South Boulder Creek – 04/01/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 04/01/2020 Photo Album

After a productive day on Tuesday on the Arkansas River, I noted that the weather forecast for Denver for Wednesday projected highs in the upper 60’s. Could my body and arm endure back to back days of fishing early in the 2020 season? There was only one way to find out. I made a trip to the South Boulder Creek for a day of fly fishing below Gross Reservoir.

The DWR graph indicated that flows were around 16 CFS, and I knew from experience that 16 CFS is low but amenable to decent fishing. When I arrived at the kayak parking lot, six vehicles preceded me, and I concluded that other Colorado fishermen were taking advantage of a nice day while social distancing. The dashboard temperature was 51 degrees, as I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and wrapped my light down North Face coat around my waste under my waders. I was hopeful that the sun would dominate and warm the air temperature in the canyon, but my down coat was a safety net in case that scenario did not unfold.

I hiked a good distance from the trailhead and passed four anglers along the way. Assuming each car contained one angler, I accounted for four of six, but when I reached one of my favorite pools, I jumped in knowing that a huge amount of open water was above me. As expected, the flows were on the low side, but the large pool in front of me was very attractive (check the photo album link for a video of the pool). I assessed the situation and decided to begin with a single dry fly. Splashing a large foam attractor and beadhead nymph was probably not an effective strategy in the low clear flows on April 1.

Looking Ahead

Surprisingly as I scanned the surface of the pool from left to right, I spotted a pair of subtle rises along the center current line. In response to this observation I gazed at the surface of the creek and the air space above, but I was unable to determine an obvious food source. A periodic breeze rustled the trees, so I opted to tie a size 18 parachute black ant to my line. The choice was not totally off base, as two separate trout rose to inspect the terrestrial, but each turned away at the last instant. Clearly the fish were tuned into surface food, but my ant was not on their menu.

I pondered the situation and considered my next move, and concurrently the number of feeding fish increased. I was standing below the tail of the pool near the left bank, and I could observe several quite nice trout eagerly looking toward the surface for a morning snack. I suspected that the object of their desire was midges, but I was unable to spot any to evaluate the size or color, so I gambled on my tried and true size 24 CDC BWO. In similar situations in the past the minuscule dry fly served me well in a variety of tiny insect hatch scenarios.

CDC Olive in Lip

I searched in my box for the smallest version and quickly knotted it to my 5X tippet. I began tossing casts directly upstream and angled to the right and drifted the small morsel through the pool with quite a few actively feeding trout. Between 11AM and noon I managed to land four trout on the CDC olive, so my choice was somewhat verified. I say somewhat, because I probably made twenty casts for each landed fish, and the one hour period included several temporary connections and a significant quantity of refusals. I never determined what caused the random takes in the face of so many rejections.

At noon I paused once again to assess my path forward. I was pleased with four trout in one hour of fishing, but I sensed that I could be doing better. The frequency of rises escalated even more, yet my fly was being ignored by some very aggressive feeders along the center current seam. The visible trout, that were hunkered down at the tail, were totally ignoring the drifts. I decided to experiment with some alternative offerings. Before doing so, however, I stretched my mesh over the mouth of the net and seined the water for a minute. The only thing that appeared was an empty midge larva that was a bit over 1/4 inch long. I also noticed a solitary spent wing black adult midge in the surface film, so I began cycling through my supply of tiny midge adults. My first alternative fly was a size 24 griffith’s gnat, and it generated three close looks, but the fish did not close their mouths. Next I experimented with a trico spinner with poly wings and a trico with CDC wings. These flies never even attracted inspections from the greedily feeding pool residents. I found one of my FP emergers, a gray bodied midge emerger that I tied for the Frying Pan river, and it was likewise ignored. In my small fly canister I spotted a tiny parachute adams and knotted that to my line. It produced a pair of last minute refusals, but again no success was forthcoming.

Again I considered the situation. The CDC BWO, while not a sure thing, was clearly my most successful pattern in the current circumstance. I returned to the blue winged olive theme, but tried a Klinkhammer BWO. One small brown near the tail of the pool recklessly charged to the surface and inhaled the Klinkhammer, and my optimism surged. Alas my elation was short lived, as the emerger blue winged olive floated unmolested through the upper sections of the pool for the next ten minutes.

Bringing It Closer

The pool was now alive with aggressively feeding trout, and I could see many in the upper section moving several feet to grab unidentifiable morsels from the surface. If a blue winged olive hatch were in progress, I surely would have noticed adults gliding into the atmosphere above the creek or floating among the currents. Despite this lack of evidence I returned to the fly that delivered some level of success, and I knotted another CDC olive to my tippet.

Although I was building quite an appetite, the active feeding in front of me precluded a lunch break. I began sending casts of the CDC olive to the various sections of the pool, and surprisingly I enjoyed sporadic favorable results. The fish count climbed from five to thirteen, and enough trout showed interest to vindicate the CDC olive as the fly to utilize. I estimate that 60% of the landed fish were rainbows and 40% were brown trout. The size of the fish was generally in the nine to twelve inch range. The rainbows were colored in spectacular fashion with brilliant crimson stripes and vivid spots and speckles throughout the length of their bodies.

Another Perfect Rainbow

By 1PM the pace of feeding slowed, and I decided to rest on the bank, warm my feet and eat my lunch. The shrinking number of rises directed my thoughts to the rest of the creek, and after lunch and an additional fifteen minutes in the pool, I decided to alter my approach. I removed the olive and replaced it with a size 14 Jake’s gulp beetle and then extended a section of 5X tippet from the bend and attached a soft hackle emerger with no bead. The beetle with an orange indicator would be my lead fly, and a pause or dip would indicate that the soft hackle had been intercepted.

Looking Down on You

I ran the beetle dry/dropper through the mid-section and upper portion of the pool, and two fish streaked toward the small wet fly but turned away at the last instant. I suspect the ploy might have worked with a smaller emerger, but I only had size 20’s in my possession. I finally decided to abandon the gorgeous pool to sample other South Boulder Creek areas. A nice small triangular riffle area existed just above the top of the pool, and the right border of the triangle reflected off a large exposed rock. I flicked the beetle to the top right area of the triangle, and as it slowly drifted toward the V next to the rock, a large mouth appeared and engulfed the foam terrestrial. Imagine my joy, when I netted a wild thirteen inch rainbow after a spirited battle.

Speckles Right Into Tail

Perhaps prospecting with the dry/dropper would extend my streak of outstanding fly fishing on April 1, but that scenario never materialized. I began to migrate upstream, but I vowed to be very selective about my target casting areas. It was readily apparent that the trout were concentrated in the deep pools perhaps as a result of the low flows. Only recently had the flows been raised to 16 CFS after a long span of trickles in the 7 – 10 CFS range. The beetle prompted two refusals in relatively marginal runs, and then I encountered another very attractive long smooth pool, and once again evidence of surface feeding appeared in the form of several rises near the center current seams. I lobbed the dry/dropper throughout the pool, but these trout were not interested. I stripped the flies in and quickly converted to the CDC olive once again, but my earlier magic could not be resurrected. In a desperation move I replaced the CDC tuft with a parachute black ant with a pink wing post, and a cast to the shelf to the right of the center current yielded an eleven inch brown trout that confidently moved six inches and sipped.

My watch told me that it was now approaching 3PM, so I skipped a long swath of unattractive water and approached an area that provided favorable results in previous visits to South Boulder Creek. I was along the left bank, when I encountered a small but deep pocket beneath an overhanging branch. This was not the type of water that produced earlier on April Fools’ Day, but I gazed into the deepest point, and spotted a fish. Would this trout respond to my ant in this overlooked and out of the way location? It was worth a try, so I flicked the ant slightly under the overhanging branch, and after a six inch drift, the shadow darted to the surface and consumed the black ant. I raised the rod and connected, and before I could feel smug about outwitting this hidden gem, it streaked toward the bank and under the branch and managed to free itself. I was sorely disappointed over my inability to conclude the highlight presentation, but I celebrated my effort nonetheless.

Glistening

I continued upstream to some attractive deep pockets without success, and then I encountered a pair of young men with small buckets and a shovel. Were they panning for gold in South Boulder Creek? If so, this was a first. I took this as a sign that my day of fishing was complete, and I made the hike back to the parking lot and stowed my gear. When I began my return drive, I checked the temperature, and it was at a comfortable sixty degrees.

Wednesday April 1 evolved into my best day of 2020. I landed fifteen trout, and fourteen came from the pool that I began in. Anyone who follows this blog will recognize what a deviation this is for this avid angler. My fly fishing mantra is move, and I generally allocate three to five casts to likely places and then move on. To remain in one pool for 2.5 hours is a testament to the length of the hatch and the number of pool residents. I estimate that at least fifty trout were present in what may be the best pool on the stream. I never found the perfect fly, but the CDC BWO was close enough to produce thirteen trout, albeit with an enormous number of casts. Another anomaly for April 1 was the fact that all fifteen trout resulted from a dry fly; a rarity for this early in the season. Hopefully when the weather improves I will have an opportunity to return.

Fish Landed: 15

Arkansas River – 03/31/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Salida

Arkansas River 03/31/2020 Photo Album

In response to the corona virus Colorado governor Jared Polis issued a stay at home order that took effect on March 26, but the the document allows residents “to travel to outdoor areas for hiking and exercise” while maintaining social distancing. I rarely get within six feet of anyone, when I undertake one of my fly fishing trips, so I decided to take the plunge with a drive to the Arkanasas River on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. I topped off the gas tank the day before, and this allowed me to make the three hundred mile round trip without stopping for fuel; and this action further avoided contact with human beings or shared public surfaces such as gas pumps.

March 31 also happened to be the last day that my 2019 fishing license was valid, so I made a mental note to purchase a new license online, when I returned. During my day on the river I saw three other anglers, but they remained on the opposite side of the river, and therefore, a safe distance away.

Another Promising Spot

When I arrived at my favorite pullout along U.S. 50, I assembled my Sage four weight and pulled on my light down parka, which I wore during my entire time on the river. It was 51 degrees, when I began at 11AM, and by the time I finished at 4PM, it was 60 degrees. The weather was partly sunny, but the wind was ridiculous. I spent the entire day casting upstream into a head wind; and miraculously my arm, wrist and elbow remained in one piece. The true test of my early season physical endurance will be the state of my body when I awake Wednesday morning.

Release Imminent

I waded across the river at my usual crossing point at the tail of the long pool next to where I parked, and when I attained the bank across from the highway, I rigged with a New Zealand strike indicator, split shot, 20 incher and sparkle wing RS2. Between 11AM and noon, when I broke for lunch, I landed two brown trout. The first nabbed the RS2, as it began to swing through a deep trough, and this brown was a decent twelve inch fish. The second brown trout was around nine inches, and it grabbed the 20 incher, as I began to lift in a relatively short pocket next to the bank.

This Deep Trough Produced the First Fish

After lunch I continued west along the north bank, and after a fairly lengthy dead period, I landed a long but skinny brown that nipped the sparkle wing RS2. During the unproductive time I added a second split shot to my line in an effort to get the flies deeper earlier in the drifts. It was around this time that I snagged on a stick in a deep swift run, and I was forced to snap off both flies in order to avoid bodily harm. The line broke just below the two split shots, so I used the reconfiguration process as an excuse to replace the 20 incher with an iron sally, but I retained a sparkle wing RS2 as my point fly.

Better Light

Over the last three hours I landed six additional brown trout to raise the cumulative total fish count for the day to nine. Among these catches was a fine fifteen inch fish that crushed the iron sally, as the flies drifted through a deep run next to a large exposed rock. Most of the remaining fish were healthy browns in the twelve inch range.

Outstanding

The wind during the morning hour was a nuisance, but the afternoon gusts were even more intense. At one point I netted a fish and waded to a rock along the north bank to photograph and release it. I removed my sun glove and rested it on a rock, while I handled the trout for a photo. I was about to press the camera button, when a strong gust blew my hat off my head, in spite of it being tethered to my coat. The hat landed crown side down, and I thought it was going to rest next to a rock, but it immediately began to curl into some faster current. I quickly deposited my disconnected net containing a trout in some shallow water and lunged downstream to snag my slowly escaping hat. Meanwhile, another blast of air lifted my sun glove into the water, but miraculously the net remained in place, and the trout was still nestled just below the rim. Eventually I placed my wet hat back on my head, snapped a few photos, and shoved my wet sun gloves in my fishing backpack. A simple photo and release session morphed into a battle against the elements.

Typical Productive Water

Between 2PM and 3PM I noticed tiny blue winged olive mayflies, but they were instantly swept into the air after spending a minuscule amount of time on the surface. I stuck with the RS2, and all of my afternoon landed fish nabbed the small baetis nymph imitation. In addition, I experienced three temporary connections. The most productive water during Tuesday was riffles and shelf pools that ran at a depth of three to four feet.

Pent Up Energy

At 3PM I approached a long smooth pool with a slow moving foam line eight feet from the north bank. I paused to observe, and a pair of rises caught my attention. This was a place where the slow current allowed fish to pick off stillborns and cripples; so I removed my indicator, split shots, and flies and converted to a single dry. My fly choice was a Klinkhammer BWO. Unfortunately by the time I made the conversion, the fish stopped rising. After observing for what seemed like an eternity, I launched some prospecting casts between wind gusts, but the small emerger was ignored.

Very Appealing Stretch

I advanced beyond the deep pool to a short section populated with deep pockets and riffles. This structure was not appropriate for the single dry, and I was averse to revisiting the deep nymphing method, so I quickly went to a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and BWO soft hackle emerger combination. For the last thirty minutes I prospected some nice deep runs among the plentiful exposed rocks, but the trout were either absent or unwilling to sample my offerings.

In spite of the irritating wind Tuesday was a productive day on the Arkansas River. The sparkle wing RS2 took center stage, and I enjoyed steady action, as I progressed .6 stream miles from my start. The size of the netted fish was average for the Arkansas River, but compared to Boulder Creek and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek they were a welcome upgrade. Because of the constant gusts it was difficult to assess the intensity of the blue winged olive hatch, but I suspect it was surprisingly strong. With seventy degree days in the forecast for early next week, I may undertake a return engagement.

Fish Landed: 9

Spin Doctor – 03/27/2020

Spin Doctor 03/27/202 Photo Album

I subscribe to at least six fly fishing magazines, and before I dispose of an issue, I flip through it and scan any fly patterns that stir my interest. With my fly boxes replenished with all my favorite patterns, I decided to review my scanned patterns for new additions to my ample supply of flies. Of course tying new flies is only a first step. I tend to revert to favorites, and it takes extra commitment to provide a fair test for a new pattern.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookDry fly hook
Thread6/0, color to match body
TailsMicrofibbets
Overbody1MM foam strip
AbdomenDubbing, color to match natural
WingsPoly or organza, white or clear
IndicatorSmall orange 1MM foam strip
ThoraxDubbing to match abdomen

If you follow this blog, you know that I am a big fan of Andrew Grillos, the king of foam. One of the fly patterns that I scanned with the intention of trying is called the spin doctor. This fly is essentially a conventional spinner; however, Andrew incorporated two sections of 1MM foam to provide improved buoyancy and visibility. Because I normally fish during the late morning and afternoon, I rarely encounter strong spinner falls. Mating mayflies and spinner fall events tend to occur in the early morning and evening hours in the west, since these times generally coincide with the calmest hours of the day.

A Different View

One notable interaction with pale morning dun spinners took place on the Conejos River during a July 2016 trip. For the full story check out my post of 07/20/2016, and scroll toward the end. On this day I was camping near the river, so after dinner and clean up I wandered to a nice nearby hole and began to fish. As luck would have it, a pale morning dun spinner fall commenced, but when I frantically searched my fly boxes, I was disappointed to learn, that I did not have spinner imitations of the appropriate body color. I subsequently remedied this oversight and stocked a variety of spinner flies, but at the time I shifted into improvise mode. I plucked one of my size 16 cinnamon comparaduns from my box, and I mashed down the deer hair wings, so they parted in the middle and spread out at ninety degree angles from the hook shank. If you read my post, you learned that the ploy paid dividends, and I enjoyed some fine action over the remainder of the evening.

Zoomed on the Bunch

Despite this improvisational success story, I realized that I had not tied spinner flies in quite a while, so I decided to create some spin doctor patterns in pale morning dun body colors. I crafted two with light amber, two with a light olive body, and two with the aforementioned cinnamon. I am anxious to give the spin doctors a test during the upcoming season.

Damsel Adult – 03/21/2020

Damsel Adult 03/21/2020 Photo Album

With the corona virus necessitating self quarantines in Colorado, and a snowstorm placing a freeze on outdoor activities, I decided to return to my vice. During the winter I cycled through all my mainstay flies, and I was now positioned to undertake some experimental patterns. But before I forged into the new and untested, I remembered a day on a Frost Creek pond, when I was frustrated with my inability to hook trout in spite of the presence of abundant quantities of large rising fish. Rising is really an understatement, as most of the trout were aggressively slashing at surface food. My post of 07/12/2019 describes the discouraging day on a Frost Creek pond.

The obvious food that the Frost Creek trout craved was adult damsel flies. Hundreds of delicate blue aquatic insects fluttered about and perched on the reeds along the shoreline. At the time I vowed to remedy this lack of matching imitations, and with the completion of my standard tying for the upcoming season, I prepared to tie damsel adults. I started with an on line search of damsel adult patterns, and I began with one of my favorite tiers, Charlie Craven. I was pleased to discover that Charlie had a parachute damsel adult on his web site, and I promptly decided to make this pattern my first prototype.

Angled

Unfortunately the recipe called for a braided damsel body material, blue 2mm foam, and blue dubbing. I possess drawers full of tying materials, but the color blue is totally absent. I made the drive to Charlie’s shop in Arvada, and Charlie himself help me find and purchase the necessary materials. He was out of blue damsel body braid, so I bought white and a blue marker and colored my own. This actually worked out quite nicely, when I finally sat down to make my first batch of adult damsels.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookSize 12 Tiemco 2457
ThreadGray 6/0 (blue prescribed by Craven)
AbdomenBraided damsel body
Thorax2 mm foam
WingsLarge grizzly hackle

A Batch of Five

The Craven parachute adult damsel is actually quite easy to tie, and I quickly produced five for my fly box for the 2020 season. In Charlie’s introduction to the tying steps, he mentioned the teneral stage of the adults. This refers to the stage of the adult when it first emerges from the nymph while clinging to vegetation along the shoreline. The adults are pale yellow to olive at this time and very vulnerable to getting swept into the water by gusts of wind, and this circumstance is not overlooked by the nearby ravenous trout. In preparation for encountering this event, I tied two additional adults with a light olive braid, foam and dubbing.

Olive Color

Hopefully the corona virus will pass before the summer fishing season, and I will be prepared to cast my damsel adults on Colorado lakes and ponds.

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/18/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/18/2020 Photo Album

With my scheduled surgery on my birthday postponed indefinitely, and the corona virus spreading at unprecedented rates, I decided to take advantage of a forecast mild late winter day, before a snowstorm moved into Colorado on Thursday. Because Jane, Amy and I traveled to Vail for a day of skiing on March 9, we were self quarantined, but a day of fly fishing seemed like a safe and enjoyable form of social distancing.

I narrowed my destination choices down to four, and the list included the Cache la Poudre in Ft. Collins, the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek in Buttonrock Preserve, the same North Fork in Lyons, and the South Platte River in Deckers. I consulted with my fly fishing buddy, Trevor (@rockymtnangler), and he promptly recommended Buttonrock Preserve. Trevor enjoyed an outstanding day there several weeks ago, and the flows were around 20 CFS with a high temperature in Lyons projected to be in the low sixties. These factors convinced me to make the one hour and fifteen minute drive to the small front range stream near Lyons.

A Good Place to Start

I arrived at the parking area by 9:30AM, and I was surprised by the number of cars in the lot. Obviously quite a few self quarantined workers were unable to work, and thus, taking advantage of unexpected free time to hike the access road. I quickly assembled my Orvis Access four weight and threw on my light down coat and strode at a medium pace through the gate and followed the dirt road to a point just beyond Longmont Reservoir. Trevor mentioned that he had success along the entire length of the creek, so I decided to sample the lower creek, that I normally skip past.

I Skipped This Pool

I configured my line with a yellow fat Albert, a 20 incher, and a fly that resembled a Frenchie without the jig hook. I spent the next two hours working my way upstream with the dry/dropper rig but failed to interest a single trout in my offerings. Needless to say I was frustrated. During this unproductive quest for trout I cycled through a salad spinner, Frenchie, ultra zug bug, chartreuse copper john, and hares ear nymph in addition to the first pair of flies enumerated above. Nothing worked, and I was perplexed regarding my inability to attract interest from the small mountain tailwater trout.

I arrived at a nice pool across from the incomplete Chimney Rock Dam by noon, and I paused to down my lunch and collect my thoughts. The sun was out, and it climbed high enough above the vertical rock wall opposite my position to bathe ninety percent of the stream in sunshine. As I observed while munching my carrots, I spotted a shadow, as it hovered above a large light colored flat rock. Sure enough the dark form moved from side to side, as it appeared to snatch small food items from the drift. Clearly the trout were feeding on something, but what was it?

Classic RS2

Salvation Nymph Nabbed a Pair

By 12:30 I stood next to the stream near my lunchtime dining spot, and I was refreshed and anxious to continue my pursuit of cold water fish. I retained the yellow fat Albert, but beneath it I knotted a salvation nymph and a classic RS2. I began lobbing casts upstream of the previous location of the trout shadow, that I observed during lunch, and I allowed the fat Albert and trailing flies to swing past the flat rock. I am not sure whether it was the same fish, but on the fourth drift a ten inch rainbow trout snatched the RS2, just as it began to swing, and the fish counter registered one. After two and a half hours of fruitless casting, I was finally on the scoreboard.

One of the Better Fish

Huge Appetite

For the next three hours I prospected the dry/dropper rig upstream, and the fish count increased from one to nine. The highlight of this period was an eight inch brown trout that crushed the size eight fat Albert. Two of the first nine landed fish grabbed the salvation nymph, but the main producer was a sparkle wing RS2 that replaced the classic RS2 after a thirty minute trial. I made the change hoping that the sparkle wing would serve as a more visible attractor, and the tactic seemed to pay off. Of course four or five temporary connections were part of the scene, but in many cases the drop offs were very small trout that may have measured beneath my six inch standard.

Risers in This Long Pool

At 3:30PM I approached a long smooth pool, and sporadic rises caught my attention. I astutely avoided splashing the large fat Albert in midst of the feeding trout and removed the three fly set up and shifted to a single fly approach. For my single fly I chose a size 22 Klinkhammer BWO. I did not observe any naturals, but the sky was clouding up, and it was the baetis time of the year, so I played the hunch. In an earlier slow moving pool, I switched to a CDC BWO, but that choice prompted only a couple refusals, before it was ignored entirely. Shortly after the earlier switch to a dry, I spotted a pair of small gray stoneflies, and I regretted not testing one of my size 18 early stonefly imitations.

Klinkhammer BWO Caught Two

Sipped Dry

My late afternoon Klinkhammer selection proved to be a winner, and I landed two nine inch brown trout that could not resist the low riding emerger imitation. In addition to the landed fish, I connected ever so briefly with several additional opportunistic feeders. Landing two trout on the Klinkhammer dry in the last thirty minutes was icing on the cake for my first double digit day of 2020. Of course the trout were small, but in spite of this minor drawback, I was challenged to find a combination of flies that would dupe wild fish, and I managed to partially solve the riddle. Three fish were in the nine to ten inch range, and the remainder were between six and eight inches. Wednesday was an example of social distancing at its finest, as I never came within six feet of the other outdoor enthusiasts that paraded along the road high above me. Hopefully the March 19 storm will fade quickly, and I will experience additional corona virus induced outdoor adventures.

Fish Landed: 11

Arkansas River – 03/11/2020

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Downstream from Salida

Arkansas River 03/11/2020 Photo Album

With surgery around the corner and the coronavirus expanding at unprecedented rates, I decided that the best remedy was a trip to a river. Crowd avoidance is a part of the solitary sport of fly fishing and also a recommended defense against the spreading virus. A forecast high temperature of sixty-six degrees in Denver only added to the allure of a day on a stream. My day on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek on Friday, March 6 was OK, but I yearned for some larger catches. As I searched my options, I settled on the Arkansas River. The high temperature for Salida was forecast to be 59 degrees, and the flows remained steady at 280 CFS over the most recent four days. The fly shop reports suggested nymphing the deeper slow moving areas with the possibility of afternoon dry fly action on midges. Blue winged olives were not yet present, but stream samples indicated that nymphs were active, and emergence was around the corner. Unfortunately Salida required six hours of round trip driving, so I packed clothing, in case the action was hot, and I decided to stay over and fish again on Thursday.

I arrived at my selected pullout by 11:30AM, and after gearing up and assembling my Sage four weight. my watch displayed 11:45, so I devoured my lunch rather than pack it along on my back. Once the last spoonful of yogurt was swallowed, I carefully negotiated my way down a steep bank and crossed the river and then hiked along the railroad tracks for .4 mile to a favorite starting point. I was convinced that deep nymphing with a strike indicator was likely my prevalent technique for the early March outing, but a relatively shallow side channel on the north side of the river convinced me to try the dry/dropper approach before making the relatively time consuming conversion.

Right Channel Ahead

I knotted a tan pool toy hopper to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a sparkle wing RS2 to the tippet. I began at the downstream border of the north braid and worked my way up to the long smooth pool without a hint of trout presence. When I established my position at the bottom one-third of the pool, I spotted two fish rising along the subtle center seam near the midpoint of the pool. One of the fish was rising fairly regularly, but the one on the north side of the seam was very sporadic. I debated whether to shift to a single dry fly approach or gamble on the dry/dropper. I made the wrong choice and lobbed the three fly configuration to the top of the pool and allowed it to drift through the area previously occupied by feeding trout. Much to my chagrin the large dry fly put down the risers. I attempted to reverse my misfortune and completed the lengthy task of clipping off the three flies and then extended the leader with some 5X and tied on a size 22 CDC BWO. I was uncertain what small morsel of food created the surface feeding, but a tiny olive is generally a solid choice that covers multiple bases. These were all solid theories, but the previously rising fish ignored my offering as well as the size 18 parachute ant that succeeded the BWO.

I scanned the upper portion of the pool for surface feeding, but it was absent, so I reconfigured the dry/dropper, albeit with a Pat’s rubber legs and a classic RS2. I progressed upstream along the north braid and cast to some very attractive faster runs, but I only managed to spook a couple nice fish. In hindsight, I wish I had tried a midge larva instead of the RS2, since it was still fairly early in the day, and no evidence of blue winged olives existed.

Site of Fish Number One Take

Once I reached the top of the run, I reversed my direction and ambled downstream along the north bank, until I reached my normal starting point; a gorgeous deep run with a large shelf pool on my side of the river. For this deeper water I decided to implement my deep nymphing approach, and I reconfigured with a split shot, 20 incher and sparkle wing RS2. Other than a period when I substituted a pheasant tail for the RS2, these flies remained my workhorse offerings for the remainder of the day. I deployed a bright green wool tuft from my New Zealand strike indicator kit and dabbed some floatant around the base, where it was attached to the line.

On Display

20 Incher Getting It Done

At the top of the shelf pool where some faster water cascaded over some rocks and fanned out into the softer water, the indicator dipped, and I quickly reacted with a hook set. I was very pleased to feel life on the end of my line, and after a brief battle I guided a twelve inch brown trout to my net, as it displayed a 20 incher in its lip. Fifteen minutes later I advanced to a nice deep riffle just below the point of the island that attracted my attention earlier. I prospected this area, and a mirror image twelve inch brown trout grabbed the 20 incher. I was quite pleased that the size 12 2XL nymph was attracting the attention of the brown trout in the Arkansas River in early March.

Also a Fan of the 20 Incher

Produced Number 2

Next I moved up along the left side of the small island, and near the top I temporarily hooked a fish that seemed to favor the RS2. I will never know for certain, but the fight and escape suggest the small size 22 hook. From the top of the island I retreated to the downstream point, and I worked through the north channel a second time with the nymph approach, but as I originally feared, the low clear water was not conducive to the split shot and weighted nymphs.

Two Rainbows Dwell in This Area

By 2PM I reached the top of the island and decided to cross to the south side, where the river deflected off a high vertical rock wall. The low flows enabled a careful crossing, and a gorgeous riffle of moderate depth elevated my expectations. On the second cast I felt a strike just as the nymphs began to swing at the end of the drift, and I immediately set. This fish battled up and down the run several times, and when I slid my net beneath it, I marveled at a chunky thirteen inch rainbow. The aggressive rainbow would prove to be my best fish of the day, and it snatched the sparkle wing RS2. Once I photographed and released my prize, I resumed fishing the attractive run, and I covered the ten feet that rolled along the wall more thoroughly. On one of these casts I performed some poor mends which accelerated the nymphs, and another rainbow could not resist the movement of the sparkle wing, and I netted another thirteen inch rainbow. I landed four fish in two hours and endured a pair of long distance releases, so I concluded that my prospects were looking up. My goal was to catch larger fish than achieved on the St. Vrain, and I was on track for completing that objective.

Chunky Rainbow

I wish I could report that my catch rate continued, but unfortunately I spent the last two hours advancing upstream for .5 mile, and I added one more twelve inch brown toward the very end of my time on the river. I was very selective about my targeted areas, and held out for slow velocity and moderate depth near faster current or along the bank, but I was not rewarded for my strategic approach. The sun warmed the air considerably and the wind became a negative, but it seemed that the fish disappeared. There was a brief period when olive midges danced along the surface of the river, but other than that, a food source seemed to be absent. I contemplated a streamer, but I was averse to making the changeover late in the day, and stuck with the patterns that produced earlier. I was convinced that the trout were not selective to a specific aquatic insect and surmised that the large 20 incher could once again attract interest. It did not, and I ended my day at 4PM .5 mile upriver from the Santa Fe.

Sparkle Wing RS2

Shelf Pool Produced

Five fish in four hours represents a below average catch rate, but all the landed trout were in the twelve to thirteen inch size range, and I was pleased with the diversity of three browns and two bows. I nearly had the large river to myself, and other than the wind, the weather was quite pleasant for March 11. I drove six hours for four hours of fishing, but Wednesday was a success in the eyes of this avid fisherman.

Fish Landed: 5

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/06/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/06/2020 Photo Album

A forecast of high temperatures approaching seventy degrees dictated a day of fishing on Friday, March 6. My last outing was February 1 on Boulder Creek, so I was overly anxious for another winter trip with spring in the air. I checked the flows on several front range options, but rather quickly I settled on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek in the Buttonrock Preserve. The DWR chart exhibited steady flows in the 20 CFS range, and I knew from prior experience that these were decent numbers for a day of winter fishing. Temperatures in Lyons, CO, the closest town, were expected to peak in the upper fifties.

I departed Denver by 8:30, and after a brief stop for fuel, I arrived at the parking lot for the Buttonrock Preserve by 10AM. Several fishermen were gearing up, but my process was apparently more efficient, since I was on the trail by 10:20. Before my departure on Friday morning, I viewed a video on how to utilize the New Zealand strike indicator, that I received for Christmas, and I was impressed with how easy it was to add and remove from my line.

A Nice Pool

The access road was alternately dry, muddy and covered with ice and snow; but, I hiked for thirty minutes and arrived at a satisfactory starting spot and carefully backed my way down a steep rocky bank to a section of the creek that contained a series of short deep pools. I began my quest for winter trout with a peacock hippie stomper, beadhead hares ear nymph and Pat’s rubber legs; but after forty-five minutes of fruitless casting and covering a substantial distance, the fish count stalled on zero. I was bordering on frustration but reminded myself that the water remained quite cold, and warmer afternoon temperatures portended more active fish. During the morning time period I swapped the Pat’s rubber legs for an ultra zug bug and a salvation nymph.

Hiding Spot

Prince Nymph

At 11:45 I found a nice open area with large rocks perfect for lunch, and I took advantage to consume my light snack. After lunch I decided to modify my offerings, and I exchanged the hippie stomper for a size 8 yellow fat Albert and replaced the hares ear and salvation with a prince nymph and Craven soft hackle emerger. A tiny gray stonefly perched on my hand during lunch, and the soft hackle emerger was an attempt to mimic the size 18 insect.

Craven Soft Hackle Emerger

Finally after another fifteen minutes of casting, a fish slashed at the fat Albert, but a momentary connection was my only reward for an instinctive hook set. I did not wait long, however, before a nice ten inch brown trout crushed the fat Albert in a slow shelf pool on the opposite side of the creek. This prize did not escape, and I lifted the deep buttery colored brown into my net and snapped a few photos. I continued my progress upstream in the early afternoon and netted two small rainbow trout. They were both barely over six inches, and one grabbed the prince nymph, while the other nabbed the soft hackle emerger.

As I continued upstream, I arrived at a relatively deep but short pool, where the creek deflected off a large collection of branches and sticks. I spotted several fish at the tail of the pool, but they rose to inspect the fat Albert but resisted the temptation to eat. I decided to change tactics, and I removed the three fly dry/dropper configuration and tied on a size 18 stonefly adult. This fly prompted a refusal, and then it was treated with total disdain, so I once again executed a change. I replaced the small stonefly with a size 22 CDC olive hoping to cover a midge or blue winged olive natural. The move partially paid off, when a ten inch rainbow darted from the stick bramble and inhaled my imitation. I set the hook and played the fish for fifteen seconds, at which point it twisted free of the small dry fly.

Fat Albert Produced

On Display

I was back to the drawing boards, and I retained the small olive, as I encountered another long slow moving pool. Unfortunately the CDC olive proved to be a one fish wonder, and I once again contemplated a move. I remembered the New Zealand indicator system and decided to test it out. I crimped a split shot to my line and then deployed the indicator four feet above the split shot. For flies I chose a prince nymph and a sparkle wing RS2. The deep nymphing system lasted for thirty minutes, and I added a fourth trout to my count in the form of a six inch brown trout that struck the RS2. I grew weary of the indicator style of fishing and decided to try one last ploy before ending the day.

Inviting Pool

I inspected my fly box and focused on a size 14 gray stimulator. This struck me as a solid lead fly, and below it I knotted the RS2. I flicked the large dry fly to the top of a nice pool and tight to a vertical rock wall and allowed the two fly combination to drift along the rock and then across from me and downstream. On the third such pass a six inch trout nipped the sparkle wing, just as I lifted to make another cast, and fish number five rested in my net for a short amount of time. I progressed upstream a bit farther, but once again my fly was ignored, and at 3PM I decided to call it a day.

Friday was a gorgeous day from a weather perspective; however, the fishing was quite slow. I managed to land five trout during four hours of concentrated fishing with the largest being a ten incher that savored the fat Albert. The air temperature rose to the upper fifties, but the melting snow fields along the creek reminded me that winter was relinquishing its grip at a slow pace. I’m sure the melting snow kept the water temperature below the level required to promote more active feeding. The five day forecast projects more days with highs in the sixties, so I plan to venture forth on another early season fly fishing expedition.

Fish Landed: 5

Yellow Sally – 02/26/2020

Yellow Sally 02/26/2020 Photo Album

For many years I viewed the yellow sally as a summer hatch that did not occur with enough density to attract trout to the surface in great quantities on major rivers. Sure it was a good searching pattern on small high country creeks, but for hatch matching I carried some just in case but did not use them frequently. That line of thought shifted dramatically after several blizzard hatches on the Eagle River in recent years during the post run off season. If the reader is interested in a vivid description of one of these outings, check out my 07/03/2017 post on the Eagle River. I described a blizzard hatch of yellow sallies, although you will note that I fished an iron sally and hares ear nymph through the hatch and did quite well. Nevertheless, I do not anticipate encountering another similar hatch without access to some yellow sally dry flies. Fish on larger rivers such as the Eagle, Arkansas and Colorado do tune into the plentiful supply of small yellow stoneflies.

Is It Real?

With the improved ranking of the yellow sally dry fly in my fly choice hierarchy, I took a quick inventory and concluded that I could use four additional size 14’s. My size 16’s were adequate, so I positioned myself at the tying station and cranked out some additional imitations. I have experimented with other patterns, but I concluded that the basic deer hair version works as well as any. Only three basic materials are required; yellow dubbing, yellow deer hair and ginger hackle. I feel prepared for the next yellow sally hatch that greets me on western waters.

Size 14 Yellow Sallies

Parachute Ant – 02/26/2020

Parachute Ant 02/26/2020 Photo Album

I would never want to be present on a stream or lake without a parachute ant in my fly box. I recall numerous occasions, when fish were rising to unidentifiable food sources, and I cycled through a dozen flies without a favorable response. As a last resort I plucked a black size 18 parachute ant from my box; and, boom, the extra selective fish confidently sipped my ant. Imagine how good it would be, if I did not save it for my fly of last resort. I do recall several instances on South Boulder Creek, when I used a black parachute ant as a searching pattern, and it produced in fine fashion. In these cases the water was smooth, and I was able to follow the fly easily.

Better Focus

For a materials table, background on my introduction to this fly, and step by step tying instructions please refer to my earlier post of 01/11/2012.  This fly will not disappoint you.

I counted my parachute ants stashed in my fly box and boat box and storage compartments and ascertained that I possessed adequate quantities for 2020. I, therefore, do not need to adjourn to my vice to manufacture additional flies, but when I do, I’ll have my 01/11/2012 post to refer to.

Klinkhammer Blue Winged Olive – 02/23/2020

Klinkhammer Blue Winged Olive 02/23/2020 Photo Album

I counted my CDC blue winged olive supply and determined that adequate quantities were present in my bins for the upcoming season. Over the last several years I settled on three different styles of blue winged olive flies to match the ever changing emergence of these diminutive mayflies. In most cases the CDC olive is my first option, but quite frequently, especially on windy days, the trout ignore the CDC version, and this circumstance forces me to experiment with alternatives. A craven soft hackle emerger without a bead occasionally produces on difficult and windy days, but I apply floatant and fish it in the film, and this presentation is very difficult to track. A larger leading fly assists with visibility, but the wet fly fished as a dry is my third and final choice.

Not Bad

Several years ago I experimented with a Klinkhammer BWO pattern. You can view a materials table along with some narrative about this fly in my 01/09/2018 post. A link to an instance when the Klinkhammer justified my confidence is contained in my 02/22/2019 post.

Four New BWO Energers

My supply of Klinkhammer blue winged olives lagged my other versions, and this condition is probably related to its late addition as a mainstay fly in my arsenal. I remedied this situation to some extent, when I visited my fly tying station and churned out four new size 22 models. Hopefully the Klinkhammer will continue to be a productive addition to my fly box in 2020.