North Fork of the St. Vrain River – 03/15/2018

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir

North Fork of the St. Vrain River 03/15/2018 Photo Album

My season opener on the South Platte River near Deckers was a disappointing experience, and I was eager to visit another Colorado stream, where I could atone for my frustrating performance. My 2018 fish count consisted entirely of trout landed in the southern hemisphere. Surely Thursday would be the day, when I posted fish number one from North America on the fish counter.

Wednesday was actually a nicer day from a weather standpoint, but a morning doctor appointment prevented a meaningful fishing adventure. Thursday’s forecast projected a high of 65 in Denver with afternoon showers, so I opted to make a second trip in the early season. Historically I enjoyed early and late season success on tailwaters, and when I reviewed the flows, I noted that South Boulder Creek and the North Fork of the St. Vrain were running slightly below 15 CFS. These flows were low, but I knew from experience that a cautious approach and longer casts could produce decent action. The North Fork of the St. Vrain was more open to the direct rays of the sun, so I selected it over South Boulder Creek.

I contacted my Instagram friend, Trevor, and informed him of my decision to visit the North Fork of the St. Vrain, and he decided to meet me there. Trevor prefers an earlier start, so I agreed to look for him on the stream. The time change on Sunday meant that it took longer for the sun to warm the air temperature, and I intended to fish later in the afternoon, so an early start was not a priority for me.


Trevor Changes Flies

I arrived at the parking area near the entry gate by 10AM, and after I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and climbed into my waders, I embarked on a thirty-five minute hike. I tied my light fleece coat around my waist, since I knew that I would overheat with the extra exertion of hiking. I eagerly scanned the creek for Trevor and his dog, Shilling, and finally after the expected walk, I spotted my friend along the left side of a long smooth pool. I asked about Shilling’s whereabouts, and Trevor explained that he left him at home for this longer trip and hike. Trevor also disclosed that he landed a trout near the parking lot, and he spotted numerous fish, as he ambled along the road high above the creek. These pieces of information revved up my expectations, and I announced that I would continue upstream to a point where a large boulder was situated between the road and the stream.

I strung my fly line and tied on a gray stimulator, and below the attractor dry fly I added a beadhead hares ear. I prospected this combination through several attractive areas with no positive results, so I added a size 20 salad spinner. This addition was ineffective, so I replaced the salad spinner with an ultra zug bug. Trevor in the meantime landed two fish that snatched a fly with a sparkling body similar to the ultra zug bug. The changes failed to attract hungry fish, and the stimulator did not support the two beadhead nymphs very well, so I once again initiated a change. I swapped the stimulator for a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle.



Trevor spotted several fish at the tail of a nice pool, but he concluded that his leader was too short, and his flies were passing over the fish. I moved in and made some drifts with my flies, but I experienced a similar lack of interest, and my leader length was similar to Trevor’s. I abandoned the sulking bottom huggers and moved on, but before resuming my casting I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a size 20 soft hackle emerger. This fly produced results during previous March visits, when I observed very small stoneflies, and I was hopeful that a similar occurrence might commence.

I continued fishing with renewed concentration, but the fish were not cooperating. I pondered the situation, and I decided I needed to get deeper, so I clipped off the beetle and replaced it with a size 8 yellow fat Albert. This fly was quite visible, and it could easily support two size 14 beadhead nymphs. Unfortunately my deep drift ploy was also unsuccessful, and Trevor and I approached the large pipe, where the overflow of the lake dumps into the creek. Since it was the middle of March, and the flows were regulated to a paltry 15 cfs, the pipe was dry, but Trevor wanted to show me the pool on the upstream side of the road. We walked across the dirt road, but the small pool was covered with ice. Trevor mentioned that when he checked out the pool later in the season, he observed as many as twenty-five trout gathered in the small space.


Deep Run

We crossed back to the main creek, and Trevor retreated to some nice water thirty yards downstream, while I approached the deep pool across from the pipe. I made some nice long casts to the tail of the pool and then worked the top portion where the faster water entered, but once again my efforts were thwarted.

Trevor and I climbed to the top of the bank on the edge of the road, and we realized that it was noon. Since Trevor volunteers to coach the Longmont baseball team on Thursday afternoons, he departed, and I grabbed a rock high above the creek and devoured my small lunch. My 2018 North American scorecard remained blank.

After lunch I mysteriously broke off the soft hackle emerger, as I began to migrate upstream from the pipe area. It was not producing, so I used this as an opportunity to lengthen my leader and to change flies once again. I added tippet below the fat Albert, and then I reconnected the hares ear. Below the beadhead hares ear I extended another fifteen inches and knotted a salvation nymph to my line. The total length of my droppers below the fat Albert was in excess of three feet, and I had the weight of two size 14 beadhead nymphs to improve the sink rate.


First Trout of 2018 in North America

I once again began to prospect the deep runs and pockets, and finally I connected with a small seven inch brown trout. In spite of the small size, I snapped a couple photos, since it was my first Colorado fish of the new year. In a short amount of time I added another similar small brown trout to the count, and then I was surprised by an eleven inch rainbow trout. Two of the first three trout snatched the hares ear and one attacked the salvation.


A Hares Ear Fooled This Rainbow Trout

It was now around 1PM, and some gray clouds moved in and blocked the warming rays of the sun. I responded by retrieving my light down coat from around my waist, and this improved my comfort level dramatically. I continued my upstream path and tallied two more trout, before I once again inexplicably lost a fly, and this time it was the salvation. At this point four of the five fish preferred the hares ear, so I replaced the salvation with a pheasant tail nymph.


Brilliant Orange Spots

Over the next hour the fish count mounted to ten, and the hares ear accounted for all except one pheasant tail victim. The action was steady up until this point, but each fish required three or more drifts to arouse the interest of the trout. The pheasant tail was in the prime position at the end of my line, and it was relatively ineffective, so I returned to the salvation nymph. This move proved to be a winner, as I landed eight more trout over the remaining two hours. Included in this batch of netted fish were a thirteen and twelve inch brown trout and another eleven inch rainbow. The two afternoon browns were easily the best fish of the day.


Hot Spot

In one particularly productive hot spot, I landed four trout including the eleven inch rainbow and the foot long brown. All of these trout grabbed the trailing salvation nymph. Unlike the early afternoon quite a few fish snatched the tumbling nymphs on the first or second cast. In addition two trout smashed the fat Albert, although I was unable to land these small but aggressive feeders.


A Fine Small Stream Catch

By 3:45 my hands were curled and ached from the cold, and my toes began to lose their feeling. I reeled up my line and hooked my fly to the guide and completed the forty minute hike back to the Santa Fe.

During the morning I failed to land a single fish, but the afternoon proved to be a fun beginning to my fly fishing season in Colorado. I extended my leader, added heavier flies, and changed to a salvation nymph; so it is difficult to isolate which variable produced my afternoon success. The air temperature warmed, and perhaps that prompted the fish to become more aggressive. I will never know which factors contributed to my enjoyable day on the North Fork of the St. Vrain, but I am thankful and anxious to continue my fly fishing adventures in a new year.

Fish Landed: 18

South Platte River – 03/08/2018

Time: 11:00AM – 2:30PM

Location: Morning downstream from Whale Rock; Afternoon just below Deckers

South Platte River 03/08/2018 Photo Album

Highs of 65 degrees in Denver convinced me to make my maiden trip to a northern hemisphere trout stream on Thursday, March 8. Today was exactly one month after Jane and I returned from our exciting trip to New Zealand. I contemplated traveling  to the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek or Boulder Creek, but I somehow convinced myself to give the South Platte River near Deckers another try.

I recalled that my last two season openers occurred on this same section of the South Platte River, and each resulted in a day of futile casting. These thoughts were a strong deterrent; but the flows were running at 180 cfs, and the tailwater in a wide open valley that absorbed an abundance of direct sunshine convinced me to make the drive.

I descended Nighthawk Hill and made a right turn at the T and continued downstream for another couple miles, until I reached a long parking lot along the dirt road. I named this area Whale Rock, since a huge long rounded boulder in the shape of a whale is perched between the road and river at the upstream edge of the parking lot. A car was parked near the entrance to the lot, and I could see the owner fishing in the nice slow moving bend pool adjacent to the parking area. I decided to make Whale Rock my first stop and planned to hike along the shoulder to position myself downstream of the angler who preceded me.


Starting Point to 2018 in North America

I executed this plan and found myself perched on the edge of the river just above a steep whitewater chute, and I rigged my Sage four weight with a strike indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear and salad spinner and began to prospect the deep runs and pockets. For the next half hour I continued this cast and move sequence, until I reached the bend previously occupied by the fisherman, that I observed upon my arrival. During this time I persisted with the hares ear and midge emerger, but the resident fish population, if there was one, eluded my efforts. In fact I never spotted a fish in spite of repeated attempts to pause and observe in a manner similar to my New Zealand sight fishing experience.

At 12:15 I reeled up my line and returned to the car and decided to execute a radical shift in plan. I drove upstream for twenty minutes until I reached a large dirt parking area on a bend just downstream from the village of Deckers. Three cars preceded me, but one angler was removing his waders in preparation for departure. I was astounded by the number of fishermen along the South Platte River on Thursday, March 8. It was a weekday, and each parking lot along the way was occupied with fishermen vehicles. Does anyone in Colorado actually work?

I quickly consumed my lunch and then clipped off the two flies and extended my leader. Insanity is continuing to fish the same way and expect different results, so I swapped the hares ear for a flesh colored San Juan worm, and then I added a size 16 beadhead pheasant tail as the end fly. The San Juan worm and pheasant tail nymph were stellar performers during the halcyon days of the 90’s on the South Platte River, so why not give them a test?

When I was set, I cut directly to the river twenty yards from the Santa Fe, and here I began to drift my subsurface offerings through some quality deep runs. Again my efforts were not rewarded, so I proceeded up along the right channel where the river split around a small narrow willow-covered island. At the top of the right braid two currents merged to create a gorgeous deep run, and my expectations soared, but alas only casting practice ensued.


Junction Pool Looked Attractive, But No Success

At this point I crossed to the road side of the river and climbed a steep bank and returned to the car. The parking lot at the Deckers Store contained numerous SUV’s, and fishermen appeared everywhere. I continued downstream from the parking lot with the intent of fishing back from the first bridge, but as I approached, I spotted a fisherman along the bank changing flies or unraveling a tangle, so I reversed my direction and cut down to the river thirty yards above him. I began drifting the worm and nymph through some attractive deep runs, until I turned my attention to a small but deep pocket along the left bank just above my position. I paused to peer into the clear water and spotted a decent trout, as it held in the deepest section of the area behind an exposed boulder.

I debated switching to a dry/dropper in order to create less disturbance in the relatively thin water, but I planned to fish deep in the runs toward the center of the river, so I was reluctant to execute a change. I lobbed a couple casts to the pocket above me, and I thought I saw the target trout follow one of the drifts, but it never grabbed a fly. I reconsidered my approach and decided to switch to a dry/dropper system, since the flows remained relatively low, and I determined I could effectively cover the deeper areas without the aid of a split shot and indicator.

I removed the indicator and split shot and converted to a yellow fat Albert trailing an emerald caddis pupa and beadhead pheasant tail. On one of my earlier drifts the hook of one of the flies impaled a greenish blue caddis worm, and this prompted the emerald caddis choice. Once I was ready, I flipped five or six casts to the area where I spotted a fish earlier, but it was no longer visible and did not respond to my new menu. I turned my attention to some deep narrow runs across from my position, and began to drift the large visible foam imitation in the beckoning lanes. On the fifth cast the fat Albert darted sideways, and I instantly set the hook and felt the throbbing weight of a decent fish.

I quickly raised my rod, and the moving shape on the end of my line plowed upstream and then reversed and headed toward some heavier current. I began to carefully move downstream with the fish, but the connection did not feel normal. I applied some side pressure to bring the fish below me, and at this point the flies popped free and hurtled back toward me feet. I clearly sensed that the fish was foul hooked somewhere in the head but not the mouth, and thus was likely not as large, as I initially perceived.


Fish Spotted in the Deep Trough in Center

I moved upstream after this momentary connection with a trout, and I once again spotted a decent trout hovering in the deepest trough of a slow moving pool. This time I was prepared with my preferred dry/dropper technique. I carefully executed some nice casts to the area three feet above the fish, but on each successive drift the fish showed no signs of recognizing my offerings. I paused and exchanged the pheasant tail for a size 22 RS2, but this did not capture the attention of the sighted trout.

Finally I conceded to the wise stream dweller and once again moved upstream to some upcoming attractive water. The river created a gorgeous long riffle of moderate depth, where it angled around the wide curve by the parking area, and I was certain that this would yield my first landed fish in North America in 2018. Unfortunately my instincts were misplaced, and after covering the area thoroughly I reeled up my line and returned to the car and called it a day.

The weather was spectacular for March 8, and I managed to spot two fish and connect temporarily with one, but the crowded conditions were very disappointing. Given the number of competing anglers, I suspect that the area I covered was disturbed repeatedly in the morning hours prior to my arrival. Based on my limited success on the Deckers stretch of the South Platte River, I continue to be baffled by its popularity.

Fish Landed: 0

Pool Toy Hopper – 03/04/2018

Pool Toy Hopper 03/04/2018 Photo Album

A pool toy or a fat Albert? I struggle with this question quite often. During 2017 I opted for the fat Albert early in the season and late, but leaned on the pool toy during the July and August time period. The comparison may not be valid, since I tend to tie fat Alberts with yellow bodies and pool toys with tan bodies. Also I construct fat Alberts on size 8 hooks, and my pool toys are built primarily on size 10 hooks. I point these differences out to suggest that other variables besides type of fly may factor into the effectiveness of these two large foam hopper imitations.


Fine Looking Hopper

2017 was the second year that I fished a fat Albert extensively, and I was quite pleased with the results. In situations where I yearn for a large buoyant visible fly to support a pair of beadhead nymphs, the fat Albert is my preferred choice. The size 8 high floating attractor with dangling sexilegs is easy to track, and when combined with a beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph provides hours of productive prospecting.


Ready to Tempt Trout

Despite my recent preference for a fat Albert I am not inclined to abandon the pool toy. In situations where I attempt to match the grasshopper hatch, the pool toy is very effective. For this reason the pool toy occupies my line frequently during the months of July, August and the first half of September. My 1/31/2013 post chronicles my introduction to the pool toy and describes some of the questions that I confronted during my first attempts to replicate the Andrew Grillos pattern. My 02/11/2017 post describes the intrusion of the fat Albert as an alternative surface indicator fly in a dry/dropper configuration.


A Pair with Different Color Legs

I counted thirteen tan pool toys in my various fly bins, so I manned my tying bench and manufactured an additional seven to bring my total to twenty. Eight yellow versions occupied space as well, and I decided to increment that total to ten by tying two more. I feel that I possess an adequate supply of foam grasshopper patterns to entertain the trout population in 2018.