South Platte River – 04/19/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/19/2017 Photo Album

Of course four letter words are common among fly fishermen particularly after losing a monster fish or after breaking off three flies on an overhanging tree branch. But another word that is relatively benign in common usage takes on the characteristics of the established four letter words in the broader English vernacular when applied to fly fishing. That word is wind, and wind was the overriding theme for our fly fishing adventure on Wednesday, April 19.

My friend Steve and I set out from Lone Tree at 7:30 on Wednesday morning with visions of a repeat of our successful trip the previous Thursday, when we fished from 12:30 until 4:00 to ravenously hungry trout on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. High clouds blocked the sun and created conditions conducive to a sustained baetis hatch on that date, and Steve and I took advantage of the feeding frenzy.

We arrived at the parking lot at the first bridge below the dam at 9:30, and we were in our waders and on the river fishing by ten o’clock. After I lathered up with sunscreen, I attempted to open the driver’s side door, but the gale force wind made me lower my shoulder and push with exceptional force to combat the gusts. This was an ominous harbinger of what was in our future. After I pulled on my waders, I assembled my Sage four weight rod, and I wandered across the dirt road along with Steve to inspect the wide but relatively shallow pool that entertained us for most of the afternoon on April 13.

The area upstream from the bridge was empty, so Steve took his position next to the prime water fifteen yards above the bridge, and I migrated a bit farther upstream to a nice deep run that passed along some large rocks on the opposite bank. It was too early for dry flies, so I rigged with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear, and RS2; and I executed a large number of drifts through the very attractive deep run. After half an hour of this futile activity my only accomplishment was to remove a decent amount of moss from the river rocks, as it accumulated on my bottom dredging nymphs.

I turned the corner and discovered a quartet of fishermen spread over the next forty yards, so I reversed my direction and crossed the road and surveyed the river below the bridge. Since I was rigged with a nymphing configuration, I decided to probe the nice deep runs immediately below the four culverts that carried the river beneath the bridge, but once again my efforts to land a fish were stymied. I saw fish hovering and moving from side to side in a manner that normally indicates feeding, so I concluded that they were grabbing small nymphs or emergers from the drift. I cycled through a soft hackle emerger and salad spinner with no impact on my lagging fish count. Pat Dorsey indicated on an Instagram post that he was having luck with stoneflies, so I replaced the salad spinner with a size 12 peacock stonefly imitation, and finally I witnessed a deep dive in my indicator. I set the hook and immediately felt the power of a fat streaking fish, but eventually I fell back into a demoralized state, when I netted the beautiful sixteen inch rainbow trout and discovered that it was hooked in one of the fins.

It was now 11AM, and my confidence reached a new low, as I pondered my next move. I decided to cross the bridge and fish the opposite side and then explore the stretch of water downstream to the next bend. The area was strangely vacant, so it was a good opportunity to take advantage. Just below the fast moving runs and riffle below the bridge there was a large round depression with a light sand bottom, and these conditions made it easy to spot five large trout, as they held in the current and intercepted subsurface food morsels. I executed some dead drifts and swings through the deep hole, but the fish maintained their feeding rhythm with no apparent recognition of my offerings. My frustration mounted, as I shifted my attention downstream to a nice long section of relatively smooth slow moving water of moderate depth.

The clock ticked toward 11:30, and I noticed several sporadic rises twelve to eighteen inches out from the high bank on the other side of the river. At least now I saw some targets to pursue, and this renewed my focus after halfheartedly lobbing nymphs for the first 1.5 hours. I removed the nymphing paraphernalia and tied a size 18 CDC BWO to my line. During this entire morning period the wind continued to gust in an unrelenting manner, and as I evaluated the challenge ahead of me, it once again announced its strong presence. In order to tempt the bank feeders I needed to launch a relatively long cast across the current to within a foot of the bank, and then allow the tiny barely visible fly to drift downstream without drag, until it passed over the uppermost feeder. While doing this I needed to combat the strong wind that was rushing directly downstream.

For the next fifteen minutes I endeavored to conquer the difficult challenge, but I must report that I was not equal to the task. Reach casts and mends were thwarted by the blasts of chilly air. I may have completed one or two decent drifts over the sporadic feeders, but they were not fooled by my efforts. In a fit of frustration and despair I reeled up my line and returned to the car at 11:45. Along the way I checked in with Steve, and he reported landing three nice fish, two on a RS2 and one on a prince nymph. He was not ready for lunch, so I returned to the car and sought shelter from the ever present wind.  At least I now knew that catching South Platte fish on a blustery day was possible.

After lunch I pulled my raincoat over my light down coat to serve as a windbreaker. I considered resuming my position on the opposite side of the river from Steve similar to the previous Thursday afternoon, but when I stood on the bridge, I learned that a pair of fishermen were below Steve and another was pinching him from above. I surrendered the idea of fishing above the bridge and circled back to the car to consider other options. I remembered the bank feeders and decided to approach them from the high bank on the same side of the river as the parking lot. I made a short walk on a worn trail and then slid down a dirt path to the water. The bank feeders were no longer active, but as I gazed upstream I spotted a nice feeding fish in shallow water next to the point of an exposed rock anchored to the bank. As I watched the trout, it casually rose and sipped tiny morsels as they drifted overhead.

I was fearful that I would line the fish if I cast directly over it, so I sprayed some casts to other visible fish farther out in the river, but they were hovering beneath the surface and focused on emergers or nymphs in the underwater drift. As this was transpiring, Steve relinquished his pool to the upstream invaders, and he returned to the car to grab a quick lunch. I returned to the parking area to unlock the Santa Fe.  After lunch Steve pulled on a raincoat as a windbreaker, and then he crossed the bridge and approached the river from the opposite side. I was now upstream of the regular sipper, so I decided to attempt some downstream drifts. I persisted at this approach for twenty minutes, but the wily feeder avoided my fraud and continued to sip naturals in a carefree manner. This entire episode served to heighten my frustration, and I finally turned my attention to other large fish present in the area below the bridge. The distinct possibility of a skunking flooded my thoughts.

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A Roll Cast to Avoid the Brush

As I pivoted toward the center of the river, I once again spied the large trout hovering over the large round sand bottom depression. Perhaps they were more open to a surface fly now that the baetis emergence appeared to be in a more advanced state. I cast across and above these fish numerous times and attempted to offset wind drag with exaggerated mends and upstream reaches, but I never observed the slightest evidence that the fish looked at my surface fly. I checked off another blunted strategy and turned my attention once again to the twenty foot section of run and riffle directly below the bridge.

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Number One in the Net

As I paused to consider my approach, a brown trout rose and created a popping sound in the slow shelf pool no more that five feet above me. I watched it return to its feeding position, and then I dropped a cast upstream. The fly drifted no more than six inches, and the targeted brown trout bolted to the surface and inhaled the size 20 CDC BWO. What a thrill to suddenly tempt a trout with my dry fly! I lifted the rod tip and felt a deep bend, as I was connected to a healthy fourteen inch brown. I registered my first fish of the day and unleashed some trash talk to the scoffing wind, as it taunted me to overcome its adversity again.

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Just a Beauty

After releasing the prize first catch, I paused and once again surveyed the run. I thought I saw a dark shadow along the fast current seam fifteen feet above me, so I overpowered some forward casts to combat the head wind, and on the third such effort, the fly landed and was immediately engulfed by a fish. Was this a dream? This fish launched from the river and revealed itself to be a corpulent rainbow trout, and it executed the characteristic rapid runs and streaks that one would expect from the rainbow species. I expertly played the agile fish from my reel and allowed it to strip line several times, until I was able to lift its nose over the lip of my net. The fat sixteen inch rainbow was the best fish of the day, and I was very pleased.

Once again I released the fish and returned my attention to the the bridge riffle. I remembered spooking a fish from the shallow water next to the bank on April 13, so I scanned that area. Sure enough there was a decent rainbow facing downtream, but it seemed to be in a comatose state and not an active feeder. The shallow area bordered a small tight eddy, and a slight movement caught my attention. I focused my eyes on the swirling water, and as I stared another fish materialized. In fact as I peered attentively at the eddy, a second brown emerged from the green and brown rocky stream bed. Both were brown trout, and each darted to the surface and snatched food as I looked on. The riseform on the surface was extremely subtle and easily overlooked if not for the subsurface movement.

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I was now prepared, so I began dropping short casts to the eddy. The swirl and sucking action prevented me from following my fly for more than a few seconds, but on the fifth cast I noticed that the larger of the two fish elevated and shifted slightly to the left, so I lifted my rod in case my fly was the object of the brown trout’s affection. It was. My rod tip throbbed, and the brown slab thrashed, and then after a minute or two of battling I elevated the fish and slid my net beneath its broad body. What a thrill to catch a third above average size trout on the South Platte River in spite of the wind tunnel that surrounded me!

Unfortunately the remainder of the day was not very rewarding. The fishermen above the bridge abandoned our sweet spot, so we returned to our favorite haunt from the previous week. I resumed my position on the opposite side of the river next to the lane that leads to the campground. I repeated my strategy from April 13 with dapping downstream casts at the top of the riffles and long downstream drifts with stack mends through the midsection and lower area. None of my ploys produced. Steve had some sporadic success with an emerger dropper, so I converted to a dry/dropper set up with a fat Albert and RS2 and soft hackle emerger, but this tactic met with zero success. Unlike April 13 I never observed steady risers, but only sporadic random surface feeding, and this probably explains my inability to repeat success with downstream dry fly drifts. The wind was sweeping the tiny BWO’s from the surface before fish could react, so they compensated by nabbing rising emergers below the surface.

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By 3:30 we were both chilled to the bone and beaten down by the nagging windstorm. Our arms dangled limply from our sides after forcing repeated casts into the unrelenting headwind. We agreed to quit so we could begin the long return trip. It was a tough day on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon, but I managed to land three gorgeous trout in the fourteen to sixteen inch range. Although the fish count was low, I remain quite proud of my ability to overcome the adversity of the four letter word, wind. I landed three quality fish, and for that I am very thankful.

Fish Landed: 3

South Boulder Creek – 04/18/2017

Time: 12:30PM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 04/18/2017 Photo Album

Although I fished all day on Monday and made plans for another full day on Wednesday, I could not resist a short local trip in light of the gorgeous spring weather. I checked the flows on the front range streams, and South Boulder Creek stood out as a nearby option with flows at 43 CFS. This level represented an increase from 35 CFS, but I did not view that increment to be a negative. In fact the low early season flows made fishing somewhat challenging during my last visit to the small tailwater below Gross Reservoir.

The air temperature was sixty degrees, when I pulled into the kayak parking lot, and by the time I ascended the steep trail at 3:30PM, the mercury increased to the upper sixties. Since it was noon when I arrived, I chomped my lunch in the car before I prepared to fish. Two vehicles arrived before me, and another joined the parking lot while I assembled my Orvis Access four weight.  I slid into my waders and then descended the steep trail to the creek and then hiked for twenty-five minutes, until I was a half mile below the pedestrian bridge that is part of the Walker Loop. The stream in this section tumbles through high canyon walls comprised of large jumbles of boulders. Normally I hike past this area, but I decided to give it a try on Tuesday, since my late start was not suited for a long hike.

After I scrambled down a boulder field, I tied a size 14 gray stimulator to my line, and I began to prospect upstream through some inviting deep pools. After fifteen minutes of unproductive casting, I experienced a refusal at the lip of a gorgeous deep pool. I was pleased to note a response to my single dry fly, but the snub was not what I hoped for. I decided to downsize, and I added a size 16 gray deer hair caddis on a dropper twelve inches behind the stimulator. The smaller trailing fly also generated a refusal, and I eventually tipped my hat to the discerning trout and moved on.

A long lull commenced where I failed to generate even a look or refusal, so I eventually converted to a dry/dropper approach. I knotted a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my 5X tippet, and then I added a beadhead hares ear. Another lengthy period of inaction ensued, until I finally hooked and landed a small rainbow trout that barely extended beyond my six inch minimum requirement. I was not very proud of my catch, but at least it preventing a skunking.

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Just a Jewel

As the lack of action unfolded; I spotted some small midges, an occasional small mayfly, and some diminutive stoneflies. Given the presence of small insects I decided to react by adding a size 20 salad spinner below the beadhead hares ear. This change proved to be the salvation of my day on Tuesday, as the salad spinner accounted for three additional trout, before I retired at 3 o’clock. The second was a very pretty ten inch rainbow with perfect black speckles. The third was another tiny rainbow with an array of vivid colors, and the last netted fish was the prize of the day.

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I was twenty yards below the pedestrian bridge, and I tossed my flies to the top of a current seam adjoining a nice long run. Just as the Chernobyl approached a log at the downstream border of the pool, I raised the rod tip to avoid entanglement, and this action prompted a feisty rainbow to attack the salad spinner. I slid the thirteen inch jewel into my net and marveled at the wide scarlet stripe that adorned both sides of the fish. This fish vindicated my three hour visit to South Boulder creek, and I was elated by the late surprise.

I continued upstream beyond the bridge a bit, but I was tired and weary of climbing over rocks with minimal reward for my efforts. I reeled up my flies and hooked them to the bottom guide and made the long trek back to the parking lot. Four fish in three hours was a bit sub par, but I only invested a one hour drive, and I enjoyed a beautiful spring afternoon, so it was a positive experience. The brightly colored rainbow was icing on the cake.

Fish Landed: 4

South Platte River – 04/17/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/17/2017 Photo Album

It was a beautiful day with the high temperature in the sixties and overcast skies for much of the day, although gusts of wind were a significant negative. The flows were up a bit at 90 cfs compared to my two previous trips to the South Platte, but the river remained nearly perfect for late April. I departed Denver at 7AM, and this enabled me to reach a parking space along the South Platte River by 9:30, and I was in the river fishing by 10AM.

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My Starting Point Along the Dirt Road

I walked down the road and entered at a point that was farther downstream than I ever previously fished in this segment of the Eleven Mile Canyon area. I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a beadhead hares ear nymph and an ultra zug bug, but I switched out the ultra zug bug for a mercury black beauty after twenty minutes with no action. In the early going I experienced a refusal to the yellow fat Albert and two momentary hookups, and I suspected the temporary connections were a function of the tiny size 22 midge larva.

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Zoomed a Bit Closer

Between 10:00 and 11:30 I covered a significant amount of water and managed to land five trout, four browns and one rainbow. All the morning fish were in the twelve inch size range, and I was pleased with the steady action. Halfway through the morning I swapped the mercury black beauty for a salad spinner, and the move paid off, when a brown and rainbow snatched the small midge imitation in a deep narrow slot, just before I returned to the car for lunch.

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More Rocks Equals More Pockets

After lunch I endured thirty minutes without any action, and I spotted a couple blue winged olives, so I removed the salad spinner and replaced it with a soft hackle emerger. Unfortunately the BWO emerger was not what the fish desired, so I reverted to the salad spinner, and that change rewarded me with some great action, as the fish count increased from five to eleven. I estimate that five of the eleven landed fish consumed the salad spinner, and the others crushed the beadhead hares ear nymph.

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Macro

One again I endured a lull, as I moved through several attractive pockets, so I snipped off the salad spinner and replaced it with a beadhead pheasant tail. The size 18 pheasant tail produced one nice brown trout from a deep seam, but for some reason the fat Albert suddenly became a more desired commodity. During the afternoon time frame four trout crushed the fat Albert, and all seemed to materialize from slow moving slack water along the bank. The hares ear continued to provide steady production, and between 2:30 and 4 the sky clouded up, and I noticed a few more small BWO’s in the air. During this overcast period I exchanged the pheasant tail for a size 22 RS2, and three brown trout attacked the small baetis nymph imitation, as it began to lift and swing at the end of long drifts.

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Yummy Deep Run Ahead

By 4PM I was quite weary, so I decided to call it a day. I landed twenty-three trout in 5.5 hours of fishing. The largest trout measured twelve inches, and only two of my catches were rainbows. Despite the relatively small size of the South Platte trout, I enjoyed the day, as I covered a large amount of stream mileage, and I moved quickly from pocket to pocket. The hares ear was my most productive fly; but the fat Albert, salad spinner and RS2 also earned their time on my line. After a couple hours on the river I learned that the most productive locations were long pockets and runs through moderate riffles. The fish seemed to relish places, where they could spread out in water with moderate depth and moderate current velocity. Large deep holes and slow moving pools did not produce, and I learned to skip over these sections of the river.

Fish Landed: 23

Clear Creek – 04/14/2017

Time: 12:00PM – 2:00PM

Location: Upstream of Tunnel 3 in Clear Creek Canyon

Clear Creek 04/14/2017 Photo Album

Friday was a testament to my belief that 80% of fishing success derives from choosing promising destinations. I normally review the stream flows and fly shop fishing reports before I settle on a location, and I followed that path on Friday. After two days on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on Tuesday and Thursday, I constrained my choices to local options. South Boulder Creek, the North Fork of the St. Vrain, and the Big Thompson represented strong choices, but I favored Clear Creek, since it required the shortest drive. For this reason I overlooked the spike in flows from 40 to 55 cfs within the past twenty-four hours. I focused on the absolute value of 55, as that is a fairly ideal level, and I made the mistake of discounting the recent change.

I arrived at the pullout along US 6 by 11:45AM, and after a quick bite to eat I eased into my waders and rigged my Orvis Access four weight rod. The creek was relatively murky, but I was encouraged by the decent visibility along the bank, where rocks and gravel on the stream bed were easily discernible. The air temperature on the other hand was quite pleasant, as the reading hovered near the seventy degree mark.

I began my quest for Clear Creek trout with a size 8 Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear nymph, and I embarked on my usual process of prospecting the deep pockets and runs along the right bank. For the next hour I covered quite a bit of the creek with only a refusal to the Chernobyl and then another snub to a size 12 olive stimulator. In fact these were the only fish I observed during the first hour, and this is quite unusual, since I normally spot small brown trout tucked among the rocks along the edge of the stream.

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I Managed a Temporary Hookup in the Foam

I considered quitting, but I decided to give the day one more solid effort, so I swapped the stimulator for a yellow fat Albert and retained the beadhead hares ear and then added an ultra zug bug. This lineup provided more depth in case my nymph was riding over the fish in the water column. The change did not seem to impact my fly fishing fortunes, until finally a small brown trout emerged from the tinted flow and nipped the size 8 fat Albert. I responded with a soft hook set and just as I lifted the nine inch brown from the water, it flipped and slid off the hook. This action accounted for my only catch on the day, and I never enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing it nestled in my net.

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The sudden attention given to the fat Albert allowed my optimism to surge, and I refocused my efforts for the remaining thirty minutes, but once again I fell into casting practice mode. At two o’clock I advanced to a state of total boredom and decided to cut my losses and return home. I theorized that the spike in flows resulted from the warm temperatures and a surge in run off, and the fish did not have an opportunity to adjust to the new conditions. After two days of spectacular dry fly fishing on the South Platte River I was too stubborn to resort to fishing nymphs in Clear Creek with a strike indicator, and I chose to save my valuable fishing time for a destination more conducive to my preferred approach.

Fish Landed: 1

South Platte River – 04/13/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 04/13/2017 Photo Album

Based on my many years of fly fishing, I can attest to the fact that history rarely repeats itself, but Thursday was mostly an exception to that rule. I made plans to return to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on April 13 with my North Platte River fishing companion Steve. We met at 8AM at his home in Lone Tree, and after a two hour and fifteen minute drive to the tailwater below Eleven Mile Dam, we arrived at a small parking lot next to the river.

One major deviation from my experience on Tuesday aside from a different fishing buddy, was our location, since we drove the length of the canyon, until we were two hundred yards below the dam. As was the case on Tuesday the flows remained at 80 CFS; however, the sky was clear blue for the entire day, and the high temperature peaked in the upper sixties.

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Starting Point Below the Bridge

I assembled my Sage four weight and then ambled to the bank just downstream of the bridge, while Steve chose to explore the river on the upstream side. I hesitate to call the structure a bridge, since it was an earthen embankment with four large culverts carrying the cold volume of water under the road. The upper river where we fished on Thursday was wider and shallower than the stretch that Trevor and I covered on Tuesday. Before I chose my approach, I paused and observed the deep run and pool in front of me. Immediately I spotted five or six fish in the two depressions downstream from the riffle and run, where the river poured through the pipes.

The low clear water dictated that I avoid a strike indicator and split shot, and I also concluded that the plunk of my revered size 8 fat Albert would create too much disturbance. I pulled a size 12 olive stimulator from my fly box and knotted it to my line along with a size 20 soft hackle emerger and a mercury black beauty. I sprayed casts over the depression near my position and then covered another one directly across, but the large trout continued to hug the stream bed, as they were unimpressed with my three fly offering. I exchanged the black beauty for a size 20 RS2, but that failed to reverse my fortunes.

After twenty minutes of futile casting I advanced to the nice deep runs just below the bridge. The water was faster in this area, and I could observe some decent fish hovering in the depths next to the heavier current. I executed an abundant quantity of drifts over the elusive trout before me, but once again the fish treated my flies like inert flotsam. How could I interest these fish in my offerings? I conjectured that my flies were not getting deep enough given the position of the trout on the stream bottom, so I swapped the RS2 for a heavier beadhead hares ear nymph. My minor attempt at change was also soundly rejected. During this entire episode I witnessed only one or two surface rises, and I concluded that any potential baetis hatch was not yet in progress. I was puzzled however by the lack of interest in my blue winged olive nymph imitations, since they generally provide some action in the hours before an emergence.

I glanced at my watch and noted it was 11:30, so I decided to check out Steve’s results on the west side of the bridge. He reported that he landed one nice brown trout on a blue winged olive emerger. The water on the upstream side of the bridge was slower, and a series of quasi rock dams created some deeper troughs in the middle. Steve was positioned below the widest concentration of rock structures, and once again I could see an abundance of nice fish spread throughout the area. As I observed and chatted with Steve, several active fish slowly rose to the surface and sipped a tiny morsel of food from the film. Several fishermen were above Steve, and we were unwilling to abandon his location, so we decided to eat lunch in shifts. I took the first time slot and returned to the car and ate my lunch quickly, while I sat next to the river where I fished during the morning.

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Another Fisherman in Some Nice Water Above Us

When I returned, I noticed another fishermen between Steve and the bridge, so I claimed the position vacated by Steve, and he retreated to the car to grab a quick bite. During Steve’s absence I removed the three fly dry/dropper arrangement and tied a size 18 CDC blue winged olive to my line. Based on my experience on Tuesday I tied five new size 18’s and three new 20’s in anticipation of the Thursday return to Eleven Mile Canyon, and one of the 18’s found a home on my line. I began making reach casts across the current lanes, and then allowed the flies to drift downstream. These drifts floated my fly over numerous prospects, but the only response was a pair of refusals by a small brown trout eight feet below me.

Steve returned quickly, and I allowed him to reclaim his spot. I actually preferred fishing from the opposite side, where I could employ long downstream drifts similar to my approach on Tuesday, so I announced my intention to Steve and then crossed the bridge and walked along the dirt road that led to a campground. The northwest side of the river would become my home for the remaining 2.5 hours of fishing on April 13. From my vantage point at the top of the riffles I could see an abundant quantity of sizable fish spread throughout the deep riffles, the downstream pool, and the smooth flats next to the bank.

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In the Water

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Pleased With This Catch

The hatch intensified a bit by 12:30, but it never achieved the intensity of Tuesday, nor did it last as long. The clear blue sky, warmer temperatures and intermittent wind probably explain the inferior baetis hatch, but there was enough mayfly activity to interest the residents of the South Platte River. The fly fishing was more challenging than Tuesday, but I managed to land ten fish over the course of the afternoon. All the netted fish responded to my newly tied CDC BWO, as seven sipped the size 18, and the last three fell for the size 20. More impressive than the number of fish was the size and variety. My net felt the weight of two trout in the fifteen inch range with most of the remainder occupying the 12 – 14 inch slot. I was quite pleased to land two absolutely magnificent cutthroat trout that displayed a deep copper-gold body color and vivid fine spots. A fourteen inch cutbow exhibited the stripe of a rainbow and the prototypical slash of a cutthroat. Three rainbows were among my fish count, and four brown trout rounded out the day. One of the rainbows and a cutthroat stretched the measuring tape to fifteen inches.

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All my landed fish responded to a downstream presentation. I stood at the very top of the riffles above the cluster of large rocks, and I made casts directly downstream. I checked my cast high and allowed a substantial amount of slack fly line to pile in the current, and then I executed stack mends and wiggled my rod tip to allow a long drift. I recall several cases where a fish bulged and inhaled my fly fifty to seventy feet below me. Needless to say the surge of excitement that resulted from landing sizable fish on dry flies presented with long downstream drifts was exhilarating.

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Stretched Out

Meanwhile nearly all of Steve’s success resulted from upstream casts to the faster water with a three fly set up that included two dries and an emerger. All of Steve’s landed fish crushed the emerger, and this made me puzzle over this circumstance. Perhaps the fish in the fast runs and riffles were keyed on emergers, while the fish in the slower areas spread out and sipped duns? I vowed to test this theory in a future visit.

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A Better Grip

In summary it was another banner dry fly day on the South Platte River. I landed ten gorgeous cold water fish, and all sipped a CDC BWO that was presented on a downstream drift. The day was not total perfection, as I experienced a large number of surface refusals and underwater snubs, and my arm ached from the huge quantity of casts, but the superior size and variety of fish made the trip worthwhile. Prime time in Colorado is commencing.

Fish Landed: 10

 

South Platte River – 04/11/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Elevenmile Canyon

South Platte River 04/11/2017 Photo Album

Everything was set. The flows were nearly ideal at 80 cfs, and the high temperature was projected to reach the low fifties. I contacted my new friend @rockymtnangler, and he agreed to join me for a day in Eleven Mile Canyon on the South Platte River. The fly shop web sites indicated that we could expect midge hatches in the morning and blue winged olives in the afternoon.

Since @rockymtnangler (also known as Trevor) is the proud owner of a rod vault, he performed the driving duties, and I assembled my Sage four weight and slid it into one of his empty rod vault tubes, when he arrived to pick me up at 7:30AM. We departed Stapleton, and after negotiating some relatively heavy rush hour traffic in Denver, we arrived at the special regulation water of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon by 10AM.

I reaped the benefit of the rod vault when we arrived, and after I climbed into my waders, I was prepared to attack the beautiful crystal clear flows below the dirt road where we parked. Trevor and I carefully negotiated a steep path down a rocky bank next to Trevor’s car, and we found ourselves on the water ready to fish by 10:30. I walked downstream a bit to a nice pool, while Trevor took a position next to a gorgeous deep pool directly below the car.

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End of the Drift

In the first 1.5 hours Trevor and I each landed two decent trout. My first fish was a thirteen inch brown trout that snatched the beadhead hares ear in a riffle of moderate depth above a deep slow moving pool. Trevor netted a fine rainbow concurrent with my initial brown, and we celebrated our “double”. After photographing and releasing the brown, I carefully angled across the river and prospected a couple marginal pockets with the fat Albert trailing a beadhead hares ear and mercury black beauty. I exchanged a RS2 for the black beauty after an unproductive half hour trial period.

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Very Nice Beginning

The second pocket was noteworthy for its mediocre appearance, but I tossed a couple casts to the top, and on the third drift I was shocked when a pulsing weight bent my rod tip, as I lifted to continue my upstream progress. The cause of my vibrating rod was a welcome twelve inch brown trout that displayed the tiny black beauty in the corner of its mouth.

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Looking for Rises

I continued my progress to the opposite bank and moved to a position opposite Trevor in the gorgeous riffle, run and pool, where he initially staked out a spot. I was certain that the riffles of moderate depth at the top of the run would deliver a fish before lunch, but my expectations were misplaced. Trevor moved downstream toward the slower moving tail of the pool, and he reported a series of sporadic rises in the smooth deep area where the center current fanned out into a pool. I offered some drifts from my side of the river, but the pod of fish in the deepest section disregarded my flies. I observed quite a few nice fish below me, so I clipped off the three fly set up and converted to a single size 22 CDC BWO. In the remaining time before I climbed to the car to obtain my lunch, I managed to generate a few frustrating refusals, but mostly futile casts.

While I was stuffing my backpack with my lunch as well as Trevor’s, I heard him shout from the edge of the river below. I quickly pulled on my light down coat, as I was chilled while standing waist deep in the cold tailwater, and then I slowly slid down the angled gravel path and joined Trevor. Trevor was quite excited and announced that the hatch advanced in intensity, and the length of the pool was littered with rising fish. I decided to delay lunch and quickly crossed at the tail of the pool and claimed a position on the western bank. Trevor informed me that five or six fish were rising in the moderate riffles in front of me, but the glare of the sun made following my tiny size 22 CDC BWO very difficult. I shifted my focus to trout rising along the center current seam, but once again the tiny mayfly imitation was mostly ignored, with a couple refusals in the mix to heighten my frustration.

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Dave Is Pleased

I queried Trevor, and he reported that the baetis where quite large and probably a size 16 or 18. This information prompted me to swap the size 22 for a size 18 with a fairly tall and bulky CDC wing. This move paid off, and I began to connect with South Platte River trout. Between 12:30 and 3:00 I landed ten additional trout, with three showing off the buttery yellow color that distinguishes a brown trout. Rainbow trout were the prevalent species, as seven striped beauties spent time in my net. All the afternoon fish sipped the size 18 CDC BWO, as the baetis adults emerged in waves over the 2.5 hour period. The heaviest emergence periods seemed to coincide with long periods of cloud cover. As the hatch intensified, the regularity of the rises increased, and my confidence surged. If I focused on a steady riser and made accurate downstream drifts, I could bank on a sipping rise, and in many cases I was rewarded. The rainbows measured in the twelve to fourteen inch range, and they did not slide into my net without a spirited tussle.

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One of My Better Brown Trout

Trevor meanwhile was enjoying similar luck on his side of the river, as he tossed an assortment of size 16 and 18 flies such as a parachute adams and a CDC and deer hair comparadun. By 2PM we endured an extended lull, so I migrated downstream to the smaller pool, where I initiated my fishing day in the morning. I paused on the west bank and observed the entry riffle and deep pool for three minutes. As expected I spotted a nice active fish, as it hovered just below the surface and revealed sipping rises from time to time. I waded across a shallow intervening run and positioned myself five yards upstream of the sighted fish, and twenty-five feet across.

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Gorgeous Colors

I stripped out a decent amount of line, and I fired a cast, so that it fluttered down ten feet above my targeted stream dweller. I was able to see my small fly on the surface, and I patiently waited, as the current carried the small mayfly downstream. When the small lint-like speck bobbed a few inches above the targeted fish, it slid six inches to the side and sipped the fraud. I could barely contain my excitement, as I gently lifted my rod tip and found myself connected to a spirited streaking rainbow trout. The annoyed feeder streaked back and forth a few times and gathered up my slack fly line. I shifted from stripping to playing the trout off the reel, and the watery foe made one more streaking dash that stripped additional line from the reel. After the last rush upstream I gained the upper hand and guided the colorful male into my net. Trevor waded into a position upstream of where I kneeled to release my prize, and he snapped some timely photos. Trevor was impressed with the hooked jaw of the vanquished rainbow in my net.

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The Release

Eventually the lower pool remained quiet, so we returned to our previous positions in the large pool that occupied our efforts for most of the afternoon. Another wave of dense BWO emergence erupted during the last thirty minutes, and I managed to land number ten from the moderate riffle section at the top. This segment of the pool thwarted me for most of the day, but it finally delivered, when I executed downstream casts from the shallow riffles directly above.

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Mauled CDC BWO Accounted for Ten Trout on Tuesday

Trevor suggested that we quit at 2:40, so we could leave with the memories of our last outstanding fish landed, but the pool was alive with rising fish. I waded downstream a bit and managed to land two more thirteen inch rainbow trout on downstream drifts along the edge of the center current seam. At three o’clock we decided to quit in order to get a jump on the long return drive; however, the pool remained alive with regular risers.

What a day! It has been quite awhile since I experienced a day, when I landed double digit trout on a dry fly. The duration of the blue winged olive hatch was impressive. I fought off the urge to switch to a dry/dropper approach with an RS2 and soft hackle emerger, and I was pleased with the results. Fishing a single dry fly to spotted rises is really the essence of fly fishing, and that approach defined my success on April 11. Trevor registered an equally enjoyable day on his maiden visit to Eleven Mile Canyon, and he repeatedly expressed his desire to return. He characterized Tuesday as his best ever day of stream fishing. Spring fly fishing in Colorado is heating up, and I am excited by that prospect.

Fish Landed: 12

Arkansas River – 04/07/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Pinnacle Rock

Arkansas River 04/07/2017 Photo Album

Friday was a success on many fronts, but I harbor some concerns about the health of the Arkansas River in lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Despite the reports on the Royal Gorge Angler web site touting the heavy presence of the blue winged olive life cycle, I failed to witness a single BWO in any stage of its life cycle while fishing for four hours in the vicinity of Pinnacle Rock. I was acutely aware however of dense piles of gray mucky sludge along much of the river bank. The Hayden Pass fire in 2016 impacted the ecosystem south of Coaldale, and subsequent storms washed ash and sludge into the Arkansas River. I am not an expert on stream biology and the impact of wildfires, but I want to believe that the absence of BWO’s is attributable to weather or water temperatures, and not to the Hayden Pass wildfire.

With high temperatures projected to reach the upper sixties in Canon City, Jane decided to join me for a trip to the eastern section of Bighorn Sheep Canyon above Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River. We departed Denver by 8AM and arrived at the Pinnacle Rock access area by 10:40. I chose Pinnacle Rock since I knew it contained bathrooms, and I speculated it would offer a nice haven for Jane, while I fished in the nearby river. Pinnacle Rock is located .5 mile below a section of the Arkansas River that I hold in high regard, where the flow splits into four or five channels. These separate braids transform a large intimidating river into smaller medium sized creeks, and this makes reading the water a much more manageable undertaking.

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Trough Next to the Sticks Was the Source of Two Brown Trout

I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five weight rod and ambled across the parking lot to the downstream border, where I found a nice wide path that led to the river. I paused to assess the structure, and then I configured my line with a strike indicator, split shot, Arkansas rubberlegs, and a beadhead hares ear. A narrow deep trough existed within a few feet of the bank upstream from my position, so I lobbed the nymphs toward the midsection and allowed the indicator to slowly drift, until it was in front of me. I repeated this cycle several more times, and on the fifth drift as I lifted the nymphs to make another cast, I felt a sharp tug and accelerated my movement into a hook set. My reaction provoked a sudden response from a finned creature, and a spirited battle ensued, before I gently lifted a fourteen inch brown trout over the lip of my net. What a surprise to land what would turn out to be the largest fish of the day within the first five minutes.

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First and Best Fish of the Day

Nearly as amazing was the next sequence of events. After I photographed and released the energetic brown trout, I moved up along the bank a bit, and tossed a cast to the top of the run just behind an exposed rock. The flies barely hit the water when the indicator raced upstream toward two o’clock, and again I executed a sharp sweep of my rod tip to the right. I entered a tussle with a wild brown trout, and this version ended up in my net as well. I estimated the length to be thirteen inches, as I carefully removed the Arkansas rubberleg and nudged it back into the ice cold current.

I wish I could announce to my readers that the first fifteen minutes of fishing were representative of the remainder of my day, but that was not the case. In the next 3.5 hours I added six additional trout to the fish count. Four were decent fish in the twelve to thirteen inch size range, and the other two measured seven to nine inches long. I worked extremely hard for these prizes, as one might conclude from the slow catch rate. The first two fish described earlier represented my only catches in the morning, and at noon I climbed the bank and joined Jane at a picnic table near the car. The spot was protected from the wind and benefited from the direct rays of the sun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time with my lovely wife, while I basked in the warmth.

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Near Our Lunch Spot

After lunch I prospected the water around a tiny island just above our parking space, but the exploratory session proved fruitless. I returned to the picnic area and persuaded Jane to drive me to the large bend in US 50, where I planned to access my beloved multi-braid section of the river, while Jane returned to the comfort of the Pinnacle Rock picnic area. I crossed the highway and hiked a short distance along the shoulder, before I dropped down a steep bank. By now I lost faith in the Arkansas rubberlegs, so I clipped it off and realigned my offerings with a beadhead hares ear on top followed by an emerald caddis pupa and then a soft hackle emerger. I was hedging against the likelihood that caddis or blue winged olives might be present in the drift.

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Surprise Rainbow Trout Was a Beauty

I covered a nice stretch of moderate riffles next to the highway with no results, so I questioned whether I needed a larger fly to attract attention in the somewhat cloudy water. I removed the hares ear nymph and replaced it with a size 12 20 incher, and the lineup of the 20 incher, emerald caddis, and soft hackle emerger remained on my line for the remainder of the afternoon. Before abandoning the segment across from my drop off point, I tossed the three flies upstream and tight to the bank. As the nymphs tumbled toward a deep chute, I felt a tug and reacted with a lift. Instantly a silver pink-sided torpedo rocketed across the river and then dashed downstream in the riffles below me. I allowed line to spin from my reel, until the fish paused, and then I gradually regained line and lifted the head of a thirteen inch rainbow trout out of the water and into my net. This fan of the 20 incher would be my only rainbow on the day, but it was a hard fighting foe, and I was pleased to guide it into my net.

I decided to move to the north channel, as it represents my favorite section of the braided area. I carefully crossed the two intervening branches, and then I drifted my nymphs through some nice moderate riffles in the channel just above the confluence with the north braid. This slight detour in my route yielded a twelve inch brown trout that crushed the emerald caddis pupa, as it began to swing at the end of the drift.

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My Favorite Branch

Finally I reached the point where the north channel dumped its volume into the main river, and during the remainder of the afternoon I methodically worked my way upstream to a point forty yards below where the flow split off from the main stem. I prospected with the three nymph system and added four additional trout to my fish tally. Two of the fish were on the small side, but the other two were very decent brown trout that rewarded me for my persistence.

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For the most part moderate current and moderate depth seemed to describe the productive trout yielding destinations on Friday. Normally I edge fish the deep pockets of the Arkansas River and land numerous brown trout that relish the cover provided by the large protective rocks, but on this occasion that type of structure was not productive.

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Return to Home

Readers of this blog may note that I often stumble on to a fly that is preferred above all others by the trout, but that was not the case on April 7. I landed one brown on a beadhead hares ear, one on an Arkansas rubberlegs, one on a soft hackle emerger, two on the emerald caddis pupa, and three fish that clobbered the 20 incher. The fish definitely seemed to validate my tactic of using the 20 incher to attract attention.

Overall it was a decent day. The weather was perfect and the flows were reasonable although a bit murky, but edge visibility was quite good. I managed to land eight trout during four hours of fishing, and this represents an average catch rate, however, six of the eight were in the twelve to fourteen inch size range, and that was noteworthy. I enjoyed the companionship of my wife, Jane, during the drive to and from the river, and we stopped at the Smiling Toad in Colorado Springs for a craft beverage on the way home. Spring is upon us, and I look forward to more fishing adventures.

Fish Landed: 8

South Boulder Creek – 04/06/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek – 04/06/2017 Photo Album

I previously discussed the importance keeping expectations low when embarking on a fishing trip, but on Thursday April 6 I was a victim of not adhering to my own advice. I enjoyed a spectacular day on South Boulder Creek on March 22 when flows were 21 CFS, so imagine my reaction, when I checked the DWR web site and noted that the current volume remained at a slightly below ideal 30 CFS. Of course the weather forecast suggested that the high temperature in the canyon would likely peak in the low fifties, but with the proper attire I knew that it would be tolerable. When I compiled all the factors; tolerable weather, flows slightly above my previous visit, and a fabulous day on March 22; how could I not anticipate another fine day on South Boulder Creek?

I arrived at the upper parking lot below Gross Reservoir by 9AM, and after completing the task of climbing into my waders I assembled my Loomis five weight and set out on the trail that descends the steep hill to the stream. My car was the sole occupant of the parking lot, and I was pleased to know that I owned the entire length of stream miles below Gross Reservoir. The temperature was forty-one degrees when I departed, but I knew I would quickly generate excessive body heat, so I wrapped my light down parka around my waist under my waders. In a concession to the cool temperatures I topped my head with my New Zealand hat displaying ear flaps.

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Lots of Snow on the Path Along South Boulder Creek

I was shocked to discover the amount of accumulated snow along the creek, which I estimated to be twelve inches, and this made hiking in the untracked snow extra challenging. Given the lack of competing fishermen and the difficulty of tromping through the deep heavy snow, I stopped after a forty minute hike and began my quest for trout in a gorgeous wide pool. I tied a yellow fat Albert to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a size 18 salad spinner. I persisted with this configuration, until I stopped for lunch at 11:45, and I landed five small trout. The first two were brown trout, and the next three included two rainbows and one brown. Two of my early catches nipped the salad spinner, and the other three grabbed the beadhead hares ear.

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Just before lunch I snapped off the hares ear and an ultra zug bug that replaced the unraveling salad spinner. Unbeknownst to me a large arching evergreen branch moved into the line of my backcast and grabbed my flies, so I used this misfortune as an opportunity to pause for lunch and then to make a change. I switched to a gray stimulator and trailed a RS2 and then a soft hackle emerger. A very attractive pool was next to my lunch spot, and I spotted five or six decent fish cruising the deep run and slow moving shelf pool. The two fish in the slow water slowly cruised about the pool and generated subtle sipping rises from time to time.

I attempted to dupe several trout in the tail of the run with a gray size 14 stimulator that trailed a beadhead hares ear and beadhead RS2, but the visible fish showed no signs of interest. I made futile casts to the taunting fish for quite a while but observed no reaction, so I shifted my attention to the two brown trout in the shallow slow shelf pool. After a couple unproductive casts, I decided to adjust, and I clipped off the two nymphs and added a size 20 CDC BWO behind the stimulator. I made some long casts to the top of the pool and allowed the tandem dry fly offering to drift twenty-five feet, so that both flies passed over the target trout. Nothing. What could they be eating?

Finally in a fit of frustration I shot a cast to the very top of the pool, and as the flies slowly floated a few feet, a small brown tipped up and sucked in the CDC BWO. I quickly executed a lift and felt weight on my rod, but then the tension released, and I accepted the fate of a long distance release.

Between lunch and 2:30 I accelerated my pace and covered a huge amount of water. For the most part I prospected with  a size 12 olive stimulator with a beadhead hares ear dropper and a mercury black beauty. The black beauty accounted for one additional fish, and the hares ear was favored by two to bring my count for the day to eight.

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Best Fish

On Thursday I landed four brown trout and four rainbows, and the largest fish to find my net was a nine inch brown trout. In short it was a frustrating day. In three or four extremely enticing deep runs and pools I observed an abundance of fish including many that surely surpassed the size of my nine inch brown. Unfortunately these fish shunned my offerings. I suspect I dwelled too long on pods of unresponsive fish, but other approaches were not providing action, so it was hard to abandon a concentration of visible fish.

30 CFS is relatively low, and the fish demonstrated an above average wariness. The melting snow along the creek probably kept the water temperature below the normal feeding range, and other than some midges, I did not observe any significant source of food. Eight fish in three hours is respectable, but the size was below average, and I covered a large amount of stream mileage to achieve mediocre results. Perhaps a warming trend will increase the metabolism of the South Boulder Creek trout, before I visit the nearby stream again.

Fish Landed: 8

Light Gray Comparadun – 04/04/2017

Light Gray Comparadun 04/04/2017 Photo Album

Success with the light gray comparadun predates the cinnamon version. Check out my 12/27/2015 post for more information regarding my infatuation with this fly and my migration to the cinnamon comparadun. Despite a recent shift toward the cinnamon variety, I continue to encounter situations where the light gray no hackle dry fly is preferred by Rocky Mountain trout. Scenarios that dictate light gray also seem to coincide with a requirement for the larger size 16.

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Love the Background Texture

My inventory of gray comparaduns revealed that I was quite well stocked in size 16, and seventeen size 18’s remained in my fly bins. In order to round off the size 18 count, I tied three additional no hackles. I remain optimistic that I will encounter more pale morning dun hatch matching situations in 2017, and I feel adequately prepared with multiple body colors and sizes.

Cinnamon Comparadun – 04/04/2017

Cinnamon Comparadun 04/04/2017 Photo Album

My post of 12/23/2015 summarizes my history with this fly, and another summer of experience solidified it as a necessary component of my fly fishing arsenal. For some reason I did not encounter as many pale morning dun hatches as was the case in previous years, but a day on the Yampa River on June 23 justified my devotion to size 18 cinnamon comparaduns.

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Delicate

When I counted my carry over supply of cinnamon pale morning dun imitations, I discovered that I retained an adequate supply of size 18’s; however, I only possessed three of the size 16 variety. Size 18 seems to be the prevalent size on the streams that I frequent, but I decided to produce an additional seven in the larger size to avoid getting caught short in case I meet a brood of larger mayflies.