Author Archives: wellerfish

Eagle River – 07/02/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between Wolcott and Eagle.

Eagle River 07/02/2020 Photo Album

Jane reserved a condominium in Eagle-Vail for the Fourth of July weekend, and we arrived at our temporary lodging on Wednesday, July 1.  The original plan incorporated a full day guided float trip on Thursday, July 2, 2020; but my fishing partner suffered a setback in his recovery from shoulder surgery, so we delayed that highly anticipated outing. This circumstance produced a large hole in my calendar for Thursday, so I took advantage with a wading trip to the Eagle River. My most recent visit to the Eagle River was June 23, 2020, when the flows hovered between 1,100 and 1,000 CFS. I followed the DWR charts with keen interest, and I was pleased to see a trend line that depicted a steady descent to the 600 CFS range. I anticipated a river that remained high enough to push the fish to the edges, and from previous years I knew that dense hatches of caddis, pale morning duns and yellow sallies could be expected. In short, I was pumped for some outstanding fly fishing on the Eagle River.

Cannot Wait to Probe This Area

Number One on July 2

The high temperature spiked at a warm eighty degrees on Thursday, and the flows were indeed in the 600 CFS range. More cloud cover would have been welcome, but conditions were mostly conducive to a fun day of fishing. I arrived at one of my favorite roadside pullouts by 10:00AM, and after I assembled my Sage One five weight and jumped into my waders, I made the hike to the river. I began probing the probable fish holding spots with a size 8 yellow fat Albert, iron sally, and salvation nymph. These flies remained on my line for most of the day except for a period around lunch, when I replaced the salvation with an emerald caddis pupa and later with a hares ear nymph. The pupa and hares ear each produced one fish, however, when I spotted an increased quantity of pale morning duns in the afternoon, I reverted to the salvation nymph. Other than the caddis pupa and hares ear eaters, the iron sally accounted for sixty percent of my landed trout with the salvation responsible for the remainder.

A Broad Chunk

Between 10:30AM and 11:45AM, when I paused for lunch, I landed four robust trout. Two were fine brown trout in the thirteen inch range, and the other two were rainbows. The iron sally fooled the first three, and number four was the victim of the emerald caddis pupa.

Slack Edge Water

After lunch a blizzard hatch of yellow sallies commenced, but surprisingly I never observed surface rises. With the relatively high water and no rising activity I stuck with the iron sally, and it rewarded my confidence during the hatch, but it was not as effective as I anticipated given the abundance of stoneflies in the air. Caddis adults were prolific among the streamside bushes and willows, but the trout never expended the requisite energy to chase the erratic surface dippers.

Deep Olive Beast

Perfect Territory for Trout

By the end of the day at 3:30PM the fish count climbed to thirteen. The afternoon fish were the best of the day from a size perspective. In fact, other than the rainbow that was fish number two on the day, all the Thursday trout were twelve inches or greater. My net was visited by a sixteen inch rainbow and a fifteen incher as well. Three brown trout stretched the tape to fourteen inches. There was no magic formula to catching fish on Thursday. I moved upstream at a steady pace and fished areas with slower velocity and moderate depth. Current seams were popular spots as were swirly water at the top of long deep runs and riffles. The pale morning duns never developed into a significant factor, and this was a disappointment, and the yellow sally emergence was heavy but brief, and it also did not provoke surface feeding.

Beast

Chubby

In summary, it was a pleasant and enjoyable day on the Eagle River. As flows drop, and the air temperature remains elevated in the eighties, the Eagle River’s productive days may be limited, so I was pleased to extract one more excellent outing from the popular Colorado River tributary.

Fish Landed: 13

Produced Two Nice Trout

South Boulder Creek – 06/30/2020

Time: 3:00PM – 4:15PM

Location: South Boulder Road to Boulder Turnpike

South Boulder Creek 06/30/2020 Photo Album

I am always game for a new area to fish, so when a reader of this blog proposed a swath of South Boulder Creek, that I never fished before, my fishing radar went on high alert. Unfortunately this bit of intelligence coincided with a significant ramp up in stream flows, so I tabled the idea for four weeks. When I checked the flows on Monday, June 29, I was pleased to learn that South Boulder Creek below Eldorado Canyon subsided to 117 CFS. As I returned from Boulder, CO and my anticoagulation appointment, I detoured a bit and made a first hand inspection of South Boulder Creek. It was flowing high and clear, and I decided to make an exploratory visit.

Unfortunately Tuesday was a medical day, and I had a 9:20AM appointment in Boulder followed by a 11:20AM at another specialist in Denver. I arrived early for my second doctor visit and then waited an extraordinary amount of time, as the doctor was running thirty minutes behind schedule. The domination of my day by medical commitments threw my planned trip to South Boulder Creek into jeopardy, but I finally convinced myself, that it was simply exploratory, and the drive was only thirty minutes.

I ate my lunch at home and then departed Denver and arrived at the shoulder pull out along South Boulder Road by 2:45PM. By the time I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked to the edge of the creek and configured my line with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl, prince nymph and salvation nymph it was 3PM. Some large clouds in the western sky blocked the sun for much of my time on the creek, and the air temperature remained in the low eighties.

High but Clear

For the next forty-five minutes I covered the section between South Boulder Road and the Boulder Turnpike, and I questioned whether the stream contained a single fish. Well, I did manage to land a minuscule three inch brown, so there was at least one cold water inhabitant. I did not have a basis of comparison, but I assumed the creek was running higher than normal, but several inviting deep riffles and runs suggested that trout could be present. I questioned my fly choices and swapped the salvation for a bright green go2 caddis pupa.

Gorgeous Run Failed to Produce

Even though my informer told me that 1.5 miles of public access was available in this area, the powers that be erected annoying fences along the stream and perpendicular at several places. I managed to carefully straddle and climb over the one that paralleled the stream, but the ones that ran at a ninety degree angle and spanned the creek forced me to retreat to the bike path, circle around the fence and then cut back to the water. Had I had been netting copious quantities of fish, I would have accepted the inconvenience of the fencing, but that was not the case.

Some nice deep runs appeared below a concrete structure just before the Boulder Turnpike, and I probed these thoroughly but again to no avail. On the south side of the Boulder Turnpike I found that the west side fencing ended, and I was able to cross the creek and access the bike bath once again. I progressed upstream for another one hundred yards, and I managed to briefly hook a five inch brown trout, and the same deep run produced a swirl at the chubby Chernboyl. Both fish were quite diminutive. By 4:15 I grew weary of the lack of action, and another fisherman blocked my progress, so I hooked my fly in the rod guide and hiked back to the car.

As I was stowing my gear, and gentleman approached me and began talking and asking questions about my day. I was surprised to discover that the friendly person socially distanced from me was the very same reader who suggested South Boulder Creek as a nearby fishing destination. What a small world we live in! If I return to this section of South Boulder Creek, I will visit during late morning and early afternoon, since these are prime time and more likely to yield a hatch. I would also skip the section I covered and hike directly to the area south of the Boulder Turnpike. In spite of a tough 1.25 hours I have not given up.

Fish Landed: 0

Yampa River- 06/26/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 2:00PM

Locaton: Town of Steamboat Springs

Yampa River 06/26/2020 Photo Album

Jane was interested in a camping trip to Steamboat Lake State Park during the week of June 22, 2020. Given my success on the Yampa River on June 16 and June 17, I was not averse to visiting the north central area of Colorado again; however, when I checked the flows, I noted a precipitous drop from 1,000 to 450 CFS. Fortunately I recalled decent success at the lower level, and I was anxious to determine whether the embryonic pale morning dun hatch witnessed on June 17 had evolved into a more significant fish attracting event.

My next step was to reserve a campsite at Steamboat Lake State Park on relatively short notice. Steamboat Lake is the crown jewel of the Colorado state park system and very popular with residents and out-of-staters as well. I began fumbling through the availability dates, and I was shocked to discover that site 167 of the Bridge island loop was available on Thursday and Friday night, June 25 and 26. Finding a space on a Friday night in the most desirable loop was a huge windfall, and we wasted no time in snatching it.

Jane and I stopped to complete a five mile hike at Mad Creek on Thursday, as we drove north to Steamboat Lake, so Friday was my designated fly fishing day. As we ate breakfast on Friday morning, Jane discovered that her iPhone battery was depleted to 7%, so she plugged it into the USB port in the Santa Fe to charge. In our minds we were certain that the huge car battery could withstand twenty minutes of energy drain from a puny iPhone battery. Well, our minds were clearly confused, because the only sound that issued from the car, when I hit the start button was the click of a drained battery. I was an angler anxious to fish with no means of transportation. As we pondered our predicament, Jane caught the attention of the young man who was camping across from us with his wife and young daughter, and miraculously he possessed jumper cables. He swung his Jeep around facing the Santa Fe, and in a matter of minutes the Santa Fe engine was rumbling and charging. I thanked him profusely, and while in Steamboat Springs I stopped at the West End liquor store and purchased a craft beer six pack, which I promptly bestowed upon our camping neighbor when I returned.

Once I was on the road, I made the forty minute drive to Steamboat Springs and arrived at my usual parking space at the base of Howelsen Hill. The rest rooms remained locked, so I added that to my planning for a day on the river. Friday was a warm sunny day with a high temperature around eighty degrees. Flows held around the 400 CFS mark, and this made wading along the edges much more manageable than the previous week, however, limited numbers of fish holding lies existed in the main river channel.

High But Lower Flows on the Yampa

I began above the hot springs, and in the first deep pocket next to the bank I landed a fourteen inch brown trout on the second cast. I began my quest for Yampa River trout with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl, iron sally, and salvation nymph. Fish number one gulped the iron sally, as did the next three, and I was off to a fast start. For the remainder of the morning I worked upstream toward the Howelsen Bridge, and I landed thirteen trout. Three were a bit diminutive, but the other ten were respectable fish of twelve inches or greater, and my net felt the weight of a fifteen inch rainbow and several fourteen inch bows.

A Long One

By 11:30AM pale morning duns made an appearance, and their presence coincided with a hot streak for the salvation nymph, until I lost it in the process of fighting and releasing one of the fine rainbows. I noted that the majority of the pale morning duns were size 18, so I replaced the salvation nymph with a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail. Toward the tail of a run I spotted a fish, as it flashed in the vicinity of my trailing nymphs, so I whipped the rod sideways and connected with a gorgeous brown trout. I fought the wide body for a minute, before it turned broadside to the current and broke off the iron sally and pheasant tail. Disappointment reigned. Next I tested a fusion nymph and super nova, and the nova accounted for a small brook trout to boost the fish count to thirteen. Recall that one of the inducements of returning to the Yampa was the prospect of a more dense and longer lasting pale morning dun hatch, and that condition did in fact occur.

Pretty Fish

Settled Down

By now I was approaching the Howelsen Bridge and another angler occupied the large pool and eddy on the south side of the river. I remained fifty yards below him, and I observed a pair of rises in a narrow band of moderate depth riffles near the bank. In spite of a fairly dense hatch these were the first glimpses of surface feeding on the day. I decided to convert to a single dry fly and attached a size sixteen cinnamon comparadun to my line. On the very first cast to the spot where the lower fish rose a sip appeared, and I reacted with a swift hook set. A fourteen inch brown trout was not happy, and it went into the typical escape antics. I held tight and guided a beautiful chunk of butter into my net.

A Fisherman Claimed One of My Productive Spots

Cinnamon Comparadun Did the Trick

Pleased

I stayed with the comparadun for a bit, but the rises ceased, and I reverted to the dry/dropper set up. The hatch mostly fizzled by 1PM except for some stragglers. I circled around the upstream angler below the bridge and continued to my favorite spot across from Taco Cabo, but again I was thwarted by the presence of another fisherman. I bashed back out to the railroad tracks and checked out the attractive pool above Fifth Street, but anglers claimed both banks. The sun was bright, the air temperature was eighty degrees, and the fish were ignoring my nymphs. Posses of tubers blew up three of my favorite haunts, so I decided to call it a day at 2PM.

Friday was a very successful day on the Yampa River. Yes, I ended early compared to normal. The end of the hatch, proliferation of tubers, and sudden explosion of other fishermen raised my level of frustration; but fourteen fish including some quality fighters made June 26 on the Yampa a solid outing in 2020.

Fish Landed: 14

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 06/24/2020

Time: 6:30PM – 8:30PM

Location: Button Rock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 06/24/2020

My son, Dan, sensing that the long hours of daylight were sliding by rapidly in 2020, while simultaneously lamenting that he was not taking full advantage of living in Colorado, decided to remedy the situation and organized a longest week medley of outdoor activities. The outdoor ventures were scheduled to begin after work, and they were made possible by the abundance of daylight. Dan named his initiative his “longest week”, although technically the five days that were included did not represent the five longest days of the year. The series began with trail running on Monday, road biking on Tuesday, mountain biking on Thursday, and hiking on Friday. The astute reader will note that Wednesday is missing, and that is because Wednesday was earmarked for fly fishing. I agreed to join Dan for an evening of fly fishing on Wednesday, June 24.

While Dan was occupied with the task of earning a living, I took advantage of my retired state and researched fly fishing options. Continuing snow melt along the Front Range escalated the difficulty of my challenge, but I narrowed the options to the Cache la Poudre River in Fort Collins, the North Fork of the St. Vrain at Buttonrock Preserve, and South Boulder Creek below Eldorado Canyon State Park. I also suggested a few lakes, but neither Dan nor I are proponents of stillwater fishing, so that option never received serious consideration. South Boulder Creek below Eldorado was within six miles of Dan’s home, but the reported flows were 145 CFS, and we were both unfamiliar with the stretch under consideration. The North Fork of the St. Vrain registered flows of 107 CFS, and the Cache la Poudre in Fort Collins was tumbling along at 130 CFS. From a flow standpoint the Poudre was probably the best choice, but we elected the North Fork of the St. Vrain due to proximity and familiarity. I researched this blog and found four outings to Button Rock Preserve, when I enjoyed decent success at comparable flows.

I met Dan at his house at 3:30PM to pick him up, and after a stop at Snarf’s for delicious sandwiches we drove to Button Rock Preserve and arrived in the parking lot by 5:45PM. We quickly consumed our tasty meals and assembled our rods and hiked up the canyon for approximately a mile. I selected my Sage four weight for the evening and stuffed my regular glasses and headlamp in my backpack. By 6:30 we were positioned in the creek and ready to make our first casts. The flows of 107 CFS were, indeed, a bit high, but many possible holding spots behind structure provided hope to two eager evening fishermen.

Dan Lands a Cast

I began with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl trailing a beadhead hares ear and iron sally, and Dan and I were both frustrated by splashy refusals to the top fly in the early going. We both found it interesting that the trout were looking toward the surface despite higher than normal flows. After thirty minutes of fruitless casting I landed a six inch brown trout along the far bank on the chubby. In spite of some very focused fishing, that was the extent of our success on Wednesday evening. Dan endured a few more refusals.

A Fortuitous Find Before the Storm

By 7:30PM some dark clouds arrived, and we found shelter beneath a wide rock overhang on the opposite side of the dirt road. Some lightning and thunder concerned us, but the net result of the disruptive weather was a five minute drizzle. Once the precipitation slowed we headed back toward the car, but along the way we paused to try some nice plunge pools above a concrete diversion. Alas, this also proved futile, and we reeled in our lines and quit by 8:30PM.

Blackness Was Overrated

I must acknowledge that I was disappointed with our evening outing on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. My main goal was to see a few wild fish in Dan’s net, but we never solved the riddle of how to entice the creek inhabitants. I expected to see some caddis activity at dusk, but the stream was largely devoid of insect life. Perhaps the lower flows of the Cache la Poudre River in Fort Collins would have been a better choice. At any rate, I always enjoy the opportunity to spend time with my son given the demands of his job and his devotion to his wife and soon to arrive son. The highlight of the evening was sitting under the shelf rock and chatting, while we waited out the threatening storm.

Fish Landed: 1

Eagle River – 06/23/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 2:30PM

Location: Eagle Lease

Eagle River 06/23/2020 Photo Album

Flows were in the 1100 to 1000 CFS range on Tuesday and remained comparable to Monday. Tuesday also developed into a very nice day with abundant sunshine for much of my time on the water, and the high temperature surged into the middle eighties. For variety I decided to try a section of the Eagle River, that I had not fished in at least ten years. I quickly climbed into my waders and once again assembled my Sage One five weight and then ambled over the open grassy area, until I was on the bank of the rapidly flowing river.

Flows Still High on the Eagle River

During the morning I fished a nymph rig that featured a slumpbuster and a 20 incher. I decided to go big and deep. The versatility provided by the slumpbuster enabled me to fish it dead drift similar to a nymph, or to strip and wiggle it like a streamer. These innovative (for me) approaches sounded great in theory, but they failed to deliver a trout to my net. After a decent trial period with no action I began to substitute new subsurface patterns including an ultra zug bug, emerald caddis pupa, bright green go2 caddis pupa, and a brown X leg nymph. None of these combinations provoked so much as a look.

Many years ago I fished this stretch of the Eagle River, and I remembered an extensive section of pocket water, where I experienced an abundant amount of success. I set a goal to seek this area again with the hope that it would salvage my day. The highlight that stood out in my memory was fishing a size 12 stonefly nymph with a peacock dubbed body and a mylar wing case in deep pockets along the left bank, and larger than normal brown trout surprisingly ravaged the large offering. Could I duplicate this experience on Tuesday?

Best Spot on Tuesday

By noon I rounded a bend, and ahead of me was the sought after pocket water. At 1,000 CFS most of the pocket water was off limits except for the left edge, but this was the area that I targeted. The nymph set up was proven futile, so I removed the indicator and split shot, and knotted a size 8 Chernobyl ant to my line along with a brown X leg nymph and bright green go2 caddis pupa. I covered some nice riffles of moderate depth, and my slump continued, but then I arrived at a long slow moving shelf pool next to the fast current seam of the main channel of the river. I lobbed some casts, and as I followed my fly, I noted a pair of rises above me in the pool. I scanned the water for a food source, but I saw none.

Caddis in Lip

After a few more unproductive drifts I once again saw a rise in the lower third of the pool, and this time I spotted a fluttering caddis, as it disappeared in a swirl. While this scene transpired, I began observing some small size eighteen pale morning duns, but actually witnessing the demise of the caddis prompted me to tie a size sixteen gray caddis to my line followed by a size 16 juju emerger to cover my bases. The second cast to the area of the rise prompted a swirling take, and I netted a twelve inch brown for fish number one on the day.

I continued casting higher in the pool, and on one of the drifts a fish elevated but refused the caddis. I speculated that perhaps pale morning duns were also on the menu, so I converted to a size 18 cinnamon comparadun. I never duped the looker, but I fooled a decent rainbow to the left of an exposed rock at the top of the run. Unfortunately the stripe-sided fighter quickly escaped the grip of my hook.

Worthwhile

I progressed upstream, and in a marginal short run of moderate depth I netted a second twelve inch brown trout. It rose twice to naturals, before my imitation fooled the aggressive eater. After releasing number two, I continued along the left side of the pocket water, until I encountered a large green sign that proclaimed private property. I was unclear whether this was the end of the lease, but not willing to take any chances, I retreated.

Tail View

About to Glide Away

When I approached the shelf pool again, I circled wide to remain out of view and approached from the downstream side. Rising fish were no longer present, however, occasional pale morning duns made an appearance. I decided to go subsurface and configured my line with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl, an iron sally, and a size 16 super nova. The super nova was intended to imitate the nymph stage of the pale morning duns. The tactic paid off, as I landed two rainbows in the fifteen inch range on the nova. It required quite a few fruitless drifts, before the trout responded, but persistence paid off in a big way. A third fine rainbow crushed the super nova, as soon as it hit the water at the top of the pool, but it leaped and tossed aside my fly within a few seconds.

A Chubby One

On my return hike to the car I stopped to prospect another quality shelf pool, and the return visit delivered a spunky thirteen inch rainbow. As I approached the car, I decided it was too early to quit, so I drove west to the last stile and hiked to the river above my ending point on Monday. I found a rock to eat my lunch, and then I spent thirty minutes prospecting two quality areas that delivered fish previously. Almost instantly a fish surprised me, as it crushed the chubby Chernobyl, but it escaped almost as quickly as it slammed the large foam attractor. The remainder of the time in this section was unproductive, and I called it quits at 2:40, so I could make the return trip in time for an anniversary dinner.

My catch rate on June 23 was subpar, but I rediscovered an area that impressed me in the past. I landed five quality trout and had a few opportunities for more. Two fifteen inch rainbows were a bonus, and I also parlayed a dry fly into two netted browns. Hopefully the river remains in decent shape for when the pale morning dun and yellow sally hatches intensify.

Fish Landed: 5

Eagle River – 06/22/2020

Time: 4:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: North of Minturn.

Eagle River 06/22/2020 Photo Album

As I drove from the Eagle River near Eagle, CO toward the Hornsilver Campground, I passed through Minturn, CO, and I decided to sample the clear but high flowing section between Interstate 70 and town. I parked by a concrete bridge and began working my way upstream above the bridge. I continued fishing the fat Albert and 20 incher and placed an emerald caddis pupa on the point. In the early going I landed an eleven inch brown trout that nabbed the emerald caddis pupa in a moderate riffle along the left bank. I always note the type of water that yields results, and then seek out similar water structure. Unfortunately on Monday afternoon this tactic produced little value, and the eleven inch brown would be my only landed trout.

Minturn Stretch

I prospected all the attractive deep runs and shelf pools thoroughly, but the trout seemed to have lockjaw. I swapped the caddis pupa for a salvation after thirty minutes, but is also proved fruitless. The Eagle River above the confluence with Gore Creek offered an hour of casting exercise and a heavy dose of frustration.

Fish Landed: 1

My Temporary Home

Eagle River – 06/22/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Eagle Lease

Eagle River 06/22/2020 Photo Album

As I followed the rapid decline in flows on the Yampa River, I kept my eyes on the Eagle River as well. Fortunately the Eagle was lagging, and this enabled me to complete a two day fishing/camping trip to the Yampa on June 15 – 17, and I was very pleased with the results. Now I turned my attention to the Eagle, as it subsided fairly rapidly. I reviewed the Eagle River flow data on the DWR web site, and the graph clearly indicated that my target flows of 1,000 would be reached by Monday, June 22. This was all I needed to prompt preparation for a quick two days of fishing and one night of camping.

1,000 CFS

I arrived at the pullout next to my favorite access point by 10:30AM, and after I assembled my Sage One five weight and climbed into my waders, I was on my way to the edge of the river. The flows were, indeed, in the 1000 – 1100 CFS range on Monday, and these were the exact conditions, that I seek annually in the early summer season on the Eagle. The air temperature was warm and would eventually reach the eighty degree level, however, lots of cloud cover in the afternoon created a degree of comfort. During my day on the river I spotted a fair number of caddis and two yellow sallies, so the insect activity was less intense than years where the 1,000 CFS level of flows coincided with late June and early July.

Promising

I began my fly fishing adventure by eleven o’clock with a fat Albert, iron sally, and salvation nymph. The iron sally represented the nymph of the yellow sally stonefly, and the salvation mimicked the nymph of the pale morning dun. As the day evolved, I discovered that a single consistently productive fly was not in the playbook, and this probably resulted from the lack of a concentrated hatch. The fat Albert remained on my line throughout the day as a visible indicator, but the iron sally got replaced by a 20 incher (2). For the point fly I cycled through a salvation nymph (3), ultra zug bug (1), bright green go2 caddis pupa (3), emerald caddis pupa (2), perdigon, and hares ear nymph (1). The numbers in parenthesis indicate how many landed fish each accounted for.

Broadside

Red Belly Splotch on This Beauty

Wide

Success on Monday required persistent effort characterized by difficult wading, constant movement, and plentiful casts. I made more than five drifts in many places, that I knew from history to be likely producers. Did I dwell? Based on my normal approach the answer is yes, yet I caught several nice fish on the seventh or even eighth pass, so my methodical approach paid dividends. During my time on the water I speculated whether getting deeper may have been beneficial, but I never resorted to indicator nymphing with a split shot. Perhaps I will adopt that strategy on Tuesday.

Ooh That Stripe

A Perfect Brown Trout

Quality was the name of the game on Monday, as only two of the netted fish were less than a foot long, and two rainbows were muscular trout in the fifteen to sixteen inch range. Additionally two brown trout measured around fourteen inches, and the remainder  were respectable rainbows and browns in the twelve to thirteen inch slot. I will take wild quality fish like this all day long.

A Favorite Area, but Tough to Wade

It was a fun day. I have had better Eagle River edge fishing experiences, but the ideal flows were ahead of the heavy pale morning dun and yellow sally hatches in 2020. A double digit day is always appreciated, and quality was a positive on June 22.

Fish Landed: 12

Yampa River – 06/17/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Town of Steamboat Springs

Yampa River 06/17/2020 Photo Album

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020 I experienced one of the heaviest pale morning dun hatches that I ever encountered. Did the trout notice as well, and did I enjoy one of my best outings ever? I will answer these questions later, but first I need to describe the circumstances.

If you read my posts of June 15 and 16, you know that I camped at Stagecoach State Park on Monday and Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning I consumed my simple breakfast and then took down the tent and stowed my camping gear. The ferocious wind maintained a perfect record, and whipped across the McKindley Loop at Stagecoach in relentless fashion for the third straight day. Have you ever tried to build a sandwich, when a paperweight is required to keep the ingredients in place? That was one of my challenges on Wednesday morning. I made the mistake of removing the stakes to the tent, before I collapsed it, and this misstep nearly earned me my first hang gliding trip. I normally keep the two person tent up, so I can flip it and shake out the dirt, but I learned to forego this tactic during high winds.

The extra steps associated with breaking camp caused me to arrive at the Howelsen Hill parking lot by 9:30AM, and along the way I stopped at Steamboat Flyfishers to purchase a tube of floatant and gather information. The young man that answered my questions was polite, but he did not add much incremental intelligence to what I gleaned on my own during five hours of fishing on Tuesday. I assembled my Sage One five weight with the hope of tangling with larger than average fish, and I decided to work upstream from my ending point the previous day. This section of the Yampa is significantly harder to fish at high flows, because a thick and wide area of vegetation borders the south side of the river. An inability to wade the edge forces one to repeatedly bash through thick brush to gain access to the more attractive fish holding locales. The flows dropped to the 900 – 1000 cfs level for Wednesday, so I was hopeful that this would make covering the stretch above the Howelsen Hill bridge more manageable.

Edgewater at 1,000 CFS

I began my Wednesday adventure just above the footbridge, and I tied a yellow body size 8 pool toy hopper to my line as the top fly. Beneath the hopper I added a 20 incher and salvation nymph. The two subsurface flies were productive morning options on Tuesday. Within the first thirty minutes I landed a ten inch brown trout, but much of my time was spent busting through wild shrubs and bushes, as I paralleled the river along the railroad tracks and then cut at a ninety degree angle back to the river in hopes of finding quality holding water. Approximately an hour of valuable stream time unfolded, as I repeated the stream access ordeal, and I was not rewarded for my persistence.

This Area Produced Nearly Half My Fish on the Day

By 11AM I approached a spot that delivered nice action in a prior season. A small side channel braided through some willows, and the main river spilled over some large submerged stream improvement boulders. The spill over created a deep frothy hole, and much of the main current flowed directly downstream and fanned out into a wide run. The outflow on my side, however, angled toward me and met with another secondary current to create a deep seam. For some reason I swapped the salvation nymph for a super nova nymph, and I flipped the three fly combination to the left of the seam and allowed the pool toy to bop along the bumpy current. On the eighth such pass the hopper dipped, and I reacted with a firm hook set and found myself attached to a large angry rainbow trout. I held tight and after a few dashes up and down the pool, I slid my net beneath a beauty in the fifteen inch range. I finally received a payout for my persistence, and it was well worth it. The super nova was responsible for the much appreciated rainbow in my net.

Scarlet

For some reason this section of the river seems to be a sanctuary for resident trout during high water, so I was certain that more fish remained. I executed another series of casts, and once again the hopper sank, and I raised the rod tip. This time the animated creature on the end of my line behaved like a bulldog, as it dove and shook its head relentlessly. Combating these tactics placed a significant strain on my shoulder and elbow, but eventually a fantastic black spotted brown trout flopped over the edge of my net with the 20 incher firmly embedded in its lip. My elation ticked up several notches, as this doubleheader of good fortune unfolded across from an Italian restaurant on Yampa Street.

From the Same Seam as the Rainbow

If the honey hole had ceased producing at this point, I would have been more than pleased. But it did not. I extracted seven additional trout from the deceiving habitat, and several more fell in the fifteen inch range. The angled current and confluence seam yielded a few, but when I focused on the main current flowing directly downstream, I discovered another cache of feeders just beyond the churning bubble zone. By noon the fish count rested on ten, and nine were concentrated in one place. I was in a state of euphoria and amazement, as I proceeded upstream with my bash out and bash in cycle. The flies responsible for my morning success were split evenly between the super nova and 20 incher.

Another Honey Hole Dweller

The area between the hot spot and Fifth Street failed to yield additional action, and I arrived at the bridge by noon. My lunch remained in the car with the assumption that I would return, but when I arrived on the east side of Fifth Street, I noticed a few small mayflies, as they attempted to get airborne and in many cases tumbled along the surface as a result of gusts of wind. Again, from past experience I knew that the right side of the pool just above the bridge was the sweet spot. During lower flows the main river was a nice wide pool, but the center of the river was deep and flowing rapidly, so I concentrated on the right margin, where a nice narrow riffle emerged beneath some overhanging branches. By now the intensity of the hatch elevated, and a few larger size 16’s were among the more prevalent size 18 mayflies. On Tuesday I was uncertain that these insects were pale morning duns, but the presence of larger bugs with light gray and light yellow bodies convinced me that PMD’s were, in fact, making an appearance.

Two Beauties Came from Under the Branches

I was anxious to convert to a dry fly, but the absence of rising fish constrained my urge to switch. I caught a brief glimpse of a fish, as it elevated to grab something a foot or two below the surface, and this suggested the lack of surface action was explained by a focus on emergers. An Tuesday a light olive body juju emerger produced some fish, so I reconfigured my dry/dropper to include a salvation nymph and a juju emerger. I began flinging backhand casts along the right current seam. This was quite challenging, as I needed to sidearm the backhand, so that the flies looped under the overhanging branches that hung within five feet of the river. Miraculously I accomplished this bit of fly fishing gymnastics without snagging a branch and ultimately blowing up the hole. After fifteen dangerous casts the hopper dipped backward, and I set the hook. Initially the heavy weight on the end of my rod simply sank and held fast, and I was certain that another brown trout was on my line. I applied some pressure, and suddenly a rainbow trout in excess of fifteen inches spurted to the center of the pool. I embraced my decision to break out the five weight and prayed that the combative silver torpedo would remain above the faster water at the tail of the high water run. It did, and I maintained a deep bend in the rod, until I eventually hoisted the muscular beast into my undersized net. The juju emerger was the desired food in the lip of the bow, and once again jubilation ruled, and I smiled over my ability to land the best fish of the day.

Pretty in Pink

Big Shoulders

I photographed and released my latest prize, and I returned my attention to the run along the right bank. I had not yet shot a cast deep beneath the branches, so I resolved to rectify that situation. I stripped out another five feet of line and swept the backcast low, and the hopper smacked down deep and under the branches. A two foot drift ensued, and then the hopper disappeared, as another fifteen inch trout gobbled the juju emerger. I knew this to be the case, as I eventually guided the wide body brown trout into my net for a close up view. How gratifying was it to observe subsurface feeding and select a seldom used fly that fooled two muscular fish? I can assure the reader that it was very rewarding.

The next section of the river extended from Fifth Street to the Island Bridge, and I covered this area between noon and 2:30. Once again I was forced to parallel the river in the relatively clear space along the railroad tracks with periodic whacking sessions through the brush to the river. None of these thrusts; however, led to fish, and I was locked on twelve for at least an hour. As expected much of that time was spent walking and climbing through and over thick growths of vegetation. Finally I arrived at the stretch of the river just below the confluence of two fairly equal channels, and the river spread out to create a very attractive riffle of moderate depth. I paused to observe, and finally I was treated to a series of rises. At least five trout revealed their positions, and I suspected that they were smaller and more aggressive feeders.

I removed the dry/dropper flies and tied on a size 18 light gray comparadun, and on the first and second casts I experienced long distance releases. This was not how I envisioned my long anticipated launch into dry fly fishing. I swapped the size 18 for a size 16, and this move yielded dividends in the form of three rainbow trout in the ten to twelve inch range along with another flurry of temporary hook ups. After I released number fifteen, the rises ceased, and the riffle residents exercised new found restraint in their feeding habits, so I migrated to the bike path and returned to Howelsen Hill.

The Howelsen Bridge Hole

My watch indicated that it was approaching three o’clock, and I was certain that the wonderful pale morning dun hatch was winding down; however, I hoped to investigate the large eddy and pool just below the Howelsen Bridge. I arrived along the south bank directly across from a stand up paddleboard maniac, who repeatedly surfed on the white water and crashed in the ice cold snow melt flows. I was momentarily distracted by this entertaining scenario, but then I turned my attention to the pool in front of me, and sure enough a few random rises emerged along the deep seam where the shelf pool met the fast main current. I stayed with the gray comparadun for a short while, but the fish were unresponsive, so I swapped it for a size 18 cinnamon comparadun. Perhaps the stragglers displayed a different body color than the earlier emergers. The tactic was successful, and I added two nice thirteen inch rainbows to the fish count along with a few more momentary hook ups.

Seeking Cold Water

By 3:15PM the rises ceased, and the mayfly population in the proximity of the river was mostly absent. I hoped to arrive in Denver in time for dinner with Jane, so I hooked the comparadun to my rod guide and returned to the Santa Fe. What a day Wednesday evolved into. One of the best pale morning dun hatches ever witnessed unfolded, yet surface feeding was absent until the very late stages. A rarely used juju emerger duped two spectacular fish, and I managed to land seventeen on the day. Six of the netted fish were in the fifteen inch range. and quite a few substantial trout were hooked and not landed. Five dry fly eaters in the late stage of the hatch were an enjoyable dessert. Can I figure out a way to make the three hour drive to search for the pale morning dun hatch at lower flows? Time will tell. Wednesday was most certainly my best day of 2020.

Fish Landed: 17

Yampa River – 06/16/2020

Time: 3:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Stagecoach tailwater

Yampa River 06/16/2020 Photo Album

My rod remained assembled, and I wore my waders, as I drove to the Yampa tailwater at Stagecoach on Tuesday afternoon. Unlike Monday evening I decided to head downstream from the parking lot to explore never before fished water. I stopped hiking and began fishing, when I encountered a huge vertical rock wall. I probably could have crossed the river and continued on the opposite bank, but that seemed like too much trouble at 3PM after a strenuous day in the high flows in town.

I Never Progressed Beyond the Vertical Rock

Home of the Rainbow

Within the first five minutes of fly fishing I hooked and landed a nice rainbow on the juju emerger, and I began to realize the effectiveness of a forgotten fly. Upon the release of the bow I began working my way upstream, but in a short amount of time I stumbled over a round and slippery submerged rock. I fell forward enough for water to trickle over my waders, and that pretty much ruined the remainder of my day. I persisted and sloshed upstream another forty yards with no action, so I circled back to the dirt lane and sought my favorite pool, where I fished on Monday night.

Not a Bad Beginning

The wind decided to gust relentlessly, and unlike Monday evening very little rising activity was visible. I tried my dry/dropper for a bit and then removed the three flies and switched to a black size 18 parachute ant with a pink wing post. A flurry of rises after a series of strong gusts prompted the move to the black terrestrial. One twelve inch brown trout sipped the ant, but otherwise, it was largely ignored, and the wind and my wet state encouraged me to quit at 4PM. In hindsight I am actually impressed that I managed two fish in one hour of fishing given my saturated and wind blasted state.

Fish Landed: 2

Yampa River – 06/16/2020

Time: 9:00AM – 2:30PM

Location: Town of Steamboat Springs

Yampa River 06/16/2020 Photo Album

I underwent mitral heart valve repair surgery a bit more than eight weeks ago, and on Tuesday, June 16 I was in the midst of my first solo overnight camping and fly fishing expedition. I was admittedly a bit nervous about this significant early step in my recovery. The camping was not a major concern, but wading the Yampa River with flows remaining at 1,000 CFS instilled a bit of anxiety in my persona. I intended to restrict my wading to the edge, but even this precaution entailed strenuous bashing through thick brush to access the prime high water holding spots in the rushing river. And what about my shoulder? I fished for three hours on two occasions after my operation, but I hoped to extend casting duration to five or even six hours. I did not drive three hours and set up camp for only a few hours of fishing each day. This thought passed through my mind, but I conceded that I could always quit early and rest, if my body cried for relief.

Readers of this blog know that one of my favorite periods of fishing in Colorado occurs as the freestone rivers descend. The rivers are high and clear, and the fish seek refuge along the bank behind large current breaks. Combine large concentrations of fish with some dense hatches, and you have a recipe for outstanding fly fishing. I experienced fantastic days during the run off time frame on the Yampa, Eagle and Arkansas Rivers during previous seasons, and I was averse to missing the highly anticipated event in 2020. A bit of heart surgery was not going to stand in my way, but of course seeds of doubt occupied my thoughts. In order to reserve a campsite at Stagecoach I gambled on June 11 that the flows would decline to challenging but manageable levels by Tuesday, June 16. At the time of making the reservation, the river was gliding through the town at Steamboat Springs at 1500 CFS. Fortunately my analysis of the trend line was fairly accurate, and flows on Tuesday remained in the 1,000 to 1,100 range. When I checked the chart at the end of the day, I learned that the river volume actually dipped into the nine hundreds.

Near the Start

I arrived at the Howelsen Hill parking area at 8:30, and parked in front of the gazebo as is my custom when fishing the Yampa in town. Large groups of boys and girls wandered about, as they waited for organized group mountain bike rides. I was disappointed to learn that the men’s room was locked as a result of the covid lockdown. I will never again take for granted the availability of public restrooms. Tuesday developed into a beautiful day with a high of eighty degrees, although wind was a nuisance from time to time.

Salvation on the Line

20 Incher Was a Top Producer

The high flows created tough wading conditions, so I was selective regarding my casting locations. During the morning I lost five flies including one 20 incher, two salvation nymphs, one iron sally, and one chubby chernobyl with a tan ice dub body. Three of the flies were the victim of a guide wire that spans the river, and the break off occurred in the tapered leader, thus forcing me install a new 7.5 foot leader that tapered to 5X. I was not pleased with this turn of events, but my own lack of focus was to blame. The catch rate was fairly steady throughout the day except for a one hour lull prior to lunch. The top producing flies on the day were a 20 incher, salvation nymph, and a light olive juju emerger. I also experimented with an emerald caddis pupa and sparkle wing RS2, but both were unproductive.

Pretty Wide

Dense Speckles

Prime Fish Holding Area

I landed ten trout between 9:00AM and noon, as six hammered the 20 incher and four favored the salvation nymph. The salvation was a star in the early phases above the hot springs and particularly in the deep areas along the bank. The morning featured a fat thirteen inch rainbow and several respectable twelve inch browns.

Under the Branch Delivered

Tucked in the Net

After lunch back at the car I restocked the flies I lost, and then I hiked across the Howelsen Hill footbridge and downstream on the bike path along the north side of the river. Between one and three o’clock I added nine additional trout to the fish count. For most of this time some small size 18 mayflies with light yellow-olive bodies made an appearance. Initially I exchanged the salvation nymph for a sparkle wing RS2 under the mistaken belief that blue winged olives were fluttering above the river. The fish ignored the RS2, so I swapped it for a juju emerger with a light olive body. I surmised that perhaps the mayflies were small pale morning duns, and the light olive wet fly represented an attempt to imitate the slightly larger mayfly. The combination of the 20 incher and juju emerger performed quite well. I probably landed six of the nine in the afternoon on the 20 incher and three on the emerger.

Steady Now

The highlight of the afternoon and the day was a sixteen inch rainbow trout that snatched the juju in a back eddy in front of a tree. I shot a low cast beneath a limb and then allowed the current to pull the top fly back toward the tree trunk until the hungry rainbow latched on to the emerger.

I progressed past the tube and inflatable rental shop and fished along the bank behind a restaurant, and here I landed a fine thirteen inch brown trout that lurked along the rocky bank in typical brown trout fashion. On the north shoreline I mostly descended to the river where current breaks and slow water attracted my attention, and after the requisite number of casts I returned to the bike path expressway, until I spotted another promising open and sheltered area. Given the relatively high flows I was pleased with my day on the Yampa within the town of Steamboat Springs.

Fish Landed: 19