South Platte River – 05/29/2014

Time: 9:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Below first bridge after Springer Gulch and then upstream from huge pool below wide pullout up to the twin tunnels

Fish Landed: 6

South Platte River 05/29/2014 Photo Album

May 29 is very late in the runoff time period to think about fishing in a Colorado river, but that is what I did on Thursday. With epic volumes of water tumbling down rivers and streams in Colorado, the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon remains at 75 cfs. In addition the South Platte below Cheesman Reservoir near Deckers was holding steady at 100 cfs, however, this stretch of river had been running at 400 and only recently plunged to the 100 level. I am not a fan of fishing rivers that experience recent significant changes, so I decided to pay Eleven Mile Canyon a visit.

The weather forecast for Denver was a high of 88 degrees with a small chance of afternoon thunderstorms. I translated this to highs in the low 70’s in Eleven Mile Canyon. I paid my day use fee to a lady at the entrance station, and she complimented my music selection. I had a Monkees and Four Seasons playlist blasting on my radio, and she appeared to be in my age bracket. The dashboard temperature registered 59 degrees when I arrived at the pullout .2 miles below the first bridge above Springer Gulch Campground, but the sun was bright so I elected to forego any extra layers.

When I was prepared, I walked down the path a bit to the second nice run and pool below the car; however, as I moved toward the water, a father and son appeared. Clearly I was there first, but I decided to surrender the bottom pool to the father and son team and moved upstream to the next juicy pool. The water was as advertised; clear and flowing at 75 cfs. A bit more volume would be welcome, but I was more than willing to accept somewhat low flows given the condition of the other rivers in the state. I tied on a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear and began to prospect the wide angled run and pool in front of me. I noticed several refusals by a fish in the seam along the center run, but nothing was showing interest in my hares ear. I noticed two random rises as I was covering the water, and the only insect I could conceive of being on the water in the morning was a midge.

I pulled up my line and added an 18 inch section of tippet to the eye of the hares ear and tied on a zebra midge. Finally on a drift along the seam on the right side, the Chernobyl ant paused and I set the hook and felt the weight of a decent fish. The trout began to streak toward the middle of the run and then reversed back to its original location. I held tight, but after a couple aerial maneuvers where I could see the trademark pink stripe of a rainbow, it made a quick turn, and my hook came free. I’m guessing the tiny zebra midge was the food of choice for the hungry rainbow, but I’ll never know for sure. I could hear the father and son moving closer behind me, so I moved above the attractive pool and began exploring pockets and smaller runs.

First Fish in the AM

First Fish in the AM

It didn’t take too long before I hooked and netted an eleven inch brown on the hares ear nymph, and I photographed this fish as I wasn’t sure how many more I’d entice to my net. The next stretch was wide and shallow with a series of manmade deadfalls anchored on angles to create more structure; but in spite of this effort, the fish holding locations were minimal.

I was bothered by the refusals to the Chernobyl ant, and I wondered if something more sparse might provoke surface takes, so I tied on a yellow Letort hopper. I fished this for a bit, and it became waterlogged so I brought it in and sopped up the moisture absorbed by the body on my shirt sleeve. Next as is my custom, I searched for my dry shake canister to give it a dunking, but I was disappointed to discover that the green canister was upside down with the lid open. The vial was empty, and I was now stressed as dry shake is an essential ingredient to dry fly fishing.

With the newfound knowledge that I was handicapped by the absence of dry shake, I decided to convert to a nymphing configuration. I converted to a strike indicator, small split shot and two flies. At least under this method the fish could not refuse my top fly, and I didn’t need dry shake. I stayed with the beadhead hares ear and added a RS2 and ran these flies through some juicy deep runs but once again to no avail. I swapped the RS2 for a soft hackle emerger at some point, but my fortunes remained the same.

After covering a nice run and a couple small pockets with no success I encountered a trio of fishermen that entered the river from above. It was around 11:45 so I decided to use this as an opportunity to exit, and I returned to the Santa Fe.

Large Pool Where I Ate Lunch and Began Fishing in the PM

Large Pool Where I Ate Lunch and Began Fishing in the PM

I decided to move upstream to search for another location with some room to move, and a half mile further along, where there is a huge wide pullout high above the river, I found such a place. I grabbed my lunch bag and water bottle and very carefully descended the rocky path. The river narrowed right below the car and created a huge white water cascade, but above the narrow chute was a huge wide clear pool that extended forty yards further upstream. I sat by the water and ate, and during a lull in the breeze when the water was clear, I spotted a group of four brown trout slowly moving along in the slow shelf water. They were occasionally plucking tiny morsels from the drift, and every once in a while one would slowly fin to the surface and sip something extremely tiny.

This didn’t last long however as the breeze resumed, and my vision could no longer penetrate the riffled surface of the pool. Once I finished my lunch, I carefully climbed to the road and returned to the car for my rod and gear. I decided that the smooth pool was too technical and likely would lead to hours of frustration, so I moved to the head of the pool. Also my rod was still rigged with the nymphs, and I wasn’t anxious to invest the necessary time to convert back to dry flies to make the delicate casts required by the smooth pool.

I began to prospect the nice pools and runs above the large pool, but I was losing confidence quickly. By now the sun was high in the clear blue sky, and I was feeling quite warm and sluggish. I suspect the trout were in a similar state, but I continued on hoping that something would change my fortunes. It didn’t take long for change to come in the form of another fisherman ahead of me. I decided to make a big loop around him and cut back to the worn path on the bank and circled above him to some more nice pocket water.

By now the nymphs were out of favor, so I clipped them off and removed the indicator and split shot and returned to my favorite dry/dropper technique. I tied a yellow pool toy to my line as the buoyant indicator fly and below that I added a beadhead hares ear and then knotted a salvation nymph below the hares ear as my third offering. I quickened my pace and resolved to no longer dwell in one spot even if I spotted fish or experienced a refusal.

Surprised by Cutthroat That Fell for the Salvation Nymph

Surprised by Cutthroat That Fell for the Salvation Nymph

This paid dividends as I landed four more fish over the remaining two hours of fishing. Number three was a pretty bronze cutthroat with the trademark slash under its jaw, and this fish snatched the salvation nymph at the tail of a run. One of the last three fish was a rainbow and the other two were browns, and they all found the salvation nymph to their liking. By three o’clock some large gray clouds appeared on the western horizon and this seemed to improve the fishing. The temperature dropped and a breeze picked up, and I carefully looked for blue winged olives. I spotted two or three over the course of a half hour and switched the salvation nymph for the soft hackle emerger, but this had minimal impact on my success. After a solid trial period I abandoned this dose of over-analysis and reverted back to the salvation nymph, and I was rewarded with the three fish I described previously.

Afternoon Brown with Salvation Nymph in Corner of Mouth

Afternoon Brown with Salvation Nymph in Corner of Mouth

Late in the afternoon I bumped into another pair of fishermen and executed another bank detour to get above them. It was during the last hour of the day that I encountered a second muskrat that surfaced near my left leg, and then I spotted a small creature scurrying along the rocks to my left. It was a small slender animal with a long tail, light brown fur, and a round face with small round ears. I’m guessing it was some sort of weasel or mink, but I always imagined these animals to be much darker in color.

Finally I approached another beautiful long pool and another young fisherman was above me; however, he seemed to tire of the area he was fishing and moved to the top more than fifty yards above me. I began casting the pool toy and trailing nymphs to the tail of the pool, but as I did this I began to observe several surface rises. The surface disturbances were spread out and not repeated by the same fish. I was going to quit in a half hour, and the other fisherman blocked my path upstream to water more appropriate for dry/dropper fishing, so I decided to commit to dry fly fishing. When I waded to the tail of the pool I could see quite a few decent fish hanging in the current, but in addition there were at least five or six large suckers huddled in the trough ahead of me. I’d seen groups of suckers earlier in the day, and I wondered if they were spawning, and what sucker eggs look like.

With more rises scattered about the pool I decided to try a CDC BWO even though I didn’t see any riding on the surface of the river. After quite a few unproductive casts of the blue winged olive imitation, I changed to a gray deer hair caddis. This fly actual induced a few looks and a solid refusal as a brown swirled at the surface in front of the fly, but did not suck it in. Next I resorted to an olive caddis with the thought that perhaps the body color was off a bit. Again the fish rejected my theory, and finally I tied on a fur parachute ant. This fly prompted some casual looks, but no takes until I finally declared the fish winners and found a steep exit path.

It was a fun day in spite of my relatively low catch rate. I spotted quite a few fish and experimented with numerous approaches. I never fully solved the riddle, but did manage to land a few fish on a splendid late spring day on the South Platte River.

 

Brush Creek – 05/25/2014

Time: 10:30AM – 1:00PM

Location: Private water up to Sylvan Lake Road Bridge

Fish Landed: 4

Brush Creek 05/25/2014 Photo Album

Dave G. reserved the private water for Sunday so once again I would be exposed to fishing under snowmelt conditions. When I gazed at Brush Creek behind the Gaboury house on Sunday morning it appeared that the stream had risen even higher than the level we experienced on Saturday. In addition the sky was quite overcast, and it seemed inevitable that we would encounter rain at some point during the day. After a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs and spinach, Dave G. and I once again prepared to fish.

Dave G. came up with a two car strategy for fishing the private water. Dave G. drove the BMW to the bridge near where we would end and parked it there, and then we both hopped in the 4 Runner driven by Beth. Beth took me to the entry point to Brush Creek below the private water and then dropped Dave G. off on the other side of the creek. By doing this, Dave G. was locked into the east side of the creek while I was committed to the west bank.

We began our fishing adventure at 10:30AM, and the foreboding clouds continued to build in the western sky. Dave G. was also out of red San Juan worms, so he was forced to experiment with the brown variety, and guess what? He began catching fish on the brown worms that I had rejected on Saturday because I didn’t think there was enough contrast against the brown water.

Pretty Flowers Along Stream on Sunday

Pretty Flowers Along Stream on Sunday

Initially I used the red annelid worm as my top fly and returned to the orange and black woolly bugger, but once again I was not having any success while Dave G. landed a fish or two. The private water contains many more oxbow bends, and this actually provided more slack water where fish could gain shelter from the raging main current. At one long juicy slow moving stretch, I actually saw a fish rise and jump from the water in pursuit of some sort of emerger. This provoked me to try an emerald caddis pupa as my point fly, but I suspect I was overanalyzing at this point. I ran through a bunch of fly changes as my point fly including a prince nymph, 20 incher, egg fly and the caddis pupa.

Brown San Juan Worm

Brown San Juan Worm

Once again my frustration was building when we arrived at a huge pool with an eddy in a 90 degree bend in the stream. Dave G. worked ahead of me, but it was here that I looked in my fleece pouch and spotted a pine squirrel leech that I purchased in Wyoming. I figured this fly would offer contrast, and it also offered the seductive wiggling movement that drives fish crazy. I replaced the caddis pupa and began lobbing the worm and leech combination to the current seam on the opposite side of the main current. Wham! The indicator dove, and I set the hook and felt the weight of a decent fish. Unfortunately in a short amount of time I discovered that the leech was embedded in the side of the head of the trout, and the fish wasn’t as big as I expected.

Pine Squirrel Leech

Pine Squirrel Leech

At least the fish was attracted to my flies in the murky conditions. I continued to drift the long slack water area between the opposite bank and the rushing main current, and in a brief amount of time the indicator paused, and I once again set the hook. This time I was relieved to discover that the brown trout had grabbed the top red annelid worm. I’d finally broken through and hooked and landed a trout during runoff! Had I been able to reach across the stream, I would have high-fived Dave G., but instead I moved on.

Over the remainder of our time on Brush Creek on Sunday I landed three more browns to bring my snow melt total to four. Three of the fish grabbed the red annelid worm and one took the leech. The one that hit the leech actually responded to a lift as I tried to avoid getting snagged on a stick.

A Nice Grip

A Nice Grip

As 1PM arrived the dark clouds hovered above us, and the wind kicked up, and some light rain began to fall. I was already wearing my raincoat for added warmth so I was prepared for the moisture. We crossed Sylvan Lake Road and prospected a spot that historically yields nice fish, but the deep run and pool of summertime was now a raging torrent with only a small pocket along the west bank that might hold fish. We gave this area a solid effort, but nothing was showing, so we reeled up our flies and stashed our gear in the BMW and returned to the Gabourys to escape the building rainstorm.

It was a fun day in the high and turbid waters of Brush Creek, and I now have confidence that I can catch fish in these conditions. I also resolved to learn how to tie pine squirrel leeches, as I’ve now discovered their effectiveness on several occasions.

Brush Creek – 05/24/2014

Time: 2:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Sylvan Lake Road to the beginning of the private water.

Fish Landed: 0

Brush Creek 05/24/2014 Photo Album

With snow melt still on the upswing on Colorado rivers and streams, would it be possible to catch fish in moving water, or should I be turning my attention to stillwater or travel to other locations such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania where mountain snow melt is not a factor? My friend Dave Gaboury swears that it is possible to catch trout under the less than favorable conditions of high dirty water.

Beth and Dave live in Olathe, KS most of the time, but they also own a second home in Eagle, CO. They graciously invited Jane and I to join them and two other mutual friends for the Memorial Day Weekend. We quickly accepted, but I expected to mostly relax, eat, play games and undertake bike rides to get exercise. When I spoke to Dave G., however, he stressed that I should bring my fishing gear as we would do some fishing. I was skeptical, but he had done this before, and he was quite adamant that we would catch fish.

Jane and I departed Denver at 9:30AM on Saturday and arrived at Eagle, CO by noon. We made delicious sandwiches in the Gaboury kitchen, and then Dave G. asked if I was ready to fish. The sky was quite cloudy and overcast, but the clouds were high and didn’t suggest an immediate threat of rain. We put on our waders and configured our rods, and Jane drove us to our starting point where Brush Creek flows under Sylvan Lake Road at the northern end of Eagle Ranch. The creek was rushing rapidly toward the Eagle River and was the color of weak chocolate milk and came within 6-12 inches of the top of the bank in most places.

Dave G. Confident We Will Catch Fish

Dave G. Confident We Will Catch Fish

I was quite intimidated with these conditions, and I must admit that I had minimal confidence that either of us would hook, let alone land a fish. We began the ritual of playing hopscotch and fished our way along the right west bank. Every other time I fished Brush Creek, I could easily wade from one side to the other, but on Saturday we were locked to one side as it was too dangerous to cross. Dave G. suggested using two worm flies; an annelid style with red ribbing wrapped around the hook and bend and a classic red San Juan worm. I accepted his advice and tied one of each type of worm to my line beneath a thingamabobber and split shot.

Water Up to the Bank

Water Up to the Bank

It didn’t take long before Dave G. miraculously landed a small brown, but I continued hopping by him, and I didn’t experience any success. In fact within the first half hour I got snagged to the bottom twice and broke off both flies and the split shot. Dave G. suggested that I use 4X tippet to prevent frequent break offs, but I only had 3X, so I tied that on to my leader using a surgeon’s knot. Unfortunately I only had two red San Juan worms in my arsenal, so once I broke off the second one, I changed to a chocolate brown worm. When I stripped it in, I noticed that there was very little contrast in the brown murky water.

Meanwhile Dave G. continued to add to his fish count while my confidence slid to new depths. I decided I needed more contrast so I clipped off the brown San Juan worm and replaced it with a black woolly worm. This fly was at least 20 years old as I tied a few in Pennsylvania when I first began fly tying. Finally in a narrow relatively still area between the bank and the raging current I experienced a momentary hook up. I was attached to the fish long enough to lift its nose out of the water, but I could not determine which fly it took.

Another Drift

Another Drift

Because of the high water we were covering the stream quite rapidly as we continued to take turns in the fishable water, and there were large gaps in between. Finally I moved above Dave G. to a spot where he was confident I would catch a nice fish as he had hooked up with a brown in excess of 15 inches in this location previously. Much to my surprise as I lifted the line next to an exposed stick to make sure I wasn’t snagged, I felt some weight and set the hook. Immediately a nice fish began to thrash and fight to free itself. As the trout fought back and forth in the area between the heavy current and the bank, I enjoyed several views of it, and it surely was a fine brown in the fifteen inch range. Finally I felt I had tired it out enough to bring it to the bank in order to net, so I applied side pressure to keep its nose above the water and bring it across the current to where I was standing. Unfortunately the brown used its remaining energy to twist its head, and the hook came free. Not only did I fail to land a nice brown, but now I also didn’t know which fly enticed the finned foe.

Judging from the way the fish was fighting, I guessed that it was on the woolly worm. Since the woolly worm was an antique fly, I was concerned that the hook was too dull, so I clipped it off and replaced it with an orange and black woolly bugger. Unfortunately by now we were near our end point, the barbed wire fence that demarcated the beginning of the private water, so I only tested the orange and black woolly bugger for a short amount of time. When we reached the private water we both reeled up our lines and returned to the Gaboury house for snacks and cocktails.

End of Day Saturday at the Private Water

End of Day Saturday at the Private Water

Dave G. did indeed prove that he could catch fish in the high muddy conditions characterized by runoff. I also managed to connect with two fish, but was not fortunate enough to bring them to my net. I did, however, now believe that it was possible to catch fish under adverse runoff conditions.

South Boulder Creek – 05/20/2014

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: One mile from the parking lot where there is a huge mass of large boulders extending from the path to the stream

Fish Landed: 4

South Boulder Creek 05/20/2014 Photo Album

With work commitments scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, I knew that Tuesday was my best opportunity to enjoy a day of fishing. The high temperatures in Denver were forecast to be in the upper 70’s, so from a weather perspective as well, Tuesday was favorable for fishing.

Now the challenge revolved around finding a stream that was still in reasonable fishing condition, as I had not checked stream flows in a week. I went down the South Platte watershed list on the DWR website which is listed alphabetically. Bear Creek was at 132 cfs so I crossed it off. This is roughly six times ideal flows. Clear Creek swelled from 120 cfs to 251 cfs in the last couple days, so that was not an option. The South Platte River below Cheesman Reservoir jumped from 280 cfs to 400 cfs in a matter of a day. 400 is high, and I don’t like water that increased significantly within the last couple days as the fish haven’t had time to adjust. The South Platte River below Strontia Springs in Waterton Canyon was at 222 cfs, and from previous experience that is high for the narrow canyon stream bed, so that wasn’t a good destination. The Big Thompson skyrocketed from 130 cfs to 330 cfs in five days, so this was another show stopper.

I finally uncovered two options. South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir was listed at 132 cfs, and I fished it earlier in May at 148 cfs, so I knew this was manageable. The South Platte River near Lake George was presented at 75 cfs and actually this projected the best fishing conditions within a day drive of Denver. I had fished the South Platte on Friday and experienced a fine day, but I opted for South Boulder Creek due to its proximity.

At the Start

At the Start

I got off to a late start as I had to handle some chores for the workmen delivering sheet rock for the basement finish project, and consequently I pulled into the parking lot above South Boulder Creek at 10:15. By the time I pulled on my waders and prepared my gear for fishing and hiked down to the stream it was approaching 11AM. It was overcast and cool with the temperature in the low 50’s when I began. I had my 5 weight Loomis two piece rod and began with a tan pool toy and below that I added a beadhead hares ear nymph. These flies were not productive and after moving upstream for thirty yards, I swapped the hares ear for an emerald caddis pupa, and added a third fly in the form of a beadhead bright green caddis pupa.

These flies also proved to be out of favor with the South Boulder Creek trout, so after a reasonable test period, I clipped off the bright green caddis pupa and replaced it with a salvation nymph. This finally turned the tide, and I landed two small rainbows on the salvation nymph. By 12:30 I had two fish in my count, and I was feeling hungry and a bit chilled, so I paused for lunch. I removed the fleece that I tied around my waist under my waders and pulled it on, and then I sat next to the stream below a nice pool and ate my lunch while observing the water.

Nice Pool Did Not Yield Fish

Nice Pool Did Not Yield Fish

The water was high for the relatively small Boulder Creek stream bed, and there were minimal points where I could safely cross to the bank away from the path so I remained on the more accessible side. Most of the water I was able to fish was in the 5-10 feet of space bordering the bank where the high current velocity was broken by logs and large boulders. After lunch I decided to exchange the salvation nymph for a soft hackle emerger since I spotted one or two blue winged olive mayflies fluttering in the air above the water. I stuck with the pool toy, emerald caddis and soft hackle emerger for a fair amount of time and covered a decent amount of water. For some reason I began to experience fairly frequent refusals to the pool toy and disregard for the trailing subsurface patterns.

The normally productive edge water was not producing, so I began to experiment with fishing some of the deep slots and troughs where currents merged as I took a lesson from my success on Friday on the South Platte River. This actually worked, and I landed a very bright and colorful eleven inch rainbow that attacked the emerald caddis. At the tail of the drift as I gradually lifted my rod to make another cast, the rainbow grabbed the caddis.

Bright Rainbow with Emerald Caddis Pupa in Its Mouth

Bright Rainbow with Emerald Caddis Pupa in Its Mouth

The soft hackle emerger had now been on my line for a fair amount of time without generating any interest, so I decided that there was no significant BWO activity in spite of the overcast conditions. I concluded that I might as well offer something larger and with more flash, so I reverted to the salvation nymph as it had at least produced two fish earlier. I began to direct my casts to the deeper slots and troughs and executed swings and lifts at the end of the drift and managed two land a second brightly colored rainbow on the salvation nymph. In addition I felt the temporary weight of two other fish that reacted to the swing and lift approach, however, I was unsuccessful in bringing these fish to my net. The frequency of contact with fish did in fact improve and held my interest until close to 2:30PM.

Salvation Nymph Was the Top Producer

Salvation Nymph Was the Top Producer

Despite more action and changing my tactics to prioritize a different type of water and drift, I continued to notice refusals. Once a fish rose to inspect the pool toy but returned to its lie without taking the fly, it no longer responded to repeated drifts. I was bothered by this interest in surface food accompanied by a reluctance to eat the floating morsel, so I removed my three flies and experimented with some dry flies over the final hour. I tried a gray size 16 deer hair caddis and a green size 12 stimulator, but these didn’t even generate a refusal. It was worth a try, but I now reached the pedestrian bridge and decided to cross and cover the same water that I’d cast to on my two hour visit during an earlier evening in May.

A Second Bright Rainbow in the PM

A Second Bright Rainbow in the PM

I carefully walked along the path on the south bank of the creek and then dropped down the steep slope to the point where several currents merge in a deep run before the main current then deflects off a large vertical wall. I reverted to the dry/dropper technique and deployed the tan pool toy with a beadhead hares ear and then the salvation nymph. I thoroughly covered the attractive water characterized by merging currents and the deep trough, but nothing responded to my careful presentations. I was certain that this area would yield a fish, but I was wrong. I turned around and moved up along the south bank for another twenty yards, but again I was thwarted in my efforts to land  a fish.

Self Timer

Self Timer

I was now growing frustrated with the lack of action, and it was approaching 3:30 so I decided to climb back up the steep bank to the path and explore the nice water on the south side above the pedestrian bridge. I angled back to the creek a short distance above the bridge and prospected twenty yards of decent water, but I’d lost confidence, and the fish weren’t doing anything to reverse my mental state. I decided to call it a day and made the return hike and ascent out of the canyon to the Santa Fe.

Wildflowers and Cactus

Wildflowers and Cactus

I enjoyed a beautiful day in a scenic canyon setting a little over an hour from home, and I managed to land four pretty fish. While the catch rate was beneath my usual rate, I was fishing in a stream on May 20, and that in and of itself was quite an accomplishment. My stream fishing days in Colorado appear to be numbered, and I will shortly turn my attention to stillwaters.

South Platte River – 05/16/2014

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Wildcat Canyon

Fish Landed: 21

South Platte River 05/16/2014 Photo Album

The Mothers’ Day snowstorm came and went, but the air temperatures remained unseasonably cold Monday through Thursday. I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself, as I was certain that the cold winter weather caused me to miss my last chance to stream fish in Colorado before the snowmelt bloated all the rivers and streams. But just for fun, I decided to check the DWR site and review the stream flows during the middle of the week. Much to my surprise, the cold temperatures halted the snow melt, and a number of streams within a day trip of Denver were at near ideal flows. I was positioned at work to take a day off, so I made plans for a fishing excursion on Friday.

All spring I had been considering a trip to the South Platte River in the Wildcat Canyon area. I’ve fished this gorgeous stretch of water ten or so times, but always after mid-August and never in the spring before the flows climb to difficult levels. I checked the flows on the South Platte River near Lake George, and they were 85 cfs, so this concluded my deliberations. Because this destination involves a hike in excess of one hour, I prepared everything on Thursday evening so I could get off to an early start. I even made a pack in fishing list on my iPhone so that I could assure myself that I would not forget any critical item when I packed for the three mile hike away from the car. I also made a list of all the flies I thought I might need and went through my front pack and fly boxes and added flies where I determined that I might be in short supply.

Everything worked as planned, and I left my house in Denver at 6:25AM. Denver traffic slowed me a bit, but I arrived at the trailhead by 8:45AM and the dashboard thermometer registered 39 degrees. I decided to wear my waders and wading boots for the three mile hike to the river in order to lighten the load on my back, and the cold morning temperatures reinforced that decision. I wore my fleece over my Columbia long sleeved undershirt and fishing shirt, and this proved to be a mistake. Once I was on my way, the intense exertion caused me to perspire quite a bit under the fleece layer.

The Platte River Trail

The Platte River Trail

I stopped at my usual staging area at 10AM after a one hour hike and rigged my fly rod and took off the fleece layer. I stuffed my lunch and raincoat in my fishing backpack and returned to the Platte Trail and hiked for another 15 minutes downstream until I reached the spot where the river narrows into a whitewater chute. I entered just above this point and tied on a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear and began prospecting all the likely locations where trout might rest and feed. I failed to land the first couple fish that I hooked but eventually landed three or four on the hares ear.

The sky was clear and the sun warmed things up considerably at this point, but I covered some attractive water without any results so I tied on another section of leader and added a salvation nymph below the hares ear nymph. This combination broke my slump, and I added a couple more trout that hammered the salvation nymph.

Clear and 85 CFS

Clear and 85 CFS

By noon some large gray clouds moved above the canyon and blocked the sun, and some strong breezes kicked up.  This development caused me to become quite chilled, and I thought it might rain, so I took time to remove my raincoat from my backpack and put it on over my clammy shirt. This helped for the time being, and now I was distracted by the appearance of some rises at the tail of a nice deep pool. Around this time I somehow created an enormous tangle, and in order to undo it, I removed both the subsurface flies. Before resuming, I decided to switch to a beadhead emerald caddis pupa and a small soft hackle emerger. I suspected the rises were in response to some early emerging blue winged olives, and my choice of the soft hackle emerger hopefully matched this food source. I’d also spotted a few random caddis on the water, so the emerald pupa hopefully covered this possibility.

Soft Hackle Emerger Spent Some Time on My Line

Soft Hackle Emerger Spent Some Time on My Line

These choices proved to be solid, and I landed four more fish primarily on the soft hackle emerger by 12:30PM. As this successful change in strategy was evolving, the sky grew darker and strong gusts of wind became a more frequent occurrence. My sun gloves had become saturated in the process of releasing fish, and now the cooling effect of evaporation was resulting in a dull ache and constant stiffness of my fingers. My feet were more like stumps as the feeling was draining from my toes, and the moist undershirt and fishing shirt were adding to my misery. I decided to return to my backpack and obtain another layer before proceeding.

A Pretty 12 Inch Rainbow

A Pretty 12 Inch Rainbow

When I arrived back at the staging area, I discovered two fishermen in the midst of resting, and they were eating their lunch. I chatted briefly with them, and dug into my backpack and pulled out my fleece and my New Zealand hat with ear flaps. Once these were secured on my body, I decided to eat my lunch before returning to my exit point. I sat by the stream and quickly consumed my snack while watching one of the fishermen enter the nearby pool and attempt to fool some sporadic risers with a dry fly. The young fisherman was unsuccessful in his endeavor, and I finished my lunch, so I bid them farewell and walked quickly down the path to my ending point prior to lunch.

I was much more comfortable when I entered the river, and the warm hat probably made the most difference. I continued prospecting the water with the Chernobyl ant, emerald caddis pupa and soft hackle emerger for the remainder of the afternoon and added another eleven fish to my total of ten before lunch. I spotted the occasional blue winged olive in the air, but the hatch was quite sparse. Fortunately this did not seem to hinder the fish from being on the lookout for the tasty tiny morsels that drifted in the water column as I landed most of my fish on the soft hackle emerger.

One of the Nicer Brown Trout

One of the Nicer Brown Trout

As I’ve stated previously in this blog, I relish this sort of fishing. I moved quickly up the river and popped three to five casts in all the likely pockets, runs and pools and picked up fish on a regular basis. It didn’t take long to discover that the most productive areas were deep troughs at the very tail of pools where two currents merged. If I allowed the flies to drift beyond the point where I normally would lift to cast again, a nice trout would often hammer the trailing soft hackle emerger. I tried lifting the flies when upstream or accelerating the drift via quick bad mends, but none of these techniques produced like the swing at the tail of a long pool.

Toward the end of the afternoon, I snapped the two subsurface flies off on a streamside willow on a backcast. I somehow was able to spot the two flies dangling in the air and retrieved them, but I used this as an opportunity to switch flies and converted to a dark olive deer hair caddis. The caddis brought a couple refusals and two or three momentary hook ups, but I was unable to land any fish with this surface fly. It was clearly close to what the fish were looking for, but perhaps off a bit in color or size.

By 4PM I was feeling quite weary from perhaps my longest extended period of constant wading and casting of the season to date, so I decided to call it quits. Despite the continuing colder than expected air temperatures and thick gray clouds, I shed all my layers down to my fishing shirt. I knew the exertion of hiking and climbing would elevate my body temperature, and I didn’t want to repeat the mistake of overdressing for the return hike. This strategy worked to some degree, but I was still quite perspired and exhausted when I reached the Santa Fe at 5:30.

Once again the remote stretch of the South Platte River yielded a fine productive day of fishing. I’ve had better days later in the season when my catch rate was higher, and the size of the fish were larger, but Friday was still a great experience particularly in the middle of May when I’m usually without good stream options. The allure of Wildcat Canyon is its remoteness and the solitude of having a gorgeous natural stretch of water essentially to myself. The fish aren’t large, but they are numerous and more opportunistic than the trout encountered in other highly pressured Colorado streams. If only the physical effort required for a day of fishing in this area weren’t so taxing, but this is probably the reason it remains wild and pristine and one of my favorite places.

South Boulder Creek – 05/06/2014

Time: 5:00PM – 7:00PM

Location: From below footbridge upstream

Fish Landed: 3

South Boulder Creek 05/06/2014 Photo Album

Tuesday proved to be a gorgeous day in Denver, and I was at a good pausing point at work, so I decided to leave early and make my first evening fishing venture of 2014. By the time I left work, returned home, packed my gear and drove to South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir; it was 5PM. Traffic was heavy on westbound I70 resulting in an extra fifteen minutes of drive time. In addition, as I drove west I noticed some dark gray clouds hovering over the front range. I chose to place a positive spin on the weather and told myself that some overcast skies and light rain would probably translate to improved fishing.

There were three or four additional cars in the parking lot, so I didn’t have the space to myself, and three young fishermen were stringing their rods and close to departing as I climbed into my waders and put together my rod. The threesome headed down the trail ten minutes before me, but when I made my descent down the steep trail to the stream, I came upon them quite quickly as they jumped in the water relatively close to the beginning of the open fishing water.

I hiked past them and continued a half mile or so until I reached the pedestrian bridge, and here I crossed to the southeast side of the creek. The flows were up quite a bit from my previous visit, and when I checked them beforehand on the DWR web site, they were 149 cfs. I knew from a previous trip that I could fish at 180 cfs, but I also realized that this was higher than ideal and would entail tossing a lot of casts along the bank and behind current breaks.

After crossing the bridge, I began hiking up the steep trail that is part of the Walker Ranch Loop, but I veered to the left and followed a fisherman path along the south bank until I reached a very large vertical rock wall. Here I clambered down to the edge of the stream and fed my line through the guides and tied on some flies. To begin, I attached a tan pool toy and below that an emerald caddis pupa and then added a soft hackle emerger. By now it was quite overcast, so I was covering the possibility that the gloomy weather might initiate a blue winged olive hatch or an evening caddis emergence. It was clear that some adverse weather was moving in, and the temperature dropped considerably so I removed my raincoat from my backpack and pulled it on beneath my wader straps mainly to serve as a windbreaker and add a layer of warmth.

A Tan Pool Toy to Start

A Tan Pool Toy to Start

Initially I made some downstream casts to some very juicy runs that deflected against the vertical rock wall and gradually covered the water until I rolled out a forty foot cast to a nice current seam where two currents merged. In an instant I saw the pool toy dive and set the hook, but my excitement transitioned to disappointment when I realized that the nice rainbow on the end of my line was foul hooked. After another ten minutes of searching I turned my attention in the opposite direction, and I began prospecting along the left bank and moved upstream covering the forty yards of water between my start point and the bridge. This period was characterized as frustrating as I pricked two or three fish along the way and witnessed several refusals of the pool toy. I was attracting the interest of fish, but I was unable to fulfill my goal of putting some weight in my net.

Starting Point on South Boulder Creek on Tuesday Evening

Starting Point on South Boulder Creek on Tuesday Evening

During this period I somehow broke off the soft hackle emerger, so I decided to replace it with a beadhead hares ear nymph. I wasn’t seeing any natural BWO’s in the air, and given the higher flows, I felt more confident having a larger fly that the fish could see. This seemed to help my plight and after making the change I hooked and landed a small rainbow that struck the emerald caddis pupa. I continued above the bridge and in the next nice stretch of water before a thunderous whitewater chute, I hooked and landed another rainbow on the emerald caddis. I would eventually discover that this fish was the nicest fish of the evening, and I snapped a photo while I held the catch above the stream.

Best Fish Took Emerald Caddis Pupa

Best Fish Took Emerald Caddis Pupa

It was right around this time that some rain began to fall, and I was quite pleased that I already had my rain jacket in place to keep me warm and protect me from the moisture. The next 45 minutes or so prior to quitting were spent working my way upstream along the left bank. It seemed like the quality of the water and my approach should have been producing more action, but unfortunately this was not the case. While I was fishing the water closer to the bridge, two of the young fishermen that left the parking lot ahead of me passed me on the path along the left bank.

I managed to land one more eight inch rainbow in the last 45 minutes, and this fish struck the hares ear as I gave it a lift next to a large submerged rock, but even repeating this technique that worked once didn’t seem to increase the interest of the fish in my offerings. By seven PM I was feeling quite chilled; mainly my feet that were constantly submerged in the ice cold flows from the bottom release dam, so I decided to begin my outbound hike. As I climbed up the bank to the path I noticed several wet imprints in the gravel, so I began to suspect that the young fishermen had gone ahead of me and covered the water that I was now exiting from. I’m not suggesting that they crowded my space, but it’s always difficult to be the second fisherman through water that was recently covered by others. Fish go on high alert and procure more secure positions. The basic need of safety supersedes the other primary need of food.

I completed the vigorous hike out of the canyon and packed my gear and made the drive back to my home where Jane and I grabbed a quick bite at Burger Works. It wasn’t an extremely productive outing, but it was enjoyable to get out on a weeknight. I had quite a few opportunities to catch more fish, and as always I was alone with my thoughts and challenged trying to solve the riddle of how to entice small trout to eat imitations that I created myself. There may not be many more opportunities before the full force of the heavy snow pack rushes down the streams of Colorado.

 

Big Thompson River – 05/02/2014

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Began above RV park at bend on Route 34 (RV park has been washed away)

Fish Landed: 10

Big Thompson River 05/02/2014 Photo Album

Unusually heavy and steady rain during September 2013 brought flooding to most of the rivers and streams that drain from the front range to the South Platte River. This included several of my favorite destinations, the Big Thompson River and St. Vrain River. I read a report on the Big Thompson River which stated that the fish population was unaffected, and in fact electroshocking surveys suggested that the eight miles below Lake Estes contained more fish than were present prior to the flood. The St. Vrain suffered more devastation than the other front range streams, and I saw a report that the North Fork below Buttonrock Reservoir would not reopen for fishing until 2015.

The greatest obstacle to fishing the Big Thompson seemed to be damage to the highways that provide access to Estes Park and the river below the dam. When I checked the stream flows on Thursday night as I considered options for a day of fishing on Friday, I noticed that the Big Thompson was actually running low at 40 cfs. Flows on other streams in the Denver area were already edging up with snow melt entering the picture. Before committing to the Big Thompson, I decided to make a phone call to Kirk’s Fly Shop in Estes Park to get information on the roads between Denver and the river. The young man that answered the phone told me that waits were consistently one half hour on route 36 from Lyons to Estes Park. He recommended taking an alternative route out of Lyons that looped south and then along the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. When I asked about route 34 from Loveland to Estes Park, he suggested this as another good option as the construction waits averaged 5-10 minutes compared to longer waits on 36.

I decided to gamble on the route through Loveland and called my friend Lonnie Maddox to let him know I would be passing near his home. Lonnie said that he and Debbie would be home in the late afternoon, so we made plans for a short visit on my return trip.

Big Thompson Was Low and Clear on Friday

Big Thompson Was Low and Clear on Friday

I got off to a reasonably early start at 8:45 and arrived at a pullout next to the river by 10:15 as I experienced a 10-15 minute wait at the entrance to the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. As I drove west, I was a bit concerned because the river was chocolate covered over the first section from the canyon entrance to Drake, CO. Once I drove beyond Drake, however, the water clarity improved considerably until it became crystal clear where I stopped to begin my day. Low flows at 40 cfs and clear water suggested some skittish fish. The sky did have some high clouds off and on, so that helped a bit, but for the most part it was bright and sunny, and this added to the fishing difficulty. As always there were gusts of wind rolling down the canyon to make things more interesting.

Once I pulled on my waders and rigged my fly rod, I walked down the road twenty yards to the northern border of what used to be a RV park. The entire area that previously was filled with RV’s was now a sand beach with a few remaining platforms that were apparently solidly anchored during the flood. From the road next to my car I could see two or three fish in the clear pool below me, and I even spotted a rise or two. Because the water was so clear and low, I didn’t want to create too much surface disturbance, so I tied on a size 16 dark olive deer hair caddis and placed some long casts into the nice pool in front of me.

It wasn’t long before a brown trout smacked the caddis, and I landed my first fish of the day. Unfortunately as I cautiously moved closer to the deepest part of the pool, I could see quite a few fish in front of me, but they were showing no interest in my caddis. I turned my attention to a nice faster run that rushed by me ten feet to the right, and as my fly drifted along the inner current seam, a rainbow rose and slurped the caddis. It was a decent start to my day, but I could see a lot of remaining fish in the pool that were ignoring my offering. Perhaps they were tuned in to something subsurface such as an emerger or nymph.

Some attractive water beckoned above the pool that I dwelled in, and I didn’t want to jump to the dry/dropper method prematurely, so I moved on. I picked up the pace a bit and managed a third trout on the deer hair caddis before I looked at my watch and noticed it was noon and time to eat lunch. The car was quite close so I climbed the bank and grabbed my lunch and returned to the edge of the river to eat and observe. I didn’t really see any significant insect activity, so when I resumed I decided to try the dry/dropper method. The water that I was approaching was faster and appropriate for a nymphing method.

Pretty Big T Rainbow

Pretty Big T Rainbow

I snipped off the caddis and tied on a tan pool toy and dangled an emerald caddis pupa and below that a bright green caddis pupa. For the next two or three hours I worked this three fly combination through all the likely runs and pockets as I progressed upstream and landed another five fish including several pretty bright rainbow trout in the 12-13 inch range. I enjoy this type of fishing where I’m constantly moving and prospecting the likely holding spots. The large buoyant pool toy was a pleasure to use under these circumstances as it easily supported two beadhead flies and was readily visible in the swirling riffles and currents.

Emerald Caddis Pupa Produced Two Fish

Emerald Caddis Pupa Produced Two Fish

At 3PM I’d gone awhile without any action so I decided to make another switch. I noticed a few BWO’s fluttering about, so I downsized my top fly to a yellow size 12 stimulator and then I added a soft hackle emerger as a dropper. The soft hackle emerger is not as heavy as the larger nymphs and pupa, so I felt I could get away with the smaller top fly. I managed to land a trout on the yellow stimulator, but never had any success with the soft hackle emerger and eventually I clipped them both off and tried a Chernobyl ant with a salvation nymph. The salvation nymph proved to be a winner as I landed my tenth and last fish as I approached a forbidding barbed wire fence spanning the river with a sign that made it clear that no trespassing was allowed.

It was a beautiful spring day on the Big Thompson River, and I discovered that the trout do in fact remain despite the destructive forces of a flood. Fish apparently deal with natural disasters better than human beings. I drove back down the canyon with no construction stoppage on late Friday afternoon and then turned and drove a mile south from route 34 in Loveland and visited with Lonnie and Debbie for a half hour. Spring is finally arriving in Colorado.