Monthly Archives: July 2012

Taylor River – 07/20/2012

Time: 11:30AM – 1:30PM

Location: A mile or two downstream from Lottis Creek Campground

Fish Landed: 9

Taylor River 07/20/2012 Photo Album

Why does it seem that the fishing is best when one has a limited window of time to fish? This was my situation on Friday, July 20, 2012. Amy and Dan were members of the Runny Noses Revival, a running relay team that started in Canon City on Friday morning at 8:30AM. The twelve team members would run 36 legs, three per person, and cover 195 rugged miles until ending in Crested Butte, CO.

The team needed to provide three volunteers so Jane and I provided our services and selected a 7.5 hour stint at exchange 33 near the end of the course. Since we needed to be at our station at 7:30AM on Saturday we decided to drive across Cottonwood Pass on Friday and secure a camp site near the Taylor River. We did a lot of packing on Thursday before hosting the team carbo loading party at our house, so we were able to depart the house by 7:30AM and arrived at Lottis Creek by approximately 11:15. We both wanted to drive back east over the pass and meet up with the Runny Noses, but I convinced Jane to allow me to fish from 11:30 until 1:30. I helped Jane unload much of the camping gear, and then she drove me down the road and dropped me off at a spot near the river.

I’d read on the Willowfly Angler web site that green drakes and pale morning duns were hatching between 10AM and 2PM, so I was anxious to see if this was true. I’d called the fly shop to find out what stretch of the river was most likely to produce hatching mayflies, and the man at the shop suggested the public water between Lodgepole and the dam.

I was right in the middle of the 10AM – 2PM time window as I strung my line through the rod guides and then hiked through the woods to the river. I emerged next to a beautiful deep pool that would actually be the nicest water I’d fish on Friday. As I pushed the loop of my fly line through the rod guides, I kept an eye on the water, and sure enough noticed one or two green drakes slowly fluttering up from the river. Surely the fish would be tuned into these juicy size 12 morsels. I elected to tie on one of the bushy green drakes I’d purchased at the Conejos Angler, but unfortunately the fish didn’t agree with my choice and rudely refused my offering. Two fish darted to the surface but turned away at the last instant.

Meanwhile I also observed some smaller mayflies, probably PMD’s, as I followed my rejected green drake. Could the fish be ignoring the big guys and focusing more on the abundant PMD’s? The only way to find out was to clip off the green drake and tie on a money fly, a light gray comparadun. The comparadun looked very life like to me, but the fish didn’t even refuse this fly. I pulled my fly up and observed the water, and noticed more green drakes and PMD’s emerging. I decided to go back to the green drake comparadun that I tied myself for the Frying Pan River. I plucked the smallest one I had in my patch, probably a size 12 2XL, and knotted it to my leader.

At last I had a winner when at the very tail of the deep run a fine twelve inch rainbow rose and confidently sipped in my green drake. I paused to wade to the bank and photographed the rainbow before releasing. I pressed the green drake against my shirt sleeve to absorb the moisture and then dipped it in the dry shake cannister. I shot some casts higher in the run and picked up a smaller brown.

First Fish on Friday on Taylor River

Over the next hour and a half I covered the pockets and runs along the right bank with the green drake comparadun and landed seven more fish, all browns. I also experienced numerous refusals, so my fly wasn’t a perfect imitation, but nine fish in two hours was certainly productive fishing. Of the nice fish landed three including the initial rainbow were in the foot long range with the others being 8-11 inches long. It was fun to flick the large green drake upstream and watch fish rush to snatch it from the surface. Unfortunately I needed to call it quits at 1:30PM and there were still mayflies emerging and fish rising.

I pledged to return at the end of the next week, and climbed up the bank and walked to the pullout where I’d agreed to meet Jane. At least the limited time window forced me to focus on my fishing and be as efficient as possible. If everything came easily, fly fishing wouldn’t be the challenge that keeps me coming back.

Brush Creek – 07/14/2012

Time: 10:00AM – 12:00PM, 5:00PM – 7:30PM

Location: Eagle Ranch Rd bridge to Brice’s land, Undercut bank through private water to Eagle Ranch Rd bridge

Fish Landed: 6

Brush Creek 07/14/2012 Photo Album

Dave G. called the landowners of a private stretch of Brush Creek and obtained permission to fish through it on Saturday, so that was part of our gameplan. Dave suggested that we fish Brush Creek from the Eagle Ranch Road bridge upstream to the southern end of the Eagle Ranch property in the morning, and then fish the private water in the evening, and I readily agreed to the plan. After a hearty breakfast with Beth and Jane, Dave and I prepared to fish, and Beth drove us to the bridge where we began fishing. We once again employed the hopscotching method and built cairns to denote where the upstream fisherman entered the water.

I began fishing the water closest to the bridge while Dave changed his flies from the previous outing. I decided to go with my standard starting pair of flies, a yellow Letort hopper with a beadhead hares ear nymph. I didn’t have any luck in the first short run so I moved up to a nice ten foot long pool. On the first cast I witnessed a refusal from a small fish and then on the second cast my trailing nymph snagged on a submerged stick. I waded into the pool to free my fly and disturbed it, so I moved on to the next stretch. This was very attractive water with a long 25 foot pool and the main current flowing along the grassy left bank.

I began casting to the lower part of the pool where it tailed out but didn’t have any luck, so I moved up a bit and was standing at the very bottom of the pool. I shot a few casts up higher in the slack water to the right of the current and again had no reaction. However on perhaps the third cast closer to the edge of the current a huge head appeared which engulfed my fly. I set the hook thinking the fish had taken the hopper, and the fish immediately arched above the water so I could see it was a nice football shaped brown. Next the brown shot to the left and headed for the undercut bank. I continued to apply side pressure and moved it away from the bank. By now Dave G. had come up behind me and was watching the ensuing battle. The brown kept trying to go under the bank, and I kept guiding it back out. After three or four of these episodes, the brown made an upstream run and then quickly stopped. I frantically reeled up line to maintain tension as I worked the fish back toward me, and then the torpedo shot by me and went five feet below. I could see by now that the fly was in the brown trout’s mouth. I pivoted around and worked the tiring fish back above me a bit and guided it up on some exposed midstream rocks and then slid the net underneath. I now noticed that the beadhead hares ear was lodged in the corner of the mouth. Dave G. hypothesized that the brown turned away from the hopper and grabbed the nymph on the downturn. Dave G. graciously snapped a nice photo of me holding my prize trout, and I returned it to Brush Creek to grow and be caught again.

Dave with Catch of the Weekend – 16 Inch Brown

Shortly after this experience I landed a twelve inch brown on the beadhead hares ear in a similar spot along a current seam near the left bank. I’d caught two fish within the first half hour, so I was feeling pretty optimistic about the remainder of the day. Alas, the action slowed considerably. I continued fishing and hopscotching for the next hour or so with no action. Dave G. meanwhile was picking up three or four twelve inch fish. Finally close to noon I hooked and landed a pair of seven inch browns, but then it became dead again. Much of the stream was shaded by cottonwood trees, but there were some long open stretches. The sun was now quite high in the sky and very intense, and I was perspiring as I walked the bank from pool to pool.

Upper Brush Creek at Eagle Ranch

When we reached another bridge, I asked Dave G. if we should quit. He had likewise experienced a long period of inactivity, so he decided to cast to a nice spot above the bridge and then we would adjourn to the house. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few photos of Dave working the stream, and then Dave G. called Beth on his mobile phone. We waited only ten minutes or so on a bench on a small corner park in the shade before Beth arrived and taxied us back to the house.


Some rain clouds moved in after lunch but we managed to enjoy a nice bike ride between 4 and 5PM. After the bike ride, Dave and I grabbed our rods and walked down the bike path to the stream above the first bridge to the visitor center and near a high cut bank. We began fishing the stretch of water next to a long undercut bank where I’d had great fun in July 2010, but I was unable to pound up any action. I had replaced the yellow Letort hopper with a Chernobyl ant and reattached the beadhead hares ear. Dave waited while I fished this usually productive stretch as he was certain I would need his services for photography. Unfortunately photo opportunities did not materialize and we moved on.

Not far from this starting point I ducked under a barbed wire fence running over the stream, and now we were both fishing the private water. Brush Creek makes numerous bends as it winds through this private land creating nice pools and runs in the process. We continued to leap frog over each other, but we did short stretches, therefore, no longer requiring the cairn building exercies. I spotted several rises so I switched to a bushy caddis and this prompted a smug refusal. Perhaps the fly was too large? I clipped it off and replaced it with a size 16 deer hair caddis with a light gray body. Sure enough when I placed the smaller imitation over the spot of the rise, I hooked and landed a twelve inch brown.

As we moved along, the sky remained overcast and I was certain we’d experience some fast action on the surface. At one point Dave G. wasn’t having much luck with the beadhead hares ear so he asked me what might be a good sufsurface fly to use as a dropper. He had showed me a box with numerous caddis pupa and larva flies on Friday so I suggested he try one of them since there were caddis present. This ended up being a great recommendation and Dave experienced some great action on the caddis pupa dropper including a 17 inch brown. The caddis pupa had a light olive body with a black thorax and white legs protruding from each side behind the head.

Meanwhile I spotted a rise at the very top of a run and close to the bank. I could see the side of the fish and it appeared to be a decent fish. I slowly moved closer and popped a cast a foot or two downstream from the location of the rise and immediately a twelve inch brown inhaled my fly. I quickly played it to my net and released. Was that the fish I observed? Perhaps I overestimated its size, but I decided to shoot another cast higher and above where I’d seen the fish. On the second cast a fish burst through the surface and grabbed my caddis dry. This fish felt heavier than the previous, but not as large as the 16 inch brown of the morning, as it shot downstream along the bank and then made a quick lateral move to go underneath. I held on and in a split second my line came flying back toward me with no flies attached.

The sudden force of turning had caused my surgeon’s knot that attached the tippet to the tapered leader to break. Dave G. had once again come up behind me and witnessed this dose of misfortune. I tied on another deer hair caddis and moved on but had only one more momentary hookup below some large beaver dams before arriving at the bridge where we’d begun our morning fishing. Dave G. continued to have decent success with his caddis pupa, but I was too stubborn to listen to my own advice and stuck with the dry fly under the mistaken assumption that a hatch would materialize.

It was 7:30 when we reached the bridge so we called Beth for another pickup and returned to the house for dinner.


East Fork of Brush Creek – 07/13/2012

Time: 1:00:PM – 4:00PM

Location: Sylvan Lake State Park Payment Location Upstream

Fish Landed: 19

East Fork of Brush Creek 07/13/2012 Photo Album

As has been the custom for the last several years, Beth and Dave Gaboury invited us to join them for the weekend at their second home in Eagle, CO. Dave and I were fishing buddies when he lived in Castle Rock, but eventually Dave moved to Kansas City for a position with an engineering firm there. For several years Dave would visit and we’d go on fishing trips, but in 2006 he and Beth purchased a home in Eagle Ranch in Eagle, CO. They visit fairly frequently and invite friends from various parts of the country to stay with them when they don’t have their family present.

Their house in Eagle Ranch is quite close to Brush Creek, a small tributary stream that flows into the Eagle River a mile or so below their house. It’s hard to pass up fishing Brush Creek because of the convenience of walking from the garage to the stream. Because of the drought and heat wave I was skeptical of fishing in the Eagle River and even Brush Creek, and the temperatures were forecast to be in the 90’s in Denver. Dave is a big fan of my beadhead hares ear nymphs, so I tied ten as a gift for him one evening before our scheduled visit. Jane needed to work on Friday, so I called on Thursday to let Dave and Beth know that I was taking off work and driving up from Denver on Friday morning. Jane would drive up separately after work on Friday.

I got off to a reasonably early start at 7:45 and arrived at Eagle Ranch at around 10AM. Unfortunately I called their land line in Kansas City on Thursday and they didn’t check it for messages, so they weren’t aware that I was arriving. When I knocked on the door, no one answered even though their car was parked behind the garage. I assumed they had gone for a bike ride or walk, and this proved to be correct. Within a half hour they both returned from a long morning walk and the three of us walked up to the town center and had a quick lunch at HP’s Market.

East Fork of Brush Creek

After lunch, since it was already approaching noon, Dave and I decided to drive up Sylvan Lake Road to the upper reaches of Brush Creek where we thought the fishing would be better in the peak of the warm day. It wasn’t as hot in Eagle as was expected for Denver and there was significant high cloud cover for much of the afternoon. I drove the Santa Fe so Beth could use her car to do some shopping and we drove the 10-15 miles to Sylvan Lake State Park and paid the day use fee and then parked at a pullout just above where the creek went under the road.

Dave uses his tenkara rod for fishing the small high mountain streams so he was ready to fish quite quickly. We decided to do the routine of leap frogging each other with the upstream fisherman responsible for building a cairn to mark his beginning point. I fished the stretch closest to the road while Dave moved upstream. I began with a size 12 heavily hackled stimulator with an olive body and immediately experienced three or four refusals from tiny brook trout in the tail of the pool. However, as I moved up the stream I picked up a few 6-8 inch brookies as well as some tiny specimen that were below my counting cut off. I added a beadhead pheasant tail in hopes that a trailing nymph might attract some larger fish, and did manage to land an eight inch brown among the first five fish landed.

Size of My Hand

As Dave and I hopscotched our way up the small stream I landed five more brook trout to reach ten. Most of the fish were rising to the stimulator, but a couple grabbed the trailing nymph. When I’d reached ten I decided to begin experimenting with different flies. I clipped off the stimulator and pheasant tail and tied on a Chernobyl ant for flotation and added a beadhead hares ear. The buoyant foam ant does a nice job of supporting the larger hares ear and again I was hoping to attract some larger browns and avoid the tiny brook trout.

Large Brown for These Waters

This strategy did in fact work, and I landed another nine trout over the course of the remainder of the afternoon. Three were brown trout with two being in the 12-13 inch range. I also landed a couple brook trout that were nine inches, and that is large for the colorful species in a small stream environment. Dave G. meanwhile was having great action with his long tenkara rod and a stimulator/flashback pheasant tail combination. By 4PM we’d covered quite a distance as we were hitting only the deeper attractive pools and leap frogging each other. We decided to call it a day and return to the house for liquid refreshments and appetizers while we waited for Jane to arrive from Denver.

Brookie Took Chernobyl

Colorado River – 07/07/2012

Time: 9:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Kemp-Breeze lease below Parshall and Williams Fork confluence

Fish Landed:3

Colorado River 07/07/2012 Photo Album

Usually in early July I’m checking stream flows and looking for any flowing water that might be at a fishable level. This year, however, I’m just trying to figure things out. Run off never occurred and most every river and stream in Colorado has been at a nice level for fishing throughout May and June and early July. But what of the hatches? Usually the hatches on the freestone streams take place as the rivers drop back to fishable levels. But what about this year? Are they early or will they occur in mid to late July?

I’ve been following several fly shop reports on fishing conditions, but these always tend to overstate the hatches as they are trying to attrack Front Range fishermen to their drainages and shops. As I considered where I wanted to fish on Saturday, I remembered reading on the Blue Quill Angler (usually one of the more reliable sites as the fly shop is not near one single river) that PMD’s were hatching on the Colorado River near Parshall. The weather was expected to be overcast on Saturday with cool temperatures and the flows on the Colorado River were slightly below 400cfs. The combination of all these factors led me to conclude this was the place to be. I had great success on the Colorado River in 2008 and 2009, but 2010 provided me with quite a few disappointing trips. I decided to give the Colorado another chance.

The reports mentioned that the hatches typically took place in the morning, so I got off to a very early start to make sure I was there in case this was true. Of course the report may have been referring to the extremely warm temperatures of the past several weeks and that was the case on Saturday, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I left the house at 6:30AM and reached the parking lot by 8:30AM and was on the river fishing by 9:00. The mosquitos were out, but not as intense as in the past, but I still coated my hands, neck and face with Off.

I walked to the handicapped platform and looked up and down the river. Of course there was a fisherman planted in the very spot that I love to start at above the platform, so I hiked down the fisherman path to the bridge, across the bridge, and then dropped down to fish along the south bank. I tied on a yellow Letort hopper and trailed a beadhead hares ear. I was not going to overanalyze the situation. I methodically worked my way up along the bank fishing ten feet out and then over close to the bank, but the fish were having none of it.

Eventually I approached the small island across from and slightly below the wooden platform and fanned casts over the beautiful deep run across from the dock. As I was doing this, I noticed two rises, one towards the top of the run and one in the middle area. After I’d covered the area with my hopper/dropper with no success, I clipped off the two flies and replaced with a light gray caddis size 16. Amazingly on a downstream drift towards the middle of the run, a fish rose but refused my caddis. It seemed like a larger fish judging from the sound it made. That was it, however, as I couldn’t entice any more interest from that fish or any others in the vicinity of the island and handicapped platform.

After quite a bit of casting I switched to nymphs and tied on a beadhead hares ear and below that a beadhead pheasant tail, which imitates the nymph of a pale morning dun. I focused hard on running my nymphs through the deep run, but no takes. I switched out the flies and tried a beadhead caddis of varying colors as well as a zebra midge larva. Finally I gave up on the run and my nemesis fisherman had by now moved across the river to the south bank and then up toward the top right side of the nice run through the center of the river.

It was eleven AM and I was bored with the lack of action so I decided to head back to the car and eat my lunch early in case a hatch emerged around noon. This would also give the other fisherman some time to clear out if he was headed up the river. I ate in the car to avoid the mosquitos, and it got quite warm as I didn’t want to open windows for fear of getting inundated with stinging insects. After lunch I headed straight to the spot where I’d planned to begin in the morning, and it was wide open with no competition.

I gave up on nymphing and returned to the Letort hopper with a beadhead pheasant tail. In the nice riffle water of moderate depth above the platform I finally landed a nine inch brown on the beadhead pheasant tail. Perhaps this was a sign that fish were moving to the nymphs in the drift prior to a hatch. I worked my way across the river casting the hopper/dropper upstream, but to no avail. Next I was sure I could coax some action from the attractive water between the middle current and the bank on the right side. I worked up along the bank but to no avail. I didn’t even see any rises, but as I got to the very top of the slow water I hooked and landed a pair of tiny brown trout that weren’t worth counting.

Colorado River at Parshall

I was pretty frustrated and tired as I retreated along the south bank and crossed back to my starting point. At least I’d seen a few sporadic rises in this area. I removed the hopper and tied on a Chernobyl ant for buoyancy and added the beadhead hares ear and beadhead pheasant tail. Surely this three fly combination would draw the interest of some fish. I worked the closer current seam below a submerged rock and then waded out a bit and cast to the next seam across from me. As the large foam attractor drifted to the tail, I began to lift and recast. Unfortunately as I did so a large mouth emerged and chomped down on the Chernobyl. There really wasn’t much I could have done. The force of me lifting vs the chomping of what seemed like a decent fish resulted in a break off. I lost the best opportunity for a decent fish along with three decent flies.

This re-energized my efforts and I worked my way across and then up along the left side of the mid-stream current, but again I was simply wearing out my shoulder with no reward for my efforts. Finally near the top of this stretch, I hooked and landed a six inch brown barely worth counting, but I did. I decided to reverse direction and cast repeatedly to the edge of the main current seam as I waded back down to my initial starting point. The sky was still cloudy and I spotted occasional PMD’s and more yellow sallies, but nothing was coming to the surface in response to these aquatic insects.

I decided to sit down on a log and observe and take stock. I almost dozed off, but I did notice quite a few yellow sallies. They tended to make fast vertical plunges to the surface of the water and then flutter a bit and then take off. I assume this was egg laying. At the same time I noticed the sporadic steady flight of mayflies which I assumed were PMD’s. The PMD hatch was extremely sparse, but perhaps the fish had long memories and  tuned in to the mayflies. Finally I saw a fish rise across from my log and decided to resume fishing. I tied on a size 14 yellow sally and tossed it to the smooth area between two submerged rocks. On the second or third cast a fish darted to the surface and sucked down my yellow sally. My third fish of the day was another nine inch brown.

One of Three Small Brown Trout Landed

I sat back down on the log and looked for more such rises, but they didn’t materialize and even the sparse hatching activity of the PMD’s and yellow sallies subsided. There were some large dark clouds to the south and the rumbling of thunder, so I decided to head back to the car and call it quits. All in all it was a very disappointing day in early July. Was I too early for the hatches or did they already occur? I’ll have to keep searching for answers on the streams of Colorado.


Big Thompson River – 07/04/2012

Time: 1:30PM – 3:00PM

Location: Downstream from catch and release area just above town of Drake

Fish Landed: 1

I continued north from Wild Basin to Estes Park and traveled along the Big Thompson River downstream from Lake Estes. There weren’t many fishermen for a holiday so I probably should have taken that as a sign. Flows looked pretty decent from the highway and when I checked them later they were around 130. For some reason I decided to skip beyond the catch and release water and drove on until I was near the town of Drake. I remembered a time last year when the catch and release was crowded and I went below and had some great action, but this was much further downstream than the previous experience.

Very Red

As it turns out the gradient was pretty steep where I began fishing and combined with the somewhat higher flows, there were limited holding spots for the fish. Unlike the St. Vrain, the Big Thompson has very little foliage and trees to shade the water so I was standing in direct sun the entire time and temperatures were definitely in the 80’s. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the fish apparently weren’t very hungry. I tested all manner of flies and approaches including a royal stimulator, lime green trude, yellow Letort hopper with beadhead hares ear, Chernobyl ant and a pair of nymphs with a split shot and indicator. Finally near 3 o’clock I tied on a size 12 olive caddis or stimulator and managed to bring a small brown to my fly. I fished a bit further but as I advanced upstream the gradient increased and I was climbing over a lot of rocks to find small holding areas. I was hot and tired, the fishing wasn’t very good, and I needed to be back in time for dinner before going to the Rapids game so I threw in the towel at 3PM.





North Fork of St. Vrain River – 07/04/2012

Time: 9:30AM – 12:30Am

Location: Wild Basin in RMNP from first bridge upstream

Fish Landed: 9

North Fork of St. Vrain River 07/04/2012 Photo Album

Jane OK’d fishing on the Fourth of July, but I needed to return in time to attend the Rapids MLS soccer game at 7:30PM and the subsequent fireworks display at Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium. I was interested in trying the Colorado River as reports indicated that pale morning duns were hatching, but that was a bit distant given the plans for the evening. I decided to try the North Fork of the St. Vrain in the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

For some reason Jane got up extremely early so I was up shortly thereafter and consequently was on the road by 7:30. I took the route through Boulder and experienced minimal traffic thus arriving at the Wild Basin entrance by 9AM. Even at this early hour the parking lots at the main trailhead and the Ouzel Falls trailhead had already filled. This was fine with me as I planned to fish starting at the fist bridge above the beaver ponds.

I rigged up my Orvis Access rod and walked down the dirt road .2 miles to the bridge. There was a man and woman fishing below the bridge so I made a right turn and hiked up the path a ways to the first water that might hold fish. It was already getting warm, but the cold sensation of the rushing high mountain river felt good through my waders. I tied on a Chernobyl ant with a salvation nymph dropper initially, but this produced only refusals from tiny brook trout. I clipped off both flies and tied on a royal stimulator, and this elicited the same response. Next I tried a small size 14 lime green trude and this also resulted in splashy inspections but no takes.

Pretty Purple Wildflowers Along NF St. Vrain

I was getting frustrated as I tried a yellow sally and deer hair caddis with no better luck. Maybe they wanted something bigger, not smaller? I plucked a size 12 2XL lime green trude from my pouch and sure enough this began to produce fish, but only sporadically. Maybe the water was still too cold with no significant hatches so the fish were still tuned into nymphs in the drift? But what should I use to support my beadhead nymphs? I spotted the large olive stimulator that I tried for a while on the Conejos to imitate the local stoneflies. I tied on the stimulator with a beadhead hares ear dropper and guess what happened? The fish began to smash the large attractor. In fact they weren’t paying the slightest attention to the nymphs so after landing a couple fish I clipped off the extra leader and the nymph.

Another Decent Brown

For the remainder of the morning and up until 12:30 I prospected the likely pockets with the olive stimulator and landed a total of nine fish. Three were browns and these were the largest fish, although perhaps only ten inches at the largest. The remainder were brook trout with three being decent by brook trout standards. I also landed somewhere between 5-10 brookies beneath my six inch cut off for counting.

Brook Trout with Large Caddis in Mouth

By 12:30PM I grew weary of the tough wading and the lack of size of the fish. I was distracted by thoughts of lunch and larger fish, so I packed it in and drove north through Estes Park to the Big Thompson River below Estes Dam.

Conejos River – 06/30/2012

Time: 9:30AM – 12:30AM; 2:00PM – 4:00PM, 7:30PM – 8:45PM

Location: Upstream from Aspen Glade Campground; next to Conejos Campground, next to Aspen Glade Campground

Fish Landed: 14

Conejos River 06/30/2012 Photo Album

As I described my trip to the Conejos River last July, I convinced Jane to accompany on a camping trip in 2012 so we logged on to the campground reservation site and reserved campsite no. 2 for the weekend of June 29 – July 1. This was the exact campsite I’d enjoyed on my July 2011 trip.

I didn’t work on Friday morning so I could shop for some needed food and then pack the Santa Fe. Everything was set by 2:45PM and I drove downtown and picked up Jane near her office, and we continued from there to interstate 25 and drove south to Walsenberg and then crossed La Veta Pass to Alamosa, and then south again and eventually west to our destination. We arrived at our campsite by 8:15 and had a bit of daylight to set up the tent.

Aspen Glade, No. 2

On Saturday we drove back down the highway to Mogote to the Conejos River Angler fly shop. I purchased some flies and asked for advice from the young man running the store. He claimed the river was fishing well from top to bottom and mentioned that green drakes and pale morning duns where hatching in the morning. We returned to the campground where Jane made oatmeal with bananas and blueberries. As the river was supposedly fishing well in the area of Aspen Glade Campground, I decided to forego driving to another spot and began fishing from the lower level of the campground.

I hiked up the river on the path for .2 miles or so and then dropped down to a fishy looking stretch with boulders and nice pockets of moderate depth behind the large rocks. I tied on a yellow Letort hopper hoping to imitate golden stoneflies and added a salvation nymph (previously I referred to these as rubber leg pheasant tails). I covered the nice pockets with this combination to no avail, so I switched out the salvation for a beadhead hares ear nymph, my standard go to fly.

This seemed to improve things, and I began catching small brown trout in the 6-9 inch range. I moved along fairly quickly fishing close to the bank in likely spots and built up my fish count, but I was quite disappointed with the size of the fish. After a half hour or so I reached a nice spot with the current leaving four feet of soft water toward the bank. Here I shot a 15 foot cast to the top of the pool and the hopper dipped and I set the hook on a heavier fish. How heavy I’ll never know as the fish slipped the hook as it moved sideways into the heavier current.

After catching a few more small browns, I reached a nice bend pool and decided that I should be going deep with weight and nymphs in these deeper juicy spots. The sun was now blazing and it was getting quite warm, but I was comfortable when I was standing knee deep in the river. I added a thingamabobber to my line along with a split shot, beadhead hares ear, and beadhead pheasant tail. The beadhead pheasant tail began producing small fish and I moved upstream to a nice wide run on the opposite half of the river across from a massive summer home. By now some big dark clouds moved in and blocked the intense rays of the sun, and I began to notice pale morning duns taking flight on a very sporadic basis. Good I thought, as the pheasant tail nymph is a strong imitation of the nymph stage of pale morning duns.

On a drift along the current seam in the wide run mentioned above, the indicator paused, I set the hook and was fast to another heavier fish. This fish rushed downstream and made a sudden turn and once again the fly slipped from the jaws of a decent fish. I was beside myself for missing my best opportunities to catch decent fish. To move further upstream I needed to climb the steep bank and go up and over some huge rocks with vertical walls extending into the river where the current splashed intensely against the red wall. I built my fish count to nine with most taking the beadhead pheasant tail by noon, and the sun reappeared and beat down on everything beneath. I decided to make the long hike back to the campsite and have lunch with Jane.

View of River Near Aspen Glade

While eating lunch I began to doubt that the hatches would occur on the Aspen Glade water, so I asked if Jane would accompany to the upper water next to dirt road 250. The shopkeeper suggested driving up the dirt road to Spectacle Lake or Conejos Campground and to fish in those public areas. This what we decided to do, and I remained in my waders while driving seven miles on the paved road to the turn onto 250, and then another six miles on a fairly rough dirt road to the Conejos Campground. I backed into an unoccupied campsite and left Jane reading her Kindle in a folding chair.

I crossed the river at the campground and walked up the opposite side and began fishing with the nymphs that remained on my line from the morning. Nothing was exhibiting interest, but a huge quantity of stoneflies were flitting up from the grass with each step that I took. I caught one and noticed it had a very light olive/tan underbody with a tinge of orange color near the tip of the abdomen. I decided to tie on my yellow Letort hopper even though it was much too bright to match the stoneflies present in the grass and willows. I added the tried and true beadhead pheasant tail as my dropper and continued fishing attractive spots along the bank. The water here wasn’t as attractive as the lower river with many more wide shallow stretches. At one point I swapped the yellow Letort hopper for an olive body stimulator of approximately the size of the naturals.

This fly was about as good an imitation as I had, but it failed to produce as well. I’m not sure if this was because the stoneflies were not getting in the water or if the imitation wasn’t close enough. I noticed the olive body got fairly dark when it got wet and there was no hint of orange in the fly. I decided to go back to the yellow Letort hopper as it was easier to see, and there were also quite a few small hoppers present along with the stoneflies.

I could now see my upstream progression was going to end as a large wire stretched across the river marking the end of the public water. But just below the wire there was a nice long pool created by the main current deflecting off a large rock along the bank. I cast the two fly combination to the top of the pool and allowed the hopper and trailing nymph to float back toward me along the current seam. Wham! The hopper dipped and I set the hook and a heavy fish shot downstream in the heavier current toward the middle of the river. I let it run quite a ways downstream and followed it a bit when it finally stopped. I reeled rapidly and regained line, but it made a couple more surges downstream. Eventually I gained ground and reeled the fish back toward me when it made an upstream move. I could now see a rainbow trout in excess of fifteen inches, and I was excited to bring it to the net. By applying side pressure I was able to bring the fish directly across from me perhaps five feet away, when it decided to make another strong run downstream. I allowed it to make the strong initial surge, but then as I regained some line, the fish made a strong reversal and my line suddenly went limp. I reeled up my line only to discover that the knot attached to the top fly, the Letort hopper, had broken. Once again I was foiled in my attempt to catch a substantial fish on the Conejos River.

After shrieking in disbelief, I retreated back downstream to across from Jane. I gazed downstream and noticed another fisherman with his young son fifty yards below me. I decided to fish the area in between and then possibly circle around. I replaced the yellow Letort hopper with a Chernobyl ant and tied on a new beadhead hares ear as the point fly. As I fished the water, the man and his son left their spot and walked up along the bank opposite me. I climbed back on the bank and hiked to the area they had just departed where I covered the area with quite a few casts to no avail.

Next I moved downstream to the right channel below a small island where a nice deep run flowed for forty feet or so. I made five or so drifts along the current seam with no results, and then on the next drift I placed my cast more in the current. As the Chernobyl came back toward me it took a dip, and I instinctively set the hook. The fish felt nice and heavy, but initially I was concerned it was a foul hook. That was my luck on this last day of June. But the fish ran downstream and doggedly tried to dive and shake the fly as is often the case with brown trout. The more I played the fish, the more I realized that the fly was in the mouth. Furthermore, it was clear that this was a nice fish as I caught a glimpse of it. The brown made several bursts downstream, but each one was shorter than the previous until I eventually worked it up next to me and lowered the net beneath its beefy body. When I placed the brown in my net to photograph it extended beyond the net opening by about an inch making it a 16 inch catch and made me a happy fisherman.

16″ Bruiser Landed Near Conejos Campground

Head Shot

After releasing the brown I continued downstream, and I my focus was renewed but I didn’t experience any more success despite covering quite a bit of decent water. I was getting rather far from the campsite so I elected to climb up the bank and walk back upstream. I reached a spot where I was close to the dirt road, so I cut over to the shoulder and returned by way of the rough dirt highway. When I turned into the campground I discovered Jane in her chair reading her Kindle. Apparently the campground hosts had stopped and charged her $8 for a day use fee.

We jumped in the car, and covered the six miles of gravel and washboard back to the paved road and then on to Aspen Glade. Jane and I relaxed with some beverages and then had a fantastic dinner of shrimp stir fry after which I suggested we go back down to the river to view the sunset. I took my fly rod and frontpack, but decided to not climb back into my waders. We arrived at the river by 7:30 and sat on a nice wide rock and observed. There were numerous clusters of caddis dancing over the water, but nothing was showing on the surface for perhaps half an hour or so. Finally we spotted a few rises directly across from us near the main center current. I caught one of the caddis and it appeared to be a size 16 body with a size 14 wing. The abdomen was a very light yellow color so I tied on a light gray deer hair caddis size 16 and began casting where we had spotted the rise.

Nothing was taking my caddis, but another fish rose a bit higher up along the current seam so I tossed a cast there, and sure enough a nine inch brown rose and sucked in my caddis. I was pretty pleased with this bonus fish, but no additional fish revealed themselves so I sat back down on the rock to observe with Jane. Fifteen minutes passed and as the sun fell below the horizon a fish began rising in the tail of the pool. Jane actually  spotted the rises first. This required a very long cast across and downstream, and I needed to angle myself to allow an open backcast of a lot of line. I began working out line and shot some casts close to the position of the rise, but the drift was very brief until the current introduced drag to my fly. I made perhaps ten casts with no success and decided to sit down and observe again.

Source of Pink

Jane was beginning to feel chilly, so she returned to the campsite while I continued watching the pool in silence. Sure enough as the light began to wane, a fish rose in the tail area again, although it seemed to be in a lane five feet closer to me. Once again I walked to the edge of the river and worked out line and then shot a cast in the vicinity of the rise. No luck, so I stripped in some line, backcast and shot a longer cast to the same area but a bit further out. In the next instant a fish sipped in my fly and I made a quick strip set. I couldn’t believe what just happened! The fish pretty much hunkered down, and I began reeling line and it swam willingly upstream. Judging from the weight, it was a decent fish. When the fish was across from me it began to fight my efforts with more authority, but after a few thwarted runs, I brought it into my net. This fish wasn’t quite as long as the one by the Conejos Campground, but still a good 14 inches. This was icing on the cake for me, and I was very pleased to have landed a fish off of a long cast, an unusual accomplishment for me.

Nice Brown Landed Late Saturday

I photographed and released my long distance catch and returned to my rock hoping to see more late surface activity. Sure enough some fish began to rise on the other side of the main midstream current across from and slightly above my position. I made a few casts with no success and then spotted a large brown object moving downstream to the area I was casting to. As I watched the beaver made a sudden dive as it descended and arched its tail and brought it down flat on the water creating a loud smacking sound. What a thrill to see a beaver on the Conejos River at 8:45 on Saturday night.

The beaver disturbance ended my fishing and I was feeling chilly as well, so I clipped my fly to the rod guide and returned to camp.


Roaring River – 06/28/2012

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Upstream from Ypsilon Lake Trail crossing.

Fish Landed: 28

Roaring River 06/28/2012 Photo Album

Wildfires are everywhere. The last time I can remember weather and fires like now was 2002, another year of low snowpack, drought, and the Heyman Fire along the South Platte. But 2012 features brutal high temperatures and more wind than I can ever recall, the perfect storm for wildfires.

I wanted to spend a day fishing and escape the heat and not be near a fire so I elected to drive north to Rocky Mountain National Park and then hike up the Lawn Lake Trail to fish in the Roaring River for greenback cutthroat trout. I knew that the fish wouldn’t be large, but this alpine setting with the most beautiful trout in the world appealed to me. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot by 9:30AM and carefully transferred all the necessary equipment for a day of high country fishing to my backpack including lunch, rain gear, and most importantly an adequate supply of the flies that I expected to produce.

I began the unrelenting ascent and arrived beside the Roaring River in forty minutes where I shed my heavy load and climbed into my waders. I was also anxious to test my new Orvis Access four weight rod on the small greenback cutthroats as it is quite light and ideal for small stream fishing. Already at 10:30 it was quite warm, although there were quite a few white puffy clouds to occasionally block the rays of the bright sun. I elected to hike a bit downstream from my base camp position and started fishing back upstream. I figured I’d fish back up and beyond my base area by noon when I’d break for lunch. I initially tied on a lime green trude hoping it would imitate early season stoneflies.

More Orange and Getting Bigger

It didn’t take long before I landed a small greenback and then a second larger specimen that I photographed. Both fish smashed the lime green trude, but as I covered more pockets I began to notice refusals. This type of fishing reinforces the value of good polarized sunglasses as I can see fish move toward my fly beneath the surface, and this information is valuable in determining the effectiveness of my imitations. I decided that based on previous experience I should be catching more fish, so I added an epoxy black sinking ant that Jeff Shafer had given me as a dropper off the trude. Using my sunglasses to see beneath the surface, I noticed two fish tap the ant, but in both cases I set the hook and only succeeded in whipping my flies back toward me. The takes seemed to be tentative so I once again reeled up my flies and switched the hard ant for a beadhead pheasant tail.

A Giant by Roaring River Standards

The lime green trude and BHPT combination proved to be a winner and before breaking for lunch I landed eight more fish besides the two I described at the outset. Two rose to the trude and six hammered the BHPT. The fish that took the BHPT seemed to grab it at the lip of a pocket or run as I lifted to make another cast.

Flipped Over to Show Bright Orange Belly

I enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the stream and resumed fishing at 12:30 at the point where I’d quit for lunch. After lunch I covered a lot of stream making two or three casts to likely spots. If I received a refusal, I didn’t dwell on that fish and just moved on assuming there were takers elsewhere. The green trude was now being refused with increasing frequency so I experimented with a different top fly. I liked the idea of using a buoyant Chernobyl ant as a strike indicator while I essentially nymphed with the BHPT. Unfortunately two fish were drawn to the Chernoyl but changed course at the last moment, so I had another refusal generator. What would ride high and be visible and suspend a nymph, but not create refusals? I spotted a bushy size 12 caddis with a palmered body in my patch so I pulled it out and tied it to my line as the top fly. It may have also been a light olive body small stimulator.

Ideal Stream Levels

At any rate this proved to be a winner and I fished the olive caddis and beadhead pheasant tail for the remainder of the afternoon. Initially nearly all the fish were taking the pheasant tail but by 2PM some dark clouds rolled in and I heard thunder in the distance. These low light conditions for some reason caused the fish to become more interested in the caddis. I estimate that of the 18 fish landed after lunch, ten inhaled the nymph and eight smacked the caddis. It was great fun moving quickly, flicking short casts with my new rod to small pockets, and hooking beautiful feisty colorful greenbacks. Where else can you do this?

Beadhead Pheasant Tail Was a Workhorse

I was scheduled to meet Jane at 6PM at the 243 exit of interstate 25, so I stopped fishing at 3:30. In addition the dark clouds were closer and the rumbling louder, so I was concerned about getting caught in a high country thunderstorm. I wore my rain jacket around my waist and below my backpack on the return hike just in case. I experienced only light rain on the trip down the mountain; not enough to put on my raincoat. I actually needed to stop and kill a bit of time in Lyons at a park in order to not be at the park and ride too early.

A Pretty Afternoon Catch

Jane arrived at the scheduled time and we continued on to Ft. Collins where we traded in her 2000 Honda Accord for a pre-owned Kia Forte. It turned out to be a fairly late evening, but I was happy with the memories of greenback cutthroats throbbing on my new fly rod.

Purple Flowers in Rocky Terrain