Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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