North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek – 07/27/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Buttonrock Dam.

North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek 07/27/2017 Photo Album

After fishing in three different rivers between July 24 and July 26, I decided that I needed to choose a local destination for my next venture. Friends visiting from South Carolina were arriving as guests on Friday, so Thursday offered the best opportunity to sneak in another day of fishing; the fourth successive day of the week. After three great days during the first half of the week, I was skeptical that a Front Range stream could provide comparable enjoyment.

I checked the DWR water graphs, and I determined that the Cache la Poudre River and North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek were my best options. The Poudre was tempting, since I logged three very successful days there in July 2017, but it was a longer drive and involved a higher risk of traffic snarls. The NF of the St. Vrain was chugging along at 110 CFS, and that is high for the relatively small stream northwest of Lyons, CO. After weighing the pluses and minuses I finally settled on the St. Vrain, since it involved only a one hour and fifteen minute drive, and I was anxious to try something new. I convinced myself that I could edge fish the stream, if the flows were high enough to concentrate the fish along the banks.

Churning St. Vrain Remains High

I departed my house in Denver by 8:40, and this delivered me to the parking area at the trailhead to the North Fork by 10AM. I quickly put on my waders and fishing gear, and then I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and began to hike up the dirt road. The weather was rather warm with the temperature already in the high seventies when I departed at ten o’clock, and the stream was indeed high but clear. As I examined the segment of water next to the parking area, I concluded that it was not high enough to concentrate the fish along the bank, and midstream current barriers also provided sufficient shelter from the high flows.

I hiked for twenty minutes, and at that point I angled down a steep bank to the creek. I tied a Chernobyl ant to my line along with an ultra zug bug and a beadhead hares ear nymph, and I began to prospect a succession of deep slow moving pools. Within the first five minutes a fish elevated and inspected the Chernobyl ant, but then it returned to its holding position at the tail of the pool. On another later drift I watched a fish as it moved slightly to its right as the nymphs passed by, but once again the inspection did not lead to a take.

I gave up on the first pool and moved on to several equally attractive areas along the left bank. In each place I spotted fish, but they seemed to be hugging the bottom, and they completely ignored my three fly offering. I was pleased to observe so many fish in water that I skipped since the 2013 flood, but I was equally frustrated that I could not connect. I swapped the ultra zug bug for a salad spinner, since the fish seemed to snatch something from the subsurface drift occasionally, and a midge larva or emerger is a good bet in these circumstances. No dice. Next I exchanged the salad spinner for a size 20 RS2, but this fly was equally ineffective.

I reconsidered my approach, and I recalled that a fish elevated to look at the Chernobyl ant at the start of my casting. I decided to test a size 14 gray stimulator. The ploy was worth a try, but it simply resulted in casting practice. I concluded that I was dwelling on the sighted fish in deep water, and one of my cardinal rules is to keep moving, so I climbed the bank and hiked farther up the road.

Point Where Second Outlet from Dam Enters

Previous trips to the North Fork of the St. Vrain taught me that two outlets from the dam exist, and roughly a mile of water exists between the two releases. I decided to seek lower volume above the second release pipe, and I reached this spot by noon. Twenty yards above the gushing conduit a small cluster of trees bordered the creek, so I skipped to that spot and consumed my lunch.

Lunch View

I estimated that one-third of the North Fork flow was derived from the second outlet pipe, so I now confronted a stream carrying two-thirds of the downstream volume, and this was a welcome change. Counterbalancing this positive, however, was the relatively steep gradient, which created a series of rapids, fast riffles, pockets, deep runs and plunge pools. I quickly concluded that the gray stimulator was not the preferred approach, and I reverted to a three fly dry/dropper setup. I substituted the yellow fat Albert for the Chernobyl ant to obtain maximum floatation to support an iron sally and salvation nymph. These flies connected with fish almost immediately, and they remained on my line for the duration of my stay on the small tailwater.

First Fish Was This Small But Brilliant Rainbow Trout

I advanced into dry/dropper prospecting mode, and I had a great time. I delivered two to five casts depending on the quality of my target area, and then I moved on to the next likely fish holding locale. The fish count climbed from zero to fifteen before I quit just below the dam at 3:30. The sky remained mostly clear, and the air temperature peaked in the eighties, but the forecast thunderstorm for 2:45 never arrived. I spotted a pale morning dun or two and a handful of blue winged olives, and although the mayfly activity never spurred surface feeding, it did seem to increase the aggressiveness of the fish between 12:30 and 2:30.

One of the Better Fish Next to a Wildflower

The fish were small, with the largest perhaps reaching twelve inches, but most measured in the seven to nine inch range. Roughly 40% responded to the iron Sally, and the others latched on to the salvation. During the active two hour time slot, several fish stopped the drift of the fat Albert, when they attacked the trailing nymphs. Throughout the afternoon the top producing technique was to cast across the strong midstream current to slow moving slack water along the opposite bank. I held the rod tip high to keep the fly line off the water and allowed the foam indicator fly and the nymphs to sweep downstream along the bank. If executed properly, this approach generally resulted in a strike near the downstream border with faster water. The brown trout were suckers for the nymphs, as they began to swing away from the bank. During the course of the afternoon, I probably lost more fish than I landed. I attributed this unfortunate circumstance to the small mouths of the stream residents.

Slicks Behind Rocks Produced

Although Thursday did not measure up to the early week outings, it did satisfy my need for a local day of fishing. I managed to partially solve the puzzle, as I landed fifteen fish. The first hour raised the specter of a skunking, but a lunch break and change of scenery made that a distant concern. I hit the fly fishing pause button in order to catch up on this blog and attend to some pending errands. More adventures lie ahead during the first week of August, I am sure.

Fish Landed: 15

A Surprise Rainbow on the Return Hike


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