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Pine Creek – 09/08/2021

Time: 12:00PM – 3:30PM

Location: Backcountry

Pine Creek 09/08/2021 Photo Album

Wednesday, September 8 was supposed to be the day I returned to South Boulder Creek for my weekly encounter with the green drake hatch. My previous three trips to SBC resulted in excellent results, as I fished mostly parachute green drakes and green drake comparaduns. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, my first action was to fire up the desktop computer, as I nervously scrolled to the South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir chart. The nearly perfect horizontal line at 95 CFS had a slight tail on it, as the flows dropped to 91 CFS. I resumed my preparation for a day of fishing, but I made a mental note to check the flows again, before I departed.

Fast forward to 7:30AM, and I positioned myself in front of the computer once again, and in this case the straight downward tail on the graph plummeted to 60 CFS. Clearly the Denver Water managers were initiating a major adjustment to the flows from Gross Reservoir. I endured these events in the past, and I was reluctant to devote my precious day of fishing to a tailwater in the throes of a major modification, and it was unclear what the bottom point would be. I made a flash decision to change my destination in order to allow the South Boulder Creek situation to stabilize. I checked the flows upon my return to Denver, and the flow reduction bottomed out at 15 CFS! 95 CFS morphed to 15 CFS in one day!

Small, Low Creek

Earlier in the summer Jane and I completed an out an back hike along Pine Creek, and I was intrigued enough by the small high country stream to plan a future fishing visit. With South Boulder Creek’s flows disrupted by the water managers, I decided to give Pine Creek a try. I arrived at the trailhead by 11:15AM and quickly jumped into my wet wading attire and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod. The air temperature was 68 degrees at the trailhead with nary a cloud in the sky, although a persistent haze from wildfires permeated the atmosphere. I hiked along the trail for 1.3 miles, at which point I cut in a northwestern direction, until I intersected with the small creek.

Encouraging

I began my quest for backcountry trout with a peacock dubbed hippie stomper, and the small attractor remained on my line for the duration of my time on the creek. In the early going it attracted a couple refusals, although attractive trout lies were a scarce commodity. I persisted and eventually landed a pair of nine inch brown trout from a nice run above a jumble of sticks and branches that stretched across the stream. I expected the stream to hold small brook trout, so encountering brown trout was a welcome introduction.

Surprised Early by A Brown Trout

Another lull followed the brown trout successes, so I added an ultra zug bug on a 1.5 foot dropper, and the move improved the catch rate somewhat, as the fish count mounted to eleven by 2:30. For the last hour I swapped the ultra zug bug for a salvation nymph, and the hippie stomper/salvation combination enabled me to increment the count to seventeen, before I quit at 3:30PM. Approximately ten of the landed fish on the day attacked the peacock stomper, and the remainder nabbed either the ultra zug bug or salvation nymph.

A Brook Trout Hot Spot

So Bright

Beast for This Small Creek

During my 3.5 hours of fishing I landed seven brown trout and ten brook trout. From a size perspective the brown trout were the larger fish, and I even netted a thirteen incher that put up quite a fight in the close quarters of the small stream. A pair of ten to eleven inch browns were also welcome surprises from the the high country habitat. Although the brook trout were routinely smaller fish in the six to nine inch range, they made up for their lack of size with vibrant colors. Several sported bright orange bellies that contrasted with luminescent gray-blue upper bodies, that were sprinkled with bright spots.

Big Jaw and Unique Spots

While one might think that these backcountry trout were easy marks, that would be a bad assumption. The low clear water along with a vast array of streamside obstacles made connecting with these small fish an interesting challenge. I scattered decent fish from several prime holes with clumsy approaches, sloppy casting, and snagged branches or sticks. I also experienced quite a few long distance releases, and four or five of these were almost certainly trout that exceeded my six inch minimum to qualify for adding to the fish count.

Another Respectable Brown

Deep Run

Wednesday was a fun day, and I attribute much of my satisfaction to exploring new water and the allure of discovering what species were present. The weather was perfect for wet wading, and the surrounding scenery was spectacular. Will I return to Pine Creek? Perhaps, although I rank several other high country destinations ahead of this one, so I am doubtful another visit is in my future for 2021.

Fish Landed: 17

Steamboat Lake – 06/08/2021

Time: 9:00AM – 10:00AM, 11:00AM – 12:00PM, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

Location: Steamboat Lake State Park

Steamboat Lake 06/08/2021 Photo Album

I was feeling smug after several high fish count days on front range lakes. In these instances I was catching stocked rainbow trout relatively consistently. My day of 06/08/2021 on Steamboat Lake brought me back to reality. Catching trout from Steamboat Lake consistently remains an elusive goal for this veteran fly fisherman.

I presented Jane with an inflatable kayak for Christmas, and she was quite anxious to try it out for the first time. We both love the camping experience at Steamboat Lake State Park, and we were able to find campsite availability for two nights, June 7 and 8, so we reserved campsite number 62 in the Harebell Loop. We normally plant our tent on Bridge Island Loop, but we decided to deviate from our previous practice. As it turned out, we were quite pleased with our choice, as our site offered a spectacular view of Hahn’s Peak, and the north side of our campsite bordered an aspen grove and natural woods.

Originally Tuesday was my day to make the drive to fish the Yampa River; however, we modified that plan, so I could be present to help Jane inflate her kayak, and more importantly be available to pack it up and transport it to the campsite after her maiden voyage. In exchange we agreed that I could fish the Yampa on Wednesday on our return trip to Denver. This made obvious sense, since our return route passed through Steamboat Springs, and that was where I planned to fish.

Poised for Fun

On Tuesday morning after I helped Jane inflate the kayak, assemble her three part paddle and launch from the swim beach; I jumped in the car and made a ten minute drive to Sage Flats. I read on several websites that the best shore fishing could be obtained via a ten minute walk across the dam from the Sage Flats parking lot. When I arrived, two other vehicles were present, and I noticed a gate across the road that seemed to lead to the dam. I prepared to fish with my Sage One five weight to combat the wind in the wide open area lacking in trees or windbreaks of any sort. When I was properly geared up, I ambled to the gate, but barbed wire extended to the lake, and the gate was locked. Clearly the park rangers did not want anyone passing beyond this point, so I reversed my direction and hiked along the Willow Trail for eight minutes and then dropped down to a small inlet and waded into a position on the northeast side of the arm in that area.

Pretty Place

The first twenty yards were rather shallow, and of course my entry was the cue for the wind to kick up. I began fishing a hippie stomper with a salvation nymph dropper, but after fifteen minutes of throwing casts parallel to the shoreline and then watching the surface fly bob in the small waves, I recognized the futility of my endeavor. I decided to move to a section that I passed, where some high banks suggested a steeper decline and deeper water. Three minutes after making my move, I was positioned on the shoreline, and I switched tactics to a sparkle minnow streamer trailing a wiggle damsel. I sprayed casts in this area and several more farther south, but my only result was the loss of the valued sparkle minnow and the damsel nymph. I experimented with various stripping speeds and movements and counted down to different depths, but the wind continued to blast the surface of the water, and the fish, if they were in the area, ignored my best efforts.

Macro View

After an hour of fruitless casting I stripped in my line, bowed my head against the wind and wandered back to the parking lot with my confidence at a low ebb. I returned to the swim beach twenty minutes early and discovered Jane waiting next to her kayak. She reported an enjoyable maiden voyage; however, she could only last an hour before paddling into the wind brought extreme fatigue to her arms and shoulders. I provided a minor amount of help, as we deflated and folded up the kayak, and then we returned to number 62 on the Harebell Loop for lunch.

Second Session Was Here

It was eleven o’clock when we arrived, so I decided to explore the cove and inlet, where a small stream enters Steamboat Lake from the north. I parked at a lot on the closest camping loop and hiked along the Willow Creek Trail, before I cut down a gradual grassy bank to the shoreline. I waded across a small shallow cove, and this positioned me to fire casts across the mouth of the small bay where the creek entered. I worked my way back toward the mouth of the creek with no response to my wooly bugger, and then I made a strategic mistake and began progressing up the stream. Since it was early June, the creek was swollen with higher than normal flows, although it seemed nearly ideal at the time. I suspect that later in the season it shrivels to a trickle; and, thus, is not a viable fishery. I realized this after fifteen minutes of fishing, and it was easier to finish the commitment to reach the Willow Creek Trail rather than turn around and wade across the lake again. I never saw a fish during my entire time on the small creek.

I returned to the campsite and after a short rest convinced Jane to drive to Pearl Lake State Park. I reasoned that perhaps a smaller body of water would be less susceptible to wind, and a more intimate lake might make spotting fish an easier proposition. Another post documents my visit to Pearl Lake.

After dinner I once again persuaded Jane to join me in a final fishing venture on Tuesday, June 8. We drove to Meadow Point, a section of land that juts between two long narrow coves. During previous visits to Steamboat Lake I fished in this area, and it usually came alive with rising fish in the hour before dark. Jane and I sat on a bench and observed for thirty minutes, before I extracted my fishing gear from the car. I spotted no rises during this time, and the wind remained a significant nemesis. Finally at 7:30PM I assembled my Sage One once again, and I ambled down a short path to the shoreline of the finger of water that extended from the main lake. I once again tied on a hippie stomper and trailed a size 18 deer hair caddis, and I began to blind cast. Once again my effort seemed rather futile, but after a few minutes an occasional rise gave me a glimmer of hope.

Cove Next to Meadow Point

For the next hour I fired long casts to the vicinity of sporadic rises, but the trout were once again ignoring my offerings. I tried short strips and stops, but none of my tactics produced results. The sun dropped behind a western peak, and the temperature dropped, and the frequency of rises picked up. I exchanged the caddis dry fly for a size 22 CDC blue winged olive. I caught one of the abundant quantities of midges buzzing about my head, and it possessed an olive body with clear wings, so I reasoned that the tiny BWO could pinch hit.

I now began to drop casts in the vicinity of recent rises, but interest was nonexistent, until finally a bulge appeared behind the hippie stomper. I quickly lifted my rod and felt a momentary sensation of additional weight, but then the fish shed the size 22 fly, and I was left to vent my frustration to the croaking frogs and gobbling sand hill cranes. Four hours of lake fishing, and my reward was a split second hook up. Lake fishing education is an ongoing project.

Fish Landed: 0

Pine Lake – 05/28/2021

Time: 3:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Pine Valley Ranch Park

Pine Lake 05/28/2021 Photo Album

Swollen rivers and streams in Colorado forced me to narrow my choice of fishing destinations to tailwaters and lakes for the foreseeable future. I suspect that the low snowpack in much of the state will enable decent conditions for fishing tailwaters later than normal, as the water managers hold back water in support of subpar run off from the high country. I visited the South Platte River on Wednesday with reasonable results, but another trip to a lake leaped on to my radar.

During 2019 I explored Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch Park, and after my surgery in 2020 I made a return trip. In both instances I failed to catch a fish. During 2019 I managed to hook a few fish temporarily, and the 2020 experience was primarily spent casting in the North Fork of the South Platte River.

Jane and I participated in some spirited pickleball on Friday morning, and then I suggested that we make the trek to Pine Valley Ranch Park for some hiking and fly fishing. Well, I proposed to fly fish, and she would hike or read. She readily agreed in light of the gorgeous spring day, and after lunch we made the 1.5 hour drive. Since it was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, we encountered a traffic bottleneck along US 285, but we suffered through the delay and arrived at the lower parking lot of Pine Valley Ranch by 2:00PM.

Open Valley

We quickly geared up for a hike and completed an out and back on the Narrow Gauge Trail. On the return leg we followed North Fork View Trail, as it passed along the shoreline of Pine Lake, and I noted some places for fly casting. Jane and I returned to the car, and I geared up with my Sage four weight, while she grabbed a stool and reading material, and we departed for a short hike to the lake. No sooner had I reached my chosen fly fishing position, than I realized that I left my dry fly box in my wader bib, and my waders remained in the car. I quickly jogged and walked back to the parking lot to retrieve the fly box, while Jane reserved my spot on the shoreline of the small lake.

A Channel

Once I returned, I observed quite a few rising fish, so I extended my leader with 5X tippet, and then I knotted a size 18 olive-brown deer hair caddis to my line. The fly of choice worked almost immediately, and I quickly landed a small rainbow trout. The most challenging aspect of this fly fishing was netting the fish without the advantage of waders, as I was required to hold my position on a very steep bank with loose soil, while I reached out and down with my net. I avoided wet feet, but there were some close calls.

Caddis Eater

I continued casting to sighted fish, but the next eater came free very quickly, as I lifted the rod tip in response to a sip. When I stripped in my line, I noticed the telltale curling leader; a sure sign of a bad knot. I was now minus one size 18 deer hair caddis, but I had four more in my box. I replaced the lost fly with another with a cream body, and this produced a second larger stocked rainbow, but then the new fly surprisingly produced a slump. I was skeptical that the body color of such a small fly would make a difference for small stockers, but fish after fish cruised by the dry fly without even a look.

Another Rainbow Trout

Having my fly ignored was not my idea of fun, so I plucked a size 18 black ant from my fly box and positioned it on the end of my line. As was the case with the cream caddis, the ant was avoided like the plague, and I was forced to consider new options. Fairly regular sipping rises indicated to me that the fish were focused on something very miniscule, so I switched to a size 24 griffiths gnat. Bingo. Over my remaining time on the water I hooked and netted four additional rainbow trout, as they reacted fairly aggressively to the tiny speck of a fly. Several responded to a strip or twitch, and the others sipped a stationary fly. I experimented with both approaches. The real key to success was staying low and executing casts without startling the fish. The water was quite low and clear, and even though they were stocked fish, they spooked easily to excessive movement or forceful splash downs.

Great Blue Heron

I was quite pleased to land six trout in two hours of fishing late in the afternoon on May 28. This was accomplished in spite of skittish fish. bursts of wind, and bothersome lake-side willows. Of course, they were all stocked fish, but I paid for my license, and anything is fair game during the snowmelt of 2021.

Fish Landed: 6

South Platte River – 03/03/2021

Time: 2:00PM – 3:30PM

Location: Within Chatfield State Park above Chatfield Reservoir

South Platte River 03/03/2021 Photo Album

Lots of Wide Shallows

By the time I ate my lunch and drove the short distance from Bear Creek to Chatfield my watch registered 2PM. I gathered my gear and cut to the river, and as I suspected, the stream was devoid of ice shelves or snow. The clarity was crystal clear, and I carefully walked upstream with the goal of sight fishing. The South Platte River in this area consists of many shallow stretches over a gravel bottom, so I skipped these sections and focused on deep pools and runs.

Looks Very Fishy

I covered a mile of the South Platte River in 1.5 hours, and sadly I was unable to land a fish. In fact, I was unable to sight a fish, and that placed a significant hole in my sight fishing strategy. The temperature peaked in the low sixties, and I enjoyed a pleasant two mile hike in my waders. I landed my one fish on Bear Creek to kick off 2021, so I was not overly upset with my lack of success on the South Platte.

Fish Landed: 0

Chernobyl Ant – 01/23/2021

Chernobyl Ant 01/23/2021 Photo Album

Chubby Chernobyls are everywhere. They’ve taken the world by storm, yet this seasoned angler continues to stock classic Chernobyl ants, and in fact uses them fairly frequently. What situations would dictate a classic Chernobyl ant over a chubby? High mountain streams with an abundance of overhanging branches and vegetation represent the primary situation, when I resort to a classic Chernobyl ant. My Chernobyl ants are very simple creations that require only two sections of foam, pearl chenille, and rubber legs. All these materials are synthetic, and, therefore, do not absorb water. In tight quarters I can dap, bow and arrow, and roll cast this fly without the need for a backcast to dry off the fly. This characteristic is very welcome, when trees and branches attempt to nab your fly with every stray movement.

Boat Box

Of course this positive would be useless if a Chernobyl ant did not attract fish, but it does that as well, and in many cases quite well. The buoyancy of the Chernobyl also supports a beadhead nymph or two, so it can also perform in fine fashion as the surface fly in a dry/dropper arrangement. The small yellow indicator is relatively visible, although other foam flies can outperform the Chernobyl in this regard, as it rides low in the water thus making tracking a challenge at times.

Fly Box

For a materials table and more links to previous posts on the Chernobyl ant, please refer to my 01/15/2020 post. I counted all the Chernobyl ants in my possession and determined that adequate quantities remained for the upcoming season. In fact, I probably have enough for several future years, since I now favor other foam flies over the Chernboyl in some situations.

Size 8 from Bass Pro Shop Bin

Bright Green Caddis Pupa – 11/29/2020

Bright Green Caddis Pupa 11/29/2020 Photo Album

The bright green caddis pupa was a “must have” fly, until I combined the go 2 caddis with the LaFontaine emergent pattern during the 2016 season. The hybrid go2 sparkle pupa seemed more productive, and I attributed the superior performance to the substitution of chartreuse midge diamond braid for the craft yarn and olive antron blended abdomen. Since the bright green caddis pupa was displaced, I ceased tying the original pattern and decided to live off my ample remaining inventory. As I advanced in my caddis pupa tying effort, I sorted through my canister of damaged and unraveling flies and discovered two bright green caddis pupa. The red-brown rabbit fur collar had worn off, so I simply attached some brown thread and dubbed a new collar. Voila! In a brief amount of time I refurbished two flies for future use.

Refurbished

Hares Ear Nymph – 10/25/2020

Hares Ear Nymph 10/25/2020 Photo Album

It is difficult to add pertinent information in this post that was not already covered in last year’s update on 11/02/2019. A materials table and tips on my version of the hares ear nymph are available in my 11/05/2020 post. When I tallied all my hares ear nymphs from my various storage compartments, I determined that I possessed 94 flies. I have a goal to maintain a starting inventory of one hundred, so my fly tying task this off season was simply to produce an additional six. Once I got into production mode, I rolled out an additional fifteen for a friend.

Another Angled Shot

Does the reduced shrinkage indicate that the hares ear nymph fell out of favor and saw less time on my line? I pondered this question and concluded that the workhorse nymph delivers its best results during mid to late spring. This time period coincided with my heart valve repair, recovery from the surgery and run off during the past year. I believe this explains lowered usage and, thus, the loss of fewer nymphs. Hopefully my fly fishing season will span the entire spring, summer and fall in 2021, and the hares ear nymph will once again rest at the apex of trout deceiving flies.

Batch of Fifteen

South Platte River – 10/20/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 10/20/2020 Photo Album

Four for nine is excellent in baseball and calculates to a batting average of .440. When it represents the ratio of fish landed compared to hooked, it is an indicator of my level of frustration on Tuesday, October 20.

With multiple fires raging in the area west of the Front Range, I decided to focus my fishing efforts to the south and completed the two plus hour drive to Eleven Mile Canyon. The weather forecast was outstanding for late October, and it proved to be accurate, as I fished in low sixty-degree temperatures for much of the day. The water gauge on the South Platte River below Eleven Mile Dam was not functioning for some reason, but fly shop reports pegged the flows at around 60 CFS. As I drove along the river on the way to my parking spot, I confirmed that the river was low; however, it offered adequate deep pools, runs and pockets to provide an enjoyable day of fly fishing.

A gray pickup truck angled across two parking spaces, where I normally park, and I was forced to back into a less desirable spot next to a tunnel. I was extremely cautious given the steep drop off on my left. I quickly climbed into my waders and chose my Sage four weight for the day, although I debated using my stiffer and longer Sage One five weight in the event of tangling with some larger trout. In the end I opted for lighter weight and less arm and shoulder fatigue.

The Area Between the Shoreline and Large Rock Looked Productive

Once I was prepared, I marched down the dirt road for .3 mile and found the gentlest path to descend the steep bank, although even that route demanded small measured side steps for most the way. The first nice pool was occupied by another angler, so I continued along the path to the next deeper slow-moving section, and then I moved to a short stretch of pocket water below the pool.

I read my post of 10/16/2019 and noted that a dry/dropper that featured a tan pool toy hopper, 20 incher and salvation nymph translated to a twenty fish day, so guess what I chose to launch my day a year later? Correct. The same lineup occupied my line, and in the early going in the pocket section before lunch I experienced two very brief connections, as I lifted my flies to execute another cast.

Lunch Pool

By noon I was adjacent to the deep pool that I passed on my entry hike, so I paused to down my sandwich, carrots and yogurt. As I munched my baby carrots, I observed several rises in the eddy at the tail of the relatively long pool. By the time I stuffed my empty yogurt cup in my backpack, at least five trout were sipping a miniscule food item in the area twenty-five feet above me. I considered maintaining my three-fly dry/dropper to fish the faster water, where it entered the pool and then switching to a dry fly to pursue the risers; but in the end, I made the switch immediately. Hatch opportunities are rare particularly late in the season, and I needed to take advantage.

While advancing through the large boulders and pocket water stretch, I noticed small sparse swarms of tricos, and I surmised that the surface feeding was a response to the trico spinner fall. The tricos that I spotted were miniscule in size and smaller than the size 24’s, that I carried in a small plastic canister in my wader bib. I decided to hedge my bets and tied a size 24 CDC blue winged olive to my line and trailed a size 24 trico with gray cdc wings.

I began lobbing casts upstream in order to create a drift along the current seam, where several decent trout were rising. The breeze kicked up and blew my flies back toward me, and that bit of adversity was accompanied by an annoying glare that prevented me from following the two tiny tufts of CDC that were my flies. I tried to set, when a rise materialized, where I approximated my flies to be, but this trick was not effective.

I momentarily surrendered to the choosey eaters and circled around on the left bank, until I was above a large exposed boulder that created the large eddy. I began fluttering downstream drifts from this position, and I had the advantage of a tailwind and much improved lighting. On the third pass a small swirl enveloped the CDC olive, and I responded with a swift lift of the rod tip, and this translated to vibrating weight and wild thrashing, but the thrill only extended for a few seconds, and the trout was gone. I uttered some choice words and noted that I was now zero for three on my fly fishing batting average.

I now turned my attention to the attractive run and shelf pool along the left bank in the upper half of the pool. This water displayed many more swirls and was not as smooth and unforgiving as the eddy, that I recently fished. I experimented with a few casts with the double dry, but the small riffles and glare made following the flies even more difficult than my earlier attempts below the eddy. I paused and not so patiently rigged anew with the dry/dropper approach; however, in this instance I substituted a classic RS2 for the salvation nymph. I had a hunch that blue winged olives might make an appearance, and that trout were opportunistically grabbing active nymphs prior to their emergence.

On the Board

The changeover paid dividends when a muscular rainbow trout that measured fourteen inches snapped up the RS2. After a spirited battle I slid my net beneath the hard charging torpedo, and reveled in my first fish of the day. My average crept upward to .250, with one of four hooked fish landed.

Prime Run Ahead

A Chunk

Prospecting with a dry/dropper consumed the remainder of the day, and I called it quits by 4:00PM with a total of four fish that rested in my net. All were rainbows and all were heavy fish in the fourteen to sixteen-inch range. A sparse blue winged olive hatch commenced in the early afternoon, but it was over by 1:30PM, and I never spotted rising fish to cast to. After a slow period in the 2-3PM time frame I removed the RS2 and tested a salvation nymph for a decent length of time, but the change never produced results.

Revival

I covered quite a bit of the river, as I skipped the large smooth pools and concentrated on the fast water, where the river spilled into wide spread out areas. I also focused on deep pockets. In one of the upstream pools I spotted a couple blue winged olives, and this prompted me to revert to a sparkle wing RS2 as the point fly. I stagnated at a fish count of two for an extended length of time, but between three o’clock and four o’clock I enjoyed my best action of the day.

Sparkle Wing RS2

Two fat rainbows snatched the sparkle wing RS2 and another ejected the tiny fly during its attempt to escape only to have the nymph hook into its body toward the tail area. Like the earlier rainbows the two landed late in the afternoon were in prime condition and stretched across the entire net opening.

Let Me Go

Tuesday was a disappointment from a fish count perspective, although I had missed opportunities. For the day I ended up landing four out of nine hooked fish; a .440 average in baseball but subpar among accomplished fly-fishing circles. Nevertheless, I experienced an enjoyably day on the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on Tuesday, October 20. The weather was outstanding, and the water level was conducive to fly fishing. The four rainbow trout were above average in size and in excellent condition. I never spotted spawning brown trout, but their absence from my net is probably explained by their preoccupation with reproduction. Based on my history of fishing within Eleven Mile Canyon I estimate that at least sixty percent of the population is brown trout, so I was fishing to only forty percent of the total number of resident fish. Most importantly I was challenged to determine what the fish were eating and how to best present imitations. I am a baseball fan, and the last time a player batted over .400 was Ted Williams in the 1940’s. My .440 average for Tuesday puts me in hall of fame company.

Fish Landed: 4

Another Promising Area

Home Recovery – 05/02/2020

Home Recovery 05/02/2020 Photo Album

My first night at home, Sunday, was perhaps my most mentally draining. It’s a close call with Friday night in the hospital, when I was dealing with my highest pain level. I went to bed at 10:30 on Sunday night and immediately began coughing blood. The first sputum came from my lungs, and the discharge was a blend of clear phlegm and blood. This scared me.  Over the next three hours, while I attempted to sleep, I coughed up blood seven additional times. Each viscous collection after the first was a deep maroon color. I checked the instructions on my discharge papers, and the physician’s assistant noted that I should call him off hours, if I experienced “heavy bleeding”. Was my coughed up maroon phlegm heavy bleeding? I am a chronic worrier, and needless to say, this sequence of events was not aiding my attempts to sleep.

In addition to the blood, I was coughing. Did I contract corona virus, and now I was faced with a battle for life? These thoughts sound ridiculous now, but at 2AM on Monday morning while lying in bed with no access to medical assistance short of an emergency room visit, one’s mind can wreak havoc on a positive mindset. Somehow by 2:30AM I fell asleep, and a repeat of coughing blood never reoccurred. On Monday I called my doctor, and his assistant speculated that the blood was related to beginning my blood thinner treatment. A visit to the anticoagulation center on Tuesday confirmed the likelihood of this theory, as my blood thinner index increased from 1.5 in the hospital to 3.3 by Tuesday. In theory the thinned blood resulted in some bleeding in my nose, and that in turn created the nosebleed like sputum.

A highlight for Monday was my first bowel movement since my admission to the hospital on Thursday, This may seem like an event not worth chronicling on a blog such as this, but it was worth celebrating for me. If you ever experienced surgery and anesthesia, you will appreciate my joy at this turn of events.

The greatest challenge of my early days in home care was finding a comfortable chair and cushion configuration. Jane and I experimented with the kitchen chair, couch, office chair, and a large overstuffed armchair, that Jane miraculously hauled up from the downstairs recreation room by herself. I am still amazed that she managed this feat without getting injured. The main source of discomfort was the groin incision and the associated swelling. Any seat that was too soft aggravated and stretched the incision. Slouching and keeping my knees elevated and bent seemed to provide a modicum of comfort, but this position eventually induced lower back pain. I never found a complete answer to the dilemma, but a combination of a firm seat and several large pillows to support my back yielded the most tolerable position.

Throughout these early at-home recovery days, Jane was amazing. She was by my side at all times. In hindsight my balance was fairly wobbly, and I needed Jane to prod me to use the walker constantly. She prepared all my meals, helped me get comfortable in the chairs, and endured numerous trips up and down the stairs to transport my toothbrush, electronic devices, water cup, and everything one takes for granted until a time of need. She assisted with my showers and helped me dress and undress. Jane was on top of my drug dosages and helped take my temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and weight on a regular basis.

Speaking of drugs I was taking a diuretic, potassium chloride, and cuomadin on a regular daily basis. At night I started out taking extra strength Tylenol, but after two nights of restless sleep, I took the narcotic, norco, for three consecutive nights at bedtime. The stronger painkiller seemed to improve my sleep in the first five hours, but I struggled with an annoying tickle and cough each morning at 3AM, that made returning to sleep a problem. Finally by the sixth night at home I reverted to Tylenol and the coughing disappeared, and these were welcome developments with this recovering patient.

On Wednesday I had my first visit with the at-home physical therapist, Vanessa. She was very pleasant and asked me a batch of questions, before she implement a series of tests to evaluate my endurance and balance. First I walked in circles around the dining room and kitchen with the walker for eight minutes. Next she had me stand and balance, while she applied light pressure to all sides of my body. I walked in a straight line from the kitchen to the front door and back, and during loops three and four I repeatedly looked up and down. On the fifth and sixth passes I looked left and right. My final challenge was to scale the first flight of stairs and then return to the bottom, while she looked on. Vanessa turned my cardiac rehabilitation over to her assistant Jeffrey, and he visited me three times over the next two weeks for controlled exercise sessions.

Throughout the first two weeks my Drive walker became an indispensable aid to my mobility. The sixty dollar investment was money well spent. Having the smooth rolling conveyance allowed me to conveniently move from place to place with the convenience of a small storage bag and a seat to rest on should the need arise. Nice weather during my second week at home allowed me to complete my daily walks with the trusty Drive walker supporting my every step and available for rest stops. I highly recommend one of these devices to anyone undergoing significant surgery.

On Tuesday April 28 Jane and I drove to Boulder Heart for my follow up visit with Dr. O’Hair. In order to minimize trips from Denver to Boulder, I combined the doctor’s visit with chest X-rays and my anticoagulation appointment. During this visit the physician’s assistant, Ann, and Dr. O’Hair detected atrial fibrillation (a fib). The monitoring equipment in the hospital showed a similar event on Saturday. Dr. O’Hair told me that 30% of mitral heart valve repair patients experience a fib, and in most cases it self corrects, as the heart mends and recovers. He prescribed four weeks of monitoring with the hope that my body would resolve the erratic heart beat condition. If not, I will have an appointment with a cardiologist who specializes in issues with electrical impulses of the heart. I was not pleased with this turn of events, but I have little control so resolved to move forward with positive thoughts.

I am now in day 16 of my recovery and feeling reasonably good. I completed a 1.1 mile walk with the walker this morning, and I felt fine afterward. Climbing two flights of stairs in our house remains a challenge, and I generally stop to rest on the landing and then at the top before resuming. The physical therapy exercises prescribed by Jeffrey are a priority, and I resumed my finger, wrist and elbow exercises routine from my pre-surgery days.

Throughout the ordeal communications with my friends and relatives have been a significant positive. Each email that arrives in my Gmail inbox provides a mental boost. In addition I resumed reading novels, and several days ago I felt strong enough to migrate downstairs to my tying desk to whip out some flies. Today for the first time I successfully worked in my garden, and with Jane’s assistance I planted some leaf lettuce, beets and carrots. It felt great to do some productive outdoor activities.

The a fib concerns me and my incisions have not totally healed, but I am beginning to see a future, where I gain strength and return to a life more akin to my pre-operative state.

Hospital Stay 2 – 04/30/2020

In my previous post I neglected to mention that the nursing staff moved me from the intensive care unit to a regular hospital bed around midday on Friday. Prior to this move they removed the hated drainage tube, but by this time the groin incision pain far outweighed the drainage tubes as a source of torment. After a torturous night on Friday in my new room, I awoke on Saturday morning with a slightly increased appetite. I also noticed that my new room contained a huge picture window with an amazing view of the fresh snow blanketing the Flatirons.

I ordered another breakfast of plain Greek yogurt, honey and strawberries; but on Saturday I supplemented it with a banana muffin and a banana along with a cup of black tea. The combination hit the spot, and after breakfast I called Jane and checked in with her. Talking to my wife after the rough unending nightmare of Friday night was reassuring. Jane informed me that a fly-by was scheduled ahead of the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, and sure enough around noon the sound waves were shattered by a supersonic aircraft. I am always awed by the power exuded by powerful jets.

My day on Saturday consisted of further transitioning from hospital existence to self sufficiency, although I was a long way from that status. The physical therapist came to visit, and I completed several walks during the day. My goal was to get out of bed and walk for five minutes four times a day, and the nurses made sure I succeeded in achieving that goal. In the early afternoon an occupational therapist arrived to observe and guide the nurses in the completion of my first shower. They helped me undress, and I sat on a bench and sprayed my body with warm water from a hand held nozzle. The shower actually felt good, but it took an eternity afterward to reattach the wires and IV’s, and I developed a severe case of the chills. My thighs began to shake uncontrollably, until the nurses assisted me back in bed and covered me with warm blankets recently removed from an oven. These shivering episodes would plague me throughout my hospital stay, and I never heard a solid explanation of the cause.

My dinner on Friday night consisted of broiled salmon, broccoli, and rice. It actually tasted decent given my mental state at that time. For dinner on Saturday my appetite was absent for any sort of protein or salad, so I ordered some chicken noodle soup along with bread and more yogurt. The soup was salty, but overall it hit the spot. My caregivers on Saturday night were the same pair as Friday, but I was more aggressive in demanding narcotics, and the night was as pleasant as could be given the circumstances. The pace of time continued to drag at a glacial pace.

On Sunday morning I received a notification on my phone that Trump was backing the groups that were protesting the Stay at Home orders in response to the covid pandemic. With a daughter and daughter-in-law working in physical therapy and having spent four days under the devoted care of health care workers during the corona virus epidemic, I viewed Trump’s position as a huge middle finger directed at our most courageous people. I actually got teary-eyed over this action. Maybe I was in a fragile emotional state due to the drugs, but I think it was a reaction to the callous uncaring nature of our president.

On Sunday morning I was once again visited by a physical therapist. The young lady grabbed a red Drive walker from a neighboring room and showed me the capabilities. When she mentioned that it would make walks outside in nice weather more manageable, I was sold, so I texted Jane, and she immediately ordered one on Amazon for Tuesday arrival. This proved to be one of my better purchases. The stable walker easily supports my weight, as I roll about the house or outdoors, and it features a padded seat that lifts to reveal a small storage compartment. A padded carrying handle folds down to become a backrest for the seat should I temporarily tire. I was told that cup holders can be added as an accessory. Geriatric crowd, here I come.

I took another shower on Saturday morning, and the chill was controlled better than Saturday, but I made the mistake of ordering a strawberry banana smoothie for lunch. Unlike my mango smoothie on Saturday, the Sunday version was solid like frozen yogurt. Upon completion of the yogurt my body went into shiver mode, and I had to request two layers of blankets to regain my temperature equilibrium.

After lunch and a visit by Dr. O’Hair and PA Mark, the nurses began to prepare me for discharge. The first step consisted of removing me from the oxygen supply to which I had become somewhat dependent. Even after I was at home for several days, I imagined that the oxygen hose was still hooked into my nose on my upper lip. I transitioned off my oxygen dependency for two or three hours before my release.

Finally at 4PM Jane called to say that she was outside in the parking lot. She stopped at the pharmacy along the way to purchase a batch of cuomadin, since I was on a daily dosage for eight weeks. Because of the corona virus situation, Jane was not allowed to enter the hospital, so the nurses helped me dress and then wheeled me down to the curbside pickup area. Jane helped me climb into the passenger seat, and we returned to Denver. Cars were circling through the drive through area in front of the main entrance while displaying yellow banners in support of the health care workers. I was pleased to see this counter to the Stay at Home protesters.

Sunday was a pleasant day with the high temperature in the mid-sixties. I was very pleased with this circumstance given my recent history with chills. We opened the window, but for the first fifteen minutes of the drive I felt that I was verging on being out of breath. I suspect this was part of being weaned from the oxygen supply in the hospital room. In an effort to counter the slight oxygen debt feeling, I began taking long deep measured breaths, but this quickly led to light-headedness and a case of mild hyperventilation. Eventually I adjusted, and the last fifteen minutes of the drive were uneventful. It was quite a boost to be home and under the care of my loving wife. Phase one of mitral heart valve repair was behind me.