Monthly Archives: August 2021

South Boulder Creek – 08/30/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/30/2021 Photo Album

Another forecast of ninety degrees in Denver, CO had me craving a cold water wading destination. On Sunday night I checked the flows, and I stopped my research abruptly, when I learned that South Boulder Creek was tumbling along at 95 CFS. I visited the relatively close tailwater on 8/13/2021 and 08/18/2021 and enjoyed much success. Were green drakes still hatching, and could the canyon tailwater deliver similar results on August 30, 2021? There was only one way to find out. I made the trip to the Kayak Parking Lot below Gross Reservoir on Monday morning.

The temperature on the dashboard was already 71 degrees, as I pulled on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight. Even though it was cooler than Denver, it was clearly going to be a warm day even in the shaded canyon tailwater. I was tempted to wet wade, but the cold bottom release water from the dam numbs my feet even with my waders on. I played it safe with waders, and of course quite a bit of perspiration was part of my hike in and out of the canyon.

Six cars besides mine occupied space in the parking lot, so I was concerned about competition and pressure, as I began the descent of the steep trail to the creek. I passed two anglers in the upper section and a pair of hikers walking a dog. In the middle section of the creek I encountered three senior fishermen with backpacks, as they congregated along the path, and that was the extent of human presence on my inbound hike. Perhaps the three gentlemen drove separately and met in the parking lot? That was the only explanation that made sense out of the comparatively few number of anglers given the presence of six cars. As one might expect, I was quite pleased to only encounter five other fishermen in spite of six cars in the parking lot.

Productive Water Type

By 11AM I was perched along the creek ready to configure my line to begin fishing. I began my day with an ice dub olive hippie stomper, prince nymph and salvation nymph. I was hoping the hippie stomper mimicked adult green drakes, the prince covered the presence of green drake nymphs, and the salvation nymph imitated the nymph stage of pale morning duns. Between 11AM and noon I landed one spunky eleven inch rainbow trout that rose and smashed the hippie stomper in some riffles of moderate depth. Needless to say the catch rate was not what I expected, but at least I was on the board.

On Display for the Crowd

After my standard lunch I resumed prospecting, and the creek structure changed, as the stream widened, and this translated to more fish holding lies with slower water velocity. In the thirty minutes after lunch I raised the fish count from one to six, and all but one were energetic rainbow trout. The salvation nymph became the main producer, and the turbulent oxygenated water perhaps explained the disproportionate quantity of pink-stripped trout.

Surprising Girth

By 12:30PM I spied a pair of natural green drakes, so in spite of enjoying a decent catch rate, I took the plunge and removed the dry/dropper arrangement and migrated to a parachute green drake. The first green drake that I knotted to my line displayed a narrow turkey flat wing and a short moose mane tail. This fly generated a couple of takes, but it was refused five times for each time a fish consumed it. I decided that the profile was too narrow, and I dug in my green drake box and extracted one of the new ones, that I tied last week. It possessed a white McFlylon wing and a clump of body-length moose mane tail fibers. The wing portrayed more bulk, and the tail was apparently a significant keying characteristic, because the trout responded in a major way to the new parachute green drake. With this fly on my tippet the fish count mounted to twenty-two. If one does the math, that is sixteen trout over two hours of fishing.

Asters Along the Creek

Featuring a Parachute Green Drake

During this time period I spotted quite a few natural green drakes; and, in fact, between two o’clock and 2:30PM, I observed more naturals than were seen during the entire time of my two previous visits. It seemed that the hatch reached a crescendo by 2:30PM and then abruptly reverted to the sporadic emergence that characterized the early afternoon time frame. The size of the trout that crushed the low floating parachute green drake was another fortuitous development, as brown trout and rainbow trout in the eleven to twelve inch range were fairly common.

Great Colors

As this fantastic fly fishing was transpiring, both my feet slid out from under me on a long angled and slippery submerged rock. I caught myself with both hands, before I fell in, but a bit of water trickled over the lip of my wader bib. Suddenly ice cold water ran down my legs and created a soggy foot bed for my woolen socks. The wet long underwear and socks actually felt fairly comfortable given the warm air temperatures. Once I gathered myself and took stock of the impact of the near dunking, I was ready to resume casting, but at this point I discovered that my lucky parachute green drake was MIA. I was not pleased and uttered a few choice words about my bout of bad luck, and then I replaced the green drake with another similar version with a poly wing and long moose mane tail. Later when I removed my waders in the parking lot, I noticed a strand of monofilament above my wading boot, and I was pleased to discover the long lost paradrake hooked into my wader cuff!

By 2:30PM the parachute drake lost its magic. The trout continued to inspect it, but most turned away in the last second in a rude lack of respect for my offering. It seemed that one out of every five looks resulted in a landed fish, with the others categorized as refusals. The number of looks were also spaced out causing my catch rate to plummet. On my previous South Boulder Creek visit, I converted to a green drake comparadun at this juncture, so I decided to execute the same ploy.

I replaced the parachute with a comparadun with a large deer hair wing profile, and suddenly the trout began to grab the size 14 fraud. Four additional trout rested in my net including a pair of twelve inch brown trout, and they all savored the green drake comparadun. Why does the parachute style work early and the comparadun late? Perhaps the low lying parachute with the long tail mimics the emerging green drakes early in the hatch? The long tail portrays a tail and trailing shuck, and in the early stages it takes longer for the drake to free itself from the nymph casing? As the air and water temperatures warm, the transition from nymph to adult speeds up; and, thus, the comparadun with its large full upright wing presents a more more fully emerged adult that fits the profile sought by the hungry trout. These are simply my own theories and not based on any scientific research.

Best Brown Trout of the Day

I landed a deeply colored brown trout at 3PM, and as I reached for my net, I realized that it was absent. I managed to release the trout without the benefit of a net, and then I tried to recollect, where I left the crucial fly fishing instrument. I removed my backpack, and inspected it to see if perhaps the ring pulled out of the handle, but the female end of the snap mechanism remained in place. This meant that I unsnapped the net to photograph and handle a trout, but I apparently never reconnected the retractor device. I waded downstream for fifty yards and surveyed the rocks on both banks and attempted to remember my last photo shoot. Alas, I never spotted the net, and I was forced to acknowledge that it was a lost item of equipment. I suspect that I disconnected it and dropped it in the water after releasing the fish, and I failed to realize that it was no longer tethered to my backpack. I mourned the loss for a bit, and then I decided to call it quits at 3:15PM. Handling and releasing trout without a net becomes proportionately more difficult, and I was not interested in harming South Boulder Creek trout.

Moderate Depth

Monday, August 30 developed into another solid day on South Boulder Creek. I landed twenty-six trout in four hours, and the fish count included a higher ratio of rainbow trout and trout that were a bit larger than my previous two visits. The green drake hatch was on time and heavier than previous emergences, and my imitations proved effective. I lost my favorite net, but I have a viable backup for future outings this week. Hopefully the green drake saga will continue for a few more weeks on South Boulder Creek, and I will be able to participate.

Fish Landed: 26

Lake Fork of the Gunnison – 08/25/2021

Time: 1:30PM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Red Bridge and Gateview

Lake Fork of the Gunnison 08/25/2021 Photo Album

As I contemplated our camping trip to central Colorado, I envisioned the centerpiece river for fly fishing to be the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, and I hoped to schedule that day on Tuesday, August 24. However, when Jane and I completed the trip on Sunday, it became clear that traveling back and forth on CO 868 was not a viable scenario. The drive from CO 149, a paved highway, to Big Blue Campground on CO 868 was twelve miles on a narrow and frequently rocky surface. It took us roughly forty minutes to travel twelve miles, and this translates to an average speed of 18 MPH. When we saw the low tire pressure warning on the dashboard of the Santa Fe on Monday morning, I concluded that the best scenario for our trip was to remain at our remote campground location for Monday and Tuesday and then visit the Lake Fork on our return trip to Denver on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning we packed up our camping gear and made the relatively short drive to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Fortunately the pressure in the left rear tire remained constant, and we arrived at the Red Bridge Campground without incident.

We parked at one of the open campsites and took advantage of the picnic table to prepare and consume our lunches, and then I climbed into my waders and organized my fishing equipment for an afternoon of fly fishing. Jane and I drove north on CO 25, and the well maintained dirt road closely tracked the canyon section of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. It had been twenty years, since I last fished this section of river, so I was unable to recall the stretch that I fished, but every inch of the river looked amazing. The flow was quite healthy, and the water was clear, as it cascaded through plunge pools, pockets, riffles and long runs. The only negative to fishing conditions was the bright sun and the air temperature, which climbed into the low eighties for most of my time on the river.

Jane Near My Starting Point

After a slow drive of a couple miles I turned into a wide pullout on the river side of the road and parked. I was seeking interesting water while also being cognizant of shade and a place, where Jane could be comfortable, while I fished. I strung my Sage four weight and ambled downstream along the dirt road for a short distance, until I found a reasonably manageable path to the river. My Colorado fishing guide book mentioned stoneflies as the “go to” fly for the Lake Fork, so I configured my line with a tan pool toy hopper, 20 incher, and beadhead hares ear nymph. I fished for thirty minutes through some outstanding structure, but the flies produced only two tiny rainbow trout and several refusals to the hopper.

I paused to reassess the situation. I decided to try some different nymphs before resorting to dry fly fishing. The 20 incher was returned to my fleece wallet along with the hares ear nymph, and I replaced them with an iron sally and salvation nymph. Now that my line carried lighter nymphs, I swapped the pool toy hopper for a peacock hippie stomper. I was hoping that pale morning duns and yellow sallies might make an afternoon appearance. For the next 1.5 hour I prospected the three fly combination in all the likely spots, until I was one hundred yards above where the car was parked. During this time I netted four trout; three rainbows and one brown trout, and the largest was nine inches, while the others barely exceeded the six inch minimum. In addition I hooked an equal number of tiny rainbows not large enough to meet my minimum criteria for registering on the fish counter. The salvation nymph was the popular offering, with one independent minded trout falling for the iron sally.

One of the Better Fish

The fish that flashed to the hopper and turned away seemed to be slightly more substantial than the dinks that were fooled by the nymphs, so I decided to make a change to the top fly. I replaced the pool toy with a yellow Letort hopper. My theory suggested that the pool toy was too large, and the Letort hopper presented a smaller and narrower profile. It did not work, and the Letort hopper earned a quick hook. Were the fish looking for yellow sallies? I replaced the Letort hopper with a size 14 yellow stimulator, and the high floating attractor generated some interest in the form of splashy refusals. I did not observe any green drakes, but the guide book hatch chart suggested that green drakes hatched until the middle of August. Perhaps the fish had long memories. I employed a double dry approach with an olive ice dub hippie stomper twelve inches behind the stimulator. No dice.

Productive Slow Moving Water on Opposite Bank

I was stuck on four landed trout, yet the river was cold and oxygenated and looked absolutely fabulous for fly fishing. Most of my minimal action occurred in fast water sections with deep runs and pockets. Perhaps my nymphs were not getting down deep to the larger fish? In a rare concession to difficult fishing conditions I resorted to indicator nymphing. I rigged up a New Zealand strike indicator and added a split shot and knotted the iron sally and salvation to my leader. I began drifting the nymphs deep along current seams and next to large exposed rocks, and I managed a few temporary connections with fish that felt a bit heavier than my previous catches.

Gorgeous River

In the early afternoon I spotted a handful of mayflies that appeared to be pale morning duns, and this probably explained my success with the salvation nymph. Between three and four o’clock, however, some clouds rolled in, and I began to notice some small mayflies, as they fluttered skyward. Could the fish be keying on tiny blue winged olive nymphs? I snipped off the salvation and replaced it with a sparkle wing RS2. This move proved to be the most effective among a fairly weak series of ploys. I landed two more rainbow trout including my best fish of the day at eleven inches. In addition I felt the weight of four other trout, as they grabbed the small BWO nymph, when it drifted deep along the current seams or swept in front of a large protective structure. It was the best I could do on Wednesday, but admittedly it was a slow 2.5 hours on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.

Fish Landed: 6

Big Blue Creek – 08/24/2021

Time: 1:30PM – 4:00PM

Location: Near Big Blue Creek Campground

Big Blue Creek 08/24/2021 Photo Album

The temperature at 10,000 feet when we awoke on Tuesday morning was around 40 degrees, and it elevated to 48 by the time Jane and I completed a hike on the Big Blue Creek Trail. We covered 5.0 miles during our out and back.

Our neighbor at the campground departed during the morning, and this raised our concern about the lack of human contact in case of emergencies, such as the dead battery we encountered at Peaceful Valley Campground. We carried jumper cables, but there was no source of power to jump from! A new concern appeared on Tuesday morning when the tire pressure warning light alerted  us to low pressure in the left rear tire. I cycled through the maintenance screen and learned that the culprit tire dropped to 26 PSI. Cold temperatures and driving on a rough rocky dirt road probably explained the new worrisome circumstance. When we returned from our hike, we utilized a bicycle pump to inflate the left rear tire, and we reviewed the Santa Fe manual to assure ourselves that we had a spare tire for backup. Fortunately we did.

Nice Hole Near the Start

Productive Beaver Pond

After lunch I drove a mile from the campground to a trailhead, where I prepared to fly fish. I was reassured, when the tire pressure screen displayed 34 PSI after our energetic hand pumping effort. I wore my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked a couple tenths of a mile on a trail, until I intersected with the Big Blue Creek. Unlike Monday the section of the Big Blue that I fished on Tuesday meandered through a wide valley. This translated to more beaver ponds and long sweeping runs and riffles with periodic deep bend pools. The prime fishing spots were easier to spot, and I logged more time wading between fishing locations. In addition the creek was generally more placid, and this led to longer casts, stealthy approaches, and the inevitable scattering of fish after a clumsy cast or snag.

Outstanding Wild Brookie

Long Casts to the Feeding Run Were Productive

As was the case on Monday I spent most of my angling time tossing a peacock hippie stomper with a beadhead hares ear nymph dropper. This combination accounted for the first eleven fish, with roughy half smashing the stomper, and half nabbing the hares ear. An extended lull, when the count paused at eleven, caused me to cycle through some fly changes. The hippie stomper was a constant, but I combined it with a pheasant tail nymph and an assortment of dry flies including a light gray size 16 comparadun, a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis, and a size 14 parachute green drake. The pheasant tail, comparadun and caddis each recorded a landed trout, but the hippie stomper continued to surprise with a few netted fish. During the late afternoon phase the catch rate slowed, but I landed a pair of gorgeous hook-jawed male brook trout with flaming orange colors, as they entered their spawning phase.

Ready to Flip

Tuesday was a slower day than Monday, and I had to work harder for my success. The brook trout were on average a bit larger. Sixteen trout in 2.5 hours was a satisfying day given the more challenging stream conditions.

Fish Landed: 16

Big Blue Creek – 08/23/2021

Time: 1:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Near Big Blue Creek Campground

Big Blue Creek 08/23/2021 Photo Album

Jane and I completed a scouting hike on the Alpine Trail in the morning, and I used my Garmin watch to clock the distance. This information was useful, as I planned my afternoon fishing venture. It was 68 degrees, when I began to fish on Monday afternoon, and this may have been the high for the day as a result of afternoon clouds, wind and breezes.

Beaver Pond at the Start

After a decent hike I angled down to the creek and arrived at a long, slow-moving beaver pond, and the telltale rings of feeding fish up and down the pool caught my attention. I quickly rigged my Orvis Access four weight with a peacock hippie stomper and a beadhead hares ear nymph on a two foot dropper. On the first cast a four inch brook trout clobbered the stomper, and as I worked my way up along the left side of the pond, I continued casting and netted three brook trout that met my criterion for counting. One crushed the hippie stomper, and two nabbed the trailing hares ear. I was pleased to discover that both flies were liked by the pond residents.

Stunning

Wading a beaver pond with its mucky bottom is always a challenge, and this one was no exception. I grew somewhat bored with the “stillwater” fish and began seeking an exit strategy. If I turned left, I needed to wade through the marshy area filled with some sort of low woody shrub that tended to grab fly rods and lines. A right side exit involved crossing the pond with its silty bottom and deep water. If I could pull it off, however, there was a shorter distance through the shrub filled marsh, before I reached the sagebrush hill and higher ground. I chose the second option, although I waded along the left bank for a ways, until I found a shallower spot to cross. Once I was on high ground, I followed the contour of the hill, until I reached a spot, where the creek nearly bordered the sagebrush.

Top of the Beaver Pond

The creek at this point met my expectations; moving water consisting of riffles, pockets, and occasional deep pools. Between 1:15PM and 3:30PM I methodically worked my way up the creek and built the fish count from three to twenty-three. Roughly 75 percent of the brook trout that I landed snatched the trailing hares ear, and 25 percent darted to the surface to slurp the hippie stomper. There was a section early on, where I was catching trout in obscure shallow runs of a foot or less in depth, and these trout were colorful nine inch brookies.

Nymph Eater

I noticed that nice pools that were easily accessed often failed to produce; whereas, marginal spots in difficult to reach stretches yielded some of my better fish. Angler pressure was clearly a factor. Tamped down grass and scuffed dirt clearings made it easy to identify the presence of man.

The Only Trout, Not a Brook Char

By 3PM the catch rate slowed, and the thread head on my hares ear began to unravel. I replaced the hares ear with a salvation nymph, and in the process of landing a brook trout, I snapped off the newly attached fly. I uttered some choice words and replaced the salvation with an ultra zug bug. The fishing gods must have been looking out for me, because the hippie stomper dipped in the next deep hole, and I connected with a larger than average and aggressive fish. I carefully played my catch around the pool and eventually netted a feisty thirteen inch rainbow trout that gulped the ultra zug bug. It was the only fish that ate the shaggy peacock dubbed imitation, and it proved to be my only fish that was not a brook trout and the largest fish of the day. Unfortunately the ultra zug bug could not resurrect its magic, and I suffered a lull, so I made a radical change and swapped the stomper for a tan pool toy hopper, and exchanged the ultra zug bug for another hares ear nymph.

Interesting Spot

The hopper attracted immediate interest in the form of bumps and refusals, but no trout came to the net. I suspect the size 8 hopper was bigger than the plentiful naturals surrounding the creek and too large for the mouths of the smaller brook trout. As a final act, I returned to the hippie stomper and paired it with a size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis. The caddis fooled three very colorful brookies and brought the fish count to thirty-one. It was 4PM at this point, so I stripped in my line and hooked the caddis to the rod guide and climbed an extremely steep bank, before I intersected with the trail.

Streamlined

Monday was a blast on Big Blue Creek. I landed thirty brook trout and one rainbow trout in three hours of fishing. I prospected with mainly two flies, and I enjoyed the confident feeling that a fish would grab my offering, if I presented my flies in a natural manner to likely holding spots. That is one of my favorite mental states while fly fishing. Bring on Tuesday.

Fish Landed: 31

South Boulder Creek – 08/18/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/18/2021 Photo Album

I made a pledge to myself to return to South Boulder Creek the week that began with August 16, and today, Wednesday I fulfilled that promise. On August 13 I learned that the flows below Gross Reservoir were at manageable levels, and green drakes were making their presence known to the stream residents. Flows on August 18 remained at 102 CFS, and I took advantage.

When I arrived at the Kayak Parking Lot only one vehicle was present, and while I prepared to fish another car arrived. The temperature was already at 77 degrees, when I began my hike down the steep trail to the creek, and I once again strung my Orvis Access four weight. My smallest rod is always a good choice for small stream fishing, as it is not as taxing on my shoulder and elbow as the longer and heavier rods in my arsenal.

Stunning

I was perched along the edge of the creek at 10:45AM, and after I configured my line with a tan pool toy hopper, prince nymph, and salvation nymph; I was ready to cast at 10:50AM. The air temperature was warmer on Wednesday compared to the previous Friday, and I was curious how that might affect the timing of the green drake hatch. On August 13 my early efforts with a parachute green drake and peacock hippie stomper were not effective, thus, I chose a dry/dropper combination with a pair of heavy nymphs.

Wildness

Well, the shift to nymphing paid modest dividends, as I landed three small brown trout on the salvation, before I paused for lunch at 11:45AM. In addition to the netted fish I experienced quite a few refusals to the tan pool toy hopper. The fish seemed interested in surface food, but my hopper was not exactly to their liking. After lunch I shifted gears and removed the three fly set and opted for a peacock hippie stomper. The stomper did not generate action in a couple of prime pools, so I added a one foot leader and attached a size 14 gray stimulator for a double dry offering. The gray stimulator and hippie stomper enabled me to increase the fish count by a few fish, but once again looks and refusals outnumbered takes. I noted a couple of natural green drakes shortly after lunch, so I decided to migrate directly to my ace in the hole parachute green drake. I knotted the same fly to my line that produced twenty-two fish on Friday, and the fun began. By same fly, I mean the same type of fly and the same physical fly. After Friday’s battering the maroon thread ribbing was unraveled, but the wing post, hackle and dubbing remained in decent shape, although the abdomen closest to the thorax was down to bare olive thread.

Battered and Bruised Parachute Green Drake Lost the Hook Point!

Very Fine

The blemishes to the parachute green drake did not bother the trout in the least, and I proceeded to land another fourteen, before the hook point finally broke off ending a string of thirty-six fish landed on one fly. I suspect this may have been some sort of record for this long time angler. With my workhorse fly out of commission I dug into my green drake fly box and extracted another parachute green drake. This one had maroon ribbing and tightly wound dubbing with a dense hackle and a tall wing post. It looked ideal to me, and it worked fine for two fish, at which point the hackle climbed up the wing post, and I was forced to retire it from service. Unlike the previous Mr. Durable, green drake number two proved to be a fragile version of the pattern. I pulled out another brand new paradrake, and it generated a few fish, but the interval between landed fish extended. This circumstance was probably more attributable to the waning hatch than my fly choice, but I persisted with the solitary green drake approach and boosted the fish count to twenty-four.

Out of the Net for a Second

Green Drake Comparadun Produced

By now it was 2:30PM, and the bright sun warmed the atmosphere to the upper seventies. I was feeling rather tired, and it seemed that the fish were exhibiting the same fatigue. I did, however, witness a pair of natural green drakes, so I knew they were still active, In fact I saw one flutter on the surface nearby, and then it was promptly slurped by an aggressive eater. Perhaps my parachute version was not presenting the fuzzy profile of fluttering wings? I removed the parachute green drake and replaced it with a Harrop hair wing, which is heavily hackled similar to a stimulator. This was a great thought, but the trout showed no interest in the hair wing.

Head Macro

Should I abandon the green drakes? I was still seeing the occasional natural, so I decided to cycle through a few more of my green drake styles. First I tested a May break, which is a type of green drake cripple. This fly was difficult to track, and it never produced as much as a look, so it was quickly returned to the green drake fly box. I examined my box closely and decided to try a comparadun with a large and dark deer hair wing. The comparadun delivered success, and I stuck with it for my remaining time on the creek, and the fish count climbed from twenty-four to thirty-four. The trout did not jump on this fly in a manner similar to the noon to 2:30PM period, but the response was steady enough to keep me interested until 4:00PM. I made many more casts to each prospective holding lie, and many quality spots failed to produce, but if I persisted, I could dupe a trout here and there.

Horizontal Line on the Side

By 4:00PM I ran up against a natural breaking point, so I stripped in my flies and hooked them to the last rod guide above the grip. I was hot and weary and ready to call it a day. What a day it was! I landed thirty-four gorgeous wild trout. Three or four were rainbows, and the remainder were brown trout. I estimate that two rainbows and three brown trout stretched to the twelve to thirteen inch range, and the remainder were beneath the one foot cut off. Far and away the typical landed brown trout was in the nine to eleven inch range. All but five of the trout consumed a green drake, and two of the five non-drake eaters fell for a size 14 gray stimulator, which is a close relative to a green drake imitation. Once again moderate riffles and the tail of pockets and pools were the home to trout feeders. During the 12:00PM to 2:30PM period I could nearly bank on a trout, if I cast to one of these stream structures. I am proud to claim South Boulder Creek as my home water. If only the water managers would allow the flows to continue at the current levels.

Fish Landed: 34

Clear Creek – 08/16/2021

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: West of Idaho Springs

Clear Creek 08/16/2021 Photo Album

In my opinion cutthroat trout are the most beautiful of all freshwater trout. I find it ironic that the only fish native to Colorado is also the rarest; and, therefore, I am always thrilled to catch these rare and gorgeous fish. On Monday August 16 I decided to pursue cutthroat trout in a relatively close stream.

The high for Denver was forecast to peak in the low 90’s, and the dashboard digital thermometer registered 66 degrees, as I began my trip to Clear Creek. When I parked near my ultimate fishing destination, the temperature was 53 degrees. The impact of elevation on temperature always amazes me. Knowing that the temperature would quickly rise to more comfortable levels enabled me to forego an extra layer, but I did elect to wear my waders. My decision proved to be a solid one, as the high for the day in my location was in the low seventies. The creek was clear and flowing near ideal levels, and the weather was perfect, as I fitted together my Orvis Access four weight four piece rod.

Sweet Spot

I decided to explore a new section of the creek and began casting my flies at 9:30AM after a short hike. For starters I knotted a peacock body hippie stomper to my line, but after covering some delicious pockets and runs with no response, I reconsidered my options. The water was very cold, and I guessed that the local trout were hugging bottom, so I extended a leader from the bend of the stomper and added a salvation nymph. This finally prompted some action, and I landed one rainbow and three small cutbows on the shiny nymph pattern.

Even though I was on the scoreboard, I remained dissatisfied with my catch rate. I attributed some of the lack of action to being closer than normal to the parking lot and path, but my fly choices were also possibly a factor. I decided to go deeper and added another nymph to the end of the tippet, and this time I opted for a beadhead hares ear nymph. The addition of my most productive fly failed to make a difference, and I once more pondered my options.

Big Chunk of Food

I decided to return to a dry fly approach and elected to present a silver hippie stomper with a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. The caddis accounted for one small cutthroat, and the silver stomper picked up a pair. This brought the fish count to seven by the time I sat on a small beach to consume my lunch. Seven fish in 2.5 hours of morning fishing was only slightly better than the standard average of two fish per hour; however, all the landed fish were quite small.

Inviting Run

Lunch Spot

After lunch I once again implemented a change, and in this instance I experimented with a Chernobyl ant trailing the salvation nymph. The Chernobyl generated a few looks, but no takes, and the salvation was ignored. Maybe the looks suggested that the high country cutthroats were looking for smaller terrestrials. I replaced the Chernobyl and salvation with a Jake’s gulp beetle, and the size 12 terrestrial added a trout to the count along with a four-pack of refusals.

Subtle Yet Vivid Colors

I was now frustrated by my inability to dupe these normally aggressive trout. I decided to return to the dry/dropper approach and attached the silver hippie stomper to my line along with a size 18 black stonefly nymph and a sunken ant pattern. Finally I discovered offerings that generated some fairly consistent action, and I moved the fish count from eight to eighteen over the next hour. All the flies produced at least a fish, but the sunken ant was the favorite of the Clear Creek residents.

Mostly Spotless

By 1:30PM I approached a stunning deep pool with a deep run 1/3 of the of the way across the stream from the left bank. The main current then curled around toward the right bank and created a small eddy, and as I observed the pool, I spotted five fish. Two of them were very respectable and likely the largest fish that I saw on Monday, August 16. The larger than average targets were having no part of the hippie stomper, black stonefly or sunken ant; so I removed them and switched to a solitary dry fly. My first choice was a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis, but it never generated a look.

Nymph Eater

As I was casting the caddis, I counted four olive hued green drakes, as they slowly fluttered up from the creek. Were these fish selectively looking for drakes? I was certain that was the solution to the puzzle, so I plucked a size 14 parachute green drake from my fly box and knotted it to my line. Nothing. The drake pattern looked perfect to this seasoned angler, but the sighted trout barely waved their tails, when the fly drifted over their position in the pool. Next I tried a user friendly version and then a Harrop hair wing, but each failed to attract interest. One of the big boys hovered just below the surface, so I assumed it was in eating mode. I pulled a parachute ant from my box with the hope that the picky trout could not resist a trapped terrestrial. Quite a few large black ants were crawling about on the logs, as I climbed over them to make progress up the creek, so I was, in effect, matching the hatch. The ant may have created a look from the bigger of the two fish, but that was the extent of the interest shown. I decided to give up on the quality eddy and continue my upstream migration.

Perfect

I returned to the approach that delivered the most fish, and resurrected the peacock hippie stomper along with a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail nymph and the sunken ant. This combination proved to be a winner, and I elevated the fish count from eighteen to thirty-one, before I called it quits at 4:00PM. During this late afternoon period all three flies produced, but the clear favorite was the sunken ant. Next on the cutthroat trout hit list was the hippie stomper, and the pheasant tail produced a couple trout as well.

Riffles Were Productive

The most productive water types were long runs and moderate riffles. In these places I executed relatively long casts, and the stomper paused for a split second, at which point I lifted the rod tip and felt the rewarding throb of a wild trout. The hippie stomper was typically attacked at the tail of a large pocket in front of a large boulder or next to the bank. Structure seemed to be a key ingredient for the trout that responded to a dry fly.

In summary, my quest for cutthroat trout was a success. I struggled early, but once I dialed in the sunken ant and hippie stomper combination, the action accelerated notably. Was it the flies, or did the fish density increase, once I distanced myself from the path and parking lot? Time of day and the presence of more insect activity may have also played a role in my improved catch rate. I will never know for certain which factor was most important, but I suspect they all had a role to varying degrees. The success of the sunken ants that I tied this winter was another gratifying outcome from my day on Clear Creek. I suspect I will return during the 2021 season.

Fish Landed: 31

South Boulder Creek – 08/13/2021

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/13/2021 Photo Album

Early August, western green drakes, and South Boulder Creek go together like pretzels and beer. Or at least that is what I thought, as I contemplated another fishing outing on August 13, 2021. The Denver Water managers seemed to have other ideas, as they sustained the flows at 180 CFS and above for all of July and early August. Imagine my excitement, when I checked the DWR graphs and learned that South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir was percolating along at 102 CFS. Game on. Were my expectations too high? Read on.

When I arrived at the kayak parking lot four other vehicles occupied spaces. The air temperature was 66 degrees, when I departed, and according to Weather Underground the high never exceeded seventy degrees, although it felt warmer with bright sunshine and very few clouds for most of my time on the water. I put together my Orvis Access four weight and began my descent of the steep trail to the South Boulder Creek canyon. As I ambled along the upper canyon, I passed five fishermen, and this accounted for all the cars. I was pleased with this circumstance, as it meant I would probably have the lower canyon area to myself. At one point another angler met up with me, since he parked at the Walker Ranch trailhead, but he cut to the stream quite a bit upstream of my chosen point of entry. Favorable weather, manageable flows and lack of competition portended a fine day of fly fishing. Would the trout and green drakes cooperate?

Nice Place to Start

I began my day at 10:00AM with a solo parachute green drake, but after prospecting four or five quality pools, I was forced to acknowledge that there was nary a sign of fish. Apparently green drakes were not present long enough to create the hoped for intuitive response to an imitation outside the emergence period. Or perhaps they were late, and I would not meet them on August 13. My confidence was a bit shaken. I added a hippie stomper as my front fly and followed it with the parachute green drake, but once again I was greeted with no response from the fish. Concern crept into my outlook.

Perhaps the trout were keying on green drake or pale morning dun nymphs? I rigged my line with a buoyant tan pool toy hopper and added a prince nymph on a four foot dropper. Finally I connected with a pair of trout, but the catch rate lagged and refusals to the hopper became a commonplace occurrence. I added a salvation nymph below the prince to gain depth, and the pale morning dun nymph began to click, as I raised the fish count to seven by the time I sat on a rock to consume my standard lunch. I was catching fish at a decent rate, but the results required constant movement, and I was passing over some prime spots with no netted fish to show for my effort.

Prince Nymph Produced

So Delicate

After lunch I exchanged the pool toy hopper for the peacock hippie stomper, and I swapped the prince for a hares ear nymph. This threesome moved the fish counter from seven to nineteen, and obviously the catch rate improved. The hippie stomper attracted a few fish, but the salvation was the main target of the trout. In many cases the hippie stomper generated a look or refusal, but persistent casting eventually fooled a trout into snatching the nymph particularly at the tail of a pocket or pool or in a riffle with over two to three feet of depth.

Ooh. Certain Trout Lair

So Dark. Ate the Stomper

By 1:30 I began seeing a few natural green drakes in the air above the creek, and the hippie stomper began to generate an increased number of refusals, and a couple of fish actually ate the attractor dry fly. I decided it was time to convert to a green drake. I knotted a size 14 parachute green drake to my line, and the fun escalated. In a testimony to how durable my fly was, I landed twenty-two trout, before I deemed it too ragged to continue presenting. I replaced it with another paradrake, but this one had brown microfibet tails instead of moose mane, and the catch rate lagged significantly. This change coincided with the end of the hatch, so perhaps it was the insect cycle and not the fly that caused the slow down; however, my observation told me that the moose mane version looked more like a natural. I plan to sort through my inventory of parachute green drakes to preferentially stock the moose mane versions.

Zoomed a Bit

Very Nice of S Boulder Creek

Between 1:30PM and 3:00PM I was supremely confident in the green drake imitation. All the prime locations produced fish, and the browns and infrequent rainbows inhaled the impostor with confidence. This was the torrid green drake fishing that I recalled from previous Augusts, and I was thrilled to be the benefactor of the sparse emergence.

Very Fine Rainbow Trout

Most of the forty-two landed trout were in the seven to eleven inch range, but I also netted a thirteen inch rainbow and a few twelve inch brown trout. The fish were all wild gems with brilliant and vivid coloration. In short, I had a blast working my way upstream and prospecting with the confidence-building green drake. Hopefully the flows will remain near the current level or slightly lower, and I plan to take advantage with another trip or two next week. I discovered that early August, western green drakes, and South Boulder Creek do, in fact, go together like beer and pretzels. While in a celebratory mood, I munched some pretzels and sipped a Red Bull on my drive home. Beer is taboo while driving.

Fish Landed: 42

Middle Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/10/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Peaceful Valley Campground

Middle Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/10/2021 Photo Album

After five days in Pennsylvania I returned to Colorado and immediately departed on a camping trip to Peaceful Valley Campground. A group of pickleball friends reserved three sites in February, and after a six month wait, our turn to enjoy the beauty of the mountains west of the Peak to Peak Highway arrived. One of the campers was a Brit named Dave Hughes, and he was a very reluctant participant and not fond of roughing it in these modern times. In an effort to make him feel at home, Jane went all out and set up the picnic table with a lace tablecloth, wine bottles, wine glasses and a summer flower bouquet. We think he was impressed, but we were certain the other ladies in our camping group were wowed by the effort. For dinner the first night we made salmon wrapped in pancetta skewers with a fresh garden salad. After dinner the entire group gave Jane a standing ovation including the reluctant camper, Dave Hughes.

Tuesday was my allotted day to fish. A week transpired since my last outing on August 3, so I was very anxious to wade into an ice cold mountain stream. The Middle Fork of St. Vrain Creek rushed by our campground, so I took advantage of the convenience. After a delicious breakfast prepared by the Hughes party, all the campers loaded themselves in two cars, and we drove 1.2 miles to the Buchanan Pass Trailhead. There were ten of us, and the other nine charged up the trail, while I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and pulled on my waders. I probably should have chosen wet wading on August 10 with high temperatures peaking in the low 90’s in Denver, but I felt that the high altitude would keep temperatures at a tolerable level. I failed to account for the body heat generated, while I hiked uphill for a couple miles.

Breathtaking Pool

I caught and passed the nine hikers from our group and found a spot above a narrow cascade with steep vertical walls on both sides, and here I cut through some spaced out trees to the creek. The water was crystal clear and flowing at a healthy pace on the high gradient stretch. I began my quest for mountain trout with a peacock hippie stomper, but after ten minutes I concluded the locals were uninterested. I was about to make a change, when I was greeted by my wife and four of the hikers. We chatted briefly, and then they continued their hiking journey.

Colorful Brook Trout Above the Water Spot

I abandoned the hippie stomper entirely and opted for a gray size 14 stimulator and trailed a purple haze. The haze and stimulator picked up a few fish, but refusals outnumbered hook ups, so I once again paused to make a change. The flows were a bit high for early August, so I decided to test a dry/dropper approach to get deeper in the water column. I knotted a classic Chernobyl ant to my line as the top indicator fly and then attached a salvation nymph below that. The Chernobyl attracted attention in the form of refusals, and the salvation was ignored, so I added an iron sally below the salvation. The iron sally enabled me to pick up a few more fish, but the long leader from the foam attractor to the iron sally was cumbersome and induced an abnormally high number of snags. I decided to swap the top fly to a yellow fat Albert for better visibility, and I reduced the subsurface offering to the solitary iron sally. This combination seemed to work better than the three fly dry/dropper, as the iron sally accounted for a few more fish, and the fish counter elevated to seven.

A Gem of a Cutthroat

I paused for lunch a bit after noon, and shortly thereafter I approached a beautiful smooth, placid pool. I recognized that the fat Albert would simply spook the fish in this fragile setting, so I reverted to the peacock hippie stomper and added a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis on a twelve inch dropper. The hippie stomper was simply an indicator to allow me to track the tiny caddis fly. The ploy was a success, and I persisted with the double dry offering for the remainder of the afternoon. The fish counter climbed steadily to twenty-two, before I climbed the bank and followed a faint path to the main trail. The caddis was responsible for the majority of the takes with a few gullible fish falling for the hippie stomper. In the early going I landed four cutthroat trout, but all the double dry responders were brook trout.

Tough Water to Approach

Wow, Those Colors

Surprisingly the type of water that produced consistently was wide riffles that were a couple feet deep. The obvious large, slow-moving, deep pools were not trout factories, although many of them were bordered by well worn paths and casting perches. I suspect that hikers and four wheelers cherry picked the obvious spots with bait and spinning tackle. A few pools produced, but these locations typically required significant effort to climb over large fallen logs or bashing through thick streamside vegetation, and of course the riffles and marginal pockets were probably overlooked by the spin casting crew.

Postcard Pretty

The hiking crew used my car to return to the campground, so my return hike was incremented by 1.2 miles, and needless to say, I was hot and thirsty, as I removed my waders and gear at the campsite. Tuesday was a fun day on the Middle Fork of St. Vrain Creek. Sure, the fish were quite small with all falling in the six to nine inch range. I may have landed a ten inch cutthroat, but that was a lunker for the section of the creek that I covered. I spotted a few larger trout in a couple prime pools, but these trout saw me and bolted, before I could entice them with my flies. The bright colors of the trout made up for their lack of size, and the spectacular landscape made the day worthwhile. I am pleased to be back in Colorado, and I am already contemplating another outing on Friday, August 13. Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 22

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/03/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/03/2021 Photo Album

My last fishing day was Wednesday, July 28, so I was itching to get in another outing before my scheduled trip to Pennsylvania for a reunion. I desired a short drive and reviewed the stream flows for the usual Front Range options. Heavy thunderstorms and rain caused flash flooding and mudslides over the previous five days, so I wanted to assure myself that I would not be impacted by these events. Three streams stood out from my review: South Boulder Creek, the Big Thompson River, and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. South Boulder Creek was running at 185 CFS, which is higher than I desire, but manageable, particularly if insect hatching activity is present. That option, however, involved a fairly significant and strenuous hike into the canyon, so I moved on to the Big Thompson River, which was rolling along at 126 CFS. Once again this volume was higher than I favor, but I in the past I fished the Big T at 125 CFS successfully. The North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek was registering flows of 46 CFS, and I knew from experience that these levels were quite favorable for fly fishing. The NF of the St. Vrain was a 1.25 hour drive and closer than the Big Thompson River, so it became my choice.

I prepared the night before and arrived at the Buttonrock Preserve parking lot by 9:45AM. Steady rain commenced, as I drove through Lyons, CO, and it continued, as I rigged my Sage four weight and pulled on my waders and raincoat. Six cars were in the parking lot when I arrived, and the quantity quickly shrank to three including me, as dog walkers and hikers returned to their cars to avoid the rain. I was gloating internally, as I prepared to fish in spite of the wave of hikers and walkers avoiding the steady preciipitation that was more than a drizzle but less than a steady downpour.

Salivating

Stretched Out for Viewing

I hiked for forty-five minutes and then paused to configure my line for a day of fly fishing. I began with a peacock hippie stomper, but it was totally ignored in some very attractive deep pockets and pools. I added a purple haze, and a small surface disturbance appeared just below the trailing purple attractor. This told me that the fish were looking toward the surface, so I swapped the purple haze for a size 18 olive-brown deer hair caddis. Bingo! A small rainbow trout and brown trout responded to the change and sipped the tiny caddis. I was off and running with a fish count of two within the first thirty minutes. Unfortunately the catch rate quickly dropped to zero, and the small caddis was nearly impossible to follow in the glare created by the overcast skies.

Salvation Nymph and Yellow Sally

Narrow Band Along the Rock Produced

The creek was nearly devoid of insect activity, so I decided to experiment with a dry/dropper approach. One never knows what works, until one tries. I began with a Chernobyl ant trailing an iron sally and salvation nymph. The dry/dropper ploy worked, and I steadily increased the fish count from two to six, as the salvation nymph caught the attention of the local stream residents. Even with this improvement in action, I remained dissatisfied with the effectiveness of my offerings. The Chernobyl ant was totally ignored, as was the iron Sally, so the only productive fly on my line was the salvation nymph. The Chernobyl ant was increasingly hard to follow in the glare due to its sunken position in the surface film, so I exchanged it for a tan pool toy hopper. While doing this, I extended the leader between the hopper and the first fly, which I swapped for an emerald caddis pupa. The combination of the hopper, caddis pupa and salvation remained on my line for most of my remaining time on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek, and it served me quite well.

Shimmering

Deeply Colored Wild Brown

I ramped up the fish count from six to eighteen between noon and 3:00PM, when I pulled down the curtain on a successful day. The sky remained overcast, and consequently the temperature never spiked out of the seventies. The weather conditions were nearly ideal for fly fishing in the middle of the summer. Most of the trout snapped up the drifting salvation nymph, but three crushed the pool toy hopper. One of the pool toy hopper lovers was a sixteen inch cutbow, and it smashed the large terrestrial in the middle of a large smooth pool. Needless to say I felt very fortunate to net the beauty. Another pair of brown trout in the twelve inch range mauled the hopper as well, so the terrestrial imitation was popular with larger than average fish.

Great Side View

I was also surprised to land a nine inch lake trout. I can only assume it washed over the top of Buttonrock Dam, and that also may have been the case with the cutbow. The lake trout and cutbow when combined with the rainbow trout and brown trout allowed me to claim credit for a grand slam, and for me a slam including a lake trout is very unusual.

Head Shot

Tuesday, August 3, evolved into a very enjoyable day. The flows were favorable, and the cool overcast skies were very refreshing after the recent string of ninety degree temperatures. Eighteen fish in four hours of fishing was very respectable. Two-thirds of my catch were small trout in the six to ten inch range, and the remainder included the cutbow and a bunch of eleven to twelve inch brown trout. The quality of the fish was quite acceptable for a small stream such as the North Fork of the St. Vrain.

Fish Landed: 18

So Green

Another Shot