Monthly Archives: September 2023

North Fork of the White River – 09/29/2023

Time: 10:45AM – 2:45PM

Location: National forest

North Fork of the White River 09/29/2023 Photo Album

Friday was my last day in the Flattops, and I was rather pleased with my first three days particularly after enduring a lengthy sickness due to an adverse reaction to antibiotics. A fairly lengthy hike to and from my fishing spot on the South Fork of the White River punctuated my physical recovery. For Friday I chose a destination that allowed me to quit by 3:00PM and avoided a lengthy return hike to the car. Once again I chose the North Fork, and I was positioned at a roadside pullout, as I prepared to fish at 10:00AM. I got off to a later than desired start, as I waited until the Ute Lodge office opened at 9:30 in order to pay my remaining bill and check out.

Prime Leaf Viewing

Friday was another glorious late September day, as the temperature rose from 57 degrees, when I began, to the low seventies at the peak. Since I expected to fish dry/droppers and double dries, I chose my Loomis two piece five weight to take advantage of the slower action for casting larger flies. I also favored the slightly shorter length on the relatively narrow high elevation creek. A twenty minute hike placed me on the bank of the river, and I began fly fishing at 10:45AM. To begin my fly fishing experience, I knotted a size 8 tan pool toy hopper to my line as the surface fly, and beneath it I attached a beadhead hares ear nymph and a salvation nymph. In the first decent riffle area, two small rainbows attacked my flies, as one gulped the hopper, and the other snatched the salvation. I was off and running with an auspicious start. I continued my progression upstream through a fairly narrow and high gradient section, and I was careful to focus on only the prime locales with slower current and depth to afford the resident trout security from overhead predators.

Depth of Color Impressive

By the time I broke for lunch at 11:45AM, the fish count rested on five, and I was quite pleased with my first hour endeavor. Number five was a stunning copper colored cutbow, but it crushed the hopper and wrapped the trailing nymphs in a ridiculous snarl that included tight knots and loops. It took me at least ten minutes to unwind the damage, but at least the hassle was somewhat worthwhile with the nice trout as a reward.

Prime Spot

Zoomed Closer

After lunch I continued to employ the same offerings, and the fish count slowly crept to twelve, but frequent refusals combined with blowing up prime spots, when the dropper nymphs snagged on rocks and sticks. suggested that a change was in order. In spite of these downsides to the 11:45 to 1:15 period, my catch included quite a few respectable cutbows and rainbows in the twelve to thirteen inch range. Most of the larger fish smashed the hopper, so I was reluctant to abandon it, but the terrestrial was also responsible for looks and refusals that detracted attention from the nymphs. Interestingly, the number of brook trout to rest in my net was only a few small ones, and this would be the case for the remainder of my time on the water. I theorized that the older, adult brookies were busy procreating and not eating, and this left the feeding open for the cutbow population.

Prime Spot

Despite my reluctance to abandon the target of larger trout in the stream, I replaced the pool toy with a peacock hippie stomper, and in an effort to reduce the frequency of bottom snags, I opted for a one fly nymph dropper on a three foot leader and chose the salvation nymph. This combination remained on my line until I quit at 2:45PM, and I was quite pleased with the results.

Bronze, Light Green and Pink

I progressed upstream and prospected the two fly set up in all the prime locations that offered depth, slower current and length; and the trout responded. I increased the fish count from twelve to twenty-nine before I quit at 2:45PM in order to achieve my goal of departing for the long drive home no later than 4:00PM. For the most part, if I cast to an attractive spot, the fish responded. The salvation nymph became the food morsel of choice, and I estimate that thirty percent smacked the stomper on the surface and the other seventy percent nabbed the salvation on the drift.

Narrow Section

The quality of the fish was outstanding. I had a difficult time resisting photographing every fish, as they either displayed splendid color schemes, or they were chunky fish in the thirteen inch range. I moved at a fast pace and dropped three to five casts in likely spots, and in the process covered nearly a mile of stream real estate. I love this style of fishing, and the mild weather and the warm glow of the aspens accentuated my fun day. I quit at 2:45PM, which was earlier than I planned, because I was unsure of my exit strategy, but I climbed two steep banks and zig zagged through an aspen grove, before I spotted the road and found my way back to the car.

Rose Predominates

Although I posted a greater number day on Wednesday, Friday may have been my favorite day of the trip. I suspect that another hour on the stream would have enabled me to surpass Tuesday’s big number day, and the cutbows and rainbows were somewhat larger than Tuesday’s haul. I have plans to return to the Flattops next week, but the weather will be cooler; however, I expect that I might be able to carve out another day on the North Fork. Friday’s section might be perfect for a return.

Fish Landed: 29

South Fork of the White River – 09/28/2023

Time: 11:45AM – 4:00PM

Location: National forest

South Fork of the White River 09/28/2023 Photo Album

When I made plans to visit the Flattops during the last week of September, I was uncertain whether I would attempt my annual hike in to the South Fork. This venture is typically my most arduous day of the week, and after enduring a three week layoff and significant illness, I reasoned that it was a good idea to skip it in 2023. That was before the area was blessed with balmy early fall temperatures that hovered in the sixty to seventy-five degree range. Tuesday and Wednesday were solid from a health standpoint, so I took the plunge and invested one day on the South Fork.

When I arrived at the trailhead, the temperature registered 50 degrees, but I knew that once the sun crept over the mountain ridge to the east, the atmosphere would quickly warm. I elected to deploy my Sage One five weight, as I favored the long and heavier rod, in case I tangled with some energized South Fork rainbows and cutbows.

Number One Grabbed Just Below the Rock

After I established a decent buffer from the trailhead, I cut to the river, and my watch displayed 11:30AM, so I immediately devoured my small snack. As I munched my sandwich, a decent trout darted to the surface to sip a food item trapped in the surface film of a small eddy twenty-five feet above the log I was resting on. I continued to observe, and a second subtle surface grab appeared several feet away from and below the eddy. Given this activity I decided to open with Jake’s gulp beetle. I plopped ten casts in the area, but the targeted sipper never made a move. Maybe the second rise was focused on a caddis? I replaced the beetle with a size 14 light gray deer hair caddis, but it was also ignored.

Nice Length

I decided the random feeder was no longer hungry, so I changed my lineup and waded across the river to the south side. I was now in prospect mode, and I tied a size 8 tan pool toy to my line followed by a 20 incher on a four foot dropper and then added another twelve inch leader with an emerald caddis pupa. I flipped some casts to a slow-moving deep run between an exposed boulder and the swift main current, and on the third cast the hopper disappeared. I suddenly found myself connected to a hard fighting cutbow, and after a five minute battle I dipped the net beneath my prize. My net was occupied with a fat fifteen inch fish that grabbed the 20 incher.

Thick Body

My optimism soared, but I had to endure an hour of fruitless casting, before I enjoyed more action. In this case I lobbed the three fly dry/dropper in a narrow but deep slot between two faster currents. Near the end of the drift the hopper disappeared, and once again an angry fish streaked down and then up the river. I held tight and after a short but spirited fight, I witnessed another fat slab of a cutbow in my net. This adversary was also fifteen inches but definitely very thick and heavy, and it displayed vivid colors particularly the bright orange-red cheeks. Between “red cheeks” and 2PM I endured nothing but fruitless casting and boredom.

Trout Home

I continued to focus on deep areas with slower current velocity, but spots that matched this criteria failed to deliver. Finally at 2PM I changed up with a major new rigging. I went to my stalwart peacock hippie stomper with a beadhead hares ear in the upper nymph position and a salvation nymph at the end of the line. Finally in a small slow side channel, I landed a small rainbow on the hares ear, and then shortly thereafter another ten inch rainbow smacked the hippie stomper. I was beginning to wonder what happened to the small fish that I typically slide in my net on the South Fork.

Pointing Upstream

Productive Spot

I advanced up the river to the point, where the main river was once again one channel. The riverbed was narrower in this stretch, and this created more attractive deep pockets and runs. Since I had success with the small rainbows in slower water near the bank, I began focusing my casts to slow pockets and deep slower runs along the left bank. For the next hour I was on fire. I landed four hard charging rainbows and cutbows, and it felt like I was in a different river. This transpired between 2:30PM and 3:30PM. Casts along the bank that were previously ignored suddenly drew aggressive attacks. The first of this quartet of eaters was a magnificent seventeen inch cutbow that smashed the hippie stomper. I could hardly believe my good fortune, when I guided the behemoth into my net. What a beast of a wild fish!

Hard Fighter

Another Sweet Spot

Two of the others were very respectable thirteen inch chunks, and these wild fish put on noble displays of streaking, rolling and head shaking. As quickly as the river turned on, it ended. I once again made an exorbitant number of futile casts to similar water types, but now the trout had lockjaw. The shadows extended across the river except for a narrow band along the left bank. I continued in spite of glare and difficulty following the white wing of the hippie stomper, and finally a drift through a deep and narrow band of slower water produced another feisty thirteen inch rainbow. I celebrated reaching double digits and initiated the hike back to the car.

Lovely Pink Accents

Thursday was all about quality over numbers. I remain curious over the status of the smaller fish. It was a struggle to achieve double digits, but six quality fish found my net including a seventeen inch beauty and two fifteen inch slabs. The one hour window between 2:30PM and 3:30PM saved my day. Of course the weather and scenery were perfect, and the fall foliage remained near its prime. I have one more day, before my Flattops trip reaches its end.

Fish Landed: 10

The Return Hike

North Fork of the White River – 09/27/2023

Time: 10:45AM – 5:00PM

Location: National Forest

North Fork of the White River 09/27/2023 Photo Album

After a promising start to my Flattops trip on my arrival day, Tuesday, I was rather excited for a full day outing on Wednesday, September 27. Would I be disappointed? For Wednesday’s adventure I chose a different section of the North Fork. The temperature when I departed from the Pine Cabin was 42 degrees, so I was in no rush to begin my fly fishing day. I was favorably surprised that the temperature was 57 degrees, when I pulled into the parking space next to my chosen trailhead. The sun was warming the atmosphere quickly, and the deep blue sky was devoid of clouds. I pulled on my rain shell for a bit of warmth, but I stuffed it in my backpack after thirty minutes of fly fishing, rock scrambling, and log rolling. My fly rod choice was my Loomis two piece five weight. The Loomis stick is shorter than my Sage options, and it offers a slower action, which I favor for casting large foam flies, dry/droppers and double dries.

Great Beginning

Typical Brawling Section

By the time I was ready and hiked to the creek, it was 10:45AM, and I noted this as my start time. I knotted a size 8 tan pool toy to my 4X tippet and then added a 20 incher on a relatively short dropper. The two fly combination yielded four trout, before I paused for lunch at 11:45AM. Two were ten to eleven inch cutbows, and two were smallish brook trout. Two of the morning catch smashed the hopper and two nabbed the 20 incher. The beginning portion of the section I chose was characterized by high gradient; and, therefore, lacking prime deep pools and long runs, so I was reasonably pleased with my morning.

Vermiculation Impressive

Roy G Biv Example

Home to Trout

After lunch, however, my concern over a lack of action increased. Admittedly the creek continued to rush downward at a rapid pace, so attractive spots continued to be a scarce commodity, but I plateaued at seven after two hours of intense fly fishing. I decided a change was in order, so I elected to try a double dry that featured the trustworthy peacock hippie stomper along with a medium olive body size 14 stimulator. The stimmy attracted a fish almost immediately, but when I moved on to the lower end of a spectacular pool, I witnessed a long look and rejection from what appeared to be a respectable rainbow. Rather than moving on, I did what I rarely do, and I swapped the stimulator for a size 14 light gray deer hair caddis. I launched at least twenty casts to the sighted trout, and it looked a few times, but it refused to eat my offerings. I shifted my attention to the equally attractive top half of the pool, and I managed a very brief connection. After five minutes of frustration, I flicked a downstream cast beneath a branch, so that the dries drifted over my reluctant friend. It worked, and the trout rose and drifted back under the hippie stomper and eventually nipped it. I followed the entire act and set the hook expeditiously, but the rainbow cleared the surface and slipped free.

Copper Tone

Yellow to Orange Belly

A few more pools failed to ignite confidence in the caddis, so at 1:15PM I replaced it with a salvation nymph on a short leader that remained from the double dry set up. I finally stumbled into fast action, and over the remainder of the afternoon I elevated the fish count from ten to forty-two! The hippie stomper and salvation were constants, but I also experimented with several flies in the middle position that included a tan caddis pupa, a yellow PMD emerger, an iron sally, an ultra zug bug, a yellow emergent caddis pupa, and an emerald caddis pupa. This entire group of add on flies probably accounted for three fish, but two were quite nice and deeply colored cutbows. The overwhelming favorites for the fish were the hippie stomper and the salvation nymph, and I estimate they split the catch 50/50.

Rare Pool As Wide as Creek Bed

On Display

What about the quality of the trout? It was outstanding. Approximately twenty netted fish were brook trout, and as expected quite a few were in the six to seven inch range, but I also played my share of ten and eleven inch trophies with hooked jaws and pumpkin colored bellies. The other twenty plus trout were robust wild cutbows, rainbows and cutthroats. In the latter stages of my outing I landed at least three gorgeous cutbows in the form of thick slabs that measured fourteen and fifteen inches. These catches were gratifying prizes. In addition, I probably landed ten rainbows and cutbows in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and these were much appreciated within the confines of the relatively small creek. The cutbows and cutthroats were deeply colored with that light copper background body and large black spots accented by a thin red stripe, red cheeks, and the iconic orange slash.

Zoomed in a Bit

Pointed Toward Home

What a day! My slump on Clear Creek was in the rearview mirror, and hopefully my body can hold up for another full day on Thursday. The weather is forecast to be spectacular once again.

Fish Landed: 42

North Fork of the White River – 09/26/2023

Time: 1:30PM – 4:30PM

Location: National forest

North Fork of the White River 09/26/2023 Photo Album

After a rough outing on Clear Creek on Friday, September 22, I was anxious to atone. I suffered through a severe illness from Labor Day through September 19, and I was feeling well enough to resurrect the idea of a Flattops trip. I did it. Jane helped me book three nights at the Pine Cabin at the Ute Lodge from Tuesday, September 26 through Thursday, September 28 and departing on Friday, September 29. I was undecided about whether to fish on my departure day, but I decided to allow the quality of the fishing to dictate that decision. Another factor prompting my decision to undertake the Flattops trip later that usual was the weather. I had reconciled myself to the fact that my annual trip was not in the cards, until I examined the Weather Underground forecast. The closest stations were in Yampa, CO and Meeker, CO; and both predicted highs in the low to upper seventies with virtually no threat of precipitation. Surely I needed to take advantage of this window of prime fall weather.

I departed Denver at 8:15AM on Tuesday morning and arrived at my chosen fishing destination by 12:40PM, and I elected to chow down before preparing to fish. As forecast, the temperature was in the mid-sixties, so I chose to wear only my fishing shirt and stuffed my raincoat in my backpack. With the expectation to tangle with some hot fish, I assembled my Sage R8 nine foot four weight. The only negative through my three hours of fishing was a fairly persistent wind.

Great Beginning

I began my quest for rainbows and cutbows with a size 8 tan pool toy hopper and a size 12 beadhead prince. In the first nice deep pocket, a feisty rainbow gobbled the prince, and I was on my way. Next a pair of small rainbows barely over six inches grabbed the prince, but this welcome but underwhelming action was accompanied by quite a few looks and refusals to the hopper. Number four emerged from a prime deep run to smash the hopper, and this reinforced my belief in the pool toy, but another string of refusals caused me to reevaluate.

Slick Behind the Rock


Keeping Wet

I elected to swap out the pool toy for a size 8 yellow fat Albert, and then I added a 20 incher and a salvation nymph. This combination clicked, and I boosted the fish count from four to twenty by the time I quit at 4:30PM. Eight of the trout landed on the dry/dropper combination ranged in size from twelve to fifteen inches, and these cutbows and rainbows were hard charging and thick wild fish. The fifteen inch beauty was a certifiable wide slab with gorgeous scarlet coloration. Of course, the remainder of the trout were small juveniles in the seven to ten inch slot, but they were colorful jewels in the backcountry setting. One of the trout in the five to twenty count sequence nailed the fat Albert, and the remainder snatched the salvation or 20 incher. I estimated that the salvation outperformed the 20 incher by 60% to 40%. I covered a lot of water in three hours by skipping marginal spots, as I cherry-picked deep runs and large pools. It seemed that depth was the main factor that attracted trout and particularly the larger fish.

Foam Line Promising

Dense Spots

Of course , a day would not be perfect without a bit of adversity, and I endured my dose of hardship. I was paused on six trout, when I approached a gorgeous narrow pool and deep run. I landed two very fine rainbows, and then I tossed a cast to a promising spot where two currents merged to form a deep V slot. The hopper paused, and I quickly set the hook and connected with what felt like a decent fish. Before I could gain control, however, the obstinate fighter turned its head, and the fly slid free. The pent up energy caused the flies to slingshot around a dead branch high above me. I was not ready to surrender these flies, so I started breaking off the lower branches. I made progress, but the dead branch that captured my flies was out of reach. I found a large rock that boosted my reach, so that I could grab the target branch just beyond the junction with the main trunk, but in spite of being dead wood, it remained strong enough to resist breaking. I inched my hands outward on the branch, but I lost my grip and fell backward into the edge of the river. Fortunately I landed on my backpack, so there was no bodily injury, but in spite of my quick response in righting myself, my shirt and undershirt were soaked, and spillover ice cold water slowly trickled down my long underwear and saturated my socks. On a positive note I limited the overflow enough, so that my feet were not sloshing in their neoprene booties.

Red Cheek and Matching Red Spot on the Tail

Under the Evergreen

As a footnote, after my spill I grabbed one of the dead branches that I broke off early on, and it had a notch, which I was able to hook over the dead branch that held my flies. I applied minimal pressure, and the end of the branch tumbled into the edge of the river, where I quickly grabbed it and untangled and recovered my flies. Why didn’t I try this sooner? I was roughly half way to my exit point, so I had no recourse except to grimace and move. When I was in the sun, I remained fairly comfortable, but the shade and wind put me between chilled and shivering. My shirt dried somewhat, and the wet suit effect caused the wet socks and long underwear to warm a bit, but the remainder of the afternoon was a bit of a struggle. Fortunately the post-fall period coincided with steady action and upstream movement, and this distracted me to some degree from my wet sponge state.

Another Fine Rainbow

Tuesday was a fun day on the North Fork of the White River. I gained confidence after my tough outing on Clear Creek, and I landed twenty fish including ten robust fighters in the twelve to fifteen inch range. I solved the puzzle and eventually found fly combinations that met the criteria of the local trout. I look forward to tomorrow and another Flattops adventure.

Fish Landed: 20

Clear Creek – 09/22/2023

Time: 11:15AM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Idaho Springs

Clear Creek 09/22/2023 Photo Album

Friday was a success simply because I returned to fly fishing after a long hiatus due to injury and illness. The fly fishing itself was beneath my expectations, but being on a stream instead of tethered to my home was an improvement in my book. My last outing was on Maroon Creek on 08/30/2023, so I endured a 23 day layoff. I will not go into details here, but my woes began on the pickleball court, when I extended to return a shot by the net, stumbled and crushed my mouth in the metal net post. The pratfall necessitated three stitches, but the worst of it was the prescription for antibiotics to prevent infection. The pills caused an adverse reaction in my gastrointestinal tract, and I suffered for two weeks before I felt like a functioning human being again.

Lunch View

For my return outing, I did not want to travel too far, in case I suffered fatigue or a relapse, so I elected to test the waters of Clear Creek. In retrospect I should have paid more attention to the weather, because it was not very pleasant. When I arrived at the pullout, the dashboard thermometer registered 51 degrees in spite of an inviting 64 degrees, as I passed through Golden, CO. Adding to the discomfort was a cold wind that blasted along the top of the ridge overlooking the creek. I pulled on my fleece hoodie and topped it with my rain shell, but I decided against my hat with earflaps. That proved to be a poor decision, as I was chilled nearly my entire time on the narrow and largely shaded creek. Adding to my discomfort were my feet which turned into frozen stumps after an hour of wading.

Small But Pretty

The results of my upstream quest for trout certainly did not justify this taste of early winter-like fly fishing. I landed three small cutthroat trout during 3.5 hours of relatively intense fishing. In addition I hooked two temporarily that managed to quickly slip free, and I netted three tiny juveniles that did not meet my six inch threshold to count. Unlike an earlier trip to this area, I hardly saw any fish beyond those that I just mentioned. Normally steady action is accompanied by numerous looks and refusals, and fish that scatter upon my approach, but on Friday, this was not the case. I am baffled by this circumstance and can only hope that the creek is not the victim of an overzealous summer catch and kill crowd.

A Productive Spot

For flies I cycled through a peacock hippie stomper, size 16 gray deer hair caddis, beadhead salvation nymph, beadhead hares ear nymph, tan pool toy hopper and size 10 parachute hopper. I was really convinced that the realistic looking parahopper combined with the salvation nymph would unlock the code, but other than a pair of nymph eaters, it was not the ticket to success.

Coiled for Release

By 3:00PM my club feet condition forced me to exit and climb up the long bank and return to the Santa Fe. Adding to my resumption of fly fishing woes was a two hour and forty-five minute return drive due to road repairs on Interstate 70 just west of Wadsworth Blvd. Normally this trip takes one hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully I can bounce back with more decent outings in what remains of September and October, before cold temperatures once again sideline this avid angler.

Fish Landed: 3