North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek – 11/27/2017

Time: 12:30PM – 3:00PM

Location: Lyons, CO; several spots

North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek 11/27/2017 Photo Album

The weather service recorded a new high temperature for Denver, CO yesterday of 81 degrees. Readers of this blog can easily guess what this meant for this retired fisherman. I packed my gear and lunch and jumped in my car and made the one hour drive to Lyons, CO to take advantage of the summer-like conditions in late November. Christmas shopping was put on hold.

I found a nice picnic table next to the stream and munched my sandwich, while I watched a small cluster of young pre-school boys and girls toss rocks into the stream. I made a mental note to begin fishing a decent distance downstream from this innocent disturbance. When I returned to the car, I rigged my Orvis Access four weight, and then I hiked across a makeshift soccer field, until I reached the edge of the creek at the downstream border with private land. I wore my long sleeve REI shirt under my fishing shirt, and even this single layer caused me to feel excessively warm during my time on the stream. The small waterway was flowing at 19 CFS, and since I was new to the section, I had no basis for comparison; but it seemed very conducive to late season fly fishing.

Man-Made Pool Near My Starting Point

I began with a hippy stomper with a red body and added a beadhead hares ear on a thee foot dropper. The stream in the park where I fished for the first two hours contained a series of five or six spectacular deep pools and eddies, and the first one greeted me at my starting point. These pools were created by man-made stream improvements after the 2013 flood scoured the area of structure. Unfortunately on November 27 I was unable to take advantage of these deep holes, and all my landed fish emerged from pockets and runs of moderate depth between the quality holes. Perhaps I should have tested a deep nymphing rig to bounce nymphs along the bottom, but that would be second guessing.

Bright Red Underside on This Fly

During my two hour stint, I advanced around the horseshoe curve until I reached the end of the public water on the north side of the park. I landed seven small brown trout, and the largest extended eleven inches. The second fish crushed the hippy stomper in a very small pocket along the left bank, and the other six brown trout snatched the hares ear nymph from the drift in runs of moderate depth. I circled around one other fisherman at the western edge of the park, and I skirted another deep pool occupied by a pair of lovers.

Another Late November Eater

Since I covered the entire public section by 2:30, and the weather was spectacular, I jumped in my car and moved to a new spot along the main stem of the St. Vrain along highway 66 in Lyons. My rod remained rigged from the earlier venture, so I quickly jumped into the creek thirty yards above another fisherman and worked my way upstream, until I approached a point where the water bordered the highway. Initially I continued with the hippy stomper and hares ear combination, and I managed to land a ten inch brown trout that slurped the foam attractor in a shallow riffle along the edge of a moderate run.

One of the Better Fish on the Day

The two fly combination seemed to lose its allure, so halfway through this one hour time period I replaced the hippy stomper with a yellow fat Albert and then added an ultra zug bug below the hares ear nymph. The change paid dividends, when I experienced temporary hookups with two fish in some narrow pockets in the section where the stream moved away from a canal and the highway. Twenty feet above the location of the long distance releases I was surprised when a ten inch brown trout shot to the surface and crushed the fat Albert. I carefully netted the aggressive feeder, but it proved to be the last fish of the day, as it created a huge tangle, when it wrapped the trailing flies around itself repeatedly. It took me fifteen minutes to unravel the mess, and I finally resorted to snipping off both the dropper nymphs.

As I ambled back to the highway through a grove of trees with bare branches, I encountered a small herd of deer. I estimated that eight to ten were grazing along the gravel path between me and my car. How ironic that the safest place for deer is within man’s communities, while hunters penetrate remote areas in pursuit.

I enjoyed spectacular weather, discovered some new water to revisit, and landed nine trout on November 27. The fish were on the small side, but I will never complain about an action packed 2.5 hours of fly fishing after Thansksgiving.

Fish Landed: 9

North Fork of the St. Vrain – 10/13/2017

Time: 11:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Dam

North Fork of the St. Vrain 10/13/2017 Photo Album

Steady flows of 26 CFS attracted me to the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek below Buttonrock Reservoir. That and a trip to the Big Thompson on Thursday during which I traveled along the North Fork for several miles.

I found myself in the parking lot below the gate that marks the entrance to the access road to the St. Vrain at 10:45AM, and after donning my waders and assembling my Orvis Access four weight I was on my way. I hiked for thirty minutes and then angled to the stream where the bank was comfortably gradual. The temperature at the parking lot was fifty degrees and the wind gusted with surprising frequency. These factors caused me to wear my fleece and raincoat as well as my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps. The thirty minute hike caused me to overheat a bit, but I embraced the double layers throughout the day and never felt over dressed.

Prime Trout Water

The stream meanwhile was quite clear, and the flows were nearly ideal. On Thursday I experienced success with a gray size 14 stimulator, so I elected to begin Friday with the same offering. The Big Thompson and St. Vrain are both front range streams on the eastern side of the continental divide, so perhaps the fish savored the same food items? The choice proved to be favorable, as I landed two brown trout in the first hour, and I managed to connect temporarily with a third, before it leaped above the creek and slipped free of the hook. The section where I began was mostly in shadows, and I discovered that a downstream drift provided the best visibility. All three of the fish in the first hour emerged from deep narrow slots where several currents merged, and over the remainder of the day I discovered that these were the most productive stream structures.

Typical Small St. Vrain Brown Trout

After lunch the catch rate slowed a bit, but I continued with the stimulator, and upon spying some blue winged olives, I added a size 20 RS2. The stimulator produced a fourth small brown trout, and then the RS2 earned its keep, when a small brown trout nabbed the baetis nymph, as it began to swing in a relatively shallow area. I pressed on with the abbreviated dry/dropper approach, but the BWO hatch intensified, and it seemed that my small nymph should be attracting more attention. I concluded that I needed to get deeper by pairing the baetis nymph with a larger subsurface pattern.

I opted for a yellow fat Albert, and below it I attached a beadhead hares ear and a beadhead soft hackle emerger size 20. The foam top fly suspended the two nymphs, and the weight of the larger hares ear produced deeper drifts. The change succeeded somewhat, and I landed two additional small brown trout to increment the fish count to seven. The two fish that succumbed to the dry/dropper snatched the soft hackle emerger at the tail of the dirft.

A Bit Larger

By 2:30 I reached the point where a lower outflow from the dam merged with the main creek that emanated from the main spillway upstream. The confluence created several nice deep runs and a wide smooth bordering pools. I began drifting the dry/dropper offering through the lower run, but my casts were futile. I crossed the lower branch and positioned myself between the two merging currents and paused to scan the setting. Quite a few tiny blue winged olives danced over the surface, and a series of rises commenced along the main runs. Many of the splashy rises appeared to result from tiny fish, but I spotted a larger feeder that hovered a foot below the surface downstream from my position. I decided to convert to a CDC BWO for the last thirty minutes of fishing.

I opened my fly box and extracted a size 24 CDC olive and knotted it to my line, and then I lobbed a downstream cast to the area of the sighted fish. On each cast I checked my cast abruptly at eleven o’clock, and this created a pile of slack line that allowed the small morsel to gently drift downstream. The third attempt was perfect, and as the tuft of CDC floated into the vicinity of the target fish, it darted to the left and grabbed the fraud. I quickly powered the eight inch brown trout into my net, but despite the small size it was a thrill to fool a trout with a tiny fly and a downstream drift. It took a while to dry the CDC wing, but eventually I was back in action, and I landed two additional six inch rainbow trout to complete my day with a fish count of ten. I suspect that the small rainbows resulted from a stocking of subcatchable rainbows in an effort to supplement the natural reproduction of the brown trout subsequent to the 2013 flood.

Deep Coloration

The largest fish from the St. Vrain on Friday was a ten inch brown, but I did manage to reach double digits, and seven of the landed fish consumed a dry fly. The weather was a bit chilly, but the scenery was spectacular, and I had the stream to myself. I am sensing that twenty fish days are history, so I was quite pleased to enjoy reasonable success on Friday the 13th.

Fish Landed: 10


North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek – 07/27/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Dam.

North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek 07/27/2017 Photo Album

After fishing in three different rivers between July 24 and July 26, I decided that I needed to choose a local destination for my next venture. Friends visiting from South Carolina were arriving as guests on Friday, so Thursday offered the best opportunity to sneak in another day of fishing; the fourth successive day of the week. After three great days during the first half of the week, I was skeptical that a Front Range stream could provide comparable enjoyment.

I checked the DWR water graphs, and I determined that the Cache la Poudre River and North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek were my best options. The Poudre was tempting, since I logged three very successful days there in July 2017, but it was a longer drive and involved a higher risk of traffic snarls. The NF of the St. Vrain was chugging along at 110 CFS, and that is high for the relatively small stream northwest of Lyons, CO. After weighing the pluses and minuses I finally settled on the St. Vrain, since it involved only a one hour and fifteen minute drive, and I was anxious to try something new. I convinced myself that I could edge fish the stream, if the flows were high enough to concentrate the fish along the banks.

Churning St. Vrain Remains High

I departed my house in Denver by 8:40, and this delivered me to the parking area at the trailhead to the North Fork by 10AM. I quickly put on my waders and fishing gear, and then I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and began to hike up the dirt road. The weather was rather warm with the temperature already in the high seventies when I departed at ten o’clock, and the stream was indeed high but clear. As I examined the segment of water next to the parking area, I concluded that it was not high enough to concentrate the fish along the bank, and midstream current barriers also provided sufficient shelter from the high flows.

I hiked for twenty minutes, and at that point I angled down a steep bank to the creek. I tied a Chernobyl ant to my line along with an ultra zug bug and a beadhead hares ear nymph, and I began to prospect a succession of deep slow moving pools. Within the first five minutes a fish elevated and inspected the Chernobyl ant, but then it returned to its holding position at the tail of the pool. On another later drift I watched a fish as it moved slightly to its right as the nymphs passed by, but once again the inspection did not lead to a take.

I gave up on the first pool and moved on to several equally attractive areas along the left bank. In each place I spotted fish, but they seemed to be hugging the bottom, and they completely ignored my three fly offering. I was pleased to observe so many fish in water that I skipped since the 2013 flood, but I was equally frustrated that I could not connect. I swapped the ultra zug bug for a salad spinner, since the fish seemed to snatch something from the subsurface drift occasionally, and a midge larva or emerger is a good bet in these circumstances. No dice. Next I exchanged the salad spinner for a size 20 RS2, but this fly was equally ineffective.

I reconsidered my approach, and I recalled that a fish elevated to look at the Chernobyl ant at the start of my casting. I decided to test a size 14 gray stimulator. The ploy was worth a try, but it simply resulted in casting practice. I concluded that I was dwelling on the sighted fish in deep water, and one of my cardinal rules is to keep moving, so I climbed the bank and hiked farther up the road.

Point Where Second Outlet from Dam Enters

Previous trips to the North Fork of the St. Vrain taught me that two outlets from the dam exist, and roughly a mile of water exists between the two releases. I decided to seek lower volume above the second release pipe, and I reached this spot by noon. Twenty yards above the gushing conduit a small cluster of trees bordered the creek, so I skipped to that spot and consumed my lunch.

Lunch View

I estimated that one-third of the North Fork flow was derived from the second outlet pipe, so I now confronted a stream carrying two-thirds of the downstream volume, and this was a welcome change. Counterbalancing this positive, however, was the relatively steep gradient, which created a series of rapids, fast riffles, pockets, deep runs and plunge pools. I quickly concluded that the gray stimulator was not the preferred approach, and I reverted to a three fly dry/dropper setup. I substituted the yellow fat Albert for the Chernobyl ant to obtain maximum floatation to support an iron sally and salvation nymph. These flies connected with fish almost immediately, and they remained on my line for the duration of my stay on the small tailwater.

First Fish Was This Small But Brilliant Rainbow Trout

I advanced into dry/dropper prospecting mode, and I had a great time. I delivered two to five casts depending on the quality of my target area, and then I moved on to the next likely fish holding locale. The fish count climbed from zero to fifteen before I quit just below the dam at 3:30. The sky remained mostly clear, and the air temperature peaked in the eighties, but the forecast thunderstorm for 2:45 never arrived. I spotted a pale morning dun or two and a handful of blue winged olives, and although the mayfly activity never spurred surface feeding, it did seem to increase the aggressiveness of the fish between 12:30 and 2:30.

One of the Better Fish Next to a Wildflower

The fish were small, with the largest perhaps reaching twelve inches, but most measured in the seven to nine inch range. Roughly 40% responded to the iron Sally, and the others latched on to the salvation. During the active two hour time slot, several fish stopped the drift of the fat Albert, when they attacked the trailing nymphs. Throughout the afternoon the top producing technique was to cast across the strong midstream current to slow moving slack water along the opposite bank. I held the rod tip high to keep the fly line off the water and allowed the foam indicator fly and the nymphs to sweep downstream along the bank. If executed properly, this approach generally resulted in a strike near the downstream border with faster water. The brown trout were suckers for the nymphs, as they began to swing away from the bank. During the course of the afternoon, I probably lost more fish than I landed. I attributed this unfortunate circumstance to the small mouths of the stream residents.

Slicks Behind Rocks Produced

Although Thursday did not measure up to the early week outings, it did satisfy my need for a local day of fishing. I managed to partially solve the puzzle, as I landed fifteen fish. The first hour raised the specter of a skunking, but a lunch break and change of scenery made that a distant concern. I hit the fly fishing pause button in order to catch up on this blog and attend to some pending errands. More adventures lie ahead during the first week of August, I am sure.

Fish Landed: 15

A Surprise Rainbow on the Return Hike


North Fork of the St. Vrain River – 05/01/2017

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir

North Fork of the St. Vrain River 05/01/2017 Photo Album

The forecast of variable weather for Monday, May 1 convinced me that I needed to avoid the streams and catch up on other chores, while I awaited a warming trend on Thursday. As I watched a show on Sunday evening, I was surprised to receive a text message from my new fishing pal Doran. Doran inquired regarding my plans for fishing on Monday. This prompted me to check the weather and the flows on the local front range streams. A late spring snowstorm on Friday and Saturday caused me to be concerned over the impact of low level snow melt particularly in the foothills.

Much to my amazement the DWR graph for Bear Creek at Morrison showed a minor spike on Saturday, and then flows returned to 25 CFS. In addition the high temperature in Morrison was forecast to reach 62 degrees. Next I checked the North Fork of the St. Vrain and the Big Thompson. Both registered nearly ideal flows in the 50-55 range, and the trend was steady for the last five days. The high temperature for Estes Park, unfortunately was expected to reach only 45 degrees, but Lyons projected a high of 60. I texted back to Doran and informed him that I was interested in fishing Bear Creek or the North Fork of the St. Vrain, and after several additional exchanges, we settled on Bear Creek. I felt more confident about Bear Creek, since we visited the same stream a week prior.

Before I could finish gathering my fishing essentials for the morning; however, Doran delivered the news that he received an email reminder of a doctor’s appointment on Monday morning at 10:30. We could not concoct a plan to work around this obstacle to our fishing trip, so we reluctantly agreed to check in again in the future. I made a lunch and gathered most of my fishing gear before Doran canceled, so I decided to forge ahead with a day of fishing on my own.

Yummy Deep Run

On Monday morning I rechecked the flows on the St. Vrain, and they remained steady at 52 CFS, so I elected to make the trip to that destination. I viewed it as a scouting expedition to assess conditions for a possible future joint trip with Doran. I departed Denver by 10AM, and this enabled me to reach the parking lot below Buttonrock by 11:15, and after gearing up and assembling my Orvis Access four weight I was on the gravel road by 11:30. The temperature was in the mid fifties, and the sky was mostly clear with some large puffy white clouds, and the one concern was intermittent wind. After recent days on the South Platte River and Arkansas River battling ridiculous wind, this caused me some misgivings, but I trusted the accuracy of the weather reports and began my walk.

After a twenty minute hike at a brisk pace I reached a point where the creek passed under the road, and I chose this as my starting point. The stream was in a Goldilocks state, not too high and not too low, and clarity was excellent with just a small tinge of color. I moved to the south edge of the creek and tied a yellow fat Albert to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and a salvation nymph. This was my first experience with a salvation nymph in 2017, and I wanted to test the effectiveness of the flashy subsurface offering.

I fished for forty-five minutes and managed to land one small brown trout that snatched the hares ear, but I was frustrated by several refusals to the fat Albert as well as three or four temporary connections. In a short amount of time I was faced with six opportunities and converted only one. I took solace in the fact that my flies were drawing considerable attention.

Happy to Be in Colorado

By 12:45 I could sense the hunger building in my stomach, so I sat down on a large rock and chowed down on my usual sandwich, yogurt cup and carrots. The setting was spectacular with a large vertical rock wall bordering the southern side of the creek just above me. After lunch I pulled my raincoat over my light down coat as a windbreak and continued my upstream progression. The salvation nymph was not producing, so I decided to exchange it for a RS2 in case baetis were active. The fat Albert continued to generate refusals, and this was distracting the fish from the subsurface offerings, so I decided to adjust my approach.

Glistening Brown Trout

I removed the dry/dropper arrangement and tied a solo yellow size 14 stimulator to my line. I prospected some very attractive locations with this fly, but it was totally ignored. Maybe a smaller terrestrial was the answer. I clipped off the stimulator and replaced it with a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. I might as well have been fishing with a pine cone. Again the fish informed me that they were not interested. I considered going deep with a strike indicator and split shot, but most of the water type was not appropriate for this approach. I finally decided to revert to the dry/dropper, but to utilize a different top fly. For this job I selected a size 8 Chernobyl ant, and below it I knotted the workhorse beadhead hares ear nymph and an emerald caddis pupa. Before I made this switch, the fish count rested on four; however, all the fish landed were small brown trout in the six to seven inch range.

Surprise Rainbow Mauled a Chernobyl Ant

The Chernobyl dry/dropper combination seemed to improve my fortunes. Over the remaining two hours I incremented the fish count from four to thirteen, and the mid afternoon catch included a couple trout that stretched the tape measure to eleven inches. Number ten was an eleven inch rainbow trout, and two aggressive stream residents pounced on the huge Chernobyl ant. The emerald caddis also accounted for two fish, and the remainder were attracted to the reliable hares ear nymph.

Hares Ear Produced

The sky clouded up during the last hour, but I never saw any evidence of a baetis hatch. The thick cloud cover dropped the air temperature, and by 4PM I reached the point where the road split, so I reeled up my flies and hooked them to the rod guide. A thirty minute hike returned me to the parking lot, and I quickly removed my waders and prepared for the return drive. The fish were small, but I enjoyed a fun afternoon on the North Fork of the St. Vrain in nearly ideal water conditions and tolerable weather. I did not plan to fish on Monday, so I viewed the day as bonus fishing in 2017.

Fish Landed: 13


North Fork of St. Vrain – 03/03/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir

North Fork of St. Vrain 03/03/2017 Photo Album

If you follow my blog, you could probably guess my destination on Friday March 3 without having to read the title of this post. On February 22 I landed eleven trout on the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek, and this was by far the most productive day of fishing I ever experienced in the month of February. I was once again infected with the fly fishing bug, and I could barely contain my urge to return to the small stream near Lyons, CO. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, and I was forced to endure nine days of more typical February weather.

Near the Start on Friday

At last a peek at the weather forecast revealed a warming trend with high temperatures in Denver expected to spike around sixty on Friday. That was the sole impetus I needed to stash my fly fishing gear in the Santa Fe, and I departed for the St. Vrain at 8:40 on Friday morning.  I kept an eye on the dashboard thermometer while I was in transit, and I was a bit concerned by the inability of the reading to climb above 45 F. In fact when I pulled into the parking lot, the temperature was 41 degrees, and a fairly stiff wind buffeted me as I pulled on my waders and layers. I elected to wear my fleece along with a light down jacket along with my ear flap hat. I stuffed hand warmers in the bib pocket of my waders as well as wool fingerless gloves. I was pleased with my preparedness throughout my day on the stream.

Nice Pool

Unlike Denver the hills and rocks that bordered the stream were covered with four inches of snow, and the creek next to the parking lot was tinged with a bit of discoloration. This caused me some concern, but I embraced the thought that the snow melt effect would be minimal once I walked closer to the dam. This assumption proved to be correct, and after a mile of anxious exertion, it became evident that the stream was essentially clear, although the amount of snow along the bank was also in greater supply.

Fish Number Two

I moved above the large pipe that serves as an alternative outlet from Buttonrock, and after another .2 mile I carefully stepped down a step bank, crossed a small side channel and approached the main fork of the creek. I decided to adhere to the approach that worked on February 22, and I knotted a yellow fat Albert to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear nymph and a size 14 copper john. I began my normal routine of probing the deep runs and pockets, and in the first narrow deep trough I witnessed a pause in the fat Albert and connected with a small rainbow trout. It was around seven inches long, but it broke the ice, and I was relatively confident that I could land a few more fish.

Number Three Was This Pretty Rainbow

I suffered through a dry spell for the next fifteen minutes, but then I notched two additional fish that snatched the beadhead hares ear in a slow moving shelf pool along the opposite side of the stream. The takes were quite subtle and characterized by an almost imperceptible pause of the fat Albert. I was fortunate to react, and my prize for attentiveness was an eleven inch brown trout and a ten inch rainbow, that displayed vivid colors. The process of releasing and photographing these trout caused my hands to get wet, and I struggled to completely dry the back of my left hand, as the cold and wind induced a constant sting. I repeatedly congratulated myself for stuffing the fingerless gloves in the side pockets of my wader bib.

At 11:50 I spotted some large rocks facing the sun situated halfway up the bank, so I took advantage of this scene and paused for lunch. For most of the morning a large high gray cloud blocked the sun’s ineffective attempts to penetrate, but as I munched my sandwich, it became fairly obvious that the cloud cover was about to disperse. This eventuality did in fact come about, and the air temperature rose five to ten degrees as a consequence, and this greatly increased my comfort level for the remainder of the day.

Attractive Run Below Boulder and Along Bank

After lunch I continued my upstream migration until I reached the settling pond at the dam by 2:30PM. During this stretch I landed nine additional trout to boost the fish counter to twelve. One additional rainbow trout nestled in my net, while the other eight were deeply colored golden browns. Twelve trout landed on a chilly day in early March exceeded my expectations, and several of the browns were above average for the North Fork of the St. Vrain based on my sampling over the last two years.

Best Fish of the Day Took a Tiny Mercury Flashback Black Beauty

I swapped the copper john for a mercury flashback black beauty shortly after lunch, and then I approached a nice deep pool next to a large rock. The area where the current spilled into the small pocket was five feet wide and four feet long, and then the current funneled into a deep run along the vertical rock face. The corner of the pocket was covered by a three by two foot foam layer, and I made four or five drifts through the narrow clear water that bordered the foam. I was astounded to discover that the juicy lair was devoid of fish, but before I wrote it off as a tease, I lobbed one more cast into the middle of the foam patch. The fat Albert was visible only as a foam lump, so I gently twitched it to create some movement, and miraculously I felt the bump of some active weight. I quickly lifted my rod tip and set the hook, and a decent brown trout emerged from the foam and thrashed violently in an effort to escape. I maintained tension on my line and carefully slid the fish across the tail of the run and then into my net. Unbeknownst to me a pair of women paused on the road high above, and they asked what I caught. I informed them that it was a brown trout, as I carefully removed the black beauty and captured several photos and a movie. This trout was the largest St. Vrain catch during my four visits over the last two years.

Lowering to Release

As I approached the settling pond at 2:15 the stream widened, and the current spilled over the lip of the huge man-made pool. I was below the right half of the creek, and I decided to shoot some casts into the riffles below the lip. The deepest troughs were only a couple feet deep, and I was almost certain that the area did not hold trout, but I felt compelled to cover it nonetheless. My instincts were correct in the segment near the bank, but then I plunked a cast to the second deeper section towards the middle. The fat Albert drifted three feet, and then a twelve inch brown trout materialized out of nowhere and crushed it. What an unexpected thrill to witness a solid surface take on an over-sized dry fly near the end of my day!

Greed Has Its Downside

Once I photographed and released my prize end of day catch, I scrambled up a steep bank covered with large rocks and accessed the road. By now it was 2:30, and I intended to complete the 30 minute hike back to the car. However as I rounded the ninety degree bend and skirted along the section of the creek above a diversion structure, I had a change of plans. The air temperature was actually the warmest of the day, and I always wondered about the productivity of the large plunge pools in the high gradient section to my left. The warmth of the sun accelerated the run off, as the snow succumbed to the more intense rays of the sun, and this in turn created increased turbidity in the water below me. The milky olive-brown water caused me to pause, but relatively good visibility remained along the edge, so I decided to climb down the bank just above the concrete diversion wall.

Before I began prospecting the deep plunge pools, I switched the black beauty for a prince nymph, as I hoped to create more contrast against the brown stained flows. The first couple pools did not yield any evidence of fish, but then I spotted a small deep pocket next to an exposed mid-stream boulder. This location did not appear to be as attractive as some of the other pools ahead of me, but I decided to dedicate a couple casts, before I moved along. On the third cast the fat Albert slowly bobbed from a position in front of the rock to a foot to the side, and then a wondrous sight appeared. A large mouth rose, and the size eight fat Albert disappeared, and this sudden stroke of good fortune forced me to raise my rod with a sudden and effective hook set.

Last Fish of the Day

The recently pricked brown trout was not happy, but after a brief display of anger, I pressured it into my waiting net. Another twelve inch brown nestled in my net, and I once again snapped a representative collection of photos and video. Do you readers believe that thirteen is a lucky or unlucky number? I prefer to believe it brings good fortune, as I ended my day resting on a fish count of thirteen.


What fun! I landed thirteen trout on the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek in 3.5 hours of fishing. I managed to land my largest trout from the St. Vrain in two years on a recently tied size 20 mercury flashback black beauty. Two golden yellow twelve inch brown trout crushed the fat Albert. During the day four trout consumed the fat Albert on the surface, three fish were able to pick the tiny black beauty from the drift, and six fish favored the beadhead hares ear. I will probably sample another front range stream when the weather cooperates again, but who knows? Before I wrote this piece, I checked my St. Vrain reports from 2016, and I discovered that my first trip to the flood damaged creek was on March 4, and I scored my first trout of the 2016 season during that early March visit.

Fish Landed: 13


North Fork of the St. Vrain – 02/22/2017

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir

North Fork of the St. Vrain 02/22/2017 Photo Album

Doubt and low confidence were my companions, as I planned another fishing trip for Wednesday February 22. I landed over 1,000 fish in 2016, so how could these feelings plague my thoughts? I injured my knee while skiing at Breckenridge on February 6, and the swelling and pain subsided, while a band of soreness and puffiness remained along the inside of my left knee. I resumed fishing with an elastic knee brace, and cycling did not seem to aggravate the injury, but I sorely missed my running schedule. My first doubt revolved around my ability to resume my activities and maintain my fitness for long hikes to remote fishing destinations.

Winter fishing has rarely been a positive experience for me. When my hands and feet are numb and aching, fly fishing ceases to be fun. I landed five trout from Clear Creek on Monday, but I suffered through some periods of discomfort when my hands became wet in the process of releasing fish. I carry low confidence when it comes to winter fishing.

The destination that I chose for my trip on Wednesday was the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek below Buttonrock Reservoir. This area was heavily impacted by the 2013 flooding, and while I experienced two decent outings there early in the 2016 season, I continued to harbor doubts about the quality of the post-flood fishery.

Excellent Flows

Despite high temperatures in Denver of 75 degrees on Tuesday, I abstained from fishing, since the wind forecast was quite adverse. The front range mountain towns that I checked on Weather Underground projected wind velocity in the 20-30 MPH range. Fly fishing in these conditions ceases to be fun. Highs on Wednesday were forecast to approach the mid-60’s, and the wind was expected to subside to the 10-12 MPH range. With cold weather moving in on Thursday, I elected to take advantage of one final day of mild weather, and I departed for the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek at 9AM.

I chose the St. Vrain, as I sought variety after spending two afternoons on Clear Creek. Two outings in March 2016 provided some decent action, and I was curious to see if the fishery improved, after another year elapsed. The flows were 25 cfs, and I recalled that level to be nearly ideal. I arrived at the parking lot below the gate by 10:30 and joined five or six vehicles already present. The road and trail along the St. Vrain in this area is very popular with hikers, runners and dog walkers; and I never encountered another fishermen during my stay.

The air temperature was 48 degrees and the wind was fairly strong, so I pulled on my down vest and billed New Zealand hat with ear flaps, and then I embarked on a one mile hike. Along the way I passed some trucks and road building equipment, and I realized that stream improvements were in progress just above the small Longmont Reservoir near the beginning of the hike. Halfway toward my destination, I began to curse my decision to wear a down vest, as the exertion warmed my body excessively. I had no place to stash the vest, so I resolved to endure.

No. 1 with Hares Ear in Upper Lip

When I reached a point .2 miles below a Y in the dirt road, I angled down a rocky bank and approached the stream. As it turned out some clouds blocked the sun in the morning, and the wind escalated, and I was quite pleased to have my ear flaps and down vest in place. I began my quest for St. Vrain trout with a yellow fat Albert and trailed a size 16 copper john and size 14 beadhead hares ear nymph. After fifteen minutes of prospecting likely holding locations, the fat Albert paused in a slow deep pool, and I reacted with a hook set that delivered a thrashing ten inch brown trout to my net. My low confidence bumped up a few notches with this early catch.

Big Terrestrials in February

For the remainder of the morning I moved upstream at a careful pace and landed three additional trout. Much to my amazement two rocketed from the depths in order to mash the size 8 fat Albert, that I knotted to my line essentially as an indicator. The fourth morning trout chomped the copper john, so all my offerings were attracting attention. One of the fat Albert gulpers created a monofilament nightmare, when it wrapped both nymphs around itself in a futile effort to escape. This circumstance forced me to clip off both nymphs and battle the wind and the evaporation effect of cold hands in order to eliminate the snarl and resume fishing. I possessed the foresight to stuff two hand warmers in my wader pockets, and these proved to be saviors, when my hands reached the status of gnarled human claws.

A 12 Inch Brown Rose from The Lip and Sucked in the Fat Albert

At 12:30 I stopped for lunch near the junction in the dirt road, and I was quite pleased that I landed four trout in an hour of fishing. After my small snack I resumed my upstream migration, and I refined my approach to focus on slow moving deep pockets and pools. The wind died back somewhat, and the sun reappeared; and these weather changes improved my spirits and rendered fly fishing much more enjoyable.

I Love This Fly

Between 1PM and 3:30 I progressed upstream for another .5 mile and added seven trout to my count. During the day all the landed fish were brown trout except for two rainbows that managed to nestle in my net. Two additional fish slurped the fat Albert in the afternoon. During Wednesday the copper john produced two trout, and the hares ear accounted for five, while the fat Albert incremented the fish counter by four. During the last 30 minutes, I moved the hares ear to the top position and exchanged the copper john for a size 20 mercury flashback black beauty. This was a response to the small swarms of midges that hovered over several pools when the wind subsided. After the change I suffered several momentary hook ups, which I attributed to the diminutive hook size of the midge larva.

Fantastic Water Disappointed

A double digit fish day on February 22 was a delightful surprise. The flows were ideal, the wind subsided, the sun dominated in the afternoon, and I thoroughly enjoyed a pleasant day on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. My knee held up, and I managed a two mile round trip hike without aggravating the injury. The temperature rose to a level that enabled comfortable fishing, and my reservations about fish density and size on the recovering creek were overblown. The fish remain small, but most of the likely attractive spots delivered fish, so the quantity of fish is improving.

Fish Landed: 11

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/11/2016

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir from below where the dirt road Y’s to the right and then upstream .75 mile.

Fish Landed: 7

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/11/2016 Photo Album

What is your favorite comeback story? Kurt Warner going from a grocery store clerk to a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams? The 1993 Buffalo Bills coming back from a 32 point deficit in a playoff game against the Houston Oilers? Ulysses S. Grant drank too much, suffered from depression and quit the army; only to return as the victorious general of the North and  a two term president of the United States. I could go on. When I read these stories, I realize that my fly fishing comeback from surgery is a minor occurrence on the world stage, but it means a lot to me, and I chose Friday March 11 to make another trip to a nearby Colorado stream.

Many fishermen are so focused on casting and fly selection that they fail to observe subtle clues that can lead to success. Friday was a day when I was proud of my ability to capitalize on a minor event that could have easily been overlooked.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Looking Downstream after a Half Hour of Fishing” type=”image” alt=”P3110001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Once again I reviewed the stream flows of the local front range streams, and very little change occurred since my last scrutiny of the DWR web site. I decided to make another short drive to the North Fork of the St. Vrain, since I landed a few fish on my previous outing, and the weather was forecast to be more favorable with high temperatures hitting seventy degrees in Denver. I left the house at 9:45 and arrived at the parking area below Longmont Reservoir at 11AM. By the time I assembled my gear and hiked the dirt road along the stream until I reached my exit point from the previous Friday, it was 11:30.

I scrambled down the rocks and tied a size eight Chernboyl ant to my line along with a beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph. The two nymphs were the last flies on my line on March 4, and they produced all my fish, so I decided to continue with proven fish attractors. This seemed like a sound strategy, but unfortunately it resulted in only one small brown trout after an hour of intense casting and quite a bit of stream coverage. I was feeling quite hungry and preparing for lunch, when I approached a small eddy on the left braid of the stream across from the port-o-let where the road splits. As my Chernobyl drifted along the current seam, I noticed a decent fish, as it quickly finned to the surface, but it then backed off and returned to a holding spot in the slack water near the tail of the eddy.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Same Fish, Different Lighting” type=”image” alt=”P3110003.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Since I was not setting the world on fire, and I planned to change flies shortly, I clipped off the Chernobyl and replaced it with Jake’s gulp beetle. I kept the hares ear but removed the salvation, and with these two flies in place, I resumed casting to the small eddy. On the third cast I spotted the fish, as it moved to the side a bit, and this suggested the possibility that it inhaled my trailing hares ear nymph. I executed a smooth hook set, and sure enough I connected with a slender eleven inch brown trout. I was quite pleased to record this fish after making a correction in my approach, and close observation played a key role in this success story.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Eddy on the Far Side of the Current Yielded a Fish” type=”image” alt=”P3110004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After releasing the brown trout, I climbed on to a long narrow gravel bar that separated the two channels of the stream. I was anxious to cross to the bank next to the road, as I spotted several large boulders that could serve as nice resting places for lunch. But before I could take another step, a fish rose in a relatively shallow riffle in front of me. I paused and focused on the water in an attempt to spot a morsel of food on the water surface, but nothing was obvious. As I was ready to wade across the roadside braid below the riffle, the fish rose once again near the previous location. This show of early March surface feeding was enough to force a change in plans, and I began to toss my foam beetle with a trailing hares ear above the spot of the two rises. I had no idea what the fish was eating, but perhaps a large tasty terrestrial would create an opportunistic slurp. That would be a storybook ending, but unfortunately the fish stopped feeding, and I resumed my journey to the opposite bank where I ate lunch.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Macro of the Stonefly” type=”image” alt=”P3110006.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After lunch I observed the run where the fish caught my attention, but no sign of feeding reappeared. Something else however caught my attention. A small insect fluttered on the surface film in the slack water between shore and the main current. I stretched my seining material across my net and attempted to scoop the struggling insect, but I only succeeded in creating a wave that pushed the specimen away and out of sight. I was sorely disappointed with this lack of insect collection skill, but as I was reprimanding my clumsy approach, another buzzing surface bound sample appeared. This time I moved my net below the target and then softly lifted it until I scooped the prize on to the white mesh seining material. I quickly hunched over my net and discovered a tiny stonefly with the characteristic veined wings folded on top of each other over the abdomen. The color was light gray, and I estimated the size was roughly an eighteen.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Soft Hackle Emerger Yielded Four Brown Trout” type=”image” alt=”P3110012.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Instantly I began to dredge my memory banks trying to recall whether I had a fly that might imitate this hard earned sample. I had a few size eighteen black stoneflies with charcoal colored wings and a dark olive brown body. These might work, but I was reluctant to prospect with such a tiny fly especially since I only noticed one or two in the air in addition to the two that were struggling in the surface film at my lunch spot. As I pondered what to do, I concluded that a soft hackle emerger possessed almost the exact same shade of gray as the stonefly that I observed in my net. In addition these were size 20, and I was certain that this wet fly could represent one of the light gray stoneflies if it were crippled or stillborn or damaged in some fashion.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fat Albert Served as a Strike Indicator” type=”image” alt=”P3110017.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I elected to switch the beetle for a fat Albert on top, retained the hares ear as the middle fly, and knotted a beadhead soft hackle emerger to my line as the bottom fly. I resumed my upstream progression and quickly covered all the likely fish holding locations. This strategy rewarded my keen observation with five additional brown trout brought to my net, and four snatched the soft hackle emerger, while one smacked the hares ear. The fish grabbed the soft hackle on the dead drift, not on the swing, so this suggested that they were taking it for some form of the small stonefly. When fish eat the soft hackle on the swing or during movement, it usually means that blue winged olive nymphs are active in the subsurface aquatic environment.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Deep Olive Color on This Brown Is Amazing” type=”image” alt=”P3110010.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

By 3:30 I approached some shallow riffle water, and I spied another fisherman above me. I was concerned that I was about to cover water that had just been waded through, so I reeled up my flies and secured them to the rod guide. I decided to hike back toward the car and perhaps pause and fish some of the deep pools in a steep canyon stretch above Longmont Reservoir and below the first large bend. When I arrived at this location, I carefully inched my way down a precipitous boulder field and thoroughly worked three or four promising pools, but either fish were not present, or I was not presenting them with a desirable meal. At any rate after fifteen minutes of fruitless exploration, I abandoned my efforts and returned to the car and made the return trip.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fly in Upper Lip of This Feisty Brown” type=”image” alt=”P3110014.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Pausing to observe the rising fish and then collecting a stream sample triggered me to tie a light gray soft hackle emerger to my line. I landed five fish after this modification in my approach. Would another fly have worked just as well? Perhaps, but I firmly believe that my soft hackle emerger was a close match in color and size, and this increased my catch rate over the last two hours of the day. My fly fishing comeback is well on its way.

Fish Landed: 7


North Fork St. Vrain Creek – 03/04/2016

North Fork St. Vrain Creek 03/04/2016 Photo Album

I launched my season with two and half hours of fishing on Monday February 29, and it was fun to enjoy the outdoors and prove that I could fish four weeks removed from my late January surgery. However catching zero fish continued to gnaw at my thoughts. Friday was forecast to be a day with high temperatures in the low 60’s, so I decided to take advantage of the mild early March weather to once again pursue my first trout of 2016.

I scanned the flows in the local front range streams, and I was surprised to discover that South Boulder Creek was trickling from Gross Reservoir at 12.5 CFS, and the Big Thompson was in a similar state at 13 CFS. Clear Creek was running higher, but I was not anxious to fish in the deep shadows, and previous experience taught me that a freestone like Clear Creek does not fish well when carrying ice cold low level run off. Bear Creek was flowing at 20 CFS, and that is actually fairly nice for the tiny creek that tumbles through the narrow canyon west of Morrison, CO. I checked one more stream, and that was the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek below Buttonrock Reservoir. The DWR graph displayed 25 CFS, and for a streambed smaller than South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson, this was encouraging.

During the flood of September 2013, the St. Vrain and its tributaries likely absorbed more damage than any of the other South Platte tributaries along the Colorado front range. In fact the section below Buttonrock Reservoir was closed entirely for the 2014 season and only reopened in July 2015. Significant amounts of bridge building and road construction were required to regain access to the stretch below the dam. Prior to the flood this fork of the St. Vrain was one of my favorite destinations, as I could make the drive in 1.25 hours. I also experienced some very successful days fishing the North Fork, so the idea of returning on Friday was intriguing. I searched for fishing reports and information about the impact of the flood on fish density, but I was not very successful in gleaning any information beyond confirmation that the area was reopened.

I decided to take the plunge and packed up my gear and made the short drive to the parking lot below the gate at the dirt road that leads to Buttonrock Reservoir. The temperature was in the mid-50’s as I assembled my Orvis four weight rod and prepared to fish. The negative factor was the occasional gusting wind, but I have become accustomed to this frequent accessory to early season fishing. Once I was ready to begin my hike, I checked my watch and noticed it was 11:45, so I decided to eat lunch in the comfort of the car rather than lugging it up the path in my backpack.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Looking Upstream from Start” type=”image” alt=”P3040001.JPG” ]

After lunch I hiked for twenty minutes until I reached the section where the stream runs along the southwest side of the gravel road, and here I found a moderately sloping path down to the creek. The stream bed was devoid of any form of vegetation similar to the Big Thompson, as the flood apparently scoured all trees and bushes in its relentless rush to the Mississippi River. The flows were actually quite satisfactory, and the water above me suggested numerous nice pools, pockets and deep runs. I was cautiously optimistic that I could break through and add a fish or two to my fish counter.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”2013 Flood Scoured Vegetation” type=”image” alt=”P3040009.JPG” ]

I began fishing with a size 10 chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug and RS2. I chose the dry/dropper approach as I felt I could cover the depths with this arrangement with flows at  a relatively low 25 CFS. There was no need to dredge the bottom with a split shot or two, and the heavier approach would tend to scatter fish when the flies entered the water. Unfortunately I began to doubt my choice as I worked my way upstream for 45 minutes with only a four inch brown as a reward for my focused fishing. The brown was below my cut off for counting fish, so I remained frustrated in my efforts to register a landed trout in the new season.

After this initial period of unsuccessful angling, I resolved to change my approach. I replaced the chernobyl ant with a fat Albert tied with a yellow floss body. This was a new fly I recently produced to provide more options for a large buoyant top fly in the dry/dropper system. Below the fat Albert I tied a beadhead hares ear, but I doubled the length of the tippet so that I could get deeper drifts. Finally I tied the ultra zug bug to the end of my line as the third fly, and I began to toss these morsels to all the likely fish holding spots in front of me. The total length of line below the fat Albert was now in excess of three feet, and this quickly paid dividends.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Fish of 2016″ type=”image” alt=”P3040003.JPG” ]

As the top fly slowly drifted toward the tail of a nice deep run, the fat Albert exhibited a subtle pause, and I reacted with a hook set. I was pleased to see a nine inch brown trout battling valiantly to free itself, but I maintained constant pressure and slipped my net beneath my first trout of 2016. Although on the small side, this fish was highly valued, and I marveled at its color and beauty, as I snapped a couple quick photos and removed the beadhead hares ear before releasing it back to its natural environment.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Numero Uno” type=”image” alt=”P3040004.JPG” ]

For the next hour I continued my upstream migration and landed four additional brown trout. After the first fish, I swapped the ultra zug bug for a salvation nymph, and this workhorse fly yielded two of the small browns, and two others snatched the hares ear as it tumbled through deep runs and pockets. For one hour I felt like I was getting back in the groove, and this was especially gratifying in light of my recovery from surgery.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Pretty St. Vrain Brown” type=”image” alt=”P3040007.JPG” ]

Between 2:30 and 3:00 the action slowed, and some gray clouds blocked the sun. My hands morphed into red stiff claws, and I ceased to have fun, so I reeled up my flies and made the return hike. Five fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is a reasonable day, and I recorded my first fish of the new season. I rediscovered one of my favorite stretches of local water, and although the fish were small, I saw enough to merit a return. I also proved to myself that I can resume fishing, and my physical status should only improve as time heals my body.

Fish Landed: 5

North Fork of St. Vrain River – 07/03/2013

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: First road crossing to outlet pipe

Fish Landed: 38

North Fork of St. Vrain River 07/03/2013 Photo Album

After an inspiring day on the North Fork of the St. Vrain on Saturday, June 29, I was itching to return and Wednesday July third felt like the right day. I departed from my house by 8AM and made the drive to the gate just west of Lyons, CO. By the time I put on my waders and rigged my rod and hiked up the dirt road it was around 10AM. Would I be able to repeat my success from five days ago?

It was a bright warm day and not as ideal for fishing as the previous Saturday. Even though the DWS site indicated flows dropped marginally from 93 to 91 out of Buttonrock Dam, it was obvious that the stream level was down as more streamside boulders were exposed and there were more slack water pockets that could be fished. I decided to begin fishing at the first road crossing of the North Fork and ended up fishing to just beyond my beginning point on Saturday at the lower outflow pipe from the lake.

I began with a Chernobyl ant and a salvation nymph as the Chernobyl served me well on my previous visit, and I was curious to see if the salvation nymph would produce as a general attractor nymph. The salvation did yield a couple small browns, but I was off to a slow start near the road probably due to more pressure and the close proximity to easy access. As I moved upstream away from the worn path from the road; however, small browns began hammering the Chernobyl ant. After a half hour, the salvation nymph wasn’t producing so I switched to a beadhead hares ear nymph. By 11:40 I had landed 16 brown trout with maybe two on the hares ear, two on the salvation nymph, and the remainder on the Chernobyl ant. At this point I decided to stop for lunch on a nice large rock overlooking the stream.

Large Brown by St. Vrain Standards

Large Brown by St. Vrain Standards

After lunch the catch rate held strong, but once I reached around 23 landed, I began seeing a lot of refusals to the Chernobyl so I tested a light gray caddis and then a dark olive caddis, but these didn’t seem to interest the fish. Next I switched to a yellow Letort hopper and a beadhead pheasant tail, as I was hoping the yellow Letort hopper might imitate golden stoneflies and that the pheasant tail would pass for the nymph stage of PMD’s. This combination did in fact produce some results as I landed roughly 10 additional fish with a couple rising to the hopper, but all the others snatching the pheasant tail as it drifted along below the surface.

Eventually I removed the hopper and returned to the Chernobyl ant and continued catching fish on the nymph; however, at some point I snapped off the pheasant tail and with only one remaining in my frontpack, I returned to the salvation nymph. This produced rather well, and I landed the remaining fish on an even split between the Chernobyl and salvation nymph.

Pretty Typical Churning Whitewater in Main Channel

Pretty Typical Churning Whitewater in Main Channel

Wednesday ended up being a fun day in beautiful early summer conditions, and I actually landed more fish than Saturday; however, the average size of the fish was inferior to my previous visit and it seemed like there were more refusals. On Saturday in the upper water the fish were smashing the Chernobyl with reckless abandon, and I never was tempted to switch flies. This was not the case on Wednesday, but still it was very enjoyable and impressed me with the density of fish on the North Fork of the St. Vrain below Buttonrock Dam.

North Fork of St. Vrain River – 06/29/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Dam

Fish Landed: 36

North Fork of St. Vrain River 06/29/2013 Photo Album

Some days are just magical. Saturday June 29th turned out to be one of them.

As mentioned in the previous posting, I abandoned the Rincon Campground due to the high wind and inability to anchor my tent. In addition all the sites were reserved for Friday and Saturday night, so I needed to find a different location to camp, and I wasn’t sure where to look. The Arkansas River corridor is very popular at this time of the year due to the high river flows and the white water rafting crowd so I returned home to Denver on Friday night, but I didn’t give up on the idea of fishing on Saturday since Jane was scheduled to play tennis with her group that is getting ready for summer league play.

The question churning through my mind was where could I fish within a reasonable drive from Denver? I began my search by reviewing the Colorado DWS web site which logs stream flows. I checked South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir and the water was raging at close to 400 cfs. Clear Creek was rushing down the mountain at 500 cfs. Small Bear Creek was an option at 27 cfs, but it is very small, receives a fair amount of pressure and contains small fish. The Big Thompson below Lake Estes was clearly an option with steady flows at 128 cfs, and I’ve fished successfully at this level, but it is quite popular and frustrating to find space particularly on weekends. The South Platte at Deckers continues to run at very low levels with flows at 100 cfs at Deckers. This makes for difficult low clear water fishing and also can stress the fish. The North Fork of St. Vrain below Buttonrock Dam was listed at 93 cfs so this peaked my interest. 93 cfs, although high, is still a level that can be fished comfortably; however, another source listed the North Fork at 151 cfs.

I decided to make the NF of the St. Vrain River or Creek my destination and set out at 7:45. The drive was uneventful and I arrived at the gate parking area by 8:45 and quickly put on my waders, set up my Loomis five weight rod, and stuffed my water, raincoat and lunch in my backpack. I hiked the mile or so up the dirt road at a brisk pace as I targeted the stretch of water above the lower outlet pipe. I knew from previous experience that the water is released from the base of the dam, but additional water shoots into the stream from a narrow chute and culvert half a mile below the dam. I’m guessing the 93 cfs is the flow between the dam and the point where the second release enters. This proved to be a great strategy as the water above the pipe was much more manageable than below. I planned to fish to the dam, and then if time remained, retreat to a point where the road crossed the stream and try the stretch with more volume.

I recalled from previous years that the Chernobyl ant was productive on the St. Vrain and I liked the idea of a large buoyant foam attractor as my top fly. Beneath the Chernobyl I added a beadhead hares ear nymph and because the flows were fairly robust, I extended the leader to over three feet. At the tail of the large pool where I began, a twelve inch brown smashed the hares ear nymph and my fun day began. Another smaller brown smashed the Chernobyl ant at the top of the long deep pool and I was wondering if my good fortune was the product of the nice pool I began in, or would it continue in more marginal water?

Upstream View at Start of Fishing Day

Upstream View at Start of Fishing Day

I moved on and began drawing fish to the surface in all the likely places plus more marginal spots along the bank. That’s right, to the surface. Most of the fish were attacking the Chernobyl ant with conviction. Because I was wearing my polarized sunglasses I could see fish move at least two feet to inhale the large gaudy ant pattern. In addition it was thrilling to observe large swirls when browns crashed the low floating foam fly in the deep slots and seams along heavy current. These fish were also fairly nice sized browns by St. Vrain standards, and I landed quite a few chunky browns in the 13 and even 14 inch range.

The one downside was that many of the fish would create a massive tangle of the trailing line and dropper fly when they struck the top fly and then twisted and turned to escape the hook set. I debated removing the dropper several times, but each time I was about to pull the trigger, a fish would grab the hares ear, and I continued with the risk of tangle frustration. My fish count climbed into the twenties and I was having a blast prospecting my two flies in all the likely locations as I moved up along the right bank.

Nice Fish Fell for Chernobyl Ant

Nice Fish Fell for Chernobyl Ant

My focus was somewhat interrupted by the sound of thunder and the appearance of large gray clouds to the west, so I decided to find a pleasant spot on the bank and eat my lunch. I observed the water during my lunch break, but didn’t see any significant insect activity, so I resumed with the two flies that produced for me all morning. A short time after lunch the sky darkened even more, and I returned to the bank to put on my raincoat as a preemptive move. It was also at this time that I noticed some pale morning duns in the air. I never saw any on the water nor did I see any fish rise, but I decided to swap the hares ear for a pheasant tail in an effort to more closely imitate the pale morning dun nymph.

Amazingly this proved to be a great strategy and my catches over the remainder of the afternoon were split in a roughly 50/50 ratio between the Chernobyl ant and the beadhead pheasant tail. There were a few situations where I saw a fish rise almost the instant my flies hit the water and I assumed the Chernoyl ant was the target only to discover upon netting that the fish consumed the nymph. I’ve commented on this before, but I continue to be amazed by it.

Pretty Stretch Near Canyon Wall

Pretty Stretch Near Canyon Wall

In one instance I cast the flies to a place where a current angled from next to the bank back into a deeper area next to some main current. The angled run couldn’t have been more that two feet deep, but as I watched I saw a nice brown slide over from the bank position, move two feet and then grab the trailing pheasant tail. I love visual action such as this. Of course the exciting swirls and smashes of the Chernobyl ant continued in addition to the subsurface pheasant tail ambushes.

Nice Colors with Chernobyl Ant in Mouth

Nice Colors with Chernobyl Ant in Mouth

By three o’clock I reached the stretch of water below the settling pool of the dam and the wind blew a gentle mist toward me and also toward the east. Since it was already 3PM and I’d landed 36 fish I decided to call it quits and hike back down the road to my waiting Santa Fe.

What a day! I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fish the stream other than some small pockets along the edge, and I ended up landing 36 wild fish in a .5 mile stretch, and fly selection was about as easy as it gets. I’m assuming that the flows only recently dropped to the 93 cfs level and the fish are quite hungry after a month of high levels. Anything that looks like food is to their liking, and they aren’t spending a lot of time being particular. Even a flashy oversized Chernobyl ant looks like a tasty meal to these famished St. Vrain brown trout.