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.


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.