North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/11/2016

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir from below where the dirt road Y’s to the right and then upstream .75 mile.

Fish Landed: 7

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/11/2016 Photo Album

What is your favorite comeback story? Kurt Warner going from a grocery store clerk to a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams? The 1993 Buffalo Bills coming back from a 32 point deficit in a playoff game against the Houston Oilers? Ulysses S. Grant drank too much, suffered from depression and quit the army; only to return as the victorious general of the North and  a two term president of the United States. I could go on. When I read these stories, I realize that my fly fishing comeback from surgery is a minor occurrence on the world stage, but it means a lot to me, and I chose Friday March 11 to make another trip to a nearby Colorado stream.

Many fishermen are so focused on casting and fly selection that they fail to observe subtle clues that can lead to success. Friday was a day when I was proud of my ability to capitalize on a minor event that could have easily been overlooked.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Looking Downstream after a Half Hour of Fishing” type=”image” alt=”P3110001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Once again I reviewed the stream flows of the local front range streams, and very little change occurred since my last scrutiny of the DWR web site. I decided to make another short drive to the North Fork of the St. Vrain, since I landed a few fish on my previous outing, and the weather was forecast to be more favorable with high temperatures hitting seventy degrees in Denver. I left the house at 9:45 and arrived at the parking area below Longmont Reservoir at 11AM. By the time I assembled my gear and hiked the dirt road along the stream until I reached my exit point from the previous Friday, it was 11:30.

I scrambled down the rocks and tied a size eight Chernboyl ant to my line along with a beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph. The two nymphs were the last flies on my line on March 4, and they produced all my fish, so I decided to continue with proven fish attractors. This seemed like a sound strategy, but unfortunately it resulted in only one small brown trout after an hour of intense casting and quite a bit of stream coverage. I was feeling quite hungry and preparing for lunch, when I approached a small eddy on the left braid of the stream across from the port-o-let where the road splits. As my Chernobyl drifted along the current seam, I noticed a decent fish, as it quickly finned to the surface, but it then backed off and returned to a holding spot in the slack water near the tail of the eddy.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Same Fish, Different Lighting” type=”image” alt=”P3110003.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Since I was not setting the world on fire, and I planned to change flies shortly, I clipped off the Chernobyl and replaced it with Jake’s gulp beetle. I kept the hares ear but removed the salvation, and with these two flies in place, I resumed casting to the small eddy. On the third cast I spotted the fish, as it moved to the side a bit, and this suggested the possibility that it inhaled my trailing hares ear nymph. I executed a smooth hook set, and sure enough I connected with a slender eleven inch brown trout. I was quite pleased to record this fish after making a correction in my approach, and close observation played a key role in this success story.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Eddy on the Far Side of the Current Yielded a Fish” type=”image” alt=”P3110004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After releasing the brown trout, I climbed on to a long narrow gravel bar that separated the two channels of the stream. I was anxious to cross to the bank next to the road, as I spotted several large boulders that could serve as nice resting places for lunch. But before I could take another step, a fish rose in a relatively shallow riffle in front of me. I paused and focused on the water in an attempt to spot a morsel of food on the water surface, but nothing was obvious. As I was ready to wade across the roadside braid below the riffle, the fish rose once again near the previous location. This show of early March surface feeding was enough to force a change in plans, and I began to toss my foam beetle with a trailing hares ear above the spot of the two rises. I had no idea what the fish was eating, but perhaps a large tasty terrestrial would create an opportunistic slurp. That would be a storybook ending, but unfortunately the fish stopped feeding, and I resumed my journey to the opposite bank where I ate lunch.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Macro of the Stonefly” type=”image” alt=”P3110006.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After lunch I observed the run where the fish caught my attention, but no sign of feeding reappeared. Something else however caught my attention. A small insect fluttered on the surface film in the slack water between shore and the main current. I stretched my seining material across my net and attempted to scoop the struggling insect, but I only succeeded in creating a wave that pushed the specimen away and out of sight. I was sorely disappointed with this lack of insect collection skill, but as I was reprimanding my clumsy approach, another buzzing surface bound sample appeared. This time I moved my net below the target and then softly lifted it until I scooped the prize on to the white mesh seining material. I quickly hunched over my net and discovered a tiny stonefly with the characteristic veined wings folded on top of each other over the abdomen. The color was light gray, and I estimated the size was roughly an eighteen.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Soft Hackle Emerger Yielded Four Brown Trout” type=”image” alt=”P3110012.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Instantly I began to dredge my memory banks trying to recall whether I had a fly that might imitate this hard earned sample. I had a few size eighteen black stoneflies with charcoal colored wings and a dark olive brown body. These might work, but I was reluctant to prospect with such a tiny fly especially since I only noticed one or two in the air in addition to the two that were struggling in the surface film at my lunch spot. As I pondered what to do, I concluded that a soft hackle emerger possessed almost the exact same shade of gray as the stonefly that I observed in my net. In addition these were size 20, and I was certain that this wet fly could represent one of the light gray stoneflies if it were crippled or stillborn or damaged in some fashion.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fat Albert Served as a Strike Indicator” type=”image” alt=”P3110017.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I elected to switch the beetle for a fat Albert on top, retained the hares ear as the middle fly, and knotted a beadhead soft hackle emerger to my line as the bottom fly. I resumed my upstream progression and quickly covered all the likely fish holding locations. This strategy rewarded my keen observation with five additional brown trout brought to my net, and four snatched the soft hackle emerger, while one smacked the hares ear. The fish grabbed the soft hackle on the dead drift, not on the swing, so this suggested that they were taking it for some form of the small stonefly. When fish eat the soft hackle on the swing or during movement, it usually means that blue winged olive nymphs are active in the subsurface aquatic environment.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Deep Olive Color on This Brown Is Amazing” type=”image” alt=”P3110010.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

By 3:30 I approached some shallow riffle water, and I spied another fisherman above me. I was concerned that I was about to cover water that had just been waded through, so I reeled up my flies and secured them to the rod guide. I decided to hike back toward the car and perhaps pause and fish some of the deep pools in a steep canyon stretch above Longmont Reservoir and below the first large bend. When I arrived at this location, I carefully inched my way down a precipitous boulder field and thoroughly worked three or four promising pools, but either fish were not present, or I was not presenting them with a desirable meal. At any rate after fifteen minutes of fruitless exploration, I abandoned my efforts and returned to the car and made the return trip.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fly in Upper Lip of This Feisty Brown” type=”image” alt=”P3110014.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Pausing to observe the rising fish and then collecting a stream sample triggered me to tie a light gray soft hackle emerger to my line. I landed five fish after this modification in my approach. Would another fly have worked just as well? Perhaps, but I firmly believe that my soft hackle emerger was a close match in color and size, and this increased my catch rate over the last two hours of the day. My fly fishing comeback is well on its way.

Fish Landed: 7


2 thoughts on “North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/11/2016

  1. Great article Dave,I have fished that stretch for 20+ years.Always been very good up until the floods.It will take time but it will be back.The stretch from the spill way down stream really took a beating.Nice to see you caught some has always been a very productive stream with a self sustaining fish population.
    Sagetrout out

    • Jerry – Thanks for reading my blog and providing insight on the North Fork of the St. Vrain. This stream is definitely not what it was prior to the flood, but it was a fun experience for early in the season.

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