2015 I enjoyed my best day of fly fishing of the entire year, when I hiked for an hour along the South Fork, and I anxiously anticipated another foray into the remote reaches of this branch, so I decided to make the South Fork my destination for the first half of my stay. In order to position myself for an early start and lengthy hike, I set up camp at the South Fork Campground. I prefered the campsites at North Fork because of the presence of tent pads, but that campground was 22 miles away from the South Fork Trailhead.

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Another View

I arrived at the campground by 1:30 and chose site number 8, as it was close to the trailhead and mainly free of tall trees on the eastern side. In September I seek the warming effect of the sun in the early morning hours. I ate a quick lunch and transferred food bins to the bear proof locker, and then I paid for one night. Sunday was a gorgeous day with temperatures approaching eighty degrees even at the high elevation of the South Fork, so I decided to sample the fishing for a couple hours. I climbed into my new Hodgman waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked up the trail for ten minutes, before I cut over to the river at a convenient access point.

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Pretty Spectacular

Because this stretch of the South Fork was near the campground, I assumed that it received significant pressure during the summer months, so I was skeptical that I would experience much success. The flows were excellent for early September, and I marveled at the clear cold water, as it tumbled over light tan and gray rocks in the brilliant sunlight.

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Decent Size

I decided to begin my quest for bonus time trout with a tan pool toy, beadhead ultra zug bug, and a salvation nymph. Once I configured my line with these offerings, I tossed the flies to the top of a nice deep depression, and almost immediately the pool toy took a dive, and I set the hook. The clarity of the water enabled me to catch a glimpse of a sizable fish with silvery sides, but it thrashed and dove unlike a rainbow trout. Sure enough, as I applied pressure, I learned that I was attached to a sixteen inch whitefish. Normally I am disappointed with a whitefish, but this fish was a surprise and a welcome catch early in my outing. I was amazed that such a large fish possessed a tiny mouth, and the salvation nymph was embedded in the soft lips that surrounded the round opening. I snapped a few photos to capture the shimmering silver beauty of the sides of the wild fish, as it reminded me of a grayling.

Next I moved a bit farther upstream, and I cast the dry/dropper combination to the top of a narrow deep slot. As the pool toy drifted toward the tail of the trough, it once again dipped, and I executed a solid hook set. This time the pricked fish streaked back and forth several times, until I coaxed it into my net and marveled at a fourteen inch rainbow trout that also favored the salvation nymph. What a thrill to enjoy this early success near the campground on Sunday; a day on which I did not plan to fish.

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Quite a Prize

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More Enticing Pocket Water

Unfortunately the action slowed after the initial successes, but I did manage to land four additional small rainbows. Two measured in the ten inch range and the others were smaller. One of the four inhaled the hares ear nymph, and the remainder savored the salvation similar to their larger cousin. In addition I experienced three temporary hook ups with small fish, so this added to the action during the two hour period. All the fish emerged from deep water, and I quickly discovered it was a waste of energy to prospect the smaller marginal pockets and runs. I also filed this information away for Monday, when I planned to skip the marginal water and focus on deeper high probability locations. Sunday was a great introduction to the South Fork of the White River in 2016.

Fish Landed: 5 + 1 whitefish

South Boulder Creek – 09/07/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 09/07/2016 Photo Album

I was anxious to revisit South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir, but the Denver Water managers seemed intent on flushing the system, as they maintained flows in the plus 200 cfs range for most of August. I decided to review the flows of the Front Range streams after Labor Day, and I was surprised and pleased to note that South Boulder Creek dropped to 149 cfs, so I quickly decided to make a trip on Wednesday September 7. Imagine my amazement when I rechecked the flows on Tuesday evening and discovered that the managers tightened the valve and dropped releases to 85 cfs. I normally avoid visiting a tailwater after a dramatic change, but I decided to deviate from my rule because the adjustment was a decrease and not a large increment.

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Pretty

In addition to nearly ideal flows on South Boulder Creek the weather was perfect. After I climbed into my waders and assembled my Loomis five weight to begin my descent to the canyon floor, the temperature was in the low sixties. However hiking at a brisk pace and the warmth of the sun kindled my body temperature quickly, and I suspect the high temperature peaked in the upper seventies. My fishing shirt was the appropriate attire for a day when the outside air temperature mirrored the thermostat setting in our house.

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Leaves Turning Yellow Already

Two vehicles were present in the upper lot, and one fisherman departed before I was ready. I hustled and advanced to the trailhead just before the other group of three, so in order to evade the competition, I hiked quite a ways downstream from the pedestrian bridge on the Walker Loop. Once I established my entry point, I tied a pool toy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph to my line. The pool toy from Tuesday was handicapped, as it was missing legs on the right side, so I dug out a fresh version with a tan body. The dry/dropper approach was extremely effective on Tuesday on the South Platte River, so I decided to test its effectiveness on a different stream.

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Ready to Leave

My strategy proved to be a winner, as I worked my way upstream over the course of the day for .5 mile and cast the dry/dropper in all the inviting spots. It was a textbook dry/dropper day, as fish emerged from nearly every location that I expected. I landed nine trout before I broke for lunch at noon, and several were quite nice and at the upper limit of the South Boulder Creek size profile.

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Crimson Gift

 

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Pockets Galore

After lunch I endured a brief lull, but then the trout really engaged in a feeding frenzy. I actually experienced a double in a narrow riffle lane on the left side of a huge rock. The hopper paused, and I reacted with an abrupt hookset only to discover that an eight inch rainbow grabbed the hares ear, and a small cousin snatched the salvation. This was perhaps the fourth or fifth time in my life that I landed two fish at once.

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Double Came from Left Side of Huge Rock

 

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Stacked

Between 12:30 and 3:00 I spotted a sparse pale morning dun and blue winged olive emergence; however, I never attempted to fish a dry fly because the nymphs were performing in excellent fashion. I suspect that an abundance of subsurface nymph activity spurred the success of the hares ear and salvation. On the day I landed two or three fish on the pool toy, and the remainder of the count was split 50/50 between the hares ear and salvation.

The hopper, hares ear, and salvation were fixtures on my line for the entire day, and I had a blast. I moved slower than normal, because I wore my Korker rubber soles to hike into the canyon, and the traction is inferior to felt bottoms. I hoped to avoid wear on my felts, and my slow progression was a concession to age and careful foot placement.

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Fat Stripe

Between 12:30 and 3:00 I had supreme confidence in my flies, and it was rare that I did not extract a fish from a location that struck me as promising. Various water types produced including deep runs, pockets, riffles of moderate depth, and even shallow riffles over rocky bottoms. I settled into a nice rhythm, and I relish the times when I enjoy complete confidence in my flies and approach. I cast directly upstream on numerous occasions and allowed the dry/dropper to drift back toward me over relatively shallow riffles. It is difficult to surpass the rush generated when the top fly stops, and a swift lift of the rod reveals a thrashing wild fish. This scenario played out quite often on Wednesday on South Boulder Creek.

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Best Fish of the Day

The last hour between  3 and 4 slowed considerably, and this suggests that the fish were not opportunistically grabbing my nymphs, but instead the nymphs were a reasonable imitation of a food source present in the creek. On Wednesday evening upon my return home, I checked the flows on South Boulder Creek, and I was shocked to discover that they dropped again to 35 cfs. Judging from my on stream experience, I suspect that this change was engineered after my departure. Somehow I managed to arrive on the creek for the one day of ideal flows. September is off to a spectacular start.

Fish Landed: 35

South Platte River – 09/06/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 09/06/2016 Photo Album

After a rough day on Clear Creek I was anxious to test my theory that tailwaters are the answer during the doldrum period that typically lasts from the middle of August through the first week of September. My watch displayed 11AM as I dipped my wading boots in the South Platte River, and although the dashboard registered a chilly 50 degrees during my drive, the sun warmed the air nicely, as I now ventured into the cold tailwater. The afternoon was a different story, as an abundance of clouds blocked the sun and prevented the temperature from getting beyond the seventies. The gray clouds never yielded rain, but strong gusts of wind made casting a challenge between 3 and 4:30.

The other variable of concern to a fisherman was the stream flow. Prior to my trip I checked the DWR web site, and the graph depicted a horizontal line holding steady at 182 cfs. I was concerned that this was a bit high, but when I approached the river, it was obvious that the level was quite manageable. I was easily able to move around, although I remained along the bank that bordered the fisherman path for the entire day. The fish seemed to love the cold moderately high flows, as they could spread out, but they also benefited from the protection associated with additional depth. I likewise appreciated the additional volume of water, as it allowed me to approach my target areas closer than is typical for low end of summer conditions.

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182 CFS Looks Great

I began my quest for fish with a Charlie boy hopper and a beadhead hares ear, and these offerings failed to interest any fish in the first couple juicy pockets. I began to fear a slow day, so I quickly adjusted and added a salvation nymph below the hares ear. In addition I exchanged the Charlie boy for a pool toy to provide the additional buoyancy necessary to support two size 16 beadhead nymphs. The move paid off, and as the dry/dropper drifted in a deep slot next to a large boulder, the hopper dipped, and I executed a swift hook set.

The hook point penetrated the lip of a hungry fish, and it immediately streaked away from me into heavier current, as I allowed line to rip from my reel. Unbeknownst to me, however, the fly line wrapped around the butt of my rod, and I observed the sickening sight of my line drifting in the current, as the escape artist dove into the main current with my salvation nymph in its mouth.

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An Early Rainbow or Cutbow Trout

After some healthy grieving I hooked a second fish, but it eluded my fly as well. Finally number three was a charm, and I landed a ten inch brown to initiate my fish count for the day, and it continued to climb until I broke for lunch with thirteen fish in the netted column. The water covered in the morning session was outstanding with plenty of pockets, deep runs and narrow slots. The fish loved this structure, and I reaped the benefits. Four fish found my net from one particularly productive area, and this included two thirteen inch rainbows. These would ultimately be two of the best fish landed on Tuesday, September 6.

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Ready to Release

 

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Lunch View

After lunch I lost a second salvation nymph when I was in the process of releasing a fish that was attached to the upper fly, the hares ear nymph. Not wishing to deplete my salvation supply further, I replaced it with a copper john, and the fish did not seem to mind the change. I did observe, however, that the fish favored the hares ear more in the afternoon, than was the case in the morning session.

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Beautiful Pattern

At another juncture in the afternoon I broke off the copper john, and since I spotted a sparse emergence of blue winged olives, I decided to test a soft hackle emerger in place of the copper john. It was a decent idea, but I discovered that all my catches, while the soft hackle was on my line, emanated from the pool toy or hares ear. This observation caused me to remove the soft hackle emerger, and I replaced it with a salvation nymph; but rather than risk one that I tied in a size 16, I knotted on a size 14 that I purchased at the Conejos River Angler. The trout seemed to relish the larger size.

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Spots Galore

Perhaps because of the gusty wind, the pool toy hopper produced more fish in the afternoon than was the case in the morning. I estimated that the pool toy accounted for five of the forty fish landed, but I also had quite a few long distance releases on fish that chomped the top fly.

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My Kind of Water

 

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Thirsty Deer

It was another amazing day on the South Platte River. I skipped the large pools and searched for the sections that offered pockets, slots, deep runs and moderate riffles; and these areas did not let me down. I love fishing dry/dropper in this manner, when I can approach fairly close and make quick short casts to likely spots and move at a rapid pace. It seemed that nearly every location that looked promising delivered a fish, and I reveled in the fast action and the electric anticipation of responsive fish. Of the forty fish landed, 32 were browns, and the remainder were rainbows with perhaps a cutbow or two in that mix. Based on my success on September 6, I suspect another 2016 trip may be on the calendar.

Fish Landed: 40

Clear Creek – 09/01/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Between Tunnel 1 and 2.

Clear Creek 09/01/2016 Photo Album

Clear Creek continues to be an enigma to this fisherman. On Auguist 5 I visited the small stream near Idaho Springs, and I experienced a disappointing day, but I attributed it to the rafting traffic. I vowed that I would not return until the flows dropped to the 50 – 80 cfs range, as I felt that the rafting trips would no longer be viable at that level. On August 19 I revisited a section in Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden, and my persistence was rewarded with a fifteen fish day. On this delightful outing the fish responded to Jake’s gulp beetle in a big way.

The August 19 trip gave me the confidence to journey to Clear Creek once again on September 1. I fished the Colorado River on August 31, and I did not wish to undertake another extensive drive, so the 45 minute spin to Clear Creek appealed to me. When I departed my house at 10AM, the sky was overcast, but before I arrived at the pullout across route six from Clear Creek, the sun burned off the haze and clouds. In fact, the weather developed into fairly adverse conditions with the bright sun in a clear blue sky, and the temperature climbed to 85 degrees in the canyon.

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Clear As Its Name

I elected to use my Loomis five weight, since I hoped to toss large foam attractors, and the slow action Loomis accommodates this form of fishing quite well. I packed my lunch and raincoat and dropped down a steep rocky embankment to the edge of the creek. From previous experience I knew the water next to me was heavily fished, so I waded along the edge to the point where the bank becomes very high and steep. I was certain that this unfavorable terrain was a deterrent to most fishermen.

I will not bore the reader with all the details of my movements. I will simply state that I fished from 11AM until 1:30PM and did not land a single fish. During this time I presented a size 10 Chernobyl ant, the same Chernobyl with a hares ear nymph dropper, a size 10 Jake’s gulp beetle with a peacock ice dub body, a size 16 gray caddis, a size 10 gray parachute hopper, and a size 10 tan Charlie boy hopper. None of these flies produced a fish; not even a tiny trout beneath the six inch minimum. There were occasional looks, but even these were few and far between. Even on my worst outings on Clear Creek I normally see a preponderance of looks, refusals, long distance releases and spooked fish, but on Thursday these engagements with trout were largely absent.

I knew from past experience that abundant fish resided in the area that I was fishing. I blamed my lack of success on the high bright sun, clear sky and warm temperatures. I concluded that the trout were hunkered down in deep oxygenated refuges, so I modified my approach. I knotted a size eight fat Albert to my line for buoyancy, and then I added a beadhead hares ear and a salvation nymph. With this alignment of flies I focused my casts on deep runs, current seams and large pockets in an effort to reach the hypothetical hangouts of the trout on a warm bright day.

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Second Fish Was Bigger

It worked to some extent, as I landed a small brown on the hares ear and then another somewhat larger brown trout on the same fly. Both fish snatched the dangling nymph from deep areas along current seams. I suspected that I discovered a strategy to salvage the first day of September, but that was not the case. I endured another long slump and a few refusals to the oversized fat Albert. The fat Albert had a yellow body, so I surmised that perhaps the trout were looking for a yellow sally or small hopper with a yellow body.

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Side Look

I followed up on this thought by changing my offering to a size 12 yellow stimulator. I cast this fly to many attractive spots with no response, but then I lofted it to a current seam at the edge of a nice riffle of moderate depth. In a flash an eleven inch slender brown surfaced and crushed the stimulator. Given the absence of action I was extremely careful, and I quickly played the prize fish to my net. Could the stimulator be the answer?

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Zoomed in on the Last Fish of the Day

I moved farther upstream with the bushy yellow attractor on my line, but it no longer appealed to Clear Creek trout. Once again I paused to assess, and I remembered the small yellow hopper idea, so I knotted a size 10 yellow Letort hopper to my line. I applied floatant to the dubbed body and prospected some likely locations, but only a cautious look from a small trout in a narrow slot resulted. What else could I try?

I recalled that the fish did not respond to Jake’s gulp beetle until the afternoon on August 19, so I gave the foam beetle one more try. Once again I selected a version with a peacock ice dub body, but I downsized to a size 12. I plopped it in numerous likely places, but again the casting proved futile. My digital watch displayed 3 o’clock, and I was approaching the steep rocky area just before Tunnel 2, so I decided to cut my losses and called it a day.

The water was clear and the flows were 80 cfs, which I consider nearly ideal for late summer on Clear Creek. I can only attribute my slow day to the weather and the variable disposition of Clear Creek brown trout. The close proximity and abundant public access will likely lure me back to Clear Creek, but the timing will certainly be in late September, after the temperature range falls into the autumn pattern.

Fish Landed: 3

Colorado River – 08/31/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Harbison Meadows Picnic area path upstream for .75 mile

Colorado River 08/31/2016 Photo Album

After two fun nights of camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had Wednesday available for a day of fishing. I examined A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park in conjunction with the map in the glossy brochure provided by the park and decided to explore the lower Colorado River from the southwest boundary upstream. The map indicated that a path began at the Harbison Meadows Picnic Area, and it intersected with the Colorado River after a one mile hike.

After packing up our camping gear, Jane and I departed from the campground by 10AM and drove south, until we reached the aforementioned picnic area just north of the west side entrance gate. The temperature was 55 degrees as I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and pulled on my waders. Jane accompanied me on the one mile jaunt through the woods, until we connected with the Colorado River Trail. Here we turned right, and then after a short distance I spotted the river on my left. I said my goodbyes to Jane, and she reversed her direction, as she planned to hike the stock trail to the Kewuneeche Visitor Center.

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Lots of Slow Placid Pools

I angled away from the trail and crossed a marshy area until I reached the river. I was disappointed to discover private cabins and summer residences on the western side of the river. I labored to hike away from the road only to discover that the stream in the southwest corner was accessible via a road. To begin my day of fishing I tied an amber bodied size 14 stimulator to my line and began to cast. The first section of the river consisted of a slow deep pool, so I lobbed a cast to the middle and just behind an exposed stump. I was astonished when a nine inch brown trout darted to the surface and inhaled the stimulator. Was it going to be this easy?

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First Fish Was This Brown Trout

A second cast landed five feet below the first, and another brown trout smacked the stimulator, but this aggressive feeder was only seven inches long. Above the mid-pool obstruction I ran some casts tight to the opposite bank, and another small brown snatched the stimmy just as it was about to drag. Three fish in fifteen minutes in the first pool had me feeling quite optimistic.

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Looks Promising

Once I departed the large pool, however, the day grew more challenging. The river in this area was quite different from what I am accustomed to. Long smooth deep pools represented the salient water type, and they were typically connected by shallow runs. I really did not have a strategy for attacking the pools, so I began to systematically make long casts to within one to two feet of the bank. This worked somewhat, although I also experienced a significant quantity of refusals from tiny brown trout. From 11 until 2:30 I moved the fish count from three to eight, but five fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is really only an average catch rate. I covered a huge amount of water and made countless long unproductive casts. In fact Wednesday August 31 probably strained my back and arm muscles more than any previous outing in 2016. The water was low and clear, and the absence of significant impediments to a backcast allowed me to approach from a distance.

During the 11 to 2:30 period I landed one small brook trout, and for half of this time I added a size 20 black parachute ant as a second dry. The ant strategy accounted for two of the five fish, and in a nice segment with deep slow moving water along a high bank, the ant produced a long distance release. I continued to fish the ant as a trailing dry for another half hour until I decided to change my lineup. The stimulator was attracting all the attention and nearly 100% of the looks resulted in refusals, so I committed to downsizing. I tied on a size 16 gray caddis, and when I began to connect the ant, I realized that the hook point was broken off! This clearly explained the lost fish in the attractive bank section mentioned earlier.

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A Caddis Lover

From 2:30 until 4 when I quit I incremented the fish tally to thirteen. The size sixteen caddis was clearly the most productive fly of the day. One of the caddis eaters was an eight inch rainbow, but all the others were brown trout. The caddis seemed to be at its best in moderate riffles and places where the current ran along the bank or next to substantial mid-stream structure.

At 4 o’clock I hooked my fly in the rod guide and reeled up the line. Fortunately I found a nice trail along the river, and forty-five minutes later I was back at Harbison Meadows. Jane grew concerned about my absence, and she sauntered back and met me .2 miles from the trailhead.

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The Peak in the Distance Caught My Eye

Wednesday was a tough day from a fishing perspective. The quality of the fishing did not match the physical effort expended to hike one mile from the trailhead. I had the river to myself, but the well worn path and tamped vegetation told me that this segment of the Colorado River received more than moderate pressure. I expected to catch small brook trout, and instead my net was dominated by tiny brown trout. I probably landed and released fifteen tiny browns that failed to exceed my minimum size limit. Nevertheless I was in a beautiful location and essentially had the river to myself. I managed to find a fly that was reasonably effective and registered a thirteen fish day. A day of fishing in Colorado is always a positive.

Fish Landed: 13