Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM
Location: Upstream from the national forest border for .75 mile
A zero fish day on the South Platte River combined with hot temperatures suggested that Colorado was in the August doldrums. During this time period the main insect hatches end, and the hot afternoons prompt the trout to feed early and late. These conditions motivated me to seek high elevation creeks or tailwaters, since these stream types continue to produce through the slow period. Air temperatures are moderated at high elevation, and constant cold releases from dams delay aquatic insect emergence from July into August and September.
I was in search of a high elevation destination or tailwater for August 24 and 25, when I remembered that Steve Supple and I sampled Bear River on October 8, 2014. This small stream on the eastern edge of the Flattops is a tailwater and a high elevation drainage, thus satisfying my selection criteria on two counts. When Steve and I visited, the flows were in the 80-100 cfs range, which made wading difficult and limited the number of fish holding locations. I checked the DWR stream flow web site on Tuesday, and the graph displayed a relatively constant 25 CFS. I theorized that this was probably in the ideal range, and I resolved to make the trip to the Flattops southwest of Yampa, CO.
After a three hour drive I arrived at the entrance to the Routt National Forest, and I drove the first mile along Bear River to scout options for an afternoon of fishing. The small stream was next to the road and easily accessible just beyond the national forest gate, but then a steep hillside developed between the road and Bear River. After a mile the creek angled back to the road where the bank was more gradual thus allowing a reasonable exit. I speculated that most fishermen would not undertake the task of wading for one mile before returning to the road, and I executed a U-turn and parked on the south side of the cattle guard at the national forest border.
Since it was approaching noon, I downed my modest lunch, and then I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and tromped down a short path to the edge of the creek. The sky was mostly cloudy with brief periods of sunshine, and the air temperature never broke out of the sixties, so my fleece provided comfort during my four hours of fly fishing. My fishing friend Danny Ryan demonstrated the effectiveness of the red stimulator on Piney River on Monday, so I copied his choice and knotted a size 12 to my leader. The visible high floating attractor with a high wing was somewhat effective, as I landed a brown trout and rainbow trout barely over six inches in the first fifteen minutes. These two netted fish, however, were accompanied by numerous refusals, so I elected to change the size and color of my offering.
Off came the red size 12 stimulator and on went a size 14 gray version. I am not sure which variable made the difference, but I incremented the fish counter to twelve with the gray dry fly on my line, and this included a few brown trout in the eleven to twelve inch range. It was a fun couple hours, but fishing Bear River was not a walk in the park. Many overhanging branches reached out to grab my backcasts, and thick brush lined the banks and forced me to wade through the middle of the stream. As one would expect, the best fish emerged from the deepest pockets, but it took a bit of experimentation for me to reach this conclusion. This meant that I devoted excessive time to unproductive marginal pockets during the first hour, before I learned to skip through wide shallow fast stretches.
The first dozen landed fish included two small rainbows, one brook trout, and nine brown trout; and therefore, I was a cutthroat short of a grand slam. When I reached twelve, I decided to experiment with different flies, in case I was missing out on a more reliable fish attractor. First I tried a size 10 Jake’s gulp beetle with a peacock ice dub body, but it tallied only a refusal. Next I floated a size 10 Chernobyl ant with a trailing beadhead hares ear through promising runs and pockets, and my success rate improved. Netted fish thirteen through sixteen succumbed to the dry/dropper arrangement. Two smacked the Chernobyl and two snatched the hares ear, and one of the Chernobyl maulers was a fine eleven inch brown trout from one of the best holes encountered during the afternoon.
As I waded a short distance above the home of the Chernobyl eating brown trout, I approached a long riffle over moderate depth, and this prime trout habitat produced two of the best fish on the day. First a thirteen inch rainbow slashed at and ate the foam top fly, and then it streaked under some dead branches that dangled along the edge of the stream. I was certain that I lost my prize catch, but for some reason it rested beneath the branches assuming it escaped my reach. This naive posture enabled me to wade over to the branches, where I scooped the fish into my trusty net.
Once I photographed and released the shiny rainbow, I lofted a cast to the top half of the riffle, and as the Chernobyl danced along the seam, it paused, and I set the hook. After a brief tussle, I discovered a twelve inch brown trout with a hares ear nymph in its lip. Three of the four victims of the dry/dropper accounted for the best fish of the day, although the frequency of trout engagement slipped compared to the early afternoon stimulator phase. The dry/dropper period also coincided with a brief rainstorm that forced me to slide into my raincoat.
Unfortunately as my confidence peaked on the Chernobyl and hares ear, I suffered a thirty minute fishing drought. I am not certain of the cause, but I speculated that the dim light and the rain forced me to approach closer to likely holding locations in an effort to follow my flies, and perhaps this spooked the stream residents. At any rate, I decided to return to the approach that worked earlier, and I knotted another size 14 gray stimulator to my line. The change proved effective, and I built the fish count to twenty, before I executed my exit strategy for the day. Three of the last four fish were in the 6-7 inch range, but catching small fish was superior to futile casting.
I surmised that I reached the place where the road bordered the stream accompanied by a moderate bank, but I overestimated my progress. I was forced to climb a fairly steep bank and then fought through some dense evergreen branches, but eventually I overcame these obstacles and found myself on the shoulder of the dirt road .75 miles above my car.
After I packed away my rod and gear, I drove back to Yampa, CO to check in with Jane. I discovered that Penny’s Diner offered free WiFi access, so I parked outside the restaurant and called and chatted briefly. After our conversation I once again covered the seven miles of paved road to the national forest entrance, and then the remaining seven miles over a rough washboard gravel surface delivered me to the Bear Lake Campground. I circled both loops and elected campsite number twelve on the west loop. I was quite impressed with the fairly large campground, as it provided a metal pedestal to support my camp stove as well as a bear bin to protect my food overnight.
Wednesday was a fun day, and I looked forward to another full day on Bear River on Thursday. A twenty fish day during the August doldrums is always welcome.
Fish Landed: 20