Middle Fork of the Elk River – 08/19/2020

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Confluence upstream

Middle Fork of the Elk River 08/19/2020 Photo Album

Wednesday presented another hot day with temperatures in the mid-eighties by the afternoon. I decided to explore the Middle Fork of the Elk River, since it was very close to the campground, and it represented a stream that I never touched previously. I love exploring new water, and the prospect of experiencing a new high country creek had me excited. As I began strolling along the road through the campground, I realized that I forgot my standard supply of chap stick and eye drops, so I quickly reversed direction and returned to the car to secure those two items. I was now prepared for an enjoyable day of fly fishing on the Middle Fork, and I hustled to the end loop and found the path that led to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork. As I passed one of the last campsites in the loop, a young man, trying to be helpful, shouted out that there was a path to where the two forks met (I already knew this, but I let him think he was assisting me). He also offered, that I was likely to catch a bunch of brookies. I was hoping for cutthroats, but since I never fished the creek before, I could not dispute his projection. I arrived at the sought after confluence and began to select flies for my start, and at this point I realized that I left my MFC fly box, that contained my core supply of dry flies, in the bib pocket of my waders. I pondered the idea of continuing without my dries, but I quickly rejected this foolhardy concept. I climbed the hill on the faint trail and repeated the entire circuit back to the campsite to retrieve my essential fly box. I had the presence of mind to shed my wading staff, fly rod, front pack and backpack; and at least lightened my burden for the repeat hike.

Partial Shadows at the Start

The Middle Fork is smaller than the North Fork, but nevertheless a decent sized creek at a relatively high elevation. I began my day with a tan pool toy hopper plus a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph. The dry/dropper threesome failed to produce in the early going, until a trout in a deep slot rose and crunched the hopper. Apparently I tied a faulty knot, because all three flies disappeared along with the fish. I failed to land my first fish and lost three flies in the process, and this was not an auspicious beginning.

Depth Next to Rocks Tantalizing

The fish encounter elevated my optimism and confidence in the dry/dropper approach, so I replaced the full set of flies with no changes. My confidence was misplaced, and I suffered an extended lull, until I abandoned the nymphs and pool toy and resorted to a peacock hippie stomper. The stomper delivered positive results, and I notched three small brown trout and a brook trout by 11AM. Although catching fish was better than fruitless casting, I sensed that I was passing through trout holding locations with no action, so I repeated my newly applied summer of 2020 strategy and adopted a double dry fly configuration. I added a size 14 olive stimulator on an eight inch leader, and instantly my fortunes improved. By the time I grabbed lunch on a small gravel beach, the fish count rose to eight.The morning was not characterized by intense action, but the catch rate exceeded two per hour.

Deep Olive-Black-Blue Background Color on This Wild Specimen

Lovely Yellow Spots

The two hours after lunch developed into the best fly fishing of the day. For most of the time I tossed the peacock hippie stomper and olive stimulator, and the heavily hackled impostor did the heavy lifting. At one point a high errant backcast hooked an out of reach limb, and this resulted in a two fly break off. The peacock stomper was merely serving the role of indicator, so I deviated from tradition and replaced it with a silver bodied version, but I maintained the olive stimmy as the end fly. The silver bodied hippie stomper contributed a few fish to earn future consideration in the role of surface fly.

Stimulator Was Effective

Classic Cutthroat

The fish count rested on twenty-one when I reached the area behind the group campground. The nature of the creek altered at this point and transformed from a canyon with deep runs and pockets to a more gentle waterway with alternating pools and riffles. The changed stream structure was easier to wade, but paled in comparison to the canyon area from a fish productivity perspective. In the final hour I continued from the group camping access to the South Fork Bridge and only incremented the fish counter by two to twenty-three.

Big by Brook Trout Standards

Faint Pink Displayed

The last fish, however, was notable; as a gorgeous twelve inch cutthroat elevated to confidently inhale the stimulator. This bit of positive interaction took place in a spectacular bend pool. A short time after landing the cutthroat, I slung a long cast to a deeper run along a large bank side rock. The two flies bobbed along, when a splashy rise appeared next to the rock. I executed a swift hook set and felt weight, and an orange-bellied brook trout flipped over and tossed aside the fly. My fleeting contact with potential fish number twenty-four was the last action of the day.

Subtle Beauty

I exited at the South Fork Road Bridge and clocked my return hike on my Garmin. The smart watch revealed that I covered 1.2 stream miles on Wednesday, August 19. Twenty-three fish represented a fine day in mid-August in spite of above average temperatures. Seventeen landed fish were brook trout, three were small brown trout, and three were highly prized cutthroats. Wednesday reinforced the need to get away from easily accessed locations. My most productive time occurred, when I was in the middle of the canyon away from the campgrounds and trails. Climbing over fallen trees and large slippery rocks paid dividends.

Fish Landed: 23

Swirly Pool

North Fork of the Elk River – 08/18/2020

Time: 2:15PM – 4:15PM

Location: Routt National Forest

North Fork of the Elk River 08/18/2020 Photo Album

With four major fires raging in Colorado I was concerned about finding a high mountain creek that placed me a reasonable distance away from the danger zones. The area north of Steamboat Springs in Routt National Forest seemed like a viable location for a three day and two night fishing trip. Uncertainly about air quality and smoke prompted me to reach out to a person that I follow on Intagram, and she suggested that the direction of the wind was a major factor, but she expected the air to be reasonably free of smoke during the days that I planned to visit. This cinched my decision, and I packed the car with my camping supplies and fishing gear and headed off to central Colorado on Tuesday morning.

My Home for Two Nights

I arrived at my chosen campground by 12:30PM, and I quickly claimed one of the first come, first serve campsites. After I visited the pay station and wrote a check for $12 for two nights, I returned to my campsite and ate my lunch and set up the tent. My national parks senior pass qualified me for a 50% discount, and no better deal can be found. It was now 1:45, and I concluded that plenty of time remained to log a few hours of fishing. The campground was situated at the confluence of two forks of the Elk River, and I decided to sample the nearby North Fork.

Lots of Exposed Rocks

When I reached the place where the two forks merged, I noted that the flows were down from my previous visit on August 4, 2020, and the water was very clear. I estimated the flows to be in the 20 – 25 CFS range. The air temperature was quite warm, and I celebrated my choice to wet wade, as I slowly introduced my feet and legs to the cold mountain river. The afternoon was mostly bright and sunny, and a few large clouds blocked the sun periodically, but not enough to prevent the highs from spiking in the mid-eighties.

A Mauled Hippie Stomper

I began my two hours of fly fishing with a peacock hippie stomper and immediately landed a small brown, and then I connected with a more substantial fish that escaped the hook after a brief fight. I was rather optimistic after the hot start, but my hopes were misplaced. Within the first hour I landed another small brown trout on the hippie stomper, and then refusals became the prevailing state. Since the fish seemed to be attuned to the surface, I added an eight inch tippet to the bend of the stomper and knotted a size 14 olive stimulator  to the section. The move paid off in a short amount of time, when a decent rainbow locked on the stimulator. Shortly after this jolt of good fortune, a third small brown trout smacked the hippie stomper.

On the Board with a Small Brown Trout

The fish count rested on four for a considerable lull, until I dropped the double dries in a slow moving pool in front of a large log, and a surprise jewel of a cutthroat slurped the stimulator. I persisted upstream for another hour and covered a significant amount of stream real estate, but additional trout were either resting or not interested in my offerings. I witnessed a few refusals and temporarily hooked some very small trout, but the time between 3:15PM and 4:15PM was primarily futile.

A Cool Porthole in A Rock Next to the River

I tried a beadhead hares ear dropper and then also experimented with a solo parachute green drake, a Jake’s gulp beetle, an olive mugly caddis, and a size 10 Chernobyl ant. I am not sure whether to attribute the doldrums to the late afternoon heat or fishing in areas much closer to the road and the campground. I vowed to do some hiking on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fattening Up

Five fish in two hours is respectable, and the one rainbow probably measured in the twelve inch range. I was pleased to encounter a native cutthroat, and hopefully that was a harbinger of more to come on Wednesday and Thurday. All in all it was an acceptable introduction to my stay in the Elk River Valley.

Fish Landed: 5

South Boulder Creek – 08/14/2020

Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/14/2020 Photo Album

I experienced a spectacular day on Tuesday, August 11 on South Boulder Creek, so I decided to replicate it on Friday, August 14. Predictably I was a vicitim of high expectations.

Traffic was uncharacteristically light on Friday morning, and this enabled me to arrive at the kayak parking lot by 8:45AM. The air temperature was in the low sixties, and it was obvious that Friday would evolve into another hot day. Based on prior experience I knew that the bottom release flows from the dam were extremely cold, and flows of 168 CFS meant that I would be standing knee deep in water most of the day. I quickly made the decision to wear my waders, and I put together my Sage four weight rod.

Dainty Wildflowers

Two vehicles preceded me to the lot, and as I ran through my preparation routine, two additional gentlemen arrived. They were not familiar with the South Boulder Creek area and access points, so they immediately began questioning me about the matter. I explained that there are essentially three access points, and they were currently at the closest to the creek, although I warned them that the short trail to the creek below the dam necessitated a very steep climb out at the end of the day. One of the men appeared to be in his sixties or seventies, so I wanted to make them aware of the stressful climb. As I departed for the trail myself, it sounded like they were inclined to take the plunge.

At Least One Trout Must Call This Spot Home

I hiked a reasonable distance from the parking lot and found myself along the edge of the creek ready to cast by 9:30AM. 168 CFS is higher than I prefer; as it reduces the number of attractive fish holding lies, prevents crossing to the opposite bank and mostly confines casting to the area between the right bank and the middle of the creek. The combination of a peacock hippie stomper and parachute green drake performed quite well in the morning on Tuesday, so I copied the strategy on Friday. I began in a gorgeous wide pool that represents one of my favorites on the entire creek, and fifteen minutes of focused casting and prospecting failed to produce one iota of interest from the resident trout. At this point I sensed that Friday was going to be a completely different experience than Tuesday.

Only Trout Taken on a Nymph

I abandoned the double dry approach and adopted a dry/dropper configuration. In previous years I enjoyed some success with a prince nymph imitating a green drake nymph, so I tested this tactic on Friday morning. I deployed a tan pool toy hopper as the top fly for visibility and buoyancy and then knotted the prince in the top nymph position and then added a salvation nymph below it. The salvation choice was an attempt to imitate pale morning dun nymphs, in case they were present as well. The dry/dropper was allocated a fair share of stream time, and it allowed me to record my first landed fish; a small brown trout that gobbled the salvation, but otherwise I judged the method to be lacking. Fish were not responding to the hopper, and they generally ignored the nymphs as well.

May Require a Left Handed Cast

My earlier than normal start and extra stream time, before the heat materialized, was largely squandered with one trout in 1.5 hours of fishing. I decided to revert to what worked on Tuesday, but to focus on green drake dries, and consequently I retired the hippie stomper. I selected a parachute green drake from my drake fly box, and I began to prospect with the solo dry fly. In short order a feisty eleven inch rainbow snatched the parachute, and my fortunes made a U-turn in a positive direction. Over the next hour I learned that most of the trout willing to eat my dry fly were tucked in slower moving water with some depth near the bank, and I concentrated my energies on these types of stream structure.

Rescued from Net Hell

The remainder of my day on South Boulder Creek followed the script. I cast a single dry fly to likely fish holding lies along the right bank, and I steadily boosted the fish count from two to fourteen, before I called it quits. Unlike Tuesday this was not fast and furious action. Instead I worked upstream very methodically, and my persistence was periodically rewarded with a hungry eater. Although the quantity of fish landed lagged August 11, the size was on average superior, although thirteen inches represented the best fish of the day. Brown trout outnumbered rainbow trout by a two to one ratio. I cycled through four styles of green drake imitations including the parachute, comparadun, user friendly and May break cripple. The introductory test of the May break was disappointing, as no trout gave it a look. The user friendly delivered a fish or two, but then it created a streak of refusals and lost its prominent position on my line.

Decent

Quite Nice Brown for SBC

The parachute green drake and comparadun were the workhorse flies on Friday, and they accounted for the bulk of the landed fish. In one promising pool I observed some rises to smaller mayflies, which I presumed to be pale morning duns, so I added an eight inch section of tippet to the bend of the green drake and attached a size 16 light gray comparadun. The smaller mayfly proved its worth, as two rainbows nabbed it from the surface. At 2:30PM I observed two natural green drakes, as they fluttered on the surface in an attempt to escape the surface tension.

So Close I Nearly Dapped the Cast, but a Fish Materialized

By 3PM I became quite weary from scrambling around branches and over slippery rocks, and the mid-afternoon sun was scorching the creek and its surroundings including me. I reeled up my slack line, hooked my fly to the rod guide and began my hike back up the canyon to the car. Along the way I stopped at three separate shelf pools to test my skills, but a subtle refusal from a small fish was all I could muster, before I ascended the steep trail to the parking lot. I stopped five times during my climb to catch my breath and test for afib. By the time I arrived at the Santa Fe, my body was fatigued, and my layers were saturated with perspiration. The two gentlemen that I advised at the outset of my day were no longer present, and I was pleased to avoid their criticism, if they endured the rigorous climb.

SBC Rainbows Are Special

Rainbow Curl

In retrospect Friday was a decent day for mid-August. The air temperature was much hotter, and I encountered many more anglers compared to my visit earlier in the week. The additional fishermen certainly stirred up the water and spooked more fish thus impacting my fish count. But all things considered, fourteen fish was reasonable, and each was a brilliant gem, while the size of the trout was above average for the South Boulder Creek fishery. If I eliminated the forty-one fish day on Tuesday from my mind and re-calibrated my expectations to a normal level, I realized that Friday was another fun experience during the summer of 2020.

Fish Landed: 14

Where to Cast First?

Clear Creek – 08/12/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 2:00PM

Location: Clear Creek Canyon

Clear Creek 08/12/2020 Photo Album

The most favorable thing I can say about today was my decision to wet wade during the sizzling ninety degree heat in Clear Creek Canyon. Will this heat wave ever end? My fishing experience on Wednesday was the exact opposite of Tuesday. It did not take long for the euphoria associated with my splendid day on South Boulder Creek to disappear in the sun and heat of Clear Creek Canyon.

The flows leveled out at 82 CFS, and that level is very close to my ideal for the medium sized drainage west of Golden. I was able to wade comfortably along the north (right) bank, although crossing to the opposite shore was a dangerous proposition that I never attempted. I wisely wore my Columbia fishing shirt with large pockets, as this enabled me to transfer my MFC fly box from my wader bib to my shirt. Waders were not part of my attire, as I pulled on my wet wading pants, socks and wading socks and enjoyed the cool sensation of Clear Creek. When I departed at 2:30PM, the dashboard digital thermometer registered 91 degrees.

Wet Wading

Olive Stimulator in Starting Lineup

After I assembled my Orvis Access four weight, I extended my tippet several feet with 4X and 5X sections, and then I ambled downstream along the shoulder of U.S. 6 for .4 mile, until I found a rough path down the bank to the edge of the creek. I began with a double dry set up that included a peacock hippie stomper and olive bodied size 14 stimulator. These flies have become my primary choice during recent outings during the dog days of August.

Promising

Hippie Stomper Batting First

After one hour of prospecting with the high floating dries, I managed three refusals. The looks occurred early in the game, and the flurry of unfulfilled action was followed by a long lull. I decided to experiment with a dry/dropper approach. and I switched to an Amy’s ant trailing a hares ear nymph and perdigon. This was my first attempt to deploy a perdigon, but it never produced a fish. The hares ear on the other hand was effective, as three brown trout barely over six inches boosted the fish count. A few temporary connections were also part of this phase of my fishing day.

On the Board

After lunch the lull continued, so I elected to make another change, and I swapped the Amy’s ant for a size 10 Chernboyl ant. I also replaced the perdigon with a salvation nymph.¬† These two flies occupied my line for the next 1.5 hours, and two additonal small fish rested in my net. Actually the fish were so small, that they slid through the holes in my net, and I struggled to corral them. The worst part of catching small fish is re-threading the line back through the hole in the net.

Typical Productive Water

At 1:30PM the action slowed even more. A few refusals to the Chernboyl ant convinced me that the fish were mostly looking toward the surface for their meal, so I decided to downsize to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. I cast it solo, and in a short amount of time four small trout emerged to inspect the beetle, before they returned to their holding position. I seemed to be on the right track with terrestrials, which made sense with the acceleration of wind bursts after lunch. I downsized once again to a parachute black ant size 18, and I sprayed at least ten drifts over a very attractive wide riffle of moderate depth. Much to my amazement the juicy ant was totally ignored. In a last gasp effort to land another fish I reverted to a Jake’s gulp beetle, and a fifth refusal added to my frustration. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was 2PM, so I slowly climbed the bank and returned to the car.

Sweet Little Pool

Every year I convince myself that Clear Creek is a viable option for dog days of August trout, and every year I return home in a state of disappointment. The brown trout are very small, and they are infuriatingly fussy. The large rocks are polished to a glassy smooth surface, and my studded waders glide over the slanted surface like a greased ice block. Hopefully I can find better options, until the nights begin to cool off in September.

Fish Landed: 5

South Boulder Creek – 08/11/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Gross Reservoir

South Boulder Creek 08/11/2020 Photo Album

March Madness. April Insanity. Now I offer August Mayhem. I continued my 2020 pursuit of green drake hatches on Tuesday, August 11, and I was not disappointed.

A dentist appointment on Monday and doctor appointment Thursday precluded a long fishing/camping trip on the week that began on August 10, so I designated the week for Front Range stream exploration. Bear Creek, the Cache la Poudre, and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek were the only Front Range systems, that I touched in the months following my surgery. When I reviewed the DWR stream data, I discovered that the Big Thompson continued to rush down the valley at 280 CFS. Boulder Creek flows were promising, but I was averse to dealing with the construction delays in the canyon. The Bear Creek and the Cache la Poudre graphs were depicting ridiculously low flows, and I was concerned about the safety of the fish. I guided my eleven year old friend, Lucas, on the North Fork of the St. Vrain on Friday, and the conditions were challenging. This left Clear Creek and South Boulder Creek. Fortunately Clear Creek numbers were down to 93 CFS, and my ideal range for the nearby creek west of Golden is 50 – 100 CFS. South Boulder Creek continued to rush through the canyon below Gross Reservoir at 168 CFS, which is a bit higher than I prefer. I reviewed posts on this blog for prior visits to South Boulder Creek In early August at relatively high flows, and I discovered that trout were willing risers to green drakes despite the increased volume of water. This clinched my decision, and I made the short drive to South Boulder Creek for a day of fly fishing.

The Will to Live

Two vehicles occupied the parking lot when I arrived, and I applauded that circumstance. The air temperature was around 70 degrees and the high for the day topped out just under 80 degrees. Clouds blocked the sun for much of my time in the canyon, and the cold bottom release water kept me comfortable during my five hours on the stream. I put together my Sage four weight and jumped in my waders and hiked down the steep trail to the creek and then continued for a decent distance, before I began fishing at 10:00AM.

A Starting Point

My research informed me that green drakes were present in early August, so I debated whether to start with a dry/dropper featuring a beadhead prince as a drake nymph imitation or alternatively to launch my day with a double dry incorporating a green drake dry fly. I opted for the latter and configured my line with a peacock body hippie stomper trailing a parachute green drake on an eight inch dropper. In the first fifteen minutes I landed three trout, and all confidently inhaled the parachute drake. I was off to a fast start, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for electing the double dry approach.

Stretched Out Brown Trout

The positive beginning quickly morphed into frustration, as the next two trout that I hooked sought the safety of some underwater logs. I was unable to prevent their sudden dives, and I lost both fish along with three flies. In the first instance the hippie stomper and parachute green drake broke off, and in case number two the green drake separated, while I salvaged the hippie stomper. These irritating interruptions to my positive fishing vibe were the only such occurrences during the day, but I was frustrated nonetheless.

Yikes. A Pool.

With the early loss of two green drake flies, my concern grew over whether I stocked adequate quantities, so I replaced the comparadun with a Harrop hair-wing. The hair-wing version performed reasonably well, as the fish count mounted to twelve before lunch, but much of this success was attributable to the appeal of the hippie stomper. Most of the early trout were browns, and several feisty twelve inch beauties rested in my net.

Harrop Hair-wing

Comfortable

After lunch I continued with the same approach that provided me with enjoyment in the morning. The hippie stomper remained in place as the front fly until 2:30, however, I rotated the point fly among the Harrop hair-wing, user friendly, and comparadun. During this time frame the trout preference shifted, and the stomper became more of a visual indicator, while the trailing green drake imitations emerged as the item of desire for the local stream residents.

Hippie Stomper in Use

And Another

As the fish count attained twenty, the user friendly suddenly seemed to generate refusals, so I downsized the green drake option to a size 14 comparadun, and the trout gave this change a thumbs up. By now I recognized the types of stream structure that produced fish, and I moved more quickly and skipped marginal lies. The fish count climbed through the twenties to twenty-eight, and it was at this time, that I observed four natural green drakes, as they struggled to lift off the cold flowing currents of South Boulder Creek. I anticipated some hot action, but instead noticed four refusals to the hippie stomper. The trout in the canyon were seeing the stomper first, inspecting and rejecting, and never considered the green drake alternative. I decided to abandon the hippie stomper and double dry method and knotted a solo parachute green drake to my line.

User Friendly Green Drake

Promising Section

Unique Spot Pattern

The single dry parachute green drake proved its worth, and the fish count climbed to thirty-three. Although the low riding parachute was more difficult to track and required repeated sopping and dry shake dipping, it seemed to be a solid representation of the actual mayflies. My most effective tactic was to wade above the target area and then lob an across stream cast with an extra dose of slack. I allowed the parachute to drift downstream, and quite a few aggressive trout slammed the green drake fraud near the tail of the run. It seemed that they attacked it, before it escaped over the lip of the slower water.

Cannot Get Enough of These South Boulder Creek Rainbows

Number thirty-three was released, as I reached a section of steeper gradient and faster water. At low flows I normally continue to prospect this area, but at 168 CFS wading was a challenge, so I chose to exit and began my march back to the car. As is my custom, I stopped along the return route at two of my favorite pools. The first return hike break proved to be very productive, as I landed five additional trout to raise the count to thirty-eight. Four of the five were hard fighting rainbow trout, and they all responded to the downstream presentation described earlier.

A Bit Closer

Scarlet O’Hara

At my final fishing stop I sprayed casts with the parachute drake to all corners of the slower water, but the trout were unimpressed. Meanwhile several risers caught my attention along the right bank next to a few exposed rocks. I targeted them with some expert drifts, but for some reason the parachute drake fell out of favor. In an eleventh-hour attempt to dupe the fussy feeders, I swapped the parachute style for a comparadun. Success! Three more trout inhaled the comparadun including a fine thirteen inch brown that put an exclamation point on my day of fly fishing. I released the deep olive-gold bodied brown and hooked my fly to the rod guide and returned to the Santa Fe.

Buttery Gold at the End of the Day

Large Pool Ahead

What a day! Forty-one landed trout, and all were taken on dry flies. I never tested the dry/dropper with a prince nymph. although I considered it to start my day. I utilized and caught fish on every style of green drake in my box except for the May break cripple. The higher flows forced me to wade cautiously, however, the large dry flies lured the trout up from the depths. It was rare that promising water failed to deliver on my expectations, and I revel in such fast paced action. All my green drakes proved their worth, although the parachute and compardun styles seemed to outperform the others. If the flows remain favorable, another month of green drake action should be available on South Boulder Creek. I plan to take advantage.

Fish Landed: 41

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/08/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 1:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/08/2020 Photo Album

One of the by-products of my mitral heart valve surgery was getting introduced to many front-line health care workers within the Boulder Community Health network. Among my favorites is Meghan Gerlach, one of the anticoagulation pharmacists that I conferred with on nearly a weekly basis, while I adhered to a blood thinner regimen after my heart surgery. In one of the early appointments I mentioned my passion for fly fishing, and she informed me that her eleven year old son, Lucas, was an avid fisherman. Apparently Lucas experienced some success fishing for bass while visiting his grandparents cabin in Missouri, and he was keenly interested in advancing his capabilities in the realm of fly fishing. I volunteered to guide Lucas on a local stream or lake, once my arm and shoulder recovered sufficiently from my surgery, and when the covid19 threat was minimized.

Fast forward to August 8, 2020, and the two conditions described above were met, and Meghan and I worked out a plan, whereby I would meet them at Buttonrock Preserve for several hours of instruction and fishing. Boulder Creek in Boulder Canyon was my first choice, but ongoing road construction presented a formidable obstacle with forty-five minute delays and potential disruption of the stream clarity. My second choice was the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek in Laverne Johnson Park in Lyons, but an online search revealed that the park was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek at Buttonrock Preserve offered more challenging conditions, I opted for it anyway, since it was relatively close, and the flows were in a reasonable range for a novice fly fisherman. The large parking lot offered a nice space to introduce some casting instruction, and I was hopeful that the attractive pools next to the parking lot might harbor a few willing trout.

I arrived at the Buttonrock Preserve parking lot at 9:45 and quickly secured one of the six remaining spaces. I prepared to guide Lucas by pulling on my waders, and I set up my Orvis Access four weight. Meghan told me in a text that Lucas had his uncle’s fly rod, but I wanted to provide an alternative. Lucas is saving money that he earns from chores to purchase a starter rod, and I wanted him to have a basis of comparison. As I waited for the two Gerlach’s to arrive, additional preserve visitors appeared, and the free parking spaces dwindled to two. I kept my fingers crossed, and the move paid off, as a white Toyota Sienna arrived and secured a parking space one car over from mine.

Friday’s weather was in line with the recent trend of a lingering heat wave, and the thermometer was already in the low eighties when we began. I pondered suggesting wet wading for Lucas, but he was wearing shorts, and I was concerned about sunburn and scratches, so he climbed into my backup waders and boots. In case you are wondering, he is eleven years old and already has a foot size equal to mine. He is shorter, and this caused the waders to bunch up a bit, but we made it work by shortening the shoulder straps and cinching the belt around his waist.

We began the outing with some casting practice in the parking lot, and although Lucas did not perfect dry fly casting, he advanced his abilities to the point, where I felt he was ready to attack the stream. We meandered to the edge of the creek by a nice starter pool, and I tied on one of the size 16 hippie stompers, that he showed me in his fly box. I directed his casts, and we worked through three or four nice pools and pockets, but neither of us saw any evidence of trout. The high sun and hot atmosphere dampened my confidence, but Lucas was undeterred.

I was reluctant to deploy a dry/dropper due to the risk of entanglement, but I decided to give it a trial. I swapped Lucas’s hippie stomper for one of my peacock size 12’s, and then I added a beadhead hares ear on a 2.5 foot dropper. Lucas managed the two fly system quite well with only a few minor tangles, but the trout in the North Fork were not cooperative. In one shallow run I took the rod to demonstrate how to flick a short backhand cast, and a small four inch brown trout grabbed the hares ear near the middle of the run. Lucas’s eyes grew wide, and I could sense that his level of determination elevated, after he actually held a small trout in his hand.

Lucas Examines His Line

At noon we paused for lunch, and Meghan had moved the minivan closer to the western portion of the parking lot, so we made a short hike to the nearby van. While we munched our snacks, another angler returned to his car right next to us, and he had been fly fishing in Ralph Price Reservoir. I asked him how he did, and he extracted a nice fourteen inch rainbow trout from his bag. It was already gutted and ready for the grill, and he related that he caught it on a woolly bugger. Of course this merely served to get Lucas more optimistic about landing a fish from the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. The neighboring gentleman also suggested that a good approach to the creek was a chubby Chernobyl trailing a beadhead pheasant tail.

Since our morning results could be described as futility, I adopted the suggested approach. I knotted a chubby Chernobyl with a tan ice dub body to Lucas’s line and then added a super nova nymph as a dropper. The super nova is a close approximation of a pheasant tail. Forty-five minutes remained in our allotted time, before Meghan needed to return to her father’s house to collect Lucas’s sisters. We escalated our focus and fished with intensity for the remainder of our time, but I am sad to report that Lucas failed to land a fish. I concentrated his casts to the whitewater spots at the head of the runs and pools under the theory that the trout sought oxygenated water during the high air temperature conditions. In one promising pocket along the right side Lucas flicked a nice cast next to the seam, and the chubby Chernobyl dipped quickly. Lucas responded with a quick side set, but nothing was attached to his line. I suspect this may have been his closest encounter with a fish.

At 1PM Meghan was ready to depart, so I climbed up some large boulders to join her. Lucas remained in the stream and executed several eleventh-hour casts in an effort to avoid a skunking. I was very impressed with his intensity and persistence, and I am certain he will grow up to be a first rate fly fisherman. He is thirsting for knowledge and willing to seek sources of instruction. These qualities should carry him a long way in fishing but also in whatever career path he pursues. I was very pleased to meet Lucas, and perhaps we can meet again when the temperatures cool in September or October.

Fish Landed: 0

North Fork of the Elk River – 08/04/2020

Time: 11:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Above the main Elk River

North Fork of the Elk River 08/04/2020 Photo Album

During thirty-seven years of fly fishing I experienced numerous days, where I remained in a state of euphoria for days afterward. As I grow older, however, these occasions are less frequent. Tuesday afternoon, August 4, evolved into one of the increasingly rare times of extreme exhilaration. Normally the circumstances that create such a state of jubilation are a dense hatch, large fish or an abnormally large quantity of fish; but Tuesday’s experience resulted from a different source.

Let the Fun Begin

After a disappointing 1.5 AM hours on the Elk River I decided to cut my losses and shifted my attention to the North Fork. I informed Jane that the North Fork was my backup plan should the main Elk fail to deliver on its promise, and at 11:15 I found myself parked at the trailhead parking lot. I hiked the Diamond Park Trail for a considerable distance and then angled to the right at a Y, and a fisherman path delivered me to the river. I suppose the forks are still referred to as rivers, although they approximate a large creek in size. The North Fork was in spectacular shape with cold, clear flows over large boulders and an abundant quantity of deep plunge pools and pockets. The whole scene caused my heart rate to elevate several beats per minute; not a good thing for someone recovering from heart valve surgery.

Subtle Beauty

Handsome Brook Trout

I continued with the double dry fly approach that I initiated on the Elk River, and it included a peacock hippie stomper and olive size 14 stimulator, and I immediately began landing small trout. The fish count surged from one to seven in the thirty minutes before lunch; and my net felt the weight of brook trout, cutbows, and a rainbow trout. I assumed that the North Fork was predominantly a brook trout fishery, so I was pleased with the diversity of species. My optimism soared, as I munched my ham sandwich and observed a tantalizing pool.

Tail of the Pool

Front Half Spotless

After lunch I progressed upstream for .5 miles and boosted the fish count from seven to twenty-four. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, as I prospected the dry flies through every likely fish holding location. Of the twenty-three fish landed from the North Fork, five were brook trout, three were small brown trout, and the remainder were cutthroats and cutbows plus one or two rainbow trout. I was surprised to realize that I recorded a Colorado trout grand slam. I estimate that sixty percent of the netted trout preferred the olive stimulator, and the remainder favored the hippie stomper.

Maybe My Favorite Color Scheme

Ooh!

As I migrated farther from my starting point, I began to catch an increasing number of gorgeous cutthroat trout. Quite a few of these prizes were in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and they confidently slashed one of the double dries. I could not have imagined a more perfect scenario than the remote setting, confident rises to large flies, and spectacular native cutthroat trout. I marveled at the coloration of the cutthroats, as they displayed a light olive body with a sparse spot pattern. Bright red cheeks punctuated the subtle beauty, and of course the signature slashes were evident under the jaw.

Nature’s Perfection

Hefty Cutthroat

Trout Haven

Tuesday afternoon was everything I hoped it would be. I was situated in a remote backcountry stream catching five species of trout. The largest and most impressive fish were the cutthroats, as they displayed their bright yet understated colors. The euphoria that I referred to at the outset stemmed from the rare opportunity to catch native cutthroats. A return visit to the North Fork of the Elk River is a certainty in my mind.

Fish Landed: 23

Exiting the Canyon

Elk River – 08/04/2020

Time: 9:30AM – 11:00AM

Location: Along Seedhouse Road

Elk River 08/04/2020 Photo Album

Jane and I enjoyed a camping trip to Steamboat Lake State Park in June, and during that visit we completed the Diamond Park Trail hike with a return on the Wyoming Trail. The total loop was around eight miles, but this outdoor adventure provided an opportunity to scout some new stream miles for future fishing trips. The advance reconnaissance paid off, as Jane and I returned to the area on Monday, August 3, and I scheduled a day of fly fishing in the upper Elk River drainage.

Jane Celebrates Our New Canopy

As expected, the river was considerably lower than during our stay in June. I debated whether to fish the main stem of the upper Elk or one of the three forks, but the lower flows pointed me toward the higher volume of the main river. Jane planned to once again hike the Diamond Park – Wyoming Trail loop, and I departed from the campground and arrived at a pull through parking area next to the Elk River by 9:15. I quickly assembled my Sage four weight, jumped into my waders and strolled on a path through sagebrush to the edge of the river.

Hopes Were High at This Point

The air temperature was around sixty degrees, as I began, and it was obvious that I was not the first person to fish this segment of the Elk River, as I was greeted by worn spaces along the bank. I rigged my line with a pool toy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph. These are among my mainstay flies, whenever I approach never before fished water. I probed likely runs and pockets for thirty minutes without an ounce of action; no looks, temporary hook ups, or refusals. I began to challenge my decision to fish the main stem and considered moving to one of the forks, but then I decided to test a double dry fly approach, as I moved upstream and away from the presumably highly pressured area at the end of the trail. I tied a peacock hippie stomper and light olive stimulator to my line, and I finally connected with a decent fish on an across river cast to a nice shelf pool. Luck was not in my corner, as the fish made a quick attempted getaway and succeeded, and I uttered a few choice words, as my limp line dangled in front of me.

Rocky Bottom and Depth

I continued mostly along the left bank, and at 10:45AM I hooked and landed an eight inch cutbow. Although it was a relatively small fish, I rejoiced at avoiding a skunking and admired the small wild jewel in my net. With one fish landed in 1.5 hours of fly fishing I decided to cut my losses and switched to plan B and migrated to one of the forks of the Elk River.

Fish Landed: 1

St. Louis Creek – 07/31/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Fraser Experimental Forest

St. Louis Creek 07/31/2020 Photo Album

I continued my pursuit of high elevation trout on Friday with a visit to St. Louis Creek. My last visit to this small headwater stream was on 08/04/2017, when I yearned for some action on my return from a difficult outing on the Colorado River. I was aware that the fish population was comprised mostly of small brook trout, but I was in the mood for a day of exploring and prospecting for small colorful jewels.

Shade and Sun

I arrived at a wide shoulder along a dirt road by 9:30AM, and I quickly rigged my Orvis Access four weight in anticipation of tight quarters and small trout. The air temperature hovered around sixty degrees, and I considered wet wading but eventually settled on wearing my waders in the high elevation shaded stream. The decision proved satisfactory, as I was comfortable for my entire five hours on the creek. The air temperature may have spiked to seventy degrees during full sun periods in the afternoon. The stream level seemed a bit low, but sufficient numbers of deep pockets and pools remained and offered hours of entertainment. Longer than usual casts and cautious approaches were a necessity in the clear conditions.

Even the Shadow Cannot Hide This Promising Little Pool

Lunker for Tiny Stream

When I reviewed my report on this blog from my previous time on St. Louis Creek, I noted that a Jake’s gulp beetle trailing a beadhead pheasant tail created a fair amount of success, and I was tempted to replicate those same offerings on Friday. However, when I began fishing at 10AM, the creek was mostly covered in shade interspersed with intermittent sunlight, and I was concerned about my ability to track the beetle in the variable light conditions. My uncertainty over the lighting prompted me to tie a tan pool toy hopper to my line as the surface fly, and beneath it I added a beadhead pheasant tail nymph. These two flies maintained their position on my line between 10AM and noon, and they generated twelve landed trout. All the morning fish in my net were brook trout except for one outlier, a twelve inch brown trout that elevated and smashed the pool toy in a deep slot next to a large exposed boulder.

Those Spots Though

The brook trout measured in the six to nine inch range, but their vivid colors made them extra special in my opinion. I probably endured one temporary hook up or refusal for every fish landed, but many of the escapees were probably undersized char.

After lunch I decided to shift tactics, and I migrated to a size 12 peacock hippie stomper fished solo. The move proved successful, as I boosted the fish counter from twelve to eighteen, and I moved at a fairly swift pace while flinging the stomper to every possible nook and cranny that might contain a trout. Once I attained eighteen netted fish, I approached a very attractive deep pool, and after the hippie stomper failed to generate interest, I decided to once again add a nymph on a dropper. In this instance I chose a beadhead hares ear. as I was seeking something a bit larger and heavier to probe the depths of honey holes. The tactic delivered results, and the hares ear produced four trout, while the hippie stomper contributed a few additional fish.

Lighter Color on This One

During the last hour of the day the trout interest subsided noticeably, and my catch rate shrank in a commensurate fashion. I cycled through some changes in the nymph component of my system and tested a bright green caddis pupa, ultra zug bug, and a parachute green drake. The ultra zug bug accounted for one trout, and the parachute green drake delivered the final fish of the day. I spotted one western green drake, as it slowly fluttered toward the sky from the stream, and that sighting caused me to adopt the double dry with a green drake imitation.

A Couple Spots to Explore

By three o’clock the catch rate slowed noticeably, and I reached a bridge, which forced me to climb a bank to the road. The fish count rested on twenty-seven, and I was quite weary from climbing over slippery rocks to cast to small wild brook trout, so I called it quits and hiked .6 mile back to the car. Friday was a fun day on St. Louis Creek. Sure, the fish were quite small, but they were not that easy, and the low, clear water conditions forced me to approach with stealth and long casts. I witnessed numerous spooked trout, as they darted from beneath a bank or rock upon my careless approach. The brook trout compensated for their lack of length with splendid colors and glistening spots. I had the entire stream section to myself, and I lost myself in the pursuit of trout and enjoyment of solitude. Something can be said for that.

Fish Landed: 27

Lake Creek 07/29/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Backcountry

Lake Creek 07/29/2020 Photo Album

July 2020 has been hotter and drier than normal, and these conditions caused me to advance my fishing destination selection to tailwaters and high altitude mountain creeks earlier than usual. This process began with my fishing and camping trip to the Taylor River last week. On Wednesday, July 29 I continued my pursuit of hot weather trout with a trip to a crystal clear back country stream. I began my 1.1 mile hike at 9:30, and this enabled me to begin my fly fishing adventure by 10:00AM.

Delicious

For this outing on a relatively small stream I chose my Orvis Access four weight. The weather was around sixty degrees, when I departed at the trailhead, but the temperature soared quickly and probably peaked in the mid-eighties. Clouds provided periodic relief, but sun dominated more than clouds. The flows struck me as nearly perfect, although I only fished this creek on one previous occasion, so I had no basis for comparison. I can state unequivocally that the water was clear, and cautious approaches were necessary.

Hippie Stomper Reigned in the Morning

While I was in the parking lot, a national forest service employee greeted me and asked, “if I was going to catch a bunch of brook trout?” I replied that I was seeking trout, but then asked if brook trout were the prevalent species, and he confirmed that was the case. This surprised me, since on my previous trip I landed mostly brown trout. I was anxious to confirm or refute his statement, and I began my fly fishing venture with a size 14 yellow stimulator. I concluded that the light hackled fly would not disturb the clear moderately low water, and yellow sallies and stoneflies are a proven staple in high mountain streams. The theory seemed logical,¬† but the local trout refuted it, as I only managed to generate a few tentative refusals.

Foam Produced a Nice Fish

Hippie Stomper Still on Fire

I paused to reevaluate and decided to change to a hippie stomper. The foam attractor has been a hot fly on recent trips, and when I reviewed my blog post from my last visit to Lake Creek, I noted some success with the foam imposter. The hippie stomper option proved to be exceptional, as I landed nineteen trout between 10:15AM and noon. This batch of netted fish was mostly comprised of small brown trout in the seven to eight inch range, but a sprinkling of eleven and twelve inch fish kept me focused and guessing. The two morning hours were the highlight of the day and validated my high mountain creek choice on a hot day in late July.

Star of the AM

After lunch a lull in action caused me to once again evaluate my fly offerings. How could the stream residents suddenly reject an attractor that they found so delectable earlier in the day? I decided to add a nymph dropper, since I suspected that larger fish were present in some of the deep holes. My logic suggested that I simply needed to go deeper. Once again my thought process was faulty, and the addition of a beadhead salvation failed to stir interest. The hippie stomper was mangled and waterlogged from its workhorse morning duties, so I decided to retire it and introduced a size 10 classic black Chernobyl ant to my line. The Chernobyl accounted for a few fish on the previous visit, and I had a hunch about the low riding attractor with a pearl chenille body. The Chernobyl ant is very buoyant, and I loved the idea of flipping and roll casting the foam terrestrial with no need for backcasts.

Scar on This Beauty

The Chernboyl ant yielded two brown trout, albeit twelve inchers, before it also suffered through a slump and began generating refusals. My mind once again went into overdrive, and I decided to downsize to a Jake’s gulp beetle. Historically the downsizing terrestrial strategy paid off, but on Wednesday that was not the case. I concluded, that I was over analyzing the situation and reverted to a hippie stomper, and Immediately I was rewarded with a small brown trout to bring the fish counter to twenty-two. Unfortunately the hippie stomper did not exhibit the same magic as displayed in the morning, so I added a size 12 olive stimulator on a one foot dropper off the bend of the hippie stomper.

Intimidating Wall

Within a few casts a fish crushed the olive stimulator, but I broke off the fly in the process of fighting the wild battler. Could the olive stimulator be taken for a western green drake? I recalled seeing a couple on my previous trip to this same creek. I replaced the olive stimulator with a size 14 harrop hairwing green drake, and the rest is history. The catch rate lagged the morning sprint, but I ratcheted it from twenty-two to twenty-eight, before I reeled up my slack line and called it quits on a successful day. Of the final six trout netted, one slurped the hippie stomper, and the others sipped the green drake. The average size of the final six of the day surpassed the earlier catches.

A Second View

Wednesday, July 29 was everything I expected. The morning blitz was actually unanticipated, but willing fish rising to an attractor dry was among my envisioned outcomes. I progressed upstream for .5 mile and popped casts in all the likely fish holding lies. Surprisingly, very obvious deep pools and eddies were not as productive as more obscure locations. Of course the landed fish were matched by a significant number of refusals and temporary connections. I am fairly certain that the bright sun and heat had a serious impact on the catch rate in the early afternoon. Nevertheless I persisted and managed to tempt the reluctant feeders with a large juicy green drake imitation, although I never saw a natural in the environment. More so than usual I paused to drink water and reflect on the arid yet beautiful surroundings. I am already anxiously anticipating another trip to a high mountain creek.

Fish Landed: 28

Formations Like This All Day Long