North Fork of St. Vrain River – 07/04/2012

Time: 9:30AM – 12:30Am

Location: Wild Basin in RMNP from first bridge upstream

Fish Landed: 9

North Fork of St. Vrain River 07/04/2012 Photo Album

Jane OK’d fishing on the Fourth of July, but I needed to return in time to attend the Rapids MLS soccer game at 7:30PM and the subsequent fireworks display at Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium. I was interested in trying the Colorado River as reports indicated that pale morning duns were hatching, but that was a bit distant given the plans for the evening. I decided to try the North Fork of the St. Vrain in the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

For some reason Jane got up extremely early so I was up shortly thereafter and consequently was on the road by 7:30. I took the route through Boulder and experienced minimal traffic thus arriving at the Wild Basin entrance by 9AM. Even at this early hour the parking lots at the main trailhead and the Ouzel Falls trailhead had already filled. This was fine with me as I planned to fish starting at the fist bridge above the beaver ponds.

I rigged up my Orvis Access rod and walked down the dirt road .2 miles to the bridge. There was a man and woman fishing below the bridge so I made a right turn and hiked up the path a ways to the first water that might hold fish. It was already getting warm, but the cold sensation of the rushing high mountain river felt good through my waders. I tied on a Chernobyl ant with a salvation nymph dropper initially, but this produced only refusals from tiny brook trout. I clipped off both flies and tied on a royal stimulator, and this elicited the same response. Next I tried a small size 14 lime green trude and this also resulted in splashy inspections but no takes.

Pretty Purple Wildflowers Along NF St. Vrain

I was getting frustrated as I tried a yellow sally and deer hair caddis with no better luck. Maybe they wanted something bigger, not smaller? I plucked a size 12 2XL lime green trude from my pouch and sure enough this began to produce fish, but only sporadically. Maybe the water was still too cold with no significant hatches so the fish were still tuned into nymphs in the drift? But what should I use to support my beadhead nymphs? I spotted the large olive stimulator that I tried for a while on the Conejos to imitate the local stoneflies. I tied on the stimulator with a beadhead hares ear dropper and guess what happened? The fish began to smash the large attractor. In fact they weren’t paying the slightest attention to the nymphs so after landing a couple fish I clipped off the extra leader and the nymph.

Another Decent Brown

For the remainder of the morning and up until 12:30 I prospected the likely pockets with the olive stimulator and landed a total of nine fish. Three were browns and these were the largest fish, although perhaps only ten inches at the largest. The remainder were brook trout with three being decent by brook trout standards. I also landed somewhere between 5-10 brookies beneath my six inch cut off for counting.

Brook Trout with Large Caddis in Mouth

By 12:30PM I grew weary of the tough wading and the lack of size of the fish. I was distracted by thoughts of lunch and larger fish, so I packed it in and drove north through Estes Park to the Big Thompson River below Estes Dam.

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 05/05/2012

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: From fork in the trail upstream to the pond below the dam

Fish Landed: 8

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 05/05/2012 Photo Album

After working four days during the first week of May, I was looking for opportunities to fish on Saturday before run off kicked up in a major way. Jane was up for joining me on a trip depending on the destination. I checked out the flows and reports on Clear Creek, the North Fork of the St. Vrain below Buttonrock Reservoir, the South Platte at Deckers, and the Big Thompson below Lake Estes. The flows looked nearly ideal on the St. Vrain and the report from Rocky Mountain Anglers in Boulder was favorable, so we decided to make this our location for the day. Accessing the stretch of water below Buttonrock Dam involves a 30 minute hike on a dirt road that runs along the stream. Bikes and cars are prohibited, so this was a nice location for Jane to do some hiking.

We arrived at the parking lot by 9:45 and after a nice hike on the gradually graded road, I was in the water fishing by 10:30AM. We stashed our lunch and a stadium seat for Jane by some rocks between the road and the stream, and I walked back down the road beyond the spot where a second road cuts off to the reservoir. Jane meanwhile continued her hike to the dam and lake above.

I began with a yellow Charlie Boy hopper for visibility and good floatation and dangled a beadhead hares ear nymph 2.5 feet below the bend of the hopper. I methodically began working my way upstream and covered the likely holding locations. It didn’t take long before the hopper dipped and I landed my first small brown trout on the day. This continued until noon when I arrived at the series of nice deep pools across from where we stashed our lunch. I had landed five trout, four browns and one glimmering rainbow, and most of the fish came from obscure small pockets along the left bank as I faced upstream. One of the browns actually inhaled the large foam hopper.

Pretty Rainbow

Jane had returned from her hike and was sitting along the road high above the stream. At the tail of the lower pool I landed a ten inch brown and watched a refusal in the current seam. I moved up a bit and cast to the top of the current and let the hopper drift downstream to the tail. After a five foot drift the hopper dipped and I set the hook and felt the temporary weight of a fish. Unfortunately the weight disappeared as quickly as it began, and I was disappointed to have flies back at my feet with no reward.

My focus was renewed by the near miss and I climbed some rocks to the middle pool and made some drifts through the center and spotted two refusals to the hopper. A trend was developing with hopper refusals, and I decided to switch to nymphs for this nice deep run after lunch.

My Favorite Scene

I climbed up the bank and joined Jane for lunch. She had hiked to the lake above the dam and observed quite a few fishermen and showed me some photos she’d snapped with her iPhone. The water level in the dam was already eight to ten feet below the high water line on the rocks. The lake had opened for fishing on May 1, and she spoke to a pair of fishermen who had caught one trout each. While we ate our lunches a man walked by with his two golden retrievers, and of course the dogs wanted to jump in the pool I had targeted for nymphs after lunch. After they jumped in and thrashed around a bit, he added to the mayhem by tossing some sticks and stones in the water.

After this disturbance I elected to fish the smaller top pool in the series and continue on my way upstream. I kept the hopper dropper on but added a size 22 beadhead RS2 below the BHHE as I began to observe a few small mayflies in the air. The sky was partly cloudy for the most part over the remainder of the afternoon. I’d fished for half an hour or so with no action, and I felt that I should be catching some fish, and I began seeing a few more BWO’s in the air, so I decided to try an indicator with split shot and two flies including the RS2. The top fly of the two was a bright green caddis pupa. Between 2 and 2:30 I approached a nice long run toward the middle of the river where the smooth slick fanned out to a nice slower moving pocket of moderate depth over a rocky bottom. On the first drift I observed a refusal to my red strike indicator. This usually happens a couple times during a season of fishing.

I put some more nice drifts through the attractive water and witnessed a pause in the indicator and set the hook and this time I was attached to a decent fish. As I played the fish I could feel the fish roll on top of the line and then felt the hook slip, but I was still attached to the fish. Apparently the fish had slipped the top fly but then got foul hooked by the trailing RS2. When I finally netted the fish I discovered a 15 inch lake trout. I inspected my flies and flicked them to the top of the long pocket and once again saw a pause and set the hook. This time I played a nice chunky rainbow to my net and photographed it. The rainbow had fallen for the bright green caddis pupa and represented the nicest fish on the day.

Chunky Rainbow

Could this spot hold more fish? This period represented the most intense BWO hatching time, as I observed 5-10 over a half hour period. Why weren’t the fish going for the RS2 instead of the bright green caddis? I made a couple more casts and tried the jigging action that worked on the Arkansas with periodic quick tip lifts as the flies tumbled through the sweet spot and I was rewarded with a hit and felt the throbbing of my rod. This fish cleared the surface of the water and I could see that it was brown, but for some reason after it re-entered the water it came free. I brought my flies in to inspect and realized that the line broke at the knot just below the split shot, so I assume it weakened with the fishing and occasional snags on sticks and rocks. I’d now hooked a rainbow, a lake trout and a brown in this relatively obscure deep slot.

Rock Climber Near Canyon Entrance

After some additional unsuccessful probing of my hot spot I moved on up the stream and managed to land one more small brown on the bright green caddis pupa. The water between my hot spot and the settling pool below the dam was largely unattractive with fast white water and small pockets that didn’t hold fish. I reached the settling pool and hiked back down the road and found Jane in her stadium seat reading her Kindle. I dropped down the nice run that had been disturbed by the dogs and ran my nymphs through the sweet spot. I did manage to have a momentary hookup at the tail of the run as I applied the lifting action to the flies, but that was the extent of the action. Jane was ready to pack it up and return to the car, so I called it a day at 3:15 or so.