North Fork St. Vrain Creek – 03/04/2016

North Fork St. Vrain Creek 03/04/2016 Photo Album

I launched my season with two and half hours of fishing on Monday February 29, and it was fun to enjoy the outdoors and prove that I could fish four weeks removed from my late January surgery. However catching zero fish continued to gnaw at my thoughts. Friday was forecast to be a day with high temperatures in the low 60’s, so I decided to take advantage of the mild early March weather to once again pursue my first trout of 2016.

I scanned the flows in the local front range streams, and I was surprised to discover that South Boulder Creek was trickling from Gross Reservoir at 12.5 CFS, and the Big Thompson was in a similar state at 13 CFS. Clear Creek was running higher, but I was not anxious to fish in the deep shadows, and previous experience taught me that a freestone like Clear Creek does not fish well when carrying ice cold low level run off. Bear Creek was flowing at 20 CFS, and that is actually fairly nice for the tiny creek that tumbles through the narrow canyon west of Morrison, CO. I checked one more stream, and that was the North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek below Buttonrock Reservoir. The DWR graph displayed 25 CFS, and for a streambed smaller than South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson, this was encouraging.

During the flood of September 2013, the St. Vrain and its tributaries likely absorbed more damage than any of the other South Platte tributaries along the Colorado front range. In fact the section below Buttonrock Reservoir was closed entirely for the 2014 season and only reopened in July 2015. Significant amounts of bridge building and road construction were required to regain access to the stretch below the dam. Prior to the flood this fork of the St. Vrain was one of my favorite destinations, as I could make the drive in 1.25 hours. I also experienced some very successful days fishing the North Fork, so the idea of returning on Friday was intriguing. I searched for fishing reports and information about the impact of the flood on fish density, but I was not very successful in gleaning any information beyond confirmation that the area was reopened.

I decided to take the plunge and packed up my gear and made the short drive to the parking lot below the gate at the dirt road that leads to Buttonrock Reservoir. The temperature was in the mid-50’s as I assembled my Orvis four weight rod and prepared to fish. The negative factor was the occasional gusting wind, but I have become accustomed to this frequent accessory to early season fishing. Once I was ready to begin my hike, I checked my watch and noticed it was 11:45, so I decided to eat lunch in the comfort of the car rather than lugging it up the path in my backpack.

[pe2-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-9mqqGjAYfIQ/VtsB51NI4JI/AAAAAAAA8Cc/1Q56rQF0UWo/s144-c-o/P3040001.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/03042016NFStVrain#6258598200207794322″ caption=”Looking Upstream from Start” type=”image” alt=”P3040001.JPG” ]

After lunch I hiked for twenty minutes until I reached the section where the stream runs along the southwest side of the gravel road, and here I found a moderately sloping path down to the creek. The stream bed was devoid of any form of vegetation similar to the Big Thompson, as the flood apparently scoured all trees and bushes in its relentless rush to the Mississippi River. The flows were actually quite satisfactory, and the water above me suggested numerous nice pools, pockets and deep runs. I was cautiously optimistic that I could break through and add a fish or two to my fish counter.

[pe2-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-nE9v0JWtVxg/VtsB52zF2wI/AAAAAAAA8Cc/HzeEitP0NWo/s144-c-o/P3040009.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/03042016NFStVrain#6258598200635415298″ caption=”2013 Flood Scoured Vegetation” type=”image” alt=”P3040009.JPG” ]

I began fishing with a size 10 chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug and RS2. I chose the dry/dropper approach as I felt I could cover the depths with this arrangement with flows at  a relatively low 25 CFS. There was no need to dredge the bottom with a split shot or two, and the heavier approach would tend to scatter fish when the flies entered the water. Unfortunately I began to doubt my choice as I worked my way upstream for 45 minutes with only a four inch brown as a reward for my focused fishing. The brown was below my cut off for counting fish, so I remained frustrated in my efforts to register a landed trout in the new season.

After this initial period of unsuccessful angling, I resolved to change my approach. I replaced the chernobyl ant with a fat Albert tied with a yellow floss body. This was a new fly I recently produced to provide more options for a large buoyant top fly in the dry/dropper system. Below the fat Albert I tied a beadhead hares ear, but I doubled the length of the tippet so that I could get deeper drifts. Finally I tied the ultra zug bug to the end of my line as the third fly, and I began to toss these morsels to all the likely fish holding spots in front of me. The total length of line below the fat Albert was now in excess of three feet, and this quickly paid dividends.

[pe2-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Z-qLfcO-Kj0/VtsB54nGOdI/AAAAAAAA8Cc/TA2yagWOLrA/s144-c-o/P3040003.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/03042016NFStVrain#6258598201121978834″ caption=”First Fish of 2016″ type=”image” alt=”P3040003.JPG” ]

As the top fly slowly drifted toward the tail of a nice deep run, the fat Albert exhibited a subtle pause, and I reacted with a hook set. I was pleased to see a nine inch brown trout battling valiantly to free itself, but I maintained constant pressure and slipped my net beneath my first trout of 2016. Although on the small side, this fish was highly valued, and I marveled at its color and beauty, as I snapped a couple quick photos and removed the beadhead hares ear before releasing it back to its natural environment.

[pe2-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-sOyJa9QPAEw/VtsB53lwLyI/AAAAAAAA8Cc/xaGHvTp5A70/s144-c-o/P3040004.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/03042016NFStVrain#6258598200847904546″ caption=”Numero Uno” type=”image” alt=”P3040004.JPG” ]

For the next hour I continued my upstream migration and landed four additional brown trout. After the first fish, I swapped the ultra zug bug for a salvation nymph, and this workhorse fly yielded two of the small browns, and two others snatched the hares ear as it tumbled through deep runs and pockets. For one hour I felt like I was getting back in the groove, and this was especially gratifying in light of my recovery from surgery.

[pe2-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-u0I-uhdUNck/VtsB592UqcI/AAAAAAAA8Cc/k0pm_QpyA08/s144-c-o/P3040007.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/03042016NFStVrain#6258598202528016834″ caption=”Pretty St. Vrain Brown” type=”image” alt=”P3040007.JPG” ]

Between 2:30 and 3:00 the action slowed, and some gray clouds blocked the sun. My hands morphed into red stiff claws, and I ceased to have fun, so I reeled up my flies and made the return hike. Five fish in 2.5 hours of fishing is a reasonable day, and I recorded my first fish of the new season. I rediscovered one of my favorite stretches of local water, and although the fish were small, I saw enough to merit a return. I also proved to myself that I can resume fishing, and my physical status should only improve as time heals my body.

Fish Landed: 5

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