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

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