Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: Between Tunnel 3 and Big Easy; Just West of Tunnel 6
After an extended spell of snowstorms and cold weather, a short break in the weather tempted me to make another 2019 fishing trip. The high temperature in Denver was predicted to peak at 61 degrees, and I speculated that this translated to fifty in the high country, so I hedged and chose Clear Creek Canyon as my destination. The high for Golden, CO was 61, and Idaho Springs was projected at 52, so I concluded that Clear Creek Canyon would top out in the mid to high fifties.
As I traveled along Clear Creek on U.S. 6 west of the intersection of CO 93, I noted a considerable amount of snow along the creek along with the presence of shelf ice. I should have realized that snow and ice would be a factor, since the low temperature on October 30 was -1 F. In spite of the ice and snow discovery, I resolved to persist in my late season attempt to land a few trout.
I traveled through Tunnel 3 and after a couple miles pulled into a wide pullout along the north side of the highway. The stretch between Tunnel 3 and the Big Easy Peak to Plains Access produced for me on previous trips, and I was convinced that it held promise on November 5.
Once I assembled my Orvis Access four weight, I hiked east along U.S. 6 for .3 mile and then dropped down a snowy angled path to the creek. I wore my North Face light down coat and my New Zealand brimmed hat with ear flaps, and these outer clothing choices served me well, until I entered the ice cold flows of Clear Creek. I rigged my line with a yellow fat Albert, 20 incher and salvation nymph. The 20 incher was selected to provide weight, as I anticipated drifting my nymphs close to the bottom given the 38 CFS flows and melting snow and ice.
During the last hour of the morning I progressed upstream and prospected likely holding spots with the three fly dry/dropper set up. Originally I probed some short deep pockets and moderate riffles, but these failed to produce, until I encountered a nice long steadily moving trough, where a six inch brown trout latched on to the 20 incher. I was not convinced that another trout was in my future given the challenging conditions, so I snapped a photo of the small jewel. Just before I stopped for lunch, another trout grabbed one of the nymphs, but this connection ended within seconds, when the panicked trout rolled and shed the pointy irritant in its lip.
Shortly before noon my feet morphed into stumps, and a serious chill invaded my body, so I found some nice large ice free boulders along the north bank and consumed my lunch. The break restored feeling to my feet, and I resumed my upstream progression in a slightly improved state of warmth.
I decided to skip marginal pockets and faster water in order to target slower slots and shelf pools similar to the two places that yielded interaction with trout in the morning. The strategy seemed reasonable, but I must report, that I failed to generate any interest in my flies between noon and 1PM. I was successful, however, in acquiring another significant chill, as my feet once again attained a state of numbness, and the cold of the creek migrated upward to my ears and hands. A constant burn and sting emanated from my fingers, and the deep shadows of the canyon prevented the warming effect of the sun’s rays from mitigating my discomfort. I decided that relief from the cold was higher on my hierarchy of needs than catching more fish, and I returned to the car.
As I pondered my next move, I decided that I underestimated the beneficial impact of the sun, and I decided to drive west beyond Tunnel 6. I remembered that the creek shifted to the north side of the highway in the western section of the canyon, and this in turn meant that sunshine would prevail. I was surprised to discover that no cars were present in the wide pullout just beyond Tunnel 6, so I quickly grabbed a prime spot and pulled on my packs and grabbed my fly rod. I ambled east toward the tunnel and then dropped down a bare path between snow-covered rocks, until I perched next to the stream just above a zip line, that rock climbers utilized to cross the creek.
I prospected my way upstream for forty yards and experienced a refusal to the fat Albert and a tentative nip on one of the trailing nymphs. As I surmised, the sun bathed the creek in light, and this circumstance was a welcome development after the frigid shaded canyon section that abused me during the first two hours.
By two o’clock I approached a gorgeous deep pool, and I remembered it from several previous visits to Clear Creek. I paused to observe the aqua hued area which was in fact a large eddy. The main current swept along the north bank and then curled around and flowed back toward the western edge of the pool. Initially I spotted only a small trout near the south side of the curl, but as I continued to peer into the blueish clear pool, I noted at least eight fish.
I initiated my effort to fool the pool residents with the dry/dropper, but it was treated like inert flotsam, so I removed the three flies and considered alternatives. Would a size 18 parachute black ant fool these wary trout? I plucked one from my box and knotted it to my 5X, but after ten minutes of casting, I could only point to a couple nose to fly refusals. I stripped in the ant and replaced it with a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. I plopped the foam terrestrial in the vicinity of all the visible finned creatures, but once again a pair of inspections with no take was my reward.
I decided that something small was probably the answer, and I once again inspected my MFC fly box. I spotted a vertical row of size 18 gray stoneflies that matched an October and November hatch on South Boulder Creek. I concluded that the tiny stonefly imitation could imitate several aquatic life forms, so I tied it to my leader and took it for a ride. Unlike the two terrestrials, the small stonefly failed to entice even a look from the hovering trout in front of me.
By now a decent fish was tipping up to sip something from the edge of the current, where it began to curl across the creek. It was late afternoon in early November, and I decided I would be remiss, if I did not try a CDC blue winged olive. I removed a tiny size 24 from my box and replaced the stonefly with the minuscule tuft of CDC with an olive body. The change proved effective, when two nine inch brown trout tipped up and sipped the small olive to increase my fish count to three. The third fish slowly elevate and then pressed its snout against the fly and then slowly inhaled it. I somehow mustered enough patience to allow the excruciatingly slow process to unfold.
After fish number three a shadow enveloped the north side of the pool, and this made tracking the tiny mayfly along the current seam impossible, so I abandoned the honey hole and moved upstream to another quality area. The creek spread out and created five nice channels of moderate depth. The flows in this area were faster, and prospecting with the size 24 olive seemed like an exercise in frustration, so I swapped it for the Jake’s gulp beetle. I sprayed casts upstream and across, until I covered the many wide troughs and channels, but the trout were either not interested in the beetle or not present.
I retreated to the south bank and worked my way toward the head of the attractive section. A series of narrow deep slots existed along the bank above me, and much to my amazement I spotted a subtle rise eight feet upstream along a large exposed boulder. I plopped the beetle four feet above the site of the rise, and a decent trout elevated and then drifted back to its holding position along the bottom. A second plop, however, evoked another upward movement, but this time the fish sipped the beetle, and I quickly lifted the rod tip and felt a brief throb of weight. Unfortunately the take was very tentative, and the fish quickly flipped free of the beetle. I was certain that I botched my last chance at a fish on November 5, but I flicked another cast six feet above the previous one, and a brown trout rushed from the depths to devour the foam impostor. Fish number four rested in my net.
I continued upstream for another ten minutes and generated another look, but that was the extent of my additional action, before I reached a long wide shallow riffle area. The sun was very low in the sky, and this created an impossible glare, so I hooked the beetle to the rod guide, climbed the bank, and strolled back to the Santa Fe.
Four small trout in four hours of fishing was not a memorable experience, but the move to the sun bathed area west of Tunnel 6 salvaged a chilly November day. The dry/dropper technique was not producing, so I was happy to linger at the large pool and cast to sighted fish. I cycled through four standalone dry flies, but I eventually found one that fooled two fish. Catching three of four trout on dry flies is probably the most surprising aspect of my day of fly fishing on November 5.
Fish Landed: 4