Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Below Gross Reservoir
After enjoying a decent but not outstanding day on the South Platte River on Monday, I felt a bit burned out by that waterway. Dealing with the weekday crowds was a significant drawback, and I desired one more fishing trip before our scheduled trip to Pennsylvania and Vermont, but I was not interested in a long drive. As is my custom, I examined the DWR stream flows, and this review yielded three closer options. The South Platte River below Cheesman Lake was running in the low 300’s, and this level is higher than ideal but still within the range of comfortable fishing. The Big Thompson River was up to 125 CFS. This is at the top of the ideal range, but I experienced decent success at these levels in previous years. I was ignoring South Boulder Creek because of extremely low flows (15 CFS), but I now noted that releases bumped the volume below Gross Reservoir to 30 CFS. South Boulder Creek is within an hour drive of my home, so I decided to make this my destination on Wednesday May 25.
One hour of driving delivered me to the parking lot high above the creek. Two trucks and one SUV were already present, so after I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and stashed my lunch in my backpack, I descended the steep path and hiked along the trail until I was below the pedestrian bridge that leads to the Crescent Meadows parking lot. I passed four fishermen along the way, so I was hopeful that I had the lower part of the canyon to myself. In order to give myself space I hiked for a decent distance, and then I dropped down the bank to the stream.
The temperature was in the mid-fifties with sporadic strong gusting wind when I departed at the trailhead . Unfortunately the weather never changed until the wind died back between three and four o’clock. This coincided with fewer clouds and longer periods of sunshine. For the most part large clouds blocked the sun, and chilling wind blasted down the canyon. I was pleased to wear my fleece and raincoat, and occasionally rued my decision to leave my hat with earflaps in the car.
Although 30 CFS is below what I consider ideal for this small Front Range stream, it was adequate to avoid highly technical fishing. By 11:30 I tied a gray stimulator to my tippet and began prospecting all the likely fish holding nooks. I was hesitant to begin plunking a large foam attractor, since the flows remained on the low side, but the stimulator failed to arouse much interest, so after fifteen minutes I took the plunge. I tied on a fat Albert with an orange floss body, and below that indicator fly I attached an ultra zug bug and a beadhead hares ear.
I continued moving upstream, and I was shocked to land my first fish, a small nine inch brown trout, on the large foam attractor. Sometimes trout can be very unpredictable. The remainder of my day was fairly simple. Up until 2:30 I stayed with the same three flies, and I landed ten additional trout bringing the fish counter to eleven. A rainbow gobbled the fat Albert with total confidence, and the other eight landed fish snatched the trailing beadhead hares ear from the drift. The hares ear nymph has staged a comeback comparable to Michael Jordan’s return from minor league baseball. It has become my favorite fly in this late spring pre-runoff time period in Colorado.
The late morning and early afternoon were a fly fishing festival, as I applied my favorite technique of popping short casts to appealing locations. My rapid fire short drifts did not always yield fish, but on a fairly regular basis, a feisty cold water jewel ended up on my line. But in addition to regular action, I was pleased to discover that quite a few of the trout in my net were gorgeous rainbows in the 12-14 inch range. These are very fine fish for the small South Boulder Creek drainage, and the vivid spots and bright colors made them gems in the truest sense of the word.
During some of the dark cloudy periods in the afternoon I noticed some small mayflies in the atmosphere, so I presumed they were blue winged olives. In fact in one large wide and deep pool with a strong center current, I spotted two fish as they aggressively rose to the surface to intercept a natural food morsel. I examined the water closely, but I could not discern any obvious food source on the surface. I was reluctant to make the switch to a single dry based on the hunch that they were taking BWO’s, so I compromised and swapped the hares ear for a soft hackle emerger. I drifted several casts in front of the place where the lower fish in the pool rose twice, but this selective eater was having none of my offerings.
I turned my attention to the fish that rose once along the center current near the midsection of the pool. The first cast drifted two feet, and suddenly the fat Albert darted against the current. I made a swift hook set, and felt the weight of a decent fish for a few seconds, before it somehow shed the hook. I could not be 100% certain, but I guessed that the fish intercepted the soft hackle emerger, and the small size 20 hook was not up to the challenge of holding fast.
Since I made the switch of flies, I fished on with the ultra zug bug and soft hackle emerger for awhile, but eventually I removed the zug bug and continued with the beadhead hares ear and the soft hackle emerger. Between 2:30 and 4:00 the weather improved, but this was offset by less attractive water and the absence of fishing action. The stream was wider, and consequently with flows at 30 CFS offered fewer deep runs and pockets. I skipped much of this water and spent a fair amount of time wading rather than casting. The brighter sun and warmer temperatures were a death knell for the baetis hatch, and this translated to less active fish.
In spite of these negatives I persisted and landed three additional trout to take my fish count to fourteen, however, I must report that these fish were on the small side and did not compare to the beauties that rested in my net earlier. By 4 o’clock I cast to some extremely promising water and could not even generate a refusal. The path was within a foot or two of the creek, and it beckoned me to begin my homeward journey. I acquiesced and made the vigorous hike out of the canyon and ended my day on South Boulder Creek.
Once again I enjoyed a surprisingly productive day of fishing on a Colorado tailwater during the time when most rivers are subject to rising flows and turbid conditions. I was extremely thankful for another day of success, although I feel certain that lake fishing will be in my plans when I return from Vermont on June 8. Nevertheless it was fun while it lasted.
Fish Landed: 14