Monthly Archives: September 2015

Big Thompson River – 09/30/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Began .2 mile below the first bridge after Noel’s Draw and fished back up until I was nearly at Noel’s Draw

Fish Landed: 28

Big Thompson River 09/30/2015 Photo Album

I was a bit disappointed with my outing on Tuesday afternoon mainly because I felt that I should have landed more fish in conjunction with the distance I covered. I sought redemption by planning a day trip to South Boulder Creek, since the flows there were 132 cfs. Generally I desire South Boulder Creek to be in the 80 cfs range, so 132 cfs was a bit high, but I have experienced success at 180 cfs. Given the relatively low conditions on most Front Range streams, I actually looked forward to flows that were a bit higher.

On Wednesday morning I packed the car, but before I departed, I decided to make a final check of the stream flows. Denver Water is notorious for making sudden changes, and that is exactly what I discovered as I opened the DWR website. South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir was rushing down the canyon at 175 cfs. I was game for 132 cfs, but I was not in the mood for the spring-like conditions that would accompany 175 cfs, so I made a last minute adjustment and headed to the Big Thompson Canyon below Lake Estes.

I arrived at the wide pullout just above the first bridge after passing Noel’s Draw by 10:00AM, and by the time I donned my waders and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and stepped in the water, it was 10:30. The air temperature was 57 degrees and some large gray clouds covered the sky so I pulled on a fleece. I walked across the bridge and then strode along the shoulder until I was .2 mile farther downstream. I read some posts from 2012 when I fished the Big Thompson at the same time of the year, and I learned that a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph were effective, so I tied on a Chernobyl and salvation and began prospecting the relatively low clear flows of 36 cfs.

Low Flows Expose a Boulder Field

First Catch of the Day

At these levels quite a few large boulders were exposed, but sufficient water remained to create some nice deep holes and pockets. It was not long before a pair of brown trout smashed the Chernobyl ant, and then a smaller cousin nabbed the salvation nymph in the swirling water behind a protruding rock. I was quite pleased with my early success, as I continued working my way upstream through the boulder field. Another small brown slurped the Chernobyl, and I was brimming with confidence. At this point, however, adversity decided to make an appearance. The Chernobyl became an object to observe rather than a tasty morsel.

A Second Chernobyl Victim

I concluded that the local trout were interested in terrestrials, but the Chernobyl was outside their size range, so I knotted a Jake’s gulp beetle to my line and began to plop it in likely locations. Almost immediately a ten inch rainbow reacted to the splash down in front of a boulder, and I was optimistic about my fly choice. For the remainder of the morning I landed three additional Big Thompson trout on Jake’s beetle, and then I broke for lunch. I advanced my fish count to eight by noon, and I was pleased to find a productive fly. I was concerned that my best fly was the one on my line, and I possessed no back up should it unravel or get lost on a tree branch.

First Rainbow Loved Jake’s Gulp Beetle

After lunch I resumed my progress upstream toward the bridge, but suddenly the beetle began to provoke refusals as well. I paused to consider my options and spied a few small mayflies fluttering above the stream. Given the overcast conditions, I expected blue winged olives, so I elected to revert to a Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph and beadhead RS2. These flies remained on my line as I fished up to and under the bridge, but they only produced one brown trout that nabbed the RS2 as it began to swing. The long dry spell convinced me that the trio of flies on my line was not what the fish were looking for, so I decided to perform another conversion. The thick clouds and heavy overcast indicated fast action, but I was missing out.

The Reverse Side

Jake’s gulp beetle delivered four fish in a short amount of time in the late morning, so I decided to return to that mode of attack. Quickly my fish count surged from nine to thirteen as I approached a nice long deep pool with a fast run along the upper third. Fish began to rise on both sides of the faster current, and they ignored my heretofore popular beetle. I took the plunge and clipped off the beetle and knotted a size 20 CDC blue winged olive to my leader. I shot a long cast half way up the pool on the left side of the center current, and I spotted a sip and reacted with a hook set and stripped in a feisty ten inch brown trout. Other fish continued to rise, but my CDC olive became radioactive, and the fussy residents of the stream avoided it.

I decided to abandon the picky eaters and moved on to faster pocket water. The tiny dry fly was not appropriate for this type of water, so I returned the beetle to my line and added a size 20 blue winged olive soft hackle emerger on a  2.5 foot dropper. This change proved to be magic, and I moved the fish count meter from fourteen to twenty-six over the remainder of the afternoon. This time period was approximately 1:30 until 3:00, and it coincided with the heaviest concentration of blue winged olives, although I would still characterize the hatch as light. Apparently there were enough nymphs and emergers to turn the fish on to my soft hackle, as it began attract their attention. I estimate that roughly one-third of my catch during this time frame resulted from the beetle, and the rest stemmed from the emerger.

Gorgeous Colors on This Jewel

At three o’clock the response slowed measurably, so I substituted a salvation nymph for the soft hackle, and this move enabled me to add two more small fish to the daily count. By 3:30 I was twenty yards below Noel’s Draw, so I used this as an opportunity to cross to the road and returned to the Santa Fe.

Wednesday was a very productive day, as I landed twenty-eight trout. It did not seem like exceptionally hot fishing, but the action was relatively evenly spaced over my five hours on the stream. Most of the trout were in the 6-12 inch range with the vast majority nine and ten inch fish. I estimate that one-third were rainbow trout and the remainder were wild browns. Once I chose the gulp beetle and soft hackle combination, I settled into a nice rhythm and moved quickly from one likely spot to the next with short drifts and rapid casts. With this successful outing in the books I am anxious for my first fly fishing adventure of October. Stay tuned.

Clear Creek – 09/29/2015

Time: 1:30PM – 4:00PM

Location: Clear Creek Canyon between first and second tunnel where creek crosses to north side of route six.

Fish Landed: 8

Clear Creek 09/29/2015 Photo Album

Jane and I returned from our trip to Pennsylvania late Sunday night. I was exhausted from the travel and from sleeping in different places, so I relaxed on Monday and worked on a backlog of desk jobs. However, by Tuesday I was anxious to resume fly fishing in Colorado to take advantage of the dwindling nice autumn weather. I had two appointments scheduled for the morning, so I ate lunch at home and then threw my gear in the car and departed for Clear Creek. After a fifty minute drive that was extended by an accident on interstate 70, I turned into a wide pullout between tunnels one and two and prepared to fish.

Clear Creek was flowing at 50 CFS, and that represents a nearly ideal level for the small drainage that flows along route six. I chose my Orvis Access four weight rod and found a path down the steep bank to the edge of the river slightly upstream from where the Santa Fe was parked. Given the low flows and relatively clear water, I chose to fish a single dry fly and began with a Chernobyl ant. It did not take long before a feisty ten inch brown rose and smashed the Chernobyl, and I was pleased to enjoy an early success. Perhaps the Chernobyl would be attractive to the Clear Creek trout on Tuesday September 29.

First Nice Trout from Clear Creek

I continued to prospect with the large foam terrestrial, and a second brown trout charged the buoyant rubber leg ant and inhaled it as I set the hook. These two fish bracketed a long distance release, and I was beginning to think that I was in for some fast action. Alas, that was not the case, and suddenly the residents of Clear Creek began to refuse my offering. As this early afternoon scene was evolving, I realized that the fish were mostly tight to the rocky bank, and they seemed to emerge from medium depth holding positions. Cover, moderate depth, and slow velocity became the key characteristics for locations that yielded trout.

I was frustrated by the sudden streak of Chernobyl rejections, so I clipped it from my leader and replaced it with a hares ear parachute hopper. This attracted attention, and I managed to land one small brown trout, but it also generated far more refusals than takes, so I opted for yet another change. I stayed with the terrestrial theme and tied my sole Jake’s gulp beetle to my line. Except for the last half hour, this foam beetle with a small orange indicator remained attached to my leader and yielded four additional trout. Like the other catches, the beetle attackers appeared from protected locations along the rocks. The beetle takes were more subtle than what I experienced with the Chernobyl ant, as all I saw was a small dimple in the surface resulting in the disappearance of the small orange indicator.

Jake’s Gulp Beetle to This Fish’s Liking

In addition to the four landed fish, I accumulated a series of momentary hook ups. I am not clear if this was due to the quick subtle take, or if the fish were tentative in their bite, but I could have easily landed double digit fish had I converted a higher percentage of takes. I covered a considerable amount of stream in the process of landing the four beetle admirers, and it seemed like many very attractive spots failed to yield fish, so I once again made a change. I was curious if perhaps a nymph dropper might increase my hook ups, so I returned to the Chernobyl ant and added a beadhead hares ear dropper.

A Pretty Scene Close to Denver

The conversion produced one more small brown trout that hammered the Chernobyl, but the subsurface offering was ignored. By 4:30 the shadows lengthened across the stream as the canyon walls tightened, and this made it difficult to follow the low riding foam ant, so I called it quits and scrambled up the steep rocky bank. I found myself half a mile above my parking place, and this necessitated a brisk hike back to the car.

Eight fish in 2.5 hours is a reasonable catch rate, but for some reason I continue to expect easier fishing in Clear Creek. The fish are small, and the creek is not rich in aquatic insects, so I anticipate opportunistic feeding. Unfortunately my last three or four trips suggest that the fish of Clear Creek Canyon are nearly as selective as educated spring creek sippers. It is hard to ignore fishing that only requires a forty-five minute drive, so I expect I will continue to make the trip with abnormal expectations.

Arkansas River – 09/19/2015

Time: 9:30AM – 2:00PM

Location: Fremont – Chafee County line

Fish Landed: 12

Arkansas River 09/19/2015 Photo Album

Clearly my week on the two forks of the White River in the Flattops spoiled me. I was back to the reality of fishing the more pressured and accessible rivers of Colorado, and these waterways required much more work to catch smaller and fewer fish. I was certain that the Arkansas River would provide me with some exciting fall fishing, but Friday taught me not to take anything for granted.

After a Friday fraught with frustration, I debated whether to follow through with my plan to camp overnight in order to be in a position to fish the Arkansas River in the morning on Saturday. The weather forecast projected Saturday to be a carbon copy of Friday, and I was reluctant to endure another day of battling wind and slow afternoon fishing under bright blue cloudless skies. However as I evaluated alternatives, I realized that September 19 was a weekend, and most of the local options would likely involve waves of fishermen unable to enjoy their pastime during weekdays. I packed the camping gear in order to avoid the three hour morning drive, so I finally concluded that my best option was to carry on with my original plan. The Arkansas is a very large river with many miles of public access, so it can accommodate hordes of weekend fishermen.

I drove from my Friday fishing spot below Salida to the Vallie Bridge Arkansas River Recreation Campground and arrived by 5PM. It was unusual to arrive at my camping location with several hours of daylight remaining. Even more surprising was the absence of other campers on a Friday evening. I set up my REI two person tent and then took a break to enjoy a beer before I prepared a quick dinner and cleaned up. The wind abated, and some large gray clouds moved over the Sangre de Cristo range to the south. I snapped a photo of the mountains just below a gray cloud with the sun reflecting off the northwest face. The air temperature remained quite comfortable, and I applauded my decision to follow through with my camping plans.

Sangre de Cristos Shrouded in Clouds but Reflecting the Sun

According to my plan I pulled up stakes on Saturday morning by 8:30 and arrived at the Fremont – Chafee county line by 9:00. I remembered fishing the Arkansas River at this same time several years ago with Dave Gaboury and guide Taylor Edrington, and we experienced a decent amount of success using deep nymphs. In fact one of the productive flies from that outing was the iron sally, and I had several in my fly patch that I tied during the 2013 winter. This then became my game plan; to probe the deep runs with a pair of nymphs and an indicator.

Once again I crossed the river at the tail of the long pool below my parking place, and then I hiked down the railroad tracks until I was below the small island. There were two sets of nice deep runs that did not yield any fish on Friday, and I was convinced that the deep nymph approach would reverse this outcome on Saturday. I was right. I hooked and lost a fish on the top third of the first run, and then a second fish hammered the iron sally as the nymphs began to swing at the end of the drift. My first fish of the day was a chunky fourteen inch brown trout, and I was very pleased to register a fish within fifteen minutes of my start.

Great Start to My Day

I continued up the river with the indicator, split shot, iron sally and salvation nymph until 11 o’clock, and during this morning session I incremented my fish count to seven. The average size of these fish was in the twelve inch range with my initial fourteen inch brown and a thirteen inch wild fish included as well. I was much more selective about the water type I chose to fish, and I skipped many segments of the river that were not amenable to the deep nymph approach.

Another Fine Arkansas Brown Trout

Nice Edge Water

Late in the morning I encountered a stretch of river that looked fishy, but it was not a deep run similar to the water that I was seeking. I made a few casts, and my flies repeatedly snagged the rocks and sticks on the riverbed. I decided that I could obtain better drifts with a dry/dropper approach, so I converted to a yellow Letort hopper and beadhead hares ear. I made some great casts with this combination and managed to keep the hopper floating, but my only reaction to the change was several looks at the top fly. Next I exchanged the Letort hopper for a hares ear parachute hopper, and this performed in similar fashion with only a couple subsurface investigations. Since the top fly was not matching the expectations of the fish, I decided to go in a buoyant direction and tied on a gray pool toy. Since this fly could support more weight, I added a small beadhead RS2 and swapped the iron sally for a beadhead hares ear.

Finally this combination yielded a nice twelve inch brown that grabbed the RS2 just as I lifted the flies in front of a rock. I was feeling a bit more optimistic now that I hooked a fish after a long dry spell, but I reached the long smooth pool across from the Santa Fe. I skipped around this water via the railroad tracks, and then dropped back down at the head of the pool. When I surveyed the river at this point, I concluded that it screamed out for the deep nymphing method that rewarded me during the morning. Once again I patiently converted my system and began probing the deeper runs with the nymphs. Much to my amazement the nymphs were soundly ignored. By now the sun was high in the sky, and the air temperature was pushing into the seventies, as it was around noon. Could the day already be entering the summer doldrums period?

Landed a Nice Fish by Sweeping Flies in Front of Rocks and Branches

I began to consider an early departure, but persisted by moving upstream at a more rapid pace while selecting only deep sections of the river where I judged that the indicator method might produce. Finally I was across from a spot where a large boulder jutted out from the bank and trapped several branches and logs. In front of this mess was a short but deep pocket. I accurately dropped a cast six feet above the boulder, and before the nymphs could snag the sunken logs, I moved my rod upstream and caused the flies to swing by the snarl. Within seconds of executing this maneuver, I felt weight on my rod and set the hook and battled a thirteen inch brown trout to my net. This was my best fishing tactic during my two days on the Arkansas River, and I was quite pleased with the response.

As I continued moving upstream with the nymphs I met with no additional success, so I decided to resume the dry/dropper gambit. The water before me consisted of a lot of pockets and runs of moderate depth, and it would be much easier to prospect with a shallow dry/dropper offering. I elected to knot a gray pool toy to my line and beneath that I added the beadhead hares ear and RS2. I drifted these flies through some prime locations for twenty minutes, and then I saw a rise in a very attractive deep pool next to the bank. I could see the fish, and it appeared to be of above average size, but it drifted up to inspect the hopper and then returned to its holding position.

Jake’s Gulp Beetle Produced

How could I interest this fish in one of my flies? The prospecting technique was not producing, so why not focus on this fish and experiment with some fly changes? I removed the trio of flies and tied on a parachute black ant. I was certain this would do the trick since periodic gusts of wind probably dispersed terrestrials into the river. Not a chance. The ant provoked no interest. Next I remembered Jake’s Gulp Beetle that delivered twenty fish to my net on the Elk River in BC. I replaced the ant with a beetle and began to plop it along the bank of the river.

I gave up on the targeted fish that prompted fly changes, but the beetle yielded three more trout over the remainder of the afternoon before the wind forced me to retire at two o’clock. Beetle plopping did not work in all the juicy spots, but it did often enough to maintain my interest, and clearly nothing else seemed to tempt the fish of the Arkansas River to eat.

Another Beetle Victim

The Arkansas River needs some clouds, rain and cool temperatures to initiate some true early autumn fishing conditions. Honestly I expected to catch more that twenty-one fish during two days on the Arkansas River in the middle of September, but given the circumstances I am actually pleased with my results. Hopefully things will change before I return after our trip to Pennsylvania next week.

Arkansas River – 09/18/2015

Time: 12:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Fremont – Chafee county line.

Fish Landed: 9

Arkansas River 09/18/2015 Photo Album

Have you ever watched those blooper clips that they show between innings at major league baseball games? Well Friday September 18 was my day of fishing bloopers, but more on that later.

I had not visited the Arkansas River since the time period prior to snow melt, so I was anxious to return. I chose to travel to the Frying Pan River early in the week because the weather forecast projected above average temperatures in the Arkansas River Valley, and I suspected this meant a continuation of summer doldrums conditions despite the fly shop reports suggesting otherwise. The Frying Pan on the other hand is a tailwater and tends to yield more consistent conditions, although I was bewildered by the lack of hatches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I was still feeling the urge to test the Arkansas before Jane and I make a week long trip to Pennsylvania to visit our son Dan and attend our niece’s wedding, so I packed the car with my camping gear on Friday morning and departed for the Big Horn Sheep Canyon segment of the river. The weather was expected to continue with warm afternoons and no precipitation, and this is what led me to defer the trip earlier in the week, but I was curious if the fly shop reports were correct. Historically fly fishing in September on the Arkansas River has been quite productive, and I did not want to miss out.

Because I needed to finish packing the car with camping provisions, I got off to a later than normal start and arrived at the Fremont – Chafee county line by 11:30. The flows were at 290 CFS which is relatively low even for September. As forecast the skies were cloudless and a deep shade of blue, and a bright sun warmed the air to high temperatures in the upper 70’s. I hoped otherwise, but I was rather convinced that the fishing conditions would be challenging.

I extracted my Sage One five weight and cautiously worked my way down the bank below the car and then crossed the river at the tail of the long smooth pool. Even at 290 CFS this crossing dictated a slow pace and cautious approach. When I reached the north side of the river, I climbed the steep bank to the railroad tracks and hiked downstream for half a mile until I was below the small island. Grasshoppers flushed in front of my every step as I moved through the brush, so I decided to knot a hares ear parachute hopper to my line. I feel that the parachute hopper is the most realistic grasshopper imitation that I tie.

Looking Upstream Toward the Island

From the middle of the deep run to the tail of the pool where I began, the parahopper did not produce, so I augmented it with a beadhead hares ear. This paid off, and I landed two fish in a short amount of time. One slurped the hopper on the surface and the other snatched the hares ear nymph. In addition I experienced a foul hooked fish and a momentary hook up, so the fish were definitely looking for food between noon and 12:30 when I paused for lunch.

Better Position

After lunch I continued my progress upstream to the area just below the downstream tip of the island. I replaced the parachute hopper with a Charlie boy foam imitation and added a RS2 to the hares ear. For some reason I fall into the trap of applying deferred gratification to fly fishing, and I was eagerly anticipating an opportunity to fish the right channel, so I chose to move up along the left side of the island first. This ploy paid off with two small browns that grabbed the beadhead hares ear, as I lifted my rod to make another cast, and I also felt a momentary hookup and observed several refusals. All this suggests that there were quite a few fish along the left side of the island, and they were looking for food.

Next I retreated back to the bottom end of the island and began to fish the long smooth pool located on the right braid. This is typically very technical water, and I did not wish to begin plopping the large foam hopper and two beadheads, so I went small. This entailed a size 14 light olive stimulator with the tiny beadhead RS2 trailing nymph. I stayed back from the pool and made some nice long fluttering casts, but the only result of my measured approach was a refusal to the stimulator. Maybe a terrestrial would be more to their liking? I exchanged the stimulator for Jake’s gulp beetle. I spotted a rise in the current that entered the top of the pool, so I plopped the foam beetle, and a fish immediately chomped it. I made a solid hook set, and the fish suddenly streaked upstream at an alarming pace. Line began unraveling from my reel, so I glanced down and realized that slack fly line had wrapped around the butt of my rod. Alas I discovered this too late, and before I could flick the line free, the fly popped out, and the fish was gone. This was blooper clip number one, and I was rather distraught as evidenced by some very nasty words uttered.

I continued plopping the beetle a bit longer in the attractive deep pockets and runs at the head of the pool, but the interest of the trout became more casual, and they began to look but not eat. The parachute hopper is a light slim terrestrial imitation that does not disturb the water as much as a foam hopper, so I elected to switch but retained the hares ear nymph and RS2. While these flies were on my line, my polarized lenses enabled me to detect a couple below the surface looks, but the trout did not finish the job and chow down. It was around this time that I looked back and saw a large juniper tree next to the bank. I told myself to be aware of its presence as I cast upstream, but in my haste to fire a cast toward the ten o’clock position, the self warning evaporated from my brain, and I wrapped a high backcast in the tree. There was no strategy that would allow me to recover the three flies, so I yanked and left them for mother nature. Blooper number two was recorded.

A View Back Down the River at 290 CFS

I sat down on a large rock and reconfigured my line with the same three flies and resumed my upstream migration. The top half of the right braid is typically less productive than the bottom, but I landed two more brown trout in the twelve inch range to boost my spirits. In addition I registered a few momentary hookups including blooper number three. In this case I cast directly upstream to a relatively shallow riffle, and as the flies drifted back toward me, a decent fish materialized out of nowhere and nabbed one of the nymphs. As I went to strip line and apply pressure to the fish, I realized that somehow my fly line wrapped around my rod tip three times. Naturally my efforts to strip and remove slack were ineffective since the twists created a temporary knot. The trout raced back toward me and beyond my legs and then broke off the RS2. Needless to say, these three successive examples of fisherman error put me in a foul state of mind.

As I released one of the fish that I landed, it snagged the RS2 that was hanging from my net and broke it off. Chalk up blooper number four. It did not end there. Twice as I was changing flies, another fly fell from my foam pad in my front pack and began floating down the river away from me. The first time this happened it was my one and only Jake’s gulp beetle. A GoPro recording of my ridiculous effort to scramble to the bank and then dash downstream to scoop the fly from the water would obviously provide great YouTube humor. This happened again with a different fly later in the afternoon. The only positive in these two examples was the fact that I did manage to recover the flies.

Another Wild Brown

From 2:30 until 4:00 I fished from the top of the island to the water across from the high rock ledge upstream from the Santa Fe. This was the warmest portion of the day, and to make matters worse, a strong headwind began to sweep down the canyon. I managed to land two additional brown trout in this time slot. One twelve inch brown grabbed the RS2 along the edge of a current seam in a deep pocket, and number nine on the day rose and slurped the Charlie boy hopper along the bank near the bottom of the long pool where I crossed.

The big story in the afternoon however was the stiff wind. My shoulder was complaining after the excessive effort required to punch casts upstream into the wind. In addition when I tried to counter the wind currents by fishing across, the wind blew downstream and created drag on my line.

At four o’clock I surrendered to the zephyr and swapped my floating line for a sinking tip and tied on a sparkle minnow. I was hoping the sparkle minnow could once again salvage my day and take me to a double digit fish count. I was at the top of the long pool with some nice deep runs across from me, and I stripped the sparkle minnow from top to bottom over a thirty minute period. Unfortunately I cannot report even one follow. It was a tough afternoon on the newly declared gold medal fishery.

Looks Kind of Lonely

Based on my experience I concluded that the Arkansas River continued to fish similar to late summer. Fishing is best in the morning and evening time periods. but it is best to seek shelter from the wind and take a nap in the afternoon.



Frying Pan River – 09/16/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: MM10 and then upstream beyond the spring

Fish Landed: 16

Frying Pan River 09/16/2015 Photo Album

I read my post from a visit to the Frying Pan River in September 2014 when I fished the area near the spring with much success despite the absence of any significant hatch. On Tuesday I chased hatches in vain on the upper four miles while working around quite a few other fishermen, so I decided to drop down lower to avoid crowds, and perhaps capture the same magic that favored me in 2014.

The wet weather continued in the Frying Pan Valley, as I woke up several times during the night to the sound of steady rain on the Big Agnes tent roof. Since I planned to return to Denver after fishing on Wednesday, I needed to pack up all the camping gear including the tent, and the tent was quite soggy after two nights of rain plus a shower late Tuesday afternoon. In order to keep my sleeping gear and fishing bag dry, I conceived a packing plan that worked out quite well. I placed the tablecloth, tent footprint, tent and rainfly on the waterproof mat in the rear of the Santa Fe and then stacked the cooler and food bins on top. The strategy worked quite well as all the intended items remained dry for a day of fishing and for the return drive. My fishing clothes were an exception, but more on that later.

By the time I completed the elaborate packing configuration to work around rain soaked gear and yet keep my fishing equipment accessible and dry, I arrived at the parking pullout next the spring by 9:30. Once again it was quite overcast with heavy gray clouds blocking attempts of the sun to break through, and this translated to chilly temperatures in the low 50’s. I wore my raincoat as a windbreaker, and extracted my Loomis five weight for duty. I planned to chuck a heavy foam top fly in a dry/dropper configuration to mimic my successful day in 2014, and the eight foot six inch Loomis performs this task quite well and also seems to place less strain on my aging right shoulder. The weather on Wednesday was shaping up to be very similar to what I documented during the previous September. The flows were a bit high for my tastes at 270 CFS, but I guessed that this was also comparable to the September 2014 outing that I was attempting to replicate.

There are two small islands in the segment of water between mile marker ten and the spring. One tiny snip of land surrounded by water is just above the border with private property, and I fished from that point to the second larger island on Tuesday. I planned to cross the river across from the spring after lunch, so for the morning session I elected to fish from the tip of the second island back up to the car but along the bank next to the road. During 2014 a Charlie boy grasshopper was favored by large Frying Pan rainbows, so I tied one of these buoyant flies to my line as a top fly, and then knotted on a hares ear nymph followed by a salvation nymph.

I worked my way up to the car by 11:00 and registered two small brown trout. It was too early to eat lunch, so I decided to sample the left edge from the spring upstream and along the road until 11:30. Because of dense trees and vegetation, there were limited paths down to the river, and it was difficult to wade due to the swift flows tight to the bank. I did manage to land a couple more small browns during this time to advance the fish count to four before I returned to the car and devoured my light lunch.

Upstream of the Spring

The weather after lunch improved moderately with some extended breaks in the clouds that allowed the sun to break through, although long segments of dense cloud cover made me appreciate the decision to continue wearing my raincoat. Before I resumed fishing, I took the time to replace the Charlie boy hopper with a tan and gray pool toy. As was my intention, I crossed the river across from the spring after lunch and fished some small pockets along the way. I carefully angled my way upstream and across until I approached one of my favorite spots where a nice deep riffle moves from the center of the river toward the opposite bank. Here I managed to land a small brown, but missed an opportunity to land a large rainbow. As the dry/dropper drifted along the current seam near the tail, a huge football shaped rainbow rose to inspect the pool toy. My pulse exploded, but the big boy did not like what it saw and dropped back to its resting position. I attempted quite a few more drifts, but unfortunately the bruiser ignored the trailing nymphs, and waited for something other than what I was offering.

One of the Better Fish on the Day

I moved on and continued fishing upstream along the right bank for the remainder of the afternoon. I managed to land quite a few additional brown trout, but I never settled into a smooth rhythm akin to my 2014 experience. In addition, the fish were mostly in the nine to twelve inch range with the two best catches extending to thirteen. I made some excellent drifts through some very attractive pockets with no reward for my efforts. I was handicapped by being right handed, and as I progressed upstream, this necessitated backhand casts. I felt that I needed to use three flies, and the combination of three flies and backhand casts is a recipe for massive tangles. Wednesday confirmed this theory.

Beautiful Vivid Spots

One highlight occurred when I approached a wide smooth pool behind a large rock that provided a significant current break. Just as I was about to loft my flies to the middle of the slick behind the rock, a huge rainbow tipped up and sipped in an unidentifiable morsel of food. I decided to give my flies a try and dropped the pool toy and trailing nymphs five feet above the scene of the rise. Once again my heart stopped as the big boy slowly elevated and slurped my fly. Initially I thought it gulped the large pool toy, but as I applied pressure to leverage the beast toward my net, it became clear that the rainbow had inhaled one of the trailing nymphs. The fish did not show much early reaction to my attempts to steer it toward me, but apparently it had a slow fuse, because as I guided it within eight feet of my position, and as I was about to pressure it across some faster water in between, it suddenly grew concerned. The fish was clearly in excess of twenty inches, and now it began to throw its weight around. First it shot back to the center of the midstream pool, and then it did what I feared. It shot to the tail just above the fast water chute, and once again I thought I arrested its retreat. This proved to be momentary, however, as it made a sudden turn and shot down the chute. I made a futile attempt to allow my reel to spin and prepared to follow the prize downstream, but before I could make one step the pool toy came flying back toward me minus two nymphs. It was that sort of day.

I cannot understate the effort required to negotiate my way upstream along the south bank. Dense brush bordered the river, thus I was required to wade the rocky edge. This was not an easy task, and twice one of my feet slid on angled mossy rocks causing me to fall softly on my side next to the water. At 3 o’clock however, the ultimate indignity transpired. I found myself in a predicament where there were overhanging branches and a very large mossy angled rock ahead of me. The river at this point was a white water chute, so I had a tiny gap where I hoped to slide around the large boulder. It was a mistake. I placed my foot next to the base of the rock, and immediately it slide out toward the river. In addition, my other foot glided toward the flowing water as well, and the next thing I knew, I was on my back in the small pocket below the large rock. I managed to drop my rod and avoid breakage, and I righted myself as fast as I could but not before ice cold bottom release river water rushed over the top of my waters. It was quite a shock to my system, and I despise the sound of water sloshing inside my wader feet.

Fortunately the sun was out to warm me a bit, and I was close to a wide shallow section where I could cross to the road. But before doing so, I spotted a nice run of moderate depth ahead of me, so I flicked a couple casts along the current seam and induced a twelve inch brown to grab the hares ear. I was a soggy mess, but I still persisted in attacking the Frying Pan trout population.

When I reached the car, I found a dry change of clothes, and then I created a new layer of wet items on top of the rain soaked section in the back of the Santa Fe. I probably quit an hour before I intended due to my mishap, but this enabled me to get a jump on my return drive.

Sixteen fish is a decent number for the Frying Pan river in September, but I was disappointed by the absence of hatches, the lack of size, and of course my opinion was tainted by my unintended swimming lesson. I have fished the Frying Pan in September and October and enjoyed fairly dense hatches of green drakes, pale morning duns, and blue winged olives; so I am perplexed to explain the lack of hatches during my recent visit. The only explanation I can suggest is the cool weather. The week before on the White River was nearly perfect, so perhaps the fishing gods were throwing some adversity my way to even things out.

Frying Pan River – 09/15/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Mainly around MM 11.75, but fished above MM12 from 4:30 until 5:00

Fish Landed: 12

Frying Pan River 09/15/2015 Photo Album

The middle of September, a weekday, and the Frying Pan River would certainly coalesce to provide another outstanding fishing experience on September 15. Or at least that was my thinking, as Jane and I packed the car to drive to Ruedi Reservoir on Monday morning. We drove separately so I could hike and camp with Jane on Monday at which point she would return to Denver on Tuesday leaving me to fish intensely on the Frying Pan River on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Backcountry Couple

We arrived at Little Maude Campground next to Ruedi Reservoir at around 12:30 on Monday, and then we quickly consumed our lunches and set out for a hike to Savage Lakes. The four mile round trip hike was a strenuous uphill for the first half and then a delightful downhill on the return, but it was well worth the effort, as Jane and I languished by the placid shores of Lower Savage Lake and soaked up the beauty. When we returned to our campsite we set up the tent, enjoyed some craft beers for happy hour, and then Jane prepared a tasty dinner of beans, rice and bratwursts. As we finished cleaning the dishes, we noticed some dark clouds building in the west, and we just managed to get situated in our sleeping bags in the tent before steady rain commenced.

The rain fluctuated between drizzle and a steady downpour, and when we woke up on Tuesday the campsite was a soggy mess. Rather than try to dry the tablecloth and picnic table to prepare breakfast, I suggested to Jane that we both drive to Basalt and find a breakfast spot. Jane was returning to Denver, so she transferred her necessary belongings to her car, and we were off. Breakfast was quite pleasant in the warm and dry confines of Cafe Bernard, and I savored a yogurt parfait topped with fruit and granola. This was an interesting twist on camping. After breakfast I said my goodbyes to Jane, and I drove back east along the Frying Pan River until I reached the wide shoulder parking space next to the spring half way between mile marker ten and eleven.

The weather continued to look quite threatening with huge gray clouds enveloping most of the sky, and it would remain this way for much of the day. The thick clouds resulted in high temperatures in the mid-60’s, and consequently I began my fishing day wearing my fleece and raincoat and New Zealand brimmed hat with ear flaps. The only time I shed layers was when I broke for lunch and returned to the campground from 12:15 until 12:45.

I Began Fishing Just Below the Tiny Island in the Center

By the time I was prepared to fish it was 10AM, and I selected my Sage four weight to probe the waters of the Frying Pan River. I walked downstream until I was just above the private water and began my day with a gray pool toy, salvation nymph, and an ultra zug bug. Within the first fifteen minutes I landed a nice twelve inch brown trout that snatched the salvation nymph as it drifted along a current seam. I was convinced that I was in for a memorable day of fishing.

A Pretty Fish to Begin My Day on the Frying Pan

I crossed to the side of the river away from the road and worked the edge pockets along the south bank. Several times in previous years I covered this section of the Frying Pan in the morning with positive results, but on Tuesday I could only manage two additional small brown trout. This was fairly disappointing since I was executing some expert backhand casts beneath the many overhanging tree limbs. The second fish was an interesting fish as it appeared to be a tiger trout with spots that were scrambled in a pattern quite different from the brown trout I usually land.

At eleven o’clock I completed a dicey crossing above the second island and hiked back along the shoulder to the Santa Fe. Since Jane and I left the campsite early for breakfast in Basalt, I needed to return to prepare lunch since all the food was stashed in the bear bin. By one o’clock I was back on the river, but this time I parked at the wide pullout above mile marker eleven. There was one other car parked a bit to the west, but I could not see the related fisherman, so I decided there was enough space to cover the bottom end of the upper four mile stretch of public water.

I grabbed my rod and walked westward until I was in the nice runs below deadfall pool. A huge dead tree spans the entire river from the bank along the road to the tip of an island thus the name deadfall. I could not interest any fish in my offerings below the tree, nor could I induce a take in the lower end of the pool created by the deadfall. As I was prospecting the pool with futility, I observed several rises and also spotted tiny size eighteen tan caddis dapping on the surface of the river. I did not really possess a matching fly, but I did experiment with a size 16 gray deer hair caddis with no response. The fish stopped rising so I returned to the dry/dropper arrangement but replaced the pool toy with a Chernobyl ant. I advanced upstream along the left bank, but once again my efforts were thwarted.

Next I encountered the span where the river flows around a host of tiny islands. In reality they are small clumps of grass, and in the past this area usually delivered several medium sized fish. On Tuesday I nabbed a small brown to take my fish count to six, but these fish were beneath the usual Frying Pan River trout from a size perspective. The nice pool below the large rock that hosts a tree appeared as my next fishing destination. I covered the area with the dry/dropper configuration and only attracted refusals in the form of subsurface inspections.

Periodically throughout the day some very thick clouds moved above me, and when this occurred, it provoked a flurry of dapping tan caddis. This in turn prompted a few sporadic rises from the observant fish in the river, and this circumstance reappeared at tree in rock pool. Once again I abandoned the dry/dropper approach and converted to a single dry fly. Unfortunately before I could thoroughly test the waters of the small pool, I executed a sloppy cast and actually hooked a branch from the tree growing out of the protruding rock, and this forced me to disturb the pool to retrieve my fly.

Cube Rock Pool

At this point I ascended the bank and passed my car and then cut through the woods and under some large evergreen trees to reach the area below the tip of the next island. I rounded the downstream point and worked up the right channel. This water is more conducive to dry/dropper as it displays numerous small deep pockets, so I once again made the conversion to the Chernobyl ant, hares ear, and salvation. I managed to increase my fish count to seven before I approached one of my favorite spots; cube rock pool. I paused to observe for a bit, but I saw no surface activity and resumed prospecting with the Chernobyl and generated another refusal.

Nestled in My Net

Once again the sky darkened, and the small tan caddis left their perches on the bushes and began their unruly surface antics, and this again provoked a few aggressive fish to rise. I did not have any caddis in the 18-20 size range nor did I possess any with a tan body, so I once again tried to improvise with a light gray size 16 deer hair imitation. Unlike my earlier attempt at this ruse, I did manage to at least create a few refusals. While this frustration was transpiring, a few PMD’s made an appearance, so I leaped at the opportunity to forsake the ineffective caddis, and knotted a size 16 light gray comparadun to my line. This made no difference, so I defaulted to a size 18 cinnamon comparadun tied specifically for the Frying Pan River.

I cast the small mayfly imitation upstream just below a large exposed rock where I could see a decent fish rising sporadically, and on the third drift I was rewarded with a confident slurp. I fought a very nice brown and brought it to my net. This was my best fish of the day so far, and the first that I was able to fool with a dry fly. Perhaps my luck was about to improve. Another fairly regular riser continued to work seven feet below the point where I hooked the nice brown, so I resumed drifting the cinnamon comparadun over this feeding lane. I stayed with this fish far too long, as it gave me hope by continually inspecting but not taking my fly until I finally conceded and moved to the pockets next to and above the tip of the island.

Held Up for Better Size Perspective

In one of the lower deep narrow pockets a rainbow appeared, and I was able to nick it momentarily with my comparadun. I was scrambling for success, so naturally I was quite upset that this fish evaded me. I persisted with some more casts in this small area, and I was surprised to see a small brown follow my fly downstream only to turn away as the fly dragged near the chute at the tail. I was not to be deterred, so I resumed popping casts to the very top, and eventually I hooked and landed a fat fourteen inch rainbow. Since the rainbow apparently had short memory and forgot the mayfly with a pointy tip, I worked the tail again and also nabbed the small brown. I generally move on quickly, but in this case it paid to dwell a bit.

I was now on a bit of a run with the cinnamon comparadun, and I moved to the pocket that takes the form of a deep curl shaped like a comma above the island. Here two fish were rising, so my pulse ticked up a beat. Unfortunately I managed only a long distance release on one fish, and the other stopped feeding. What should I do now? The river now morphed into a fast chute until mile marker twelve which was likely occupied with several fishermen. I climbed the bank and circled back down the road and carefully slid back to the base of the left braid. The left braid is smaller than the right and features a long difficult placid pool followed my some smaller pockets that occasionally produce nice fish. I was certain that the small cinnamon comparadun would attract interest in the long pool and the pockets at the top, but I was mistaken.

I once again climbed the steep bank and walked back to the car. It was now getting quite dark and the wind was escalating, so I stopped and pulled my fleece on under my raincoat. I walked along the shoulder a bit beyond my car and stopped to observe tree in rock pool from the road. Perhaps the cinnamon comparadun could produce where the caddis was ineffective? I gave it a try, but once again the pool defeated me. I decided to angle my way cautiously across the river to probe the angled riffle for the first time. I perched at the edge of the riffle and made some nice downstream drifts, but the fish were having none of it. By now I spotted a few small blue winged olives, so I switched to a size 20 parachute BWO, that I salvaged from a fly box that I found floating down the river on a previous trip. The BWO had a white wing post, but it was still difficult to follow in the dim light created by the dense late afternoon clouds and sun glare.

The BWO did not create interest, so I switched back to the cinnamon comparadun and worked my way to the top of angled riffle. Here in a nice deep trough next to some overhanging branches the small dun disappeared, and I hooked and quickly landed a feisty twelve inch brown. I continued upstream to inspect the nice pool across from the Santa Fe and again suffered a “look but no take” episode. I had already worked the right channel around the island, so I retreated back the way I came and crossed to tree in rock pool. I inspected the pool once again and spotted a fish that rose twice three feet below the rock.

Fifteen Inch Tail Wagger

The tan caddis were out again and doing their dance, so I tied on a size 16 gray caddis, but I had low expectations. I began making some excellent casts by checking high and allowing the caddis to flutter down, and on the fifth such action, a beautiful fifteen inch brown slowly moved up and sipped in my fly. What a thrill!

It was now getting late so I walked up the road beyond mile marker twelve to the nice stair step riffle segment below the large parking lot popular with the guides. This water was now open, so I cast there for a bit with no success, and then I checked out the nice hole next to the parking lot. I did spot a fish that rose twice in a deep small pocket behind a huge large square flat rock, but I was unable to create any interest from my caddis.

Hops Flowers Along the Frying Pan

It was a tough day on the Frying Pan River, and I was quite pleased to manufacture twelve fish. The hatches were very short and sparse, and that is unusual for the middle of September based on my past experience. Three of the last five fish that I landed were in the fourteen to fifteen inch size range, so this enabled me to end my day on an up note. Hopefully Wednesday will produce better results.



Eagle River – 09/11/2015

Time: 1:00PM – 2:30PM

Location: Climbing Rock area below Wolcott

Fish Landed: 2

Eagle River 09/11/2015 Photo Album

Lady Luck withdrew her good fortune on Friday, September 11. After three spectacular days of fishing in the Flattops area of Colorado from Tuesday through Thursday, I returned to the reality of lower elevation fishing in early September.

I woke up early at the North Fork Campground and managed to pack up my camping gear and depart by 8AM. I was off to an early start and hoped to hit another river in proximity to my return route to Denver, but much to my dismay, as I turned on to the main gravel road that follows the North Fork of the White River, a large flock of sheep came into view ahead of me. There were gray chunks of bleating animals everywhere. They filled the road and spilled over into the brush on both sides of my return route from the Flattops. Two shepherds on horseback attempted to keep the group moving in a reasonably straight path.

A Tractor-Trailer Passes Through the Flock of Sheep

I’ve encountered these September sheep roundups in previous years, so I knew the drill. I slowly pulled up behind the dense moving gray and white cloud and began to nudge my way forward. Slowly the flock parted just like the Red Sea at the command of Moses, and I was able to creep through the mass. Once I reached the other side, I drove a safe distance ahead, and stopped to retrieve my camera which was stowed in the back of the car. As I turned to snap a photo or two of the wave of woolly creatures, I noticed a large tractor/trailer was now following my path, and it was surrounded by the sheep just as I had been several minutes earlier. I took a photo of the large vehicle in the midst of mayhem, and then snapped a couple more of the flock totally covering the road. I determined that the tractor/trailer was actually the destination of the bleating mass, as they were probably being transported from their high elevation summer home to somewhere else down low. I choose not to think more about their future.

I Better Get Moving or Be Overtaken Again

Once I was beyond the animal traffic jam, I made good time and traversed the 36 mile gravel road to Phippsburg and then turned right and followed Colorado route 131 to Wolcott. At the end of July while biking through Glenwood Canyon with the Vogels, I became intrigued by the possibility of fishing the Colorado River between the Shoshone power plant and Grizzly Creek access. Friday was to be the day that I acted on this plan, so I took the entrance ramp to interstate 70 and traveled west. I knew that this was a bit risky, as extensive construction was taking place in Glenwood Canyon, and I was inviting possible traffic delays.

As I entered the canyon and quickly surveyed the river to my left, I was disappointed to see a deep dark green water color. This was not the clear conditions that I expected nor anywhere close to what I observed up close during our bike ride. The river however did not appear to be muddy or brown, so I consoled myself that there would be reasonable visibility along the edges, and that was the only part of the large dangerous river that I planned to fish.

Bad assumption. When I reached the construction zone, I discovered that I had to travel at 45 MPH through the entire canyon to Glenwood Springs before I could exit and then travel back east. When I motored beyond the power plant and gazed anxiously at the river, I was surprised to see that it was now the shade of coffee with an ounce or two of milk added. This was an unexpected and highly disappointing discovery. I made my U-turn at Glenwood Springs and traveled east to the Grizzly Creek rest stop where I exited and parked, so I could inspect the river more closely. I walked along the bike path until I reached Grizzly Creek which was running crystal clear, but when I cut down the bank of the main river, it was very opaque with no visibility along the edge. I tried to convince myself that perhaps a black fly that contrasted with the color of the river would yield success, but at that point I decided that I was only fooling myself, and the exploration of the Colorado River was best left to another time.

I re-entered the interstate and crept along at 45 MPH until I finally exited the eastern end of the canyon and continued along to the Eagle River. I fished the newly public Horn Ranch section of the Eagle for a couple hours in July, and this whet my appetite for more time on this stretch of water. I pulled into a parking space along route six halfway through the conservation land and another car preceded me. I decided to eat my lunch on the old concrete bridge, and as I wandered out to a position where I could look upstream and down, I was disappointed to see two fishermen. One gentleman had crossed the bridge and was thrashing through the middle of the river upstream, and another angler was positioned one hundred yards below the bridge on the side next to the road. This was actually where I wanted to fish, and I was tempted to drop in halfway between the downstream fisherman and the bridge, but I realized that if I were that person, I would probably be upset by such a move.

Crestfallen with another dose of adversity, I finished my lunch and jumped back in the car and drove another half mile to the Climbing Rock Campground. I parked and finally donned my waders and prepared to fish. I rigged my Sage four weight and walked across the railroad bridge to the north side of the river. The Eagle River is notoriously tough for me at the low flows of late August and early September before air temperatures drop and the fish become more active, and the temperatures in the low seventies on Friday seemed to place this outing in the doldrums period. I slid down the bank and began fishing in a delicious deep side pool above the bridge that featured a huge foam patch between the bank and main current.

I tied on a gray pool toy and then added a salvation nymph and ultra zug bug and began to prospect the attractive water before me. Unfortunately I methodically advanced through the long deep pool with no action, but then at the riffles at the head of the pool, the hopper dipped, and I set the hook and retrieved a twelve inch brown trout that fell for the salvation nymph. I was elated to avoid a skunking, and the feisty brown was actually beyond my expectations.

12″ Brown from the Eagle River

I continued fishing in this manner and landed a second smaller brown that snatched the ultra zug bug, and this fish came from a short but deep pocket along the bank. I was beginning to suspect that my best chances for fish were from pockets in the fast oxygenated water on a relatively bright sunny warm day. My optimism zoomed, and I skipped some slower moving water to reach more pockets, but I encountered a troubling sign. The large placard warned that there was no trespassing and no hunting, and this information was the product of Denver Water. I fished this area previously, so I rationalized that the sign was intended for hunters, and harmless catch and release fishing was exempt.

I ignored the sign and fished up the river for another fifty yards and actually hooked two more fish that escaped before I could net them, but I did not feel comfortable ignoring the sign. It clearly stated no trespassing and made no exceptions, and I did not want to ruin a wonderful week of fishing with a fine, so I elected to turn around and return to the public water. I ascended the path to the railroad bridge and then followed the tracks downstream before I cut back to the river via a path down a steep bank. The water below the bridge was much more placid and offered no pockets which would have been my preference. The deep pool in front of me with a steady center current screamed for a deeper approach than I could offer with my dry/dropper set up, so I converted to a strike indicator, split shot, and two nymphs.

I probed the top of the long deep pool with my nymphs but to no avail, and then I moved up to a wide shallower riffle section and worked the nymphs there. The nymphing gambit was not delivering results, and my watch was showing that 2:30 was approaching, so I called it a day and returned to the car. An uneventful two hour and fifteen minute drive returned me to Denver, and I could assert that I spent five hours driving and one and a half hours fishing on Friday. I avoided a fishless day by landing two small brown trout, and I gained significant appreciation for the fantastic experience that I enjoyed in the Flattops on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

South Fork of White River – 09/10/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Hiked for 40 minutes and then began above a long small braid. I was approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead when I quit.

Fish Landed: 38

South Fork of White River 09/10/2015 Photo Album

What can I say about a spectacular day of fly fishing such as I experienced on Thursday, September 10? I am still euphoric now, three days later. I was in a remote location among gorgeous scenery with perfect weather and large quantities of hungry trout with no other human beings present. And what if I were to add that many of the fish were sizable backcountry football shaped rainbows?

Before I visited the Flattops in 2015 I read my posts from my visit in September 2014. I was impressed by the fact that I identified certain water types that produced fish, so I attempted to apply this knowledge to my 2015 South Fork outing. I skipped large sections of wide shallow riffles, and I also abstained from marginal pockets or limited myself to two casts. The strategy was effective as evidenced by my fish count.

The thermometer registered 41 degrees when I pulled into the South Fork trailhead lot at 9AM. I elected to wear a neck gaiter that I pulled up over my ears, and I also tugged my Adidas pullover over my head for added warmth. The pullover did not last more than fifteen minutes, as I walked at a rapid pace and began to perspire quickly despite the cold air temperatures. I stopped and wrapped the arms of the pullover around my waist under my waders, and the Adidas apparel remained in this position for the remainder of the day as the high temperature probably reached the upper sixties.

After a forty minute hike I began fishing at 10AM with a gray pool toy, salvation nymph and dark cahill wet fly. My devoted readers may ask, why a dark cahill wet fly? I decided to experiment with some oldies that I carry around in my fly box. These are flies that I tied many years ago, and I continue to question if they might produce if given an opportunity. I assumed that I had one proven fish catcher on my line in the salvation nymnph, so I was not taking a huge risk. The experiment was largely a bust as the dark cahill did not produce nor did the size 16 amber nymph that I replaced it with. I landed a fish on the salvation nymph while the oldies were attached to my line, so at least I know the fish were eating and preferred a different fly.

Check the Girth on This Fish

Eventually I settled on the subsurface combination of a salvation nymph and a beadhead ultra zug bug. At noon I quit for lunch, and by that time I moved my fish count to ten. Most were small trout, but two were quite nice rainbows that challenged my fish landing capabilities. The third fish of the day was a huge surprise that responded to a backhand lob to some soft water created where the river deflected off a large boulder along the bank. No sooner did the flies hit the deep hole than there was a large bulge. At first I thought the fish took the pool toy, and then I conjectured that I foul hooked it, as it refused the top fly. But once I slid the rainbow into my net I could see that it had the salvation nymph it its lip. Another of the first four trout was a feisty thirteen inch cutbow.

Salvation Nymph Did Its Job

The morning water presented a lot of wide shallow stream real estate, so I believe that my selective approach enabled me to be efficient and thus move my fish count to ten earlier than previous visits to the South Fork. Midway through the morning I was having significant difficulty following the pool toy in the shadows and glare created by the low sun in the eastern sky. Also the pool toy was a carryover from the one I used on Wednesday, and it was somewhat mangled and rode very low in the water. I used this as an opportunity to switch it for a chubby Chernobyl as the top fly, and this exchange solved the visibility problem for awhile.

And One More

Lots of Flesh on This Fish

After lunch I picked up a few more small fish, but the lighting improved, and I converted to a tan pool toy along with the salvation nymph and a beadhead ultra zug bug. These flies were the workhorse imitations for most of the afternoon and accounted for the bulk of my catch. There was a period in the middle of the afternoon when I lost the ultra zug bug, so I tried a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail as my point fly. This fly became a hot item as I landed five straight fish, and it actually outperformed the salvation. Two of the pheasant tail consumers were substantial fish in the 15-16 inch range.

Pretty Catch Stretched Out

Longer Than the Net Opening

The last hour was fairly slow until I foul hooked a missile of a fish before 5PM. I fought the streaking fish up and down the river on all sides until I finally leveraged it to the surface and learned that it was foul hooked in the cheek. I struggled to hoist the sizable rainbow within fifteen feet of my position, and then a bad knot gave way, and I lost all three flies. This made my decision easy, and I quit for the day.

Just as I experienced last September, long deep riffles and deep pockets produced fish. The bigger fish tended to emerge from prime lies near the bank. Thirty-eight fish is a big number, but more impressive was the size of the fish. At least eight of the fish that visited my net were in the 14-17 inch size range, and they were well fed judging from their width to length ratio. It was an amazing day. One of the big fish took the pool toy, but the salvation and pheasant tail were the most desirable flies for the bruisers. I probably lost two or three additional large fish in the similar size range, but my landing performance was clearly superior to that of 2014.

I Cannot Wait to Fish This

Big Rainbows Keep Coming

September 10 certainly ranks as one of my best experiences of 2015 if not number one. I’m already planning next year, and I expect to hike even farther and thus skip most of the less desirable morning water. What a day! I exceeded my expectations with significant numbers and many big fish sprinkled in to keep things interesting. If I have a better day than this over the remainder of the season, I am in for a lot of fun.

Away from the Net

Vivid Spots and Stripe

North Fork of White River – 09/09/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Himes Peak Campground from western border with private land upstream a mile. At the end of the day, 30 minutes on the White River across from the North Fork Campground.

Fish Landed: 38

North Fork of White River 09/09/2015 Photo Album

Wednesday represented another episode of my repeat of my 2014 experience. I decided to once again visit the Himes Peak Campground area along the North Fork. This segment of the river has been my dependable productive location on all my previous trips. Could it continue the streak?

For some reason I slept until 7:45 on Wednesday morning after falling asleep at 9:30. If you do the math, that equates to over ten hours of sleep. I did have a headache on Tuesday evening, so perhaps my body was reacting to a mild case of altitude sickness. At any rate, sleeping later than normal allowed me to avoid the colder pre-dawn temperatures, as the sun had already poked above the eastern hills and helped to warm the air temperature. I hustled to eat my breakfast, prepare lunch, and complete my normal morning camping routine; although the drive to Himes Peak was only ten miles, and plenty of time remained for me to begin fishing at a productive time.

I arrived at the Himes Peak Campground at 9:30 and once again chose my Loomis five weight for duty. If I expect to toss heavy buoyant dry flies as part of a dry/dropper configuration, I prefer the slow action of the Loomis. Also it is six inches shorter than my Sage rods, and I feel that it places less stress on my shoulder when executing repetitive line pick up motions. When I was ready to hit the water, I wandered into the campground as I was searching for a path that would take me to the stream below the pedestrian hiking bridge. Normally I begin above the bridge, but I hoped to cover some new water to the west. As I was walking about uncertain of my direction, a gentleman called out from the first campsite. He was about to chomp into a nice slab of trout for breakfast, but he interrupted his feast to suggest that I could walk through his campsite and take the path to the river that began there. He was rather proud of his breakfast, and he went on to inform me that he caught the fleshy treat from Slide Lake which can be reached from the Marvin Creek drainage.

Out of the Net

Juicy Hole

I thanked him for his assistance and walked down the path and then west until I found the downstream border with the adjoining private ranch land. I settled on a size 14 gray stimulator as my first offering to the North Fork trout, and I began prospecting likely holding spots with the buoyant attractor. My efforts resulted in two momentary hook ups, but then I went quite a while with no action. This lack of response caused me to convert to a gray pool toy and salvation nymph since these performed admirably on Tuesday. It was not a novel move, but it worked perfectly, and I deployed these flies along with the intermittent use of a hare nation for the remainder of my time on the water.

I moved upstream and landed four decent fish by the time I encountered another fisherman, or actually two. Three of the four fish were extracted from an extremely productive run not far above the footbridge, and several of the first four trout were quite nice and prompted photos. The two fishermen I met on Wednesday would be the only competing anglers I saw on my entire three day stay in the Flattops. Since there was an enormous amount of open water above me, I simply exited the stream and circled above them. This involved climbing a steep bank to the Himes Peak entry road, and then I followed a trail along the fence line until I cut back down to the river before reaching some thick bushes and trees.

This Cutbow Has Gold Color and Pool Toy in Mouth

I resumed fishing and increased my fish count to seven, and then I took a quick break for lunch at 12:15. Seven fish in two hours is fair, but I honestly expected a better catch rate. After lunch I detoured around a massive tangle of deadfalls by wading a small channel until I merged back with the main flow. But there was a very still slow moving slough at the point where the small channel rejoined the main river, and I stopped to flip a cast above two large criss crossing logs as I hid myself from view.  It was one of those obligatory casts where I did not expect to catch a fish, but why not give it a try while I moved along? As soon as the hopper splashed down, a feisty thirteen inch rainbow trout charged the foam terrestrial and gulped it down. What a highlight!

Out of the Net

The remainder of the afternoon was spent prospecting all the likely pockets and deep runs with the two fly combo, and I had a blast doing it. My fish counter steadily incremented until it grew to 37, and this exceeded my best expectations. I did not see any significant hatch activity such as evolved on Tuesday, but it did not matter. I estimate that one out of every four fish smashed the pool toy, and this seemed to occur mainly in short pockets and slots with decent depth. In addition to the plentiful number of fish that filled my net, I also registered a large number of long distance releases. I attribute the lost fish to the fact that many were small and unable to get their mouths around the pool toy. In human terms their appetite was bigger than their mouths. In other instances I was unable to maintain constant pressure due to the many branches that surrounded me.

Lots of Timber Across the Stream

Any slower moving shelf pool along the edge of the stream was money in the bank. Wednesday was not simply a numbers day, however, as I landed quite a few fish that placed a sag in my net. One rainbow measured fourteen inches and many were in the twelve to thirteen inch range and quite chunky. But beyond the size and quantity of fish, the greatest pleasure was derived from the beauty of these wild jewels. Some were pure rainbows, but most were cutbows; a product of a rainbow trout and cutthroat trout breeding. There was quite a bit of variation in the coloration of the cutbows, with many possessing the light body color of a rainbow, but others displaying the deep amber shade of a cutthroat with an overlaying pink stripe. The fish were as stunning as I have ever seen.

Very Nice Size for the North Fork

I managed to land one thirteen inch pure cutthroat (no pink stripe), and that was a special thrill. Surprisingly it smashed the pool toy in relatively fast water. I was amazed by this since I thought cutties prefer deep slow pools next to cover.

I also landed a few brookies, but not as many as I expected based on previous year’s experience and the nice specimens that I hooked on Tuesday. A few were decent size, and they were already arrayed in their bright spawning colors. It is hard to find a prettier fish than a multi-hued brook trout in autumn.

Once I quit on Wednesday I needed to scale a very steep bank, and then I was fortunate to stumble on to a relatively visible worn trail. The path led me to an open meadow where the road came into view, but as I came within fifty yards of the gravel lane, I realized that I was blocked by a barbed wire fence. I removed my wading staff, front pack, and backpack and threw my rod into the grass on the other side. In this slimmed down state I was able to separate the top and middle wires and squeeze through without touching the fence. Fortunately I am not a very large person.

A thirty minute walk on the road brought me back to Himes Peak where I shed my fishing gear and drove on to Trappers Lake Lodge. Here I purchased a bag of ice for my cooler and paid $2 so I could use the lodge’s land line to call Jane and let her know that I was alive and safe.

Sparkle Minnow Given a Test Drive

On the return to the campground I decided to stop and fish the North Fork public water across from the camping area. I fished here in previous years but never experienced the success of Himes Peak or the area below Trappers Lake. Wednesday was no different, although I only fished for thirty minutes, but I did manage to land one six inch rainbow to up my total to thirty-eight. At the very end of my time I approached a large deep pool and converted to a sparkle minnow. I chucked twenty casts into the promising hole and varied my retrieve, but the streamer tactic was not effective.


North Fork of White River – 09/08/2015

Time: 2:30PM – 6:00PM

Location: Below private bridge and beaver pond a mile or two below Trappers Lake Lodge; walked across brush with lots of dead timber so I could fish away from the road.

Fish Landed: 18

North Fork of White River 09/08/2015 Photo Album

For the last two years I journeyed to the Flattops region of Colorado and fished in the White River during the second or third week of September, and 2015 would be no different. My favorite river in Colorado has always been the Frying Pan, but my favorite region is becoming the Flattops area. In order to visit the Flattops, one needs to make a four hour drive that includes 36 miles on a gravel road that climbs over two mountain passes. It is a gorgeous drive, but still very stressful due to the dust and washboard surface that is prevalent on the steep uphill sections.

The effort is worth it, as the White River valley is quite remote, contains abundant wildlife; and the impact of human beings is less than that of most of the other major river valleys in Colorado. On Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day, I was packed and on my way to the Flattops. The weather forecast was perfect with highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the upper 30’s for the remainder of the week and no precipitation was anticipated. I made the trip in four hours as expected, and I was surprised to see that most of the aspen leaves remained green. Also the number of RV’s and horse trailers belonging to hunters that are normally present in the dispersed camping spaces along the gravel road seemed to be fewer than in previous trips. I attributed both of these observations to the fact that my 2015 expedition was a bit earlier than normal.

Campsite No. 25 at North Fork Campground

I cruised the North Fork Campground loop and selected campsite number 25 just as I had during the visits in the previous two years. Site 25 contains a tent pad, and I discovered during my 2013 trip that these structures are invaluable in the event of rain. I quickly set up my tent and ate lunch and unpacked some essentials to establish my new home, and then I paid for three nights at the pay station. On the way to the fee tube I ran into an irate campground host. Apparently a flock of sheep had just passed by as the host was making her rounds, and she redirected their path, but not before they deposited large amounts of excrement in two campsites. My introduction to the woman was highlighted by an angry diatribe that included commentary about her “not being a shepherd”, and “due for a raise since I have to pick up sheep sh–“.

I Hiked Across the Ridge on the Right and Fished Back

I said my hello and goodbye and departed for the more pleasurable prospect of fishing on the North Fork. I chose to drive southeast toward Trappers Lake, where I parked along the road and surveyed a section of water just below a bridge with a no trespassing sign. I fished this area in 2013 with moderate success, so I was interested to determine if I could repeat the past. The area actually looked quite stark as a 2002 fire destroyed all the trees in the upper section of the North Fork of the White River below Trappers Lake. All that remained were toothpick remnants of dead evergreens and the brown-yellow leaves on the shrubs and bushes that covered the earth. Because the stretch of river was without trees I could easily discern its path, and it took a big bend and flowed away from the road just beyond my parking place. I decided to hike along the top of the hills next to the North Fork and then drop down the far side and work my way back upstream.

I climbed into my waders and fit together my Loomis five weight rod and began my afternoon venture. The strategy was easier said than done, as I soon discovered that I was required to climb and scramble over ridiculous quantities of dead evergreen trees, and eventually I would learn that the same acrobatic skills were necessary to wade upstream in the small stream. But even more challenging was the descent of the steep hillside once I navigated the fallen trees and bristly brush. Actually as I began cautiously scrambling down the slope, the deadfalls became a positive aid for braking my slide and arresting my downward momentum.

It took perhaps thirty minutes to reach my starting position, and here I prepared to fish. It was now 2:30 in the afternoon, and the sky was bright blue with not even a wisp of white in the sky. The high temperature never climbed above the upper 60’s, and I actually wore my raincoat as a windbreaker all afternoon and never felt over dressed. My ultimate goal was to reach water that was rarely fished, and I am certain that I succeeded. I began fishing with a solo Chernobyl ant, as I hoped I could avoid a dropper due to the many fly snagging obstacles within range of my casting.

A Pretty Cutbow

This strategy worked quickly as I landed a gorgeous brightly colored thirteen inch cutbow, but then I began observing looks from fish with no take. This circumstance influenced me to retool, and I added a beadhead hares ear to my arsenal. The hares ear immediately produced a small brook trout, and then as I allowed the dry/dropper to sweep by a log on the far bank, a prize brook trout grabbed the trailer and put up a valiant fight. This fish was absolutely stunning in its fall colors, and it probably represented the largest brook trout I ever landed aside from the twenty inch gems taken from lakes in Argentina. I was thrilled with the good fortune I was enjoying at the start of my afternoon of fishing.

Check Out This Gorgeous Brook Trout

After photographing the brook trout jewel, I continued upstream and landed one more rainbow trout, but I was covering some very juicy water with no action, and I continued noticing looks at the Chernobyl with no follow up attempt to eat my offering. I clipped off the dry/dropper and turned to a size 14 stimulator with a medium olive body. After this change I was surprised by a very nice thirteen inch rainbow that slurped the stimulator on the fifth drift through a promising area. The stimulator continued to be effective for a period that moved my fish count to seven, and then I began to observe occasional pale morning duns fluttering up from the surface of the stream. I switched to a money fly, a light gray size 16 comparadun, for a bit and recorded a momentary hook up, but then the hatch waned so I returned to the dry/dropper approach with a Charlie boy hopper trailing a salvation nymph on a two foot dropper.

A Nice Long Pool on the Upper North Fork

Wow, what a move. Over the next two hours the salvation nymph and hare nation produced the remainder of my catch except for one rogue brook trout that hammered the hopper. At one point during this time period I thought I lost the salvation when my line got behind me and hooked in my backpack, so I replaced it with a hare nation, and this fly produced quite well until an abraded knot caused me to lose the fly. Amazingly I found the original salvation stuck in my net and gave it a second turn on the end of my tippet. Both flies, which are close cousins, produced equally well on the end of my dry/dropper system.

Nice Size Rainbow from Small Stream

A Better View

Just below the private bridge with the no trespassing sign there was a nice run, and I detected two fish rising. At approximately 5:30 a decent hatch commenced, and I concluded that the mayflies were blue winged olives. Normally I convert to a CDC blue winged olive fly in this circumstance, but the sun was low in the western sky, and this created an abundance lot of shadows and glare on the surface of the water. I was fairly certain that I would not be able to follow the CDC BWO, so instead I added a soft hackle emerger to my dry/dropper arrangement. Unfortunately I could not convince the risers to fall for my emerger ploy, so I moved above the bridge. In the area between the bridge and the large beaver pond I landed number eighteen on the salvation nymph, and then I adjourned for the day.

The Salvation Was a Workhorse

In summary I caught mostly small fish on Tuesday in my three and a half hours of fishing after the long driver from Denver. But I also landed three very nice brook trout, one fine cutbow, a thirteen inch rainbow, and a small but pure cutthroat. It was a sort of White River grand slam, and a great start for my White River fishing trip in September 2015.