Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Below Buttonrock Reservoir
My season opener on the South Platte River near Deckers was a disappointing experience, and I was eager to visit another Colorado stream, where I could atone for my frustrating performance. My 2018 fish count consisted entirely of trout landed in the southern hemisphere. Surely Thursday would be the day, when I posted fish number one from North America on the fish counter.
Wednesday was actually a nicer day from a weather standpoint, but a morning doctor appointment prevented a meaningful fishing adventure. Thursday’s forecast projected a high of 65 in Denver with afternoon showers, so I opted to make a second trip in the early season. Historically I enjoyed early and late season success on tailwaters, and when I reviewed the flows, I noted that South Boulder Creek and the North Fork of the St. Vrain were running slightly below 15 CFS. These flows were low, but I knew from experience that a cautious approach and longer casts could produce decent action. The North Fork of the St. Vrain was more open to the direct rays of the sun, so I selected it over South Boulder Creek.
I contacted my Instagram friend, Trevor, and informed him of my decision to visit the North Fork of the St. Vrain, and he decided to meet me there. Trevor prefers an earlier start, so I agreed to look for him on the stream. The time change on Sunday meant that it took longer for the sun to warm the air temperature, and I intended to fish later in the afternoon, so an early start was not a priority for me.
I arrived at the parking area near the entry gate by 10AM, and after I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and climbed into my waders, I embarked on a thirty-five minute hike. I tied my light fleece coat around my waist, since I knew that I would overheat with the extra exertion of hiking. I eagerly scanned the creek for Trevor and his dog, Shilling, and finally after the expected walk, I spotted my friend along the left side of a long smooth pool. I asked about Shilling’s whereabouts, and Trevor explained that he left him at home for this longer trip and hike. Trevor also disclosed that he landed a trout near the parking lot, and he spotted numerous fish, as he ambled along the road high above the creek. These pieces of information revved up my expectations, and I announced that I would continue upstream to a point where a large boulder was situated between the road and the stream.
I strung my fly line and tied on a gray stimulator, and below the attractor dry fly I added a beadhead hares ear. I prospected this combination through several attractive areas with no positive results, so I added a size 20 salad spinner. This addition was ineffective, so I replaced the salad spinner with an ultra zug bug. Trevor in the meantime landed two fish that snatched a fly with a sparkling body similar to the ultra zug bug. The changes failed to attract hungry fish, and the stimulator did not support the two beadhead nymphs very well, so I once again initiated a change. I swapped the stimulator for a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle.
Trevor spotted several fish at the tail of a nice pool, but he concluded that his leader was too short, and his flies were passing over the fish. I moved in and made some drifts with my flies, but I experienced a similar lack of interest, and my leader length was similar to Trevor’s. I abandoned the sulking bottom huggers and moved on, but before resuming my casting I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a size 20 soft hackle emerger. This fly produced results during previous March visits, when I observed very small stoneflies, and I was hopeful that a similar occurrence might commence.
I continued fishing with renewed concentration, but the fish were not cooperating. I pondered the situation, and I decided I needed to get deeper, so I clipped off the beetle and replaced it with a size 8 yellow fat Albert. This fly was quite visible, and it could easily support two size 14 beadhead nymphs. Unfortunately my deep drift ploy was also unsuccessful, and Trevor and I approached the large pipe, where the overflow of the lake dumps into the creek. Since it was the middle of March, and the flows were regulated to a paltry 15 cfs, the pipe was dry, but Trevor wanted to show me the pool on the upstream side of the road. We walked across the dirt road, but the small pool was covered with ice. Trevor mentioned that when he checked out the pool later in the season, he observed as many as twenty-five trout gathered in the small space.
We crossed back to the main creek, and Trevor retreated to some nice water thirty yards downstream, while I approached the deep pool across from the pipe. I made some nice long casts to the tail of the pool and then worked the top portion where the faster water entered, but once again my efforts were thwarted.
Trevor and I climbed to the top of the bank on the edge of the road, and we realized that it was noon. Since Trevor volunteers to coach the Longmont baseball team on Thursday afternoons, he departed, and I grabbed a rock high above the creek and devoured my small lunch. My 2018 North American scorecard remained blank.
After lunch I mysteriously broke off the soft hackle emerger, as I began to migrate upstream from the pipe area. It was not producing, so I used this as an opportunity to lengthen my leader and to change flies once again. I added tippet below the fat Albert, and then I reconnected the hares ear. Below the beadhead hares ear I extended another fifteen inches and knotted a salvation nymph to my line. The total length of my droppers below the fat Albert was in excess of three feet, and I had the weight of two size 14 beadhead nymphs to improve the sink rate.
I once again began to prospect the deep runs and pockets, and finally I connected with a small seven inch brown trout. In spite of the small size, I snapped a couple photos, since it was my first Colorado fish of the new year. In a short amount of time I added another similar small brown trout to the count, and then I was surprised by an eleven inch rainbow trout. Two of the first three trout snatched the hares ear and one attacked the salvation.
It was now around 1PM, and some gray clouds moved in and blocked the warming rays of the sun. I responded by retrieving my light down coat from around my waist, and this improved my comfort level dramatically. I continued my upstream path and tallied two more trout, before I once again inexplicably lost a fly, and this time it was the salvation. At this point four of the five fish preferred the hares ear, so I replaced the salvation with a pheasant tail nymph.
Over the next hour the fish count mounted to ten, and the hares ear accounted for all except one pheasant tail victim. The action was steady up until this point, but each fish required three or more drifts to arouse the interest of the trout. The pheasant tail was in the prime position at the end of my line, and it was relatively ineffective, so I returned to the salvation nymph. This move proved to be a winner, as I landed eight more trout over the remaining two hours. Included in this batch of netted fish were a thirteen and twelve inch brown trout and another eleven inch rainbow. The two afternoon browns were easily the best fish of the day.
In one particularly productive hot spot, I landed four trout including the eleven inch rainbow and the foot long brown. All of these trout grabbed the trailing salvation nymph. Unlike the early afternoon quite a few fish snatched the tumbling nymphs on the first or second cast. In addition two trout smashed the fat Albert, although I was unable to land these small but aggressive feeders.
By 3:45 my hands were curled and ached from the cold, and my toes began to lose their feeling. I reeled up my line and hooked my fly to the guide and completed the forty minute hike back to the Santa Fe.
During the morning I failed to land a single fish, but the afternoon proved to be a fun beginning to my fly fishing season in Colorado. I extended my leader, added heavier flies, and changed to a salvation nymph; so it is difficult to isolate which variable produced my afternoon success. The air temperature warmed, and perhaps that prompted the fish to become more aggressive. I will never know which factors contributed to my enjoyable day on the North Fork of the St. Vrain, but I am thankful and anxious to continue my fly fishing adventures in a new year.
Fish Landed: 18