North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 07/17/2018

Time: 10:30AM – 1:00PM

Location: In Rocky Mountain National Park between bridge on Wild Basin entry road and Finch Lake Trailhead

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 07/17/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

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After a successful day on the Cache la Poudre River on Monday, I sought another Front Range fly fishing adventure for Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Unfortunately, I aggravated my mild case of tennis elbow on Monday, and now it mushroomed into a more severe situation. Would I be able to withstand back to back days of casting, and would the discomfort escalate to higher levels? I decided to take the risk, since I wanted to assess the extent of my injury.

After my review of my fishing reports over the last eighteen years, I logged my green drake encounters on front range streams, and this exercise revealed two instances in July when I successfully cast green drake imitations to resident trout on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek within Rocky Mountain National Park. With this information tucked in my brain, I decided to make the trip to the small mountain stream in the Wild Basin area on Tuesday. Upon hearing of my plan Jane jumped on board, and we both departed from our home in Denver by 8:15AM.

A relatively uneventful drive enabled us to turn left on to the Wild Basin entry road by 9:45, and we slowly followed the winding narrow dirt road for a mile before we were halted by a young lady with a walkie talkie and a reflective vest. She informed us that all the parking at the trailhead was full, so I executed a tight three-point turn in the dirt roadway, and we found a parking space next to some picnic tables along the stream. Jane gathered the necessary gear to hike to Ouzel Falls, and I climbed into my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight in preparation for some stream time.

The air temperature was in the sixties and the stream appeared to be clear and near ideal flows. It had been a while, since I fished the narrow high gradient section of the North Fork in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I was anxious to see if it changed much over the intervening years. My stream notes suggested that historically I landed small brook trout and larger brown trout, but the ratio was roughly 60% brook and 40% browns. Would today’s experience match up to history? I asked myself these questions, as I strode along the dirt road at a brisk pace, until I reached the bridge that was .3 miles back toward the entrance. By now a string of cars was lined up along the narrow dirt road, and the RMNP guide was informing them that parking was full beyond the stopping point.

I walked to the middle of the bridge and gazed upstream and discovered two gentlemen in the creek approximately thirty yards above. One of the young men was wearing waders, and it appeared that a wide band stretched over the creek next to their position. At the time I assumed that they were fishermen, and they were using the band as a support for crossing the swift current. Later I concluded that the band was set up for slack lining over the water. Regardless of their intent, I circled through the woods and around them, until I was positioned a good distance above. They were no longer in view, as I knotted a size 12 olive stimulator to my line, and I began to prospect likely fish holding locations.

In the early going I experienced a mixed bag of success and frustration as exemplified by a 50/50 mix of takes and refusals. I landed five brook trout in the first thirty minutes, and none measured up to my standards for a photograph. The five that I counted were barely over my six-inch threshold. I felt that I was passing over catchable fish, so I snipped off the stimulator and swapped it for a size 12 Chernobyl ant, and below the ant I added a size 18 pheasant tail on a two-foot dropper. The Chernobyl was moderately more effective than the stimulator, and I built the fish count to eight, before I reeled up the flies and reconfigured the droppers. The pheasant tail was not carrying its weight, so I replaced it with a beadhead hares ear and then added a salvation nymph as the point fly. Although the Chernobyl accounted for three fish, it also generated its share of refusals.

The three-fly dry/dropper combination improved the catch rate, and I incremented the fish counter to fourteen. Once again, the Chernobyl was the clear leader in attracting trout, but the salvation chipped in a few fish as well. In fact, the best fish of the day put a sag in my net during this time period. A small patch of slow water formed just upstream of a fallen angled evergreen. It was a marginal spot at best, but I decided to allocate a few casts. I lobbed three casts to the short space above the newly fallen evergreen, but after only a two-foot drift, I raised my rod to extract the flies, before they snagged one of the branches. On the fifth cast I decided to go for it. I cast farther toward the bank and then moved my rod tip to the right, which caused the trailing nymphs to sweep deep under the overhanging evergreen boughs. I was shocked, when I saw a thirteen-inch brown trout emerge from its hiding place, and it nabbed the accelerating salvation nymph, as it moved diagonally along the fallen tree. The fish hooked itself, and then I played it in the narrow stream and managed to prevent the battling brown trout from tangling around the numerous rocks and branches in the area. This scenario represented the high point of the day.

When I reached fourteen, I sensed that the action slowed measurably, so I once again implemented a change in tactics. I snipped the three flies from my line and reverted to a single stimulator. I deviated from the morning session and tied a size 14 gray stimulator to my line. For the next thirty minutes I prospected likely spots with the high floating attractor and increased the count to seventeen. I experienced quite a few refusals, but one nine-inch brown trout and two brook trout mistook the bushy stimulator for a natural food of some kind. As this scenario was unfolding, dark clouds appeared in the western sky and faint thunderclaps heralded an oncoming storm. A few large raindrops created wet imprints on my shirtsleeves, and I knew that the forecast predicted thunderstorms in the 1PM time frame. I stripped in my line and hooked the stimulator in the hook keep and returned via the dirt road to the Santa Fe.

After I removed my fishing gear and waders, I pulled on my raincoat and set out on the bridal trail that paralleled the road in search of Jane. The sky grew darker, and I was very pleased to encounter her after a brief eight-minute hike.

Tuesday was a reasonably successful day, as I landed seventeen fish in 2.5 hours of fishing. I had the stream to myself, and I moved quickly and covered a fair amount of stream mileage in a short time. The fish were small, but two brown trout encouraged me to continue seeking more surprises, and the brook trout made up for their lack of size with brilliant orange bellies. The area was crowded with park visitors, but they did not interfere with my fishing. The constant pinching sensation in my right elbow was an annoyance, but it did not prevent me from notching a fun day of fishing during the summer of 2018.

Fish Landed: 17

Cache la Poudre River – 07/16/2018

Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Pingree Park above bridge on CO 14

Cache la Poudre River 07/16/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

I did not fly fish over the weekend, but I did some research to determine my next destination. I used the search and find capability of my blog to ascertain the dates, when I encountered green drakes on front range streams. I was rather certain that early to mid-July coincided with the presence of green drakes on northern Colorado streams, and this exercise confirmed my recollection. I met green drakes on the Cache la Poudre River on July 13, 2017 and July 15, 2016. The North Fork of the St. Vrain produced green drake activity on July 28, 2010 and July 23, 2006. Brief emergences enabled some dry fly action with green drakes on the Big Thompson River on July 18, 2013 and July 18, 2002.

Armed with this historical data I made the drive to the Cache la Poudre River west of Ft. Collins with the hope of rendezvousing with green drakes. I arrived at a pullout along CO 14 at 10AM, and after I pulled on my waders and assembled my Fenwick five weight fiberglass, I hiked east along the shoulder of the highway, until I reached the bridge. Here I angled down a steep bank and began fishing back toward the Santa Fe.

Monday was a warm day with highs in Denver in the upper 80’s. This probably translated to highs in the low eighties in the Poudre Canyon by the time I quit at 3PM. The sky was virtually cloudless for most of my time on the water. The flows remained quite strong, and I never entertained the thought of wading across the full width of the river.

I began with an olive-brown size 12 stimulator, and I began prospecting the slow-moving pockets and pools along the left bank. This approach was effective, and I brought eight trout to my net using the single dry fly method. All the landed fish were brown trout, and several extended to the 12-13 inch range. A fish of this size on the Cache la Poudre is worth celebrating.

I was curious whether a dry/dropper technique might produce more and larger fish, so I used my nippers to remove the stimulator and switched to a size 12 Chernobyl ant trailing a salvation nymph. Several trout nipped the Chernboyl but easily escaped my hook set, and then an aggressive feeder assaulted the black foam attractor, and I landed number nine. The catch rate with the dry/dropper lagged that of the olive stimulator, and I was about to revert to the productive fly of the morning, but then I decided to experiment with a green drake. I selected a Harrop hair wing green drake from my box and tested it in a long smooth glide, and after five casts a decent brown surfaced and smashed the green drake imitation to increment the fish count to ten.

It was around this time, that I found myself next to a nice rocky area in the sun, and it was after 12PM, so I paused for lunch. After lunch the Harrop hair wing yielded several refusals, so I decided to switch to a size 14 green drake comparadun with no ribbing. This offering was quite popular, and the fish count swelled to seventeen on  the appeal of the green drake with the upright deer hair wing. The comparadun was more difficult to follow than the hair wing, and it necessitated frequent dunkings in the dry shake canister; however, when properly presented, it was very effective. Most of the green drake munchers were typical brown trout in the nine to eleven-inch range with one outlier that measured twelve inches. By 1:30 I reached a section along the south bank characterized by a long deep shelf pool, and this type of water failed to produce on Monday, so I exited and hiked back down the road to the car.

My tennis elbow was acting up, and I blamed it on the fiberglass rod with a wider grip than I was accustomed to, so I stopped and switched to my Loomis five weight. As I advanced on the south shoreline, I craved an opportunity to sample the nice pockets and pools along the north bank, so I ambled east on CO 14 once again, but this time I crossed the bridge and circled along the opposite bank.

During my entire stay on the river to this point, I observed only one green drake, and I sensed that the fish were not responding to my green drake offering with the zest that they demonstrated earlier. I decided to try a dry/dropper approach once again, and my afternoon lineup included a yellow fat Albert, size 12 beadhead prince nymph, and a salvation nymph. The prince was intended to imitate the nymphal stage of the green drake, and the salvation was geared to suggest a pale morning dun nymph. Whether the fish interpreted them this way is unknown, but the next 1.5 hours produced ten additional fish to raise the fish tally to twenty-seven. Two aggressive feeders pounded the fat Albert, and a brown trout nipped the salvation, while the remainder grabbed the prince nymph. Perhaps the stream residents were accustomed to seeing green drake nymphs and therefore responded to the prince as a close facsimile. Two of the final ten trout in my net were rainbows including a ten incher that crushed the fat Albert in some faster riffles.

By 3PM the air temperature was peaking, and I felt very sluggish after a day of rock climbing and battling through overhanging branches. I reeled up my line and called it quits. I was also conscious of the request to voluntarily not fish during the hottest afternoon hours of the day in order to avoid stressing the trout in elevated water temperatures.

Monday was a fun day. I landed an abundant quantity of trout, and I fulfilled my goal of successfully fishing green drake dry flies. I only noted one natural, but the fish seemed tuned into my green drake comparadun imitation. Competing anglers were scarce, and I explored the north side of the river with some success.

Fish Landed: 27

South Boulder Creek – 07/12/2018

Time: 6:30PM – 9:00PM

Location: Below Gross Dam in the area of the pedestrian bridge on the Walker Loop Trail.

South Boulder Creek 07/12/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

Thursday was intended to be a day of rest after three straight outings on my recent camping and fishing trip. Imagine my surprise, when I checked my phone and noticed a text message from my son, Dan. He planned an after work visit to South Boulder Creek and asked, if I was interested in joining. Opportunities to fish with Dan are rare, as he is engaged to be married, in the early stages of a career, and the proud owner of a new puppy dog. Fatigue, aches and rest suddenly became secondary considerations, and I quickly agreed to join Dan at the kayak parking lot at 6PM. Of course I also took a peek at the stream flows on South Boulder Creek, and I was pleased to see that they were steady at 151 CFS for the last four days. 151 CFS is higher than I prefer, but I knew from past experience that it was manageable.

I arrived fifteen minutes early at the parking lot that already contained five other vehicles. I got a jump on preparation and donned my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight, while I waited for Dan’s arrival. A bit past 6PM he appeared with two Snarf’s submarine sandwiches in his possession. We made quick work of the Italian sandwiches, and then we descended the steep trail to the creek below. At a wide area shortly after encountering the stream, we crossed to take advantage of the easier hiking trail along the opposite shoreline.

Since we only had a few hours of daylight, we decided to allocate more time to fishing and less to hiking, so we began our quest for trout twenty yards below the first pedestrian bridge. Dan initiated his fly fishing adventure with a size 16 stimulator with a dark brown or maroon body. I selected a size 14 gray stimulator from my fly box and tied it to my 5X tippet. I began the evening with some downstream casts to a deep eddy at a large bend in the creek, and Dan meanwhile cast to some very enticing slower moving runs along the bank.

The trout in the eddy below me showed no interest in my attractor fly, but a nice ten inch rainbow attacked Dan’s high floater, and we celebrated his initial success. We spent the first hour familiarizing ourselves with the higher flows, and where the trout were holding. We discovered that the faster runs did not produce, and the fish were concentrated in the slow moving pools along the bank. Within these locations they frequented the seams along faster water and sheltered lies next to large boulders.

After 7:30 we progressed above the pedestrian bridge and cherry picked the spots that conformed to our stream criteria. We were both frustrated by evening glare and our inability to follow our flies, so we independently switched to a Chernobyl ant and trailed a dropper nymph. I chose an emerald caddis pupa, since I observed adult caddis, as they danced along the surface of the water. Dan and I both foul hooked a rainbow trout, when we reacted to a refusal to the Chernboyl and embedded the hook of the trailing nymph in the reluctant feeders.

By 8PM I failed to land a fish, but I was content to give my son first shot at quality spots. I had my fill of fishing success during my recent road trip, and I was genuinely content to enjoy the cool evening, while Dan took advantage of some sorely needed mountain time. I was now above the bridge in an area with numerous huge boulders and below a nice smooth pool. Dan approached from below and executed some nice casts to the lower portion of the run, where the creek swirled around several large exposed boulders. I suspected that the fish in this area inhabited the narrow lanes, where the current passed between the three large boulders, so I lobbed the dry/dropper to the current seam above rock number two. I could barely see the chartreuse indicator on the foam ant, and then it disappeared in a bulge, and I raised my arm and felt a connection to a nice eleven inch rainbow. Although I was content to be an observer, I must admit I was surprised and pleased to notch a fish on the scoreboard.

As darkness slowly descended, Dan and I migrated to the tail of the long and popular pool a bit upstream. Other anglers vacated the popular spot, so I assumed a position near the tail. A jumble of long logs angled across the stream bed to create the lower pool, and just above them a huge area of foam suspended between the logs and the bank. I paused to observe, and I was pleasantly surprised to note three subtle rises just above the foam. One exposed boulder was positioned fifteen feet above the foam patch, and suddenly another rise appeared five feet below it. I followed the path of the feeding fish, and noticed a very respectable rainbow, as it settled back along the sandy bottom.

The Chernboyl and caddis pupa were still on my line, so I delivered five drifts over the upper fish below the rock, but the target displayed no evidence of interest in the Chernobyl or pupa. I elected to reconfigure to a dry fly, but before doing so, I caught Dan’s attention and invited him to join me. Upon his arrival, I pointed out the rising fish, and he began the task of converting to a single caddis as well. Just enough light remained to allow me to thread the leader through the eye of a small size 18 caddis adult, and I was finally in a position to cast, while Dan continued his conversion.

The scene that ensued was an example of why I love fly fishing. I made three downstream drifts toward the fringe of the foam patch, where I observed several rises earlier. I was having difficulty locating the small tuft of deer hair in the waning light, but on the third cast I picked it up quite clearly. I checked my fourth cast high and the deer hair caddis fluttered down in the subtle current seam above the foam, and a foot above the white blanket of bubbles a mouth appeared and gulped down my impostor. Dan saw the entire episode develop, and I quickly lifted my arm and connected with an eleven inch cutbow. The South Boulder Creek gem displayed a brilliant crimson cheek and a pink-red stripe, and it was truly a jewel in the wild.

I released my prize, and Dan was now prepared to prospect the area of rising fish with his caddis. He demonstrated some excellent casts and drifts and extracted two aggressive surface feeders from the area. The trout were quite diminutive, but he was nonetheless pleased to earn a level of success, as darkness rapidly descended. We expected to quit at 8:30, but 9PM found us returning on the path to cross at the wide section, and then we warmed ourselves with a steady ascent of the steep path to the parking lot.

Dan and I both enjoyed 2.5 hours of evening fishing on Thursday, and a couple wild trout were icing on the cake. A ninety degree day transformed into a pleasant cool evening, and we both gained insight on fishing South Boulder Creek at elevated flows. Best of all I spent a few precious hours with my son, and I always treasure such an occasion.

Fish Landed: 2

Piney River – 07/11/2018

Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Downstream from parking area at river crossing

Piney River 07/11/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

An axiom of fly fishing posits that the more difficult a stream is to access; the better the fishing. Wednesday would be a test of this theorem.

After two days on the upper Arkansas River I was ready for a change. I packed all my camping gear in the Santa Fe on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning I bypassed the normal hot tea and oatmeal in order to avoid the necessity of firing up the camp stove. Instead I downed a slice of zucchini bread and ate a cup of yogurt and then brushed my teeth. I took down the tent in record time, and consequently I was on the road by 6:30AM. A 1.5-hour drive delivered me to Vail, and then I bounced over the rocky Red Sandstone Road for nine miles, until I reached a dirt parking area and the trailhead for the Piney River.

It was 8:20 when I departed on the trail in my waders carrying my Orvis Access four weight. I considered the option of wading wet, but the air temperature was fifty degrees, and I surmised that the waders offered more protection against bruises and thorns, since I knew I would be scrambling over numerous large rocks and slashing through dense vegetation.

I hiked for forty-five minutes and then angled down a steep slope to a meadow section of the Piney River. Normally I skipped this placid section of the small stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness; however, on Wednesday I decided to test the willingness of high elevation trout to partake of my flies in challenging conditions. I tied a size 14 gray stimulator to my line and shot some long casts to the middle of the pond-like water in front of me. In a short amount of time a missile of a fish charged to the surface and inhaled my dry fly. Was it going to be this easy? The first landed fish was actually a stunning ten-inch brook trout, and I later learned that it represented one of only two of the char species landed on the day.

I continued prospecting the slow-moving meadow area for an hour and landed five additional trout, all smaller than the opening brook trout. Several of the early catches were brown trout, and the others were cutbows and rainbows. While this may seem like fast action, it was not. I fired out numerous very long casts, and scattering fish represented the predominant scenario. As I moved closer to the faster water at the entrance to the meadow, I actually grew bored with the lake-like nature of the fishing and skipped the final thirty-yard section.

The abuse delivered by the small fish in the meadow caused the palmered brown hackle on the stimulator to unravel, so I replaced it with a near replica, as I entered the fast canyon section of Piney River. I began popping the stimulator in all the pockets, large and small, and the ravenous trout in the lower end of the canyon responded by crushing the high floating attractor. The fish count doubled in short order to twelve, and my day was off to a promising start.

Again the durability of my fly was challenged by the hungry trout, and the collar hackle unraveled on gray stimulator number two. I considered switching to a foam fly that would offer improved durability, improved buoyancy and better visibility. The advantages seemed obvious, and I swapped the damaged stimulator for a red hippy stomper. The body on this fly was flash red, and a layer of red foam served as the underbody. The new menu item seemed to please the resident trout, although perhaps the catch rate diminished, but the size of the fish improved. As I progressed farther from the meadow section, the species diversity expanded, and I began to encounter cutbows, rainbows, and cutthroats in addition to the ever present brown trout.

Life was good, and I landed four trout on the hippy stomper design, but of course the fishing gods decided to introduce some adversity. For some unknown reason the hippy stomper began to land upside down with the flashy red body on top, and the white poly indicator faced down. The stream dwellers did not like this presentation. I began to dip the fly in the dry shake to absorb the water that soaked into the poly tuft, and this helped for a while, but then I grew weary of this repetitive maintenance. I stopped for lunch on a wide flat rock, and as I downed my sandwich, I considered alternatives. Might a small Chernobyl ant appeal to the trout and avoid the repeated dry shake cycle?

This is exactly the direction I took, after I took the final bite from my honey crisp apple. I knotted a size 14 Chernobyl ant to my line, and I began to toss the buoyant attractor to the same promising locales that occupied my efforts in the morning. Voila! The monster ant was dessert to the hungry Piney River residents, and amazingly the catch rate accelerated. The fish counter swiftly climbed through the twenties, and I enjoyed my afternoon immensely. This period coincided with my migration through the middle part of the canyon, and the stream was characterized by steep walls and deep plunge pools. The steeper gradient and boulder strewn stream bed translated to a change in the predominant species, and my net was visited by a preponderance of colorful cutbows and rainbows. A twelve-inch fish was a rarity, but the vivid colors and unique spot patterns more than made up for a slight deficiency in size.

Good things do not last forever, and after an hour of hectic catch and release action, I sensed a slowing in my success rate. My failure to generate even a look in an extremely attractive pool caused me to reassess, and the net result of my evaluation was the addition of a salvation nymph dropper to my offering. This proved to be another fortuitous action, as the fish counter once again surged. The presence of the size 14 Chernobyl ant and salvation nymph created a halcyon period on Wednesday afternoon. Sixty percent of the time, the trout crushed the Chernobyl on the surface, but the rest of the time aggressive feeders could not resist the trailing nymph. Several times a trout attacked the salvation as soon as it plunked in the water, and I am always amazed by this phenomenon. Are fish lying in wait for random food to splash down and sink below the surface?

As was the case earlier, the torrid action subsided a bit, and then I created a tangle between the Chernobyl and the salvation. In the process of undoing the snarl, I somehow pulled out the rubber legs on one side of the foam ant. Past experience taught me that a handicapped fly is more of a problem for the fisherman than the fish, but in this instance it seemed that a disfigured Chernobyl ant lost some of its appeal. I eventually recognized this deficiency, and I exchanged the lopsided ant for a fresh version that was a size twelve. I continued with the salvation nymph dropper, and the new combination enabled me to increment the fish tally albeit at a somewhat slower pace.

As the afternoon wore on, the canyon widened a bit, and the gradient was reduced, and this shift in terrain coincided with the return of brown trout as a more significant part of the landed fish ratio. For some reason I switched the salvation for a beadhead pheasant tail, and this normally dependable fly fooled a few fish. Some dark clouds moved in from the southwest, and a few distant claps of thunder caused me a bit of concern, although the density and size of the clouds assuaged my fears a bit.

As 3:30 neared I approached a spot where the severity of the grade of the canyon wall tapered down a bit, and I recognized the area as my normal exit point. The edge of the dark cloud hovered overhead, and a few random large drops of rain reminded me that a small storm was imminent. The fish count was perched on forty-nine, and I desperately wanted to achieve a fifty fish day. I cannot explain this compulsion for round numbers and goal setting that burdens my personality. For some reason the fish stopped favoring my Chernobyl ant, and I spotted several yellow sallies throughout the day, so I removed the two-fly dry/dropper rig and tied a size 14 yellow stimulator to my line. Success. Not only did I quickly notch number fifty, but I was drawn to a very nice large pocket, where I cast the stimmy, and a final brown trout slashed the fraud.

I was very weary and faced a forty-five minute return hike, and the rain was intensifying, so I decided to begin my outbound trek. I once again gazed at the clouds and assessed that the rainstorm would be brief, so I did not extract my raincoat. A very brief shower ensued, and my shirt absorbed a decent amount of moisture, but in actuality it felt cool and refreshing.

What a day! I spent six hours on a small mountain stream and landed in excess of fifty fish. The fish were small, with the largest perhaps reaching twelve inches, but they were wild and spectacular in their colorful splendor. I achieved a Colorado grand slam that included rainbow, brown, brook, cutthroat and cutbow species. The outing necessitated a rough drive over rocks and potholes, and the forty-five minute hike each way tested my stamina, but the action was fast and furious. The fish were hungry, and I was totally absorbed with fooling them, and I enjoyed the magnificent beauty of my surroundings. Wednesday certainly proved the axiom outlined at the outset of this blog post.

Fish Landed: 51

Arkansas River – 07/10/2018

Time: 9:00AM – 2:00PM; 3:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Between Granite information sign along US 24 and CO 55 dirt road; Hayden Meadows upper lot to US 24 bridge.

Arkansas River 07/10/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

The salesman at the Orvis Shop in Cherry Creek recommended the upper Arkansas River upstream from the US 24 bridge as a productive fishing destination. I hoped to sample this section on my 2018 trip to the upper Arkansas River area, but on Monday five vehicles occupied the small parking space just ahead of the the US 24 bridge. On Tuesday, since I camped at nearby Turquoise Lake, I hoped to be the first fisherman there as a result of my proximity and early start. Wrong. Two trucks were already present when I passed by at 8:45, so I defaulted to my backup plan.

I continued south along US 24 for another two miles below CO 55 and arrived at a wide pullout with an informational sign about granite. I was the only vehicle present, and I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Loomis five weight for a day of fly fishing. The first fifty yards looked rather inviting but I assumed its proximity to the parking space translated to excessive pressure. I hoped to cover two miles of river, so I skipped around it and explored the upstream territory.

It was earlier than usual for me to be on the the river, and no gray drakes were evident, so I began with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph. These flies are my most productive, but they failed to interest the Arkansas River trout on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. After thirty plus minutes with no results despite prospecting some quality spots, I reconfigured with an iron sally instead of the hares ear, and I swapped the salvation for a size 12 prince nymph.

This change was a master stroke, and the newly added flies enabled me to land fish and boost the fish count from zero to seven. The prince accounted for the trout during the 10AM to 11AM time frame, and the iron sally became a favored food source in the last hour before noon. The first three netted brown trout were on the small side, but the next four were prize catches in the twelve inch range including a welcome surprise in the form of a fifteen inch brown trout.

Just before lunch I unknowingly snapped off the two nymphs, so replaced the iron sally and size 12 prince with a fresh pair. Two lost princes in the morning forced me to settle for a smaller size fourteen on a standard hook, and this unforeseen substitution failed to attract much interest from the river residents. Despite this handicap I incremented the fish count to ten after lunch. Surprisingly a fourteen inch rainbow was among these catches, and I suspect this was the first rainbow that I ever encountered in the upper Arkansas River.

During this time I enjoyed four instances of success, when I cast the dry/dropper to very narrow ribbons of slow moving water along the bank. The space was not more than four feet wide. I landed three of the bank dwellers, and several managed to escape after being pricked temporarily.

Having attained ten fish by one o’clock including several decent wild river inhabitants, I decided to shift gears and switched to a size 14 parachute green drake. One of my goals for Tuesday was to begin with the parachute style to determine if it outperformed the hair wing and stimulator style. The experiment on Tuesday was not really fair as the conditions were quite different. Unlike Monday I only spotted two or three gray drakes in the air. On Monday several quality deep runs and riffles exhibited rising trout, but surface feeding was largely absent on Tuesday. Despite the less than optimal gray drake emergence conditions, I managed to hook and land two very respectable brown trout. One consumed the parachute style and another chomped the comparadun.

Just before 2PM large gray clouds billowed up on the eastern horizon, and the sound of distant thunder caused some concern. By now I was at least 1.5 miles from the car, and the landscape was devoid of any reasonable shelter. Even the vegetation lacked trees of any significant size. The thunder claps grew louder, and I finally relented to my better judgement and embarked on an exit. I walked at a quick pace toward the CO 55 parking lot, but then I spotted a faint trail through the bushes and scrub grass. Fortunately an old barbed wire fence was beaten down, so I stepped over it and crossed the railroad tracks to intersect with US 24. I began to stride along the shoulder at a rapid pace, but after ten minutes the large widely spaced raindrops intensified. I stepped off the shoulder, removed all my packs, and slid into my raincoat. The added layer became essential as sheets of rain blew against my body and face for most of the remaining hike on the shoulder of the highway.

When I reached the Santa Fe, naturally the rain stopped, so I spent another thirty minutes sampling the attractive water, that I skipped upon my arrival. in the post-storm calm several trout displayed their presence via random rises. I cast the parachute green drake and experienced several refusals and a foul hooked brown, but finally in a deep riffle a thirteen inch brown elevated and sucked in the drake.

I covered the first fifty yards by the pullout, and then I reached an uninteresting wide shallow section, so I returned to the car. Perhaps the storm scared off the crowd on the west side of the US 24 bridge? I decided to check it out. I was surprised to discover that two vehicles remained in the bridge lot, so I reversed direction and drove to the parking area across from the north end of Hayden Meadows. Between 3:30 and 4:30 I covered the section of the river between the parking area and the US 24 bridge.

Drakes were absent so I returned to the producers of the morning and early afternoon; yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and prince nymph. In a deep step pool behind some man made structure the Albert dipped, and I guided a twelve inch brown to my net. I was near the highway, and the sky threatened rain again, so I found a nature trail that skirted the pond and called it a day.

Although the fish count matched Monday, I was more satisfied with my Tuesday effort. I discovered a new stretch of water never before explored, and I was selective about my target areas. I covered a significant amount of water and skipped long unattractive areas to focus on proven structure. Narrow deep slow moving bands along the bank and moderate riffles through large rocks were the obvious fish producers. I did not fish to a significant gray drake hatch as anticipated, but I stumbled into two solid nymph producers. The average size of the fish exceeded Monday’s results as well. These accomplishments were attained despite being interrupted by a storm during a normally productive time period. Bravo! Tuesday was a fun day of fly fishing.

Fish Landed: 14

Arkansas River – 07/09/2018

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Hayden Meadows, southern section

Arkansas River 07/09/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

Fourteen fish in a day of fishing is a decent accomplishment, but nevertheless Monday was a day, when I never achieved a consistent rhythm.

I evaluated several possible destinations for a multi-day camping and fishing trip, and I settled on the upper Arkansas River/Turquoise Lake area. Numerous vehicles occupied the parking lots and pullouts at the northern side of the Hayden Meadows area, so I continued until the CO 55 sign appeared, and I turned left and crossed the river and parked. Two SUV’s were present when I arrived, and a pair of fishermen were downstream from the bridge.

I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight. I elected to fish upstream and began with a size 14 Harrop hair wing green drake in the attractive deep foam covered hole and eddy just above the pipe that carries water under the road. The eddy failed to deliver fish, but then I moved to the upstream position and drifted the hair wing through a V-shaped area where the currents merged. On the third drift I allowed the dry fly to float deep and along the seam at the start of the eddy, and suddenly the green drake imitation disappeared. I quickly set the hook and was temporarily connected to a twelve inch brown trout. Temporarily is the key word, as the fish executed a leap and plunge and shed the fly.

For the next two hours I moved upstream at a rapid clip, and I was forced to circle around two pairs of anglers. The Harrop generated refusals, so I rotated among a size 12 olive stimulator, a size 14 gray stimulator, and a size 14 yellow stimulator. All these choices were intended to imitate gray drakes and yellow sallies. Several quality deep runs revealed rises, but all my flies were refused by the choosy surface eaters. I did, however manage to land five brown trout during this period including a very rewarding fifteen inch chunk. For a period of time I fished a double dry combination with the gray stimulator in front and the yellow version on the point. The gray stimulator produced three of the five landed trout, and the yellow one accounted for two. I witnessed a few large natural gray drakes along with a smattering of pale morning duns and yellow sallies. Aside from the fifteen inch brown trout the other fish measured in the ten to twelve inch range.

As I spotted a couple additional gray drakes, while I munched my lunch, I challenged my rigid thinking. I read my blog post from 2017 on the upper Arkansas River, which documented that I crushed trout on the Harrop hair wing, and this research caused me to focus on the stimulator and hair wing styles of dry fly. But what about other productive green drake imitations? I rotated between three different styles on the Frying Pan, until I determined which one fooled the most fish. I resolved to think outside the box, and I knotted a size fourteen parachute green drake to my line after lunch.

The move was effective, and I jumped the fish counter from five to eleven between one and two o’clock. The trout in moderate riffles ripped the surface parachute with conviction. Another fifteen inch brown visited my net during this period, but it was quite skinny, and I feared it was suffering from some sort of disease. Of course the parachute was not perfect, and quite a few refusals accompanied the confident takes.

By 3PM the presence of gray drakes, yellow sallies, and pale morning duns disappeared, so I switched to a dry/dropper method. A red hippy stomper assumed the surface position in my lineup, and beneath it I attached an ultra zug bug and size 16 iron sally. During the last hour these flies enabled me to add three additional small brown trout to the count. All favored the iron sally, and in addition several trout snatched one of the subsurface offerings but avoided the net after perfecting some escape maneuvers.

Monday was a decent day, but I wish I would have experimented with the parachute and comparadun green drakes earlier, especially during the time when fish were visibly feeding on the surface. Perhaps I will return on Tuesday and test the alternative green drake styles.

Fish Landed: 14

Cache la Poudre River – 07/06/2018

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Pingree Park area

Cache la Poudre River 07/06/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

I enjoyed some outstanding visits to the Cache la Poudre during 2017, so after reading some encouraging reports from local fly shops, I was very anxious to make the two hour drive to the freestone river west of Ft. Collins. Friday was an open day, and we returned from our camping trip to the Flattops on Thursday, so I made the trek.

Friday’s high in Denver was 95 degrees, and the temperature in the Poudre canyon peaked in the low eighties. It was toasty, but fortunately the flows remained elevated from run off, and that held the water temperature in check. Even though the level was a bit high, wading was very manageable compared to trips in early July a year ago.

I parked along CO 14 in the Pingree Park area and assembled my Orvis Access four weight. Cache la Poudre fish are typically on the small side and easily managed by the slender four weight, and I preserved my arm and elbow with a short light fly rod. I entered the river at 10:30 and selected a size 8 Chernobyl ant to join a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph.

During the first hour I slowly progressed upriver along the right bank and registered five small brown trout on the fish counter. These trout were in the 7-8 inch range, and I did not bother to use my net, since they would have simply passed through the wide openings. Most of the early trout snatched the salvation nymph, although quite a few trout elevated and refused the oversized Chernobyl. Given the preponderance of refusals, I modified my approach. I swapped the Chernobyl ant for a size 12 hippy stomper and persisted with the hares ear nymph dropper.

The new set up enabled me to increment the fish counter to seven, before I paused for lunch, and the two additional fish grabbed the trailing hares ear. After lunch I continued to offer the hippy stomper and hares ear and added a few more trout to my net, including an overzealous feeder that chowed down on the hippy stomper; but I cast to some reliable fish holding areas with no results, so I lost confidence in my offerings.

In previous years I enjoyed some success with stimulators, so I tested a size 14 yellow version in a few choice spots, but the fish were unimpressed with the high floating pretend yellow sally.

I decided to revert to the three fly dry/dropper approach, and for this adjustment in technique I selected a tan pool toy as the top fly. I was actually seeking an indicator that would not elicit refusals. Given the greater buoyancy of the layered foam pool toy, I added back the hares ear and salvation nymph. This set up was far more productive than my earlier combinations, and the fish count climbed into the high teens, with most of the netted river residents fooled by the hares ear and salvation nymph.

By 1PM I began to notice an increased quantity of small mayflies, as they steadily floated into the space above the river. I surmised that they were size 18 pale morning duns, and I feared that my salvation nymph imitation was too large. It produced some fish, but given the strength of the emergence, I suspected that the catch rate on the PMD nymph imitation was lagging. I stripped in my line and swapped the salvation for a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail, and this fly provided improved success over the next hour.

I discovered that the key to fast action revolved around the type of water targeted. Deep pockets and runs were unproductive, so I circled around deep holes and gravitated to riffles and pockets of moderate depth near the bank. My three fly dry/dropper offering was extremely effective in these environments. During this time I advanced to a side channel that was ten to fifteen feet wide, and the small brown trout were quite abundant and more importantly very willing to smash my flies.

At the top of the secondary braid I faced another quality section characterized by many inviting riffles and pockets that met the likely success criteria, and I did indeed land a few fish, but I once again sensed that I was missing opportunities. The quantity of small pale morning duns diminished, so I elected to revert to the salvation instead of the pheasant tail. I reasoned that the salvation nymph was larger and displayed more flash, and this in turn might attract more attention from the stream dwellers.

The ploy was effective, and my catch rate surged in the last hour. During this time four or five rainbow trout thrashed in my net, and this was surprising given their absence heretofore. I did not complain, as two of the rainbows represented my longest trout of the day.

By 3:30 I notched catch number thirty, and I was weary and hot, as the sun peaked, and the temperature rose to the level that promotes sluggishness. The character of the river shifted, as the river bed narrowed resulting in many deep pockets along the bank. I was not interested in circling around the lengthy area ahead to seek a more conducive stretch, so I ambled back to the car and called it a day.

My largest fish was probably no more than twelve inches, so my day on the Poudre did not challenge the strength of my four weight rod. But once I determined the type of water that the stream residents preferred, I enjoyed a high level of success, and I loved the fast paced action offered by responsive trout. The insect activity was less evident than 2017 trips, and I am unsure whether I was earlier in July, or perhaps the hot weather was the main deterrent. I already have plans to return on July 20, and additional visits may fit on the schedule.

Fish Landed: 30

 

 

 

 

 

North Fork of the White River – 07/04/2018

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Trappers Lake and Himes Peak Campground

North Fork of the White River 07/04/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

After spending Tuesday on a spectacular hike to Skinny Fish Lake with my lovely wife, Jane, Wednesday was my allotted day to revel in some serious fishing in the Flattops region of Colorado. I selected the segment of the North Fork of the White River between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake as my destination and arrived so that I was in the stream casting by 10:00AM. Jane dropped me off along the road, so she could utilize the Santa Fe to access some nearby hiking trails.

I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and salvation nymph, and I landed seven trout between 10AM and noon, when I took a break for lunch. Among the seven trout were three gorgeous brook trout in the 10-12 inch range with bright orange bellies. The remainder were rainbows, and several of the pink striped variety measured out in the 12-13 inch range. Size was secondary, as these fish dazzled the observer with vivid colors and artistic spot patterns.

After lunch I continued with the dry/dropper approach, but I exchanged the iron sally for a hares ear nymph. During the two morning hours all the landed fish nabbed the salvation except for one deviant, who snatched the iron sally. The dry/dropper method increased the fish tally to eleven after lunch with the hares ear and the salvation producing two fish each. Near the end of this period the salvation and leader broke off in my net, so I secured it to my fleece wallet and continued for a bit with the single hares ear dropper.

I arrived at a quality deep pool after thirty minutes, and I could see a pair of fish flash to the fat Albert. As I studied the attractive spot, I sighted at least four decent trout, and they were ignoring my nymphs. I decided to made the significant move to a single dry, and I began with a yellow size 14 stimulator. Two fish refused the fuzzy light yellow attractor, so I cycled through a series of changes including a size 14 light olive stimulator and a light gray size 16 caddis. The caddis proved to be temporarily effective, as I picked up three pool dwellers.

I persisted with the caddis for another fifteen minutes or so with moderate success, but I also spotted trout that totally ignored the small adult. From time to time small yellow sallies fluttered over the stream and although less prevalent than the caddis, I speculated that perhaps the fish favored the less active stoneflies. I switched to a size 16 yellow sally adult, and this fly was a winner. I moved the fish counter up by ten and reached twenty-five on the strength of its magnetism.

Most of the fish landed on the dry flies were brook trout in the 8-10 inch range. I was pleased with the action and success, but I yearned for additional slightly larger and brightly colored rainbows and cutbows. I also sought a fly that was more visible, so I resurrected a lime green trude size 14. The lime green attractor with a swept back wing produced well for me in previous visits to the North Fork. During July 2018 it again proved its worth, but after four fish in the net, it became waterlogged, and I again desired a fly that floated high and dry.

I returned to the yellow stimulator, and it attracted a couple small brook trout from marginal lies along the bank. Where were all the rainbows? I pondered this question and recalled that my most robust rainbows arrived in my net via the dry/dropper nymph approach. Suddenly I remembered the hippy stompers that I tied over the winter, so I knotted one to my line and added a single size 18 beadhead pheasant tail nymph on a two foot dropper.

The tactic proved to be a master stroke, and the trout demonstrated their overwhelming approval, as they hammered the pheasant tail cast after cast. If I found a nice deep pocket or hole, and executed nice drag free drifts, I could expect a favorable reaction on nearly every cast. The fish count ballooned to thirty-eight, and during this exciting period spunky 10-12 inch rainbows outnumbered the brook trout.

The Fourth of July was a blast in spite of banned fireworks! By 3:45PM I realized that I would not be able to cover the remaining fifty yards of stream, so I scrambled over dead trees and jagged rocks and climbed a steep hillside in order to meet Jane at the prearranged time and place. What a fun day on the North Fork of the White River! The fish were plentiful, but more impressive was the exceptional colors of the wild fish.

Fish Landed: 38

North Fork of the White River – 07/03/2018

Time: 5:00PM – 6:00PM

Location: North Fork of the White River across from the North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River 07/03/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

The shutout at Skinny Fish Lake had me aching for the throb of a trout on the end of my fly line, so I requested Jane’s approval to explore the North Fork of the White River in the public section across from our campground. She readily agreed, as this allowed her to cleanse her dust covered ankles and feet after our afternoon hiking adventure. I decided to wade wet in an effort to achieve a similar rinsing effect on my legs.

My Sage four weight remained assembled from our Skinny Lake venture, but I deviated from the lake configuration and began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and go2 caddis pupa. I spent an hour prospecting viable holding locations, and I managed to land two small rainbow trout in the 6-9 inch range. I also temporarily hooked a fish that felt heavier, but it quickly shed the pointy irritant after a five foot downstream dash.

I noticed a few small caddis and a rare mayfly in my short time on the water. The flows remained a bit above normal summer levels, but I was very disappointed with the number of decent holding lies. This translated into covering quite a bit of water in a one hour time frame. Although I registered a couple of fish, the outing was fairly disappointing and did not satisfy my urge for a decent fish on the end of my line.

Fish Landed: 2

 

Skinny Fish Lake – 07/03/2018

Time: 1:15PM – 2:45PM

Location: Western shoreline

Skinny Fish Lake 07/03/2018 Photo Album

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

Jane and I completed the long challenging drive from Denver to the Flatttops area on Monday July 2, 2018. Upon our arrival we secured campsite 25 at the North Fork Campground, and then we made our way to the outlet parking lot at Trappers Lake. Many years elapsed since Jane and I gazed upon the gem of a lake situated among stunning rock formations such as the Chinese Wall and the Amphitheater. A 2005 wildfire converted the forests into green slopes with scattered dead tree trunks, and the grey remnants of evergreen trees reminded me of toothpicks. Certainly the scenery was much different from the views prior to the fire, but it remained stunning nonetheless.

Before committing to the trip I reviewed my National Geographic contour map and selected a few interesting hiking trails. Tuesday was devoted to exploring wilderness trails with Jane, and we chose a five mile round trip trek to Skinny Fish Lake. Naturally since the destination was a high mountain lake, I filled my backpack with fly fishing gear with the hope of sneaking in an hour or two of casting for gullible high elevation trout.

Our expectations were more than satisfied, as we enjoyed a fun 1.5 hour hike to Skinny Fish Lake. The wildflowers en route were amazing, and the views of the Chinese Wall and Amphitheater were spectacular. Upon our arrival at the picturesque body of water, Jane and I found a large fallen log, and I munched my lunch, while she marveled at our surroundings. My Sage four weight accompanied me, so after lunch we circled along the left shoreline, until we reached the point of a peninsula that protruded into the middle of the lake.

I knotted a slumpbuster to my line and trailed a beadhead hares ear, as I began my optimistic attempts to attract the attention of resident coldwater species. I slowly fanned casts out from the point, and then I worked counterclockwise back to the spot, where I ate lunch and stashed my backpack. Unfortunately I must report that I experienced zero action. I did not land or hook a fish. In fact I did not witness a single refusal or see a fish or even observe a rise. As far as I was concerned, Skinny Fish Lake was barren of fish, but it was worth the hike simply for the view and the wildflowers.

Fish Landed: 0