South Boulder Creek 12/08/2015 Photo Album
After a four day severe cold snap over Thanksgiving weekend, the Colorado weather pattern gradually warmed until high temperatures were forecast to climb to sixty degrees today, Tuesday, December 8, 2015. I could not resist the temptation to initiate a late season fishing outing, but I probably should have.
I packed a lunch and tossed all my gear in the Santa Fe and set out for Clear Creek at 10:15. I considered South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River, but both those streams registered very low flows. South Boulder Creek was trickling from Gross Reservoir at 8.5 cfs, and the Big Thompson was slightly higher at 25 cfs. The elevation on the Big Thompson below Lake Estes is much higher than South Boulder Creek and Clear Creek, so I eliminated that from consideration. Denver Water continues to run minimal water into South Boulder Creek, and I was concerned about fishing in such low conditions.
When I crossed Colorado 93 west of Golden and entered Clear Creek Canyon, I quickly glanced at the stream on my left and discovered that a large amount of snow remained in the canyon, and several feet of shelf ice extended over the stream on both banks. Clear Creek is a high gradient stream, and I make most of my casts to slack slow moving water along the banks, so I quickly concluded that the icy conditions were not conducive to catching fish on Clear Creek.
Tough Conditions in Clear Creek Canyon
I carefully executed a U-turn on Route 6 and began driving east. Initially I decided to abandon my quest for fish, but as I reached Route 93, I reconsidered and made a left turn to travel north and west to South Boulder Creek. Because South Boulder Creek is a tailwater, I speculated that it would at least be free of shelf ice. I remained concerned about the low flows, but I knew from fishing at 17 cfs that quite a few deep slow moving pools remained where the fish could congregate. In a worst case scenario, I would enjoy a nice scenic drive in the front range foothills, and I could scout out South Boulder Creek. The other factor that I failed to note in the weather report was the high winds, and as I drove north on Colorado 93, I observed a high wind advisory sign. How crazy was it to attempt fly fishing when a high wind advisory was posted?
When I reached the bottom of the gravel road that descends from Coal Creek Canyon to South Boulder Creek, I paused and peered down at the stream. It was definitely low, but it appeared to be free of ice, so I continued around the bend below the dam and then pulled into the parking lot .2 miles up the hill. One other sedan was present as I prepared to fish. I slid into my Adidas pullover, and used it as a windbreaker over my hooded fleece. I chose my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps to warm my head, and extracted my fingerless wool gloves from my tote bag. The temperature on the dashboard was 42 degrees as I prepared to fish South Boulder Creek.
I hiked down the steep trail to the edge of the creek and then continued downstream. Relatively early on my entry hike I passed another fisherman who was likely the owner of the other car in the parking lot. This meant I had the entire tailwater below the upper stretch to myself. I hiked along the north side of the river until I approached the first place where some large rocks met the stream, and here I waded out a bit, and I tossed some casts to a nice small pool of moderate depth. I began with a pink pool toy and a beadhead ultra zug bug, but nothing responded to my initial drifts.
After five or six casts I crossed to the south side of the stream and followed the path downstream. Since I knew that the only other fisherman was upstream, I targeted the attractive long pool that was one hundred yards above the pedestrian bridge. This pool is favored by nearly every angler that visits South Boulder Creek, so I decided to claim it before anyone else arrived. As I expected, when the pool came into view, it was vacant. I positioned myself at the head of the pool and began drifting my pair of flies along the entering current and next to a protruding rock.
The Long Deep Pool of South Boulder Creek
This tactic did not yield results, so I waded upstream a bit until I was five feet below the rock. Here I could see into the water with my polarized lenses, and three medium sized rainbow trout were spaced along the near side of the run. I could now observe their reaction to my flies, and it was clear that they were ignoring my offerings. After many casts I added a salvation nymph and presented two subsurface flies, but this strategy was equally ineffective. Next I exchanged the salvation nymph for a zebra midge, and again no response. As this was going on, I noticed two or three random rises in the water next to the rock and also along the current seam. What were these fish eating?
Finally after an excessive amount of time in one area, I decided to move to the next juicy spot just above the exposed rock. This location was also inviting with a nice deep hole and a shelf pool on the opposite side of the creek. By now I concluded that the pink pool toy might be scaring fish in the very low clear winter flows, so I downsized to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle with dubbed peacock body. The random rises seemed to occur after a gust of wind, so perhaps some beetles and ants remained in the streamside trees and shrubs. I flicked the beetle to the run and then along the far current seam, but my casts failed to elicit any interest.
Perhaps ants were the prevailing terrestrial late season snack? I tied a length of tippet to the bend of the beetle and added a parachute ant, and then I lobbed a cast to the slow shelf water at the top of the pool across from me. On the third cast I spotted a brief swirl to the ant just as it began to drag. Finally a glimpse of action gave me faint hope that I could catch a fish in December. Unfortunately I could not tempt another attack, but when the wind died back and the surface became clear, I could see into the pool and noticed three or four decent fish in front of me. Two of these fish were nice sized rainbows that were tucked right in front of a large subsurface rock just across from my position.
I Fished the Area at the Head of the Long Pool
Now that I could see my targets, I fell into the trap of switching flies with the hope of finding a winner. Whenever I dwell in an area and focus on a fish or several fish that are hugging the bottom and not rising, it never seems to end well, and this would be no different. I tested the zebra midge, a sunken trico, and soft hackle emerger as droppers from the beetle, and none of these small offerings resulted in a netted fish. I may have had a momentary hook up on the sunken trico, although it may just as well have been a snag on bottom.
Clearly the beetle/nymph strategy was failing on these jaded trout, so I tried the double dry gambit. I clipped off the soft hackle emerger and replaced it with a size 16 brown olive deer hair caddis. The light tan wing of this fly was quite easy to follow behind the beetle, and finally on the sixth drift along the current seam, I was surprised when a trout darted to the surface and nipped at the caddis. I quickly executed a hook set, and once again I briefly felt some throbbing weight, but then just as abruptly the fish escaped. This would be the highlight of my two hours of fishing on South Boulder Creek.
I worked the beetle/caddis combination for another fifteen minutes but only managed to increase my futility. In a last gasp effort to prevent a skunking, I switched the caddis for a beadhead emerald caddis pupa. Perhaps I was not getting the subsurface fly deep enough and in front of the noses of the pair of nice fish in front of the rock. Alas, this tactic also failed, and my feet and hands were feeling quite chilled, so I backed out of the creek and hooked my flies to the rod guide. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 2PM, and I promised myself to quit fishing by early afternoon. I resumed my hike along the south trail, and then crossed and ascended the steep trail to the parking lot.
I was disappointed to register zero fish, but I still enjoyed my two hours on South Boulder Creek. I discovered that the fish continue to dwell in the minimal flows, and my mind was totally focused on fooling the visible fish before me. I was outsmarted by a finned creature with a pea sized brain, but as usual the scenery was gorgeous and the cold clean air was invigorating. It was a typical winter fishing outing.