2020 Top Ten – 12/31/2020

2020 was an eventful year. It began with a pandemic and progressed through racial tensions and political turmoil. Here in Colorado we endured drought and devastating wildfires. On a personal level I survived mitral heart valve repair surgery, atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and an ablation procedure. The uncertainties in the early months of the pandemic impacted my ability to fish, and my recovery from surgery further reduced my stream time. The wildfires limited my choice of fishing destinations and the subpar snowpack and drought resulted in very low flows in many of the drainages that I frequent in the latter part of the season. In spite of all these hurdles to the pursuit of my favorite outdoor activity, I managed to land 900 trout over the course of the year in spite of reduced fishing hours during the pre runoff time frame. 2020 was a year defined by green drake hatches, dry fly fishing, and the discovery of high mountain cutthroat trout strongholds. Although my fish count trailed previous years, I am convinced that 2020 was one of my best years in terms of optimizing stream time and overcoming adversity. Here are my top ten outings ranked in reverse order.

10. Taylor River – 07/21/2020 – My day on the Taylor represented my best outing on the central Colorado tailwater in quite a few years. I met a decent green drake hatch and used my arsenal of western green drake imitations along with a yellow stimulator to fool twenty-five robust wild trout. I love the setting of the Taylor River, and achieving success only added to my enjoyment.

Yowzer

9. Eagle River – 07/02/2020 – Although thirteen fish is not an eye-catching quantity of fish, the size and quality more than compensated. The flows declined to the 600 CFS range by 07/02/2020, and this enabled very manageable wading, and I took advantage to move up the river at a steady pace with my dry/dropper approach. Hatches of yellow sallies and pale morning duns were brief, but my iron sally and salvation nymph got the job done. Movement and persistence were the keys to success on this fine day in early July.

8. Clear Creek – 08/27/2020 – Clear Creek is not a destination that typically occupies space on this top ten list. I explored a section of Clear Creek that was new to me, and I was quite pleased to discover a pleasant tumbling creek with a surprising quantity of cutthroat trout and cutbow trout. I revere cutthroats, and I was able to land twenty-three vibrant beauties during my time on this small sliver of paradise. A secondary highlight was discovering success with a sunken ant used in a dry/dropper configuration. I will remember this as I visit streams in 2021.

I Need More

7. North Fork of the White River – 09/16/2020 – How could a forty-seven fish day only rank seventh on the 2020 top ten list? This is a testament to the quality of fishing that I experienced during the past year. Yes, forty-seven is a lot of fish, but this was achieved over 6.5 hours of fishing, and quite a few of the catch were small brook trout. But enough of removing the luster from this fine day in the middle of September. I was thrilled with the fast paced action, as I tossed primarily a hippie stomper to all the likely locations and enjoyed tremendous action which included many wild cutbows in the twelve to fourteen inch range.

6. North Fork of the Elk River – 08/04/2020 – The discovery of a new and productive high country destination counts for a lot in my book, and 08/04/2020 was one of those days. Making the introduction even more exciting was encountering an abundant quantity of wild cutthroat trout. I landed twenty-three trout during this spectacular day, and the dominant species was the light green colored cutthroats with vivid black speckles and crimson heads and slashes.

Maybe My Favorite Color Scheme

5. North Fork of the White River – 09/18/2020 – A large, buoyant and easily visible pool toy hopper attracted cutbows of above average size on this day in September. I caught fewer fish than 09/16/2020, but I fished for half the time in order to get an early start to return back to Denver, and the cutbows were brilliantly colored and fought valiantly in the small stream.

4. South Boulder Creek – 08/11/2020 – 08/11/2020 on South Boulder Creek was a dream come true for this avid fly fisherman. My blog posts document my love affair with the western green drake, and my array of green drake imitations served me well. I landed forty-one  trout, and all of them savored a dry fly. The peacock hippie stomper was popular in the morning, but I cycled through my stash of green drake imitations in the afternoon and notched fish at a torrid pace.

Harrop Hair-wing

3. North Fork of the White River – 09/29/2020 – I was admittedly influenced by the gorgeous autumn weather and the golden leaves of fall, as I ranked this day number three in my top ten list. Jane and I returned to the Flattops at the end of September, and I was allotted one day of fly fishing sandwiched between a couple days of hiking. This valuable stream time provided twenty-four trout, and most were spunky cutbows in the twelve to fourteen inch range. I had a blast, and late season returns to the Flattops may become a tradition.

Excellent Specimen

2. Yampa River – 06/17/2020 – This day on the Yampa River coincided with a heavy pale morning dun hatch, yet the trout seemed to ignore the adults on the surface. This circumstance did not stop me from having a stellar outing, as run off subsided in the middle of June. Early success was attributed to the 20 incher and super nova PMD, and the early afternoon featured a seldom used juju emerger pattern, that I tied several years ago. Of the seventeen fish landed at least six fell in the fourteen to sixteen inch range, and they were muscular bruisers. Edge fishing as run off subsides continues to be one of my favorite times of year.

Big Shoulders

1.Colorado River – 07/07/2020 – May I list a guided float trip as my number one outing of 2020? Even though I had the assistance of a guide, I still had to catch the fish. This was my first float trip through the middle section of the Colorado River between Pumphouse and State Bridge, and what a trip it was! The setting was spectacular, and the fishing matched the grandeur of the big river. I landed twenty trout, and quite a few stretched the tape to the eighteen inch mark. We launched early and notched the best day of the year before the afternoon winds forced us off the river.

A Highlight

There you have it, one through ten for 2020. Quite a few additional candidates failed to make the cut, but the exercise is quite subjective on my part. That is always the prerogative of the author and the angler who enjoyed the trips.

 

Sunk Ant – 12/21/2020

Sunk Ant 12/21/2020 Photo Album 

For years I read magazine articles about the effectiveness of sunken terrestrials, and the insect at the top of the subsurface list was generally the ever present ant. Think about it. Ants are everywhere, and they travel in armies, and inevitably they fall or get blown into the water. Once in the water they are highly vulnerable, and assuredly many give up the fight and drown. Because they are small and narrow, they are not buoyant, so dunkings are probably frequent happenstance among the ant colonies. Unlike large terrestrials such as grasshoppers and crickets, ants are tiny and difficult to observe, even when they remain struggling on the surface. Consider the number of ants that float past an angler on every fishing trip that go undetected.

Other Side

On rare occasions I experimented with a sunken ant during my many forays to western rivers, but I never enjoyed quick success. On 08/27/2020, however, the game changed. I knotted a hard bodied ant to my line a foot or so below a visible surface fly, and during an hour of fishing at the end of the day, the ant accounted for seven gorgeous cutthroat trout. Eventually I broke off the ant, and I was certain that it was the only remaining fly of that type in my storage boxes. Eventually I uncovered another one in my back up plastic bin, but I yearned for a larger supply for the upcoming season.

ComponentMaterial
HookSize 14 or 16 dry fly hook
Thread6/0 Black
Rear BumpLead wire or Black Bead
LegsMottled pheasant feather
Front BumpThread and black bead

Just before Christmas I sat down at my vise to remedy the absence of sunken ants in my fly inventory. I initiated a search online for sunken ants and stumbled across a tying video on YouTube by Kelly Galloup of streamer creation fame. I viewed the video, and I liked the simplicity of it, so settled on the sunk ant as my subsurface ant fly of choice. Kelly repeatedly stressed that simply tying an ant by forming two lacquered bumps with thread with a couple twists of black hackle was a killer pattern, but he offered his with slight modifications as an alternative. For my first size 16 ants I mostly followed his instructions, but I utilized a nickel bead behind the eye rather than a black bead, since I did not possess black in the necessary size. Before I started my thread, I wrapped three twists of lead wire to form a base for the rear bump. Otherwise it was the same pattern, as the one demonstrated by Kelly. I covered the lead wire with a massive quantity of wraps of black thread, and then I moved to the front of the hook. I attached the pheasant feather by the tip and built a smaller front bump behind the nickel bead and then folded the feather forward to create legs and a narrow shell on top of the front bump.

Two Black Beads Used

For the size 14 ant I slid two black beads on the hook. I began my thread at the bend of the hook behind the rear bead and built a dam that tapered to the top of the bead. I completed a whip finish and then reattached the thread and built up a tapered front section in front of the rear bead. The remainder of the fly was the same as a size 16, except that I had a black bead for the front that fit the larger hook. When I was done I applied lacquer to the front bump, but I utilized UV resin to coat the larger rear bump. Kelly does not favor the look of UV resin on his ant bumps and is perfectly happy with thread wraps soaked in head cement, but I liked the epoxy look for my rear bump.

Thread, Pheasant Feather and UV Resin

I made five size 16 and five size 14 sunk ants, and hopefully this will be an adequate supply for the 2021 season. If not, it means that I have discovered a new killer fly for my fly fishing future.

Pat’s Rubber Legs – 12/19/2020

Pat’s Rubber Legs 12/19/2020

Who was Pat? I always wonder about this, when I approach my vise to produce some of the weighted wiggly stonefly imitations. I tied several batches of these in a yellow-brown chenille to imitate molting golden stoneflies in the early 2000’s, but then I drifted away from this popular fly. I reprised the Pat’s rubber legs last winter after glowing reports from my friend, Dave G. Check out my post of 01/10/2020 to familiarize yourself with my history with this fly as well as a materials table.

Wild Legs

My reintroduction of Pat’s rubber legs got off to a roaring start, when I landed two rainbows on it during my first outing of 2020. Check out my post of 01/26/2020 to read more about this rare winter outing. I tied the rubber legs to my line on several subsequent spring outings, but unfortunately, as the season developed, I strayed from my Pat’s rubber legs revival campaign. When I showed Dave G. the flies that I produced, he said they were not quite the same color as the ones that produced outstanding results for him on the Eagle River and Colorado River. I based my choice of variegated chenille on the fact that his guide called it a pickle fly. For my winter tying session in December 2020 I purchased some coffee and black chenille at Charlie’s Fly Box, and I manufactured five of these weighted stonefly imitations. Hopefully  I give the green and coffee rubber legs a trial in 2021, and if I do, perhaps I will enjoy success similar to Dave G.

Pat’s Rubber Legs Coffee-Black

Olive Midge Larva – 12/18/2020

Olive Midge Larva 12/18/2020 Photo Album

For some reason I seem to have an aversion to fishing midges. On the occasions when I knot one to my line I experience reasonable success, but season after season I default to my larger and more popular nymphs, thus allowing limited opportunities for the tiny but ever present midges to shine. My post of 12/10/2015 describes a few details from my interaction with the zebra midge, a close cousin of the olive midge larva.

Keep It Simple

I counted all my midges and determined that I had eight of the olive variety in my combined storage compartments. I decided to increase the stock to ten and whipped out two additional midge larva. The basic midge larva is probably my fastest tie. It takes longer to feed the tiny bead on to the hook than to spin out the larva, since one fly only requires thread and a rib. Perhaps I will deploy the olive midge more often in 2021.

Ready for Action

Scuds – 12/18/2020

Scuds 12/18/2020 Photo Album

Scuds, scuds and scuds. According to most knowledgeable sources (fly fishing magazines), scuds are an important food source to trout around the world particularly during the winter months. While aquatic insects lie dormant in their nymph form, scuds continue to cling to aquatic vegetation and consequently get dislodged on a fairly frequent basis. Hungry winter trout do not miss the opportunity to grab these nourishing bits as they float by. We all love shrimp cocktail!

Fresh Water Shrimp

My post of 12/20/2019 described my hiatus from fishing scuds and also outlined some of my successes during the 90’s, when an orange scud in April and May was a ticket to a full net. The piece from December 2019 also highlights a few of my deviations from the standard scud tying procedure. Rather than waiting another twenty years to replenish my supply of scuds, I counted my current stock in my various storage containers, and I determined that I needed three additional gray and one olive. I fished scuds a few more times than normal in 2020, and that perhaps accounted for the shrinkage in inventory.

Nice Lighting

I am determined to give scuds a fair trial in 2021. They worked in the 90’s, and the experts swear by them, so I am convinced that a vote of confidence from this angler will yield results.

A Batch of Four with the Needed Materials

Big Thompson River – 12/08/2020

Time: 12:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Loveland, CO

Big Thompson River 12/08/2020 Photo Album

Elusive. If you follow my blog, you know that I am on the verge of completing a lifetime first; landing a trout in each month of the calendar year. In 2017 I netted a trout in every month except January. During January 2020 I landed two trout on a mild day near the end of the month and then notched another pair on the first day of February. I salvaged May after heart surgery recovery with a few trout at the end of the month. The final hurdle is December, and some unseasonably mild weather featuring a high temperature in the low sixties encouraged me to make another attempt on Tuesday, December 8.

Initially I selected the North Fork of St. Vrain creek as my destination because of its lower elevation, but the DWR web site displayed flows of 0 CFS. I was unsure whether this was a technical glitch in the gauge or evidence of a dry streambed, so I called the Laughing Grizzly fly shop in Longmont. The young man who answered the phone was very patient and helpful, and he informed me that work was being done on the turbines at Buttonrock Dam, and only a minimal amount of waters was trickling through the canyon to keep the fish population alive. The Laughing Grizzly was asking anglers to refrain from fishing the creek to avoid stressing the trout. I respected his request but then asked what site he would recommend as an alternative. He promptly responded with the Big Thompson River and suggested two sections. I knew the Big T was also registering minimal flows of 14 CFS, and he agreed that the fishing was challenging in the low and clear water, but customers provided reports of decent success. I decided to heed his advice and headed to the Big Thompson River west of Loveland, CO.

On Thin Ice

I arrived at 11:30 and quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod. By the time I was ready to fish, my watch displayed 11:45AM, so I sat in the car and munched my lunch. By noon I began to hike downstream on a narrow path. After .3 mile I arrived at a section with a slow moving current through an area of moderate depth along the northern bank. As I traveled along the river on my downstream hike, I noted many areas with very thin shelf ice.

I pondered my choices for a fly fishing method and settled on indicator nymphing that utilized poly yarn. I pulled out my New Zealand strike indicator tool and attached the poly yarn and then knotted an orange perdigon and classic RS2 to my line. The perdigon contained a tungsten bead, so I chose to forego a split shot. I began working my way upstream and disturbed a twelve inch trout in the first pool. My optimism surged with the sighting of a trout in a never before fished section of the Big Thompson River.

The Ice Shelf Created a Dam

I persisted for the next .2 mile, but landing a December trout remained an elusive goal. In all fairness the circumstances could not have been more challenging, as much of the river was wide, shallow, clear and very slow moving. The light indicator minimized the entry disturbance, but not completely. I sought out the places with faster currents and riffles at the head of pools in order to mask the splash down of my casts, but even that ploy failed to allow success. During this time period I swapped the RS2 for a zebra midge, but the change was not effective.

One of the More Attractive Runs

After .2 mile I arrived at a highway overpass and continued for another short distance. The character of this section was more conducive to trout, as the streambed narrowed and large boulders created nice deep runs and pockets. Unfortunately only three such segments appeared, before I encountered some yellow private property signs. I spotted one more small trout, that I disturbed from a deep hole, and I would have been happy to land it to reach my December trout goal. Since I ran out of public real estate by 2:15PM, I decided to drive back downstream for a couple miles to a stretch near my friend Lonnie’s house.

When I arrived on the south side of the river beyond a bridge, I parked and then hiked on a dirt trail that followed the river to a fence with a no trespassing sign. At this point I veered to the right for a short distance and intersected with the river. For the last half hour of the day on Tuesday I migrated upstream with the perdigon and zebra midge and prospected likely spots, but once again the fly fishing gods thwarted my efforts to land a December trout. After three hours of fishing my December trout remained elusive. Weather will dictate whether I enjoy additional opportunities to achieve my 2020 goal of a trout in each month of the year.

Fish Landed: 0

Classic RS2 – 12/07/2020

Classic RS2 12/07/2020 Photo Album

If inventory depletion is an indication of the popularity of a fly, then the RS2 remains as a stalwart among my collection of baetis nymph imitations. I fired up the vise and produced seven new classics; whereas, the sparkle wing versions remained adequately stocked. To read my latest narrative on the positive qualities of the classic RS2, click on this link to last year’s post. For a materials table and a nice discussion of my material substitutions, browse on over to my post of 01/21/2011.

Underside

I maintain a supply of baetis nymphs ranging from the sparkle wing RS2 to the super nova baetis, but it is hard to beat the productivity of the classic RS2. I continue to stock an ample supply for the regular blue winged olive hatches in the spring and fall. I cannot wait for the 2021 spring emergence to kick off another season.

Completed Batch

Boulder Creek – 12/06/2020

Time: 1:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: City of Boulder

Boulder Creek 12/06/2020 Photo Album

I rested for nearly three weeks after my ablation procedure on November 17, but a forecast of high temperatures in the low sixties prompted me to end my fly fishing hiatus. I packed my fishing gear and made the short drive to Boulder Creek within the City of Boulder. A two hour stay while temperatures were at their peak did not merit a long trip. My goal was to land one trout to satisfy the accomplishment of netting at least one trout in every month of 2020.

Nice Pool, but No Luck

I arrived at the stream by 12:30, and by the time I pulled on my waders and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and ambled to the stream, my watch displayed 1:00PM. I knotted a peacock hippie stomper to my line and then suspended an ultra zug bug and beadhead hares ear below the foam dry fly. Over the course of two hours on the low and placid creek I made two modifications. The first change involved lengthening the dropper from the hippie stomper to accommodate a deeper drift. The second modification featured replacing the ultra zug bug with a super nova baetis.

Moderate Riffle Did Not Produce

None of these adjustments yielded the result that I was seeking, and I ended my trip with a fish count of zero, and I was prevented from landing one trout in each month of the year. The best I could muster was a refusal to the hippie stomper next to a large bankside boulder. I flicked another cast above the point of refusal, and the surface fly paused which provoked a sudden hook set. Alas I was connected to a fish for a very brief moment, before it shed the super nova baetis. Some mild temperatures are projected for the upcoming days, so perhaps I will launch another effort for the elusive December trout.

Fish Landed: 0

Super Nova Baetis – 12/05/2020

Super Nova Baetis 12/05/2020 Photo Album

As described in my previous post I experimented with the super nova series created by @hopperjuan_fly_fishing. I began with the PMD version, since it performed decently in some brief trials, but the baetis form of the super nova also nabbed a few fish during blue winged olive hatches. With this favorable background I decided to augment my supply of these flies as well.

Clearer

My post from last April during the early stages of the covid19 pandemic provides a materials table and an explanation of some of the substitutions, that I adopted. I manufactured eight new super nova baetis, and I am anxious to allocate more line time to these flashy baetis nymph imitations.

A Favorite Shot

Super Nova PMD – 12/01/2020

Super Nova PMD 12/01/2020 Photo Album

The super nova PMD burst on the scene, just as one would expect from an explosive celestial body. During my recovery from heart surgery and during the early months of the covid pandemic, I tied an array of new flies to occupy my time. The super nova flies created by @hopperjuan_fly_fishing caught my attention, and I began with five PMD’s and five baetis.

Slim Rib Ribbing

Throughout the 2020 season I tested these flies, and both generated positive results, although the PMD version surpassed the baetis adaptation. During several outings I knotted the super nova to my line in situations, where I would normally opt for a pheasant tail nymph or salvation nymph, and it performed well. I do not view it as a replacement for the top producing salvation, but I am very comfortable with it replacing the pheasant tail nymph. The fly looks quite similar, and it is a much simpler tie. In addition I believe the materials are more durable than the fragile pheasant tail fibers that form a large proportion of the pheasant tail nymph.

Ten Super Nova PMD’s

My post of 04/12/2020 provides a nice description of the super nova and its applications, and it also provides a materials list. I tied five in April 2020, and my glimpses of success prompted me to tie an additional ten to bring my inventory to fifteen. Meanwhile I continue to work off my ample inventory of beadhead pheasant tail nymphs.