Yampa River – 06/15/2020

Time: 7:30PM – 8:45PM

Location: Stagecoach tailwater.

Yampa River 06/15/2020 Photo Album

The Lake in the Background

After a three hour plus drive I arrived at campsite number 87 on the McKindley Loop at Stagecoach State Park, and I set up my tent and ate my dinner of soup, bread and carrots. Once the dishes were cleaned up and with daylight lingering until 9PM, I decided to make the short drive to the Stagecoach tailwater of the Yampa River. Only one other vehicle was present, and I was pleased with this revelation. I quickly assembled my Sage One five weight with the hope of landing some larger than average trout, and I departed along the dirt road that leads upstream toward the dam. As I ambled along, I spotted a fisherman downstream from the parking lot, so I knew that I had the entire river above the other angler to myself. Needless to say, I was pleased.

My Favorite Pool

On the Board

I immediately decided to head to my favorite pool next to and above a tall evergreen tree. The reported flows were 47 CFS, and the river looked absolutely gorgeous. A quick scan of the pool upon my arrival revealed a few sporadic rises, so I decided to launch my fly fishing evening with dry flies. The weather was very pleasant with temperatures in the seventies as I began, but the disappearance of the sun, when I quit at 8:45PM, created quite a chill. Only one other car was present in the lot, when I arrived, but another young man named John pulled in, as I departed the parking lot. I know his name, because I chatted with him, when we both returned to our cars at the end of the evening. John does marketing communications for Honey Stinger, a producer of honey-based energy products in Steamboat Springs.

Short but Wide

When I arrived at my favorite pool, I rigged with a size 14 yellow stimulator, and it generated a couple refusals. I progressed to a desperate caddis, but I snapped it off in a tree in short order. Before the fly loss, however, I determined that the fish were not interested, and it was hard to track in the evening light. Next I chose a size 16 parachute Adams, always a solid choice, when it is unclear what the fish are responding to. The Adams was mostly ignored, although I did get on the scoreboard with a small rainbow trout and brook trout. Just as I was gaining confidence in the Adams, the parachute hackle unraveled, and rather that replacing it with a duplicate, I opted to try a size 16 light gray comparadun, but it only produced a couple refusals. I weighed a return to an Adams but instead downsized to a size 18 light gray comparadun, and this choice proved a winner, with three landed and two temporary hook ups over the remainder of my time on the river. The three trout that rested in my net included a fat thirteen inch rainbow trout and a gorgeous thirteen inch brook trout. I consider any brook trout in excess of thirteen inches to be a prize.

Handsome Fish

In summary I landed five trout in 1.25 hours of fishing. I essentially had the short special regulation section of the Yampa tailwater to myself, and that is a rarity. Two of the landed fish stretched to thirteen inches, and I cast dry flies the entire time. The start of my camping and fishing adventure on the Yampa was off to an auspicious start.

Fish Landed: 5

Davis Ponds – 06/11/2020

Time: 12:30PM – 3:30PM

Location: Lower Pond

Davis Ponds 06/11/2020 Photo Album

After a successful day on the South Platte River on 06/04/2020 Jane and I planned a return visit on June 11. Of course that was before I checked the DWR flow data on Wednesday evening and discovered that the water managers opened the taps which resulted in a spike from 150 CFS to 275 CFS. I was tempted to follow through on the original plan at the higher level; however, I read an online report, that suggested it would take several days for the trout to settle in to a new comfort zone. Since our trip was planned for only a day or two after the spike, we modified our plans.

Signature Rock Cliffs

I searched all my Colorado options, and other than some tailwaters that required an overnight stay, I was forced to consider lakes. I pondered several options, but my mind continually returned to my Tuesday outing at the Davis Ponds and the non-stop action that entertained me for two hours on a cold and blustery afternoon. I was confident that the stocked fish remained in place, so why not return on a pleasant spring day to see if the trout remained in a hungry state of mind.

Wild Iris

Since Jane graciously agreed to accompany me, we decided to complete a hiking loop, before I embarked on my fly fishing gambit. The three mile amble through the spaced out pines and green meadows took us past some historic cabins and returned us to the parking lot, where we stuffed our lunches in our backpacks, and I grabbed my fishing gear. We hiked another 1.2 miles to a picnic table overlooking the lower pond, and we relaxed and enjoyed our lunches. Ten anglers were spaced around the lower pond, and for some reason the downstream option seemed more popular than the upper. This was the opposite scenario from that observed on Tuesday.

Lower Davis Pond Starting Point

The weather was spectacular, as the temperature hovered in the low seventies, and the wind was weaker and less frequent than two days prior. Once I finished my lunch, I assembled my Orvis Access four weight, and I strolled around the handicapped platform to the angled rocky section of the dam on the west side of the spillway. I yearned for the same area that rewarded me with constant action on Tuesday, but a woman and her son were positioned in the southeast corner, and I conceded them adequate space.

I began with a beadhead emerald caddis pupa and a dark cahill style wet fly, and I began spraying casts in all directions from my position along the rock dam wall. Within the first fifteen minutes I landed three small rainbow trout, and I was certain that the magic of Tuesday was about to continue on Thursday. A lull over the next ten minutes, however, assured me that ridiculously easy fishing was not a reality for Thursday, June 11.

On the Board

I was craving the southwest corner of the pond, when the mother and son decided to call it a day, so I immediately hooked my flies to the rod guide and circled across the metal bridge and descended to the area ten feet beyond the concrete spillway. This spot would remain my home for the remainder of the afternoon. Unlike Tuesday when I experienced extended periods, when fish attacked my fly on every cast, I had to work for my fish count on Thursday. My catch rate was decent, but I never settled on a single fly that was a dependable fish attractor. I cycled through an abundant quantity of fly changes, and it seemed that each one fooled a fish or two, and then the pond residents became educated and ignored my offerings.

Not Too Bad

By 3:30PM when I called it quits, I landed fifteen stocked rainbow trout, and all were in the nine to twelve inch range. I cycled through numerous flies that included a wiggle damsel nymph,  prince nymph, leadwing coachman, hares ear wet fly, bright green sparkle caddis pupa, partridge and orange, soft hackle emerger, black parachute ant, brown-olive body deer hair caddis, and Jake’s gulp beetle. Nearly every fly duped at least one fish, but only the wiggle damsel nymph registered more than a couple netted fish. The damsel accounted for at least four of the fifteen fish that rested in my net during the three hours of fishing.

The wind ebbed and flowed, and when it died back, the smooth surface of the pond was sprinkled with small expanding rings from sipping trout. I was never able to observe the food that spurred these feeding spurts, but I experimented with a fur ant, adult caddis and a black beetle. The ant generated only refusals, but the caddis and beetle produced a few fish. When the wind accelerated to create a surface riffle, the fish shifted to subsurface feeding. I remained faithful to the double wet fly combination, because I enjoyed more success below the surface, although the action was much more inconsistent than that of Tuesday. I suspect that I encountered very recently stocked trout on Tuesday, and by Thursday the hatchery raised fish had already developed a bit of wariness.

Caught My Attention on the Return Hike

Thursday was another enjoyable day of fly fishing in Colorado. I accompanied my wife on a magnificent hike through the forest, and then I landed fifteen trout in three hours. Admittedly the fish were stocked and not as gratifying as wild trout, but given my lack of success on lakes and the limited options on streams, I was quite pleased with my results.

Fish Landed: 15

Davis Ponds – 06/09/2020

Time: 12:00PM – 2:00PM

Location: Lower Pond

Davis Ponds 06/09/2020 Photo Album

Tuesday was a cold and blustery day after steady rain on Monday evening into Tuesday morning. Reports of snow in the high country caused Jane and i to be concerned about encountering the white stuff on our exploratory adventure to Davis Ponds. When we arrived at the trailhead, we were pleased to learn that snow was absent from the area; however, we both slipped on several layers and head wear that covered our ears. I wore a fleece and light down coat along with my New Zealand billed hat with the ear flaps down. I was concerned about the wind, but opted to carry my Orvis Access four weight, and I made the assumption that I could fish from the bank without waders or wading boots, and this premise proved to be accurate.

A Pretty Valley

After a one mile hike Jane and I arrived at two ponds that were staggered in a small valley among large pine trees. The upper pond was occupied by ten anglers, so Jane and I used the path that traversed the dam of the upper pond, and we set up a base camp at a picnic table that overlooked the lower pond from the northwest corner. I quickly assembled my fly rod, after I spotted a few random rises within casting distance of the northwestern shoreline. I began my quest for Davis Pond trout by knotting a size 18 olive-brown deer hair caddis to my line. I sprayed casts in all directions with emphasis on the area that recently revealed rises, but no response was forthcoming. I experimented with stripping the dry fly to create small intermittent wakes, but none of the retrieval ploys paid off.

My Pond for Two Hours

One of the Better Fish

In a state of uncertainty and mild frustration I carefully moved closer to the inlet area and fired some casts to the slow inflow. Sometimes trout gather where food arrives from the stream, but in this case the tactic was met with a lack of interest. In addition to the cool temperatures the wind was another significant factor. I chose the north end of the pond because of the rises and because the pond was protected from the wind by a high bank. However, after twenty minutes with a lack of success, I tossed my theories aside and walked around the lake to observe. I passed the handicapped platform and then crossed the bridge at the dam of the lower lake, where a tiny stream sluiced down a concrete spillway.

When I arrived at the southwest corner, I scrambled down the jumble of rocks that formed the dam, and I noticed a random rise or two, so I began to drop some casts to the vicinity. Eventually a couple of nine inch stocked rainbow trout nailed the caddis, as I twitched it or lifted it for another cast. Clearly movement was a prerequisite for action. I could see quite a few trout in front of me, and I observed them, as they followed my fly, while I slowly stripped it, but they seemed to turn away more often than not.

Washed Out Stocker

I decided to try something just below the surface and knotted a bright green sparkle pupa to my line. This fly sparked additional action, and I jumped the fish count to five, but the number of trout following and refusing greatly exceeded the eaters. Perhaps two wet flies would spur more interest while allowing me to experiment with different flies? I extended a twelve inch tippet section from the eye of the caddis pupa, and I added a size 16 leadwing coachman, that my friend, Jeff, gave me in Pennsylvania while fishing to isonychia. This fly proved a winner, and the trout absolutely crushed it.

I began catching a trout on nearly every cast, and I had a blast for the last hour and fifteen minutes stripping and hooking stocker rainbows from the lower pond. I broke off the smoking hot leadwing coachman at one point, and I replaced it with a dark cahill wetfly, that I tied more than thirty years ago, and the cahill was quite effective as well.

Wildflowers in Abundance

In the midst of the fast action I lost the dark cahill and replaced it with a prince nymph without a bead, and that fly also fooled some fish, before I secured it to my rod guide and quit for the day after landing twenty-two trout. I noticed Jane was huddled against the wind and staring at me, so I knew it was time to end the fun. Of course, they were all stockers, but after being skunked on two previous stillwater outings, I confess that it was fun to enjoy intense action for a change. Stocked trout are put there to catch, aren’t they?

Fish Landed: 22

South Platte River – 06/04/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 2:00PM

Location: Eleven Mile Canyon

South Platte River 06/04/2020 Photo Album

Three unproductive trips to lakes reinforced my desire to visit some flowing water, but the nagging question was where? Based on my review of the stream flow data on the DWR web site, it was clear that tailwaters offered the only viable option, as the Colorado freestones climbed toward their peaks. I contemplated the South Platte River for my trip on May 29, but the idea of a solo excursion of that length within eight weeks of heart surgery discouraged me, and I opted for nearby Bear Creek. Friday was a fun comeback outing, but I yearned for the possibility of tangling with trout of greater size.

The weather forecast for the week of June 3 projected highs in the upper 80’s and low 90’s. At the start of the week I suggested to Jane a trip to the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon, and she agreed. Jane could share the driving and track my well being, as I logged some sorely needed stream time. I checked the flows on Thursday morning, and 83 CFS was the current reading, and I knew from history that this level was nearly ideal. I was, however, bothered by the slope of the line, as it rose from 60 to 83 over the last few days.

I packed most of my gear on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning we threw Jane’s bicycle and folding chair in the Santa Fe, and we hit the road by 8AM. This departure time enabled us to pull into a wide parking space by 10:00AM, and my wading boots were wet by 10:30AM. I elected to utilize my Sage four weight in case of wind, and after contemplating wet wading I opted to wear my waders. Ironically I am a fisherman, who does not particularly like to get wet.

As Good a Place as Any to Start

Quite a few competing fishermen were in the canyon, as the South Platte River represents one of a limited number of tailwaters that provide manageable flows during the run off time period. In spite of the greater than normal population of anglers, I found a nice starting spot at the bottom of a lengthy section of pocket water. Jane departed on a two hour hike, while I extended my leader and tied on a size 6 yellow fat Albert, a beadhead hares ear, and a salvation nymph. I decided to rely on the historically top producing flies from my fly box. I began lobbing casts upstream, and I allowed the three fly configuration to drift through some very attractive deep riffles and runs. After ten such passes I was surprised with a lack of action, but then just as the fat Albert entered a deep hole in front of a large submerged rock, it dipped, and I set the hook on a nice twelve inch brown. This was my largest post-operative fish, and I enjoyed a brief celebration. The much appreciated brown trout nipped the salvation nymph.

On the Board

I moved on through some additional juicy pockets, but the local trout were ignoring my three fly offering. A few caddis buzzed about along with a rare size 20 mayfly, but then I spotted a pair of size 12 or 14 golden stoneflies. I reacted to this observation by swapping the salvation nymph for an iron sally. The move paid dividends, when I landed three additional brown trout in the 12 -13 inch range shortly before noon. All three trout came from a narrow but deep ribbon of water that flowed between a large exposed boulder and the fast main current. I probed many more attractive places during the morning with no response, but I was nevertheless pleased by this sudden reversal of fortunes. All three of the hungry brown trout gobbled the tumbling iron sally, and this circumstance vindicated my switch.

Iron Sally Got It Done

A Fine Fish

I crossed the river and returned to Jane’s shady retreat along the dirt road, just after she returned from her hike. I grabbed my lunch and stool, and we relaxed and chatted for twenty minutes, before I resumed my quest for trout. I hiked back along the shoulder of the road, and while Jane looked on, I carefully lowered myself down a steep bank and crossed the river, until I was positioned just above my exit point. Between 12:30PM and 2:00 PM I continued my upstream progression at a steady rate, and I prospected all the likely runs and pockets. I was pleased to have the entire river to myself until the last thirty minutes, when a solo angler appeared above and below me.

After Lunch Rainbow

Deep Riffles in Front of Large Boulder Produced the Rainbow

For the first twenty minutes after lunch I failed to discover any signs of trout in spite of passing through quality water, so I made another modification to my lineup. I replaced the unproductive hares ear with an emerald caddis pupa, but maintained the trailing iron sally. Shortly after this adjustment the fat Albert dipped in a deep riffle near the opposite side of the river, and I quickly lifted the rod tip and found myself attached to a rambunctious rainbow trout. The silver bullet streaked up and down the river, until I eventually leveraged it into my net. The pink striped tout displayed an emerald caddis pupa in its mouth, and it extended to fourteen inches; the best fish of the day.

Pretty Typical for Thursday

For the remainder of the afternoon I worked my way upstream and methodically cast to all the likely trout lies while adding three more brown trout to the count. All were in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and one feasted on the emerald caddis pupa, one crushed the fat Albert, and the other grabbed the iron sally. Some clouds moved in and blocked the sky for a short while, and a flurry of raindrops descended but not enough to force a retrieval of my raincoat. Between 2:30 and 3:00PM I approached a young angler above me, and I looked back on another single fishermen in the water that I just covered. I gently released my eighth fish and waded across the river and then returned to the car.

Another Deep Trough

In 3.5 hours of fly fishing I landed eight trout, and all were twelve inches or greater. This was my best outing by far since my surgery, I was was quite pleased with the outcome. Quite a few promising spots failed to deliver, and the larger, slow moving pools were not productive. I focused my efforts in long deep runs next to current seams, and riffles of moderate depth or large deep pockets were also favorite trout lairs. Afternoon cloud cover probably kept the high temperature in the upper seventies, and the scenery was exceedingly spectacular. I love the large boulders and spaced out pines that characterize the South Platte drainage. Jane had a great time as well, so hopefully I can convince her to make another trip in the near future. I noticed that the flows have gradually elevated to 93 as of June 5.

Fish Landed: 8

Sawhill Ponds – 06/02/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 12:30PM

Location: Ponds near south parking lot

Sawhill Ponds 06/02/2020 Photo Album

I can easily count on one hand the number of times I fished in lakes for warmwater species over the last ten years. I do recall landing a pair of small bass on Penns Creek during my 2018 visit, but these were bonus catches, as I was targeting trout at the time. My last recollection of actually targeting warmwater species on a Colorado lake was from a trip to Lake Mary in Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge on June 12, 2011. Yes, that was quite a while ago.

I recently embarked on a book reading binge in response to the coronavirus and my sedentary existence resulting from recovery from heart surgery. Initially my reading list focused on western mystery novels such as those authored by Craig Johnson and C. J. Box. I devoured these books at an alarming rate, so I decided to augment my list to include books by John Gierach. Trout Bum was his first effort that followed his usual collection of humorous stories about fly fishing, and one of the chapters was titled Sawhill Ponds. This caught my attention because Jane, Dan, Amy, Zuni and I hiked the Sawhill Pond area in December 2019, so I was familiar with the location. Gierach described his success during  the month of April each spring casting to bluegills, while they protected their spawning beds. Of course Trout Bum was written before we moved to Colorado, but at least I knew that the ponds were still there, and they were available to the public. I was unclear whether Gierach still visited the warmwater ponds during the spring spawning event.

My success at Pine Lake in Pine Valley Ranch was nonexistent, and similar results from Harper Lake frustrated my attempts to land trout from stillwater. The peaking snow melt on flowing water eliminated that option, and I was largely confined to lakes. Could warmwater species reverse my lake fishing fortunes? I performed a Google search on Sawhill Ponds and discovered, that they were created by a gravel quarry that filled in with underground water, and there were eighteen in the area next to Boulder Creek. Belly boats were the only water craft allowed, but I planned to fish from shore, so that information was irrelevant to me. Very little additional information was available on the internet for Sawhill Ponds. On Tuesday, June 2, 2020 I decided to pay a visit to the Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, CO.

Pond Fishing

A forty minute drive delivered me to the south parking lot by 9:30AM. The sun was very bright, and the temperature was already eighty degrees, as I pulled on my thick waders and assembled my Sage four weight. I considered wading wet, but I was unfamiliar with the territory, and the area struck me as a potential mosquito, snake and poison ivy hotspot. In my mind, a bit of perspiration was preferable to these dangers. There were lakes on the east and west sides of the parking area, but I decided to hike a bit to escape the nearby fishing destinations. Generally places by parking lots are highly pressured, and a stroll of .5 mile or a mile yields less educated and possibly larger fish. Unfortunately on this venture I only knew there were eighteen ponds to choose from, but I knew nothing about the quality of each.

Reeds Are Cover

I began hiking west on a dirt road and passed a pond on the left and right, before I encountered a larger body of water on the left. As I surveyed each pond, I noted that several were already heavily choked with aquatic weeds, For fishing poppers or dry flies this did not present a problem, but I saw only a few random rises, and concluded that I might be stripping a streamer or wet fly, and the subsurface salad would present a hindrance to this method of fishing. The larger lake on my left offered several very open areas, and this appealed to me, but I decided to continue walking the road to explore additional options. By now I was beginning to perspire, and the vegetation ahead suggested that another body of water was not in close proximity. I decided to discontinue the steam bath and returned to the large lake, that I just passed. Later I checked out a map next to the parking lot and noted that my choice was Sawhill No. 2.

I carefully waded into the lake at the western end, but I quickly discovered that the bottom was very soft, and my wading boots suctioned into the muck. Fortunately out of habit I had my wading staff, because pulling my boot out of the quagmire was a balancing act, and having a stick to lean on was a necessity. A few random rings appeared beyond my casting range, but this observation prompted me to tie a moodah poodah to my line. The moodah poodah is a black foam fly that appears to be a cross between a beetle, cicada and housefly. I spent the next thirty minutes fanning casts straight ahead and along the shoreline in both directions, and a few small fish bumped the fly with their noses, but the new fly was largely ineffective on the fish of Sawhill No. 2. I moved east, as I paralled the shoreline, and I reached a location that displayed deeper troughs that lacked significant subaquatic vegetation. I decided to experiment with a subsurface combination.

Covered This Shoreline

I removed the moodah poodah and replaced it with a wiggle damsel nymph and prince nymph from my fleece wallet. I fired forty foot casts in all directions, but the best I could manage was a few temporary snags on aquatic plants. I employed all manner of retrieves and fished at varying depths, although the lake was not very deep. After a fair allocation of time, I exchanged the prince nymph for an old unnamed wet fly that I tied, when I still lived in Pennsylvania. Eventually I felt a bump and raised my rod and celebrated the netting of a three inch sunfish. Amazingly the sunfish grabbed the size 12 wet fly. Another lengthy lull ensued, and I began to stare into the water at my feet. I was quite surprised to see a school of bluegills swimming around my boots in a small depression. I began to wonder if I was over analyzing the situation, and could these bluegills be fooled by a worm; a San Juan worm?

No. 1

I dug in my fleece and replaced the wiggle damsel with a flesh colored worm and retained the wet fly that produced my only success. I dropped the worm at my feet to test the reaction from the visible school, and sure enough, a brave scout fish followed the worm and eventually nipped at the head or tail. This same teasing skit played out quite a few times, but the panfish eventually grew wise to the faux worm and never opened their tiny mouths over the hook point. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was approaching noon, and I grew weary of the small fish and the frustrating nipping game that they wanted to play. I climbed the bank and began walking back toward the parking area.

When I approached the eastern end of the lake, I noticed a pair of random rises in a deep clear hole just beyond a thick bank of aquatic vegetation. I decided to switch back to a dry fly to see If I could tempt the sporadic risers. I removed the split shot, worm and point fly and replaced them with a size 14 Jake’s gulp beetle. I flicked the terrestrial to the location of the sporadic rises and allowed it to sit for a minute before I twitched it back in. Were I a fish, I would have eaten the beetle in seconds, but the lake residents had other ideas. After ten minutes I surrendered and wandered back to the car knowing that I landed only one three inch sunfish in two hours of fishing. Clearly the stillwater game had me perplexed.

A Bluegill in My Net

Before quitting I ambled to a bench that was in front of a car three over from the Santa Fe. I had a beetle on my line, and I decided it would be irresponsible to not make a few casts in the nearby lake. I waded into the water several feet in front of the bench, and I focused my attention on the shore north of my position. I slung ten to fifteen casts to the area that paralled the shoreline, and my only reward was a few nips by a fish too small to get its mouth around the size 14 beetle. I turned my attention to the area fifteen feet to my left, where a moderate sized tree branched over the water. Beyond the tree a small narrow gravel beach ramped up to another bench. As I gazed at this area, I began to see a series of swirls and rises within ten feet of shore. I assumed these were small fish, but one never knows. I began plopping the beetle in the area, and landed four spunky bluegills in the next half hour. The fish did not attack the terrestrial, until I stripped it, so it created a very small wave, and that seemed to be the trigger for attack. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I salvaged my day by landing five inch bluegills, but after two hours of futility it was actually fun. I was debating in my mind whether to include warmwater fish in my fish counter, but I dodged the decision since none of the sunfish or bluegills exceeded my six inch minimum rule.

Another Beetle Chomper

I landed five small panfish in 2.5 hours of fishing, and nearly all came within the last thirty minutes. Would I return? Before I return, I would study Google maps to gain a better understanding of the layout of the eighteen lakes. I am also considering going for a non-fishing hike as a scouting expedition to determine if other better options exist. Typically lakes and streams come alive in the evening especially on hot days like Tuesday, so a late afternoon/evening visit might be another ploy to elevate my chances of success.

Fish Landed: 1 sunfish, 4 bluegills

Bear Creek – 05/29/2020

Time: 11:45AM – 2:45PM

Location: Lair of the Bear Park

Bear Creek 05/29/2020 Photo Album

As mentioned in my last post on May 28, 2020 my streak of catching at least one trout in each month of 2020 was in dire straits. Three days remained in May to guide one measly fish into my net. Of course I spent the first twenty-five days of May recovering from heart valve surgery, but I am not hiding behind that circumstance as an excuse. On May 26 and May 28 I made futile attempts to catch a trout, so for Friday May 29 it was time to get serious. I contacted my friend, Trevor (@rockymtnangler), and asked for his recommendation. Trevor is always well informed on Front Range streams, and he suggested the Cache la Poudre River and St. Vrain Creek. The flows on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek were 165 cfs, and I knew that level to be challenging from previous experience. The Poudre was intriguing, but since I was in surgery recovery mode, I was reluctant to make the longer drive for a few hours of fishing. I was uncertain whether my heart, chest and shoulder were recovered enough to endure a long day of fishing.

I began to review the stream flows on the usual suspects along the Front Range. I quickly ruled out South Boulder Creek, Clear Creek, Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River. All were over my upward limit and rising. Bear Creek was encouraging at 26 CFS, and Waterton Canyon momentarily had me excited with very favorable flows between 60 and 118 CFS. Unfortunately I recalled that Waterton Canyon was closed due to the coronavirus, and a quick web search confirmed my memory. The South Platte tailwaters were all in prime flows and conditions, but again I was not interested in a trip of that length. I decided to cast my lot with Bear Creek near Morrison, CO.

Near My Starting Point

I completed my cardiac rehab on Friday morning, and upon my return home I hustled to gather up my fishing gear. Since I only expected to fish for a couple hours, I skipped lunch preparation and instead threw a box of trail mix granola bars in my bag. Traffic was light, as I traveled west and then southwest to Morrison, CO; and I arrived at a small parking lot at Lair of the Bear Park by 11:30AM. The lot was completely full except for one slot near the trailhead, and I quickly grabbed it. I pulled on my waders and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and cut directly to the stream in front of me.

Kept the Steak Alive

I began my quest for a May trout with a tan pool toy hopper trailing a size 12 prince nymph and an emerald caddis pupa. The park was quite busy with dog walkers and hikers, but I did not spot another angler for the first hour. I advanced upstream and plopped the three fly configuration into all the likely trout holding spots. The stream volume was reasonable, but a fair amount of discoloration made the deep pools quite opaque. In the first hour I managed to land two fish. A small brown trout that snatched the prince nymph, as it tumbled along the far bank, was my first catch, and it represented the continuation of my “trout in every month” streak.

A Small Rainbow in the Mix

As I progressed upstream, I began to observe quite a few fairly large insects, as they hovered above the creek. I was uncertain whether they were caddis adults with an egg sac or golden stoneflies or yellow sallies. Eventually I swatted one from the air with my hat and brought it close for examination. The insect in my hat was clearly a golden stonefly that could be imitated with a size 14 2XL stimulator or deer hair golden stonefly. I had yet to spot any rising fish, so I swapped the emerald caddis pupa for a size 14 iron sally nymph.  The move quickly paid dividends, when I landed a ten inch rainbow from the tail of a deep run. I was very optimistic at this point that the iron sally was the appropriate fly, and my expectations soared.

Rainbow Was in Front of the Stick Dam

High expectations are rarely fulfilled, and Friday was no different. I suffered a lull in action, as I dropped my three fly rig in all the likely locations. Meanwhile the insect activity intensified, as caddis and a small mayfly joined the golden stoneflies, and in response I witnessed a few sporadic rises. Surely, the decent number of fluttering stoneflies suggested the surface feeds were a response to the largest and most prevalent food source, stoneflies.

I plucked a size 14 deer hair yellow stonefly pattern from my MFC fly box and knotted it to my line. I executed numerous gentle casts to some very attractive shelf pools and current seams, and I was certain that I solved the dry fly riddle. Alas, I did not. The fish showed no interest in my slender stonefly imitation. Perhaps a more heavily hackled pattern would create the illusion of movement? I replaced the deer hair version with a size 14 yellow body stimulator. Once again the stream residents were unimpressed, as I covered a significant amount of water without even a look or refusal. I probably invested forty-five minutes in fruitless dry fly casting, so I decided to cut my losses and reverted to the dry/dropper approach.

One Final Little Guy

I flipped open my fly box and scanned my collection of large foam top flies and selected a chubby Chernobyl with a tan ice dub body. This fly is very buoyant and quite visible, and I was interested in both those qualities. The prince nymph produced my first fish, so I retained it in my lineup, but for my point fly I selected a fusion nymph. This was one of the new patterns I tied during my surgery recovery phase.

Lots of Options Here

I prospected this three fly arrangement for the last hour and managed to land a second small brown trout on the fusion nymph.  By 2:45PM I approached a footbridge, and the character of the stream was less attractive with long wide and shallow sections. Given my weakened post surgery condition, I used the marginal stream structure as an excuse to exit and hike back to the parking lot.

Three small fish in three hours represents a very slow catch rate, but I was pleased to keep my one trout per month streak alive. I was also happy to find a stream that provided a fly fishing option on May 29, a relatively late date in the snow melt cycle.

Fish Landed: 3

Harper Lake – 05/28/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 11:00AM

Location: The west and southwest shoreline.

Harper Lake 05/28/2020 Photo Album

Thus far during 2020 I caught trout in January, February, March and April. I spent most of May recovering from surgery, but I tested my casting arm yesterday at Pine Valley Ranch and determined that I was capable of short stints of fly fishing. Unfortunately I was unable to land a trout at Pine Valley Ranch Park, so the streak of at least one trout per month remained in danger of being broken.

I receive a biweekly CPW fishing and stocking report, and during the run off time of year, I browse the stocked lakes in the northeast for possible destinations. I noticed on the May 8 report that Harper Lake was stocked in late April, and I recognized this body of water to be in Louisville, CO near my son’s home. On my return trip from the cardiac rehab center in Boulder on Wednesday I negotiated a short detour to Harper Lake. As I stood on the southwestern bank, I spotted two rises, and then I was astounded to view two fairly large fish, as they cruised twenty feet from the shoreline. Both fish were almost certainly in excess of fifteen inches, and this glimpse of fish life in Harper Lake elevated my interest in a return visit.

Looking South

My calendar was clear of medical obligations on Thursday morning, so I decided to make the short drive to Louisville with the hope of a return engagement with the large cruisers from Wednesday. I arrived at the parking lot off of McCaslin and snagged one of the three remaining slots. Before climbing into my waders I needed a pit stop, but I learned that the bathroom was locked due to the coronavirus situation. This bit of adversity caused me to jump back in the car, and I retreated to a Conoco station near the Boulder Turnpike in order to gain relief.

North View

By the time I returned to the Harper Lake parking lot and pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight, my watch indicated that it was 10AM. Another angler occupied the area that I scouted the previous day, so I wandered on the gravel path along the western shore, until I circled around a father with two young girls. The surface of the lake was mostly ruffled with tiny waves, and this made spotting surface rises impossible, so I defaulted to a streamer strategy. I knotted an olive and black woolly bugger to my line and then extended some tippet from the hook eye and added a bright green g02 caddis pupa. After a few fruitless casts I added a split shot to achieve a faster sink rate. For the next forty-five minutes I sprayed thirty to forty foot casts from the shoreline and then methodically moved to my left by another three steps before repeating the cycle. I covered forty yards of shoreline, but never felt a bump. Midway through my shoulder and arm exercise I exchanged the go2 pupa for a damsel wiggle nymph. The change made not difference to the inhabitants of the lake.

The Prize of the Day

At 10:45 I exited the lake and decided to follow the path to scout out other areas of Harper Lake. Quite a few anglers occupied the northeast and eastern portions of the lake, and all were fitted with spinning rods, but none demonstrated any evidence of success. I returned along the south bank and found a spot a bit to the east of where I spotted a pair of larger than average fish on Wednesday. I disengaged my flies from the rod guide and made a last ditch effort to notch a trout during May of 2020. I am disappointed to report that fifteen minutes of focused fishing failed to reverse my fortunes, and after one hour of effort I returned to the car with nary a fish or even bite on my scorecard. I have three more days in May to keep my streak alive, so some diligent research appears to be in order.

Fish Landed: 0

Pine Valley Ranch Park – 05/26/2020

Time: 3:45PM – 5:15PM

Location: Pine Valley Ranch Park

Pine Valley Ranch Park 05/26/2020 Photo Album

Tuesday afternoon at Pine Valley Ranch was not the celebratory return to fly fishing that I envisioned after my heart surgery, but it felt great to be outdoors in beautiful Colorado, and my casting arm stood up to an initial stress test less that six weeks after surgery. I fulfilled my 11:45AM anticoagulation appointment in Boulder, CO; and then Jane and I headed directly to Pine Valley Ranch. In anticipation of our afternoon adventure we packed the car with lunch, hiking gear, and fishing equipment. The goal of the trip was mainly to introduce Jane to the pretty Jefferson County park and to enjoy lunch in an outdoor setting. The fishing gear was included to test my shoulder and arm. I had very low expectations for the amount of time I would fish, and any amount of success would be deemed a bonus.

It took us a little over an hour to drive from Boulder, CO to the park near Pine Junction, and although quite a few cars were present in the lower lot, we easily found a space. I tugged on my hiking boots and stashed my lunch in my day pack, and we quickly departed in search of a comfortable lunch location that adhered to the social distancing rules. Eventually we found some benches on a fisherman dock on the north side of Pine Lake, and we munched our lunches, while I carefully observed the lake for signs of fish. During a lull in the breeze the lake assumed a smooth appearance, and I noted six or seven riseforms, and I was reassured to learn that trout did in fact exist in Pine Lake.

Snacking at Pine Lake

After lunch we returned to the car and then turned on to the Narrow Gauge Trail. We followed the two track gradual grade westward, as it followed the North Fork of the South Platte River to a point .3 mile beyond the boundary of the park. During this hike at a comfortable pace I scouted the river, and although it was high and a bit murky, I concluded that I could find enough slack water to entertain me on my initial foray into fly fishing after heart surgery.

Slack Water Spot

By the time Jane and I reversed course and returned to the parking lot, and I climbed into my waders and fishing gear and then ambled back to my designated spot to fish, it was 3:45. I found an easy access point and progressed upstream along the right side of the river for an hour; but, alas I was unable to identify any proof that trout actually existed in the North Fork of the South Platte River at Pine Valley Ranch. I began with a 20 incher and flesh colored San Juan worm and then cycled through an array of flies, before I called it quits at 4:45. The worm was present throughout this portion of my quest for fish, but the 20 incher was replaced with a beadhead hares ear nymph and orange scud. I also added a second split shot to make sure that I was probing the depths, in case the trout were hugging bottom, while the ice cold snow melt rushed overhead.

Along the Rock Wall

At 4:45 I hiked back along the Narrow Gauge Trail, until I reached a footbridge that spanned the river. I made a right, and the bridge delivered me to the north side of Pine Lake. I met Jane by the footbridge, so she moved her folding rocking chair to the opening next to the lake, where I began to cast. The surface of the lake was slightly riffled, and this masked surface feeding, so I tossed my indicator rig out a few times. Standing on the bank watching a stationary indicator with no evidence of fish was too boring for this avid angler, so I stripped in the flies and removed the indicator and replaced the flies with a conehead haymaker and go2 caddis pupa. I fanned casts in a semi-circle from my position on the bank and experimented with various strip cadences, but again my efforts were futile. As this was transpiring, I spotted a small fish, as it darted to the surface to nab a small morsel within a few feet of the bank. In a last ditch effort to get on the board on Tuesday, I removed the split shots and two flies and knotted a size 18 black parachute ant to my line. The ant failed to entice the small fish near the bank, and after five unproductive casts I reeled up the fly and moved to the handicapped platform, where Jane and I ate lunch. I observed closely for rises, but the light wind disturbed the surface, so I fired some medium range casts to the area around the platform. I could only tolerate this style of fishing for five or ten minutes, before I stripped my fly in and returned to the parking lot.

Back to the Lake

Jane and I shared a delightful lunch by a pretty lake in the Colorado foothills, and the three mile hike built my confidence in my improving fitness. I was reassured to be able to cast in the river and lake for 1.5 hours, and this was probably the most significant take away from Tuesday afternoon. Getting skunked was a disappointment, but my expectations were low. I’m already considering some additional Front Range lakes for future fishing outings.

Fish Landed: 0

Narrow Gauge Trail

Moodah Poodah – 05/14/2020

Moodah Poodah 05/14/2020 Photo Album

I possess quite a few foam dry flies, but I am always susceptible to adding a new pattern. Toward the back of one of my past issues of Southwest Fly Fishing, a fly that carried the unusual name of moodah poodah caught my attention. During this coronavirus and surgery recovery time I could not resist the temptation to construct a few of the foam attractors.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookTiemco 2487 Size 10-12
ThreadBlack 6/0
Hot SpotUV Hot Orange Ice Dub. I substituted orange poly.
BodyBlack Ice Dub
RibbingPearl flashabou
UnderwingBlack deer hair
HeadBlack 2MM Foam
LegsSpeckled Orange centipede legs.
PostOrange poly

The features that differentiated the moodah poodah from other foam flies in my boxes were the dangling Klinkhammer-style body, the size, and the shape. This foam fly struck me as a size that fit in between a hippie stomper and a Jake’s gulp beetle. It was large enough to float a single beadhead dropper, and the shape reminded me of a beetle, cicada and horsefly. Surely this fly covered enough bases to be a viable addition to my fly box.

Pumped to Try

I gathered my materials and churned out five reasonably accurate imitations of the moodah poodah that was displayed in the magazine article. I lacked UV hot orange ice dub for the hot spot, so I substituted orange poly and coated it with UV resin. The pattern specified black elk hair, but I utilized black deer hair instead. I also improvised for the legs by dabbing orange-red rubber appendages with a black magic marker to achieve the speckled effect. I was quite pleased with the final product, and I am anxious to give the moodah poodah a spin in western lakes and streams.

Standard Materials

X Leg Nymph – 05/11/2020

X Leg Nymph 05/11/2020 Photo Album

I lived in Colorado for thirty years; however, I continue to subscribe to Pennsylvania Boater & Angler. I enjoy staying current with the latest fishing trends and events in Pennsylvania in case I make an infrequent return visit. A recent issue outlined the tying steps for a X leg nymph, and the simplicity of the fly struck me. I scanned the pattern and recently had the time to tie some experimental models. I was also pleased to discover that I possessed all the necessary materials to create five brown versions.

Fly ComponentMaterial
Hook3X Long, curved nymph hook 10-12
Bead1/8 inch gold
Thread6/0 tan
TailBrown marabou
WireSm Gold Ultra wire
LegsAmber Barred Legs

Burrowing Nymph

The nymphs have long relatively narrow bodies and, thus, appear to be excellent imitations of the burrowing category of mayflies. Various eastern drakes fall into this category. I’m not sure if there is a brown burrowing nymph in the west, but I suspect the X leg could also replicate a stonefly, as it tumbles through deep pockets and runs in mountain environments. I will certainly allot the X leg some time on the end of my line. In a worst case scenario it should serve as a nice heavy top nymph to sink a dry/dropper rig deep on tumbling high elevation creeks. The long tapered body, undulating marabou tail, gold rib, vibrant legs, and gold bead are all attractive trigger elements of the X leg nymph.

Anxious to Test