Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM
Location: Side of lake away from the river.
With an above average snow pack in Colorado and a cold wet spring with minimal melt, I resigned myself to the prospect of shifting my focus from flowing water to lakes. Thursday was my first attempt to initiate this alternative strategy.
High elevation lakes are not the answer, since the cool spring probably translates to ice covered water at those altitudes. I reviewed the Department of Wildlife stocking report and made a list of possibilities. I was not seeking stocked trout, but logic suggested that stocking meant ice free lakes. One of the stillwater locations on my list that attracted my attention was Pine Valley Ranch Lake. The Jefferson County Open Space web site described a nice park with public fishing in a lake and in the North Fork of the South Platte River. Biking and hiking trails were part of the equation, so I concluded that I could do some fly fishing and scout the area for future cycling and hiking opportunities.
I departed Denver a bit after 10AM and arrived at the small park near Pine Grove, CO a bit after eleven o’clock. By the time I geared up with my Sage four weight and oriented myself to the new surroundings and hiked the short distance to the lake, it was 11:30AM. Quite a few anglers lined the earthen bank on the east side of the lake, when I arrived, and a grandfather/grandson team staked out a nice spot on the south shoreline. In addition a cluster of fishermen were situated in a small cleared area on the north bank.
I decided to walk toward the western end of the lake to get beyond the other fishermen, but after I cleared the grandfather and grandson, I noticed some dimples on the smooth surface of the lake. I had no idea where to begin, so the sign of fish rising convinced me to stop and begin my stillwater adventure twenty yards beyond the grandfather and grandson.
I tied on a size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and I generated an abundant quantity of refusals and two separate split second hook ups. I was very pleased to experience action just after my arrival, but I was nevertheless disappointed with my inability to steer any fish into my net. After thirty minutes of reasonable action the wind kicked up, and it was noon, so I found a nice flat rock next to a long downed tree that angled into the lake. I munched my sandwich and crunched some baby carrots, while I observed the water, but the riffles seemed to end the rising activity or made it impossible to see.
Perhaps the fish were unable to see food on the surface, so they switched their feeding habits to subsurface items. I stripped in my fly and removed it, and replaced it with a slumpbuster and bright green go2 sparkle pupa. The streamer and wet fly ploy worked on Wallowa Lake, so why would it not work here?
I do not know the answer to that question, but I can report that the trout of Pine Valley Ranch showed no interest in my subsurface offerings. I sprayed thirty to forty foot casts along thirty yards of shoreline, and I was unable to generate a hit or follow. Clearly these fish were more interested in surface food than chasing moving streamers and wet flies.
Another break in the wind allowed the lake to settle, and once again sporadic rises appeared on the mostly smooth surface. I switched back to an olive-brown caddis and added a Griffiths gnat on a six inch dropper. Similar to the earlier session, when I first arrived, the dry flies commanded infrequent interest, but the trout veered away at the last instant. Are not stocked trout supposed to be dumb?
The calm periods were interspersed with breezes and a ruffled surface, and I gazed eastward and noticed that the eastern bank blocked the wind and created a twenty to thirty yard section of water that remained relatively calm compared to the rest of the lake. I circled around the grandfather and grandson and found a spot between the eastern casting platform and the entrenched pair.
I paid close attention to the pattern of the rises, and I concluded that the frequency increased after a burst of wind. I decided to test a terrestrial, and I knotted a black fur parachute ant with an orange wing post to my 5X. I cast the ant toward the vicinity of some rises, and in the early going I notched a pair of refusals. The dry fly game tested my patience, as I cast the ant and then allowed it to sit for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. Finally on one of these long patience-testing cycles a fish flashed to the surface and inhaled the ant! Despite being in a state of shock I raised the rod tip and set the hook and felt a decent weight on the end of my line. Alas, the feeling of satisfaction was fleeting, and the fish escaped after a fifteen foot spurt. The reader can only imagine my exasperated state after this incident.
I played the stationary ant game for another five minutes before a period of unsettled air commenced. The sky darkened more than previously and the wind gusted with more intensity and created some small waves. Fishing the ant seemed futile at this point, so I decided to make one last stand with a dry/dropper. The dry/dropper method was my favorite moving water technique, so perhaps the wind and waves would create movement, and the three fly method would generate interest. I utilized a tan pool toy, prince nymph and a bright green caddis; and I fished the trio of flies for fifteen minutes. The dry/dropper experiment simply lowered my confidence level to a new depth, and it was approaching 3:30, so I called it quits and returned to the car.
I connected with three fish and failed to land any, and I certainly experienced a rash of refusals. Plenty of fish were present, and they provided enough interest to keep me mostly focused for three hours. In retrospect, I should have cycled through my fly canister of small dry flies, as the refusals probably indicated that the fish were seeking a smaller natural food source.
The park was very nice and very well maintained. The river was brown and very high, so this affirmed my need to fish stillwater for the foreseeable future. Quite a few bikers and hikers were present, so it seemed like a nice place for future outdoor activities with Jane. Learning to fish a new type of water is my goal, but it will likely be a slow process.
Fish Landed: 0