Elk Creek – 09/27/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Backcountry

Elk Creek 09/27/2019 Photo Album

After an average day on Clear Creek on Wednesday, I yearned to fish some bigger water with the opportunity to land some larger fish. The Arkansas River near Salida jumped into consideration, and I spent an hour reading posts on this blog from trips to the Arkansas during the late September and early October time period. The description of a trip last autumn sealed the decision, and I made plans to travel to the Arkansas River on Friday, September 27. I even formulated a strategy that capitalized on knowledge gained from previous trips. The plan incorporated line configuration and a sequence of flies that took advantage of the time of year.

After I completed my research on this blog, I decided to check the stream flows and fly shop reports. Streamflows were ideal with cubic feet per second consistently in the 280 range. When I checked the ArkAnglers river report, however, I was disappointed to learn that Bighorn Sheep Canyon was dirty near Salida and downstream to Rincon Campground. The sedimentation resulted from in-stream work on the Salida river park. This was the exact area, that I targeted for my fall fishing trip, and I did not wish to undertake a three hour drive only to encounter off-color water. Many other options existed without the risk of murky conditions.

I reconsidered my options and decided to return to a backcountry creek that rewarded me with hours of excellent fishing in two trips this summer and one last year. I was certain that the flows were near seasonal levels, and that clarity would not be an issue.

I arrived at the trailhead on Friday morning at 9:30, and I climbed into my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight, since I was fishing a relatively small mountain creek with plentiful brush and overhanging branches. The air temperature in the parking lot was around sixty degrees, so I passed on an extra layer and relied on my raincoat should temperatures remain on the cool side. A 1.1 mile hike positioned me in the cold clear flows of the mountain creek, and I began my day with a peacock hippie stomper trailing an iron sally.

Home of Hopper Lover

The early going evolved into thirty minutes of frustration, as I endured six temporary hook ups in some prime pools. Several of the fish nipped the hippie stomper, and I felt weight for only a split second, but the more discouraging scenarios were the connections with decent fish on the nymph that resulted in escapes. Several refusals to the hippie stomper only served further to foil my quest for small stream success. I decided to check the hook points on my flies, and I concluded that the iron sally was dull, so I swapped it for a newer version of the same fly that displayed a narrower, sharper point.

Jake’s Gulp Beetle Delivers Early

The move paid off somewhat, when I landed a small brown trout on the iron sally and then a somewhat larger cousin on the hippie stomper. I knew the string of long distance releases could not continue, and my fortunes finally turned, as I added four more trout to the count, and the hippie stomper was responsible for most of them. I focused on solid and swift hook sets, and this seemed to thwart the evasive tactics of the resident trout.

Another Beetle Fancier

Just before lunch I approached a jewel of a pool, but an errant cast along the left bank snagged the iron sally in a cluster of flower stalks. I did not wish to disturb the pool by wading to unhook the nymph, so I executed a series of quick lifts in an attempt to free the fly. In a short amount of time the hippie stomper released and hurtled back toward me, but when I inspected the line, I discovered that the iron sally was no longer attached. Apparently it remained snagged to a stem or leaf, but I decided to defer the search, until after I fully explored the attractive pool in front of me. I was dissatisfied with the escalating number of refusals to the hippy stomper, so I exchanged it for a tan pool toy hopper, and I added a beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph.

Hopper Lover

What a choice this proved to be! On the first cast of the pool toy it drifted along the current seam, and a gorgeous thirteen inch brown trout streaked upward and crushed the foam terrestrial. It was a visual display to behold. After I photographed and released the surprise brown, I paused on a rock to consume my lunch. Seven fish by lunch was a reasonable total, and this was accomplished in spite of an abundant quantity of refusals and long distance releases.

Lunch View

After lunch I continued with the hopper for a bit, and it produced a few additional trout, but then it seemed to fall out of favor. I wondered whether a beetle might be popular with the wild stream residents, so I tested it for a bit, and it added several trout to my net. Very slow moving pools seemed to be the favored locations for the beetle, but these places were scarce on the high gradient mountain stream, so I once again changed and tied a size 12 gray stimulator to my line.

Nice Curves

The stimulator was a bit more effective than the beetle, and it accounted for four medium sized fish, before I entered an area, where the stream narrowed, and some trees on the west bank shaded the creek for quite a distance. The stimulator absorbed water and became increasingly soggy, and I struggled to maintain a high profile that I could track. Suddenly I remembered some classic Letort hoppers and parachute hoppers that gathered dust in my fly box, so I gambled that the small and narrow profile might appeal to the small stream trout. My foam hoppers always seem bulkier and less realistic than the naturals observed in the local environment.

Beast of a Brown Trout

The change over to a yellow size 10 Letort hopper was a short term success, as I quickly landed two very respectable brown trout to elevate the fish count to nineteen. Refusals ceased, and the size of the willing takers improved. Unfortunately I remembered why the Letort hopper was relegated to a secondary role in my grasshopper imitation lineup. The body became saturated, and my ability to track it through the dense shadows and alternating light pattern was contingent on frequent trips to the dry shake canister and repeated fluffing of the deer hair wing to force it to angle high for visibility.

Beast of the Day

I was contemplating another change, when I approached a very large plunge pool with a relatively slow moving shelf on the right. I dried the hopper as best as I could and primped the hair to splay and poke upward and then plopped the classic terrestrial in the middle of the side pool. The sparse fly sat motionless for a second, as the ring from the landing disappeared, when suddenly a large shadowy figure emerged and moved upward at a steady pace, whereby it sipped the hopper from the pool. I was transfixed by the development but maintained my senses enough to raise the rod tip and set the hook, and this provoked a brief battle, before I slid my net beneath a small stream Goliath that easily measured sixteen inches. The brown trout was long and possessed an ample amount of body fat, and I was stunned by the sudden dose of good fortune.

Screams Trout

My optimism skied with the twentieth fish added to the count, and I proceeded upstream with the solo Letort hopper, but stream structure became steeper, and my frustration with the lack of buoyancy with the hopper escalated. I decided to return to foam, even if it meant fewer fish or more refusals. By now it was 2PM, and some clouds marred the perfectly blue sky, and this development in turn created some strong breezes. Surely the wind was dislodging ants and beetles, and the local trout were aware of these windfalls. I tried a Jake’s gulp beetle earlier with less than glowing results, but what about a classic black Chernobyl ant? It was larger, and the bright yellow indicator spot made it easier to follow, and it could support a pair of nymphs, if I chose to go in that direction.

Amazing Spots

I made the change to a size 10 Chernobyl ant, and it proved to be the most effective fly of the day. In fact the first fish to respond to the over-sized ant was in a smaller slow moving side pool. I flicked the Chernobyl to the middle of the creek pond and allowed it to rest for a second, and a fifteen inch black spotted brown trout crunched the terrestrial impostor. What a thrill! I carefully played the hard fighting weight on my line and guided it into my net. At close range it rolled over the line at least five times in an attempt to shed the large foam beetle-like creature, that it recently desired as a meal.

The Chernobyl campaign continued for the remainder of the afternoon, until I retired at 3:30 and returned to the car. The radioactive ant enabled the fish count to rise from twenty to twenty-eight, and very few refusals accompanied its deployment.

Bright Yellow Bushes Line the Trail

Friday was not a perfect day, as I lost five flies, and achieving a solid fish count required fairly regular fly changes. Frequent sopping, dry shake immersion, and fluffing were associated with the stimulator and Letort hopper; and I grew weary of these steps. In spite of these drawbacks I managed to land twenty-eight trout in five hours on a gorgeous backcountry stream. The weather was spectacular for late September with a high temperature around seventy degrees. Brown trout of fifteen inches are rare, but I managed to land two on a small backcountry creek. In addition I netted five healthy residents that stretched to twelve inches. Hopefully I can manage one more outing on this gem of a stream, before winter brings cold and ice to Colorado.

Fish Landed: 28

 

 

Clear Creek – 09/26/2019

Time: 12:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: Clear Creek Canyon

Clear Creek 09/26/2019 Photo Album

Once again I was a victim of the allure of fishing close to home. Several times each season I make the short drive to Clear Creek in the canyon just west of Golden, CO, and I anticipate some easy number padding fly fishing. Rarely do the results follow this script, and today was not an exception.

The temperature when I began at noon was in the low seventies, and the creek was flowing along slightly higher than normal for late September at 61 CFS. Since I arrived at 11:45AM, I gobbled my small lunch, before I hiked to my starting point along the creek. I chose my Orvis Access four weight; and I began my day with a tan pool toy hopper, beadhead hares ear nymph and beadhead pheasant tail nymph.

First Pocket, First Fish

On the first cast in a tantalizing shelf pool a twelve inch brown trout elevated and crushed the pool toy hopper. Was my day destined to be this easy? Stay tuned. I paused to photograph the larger than average catch for Clear Creek, and then continued and notched two more trout on the hopper within the first thirty minutes. Perhaps today was going to be an exception to the prevalent pattern of selective small trout.

Very Fine Clear Creek Brown Trout

After my early successes my fortunes took a turn for the worse, and suddenly the trout of Clear Creek reverted to form and began to snub the hopper while paying no attention to the trailing nymphs. After a lengthy lull in the action, I downsized the pool toy to a size 10 Chernobyl ant, but the irritating pattern of refusing the top fly continued. This called for another step down in size, and I swapped the Chernobyl for a size 14 hippie stomper. The stomper generated a pair of takes from small fish to boost the count to five, but then it also became a shunned object, and I once again pondered a change.

The nymphs were merely a nuisance and a risk of tangles, so I clipped them off and tossed the solo stomper for a bit, but flashes and rejection ruled the day. Perhaps these persnickety trout desired something even smaller? I exchanged the hippie stomper for a solo Jake’s gulp beetle, and after a couple additional looks and refusals, I managed to land a pair of small brown trout. The beetle was certainly generating more interest, but it was not exactly what the trout were expecting. During the beetle phase I also temporarily hooked several fish, and it seemed that the eats were very tentative and another indicator that my offering was close but not close enough.

North Side

Once again I paused to consider options, and I suspected that perhaps the trout were focused on aquatic insects such as caddis, so I implemented yet another switch to a size 14 gray stimulator. The hackled dry fly was difficult to track, but it did yield one more trout in addition to a batch of subsurface flashes that avoided contact with the hook. The day evolved in a pattern that mirrored many previous trips to Clear Creek. The small natives ignored subsurface offerings and rejected the majority of the dry fly imitations, that I threw their way.

By 2PM I reached a bridge, so I crossed to the opposite side of U.S. 6 and continued my migration. In a fit of frustration I decided to revert to the pool toy hopper, as it was my most effective fly in spite of frequent refusals. I lengthened the dropper to an ultra zug bug and added a salvation nymph as the point fly. I vowed to stick with this method over the final hour and to move at a fairly rapid pace while focusing only on the prime deep slow moving pockets and shelf pools.

Hopper Dangle

I mostly adhered to this commitment and landed two additional trout, before I called it quits at 3PM. Both trout were browns, and one snatched the salvation, while the other crushed the pool toy. These last trout enabled me to reach double digits, and I was quite pleased to attain that goal on what evolved into a very challenging day.

Wild and Colorful

Ten fish in three hours is a decent pace, but the size of the fish was lacking, although I never expected much in this aspect of fly fishing the freestone creek west of Denver. The twelve inch brown on the first cast was actually large by Clear Creek standards. I never found a consistent top water producer, although the trout were clearly looking for their meals on the surface. I caught fish on five different flies, and that was a strong indication that I never found the favored food of the resident trout population. In retrospect I might have tried an ant and a small caddis, but I will never know if these options solved the vexing puzzle of Clear Creek on September 26.

Fish Landed: 10

 

South Platte River – 09/25/2019

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 09/25/2019 Photo Album

My last eight outings consisted of trips to high elevation headwater streams, and I landed a few trout in the fifteen inch range, but I hungered for the opportunity to tangle with some larger fish, as the night temperatures of late September heralded the onset of autumn. I checked the flows on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon, and I was pleased to learn that the popular tailwater was tumbling through the canyon at 77 CFS. During a trip on September 6, 2018 my friend, Steve, and I encountered a spectacular trico hatch, but our attempts to land trout on the minuscule mayfly spinners was largely stifled. I concluded that my size 22 imitations were too large, so I devoted several tying sessions to producing new size 24 patterns, and I yearned for a return engagement with the Eleven Mile residents. I contacted Steve, and he agreed to accompany me on Wednesday, September 25.

I arrived at Steve’s house in Lone Tree by 7AM, and after transferring his gear, we departed and arrived near the dam in Eleven Mile Canyon by 9:15AM. We were a bit surprised by the number of fishermen that occupied prime parking spaces in the special regulation area, and we were forced to park at a picnic area downstream from the first bridge below the dam. The dashboard thermometer displayed a crisp 44 degrees, and this prompted me to dig out my light down coat from the bottom of my Fishpond fishing bag. I rigged my Sage four weight, and Steve selected his Orvis Helios five weight, and we ambled up the road to the bridge in search of a vacant spot to begin our day of fly fishing.

Our Piece of Real Estate on a Busy Day

During past visits we favored the section upstream from the bridge to a sharp bend in the river, but two anglers occupied this territory, and when we hiked through the willows to investigate the section around the bend, we met two additional fishermen. This short scouting trip forced us to retreat, and we were about to cut across the brush to a position downstream, when the two anglers below the bridge invited us to jump into thirty yards of vacant water below the culverts. Steve and I thanked them for their kindness, and I carefully made my way to the right bank facing upstream and Steve occupied the left.

The young men below us suggested that fish were rising below the bridge, but I surveyed the area for a few minutes and saw one sporadic rise. I considered my options and settled on a peacock hippie stomper and a size 22 RS2, and I began to spray casts upstream, across and down. Two trout rose to inspect the hippie stomper, but they immediately dropped back to their holding positions near the stream bottom. Steve informed me that he spotted occasional trico spinners, so I extracted a sunken trico and positioned it below the RS2, but the three fly arrangement was as ineffective as the two fly approach. Finally after twenty minutes of futility, I concluded that the dry/dropper method was not popular on Wednesday, September 25.

Yikes, Stripes

I stripped in my flies and removed them and resorted to a size 24 CDC BWO. Blue winged olives were not present, but I surmised that the tiny mayfly would do double duty as a trico dun imitation. The theory proved somewhat accurate, when I landed a small eight inch rainbow and then a gorgeous rainbow trout that confidently sipped the dun imitation on a downstream drift through the center of the pool. Just as I was feeling new confidence with the CDC olive, the feeding pattern shifted to spinners. The number of rising fish increased, and I continued with the olive for another fifteen minutes with no response, before I paused to consider my options.

Stretched Out

I was unable to see spent spinners on the surface of the river, but by 10:30AM small sparse mating swarms of tiny mayflies began to form over the riffles, and Steve insisted that he noticed the presence of spinners in the film. I conceded to the obvious and dug out one of the CDC trico spinners, that I tied over the winter. The fly was extremely simple with a pair of split microfibbet tails, a black thread abdomen and thorax, and a tuft of CDC tied in at the thorax in a spent wing position. I began spraying casts to the various sites of rising fish, and after an enormous number of drifts, a very fine fourteen inch cutbow sipped the fake spinner. The miniscule fly pierced the corner of the cutbow’s mouth, and I struggled to remove it while keeping the precious trout in the water. After several attempts, the line broke at the eye of the hook, and the teeny trico remained in the hard lip of the fish. Every time I gripped the strong river resident, it squirmed and splashed and showered me with water droplets, but eventually I utilized my hemostats to grip the fly and plucked it free. I was pleased to recover my productive trico spinner, and I allowed the cutbow to return to its watery home.

Cutbow Rests

I was certain that the new CDC trico would be a hit with the South Platte trout, but as the intensity of the spinner fall increased, the CDC fraud was ignored. The process of removing the fly from the cutbow soaked the CDC wings, and I was unable to dry them to a fluffy state, and consequently I struggled to track the spinner especially in the swirling currents, where the deep runs curled into smooth water to my left. Continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, so I swapped the saturated trico spinner for a fresh version. The wing on the second model was slightly more dense than the first, and apparently this was a turn off for the trout in my vicinity. By noon the fish count plateaued at three, and the trout displayed their gluttony on the dense supply of naturals that blanketed the river. What was a frustrated fly fisherman to do?

Fine South Platte Catch

I decided to deploy a contrarian strategy and knotted a size 18 black parachute ant to my line. The frequency of rises declined during a lull in the hatch, and the wind kicked up a bit, so I flicked the ant to some feeding lanes above me. In the next twenty minutes two muscular thirteen inch rainbows streaked from two feet away to inhale the ant. Needless to say this was a pleasant surprise, and my confidence surged, as I photographed and released the two ant eaters.

Thick Cloud of Tricos on the Left

Alas, the tenure of the ant feeding fad was brief, and I sprayed casts around the area to other likely feeders with no response. Another wave of rapid fire feeding ensued, and I returned to the original albeit somewhat mangled trico spinner. The workhorse fly once again proved its worth, as I landed three additional trout before we broke for lunch at 1PM. All three fish were respectable rainbows, and a fourteen inch fighter leaped three feet above the surface of the river in an attempt to gain its freedom prematurely. In addition to the three netted ‘bows, I temporarily hooked up with two other battlers, but they shed the hook before I could gain control.

Love the Cheek

After lunch Steve returned to the same area fished during the morning, while I waded along the left bank just above the earthen bridge. Within minutes of resuming my quest for fish, a brief flurry of feeding commenced in the center of the pool. I tempted one trout to refuse the trico twice, but otherwise the morsel was ignored. Toward the end of this brief bit of action I observed a couple small blue winged olives, so I quickly replaced the trico with a size 24 CDC olive. Unfortunately as I began to lob the olive into the area, the feeding party ended, and my casts were fruitless.

So Pretty

Since a breeze continued to whistle down the river, I once again switched to the parachute ant, but the terrestrial failed to have an impact. The top of the pool presented a shallow riffle, so I transformed my line into a dry/dropper rig with the peacock hippie stomper on top followed by a beadhead pheasant tail and RS2. I ran the nymphs through the riffles and feeding lanes at the top of the pool, but the ploy was ignored. My confidence sank, but I circled back to the downstream side of the bridge to Steve’s position, and I prospected the faster channels and seams just below the culverts with the three fly set up, but again the fish were wise to my ruse and ignored my flies. At 2:50PM I created a nasty tangle with the three flies that ultimately resulted in an annoying wind knot, so I clipped them off, and Steve and I returned to the car and called it a day.

Steve Focused

Eight trout may not seem like a highlight, but it surpassed the two fish day that resulted from our September 6, 2018 visit. Including long distance releases, I had the opportunity to enjoy a double digit day, so I was pleased with my results. My fly was competing with thousands of naturals, so a low catch rate was not totally unexpected. The size of the fish was excellent, as all except the first were in the thirteen to fifteen inch range. My new CDC trico duped four trout, and it was gratifying to create an effective pattern. All eight trout sipped a dry fly, and seeing the surface take is always my preferred method of fooling fish.

Fish Landed: 8

 

North Fork of the White River – 09/17/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/17/2019 Photo Album

After three amazing days of fly fishing in the Flattops area, I was eager to spend one more day on the North Fork, before I returned to Denver on Tuesday, September 17. The section I planned to fish was the scene of many fine outings during previous trips to the Flattops, and I was anxious to continue the trend. Was I setting my expectations too high? Read on.

I camped at the North Fork Campground on Monday night, and in order to avoid setting up and taking down my tent, I stashed all the bins in the bear locker and slept in the back of the Santa Fe. This was the first time I attempted this with the new Santa Fe, and it suited my needs perfectly, as the additional length allowed me to fully stretch out in my sleeping bag.

Prime Small Stream Location

On Tuesday morning I packed the car with all my camping gear and headed to my chosen fishing destination, where I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked a short distance to the stream. The short jaunt was a welcome change from the long hikes endured on Sunday and Monday, and my feet and legs embraced the break. The stream was flowing high compared to most of my previous September visits, but the water was crystal clear and cold and hopefully brimming with hungry fish. Unlike the previous three days, the weather was very unsettled, and this condition prevailed throughout my six hours on the creek. Thick gray clouds masked the warming rays of the sun 75% of the time, and strong gusts of annoying wind made casting very challenging. The air temperature peaked at sixty degrees, and the absence of the sun created the first significant chill since spring of the 2019 season.

Brook Trout Brilliance

My search for wild trout was initiated with a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug and salvation nymph; but the first hour was very slow, as three trout were guided into my net. The starting section tumbled down a high gradient, and this provided limited choice holding spots; however, I felt that several prime spots failed to produce. Two of the three fish, that I landed were gorgeous and colorful brook trout with bright orange bellies contrasted against a mottled luminescent body. The third catch was a cutbow, and it featured vivid spots and stripes against a buttery gold body.

More Cutthroat Than Rainbow

My inability to tempt trout in several quality spots caused me to modify my offerings. I lengthened the leader between the hopper and the top nymph, and I replaced the salvation nymph with a hares ear. This change improved my success rate, and the fish count leaped from three to eight before I settled on a large rock to consume my lunch. The five fish included the fish of the day, a spectacular fifteen inch cutbow that nabbed one of the nymphs in a magnificent pool on the small mountain stream. Some cutbows lean towards rainbows in appearance, but this version had the deep yellow-gold body color, speckles and slash of a cutthroat, yet also displayed the distinctive pink stripe of a rainbow trout. It was the highlight of a day that grew increasingly frustrating.

Prize of the Day

After lunch the weather conditions worsened, as large gray clouds accumulated in the western sky and swirling blasts of wind raged up the canyon. At one point the threatening skies caused me to consider an exit strategy, but neither returning to the start or advancing to the end point were particularly attractive options. Instead I extracted my raincoat from my backpack and braced for the worst.

Let Me At It

During my afternoon on the North Fork I experienced nearly every conceivable form of fly fishing adversity. Foremost on my list of hurdles to success was tangles. Quite a few patience-taxing snarls resulted from the gusts of wind, but another self imposed factor was my choice of a three fly dry/dropper arrangement. Quite a few trout crushed the pool toy, and their efforts to escape created tight balls of monofilament, which took extended minutes to unravel. I estimate that my cumulative untangling time was 1.5 hours out of the six spent on the stream.

Those Colors

The wind also had a negative impact on my casting, and another slug of time was allocated to wading across or upstream to unhook my flies from branches and dry scratchy vegetation. In addition the dropper flies inevitably found all the protruding sticks that were wedged between the rocks. Rock climbing and log rolling added to my woes. The area experienced a wildfire many years ago, and an abundance of dead and charred logs span the creek. These obstacles created an obstacle course for the wading fly fisherman.

Typical Water

In spite of these hurdles to success, I managed to increment the fish count from eight at lunch time to eighteen by 3:00PM. Ten fish in three hours was not a torrid pace, but given the conditions, was acceptable to this fly fisherman. The quality of the fish was outstanding; and brightly colored brook trout, cutbows and rainbows were more than adequate rewards for my troubles. During this period many of the landed fish slurped the pool toy hopper, but the action was accompanied by numerous looks and refusals, so at three o’clock I swapped the pool toy hopper for a yellow fat Albert. I was hoping that the larger foam attractor would either result in more takes or would be ignored and thus allow the fish to focus on the trailing nymphs.

Silvery Brook Trout

The ploy paid off to some extent, as I boosted the fish count to twenty-three by the time I quit at 4PM, when I neared my designated exit point. These five trout were mostly very nice cutbows in the chunky thirteen inch range, but I probably experienced twice as many long distance releases as catches. In fact over the course of my day I suffered nearly as many lost fish, as I guided into my net.

Afternoon Success

In summary I spent Tuesday practicing casting in the wind and untangling knots among the scenic environment of the Flattops. In spite of these unforeseen lessons, I managed to land twenty-three dazzling wild trout including a fifteen inch small stream monster and quite a few muscular and hard fighting twelve and thirteen inch cutbows. Toss in some elegant brook trout in brilliant spawning colors, and you have a picture of my day on September 17. My end result was acceptable, but the hardship was not welcome.

Fish Landed: 23

Leaves Beginning to Change

Marvine Creek – 09/16/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the Marvine Creek Trailhead

Marvine Creek 09/16/2019 Photo Album

I elected to fly fish Marvine Creek on the third day of my Flattops adventure. After two successful visits in previous years, Marvine became a Flattops mainstay on my agenda.The weather on Monday was once again ideal with the high temperature in the upper sixties and decent cloud cover much of the day, although rain was never a serious threat.

Near the Start

Workhorse Salvation Nymph

I began my day in an open area with a peacock hippie stomper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I quickly discovered that the two fly dropper was too long for the small stream and eventually halved the length of the leader and fished a hares ear as the top nymph and the salvation as the bottom fly. The hippie stomper became irrelevant after an initial burst of success, so I replaced it with a tan pool toy hopper. This dry/dropper configuration was the most successful, although when the action slowed in the afternoon, I eliminated the salvation and fished a hares ear as a solo dropper. After a bit the trout lost interest in the hares ear, and I returned to the salvation, but it failed to improve the success rate in the late afternoon.

Teeth Marks and Missing Legs after a Day of Fishing

Brilliant Color

The pool toy hopper was easily the top producer, as brook trout could not resist the size ten foam terrestrial with dangling legs. The reason was obvious, as hoppers launched into the air with every stride on my hike to and from the creek. At least twenty of my landed trout rose to and crushed the imitation grasshopper.

Dazzling Beauty

Likely Home of Trout

During the noon to 3PM period the fish count rose from eight to thirty-one, and this segment of the day coincided with my deployment of the short leader, three fly configuration. Quite often a brook trout would reveal its location via a refusal to the hopper and then grab the hares ear, as it trailed near the surface on the short leader.

Could Not Resist This Mouthful

Belly Check

All except three of my catches were brook trout, and the char parade included quite a few ten inch jewels with striking orange underbellies. The three fish that were not brook trout were cutbows, and these fish were the highlight of the day. The three outliers measured sixteen, fifteen and fourteen inches; and they were very pleasant surprises among the steady stream of brookies. All three emerged from prime lies on the high gradient stream that offered limited sanctuaries from the rushing current. The first one, the sixteen incher, snatched the trailing salvation. The fifteen and fourteen inch giants, by small stream standards, slurped the pool toy. Landing these fighters in close quarters was quite a thrill.

Big Surprise

Net Filler

More Cutthroat Coloration on This One

The greatest challenge on the thirty-eight fish day was covering water. I prospected 1.1 mile of tumbling whitewater and skipped large segments of fast riffles and churning chutes and cascades. Finding locales where trout could feed without expending excess energy was the key to success, and this approach entailed skipping significant quantities of water. Wading against the stiff current or bashing through rough streamside vegetation were the toughest hurdles on Monday, September 16.

Love the Left Side

The fly fishing was spectacular, but the golden glow of the grasses and low shrubs against the blue sky and dark green evergreens was equally splendid. Marvine Creek requires a lot of effort, but the results make it worthwhile.

Fish Landed: 38

Head of the Beaver Pond

South Fork of the White River – 09/15/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/15/2019 Photo Album

Day one in the Flattops exceeded my expectations, and after a night of camping at the South Fork Campground, I was poised to explore another piece of the White River system on Sunday. Historically the South Fork has proven to be more challenging than the North Fork, and I was unsure which face it would show me in 2019. The more remote and slightly larger South Fork is normally more temperamental and requires adherence to a defined strategy in order to achieve consistent success. Could I attain above average results during my one day visit to the South Fork in 2019? Read on.

Remote South Fork

Since my retirement four years ago, I usually confine my fishing and camping adventures to weekdays, but I violated my policy with this Flattops trip over the weekend. I had a commitment for the end of the next week, and desired to fit in four days of fishing before then, thus I began on Saturday. That choice backfired somewhat when a couple of campers in a RV played loud country and western music into the early hours of the morning, and I woke up three or four times to the sound of deep throbbing bass. I considered accosting them on the matter, but sadly in this day and age I feared a violent reaction and sacrificed sleep for personal safety. I remain appalled by how inconsiderate people can be.

Do Bears Eat These?

Sunday was a gorgeous day, although it was quite chilly, when I woke up at 7:15AM. The air temperature was around forty, until the sun rose above the hill to the east. The high for the day was in the mid-seventies. As a result of camping near my destination I was in the stream and prepared to fish by 10AM.

Trough Below the Exposed Rock Equals Fish

I used my Sage four weight in case of wind and big fish, and I began with the alignment that produced excellent results on Saturday; a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I landed eight rainbow trout by the time I stopped for lunch, and I only managed three in the first hour, and all were relatively small fish in the eight inch range. One of the five between eleven and twelve o’clock was a feisty specimen that measured twelve inches.

I Love the Orange Fins

After lunch I began to experiment with different flies in the upper nymph position. Flies positioned above the salvation were a dark Cahill wet fly, a pheasant tail nymph, an iron sally, and a prince nymph. The dark Cahill produced a nine inch rainbow and the prince nymph accounted for a pair of thirteen inch ‘bows. Over the course of the day the ultra zug bug delivered two trout to the net, and the pool toy hopper generated two, and this left the salvation responsible for seventeen trout. It was without a doubt the most popular fly on the South Fork.

The Most Productive Fly on Sunday, a Salvation Nymph

Top Fly All Day, Pool Toy Hopper

The South Fork stayed true to form, as I covered a ton of water in my pursuit of twenty-four fish. Wide shallow riffles were obvious time wasters, and I waded around several long sections that met this definition. I sought stretches, where the stream bed narrowed; and this created deep troughs, long pockets, and riffles of moderate depth. These were the places that fish preferred, and success hinged on disciplining oneself to focus on spots, that matched these descriptions. I landed my best fish in narrow deep slots near the bank, and the rainbows attacked the salvation as it began to swing or lift.

Another Rainbow Lair

No End to Rainbows

The disciplined approach did not always yield success, as I cast to numerous attractive areas that met the definition of productive with no results, and I never totally solved the puzzle of where to concentrate my efforts.

Deep Along the Edge

Hand for Perspective

At 2:30PM I noticed a fairly marginal slot along the north bank. I lobbed a cast into some fairly fast water, and as the pool toy bobbed along the narrow and deep channel, it came to an abrupt stop. I was certain that one of the nymphs snagged a branch, but I lifted just in case and felt some movement through my fly rod. Was it a fish, or was I moving the stick in the current? After a few seconds it was clear that the object on my line was alive, as my rod tip was tugged upstream at a slow rate. Unlike most rainbows, this fish was moving slowly and staying deep, and I was convinced that a massive whitefish inhaled one of my nymphs. After a ten foot upstream move at a relatively slow pace, I managed to turn the fish, and I caught a glimpse of my largest fish of the day. With extra side pressure applied, the fish accelerated its pace and initiated escape tactics. First, it swam downstream to the edge of some faster water. I applied steady and strong pressure and prohibited it from reaching the spill over below me. Next the wide body executed a series of rolls on the line, but I countered this by lifting the head out of the water, and I gradually guided the striped prize into my net. There before me rested a sixteen inch wild rainbow, but the width and girth were the most impressive aspect of the fish. The muscular rainbow was easily the largest fish of the trip so far, and fighting it was a strenuous test of my rehabilitated elbow.

Perfect Pose

Sunday was a fun day on the South Fork of the White River. Twenty-four trout in six hours of fishing is respectable, but I continued to struggle with my ability to identify productive water on the large backcountry enigma.

Grip Gap

In addition to the sixteen inch battler that I described above, I landed a pair of thirteen inch beauties and quite a few spunky twelve inchers. The remainder were wild ‘bows in the seven to eleven inch range. A double digit day on the South Fork requires on abundant amount of wading and casting, but nice fish are there, if you are willing to work.

Fish Landed: 24

Berries Next to Campsite

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2019

Time: 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2019 Photo Album

After making a four hour drive on Saturday morning, I needed a Flattops destination relatively close to the road, and the North Fork became my choice. I parked at the end of my anticipated exit point and then hiked downstream .6 mile to an easier access path. I needed to make steady progress over roughly four hours to reach my exit point, so I skipped the braided section where I normally begin.

Fast Water

I rigged a dry/dropper that featured a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I maintained these offerings throughout my 3.5 hours, although I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a hares ear, when I lost my entire leader, but more on that later. I moved in a fairly steady pace and focused on deep runs, pockets, and riffles. The strategy paid off as I boosted the fish counter to thirty-one before I quit at 4:30.

Lovely Rainbow or Cutbow

The pool toy hopper attracted the larger rainbows and included a fifteen inch rainbow, a pair of bows in the 13-14 inch range, and a decent number of feisty twelve inch trout. The ultra zug bug produced a couple during its tenure on the line, and the hares ear accounted for a couple late in the afternoon. The remainder of the landed rainbows latched on to the salvation, and a lift or swing at the end of the drift was consistently effective. Three landed trout were of the brook variety, and the remainder were spunky rainbows and cutbows.

Target for My Flies

Long One

In the very first run of moderate depth along the left bank I connected with a very hot fish, but after a torrid downstream streak, it broke off the salvation. The most notable event occurred in a left channel around a small island. The river tumbled over some rocks and carved out a deep hole, that was twenty feet long and twelve feet wide. A dead tree branch extended downstream along the left side of the small pool. I landed an eleven inch rainbow, as I lifted the salvation at the tail of the pool, and I decided to lob a cast toward a seam left of the center current. As the pool toy tumbled toward the middle of the pool, a large rainbow appeared and swirled around and then down on the foam terrestrial. I reacted with a swift hook set, and the aggressive eater immediately headed toward the branch. I applied steady side pressure to avert a line wrap, and just as I appeared to gain the upper hand, the line popped, and the combatant was free. I cursed my bad luck and expected to learn that the hopper and both nymphs were missing in action. This assumption proved correct, but the news was even worse. The entire tapered leader was absent, and I faced the task of rebuilding my entire leader below the end of the fly line! What happened? I can only conclude that the monofilament loop that was part of the loop to loop connection was cut or abraded, and the weak spot severed from the pressure of the trout. I was rather disappointed, but eventually accepted the separation as part of the game.

Another Wide Body

A Brook Trout Joins the Mix

Thirty-one fish landed in 3.5 hours served as salve for my bruised ego, and I was euphoric over my splendid day one. Even more impressive than the fish count was the size of the trout landed, with many trout in the robust twelve to fourteen inch range. My four days in the Flattops was off to an auspicious start, and I continued on to a campsite at the South Fork Campground. Would my good fortune continue on Sunday? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 31

Korkers and Bear Locker in This View

 

South Boulder Creek – 09/12/2019

Time: 12:30PM – 4:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 09/12/2019 Photo Album

My previous two trips to South Boulder Creek could be characterized as relatively straightforward when referring to fly selection. During the early hours I relied on a dry/dropper with a foam surface fly and a prince nymph dropper, and various green drake patterns occupied my line during the afternoon. Although I experienced my share of refusals, for the most part these flies delivered steady action. Based on the favorable outings on 8/15/2019 and 8/24/2019 I decided to return to my home waters on 9/12/2019.

When I returned from my six day trip to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, I reviewed the stream flows of the Front Range creeks, and South Boulder Creek posted a reading of 123 CFS. This level is higher than my ideal range, but the lure of green drake action in September brought me back. On my two previous visits the green drake action did not commence until 2:30 – 3:00PM, so I completed my morning workout and delayed my arrival. By the time I pulled on my waders and rigged my Sage four weight and ambled down the trail to the creek, it was lunch time, so I downed my small snack, before I approached the water.

Near the Start

Better Focus

As I mentioned, I prefer lower flows, and I quickly discovered that the creek could only be crossed in areas where the rushing water spread out over a wide stream bed. This handicapped my efforts a bit, and many areas that offered prime sanctuaries for hungry trout at lower stream levels were off limits at 123 CFS. Another unanticipated adverse factor was the weather. A storm rolled through Colorado on Wednesday night, and it brought a high pressure system that featured cool temperatures and wind. The air temperature in the canyon never surpassed the mid-sixties, and I dealt with sporadic gusts of wind throughout the day. Historically I never seem to do well on the first day after a high pressure system arrives, and I surmise Thursday was one of those days.

Ant Eater

Unlike my last two South Boulder Creek visits, I never settled on a consistent approach or fly. I began my day after lunch with a size 18 black parachute ant with a pink wing post, and this choice paid quick dividends, as six fish confidently inhaled the small terrestrial. The gusts of wind suggested that terrestrials might be solid searching patterns. The downside to the ant was my inability to track it in swirling water and riffles. It performed admirably in smooth shelf pools and pockets, but it was difficult to follow in challenging light and through surface chop.

Zoomed on the Ant

It was likely a case of over analysis, when I swapped the ant for a size 14 Jake’s gulp beetle. I reasoned that the beetle was also a likely wind blown terrestrial food source, and tracking the bright orange indicator foam was much easier than following the low floating tuft of pink poly. The beetle did, in fact, yield two trout, but it was ineffective in several prime areas, so I made another change.

Beetle Victim

During previous trips I prospected with a parachute green drake in the hours before the hatch, so I revisited this strategy on Thursday. I knotted a size 14 2XL parachute green drake to my tippet and landed two more trout. Unfortunately for every taker I suffered three long distance releases. The trout were interested in the western green drake imitation, but they reluctantly nipped at the large low floating imitation, and when I responded with a timely hook set, they quickly dropped off. I was a baffled by this turn of events, since the parachute green drake was money in the bank in the pre-hatch time period on the last two visits.

By 2:30 I had not yet observed a natural green drake, so I reasoned that perhaps the fish were locked on subsurface nymphs. I took a long break and configured my line with a dry/dropper including a peacock hippie stomper, prince nymph, and salvation nymph. The trout gave this alignment a resounding thumbs down. The hippie stomper elicited several refusals, and I sensed that the large weighted prince was causing the nymphs to drift below the cone of vision of the feeding trout. I removed the prince and replaced it with the salvation in a single dropper arrangement, and this combination duped a brown trout in front of a submerged boulder, when I began to lift for another cast.

Colors

By 3PM I spotted some early natural green drakes, and I responded by reverting to a solo green drake dry fly. In this instance I tested a Harrop hair wing dun, and it fooled a nice fish along a current seam, but then it fell out of favor, and I once again pondered a change. I decided to stick with the green drake theme, and I replaced the Harrop version with a size 14 comparadun with no ribbing. The comparadun generated the most success, when it produced three netted fish, and the fish counter moved to fifteen.

At 3:30PM I reached a section of fast water that consisted of numerous deep runs and pockets. I decided to exit and hike back toward the trailhead and stop at one of my favorite pools along the way. When I arrived at the gorgeous wide pool with a deep run slicing through the center, I paused to observe, and several sporadic rises caught my attention. Prior to my exit downstream I knotted a cinnamon comparadun to my line, and now I fluttered a few casts to the right side of the spectacular pool in front of me. A pair of refusals dampened my optimism, so I exchanged the cinnamon size 16 for a light gray of the same size. The gray pale morning dun imitation reversed my fortunes, and I hooked and landed a spunky rainbow and two brown trout, before I called it quits for the day.

Pastel Pink

Eighteen fish in four hours of fishing is a respectable performance, but it lagged 8/15 and 8/24 in both quantity and size. I suspect that I over analyzed the situation, and I should have persisted with the ant or defaulted to my tried and true dry/dropper in the pre-hatch time period. I never fell into a nice rhythm and or developed confidence in one of my fly choices. I also suspect that the cool temperatures and wind played a role in my inability to attain a comfort zone on Thursday, September 12.

Fish Landed: 18

Little Schuylkill River – 09/05/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Special regulation area

Little Schuylkill River 09/05/2019 Photo Album

During the spring I received an email from a fraternity brother informing me, that a group was planning a reunion that spanned the graduating classes of 1970 through 1976. Since I was a member of the class of 1973, I made plans to attend. When I booked my flights, I scheduled an early arrival on September 4, so I could spend some time with my brother and sister, who continue to reside in southeastern Pennsylvania. Before my departure date, I learned that my aunt, who lives in Pittsburgh, was visiting my sister, and a small mini reunion was organized for Thursday night, September 5. 

Thursday remained an open date for fly fishing, but my destination had to be relatively close to my brother’s house in Lititz, Pa. or to my cousin’s home in Wernersville, Pa., the scene of our family gathering. Over the past two years I made the Instagram acquaintance of Fred Klein, a fly tier and fly angler, who lives near Birdsboro, Pa. I decided to contact him about a fishing day in early September. Fred immediately approved of the idea of a joint fishing trip, and he felt that we could catch some fish in spite of seasonally low and clear stream conditions.

On Thursday morning, September 5, I met Fred at the outer reaches of the Barnes and Noble parking lot in Reading, Pa., and we left my rental car there and transferred my Fishpond travel bag to his vehicle. Fred was forced to utilize his back up car, a RAV4, since his main car had mechanical issues. Once my bag was situated we departed, and we stopped at a Redner’s Market to purchase insect repellent and a few lunch snacks.

A Tributary

A Tributary

Starting Point

Starting Point

Before we reached our ultimate destination, we stopped at a bridge and another pull off, where we surveyed the river. It was low and clear, as I expected, given the early September timing of my visit, but Fred assured me that cool nights lowered the water temperature. At the second stop we negotiated a short hike to the river, where we encountered a massive slow moving pool that was the recipient of cold water from a tributary. On a previous visit Fred spotted a huge rainbow trout holding tight to a deadfall, but we were unable to locate the beast on this stopover. Fred executed a few obligatory casts with his fiberglass, but we quickly abandoned the honey hole and continued on to the special regulation water.

Once Fred parked the car in a makeshift pullout, we geared up for a day on the river. The weather was ideal with partial cloudiness, and the temperature peaked in the mid-seventies. We found a nice clear area between the road and the river, and cut to the bank and began our quest for Pennsylvania trout. Fred began by swinging a classic wet fly, and I knotted a peacock hippie stomper and beadhead hares ear to my line. Our starting point was the left braid around a very long narrow island, and it felt like we were exploring a much smaller creek. We never encountered another angler over our entire day, and I was amazed at the feeling of remoteness on this Pennsylvania waterway. Judging from the lack of worn paths and defined pullouts, I agree with Fred’s assertion that the Little Schuylkill is lightly pressured.

Fred in Action

Fred and I alternated turns at casting in the narrow left braid, and being a gracious host, Fred offered me the first quality spot. The hippie stomper generated a few splashy refusals, and then I connected with a fish that was likely a small brown trout, but it evaded the hook after a two second tussle.

Pleased with This Catch

The remainder of the day continued in much the same fashion, and I eventually landed four brown trout with the largest extending to the one foot mark. Three grabbed the hares ear, and one nipped the salvation nymph, after I added it as a third fly for a deeper than average run. Fred, meanwhile, switched to a dry/dropper and connected for a few temporary hook ups in the mid-afternoon time period.

Hidden Channel

The catch rate was slow, and the fish were small, but I maintained low expectations given the low and clear early September conditions. In short, I had a fun time. I discovered a new fishing companion and explored an entirely new fishing destination within close proximity of my brother and sister and my hometown. I can easily envision the possibilities of this southeastern Pennsylvania gem during higher water and colder temperatures. Mix in some hatches, and pure enjoyment would surely be the end product. 

Fish Landed: 4

Those Spots!