Time: 11:30AM – 2:00PM
Location: Buttonrock Preserve
North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 11/10/2018 Photo Album
After a superb outing on October 29 on South Boulder Creek, I was itching to wet a line a few more times during 2018; however, the weather in early November was being unusually uncooperative. Between October 30 and November 10 a series of light snowstorms and cold fronts kept the high temperatures in the forties and thirties, and I desire temperatures to remain in the 45 -55 range to allow a modest amount of comfort. Highs in the mid-fifties in Denver generally translate to ten degrees cooler in the mountains and foothills, so I used the first two weeks of November to kick off my production fly tying for the 2019 season.
Finally when I checked the long term forecast, I noticed that Saturday November 10 was projected to yield a high in the mid to upper fifties in Denver. Jane and I were dog sitting our grandpuppy Zuni, and she loves the trails and off leash area at Buttonrock Preserve, so we scheduled a combined fly fishing/dog walking excursion. The high temperature in Lyons, the closest nearby town, was forecast to reach fifty-one degrees on Saturday, so I gambled that I could tolerate the chill and land a few trout.
Jane and I departed Stapleton by 9:30 and after stopping to fuel the car and buy a new leash for Zuni, we arrived at the nearly full parking area below Buttonrock by 10:50. The abundance of vehicles elevated my concerns over angler competition, and I passed a few fishermen on my way to the stream, but most of the visitors were dog walkers. I later told Jane that the Buttonrock Preserve is the boardwalk of dogs, as we passed a steady parade of canines of every variety.
Jane was prepared to leave the parking area almost immediately, and Zuni was not demonstrating an abundance of patience, so they departed, while I cycled through my fishing preparation ritual. One of Jane’s water bottles leaked and swamped the floor mat in the back of the Santa Fe, so I spent additional time repositioning clothing and bags to avoid saturation. The stool and carpet sample that I normally use to pull on my waders were drenched with water, so I sat on a boulder in front of the car to wader up, and this added additional preparation time to my venture.
I elected my Orvis Access four weight to coddle my elbow, even though my final physical therapy appointment occurred on Thursday. The air temperature on the dashboard registered forty-one degrees, and a stiff breeze blasted down the canyon. The wind was strong enough to periodically create dust clouds, and this was a weather factor that I failed to consider. The sky was overcast and remained mostly in this state for my entire time on the creek.
I wore my fishing shirt and a fleece and stuffed my light down coat in my backpack along with my lunch and then cinched my long sleeved Under Armour shirt around my waist. For head gear I chose my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps, and during my 2.5 hours in the canyon, I was thankful for this choice. I hiked for over a half hour at a decent pace, and the wind chill and shade forced me to stuff the hand that was not holding the rod inside my waders to prevent numbing and aching from the cold. The wind was a huge negative, that I did not bargain for, and I actually considered returning to the car to eat my lunch and wait for Jane and Zuni to complete their loop.
Finally I reached my targeted starting point, and I angled down to the stream, where I removed all my upper body layers and pulled on my Under Armour shirt. To combat the chilling impact of the wind I added my fishing shirt, fleece and light down and snugged my ear flaps over my ears. In the process of returning the sweaty undershirt to my backpack, my sandwich wrap tumbled to the ground and dumped my sandwich on to some rocks. I lost some of the extras on my ham sandwich, but quickly slapped the bread layers back together along with the ham and lettuce to salvage a reasonably appetizing lunch option.
Nice Clear Flows
I was now ready to begin my fishing adventure. I knotted a peacock hippy stomper to my line and then added an iron sally as the solitary dropper, and I began to prospect the deep holes and likely fish holding locations. The flow was low but actually quite acceptable for early November. In a nice long run early in the game, a fish darted to the surface and refused the hippy stomper, and in a spot slightly above this rejection I felt the temporary tug of another fish, as it latched on to the iron sally. I was encouraged that two fish found my flies interesting, but I was disappointed that the fish counter remained locked on zero.
After the two early fish encounters I suffered through an extended dry spell. I did learn during this lull that the fish were concentrated in deep slow moving pools. I wasted my time prospecting faster runs and riffles of moderate depth, before I isolated the prime holding water on November 10. During the first 1.5 hours I registered a few more temporary hookups on small fish, before I approached another nice long pool with a moderate center current and four to six feet of depth in the upper section.
By now I added an ultra zug bug as a third fly below the iron sally, and I cast toward the midsection of the long pool. The hippy stomper paused, and I reacted with a solid hook set, and this action resulted with a small rainbow trout in my net. The length of this trout was in the vicinity of six inches, so I tentatively counted it as my first fish of the day. I carefully waded to the middle portion of the run and paused to observe, and I was both amazed and encouraged to witness a few sporadic rises. Initially the rises were in the top fourth of the pool along the perimeter of a deep pocket, where the creek spilled over a curved and spaced wall of exposed rocks.
I lobbed some casts to this upper section, but the fish continued their sporadic feeding and ignored my large hippy stomper and subsurface offerings. What could these fish be eating? As I continued to observe, I spotted some small insects, as they skittered across the water. I was unable to identify the food source, nor was I able to place the species as mayfly, caddis or stonefly. Given the cloudy conditions and the time of year, I concluded that a sparse blue winged olive hatch was in progress, so I swapped the ultra zug bug for a RS2, and I began drifting and swinging the flies through the pool.
The Only Fish on Saturday, November 10
My logic was sound, but the trout ignored my nymphs whether dead drifted or active, and I was about to modify my approach, when a fish suddenly crushed the hippy stomper. I was almost caught off guard, but I responded in time to hook and land a ten inch rainbow, with the foam attractor solidly attached to its lip. This trout was clearly above my minimum threshold, so I made it my first legitimate catch of the day, and then I resumed casting.
After ten unsuccessful drifts I once again paused. By now five or six fish were rising throughout the length of the pool. I scanned the air above the creek, and I saw tiny midges and two small stoneflies. The stoneflies were easily distinguishable, because two sets of wings were visible, as they fluttered above the water. I also noticed an insect as it tumbled and skittered across the surface, and I assumed that it was a stonefly. I was undecided over my next step, but I decided to try a size 22 CDC blue winged olive first.
I tied the CDC BWO to my line and began to target the various rises around the pool. One fish that was fifteen feet below me in the center of the pool was a more consistent riser than the others, so I delivered several downstream drifts over the feeder. Twice the small aggressive sipper elevated, but each time it dropped back to its holding position. This was a strong sign that they were not eating baetis mayflies, so I defaulted to my back up plan. I replaced the BWO with a size 18 dark stonefly adult, that I tied for autumn emergences on South Boulder Creek. This was the smallest stonefly in my possession, although the naturals that I observed appeared to be lighter in color.
I will never know whether it was size or color, but the dark olive body imitation with a dark gray wing never fooled the residents of the North Fork pool. One trout displayed a splashy refusal directly across from me, but the stonefly searching period was characterized by an abundance of futility. I was frustrated that I did not possess any small light colored stonefly imitations, so I pondered my predicament once again. I was fortunate to encounter surface feeding late in the season, yet I was unable to unlock the secret code that would deliver fish to my net.
The only small light colored flies in my box were the light olive blue wings. I decided to give them another try, and I knotted a different size 22 to my tippet. During this repeat engagement of the CDC BWO, I managed to fool the small sipper that refused me earlier, but it escaped before I could net it, and it was below the six inch cut off. As this drama was unfolding, Jane and Zuni arrived, and Zuni nudged my waders to make me aware of her presence. After we exchanged greetings, she ascended the path, and I tossed the car keys to Jane, so they could return to the warmth of the Santa Fe.
I committed to quit by 2PM, and only ten minutes remained. I was evaluating a new plan of attack, when I saw a decent brown trout swirl to the surface three times in quick succession in the very attractive deep pocket at the top of the pool. Perhaps a caddis could induce a take? My caddis were larger than anything I saw on the water, but perhaps a large mouthful would generate an opportunistic slurp? I replaced the blue winged olive with a size 16 deer hair caddis with an olive brown body, and I drifted and skittered the hackled fly through the top section. Nothing. I fired a few casts to the location of the riser across from me and then fed some downstream drifts to the fish in the lower half of the pool. I was not rewarded for my efforts, and it was 2PM, so I stripped in my line and climbed the bank and ambled back to the parking lot at a brisk pace.
One fish in 2.5 hours of fishing was not great, but the time was far from boring. At least five or six fish rose in the quality pool, and I was consumed by my efforts to fool the small feeders. I mostly failed in the undertaking, but I registered one rainbow trout on a newly tied hippy stomper, and I encountered several additional opportunities but failed to convert. As snow descends outside my office window, I question whether this was perhaps my last outing of 2018. Stay tuned.
Fish Landed: 1