Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Below Gross Reservoir
I view South Boulder Creek as my home stream, and after days like today, it is also becoming my favorite. A tough day on Clear Creek on Monday delivered a major blow to my confidence, and I departed for South Boulder Creek knowing that flows were recently reduced to 15 CFS. I was not sure what to expect. Low flows often translate to wary skittish fish, stealthy approaches and long casts.
I arrived at the upper “kayak” parking lot by 9:45, and by the time I climbed into my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod and began my descent, it was a bit after 10AM. The weather was spectacular, as the temperature hovered in the low sixties when I began my hike. Very few clouds interfered with the warm solar energy generated by the sun, and I suspect the high temperature climbed to the upper seventies during the afternoon. I was very comfortable during my day on the creek with a long sleeved fishing shirt.
Two other vehicles preceded me to the parking lot, so I hiked a good distance downstream, before I began my pursuit of cold water fish. As I strode along the path, I pondered what flies to try and quickly narrowed my options to a beetle, ant, small caddis, pale morning dun and green drake. I was skeptical that green drakes were still present, but my experience told me that trout have long memories, when it comes to western green drakes.
When I finally waded into the river, I led with a Jake’s gulp beetle, however, the fish in the first hour were blind to the size 12 plopping terrestrial. I segued to a size 18 caddis, and it generated a couple looks, but the fish could not pull the trigger and eat it. I looked in one of my fly boxes and noticed an assortment of terrestrials that I purchased in Viroqua, WI; and I decided to try a hippy stomper. This oddly named fly had a silver body, and it was constructed from foam, but it was not as large as the Jake’s gulp beetle that I tested earlier. Voila! The hippy stomper lit up the fish catch scoreboard, as I landed four brown trout in the ten to twelve inch range in a short amount of time.
Just as I gained confidence in my new offering, it ceased to attract trout, so after a lull I exchanged it for a narrow beetle imitation with a hard shiny metallic body. I was skeptical that this fly would float, but I gave it a try anyway, and on the fifth drift as I lifted to make another cast, a small brown trout latched on to the disco ant. That is my name, since I do not know the official name of the fly. I made a few more casts after I released the brown, but I quickly lost confidence in a fly, that I could not see, so I went back to the Driftless terrestrial collection and knotted a small size sixteen foam beetle with a peacock body to my line.
The small beetle was also difficult to follow, but the fish seemed to see it just fine, and I landed three more brown trout to boost the fish counter to eight. At this point I reached an area with several nice flat rocks, and it was approaching noon, so I chose to make the spot my cafeteria. My attitude performed a one hundred and eighty degree reversal from Monday, when I pouted over a potential skunking, as I downed my sandwich.
After lunch I continued my upstream migration, but again I lost confidence in the miniature beetle, since I was unable to track it in shadows and glare. I was certain that the fish were opportunistically feeding on random terrestrials, so I decided to give Jake’s gulp beetle another try. Perhaps the water temperature was not yet in the ideal range for eating when I began at eleven o’clock. I surveyed my fly box and plucked a size 12 beetle from its slot and attached it to my line. This beetle had a peacock dubbed body, and it was one size smaller than the earlier version.
My hunch was spot on, and Jake’s gulp beetle became a popular fake source of protein for the South Boulder Creek trout. I plopped it in every likely nook large or small, and I was amazed that fish materialized from small nondescript pockets on a frequent basis. The best places were wide riffles of moderate depth, but small pockets and deep runs between large rocks also produced. The fish count skied from eight to twenty-four on the back of Jake’s gulp beetle, and I was in a state of euphoria. How could two days of fishing be so different? The size 12 beetle lost one set of legs, but the fish did not seem to discriminate against a two legged beetle, and in fact seemed to prefer it. A natural beetle possesses six legs, so even the original version was not biologically accurate.
When the fish count paused at twenty-four, I spotted a couple large mayflies, as they slowly fluttered up from the stream. Could they be green drakes? In addition to the large drakes, there was a flurry of blue winged olives and a smattering of pale morning duns. I decided to go big, and I tied a size 14 2XL green drake comparadun with a maroon ribbed body to my line. The reaction from the South Boulder Creek trout was gratifying. Fish moved several feet to savor my fake green drake, and they inhaled it with confidence. I observed one brown trout, as it looked at the fly, decided to pass it up, and then reversed its decision and raced downstream for four feet and snatched the fraud just before it skated over the lip of the pool. I love the feeling of confidence that arises from selecting a fly that fish crush repeatedly without hesitation.
Needless to say I was on to something, and the fish counter rocketed from twenty-four to forty, while the green drake comparaduns occupied a place on the end of my leader. I used the plural of comparadun, because I snapped two off in the mouths of fish during this exciting period. By 2:45 I encountered a gorgeous wide smooth pool, and I was certain that quite a few trout inhabited the neighborhood. Unfortunately they were not fans of the comparadun, yet several fish revealed their whereabouts with subtle rises. I observed smaller mayflies in the air, so I removed the drake and replaced it with a size sixteen light gray comparadun. This fly is my favorite pale morning dun imitation.
The small comparadun required more focus to follow in the riffles, but I added three browns to the count that were fooled by the money fly. After this bit of success, however, a longer than normal lull developed, and I grew impatient with the pale morning dun imitation and switched back to a Jake’s gulp beetle. The beetle was not the hot commodity that enticed fish earlier in the afternoon, but it did account for two more brown trout to ratchet the count to forty-five. During the third beetle period, quite a few small blue winged olives made an appearance, so I added a RS2 on a dropper, but the trailing nymph never connected with a trout.
As the sun angled toward the western horizon, the shadows extended over much of the stream, and I decided to end my quest for South Boulder Creek residents. On my return hike I approached a quality pool and noticed a rise, so I paused and attempted to dupe yet another fish. I removed the beetle and RS2 and knotted the light gray comparadun to my line, and on my third cast a spunky rainbow trout slurped the PMD imitation. Again I found the trail and continued, until I reached the pedestrian bridge.
Before crossing the bridge, I gazed at the downstream pool, and I was quickly captivated by a thirteen inch fish, as it held a foot below the surface in a small depression near the bottom of the pool. I scrambled down some rocks to make a few final casts to the target, but then I saw another fisherman directly under the bridge. I quickly apologized, but he invited me to make some casts, as he said he was about to leave. After exchanging information about our days on the stream, I backhanded a cast to the middle of the pool, and a small seven inch rainbow darted to the surface and consumed the PMD. I continued with some additional casts to other positions in the pool, but the sighted fish ignored my offering.
I learned that my new companion’s name was Channing, and after I showed him the beetle that produced earlier, he tied one to his line and drifted it through the gut of the pool, but the selective bridge pool dwellers were not interested. I spotted a small black stonefly and commented on it to Channing, and he replied that they were all over the place. I opened my fly box and pulled out a size 18 black stonefly, that I tied for October and November and offered it to him. He accepted, and as I looked on, he made some drifts with the small stonefly, but it was not popular on Tuesday, September 19. I said goodbye and completed the remainder of my hike to the parking lot.
Tuesday was probably my best ever day on South Boulder Creek. The fish were hungry and responded to my fly choices throughout the day. The lingering effectiveness of green drakes on the small local tailwater was a nice discovery.
Fish Landed: 47