Monthly Archives: February 2016

South Platte River – 02/29/2016

Time: 12:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: Downstream from Deckers

Fish Landed: 0

South Platte River 02/29/2016 Photo Album

Monday February 29 was more than the first fishing outing of the year, as I took my first step toward a comeback from surgery on January 27. How appropriate that this significant stride occurred  on leap day, although I must admit that I did not execute a leap, but instead completed a slow shuffle into the ice cold flows of the South Platte River near Deckers, CO.

Although some residual abdominal soreness remained along with some other expected hardships associated with my type of surgery, I felt reasonably strong, and I could no longer deny the strong urge I felt to enjoy the unseasonably warm February weather. Would my arm still remember how to make the familiar casting stroke, and more importantly would the upper abdominal soreness come into play as I picked up line and generated a backcast? There was only one way to find out.

The temperature in Denver was forecast to reach the low 60’s on leap day, and this translated to the mid-fifties for Deckers, so Jane and I decided to make the trip. We arrived at the large bend pullout below Deckers by 11:30, and by the time I climbed into my waders and new wading boots and assembled my rod it was 11:45. The wind was gusting in a fierce unrelenting manner, so I decided to consume my lunch before I faced this adversity.

After lunch I walked along the road until I was just above a bridge, and here I slowly slid below a large boulder that served as a temporary windbreak. I strung my rod and before I could carefully shuffle into the river, Jane appeared along the road at the start of her one hour walk. I quickly shouted to her, and she approached on a short path and snapped a few photos of the momentous occasion. It was my first day of fishing in 2016, my first outing since surgery, and surely the first time I ever fished on a leap day.

Back in the Water after Surgery

I began my quest for the first trout of the new season with a flesh San Juan worm and a RS2. I quickly discovered that my greatest risk was a slip or stumble, as this would clearly aggravate my still tender upper abdominal muscles. For this reason I moved slowly, and my progress was interspersed with several long rest periods. The caution due to abdominal soreness is true, but the rest periods were provoked by two ridiculous tangles that forced me to snip off both my flies in order to straighten the entire mess.

After twenty minutes of casting practice, the indicator zipped upstream, and I set the hook and felt my line connected to a fish. Unfortunately this only lasted for a second or two, and then my best shot at a fish on leap day evaporated. I moved on and enjoyed being outdoors while I focused on executing dead drifts. In case the fish were reacting to emerging blue winged olives I alternated by imparting movement to the flies, but none of these techniques provoked any action.

Fine Looking Segment

At one point I spotted a fish chasing the worm at the tail of a run, so I exchanged the flesh colored imitation for a slumpbuster and retained the RS2 as a trailer from the eye of the streamer. This combination was likewise ineffective, although I once again observed a trout following the slumpbuster, but I could not entice a take.

Slumpbuster on My Line

Onward I moved until I circled the large bend where the Santa Fe was parked, and then I approached an island across from the Deckers parking lot. I worked up the right side to no avail and encountered a pair of fishermen at the attractive deep run near the top of the island. This forced me to retreat to the downstream tip, and then I worked a marginal run along the left braid. None of this resulted in a fish or even the image of a spotted fish, so I climbed to the road and strode back along the shoulder to Jane’s sheltered retreat near a bench.

RS2 Was Tested

I decided to repeat covering the stretch where I observed two follows. Unfortunately early in this pursuit I snapped off both my flies (an ultra zug bug and RS2), and rather than recommit to nymphs and an indicator, I decided to toss one of my new chubby chernobyls. I clipped off the flies and removed the strike indicator and split shot and replaced everything with a beige chubby and size 20 soft hackle emerger, as I stuck with the blue winged olive theme. Alas none of these strategies caused the fish to show interest. I swapped the soft hackle emerger for a salvation nymph and beadhead hares ear, but these were likewise ignored, so I called it a day and joined Jane back at the car where she sought refuge from the relentless gusts of wind.

I avoided injury and took my first fly fishing step toward recovery, so despite getting skunked, I counted leap day as a success.

Pool Toy Hopper – 02/28/2016

Pool Toy Hopper 02/28/2016 Photo Album

Three prior posts on this blog thoroughly documented my introduction to the pool toy hopper as well as the evolution of my experience with this fly. If the reader clicks on the link in the previous sentence, he or she will encounter two additional links to access previous posts.

A New Pool Toy

Yikes Up Close

Not much has changed with this fly. It remains a large visible buoyant terrestrial that I select when I wish to fish a dry/dropper arrangement. I particularly appreciate its buoyancy when I elect to fish two trailing nymphs as it continues to bob along on the surface despite the weighty attachments. Occasionally a fish will fall for the large hopper imitation, but most of the time the pool toy hopper serves as a sophisticated strike indicator.

Fish View

One locale where I experienced decent success with the pool toy is on the North Fork of the White River as well as the South Fork of the same drainage. This September pool toy success story seemed to repeat itself on each of my trips to the Flattops. Also it seems that large foam hopper patterns reach their peak effectiveness in August and September, and this probably makes sense since this is when the majority of large juicy grasshoppers get blown into the rivers and streams.

Twelve Tan Pool Toys

I often choose a pool toy earlier in the season when fish refuse my Chernobyl ant pattern. I get easily frustrated when fish rise to my top fly and reject it, and this circumstance usually coincides with trout totally ignoring my trailing nymph droppers. In this situation I am more interested in a buoyant indicator that will not attract attention, and the pool toy serves this purpose.

Four Views

Unlike previous winter tying sessions, I settled on a standard combination for my pool toy hoppers in 2016. I made ten with tan and medium olive foam, and I settled on olive barred sexilegs from Montana Fly Company for the legs. I did vary from my established pattern to produce two versions with a pink top foam layer. These should be extra visible under difficult lighting situations.

Chernobyl Ant – 02/24/2016

A Size 8 Chernobyl Ant

Chernobyl Ant 02/24/2016 Photo Album

If I created a hall of fame filled with the most productive flies, the Chernobyl ant would hold an honored position at the top of the list. I documented much of my history with this fly on previous posts, and the reader is encouraged to click on the below links to learn why I revere this foam terrestrial/attractor.

Chernobyl Ant – 02/01/2011

Chernobyl Ant – 02/13/2014

Chernobyl Ant – 01/06/2015


When I performed an inventory of my Chernobyl ants a few weeks ago, I discovered 23 size 10 versions in my bins and boat box. I was satisfied that this quantity was sufficient for the upcoming season; however, I counted only two large size eight imitations. During 2015 I often utilized two beadhead droppers from my Chernobyl ants, and the size 10’s tended to ride very low in the surface film as a result of the weight of two flies. I decided to go big for the new season, and I tied fifteen new size eight foam ants. These larger flies should be much more visible, and they will probably do a superior job of floating a double nymph dry/dropper configuration.

Creeping Down

I learned during the late summer and fall season that trout began refusing the Chernboyl ant. For some reason the fish seemed to get more discriminating in their choice of surface terrestrials as the season progressed. In response to these snubbings, I experimented with substituting a Jake’s gulp beetle, and I was pleased to discover that the smaller terrestrial was quite effective. The Chernobyl allows me to spot fish and also to determine that they are looking to the surface for their food supply. The more realistic and smaller Jake’s beetle enables me to close the deal when fish are more selective.

Ten New Size 8 Chernoyl Ants

The only significant change to my Chernobyl ant tying approach is the usage of a Tiemco 5262 or equivalent hook. The heavier weight of this hook serves as a keel for the large foam ant, and this causes the fly to land right side up nearly all the time. I learned this trick from Jake Chutz, the designer of Jake’s gulp beetle. I tied all of the new size eight Chernobyl ants on the heavier 5262 hook.


San Juan Worm – 02/15/2016

San Juan Worm 02/15/2016 Photo Album

Fishing with worms is woven into the fabric of my fishing existence. I have fond memories of my brother and I trailing my dad with a coffee can and picking worms from the rich black soil as he turned over sod and dirt with his garden spade. We accumulated enough garden worms to fulfill our fishing needs during the early season in Pennsylvania, and they were always very effective in April and early May.

As the season advanced my father and brother and I would visit my grandfather at his house near Boyertown after a heavy rain storm. My heartbeat literally pounded against my chest from the adrenaline rush that resulted when we gathered coffee cans and flashlights and charged into Pop Pop’s back yard. Here we discovered fat juicy nightcrawlers sprawled along all the flower beds and in my grandfather’s large vegetable garden. I am sure the worms were also present in the grass, but it was much easier to spot them in bare soil. Brother Jim and I took turns executing the messy task of picking the nightcrawlers. It took some practice, but fairly quickly we learned to recognize which end was the head, and once this extremity was identified, a very quick gooey snap was necessary to pinch and slowly extract the retreating worm. Collecting nightcrawlers was an exciting nighttime adventure.

When I began fly fishing in Pennsylvania in my early thirties, it took some time before I became proficient enough to catch fish on a regular basis. I trusted my worm drifting skills and knew that the tried and true methodology produced success. Fishing with flies however was largely an unproven technique. With this view of the efficacy of flies compared to worms, I formulated a compromise strategy. I knotted a bait hook to the end of my tapered leader and then impaled a worm to my hook. I added a split shot and lobbed this fly fishing/bait hybrid configuration to all the likely holding spots, and this method landed a decent amount of fish. I liked the feel of playing a fish on the long rod, and being able to pick up line and toss to the next hole was more efficient than reeling up line using a spinning reel.

Wapsi Flesh Ultra Chenille

The next step in my fly fishing evolution was our move to Colorado. Shortly after I arrived in 1990 I began to investigate the rivers and streams along the Front Range as well as more distant destinations. It did not take long for me to discover that the closest river to my home near Castle Rock was the South Platte, and fortunately the area downstream from Deckers was a premier trout fishery. I began to make frequent forays to this beautiful stretch of river, and in an effort to accelerate success, I also read as much as I could about the gold medal tailwater fishery. The books and magazine articles that I studied repeatedly mentioned San Juan worms, pheasant tail nymphs and RS2’s. Naturally I accepted this advice willingly and began to add these flies to my fly boxes.

24 Finished San Juan Worms

These were the halcyon days of the South Platte River in the Deckers area, and I can remember numerous visits when large brown trout and rainbow trout chomped on tan, flesh and chocolate brown San Juan worms. The most fortuitous aspect of this discovery was the ease with which I could generate a dozen San Juan worms. All that was required to produce a San Juan worm was a hook, a spool of thread and a section of ultra chenille. Meanwhile the South Platte River trout seemed to relish San Juan worms in April and May more than any other time of the year. These months coincided with elevated releases from Cheesman Dam in response to snow melt descending from the Rocky Mountains. The elevated flows scoured the river banks and flushed natural worms into the South Platte, so the hungry trout gorged on the delectable morsels, and my simple ultra chenille imitations represented a close approximation.

Blend of Old and New Flesh Chenille

Unfortunately the South Platte River was greatly impacted by the Hayman Fire in 2002 and remains a shadow of its status in the 1990’s. For this reason I fish there infrequently, but I discovered that San Juan worms continue to tempt trout in many other western waterways. The worm pattern is particularly effective during high murky water conditions, and for this reason I decided to replenish my dwindling supply. I possessed a small remnant strand of flesh colored ultra chenille, and my efforts to locate replacement material were thwarted last winter. Undeterred I once again embarked on a search, and on a trip to Charlie’s Fly Box I was elated to discover a skein of Wapsi flesh ultra chenille. This was a close match to my remaining sample so I purchased a spool. I produced ten flesh worms, five tan, five red, and four bright pink; and I am now prepared to tempt trout during spring conditions with an array of tasty worms.


Slumpbuster – 02/05/2016

Slumpbuster 02/05/2016 Photo Album

Once again I visited the North Platte River below Grey Reef in 2015, but as a result of other commitments, my friend Steve Supple and I were forced to make the journey in mid-April rather than the end of March. We had excellent fishing, but it was not as spectacular as our previous visits during the end of March. The end of March trips coincided with the annual flush period, when the water managers released large slugs of water from the dam to simulate run off. This action washed aquatic worms from the banks and stirred the sediments on the stream bottom making eggs and leeches available to the hungry trout.

The flows in mid-April were stable but high, and we enjoyed most of our success on egg imitations and blue winged olive nymph replicas. Unlike our visit in 2014 we did not employ pine squirrel leeches to any extent. After the success of 2014, I tied ten natural pine squirrel leeches, and I was prepared to experiment with them. Although the leeches were not utilized on the North Platte River, they did produce positive results on two other early season outings.

A Natural Slumpbuster

The first pine squirrel leech success story unfolded on March 28 when I fished the Eagle River between Wolcott and the town of Eagle. I was quite pleased to land two trout in cold early season conditions on my conehead natural pine squirrel leech.

The second situation where the pine squirrel leech produced excellent results was the morning that my son, Dan, and I spent on the Tuckasegee River in western North Carolina. In this instance we had no idea what to present to the trout in a tailwater that we never before fished. By some stroke of luck I tied a pine squirrel leech to my line and began to catch fish at a fairly frequent pace. I shared one of my flies with Dan, and he also discovered that the North Carolina fish favored a natural leech. Dan and I landed fourteen trout in 3.5 hours of fishing, and all succumbed to the pine squirrel leech except for two that favored a salvation nymph. Needless to say I was quite impressed with the performance of the heretofore seldom used leech on waters distant from Colorado.

Olive Slumpbuster

Since I completed most of my production tying of nymphs and dry flies, I decided it was time to address my diminished quantity of pine squirrel leeches. Only two or three remained in my boat box, and they were the versions that did not contain a conehead. Prior to my trip to the southeastern United States I tied some streamers for my friend David Luther. David and Becky hosted me for several days in eastern Tennessee, and David guided me on some fine local streams, so I manufactured some streamers as gifts. I knew from prior fishing trips with David that he loves to fish streamers. One of the streamers that I researched and produced for him was called the Slumpbuster, a John Barr design.

A Clump of Slumpbusters and Olive Pine Squirrel Zonkers

When I tied these simple streamers, I realized that they are effectively dressed up pine squirrel leeches. The main ingredient is pine squirrel leech zonkers, but they also have a gold braided mylar body. The pine squirrel leech is simply a zonker strip lashed to the hook shank covered with thread. In a bit of a gamble, I decided to tie slumpbusters instead of pine squirrel leeches. I used up my natural pine squirrel zonkers to make one size 8 and two size 6 slumpbusters, and then I produced another seventeen versions using pine squirrel strips dyed dark olive. The quantity was split between size six and size eight. I am very excited to test out these new streamers that take advantage of the soft undulating characteristics of pine squirrel fur.

Olive in Foreground Is the Best

Parachute Ant – 02/03/2016

Parachute Ant 02/03/2016 Photo Album

It has been several years since I replenished my parachute ant supply, so I was not surprised when I performed a quick inventory and discovered 5-10 size eighteens in my fly bins. In addition to a dwindling supply, I was not pleased with the quality of my ties from two or three years ago. For these reasons I jumped into parachute ant production over the last couple weeks of January.

A Bright Green Joins Pink

I do not utilize ant imitations frequently, but I would not want to venture onto a stream anywhere without an ample supply in my fly box. I have discovered that a black size eighteen parachute ant covers nearly all ant scenarios, It is small enough to mimic naturals, yet with a highly visible wing post I can follow it reasonably well in poor light and riffled currents. The parachute hackle causes the fly to land upright and to ride low in the surface film like a natural ant, and in the rare occasion where flying ants predominate, the wing serves its purpose.

Nine of Ten New Parachute Ants

Over my many years of fly fishing I have discovered two main situations where an ant ends up on my line. The first is during blustery days, and these are more frequent than one would desire in the western half of the United States. I have vivid memories of days on the upper Colorado River near Parshall when I was not having much success with a dry/dropper or a single dry fly presentation. Periodic gusts of wind caused a brief flurry of rises, and I reassessed my approach only to guess that the wind was blowing terrestrials into the river. I swapped my subsurface beadhead nymph for a parachute ant behind a large visible foam attractor that enabled me to follow the small terrestrial. This ploy yielded several fifteen inch brown trout that sipped the low riding parachute. Trout seem to have a strong craving for terrestrials and especially ants. The scene that I described on the Colorado River has transpired on other streams, and my success is probably only limited by my inclination to test other flies before resorting to an ant.

Zoomed on Green

The second application of a parachute ant is the fussy fish situation. We have all been there. We sight a fish sipping something from the surface film in a fairly consistent rhythm. In my case I abandon my usual “three casts and move on” style of fishing, and I dwell on a sighted riser. I generally cycle through a series of fly changes in an attempt to dupe the selective fish in front of me. The menu usually includes a mayfly and caddis. If neither of these fool the reluctant fish, I default to a parachute ant. There are few experiences in fly fishing more rewarding than duping a difficult fish after numerous fly changes with a tiny parachute ant riding flush in the film. These scenes remain permanently etched in my memory bank.

Orange Wings

During the latter stages of January I churned out twenty parachute ants. They are all exact size eighteen replicas with varying wing colors. I made ten with a bright pink wing, five contain a bright green wing, and five more present an orange wing. Hopefully these will cover the many varied lighting situations I encounter in the upcoming season. All my parachute ants are tied using the detailed tying steps that I learned from Tom Baltz at the Fly Fishing Show in 2012. Tom’s method assures an excellent visible wing post and symmetrical hackle while maintaining the all important narrow waist of a natural ant. Check out my black parachute ant – 01/11/2012 post to follow the documented steps and the recipe for these valuable assets in my fly fishing arsenal.

20 Parachute Ants

Yellow Sally – 02/02/2016

Yellow Sally 02/02/2016 Photo Album

The yellow sally is a small stonefly that is fairly abundant on Colorado rivers and streams. Yellow sallies overlap with pale morning duns, green drakes and caddis on many freestone rivers; and the aforementioned insects tend to hatch in denser quantities. For this reason I opt for mayfly and caddis imitations more frequently than yellow sallies. It does seem, however, that the yellow sally hatch endures longer into the hot days of August, and it is during these times that I knot a small yellow down wing fly to  my line.


I have experimented with various versions of yellow sally imitations including A.K. Best’s design with a yellow quill body and a yellow hackle tip wing. A couple winters ago I also whipped out some prototypes without hackle that utilized snowshoe rabbit foot hair as an under wing. None of these deviations seemed to outperform the basic style that mimics the deer hair caddis in a yellow color, so I decided to produce more of the old reliable.

16 Yellow Sallies and Materials

During late January I positioned myself at the vice and cranked out sixteen additional yellow sallies. Eight were size 16 and an additional eight were size 14. For four of the size 14 versions I used green thread and began the abdomen with a small amount of bright green dubbing. I have seen some larger yellow sallies with a light green hue in the late July time frame, so the size 14’s are intended to cover the likelihood of encountering light green sallies in the future.

Close Up of Yellow Sallies