Time: 12:30PM – 2:30PM
Location: Stairstep area west of Idaho Springs and area just upstream from I70 bridge that crosses the stream below Floyd Hill.
Clear Creek is an enigma. I attended a presentation at Blue Quill Anglers in March several years ago, and the speaker vouched that Clear Creek trout are easy pickings. He proclaimed in his talk that a fly fisherman simply needed to tie a large foam attractor to one’s line and fish only the edges, and this approach yielded prodigious quantities of fish. I have rarely found this scenario to be true, and Friday August 5 reinforced my opinion that Clear Creek is a tough proposition. The fish were extremely picky, and the few that I landed were quite small. Despite my complaints, I continue to return since I do have productive days, and the proximity is difficult to overlook.
When I checked the flows on Thursday, Clear Creek at Lawson was running at 113 cfs. I knew from prior experience that this was high for early August, but I was also certain that edge fishing was possible. Perhaps the higher flows served as a buffer against the ninety degree temperatures that settled over Colorado during the previous week.
After three consecutive days of fishing, I took my time on Friday morning and followed my non-fishing routine by going for a run and doing my workout. I did not depart from Stapleton until 10:30, and this placed me at the pullout just west of Idaho Springs by 11:30. Friday’s weather was cool and overcast similar to Thursday, but the threat of rain seemed more imminent. For this reason after I ate my lunch and assembled my Loomis five weight, I reached in my fishing bag for my raincoat. Uh oh. I realized that I left it on the drying rack in the bedroom and neglected to stow it back in my bag. Instead I pulled on my light fleece and prayed that it would not rain. I decided to fish until 3PM or the until the rain drove me from the creek, whichever came first.
At the same presentation at the Blue Quill Angler I learned of the stairstep area just west of Idaho Springs. The young expert on Clear Creek suggested that this area was public and productive, and I never tried it, so Friday was the day. I scrambled down a very steep path very slowly, and when I reached the creek, I encountered a wide segment of water. At fifteen yard intervals man-made rock dams spanned the stream, and these created riffles and runs that expanded into fairly shallow flats and pools. These structures were staggered through the entire section that I fished on Friday before I moved downstream.
I began with a size 8 Chernobyl ant since I bought the notion that any large foam attractor would catch fish. It did not, but several refusals caused me to downsize to a size 10, and then a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. None of these surface flies induced a take, although they all prompted refusals. At some point I added a beadhead hares ear on an eighteen inch dropper, and this fly accounted for a few small brown trout. In fact, the hares ear hooked all five small brown trout that I landed during my hour and fifteen minutes west of Idaho Springs.
Unlike most of the other places that I fish on Clear Creek, the deepest and most attractive spots were in the center of the stream below the man made rock dams. I was unaccustomed to casting to spots other than right along the bank. In retrospect I probably should have abandoned the dry/dropper technique and instead experimented with indicator nymphing or even a streamer. I observed virtually zero insect activity, and the overcast cool weather and higher than normal flows perhaps suggested a deeper presentation to the Clear Creek trout.
After an hour and fifteen minutes of disappointing fishing, I decided to move downstream below Idaho Springs to the location just above the I70 bridge that spans Clear Creek. From past visits I knew that this stretch of water offered numerous nooks, pockets and eddies along the rocky bank, and brown trout love to hold in these areas. I made the quick four mile drive to the Boulder exit and parked just above the bridge. Several vans with trailers designed to transport inflatable rafts were parked in this area, so this should have been a clue.
I ignored the rafting warning signs and walked along the bike path a short distance. As I remembered, the shoreline contained numerous deep holes, but the dry/dropper offering failed to attract any fish. In fact I only spotted a few during my hour of fishing, and this is quite unusual for this segment of Clear Creek. As I worked my way upstream spraying two or three casts to each likely holding position, a flotilla of rafts drifted by. Clear Creek is a narrow creek, and certainly the large inflatable watercraft were visible to the underwater residents of the stream. I blamed the rafting industry for my lack of success between 1:30 and 2:30, and I reeled up my fly and called it quits early.
Five small fish in the 6-9 inch range did not represent an interesting outing, so I plan to avoid Clear Creek until the flows drop to the 50 – 100 cfs range. This level would likely deter the rafting industry and also make the fish more accessible. Despite the disappointing day on Friday, I cannot complain about the first week of August, as I enjoyed two fantastic days on Piney River and South Boulder Creek. Days like Friday are what make the sport challenging. If every day were easy, more people would be fly fishing, and I would complain about crowded rivers and streams.