Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake
After three amazing days of fly fishing in the Flattops area, I was eager to spend one more day on the North Fork, before I returned to Denver on Tuesday, September 17. The section I planned to fish was the scene of many fine outings during previous trips to the Flattops, and I was anxious to continue the trend. Was I setting my expectations too high? Read on.
I camped at the North Fork Campground on Monday night, and in order to avoid setting up and taking down my tent, I stashed all the bins in the bear locker and slept in the back of the Santa Fe. This was the first time I attempted this with the new Santa Fe, and it suited my needs perfectly, as the additional length allowed me to fully stretch out in my sleeping bag.
On Tuesday morning I packed the car with all my camping gear and headed to my chosen fishing destination, where I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked a short distance to the stream. The short jaunt was a welcome change from the long hikes endured on Sunday and Monday, and my feet and legs embraced the break. The stream was flowing high compared to most of my previous September visits, but the water was crystal clear and cold and hopefully brimming with hungry fish. Unlike the previous three days, the weather was very unsettled, and this condition prevailed throughout my six hours on the creek. Thick gray clouds masked the warming rays of the sun 75% of the time, and strong gusts of annoying wind made casting very challenging. The air temperature peaked at sixty degrees, and the absence of the sun created the first significant chill since spring of the 2019 season.
My search for wild trout was initiated with a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug and salvation nymph; but the first hour was very slow, as three trout were guided into my net. The starting section tumbled down a high gradient, and this provided limited choice holding spots; however, I felt that several prime spots failed to produce. Two of the three fish, that I landed were gorgeous and colorful brook trout with bright orange bellies contrasted against a mottled luminescent body. The third catch was a cutbow, and it featured vivid spots and stripes against a buttery gold body.
My inability to tempt trout in several quality spots caused me to modify my offerings. I lengthened the leader between the hopper and the top nymph, and I replaced the salvation nymph with a hares ear. This change improved my success rate, and the fish count leaped from three to eight before I settled on a large rock to consume my lunch. The five fish included the fish of the day, a spectacular fifteen inch cutbow that nabbed one of the nymphs in a magnificent pool on the small mountain stream. Some cutbows lean towards rainbows in appearance, but this version had the deep yellow-gold body color, speckles and slash of a cutthroat, yet also displayed the distinctive pink stripe of a rainbow trout. It was the highlight of a day that grew increasingly frustrating.
After lunch the weather conditions worsened, as large gray clouds accumulated in the western sky and swirling blasts of wind raged up the canyon. At one point the threatening skies caused me to consider an exit strategy, but neither returning to the start or advancing to the end point were particularly attractive options. Instead I extracted my raincoat from my backpack and braced for the worst.
During my afternoon on the North Fork I experienced nearly every conceivable form of fly fishing adversity. Foremost on my list of hurdles to success was tangles. Quite a few patience-taxing snarls resulted from the gusts of wind, but another self imposed factor was my choice of a three fly dry/dropper arrangement. Quite a few trout crushed the pool toy, and their efforts to escape created tight balls of monofilament, which took extended minutes to unravel. I estimate that my cumulative untangling time was 1.5 hours out of the six spent on the stream.
The wind also had a negative impact on my casting, and another slug of time was allocated to wading across or upstream to unhook my flies from branches and dry scratchy vegetation. In addition the dropper flies inevitably found all the protruding sticks that were wedged between the rocks. Rock climbing and log rolling added to my woes. The area experienced a wildfire many years ago, and an abundance of dead and charred logs span the creek. These obstacles created an obstacle course for the wading fly fisherman.
In spite of these hurdles to success, I managed to increment the fish count from eight at lunch time to eighteen by 3:00PM. Ten fish in three hours was not a torrid pace, but given the conditions, was acceptable to this fly fisherman. The quality of the fish was outstanding; and brightly colored brook trout, cutbows and rainbows were more than adequate rewards for my troubles. During this period many of the landed fish slurped the pool toy hopper, but the action was accompanied by numerous looks and refusals, so at three o’clock I swapped the pool toy hopper for a yellow fat Albert. I was hoping that the larger foam attractor would either result in more takes or would be ignored and thus allow the fish to focus on the trailing nymphs.
The ploy paid off to some extent, as I boosted the fish count to twenty-three by the time I quit at 4PM, when I neared my designated exit point. These five trout were mostly very nice cutbows in the chunky thirteen inch range, but I probably experienced twice as many long distance releases as catches. In fact over the course of my day I suffered nearly as many lost fish, as I guided into my net.
In summary I spent Tuesday practicing casting in the wind and untangling knots among the scenic environment of the Flattops. In spite of these unforeseen lessons, I managed to land twenty-three dazzling wild trout including a fifteen inch small stream monster and quite a few muscular and hard fighting twelve and thirteen inch cutbows. Toss in some elegant brook trout in brilliant spawning colors, and you have a picture of my day on September 17. My end result was acceptable, but the hardship was not welcome.
Fish Landed: 23