Monthly Archives: March 2024

Arkansas River – 03/27/2024

Time: 11:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: Big Horn Sheep Canyon

Arkansas River 03/27/2024 Photo Album

I was seeking warmer temperatures somewhere in Colorado after another slug of winter hit the state on Sunday, March 24, 2024. As I scanned my Weather Underground app, I noted that most highs were in the 40’s, and I am averse to fishing in winter conditions. However, I discovered a ray of hope, when I tapped on the Canon City location, where the high on Wednesday was expected to peak at 52 degrees. I decided to explore the lower Arkansas River.

I was reluctant to fish in the lower canyon because of the Hayden Creek fire burn scar and subsequent ash flows leading to reduced insect populations and subsequently an impact on trout numbers. For this reason I avoided the area over the intervening eight years, but weather considerations caused me to reevaluate. I called ArkAnglers, and the gentleman I talked to assured me that the lower canyon had recovered, so that became my destination.

Road construction on I25 and major road work in Canon City slowed my progress, but I arrived at my chosen destination by 10:30AM. I was excited to renew my acquaintance with a favorite spot in lower Big Horn Sheep Canyon. The temperature was 42 degrees, as I prepared to fish. I donned my Under Armour long sleeve thermal undershirt, fleece cardigan, North Face light down coat and rain shell along with my billed New Zealand hat with earflaps. I was layered up and prepared for the cold. For a fly casting instrument I chose my newest Sage R8 four weight.

I began in a section of the main river that ran next to US24. The river was tinged with color, so I rigged with a strike indicator, split shot, molting rubber legs stonefly, and 20 incher. I utilized lots of weight, and It was at this point that I discovered that I lost the wool material for my New Zealand strike indicator, so I was forced to deploy an orange Thingamabobber.

I worked the deep, slow moving slicks next to the steep rocky bank for 45 minutes, until I got snagged. The wedged flies were in a spot that was too fast and deep to risk a rescue, so I yanked directly on the line and popped off both flies and the split shot. I replaced the tandem with an emerald caddis pupa and classic RS2, and just before I quit for lunch, a nice, thick rainbow nailed the caddis emerger. I was on the board, but my hands were stinging from the cold, and it was lunch time, so I climbed the bank and returned to the car. I grabbed my lunch and sat in the drivers seat, and I turned on the car to check the temperature, and it displayed 36 degrees. How could this be?

When I returned to the river, I added fingerless wool gloves to my winter attire, and I crossed the highway and several braids to reach the northern-most channel. For the remainder of the afternoon I worked my way up the entire north branch and landed another seven trout. One additional trout took the caddis pupa, and the remainder snatched the RS2, The rainbow that grabbed the pupa, broke off the RS2 in the process of fighting, and I replaced it with a sparkle wing version of the RS2.

Around 2PM the pace of the action increased noticeably, and I spotted a few natural olives above the river along with two bankside risers; however, my success rate was such that I stuck with the indicator nymphing set up. Clearly, however, the fish were tuned into baetis activity in the mid to late afternoon.

In addition to the eight fish that I landed on the day, I experienced at least six additional trout hook ups, that I fought for varying lengths of time, before they managed to escape. The downside of using size 20 RS2’s is the lower ratio of hooked to landed fish. One of these fugitives from my hook point was a decent rainbow that totally cleared the surface of the river and snapped off the RS2, as the aggressive fish splashed back down. I replaced the sparkle wing with a beadhead soft hackle emerger, and that yielded a few fish over the remainder of my time on the river.

Surprisingly, five of the landed trout were rainbows, with the remainder being browns. I say surprisingly because memory tells me that this section of the Arkansas River was ninety percent brown trout, when I fished it eight years ago prior to the Hayden Fire. The size of the trout was quite favorable with nearly all falling within the twelve to fourteen inch range, with chunky thirteen inch fish being the norm.

As I hiked back along the main stem of the river at 4PM, I spotted some rising trout along the near bank, and I could see more naturals drifting up from the river, than I had seen previously. This observation caused me to extend my day, and I removed all the nymphing accoutrements and tied on a CDC BWO. By the time I reconfigured, however, the flurry of surface feeding subsided, but I did manage to get a look from the most upstream feeder. I was having issues with tracking the tiny fly in the surface glare, so I added a peacock hippie stomper as the forward fly, but that move failed to produce success, so I called it quits and returned to the Telluride.

While I would have preferred more surface feeding and dry fly action, I was quite pleased with my day. Eight nice trout over four hours equals an average of two fish per hour catch rate, but this could have easily been better, had I converted more of my connections. The size of the trout was satisfactory, and the trout were hot fighters that challenged my fish fighting abilities. This was my first usage of the indicator nymphing technique in quite awhile, and I was pleased with my ability to achieve success. Above all, I discovered that the lower Big Horn Sheep Canyon has, indeed, recovered from the fire, and I will surely add the area as a future fly fishing destination.

Landed Fish: 8

Arkansas River – 03/20/2024

Time: 11:30AM – 3:45PM

Location: Big Horn Sheep Canyon

Arkansas River 03/20/2024 Photo Album

My last fishing outing was on 03/12/2024, and my friend, Howie, and I experienced a skunking on Bear Creek. The largest snowstorm of the year swept through Colorado on March 14, and that halted any thoughts I had of visiting a local stream. I celebrated my birthday on Saturday, and for some unknown reason I was wiped out by sickness early Monday morning. This circumstance also interrupted my fly fishing plans; however, by Wednesday, March 20, the first full day of spring, my health and the area rivers were ripe for a day of fishing.

I evaluated my alternatives, but I quickly selected the Arkansas River below Salida for my trip. The weather predicted a high in the mid-fifties with single digit wind speeds, and the fly shop reports documented low and clear river conditions along with mention of midge hatches and some signs of baetis nymph movement. I was itching for a shot at bigger water and potentially larger fish, so I made the three hour drive from my home in Denver to the Big Horn Sheep Canyon section below Salida. On Tuesday evening I perused my blog reports for the Arkansas River from previous visits in March, and this set my expectation for five to ten fish while bottom dredging with stonefly nymphs. It’s early season, so any sort of action was welcome after the March 12  shutout.

When I arrived at the roadside pullout, the dashboard temperature registered a cool 42 degrees, so I slipped into my long sleeved thermal undershirt, North Face light down coat, and rain shell. I chose my billed New Zealand hat with ear flaps, and this bundled outfit kept me warm throughout my time on the water. It was particularly valuable in the first hour, before the sun worked its magic on the air temperature along the river. I fitted together my Sage One five weight rod, and I hiked toward a favorite location on the river only to find another angler stationed in one of my productive long deep runs. I only saw a few parked cars along the highway, but apparently one of the fishermen had the same idea about a fishing site as me.

I stealthily cut down to the river and turned right, so that I was situated fifty yards above him, and I quickly rigged my line with a fish skull sculpin and Mickey Finn streamer. I intended to test out one of the new black ghosts I tied recently, but I left them in the boat box in the car, so I defaulted to the next best classic streamer in my collection, the Mickey Finn. I covered a twenty-five yard section of the river characterized by moderate velocity current and intermediate depth riffles, but I was unable to generate even a follow. I decided to make a longer cast and sweep behind a large exposed rock, but in my haste I lost awareness of my position, and hooked my backcast on a tree limb. I waded to a spot beneath the tree and attempted to spot the two flies, and I was able to identify a section of monofilament. When I moved closer, however, I realized that this was the leader from another unfortunate angler. I stared at the other branches on the limb, and in a short amount of time I saw my broken off streamers. I placed my rod out of harms way, and I scanned the bank for a retrieval instrument.

There it was. An eight foot long dead limb was beneath the tree, so I grabbed it and attempted to bend the small branch that possessed my flies, but it was still alive and not brittle, and, therefore, not prone to breakage. I changed tactics and used one of the protruding nubs on my retrieval branch, and I began to rake downward over the flies, and on the fifth attempt the tip of the branch broke off, and my flies tumbled to the earth, where I was able to capture them. I quickly snipped off the tippet and returned them to my fleece wallet and began my fly fishing day anew.

I was now below a long narrow island that divided the river in half with 75% of the volume on the left and 25% on the right, so I approached the right braid. The low and clear nature of the river precluded streamers, nymphs or large bulky dry flies, so I elected to knot a peacock body hippie stomper to my line. This fly has become a favorite, and I love its buoyancy and visibility and relatively small size for a foam attractor.

As I knotted my new offering to my line, I noticed a couple nervous spots across from me at the tail end of the long pool. It was difficult to discern whether the movement resulted from fish, current waves, or the wind; but I was preoccupied with tying on my fly, so I did not study the scene. Once I was ready, however, I was quite sure that a couple fish were subtly sipping minute food from the surface or just below the surface. My fly was probably not what they were tuned into, but I tossed a couple casts up and across nonetheless, and crush, a fine, wild brown trout of thirteen inches inhaled the attractor dry. This was too good to be true.

I refreshed the fly, and cast a bit higher up in the center current seam, and, whack, another carbon copy brown trout slid into my net. I felt like I was in a dream. Again I dried my stomper, but successive casts failed to elicit a response, yet the regular feeding pace increased, and additional trout showed their presence above to the left and right of the center current. Apparently I duped the dumb ones or the exceptionally hungry members of the school, and now the discerning eaters were teaching me a lesson. I stripped in my hippie stomper and added an eighteen inch section of 5X leader to the bend, and then I attached a CDC blue winged olive (CDC BWO)  as the second fly.

For the next forty-five minutes I fired casts to all the sites of recent rises, and I netted an additional four brown trout. Now I was beyond dreamland, and these were all quite nice trout in the thirteen to fourteen inch range. Two temporary hookups added to the action along the channel pool. When I arrived at the top of the pool, I spotted the dorsal fin of the largest feeder in the area, and my heart rate elevated in anticipation of wrangling with the big daddy. Alas, after four or five drifts that did not tempt an eat, I watched the behemoth, as it slowly cruised to a spot of hiding.

I glanced at my watch, and it was now 1:10PM and way beyond my lunchtime, so I found a dry spot on the north bank among some rocks and munched my sandwich and carrots. I observed sporadic blue winged olives, so this confirmed the source of the earlier eating frenzy. From past experience I knew the area across from me was a prime spot, as the river deflected off a high vertical rock wall. A shallow riffle was upstream of the rock, and then a nice run and pool of moderate depth developed. I carefully waded across the river and positioned myself at the upper end of the area, and I fed downstream casts through the entire zone, but the fish were not rising, and the attractor did not work its magic.

By two o’clock I adjourned to the north bank and progressed up the river while prospecting attractive sections of moderate depth and current velocity. Lacking risers, I abandoned the CDC BWO, and I replaced the double dry setup with an emerald caddis pupa and RS2. In a nice long pocket behind some exposed rock, I hooked and landed a thirteen inch brown trout that aggressively attacked the caddis pupa, but in the process of landing, the RS2 broke off. I replaced the RS2 with a size 18 baetis imitation that I tied many years ago from my Scott Sanchez book, and I continued my upstream progression.

After twenty minutes of fruitless casting, and as the wind began to gust in a more significant way, I cast along the seam next to some faster water. I had replaced the hippie stomper with a yellow fat Albert for better visibility in the afternoon glare, and suddenly the fat Albert dove. I reacted with a quick set, and the battle ensued. In this case I eventually hoisted a fifteen inch rainbow trout into my net, and it displayed the twenty plus year old baetis in its lip. Wonders never cease.

By 3:15PM I reached my crossing point, so I carefully shuffled across and climbed the roadside bank and then investigated the long smooth pool below the high rock bluff next to the car. I was unable to spot fish, and had it not been so close to quitting time, I would have switched to a deep nymphing rig. But I was weary and close to the end, so I stayed with the dry/dropper and fished the twenty-five yard section of moderate riffles over a rocky bottom that led into the pool. Nothing. I concluded that my leader was too short and rather than bother to lengthen it, I swapped the emerald caddis pupa for a weighted size 12 20 incher with a beadhead. That did not work either, so I reeled up the slack and called it quits at 3:45PM.

What a day! This was easily the best day of the year so far. Eight fish in 3.5 hours of fishing is not exceptional, but the quality of the fish was outstanding with a size range from twelve to fifteen inches. Every fish was a wild and healthy battler, and I was thankful for that. Icing on the cake was landing six beauties on dry flies. Fishing successfully to rising fish on March 20 is something to embrace and remember.

Fish Landed: 8

Bear Creek – 03/12/2024

Time: 11:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Morrison

Bear Creek 03/12/2024 Photo Album

I did not lose any flies, and I did not fall in the creek. I did not injure myself in any way, and I did not break any equipment items. The weather was quite nice for late winter, and my new car performed admirably. My friend, Howie, accompanied me on this trip to Bear Creek, and he was the perfect companion. There were a lot of positives on March 12, 2024.

Howie and I arrived at our chosen fly fishing destination at 11:10AM, and the parking lot was completely devoid of vehicles. I was curious to know what it looked like on the previous sunny Sunday. I pulled on my North Face light down coat and added my rain shell along with my billed hat with ear flaps. The dashboard thermometer registered in the low 50’s, but I knew from previous visits that fishing in the shadow of the nearby ridge was a chilly experience. Quite a bit of snow and ice shelves remained along the first section of the creek that we fished, and this was testimonial to the lack of sunshine and frigid temperatures.

Initially I rigged with a yellow size 8 fat Albert, size 14 prince nymph and a size 16 beadhead hares ear. Howie opted for a grasshopper with a gray dubbed body and a beadhead hares ear nymph, that he tied. We alternated casting in pools for the first hour, but there was no evidence of trout in the crystal clear and low Bear Creek. After thirty minutes I swapped the hares ear for a salvation nymph, and the change had no impact on the sulking trout population in Bear Creek.

After lunch we resumed our upstream migration; but, alas our fortunes remained on the negative side of the ledger. I cycled through numerous fly changes including an olive mini leech, a 20 incher as the top fly for added weight, and an RS2. The 20 incher was an experiment with fishing depth, and the RS2 tested the idea that the fish were tuned into smaller natural food items. Neither theory applied, but I searched for answers nonetheless. Howie stayed with his hopper and hares ear, and midway through our afternoon, I swapped the hares ear for an apricot egg.

By 2PM we reached a less attractive section of water that was characterized by wide and shallow riffles, so we hoofed back to the car and drove to another parking lot farther upstream. Here we quickly grabbed our gear and hiked for .3 mile, before we cut to the creek and resumed our dance with futility. During this last part of our day, I witnessed a brown trout, as it rose and snubbed the fat Albert, and that was my closest encounter with a trout during the three hours of fly fishing. I also sighted a trout along the bank below an ice shelf, but I was unable to get quality drifts over the target, and it disappeared into the depths.

Toward the end of the day Howie broke off both his flies on a rock, so he converted to a deep nymphing configuration with a strike indicator and beadhead hares ear. I observed, as he made some impressive drifts through promising runs and along undercut banks, logs and ice shelves; but the magic was absent for him as well. The sky once again clouded over, and a sudden chill enveloped our persons, so we returned to the parking lot at 3:00PM and made the return drive to home.

I listed the positives in the first paragraph, but I am forced to admit that we were victims of a double skunking on Bear Creek. For me, early season fly fishing is very temperamental, and I anxiously look forward to warmer temperatures, increased insect activity and active fish. A large winter storm is on the horizon for Denver, so I will likely not be posting additional fishing reports for a bit.

Fish Landed: 0

Clear Creek – 03/10/2024

Time: 1:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: West of Golden, CO

Clear Creek 03/10/2024 Photo Album

My last fly fishing outing was on March 1, 2024, and I had a strong desire to revisit a local stream on March 10. The weather since March 1 was either too cold for my preference, or nice weather coincided with days, when I had other commitments. A high in the mid-60’s in Denver on March 10 convinced me to make the short drive to Clear Creek.

The canyon was packed with outdoor enthusiasts including dog walkers, runners, hikers, fishermen and rock climbers. The first two parking lots west of Golden along the Peak to Plains Trail were filled to capacity with Sunday visitors. I earmarked a section, where I experienced previous success, but when I arrived, the entire roadside pullout was filled with rock climber vehicles. I continued onward, until I finally found a wide pullout on the left side of the highway. One car preceded me, and of course the owner was fly fishing twenty yards downstream from my parking space. I decided to either hike a distance above him or to hike downstream and fish back upstream. I exited my new Telluride (nice wheels, by the way), and shouted to the angler as loud as I could and asked how far down he began. Surprisingly he heard me and answered, “around 100 yards”. I decided to hike downstream for .5 mile to get below where he disturbed the stream.

By this time it was 12:15, so I grabbed my lunch bag and carefully consumed my lunch and avoided dropping food in my new ride. Afterward I pulled on my fleece hoodie and strung my Loomis five weight two piece. As planned, I hiked along the narrow shoulder, as a steady stream of cars passed by, and I cut down to the creek after .5 mile. I paused at the edge of the creek and rigged with a yellow size 8 fat Albert, an olive mini leech, and a 20 incher. Ice shelves extended for three to four feet along the bank in many places,  but there was enough open water to allow casting to promising holes and runs.

I focused on the deep and slower moving spots for forty-five minutes, but I saw no signs of trout. Given my lack of action, I removed the leech, moved the 20 incher to the upper position and added a beadhead hares ear nymph to my lineup. Finally my luck reversed, and I landed a small brown trout on the hares ear and then a ten inch rainbow on the 20 incher. Both fish came from a long trough and current seam, and I was on the board with two landed fish within a fifteen minute window.

I continued on in a westward direction, and I managed to net one more rainbow on the hares ear along with a temporary hook up that resulted in an escapee. This time period involved a lot of casting and unproductive drifts. By 3:15 I reached the area bordering my car, so I exited and drove east on US 6 to the spot, where I originally envisioned spending my afternoon. Parking was available, so I grabbed my gear and hiked downstream fifty yards along the opposite bank. I fished back upstream, until I was next to the Telluride, and I was rewarded with two additional rainbow trout that snatched the hares ear nymph.

My watch registered 4:00PM, when I was across from the car, and my exit option was down to one steep climb up a rocky bank, so I took advantage and ended my day of fly fishing. Five trout in three hours was a below average catch rate, but I was pleased given the cold water temperatures and the lack of insect activity. Where are all the brown trout? Normally Clear Creek yields 80% browns and 20% rainbows, but in my two 2024 outings, I have landed nine rainbows and two browns. It is a perplexing question. Hopefully, as we move closer to the official start of spring, I will be able to unleash the new Telluride for a few more productive trips to area rivers and streams. Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 5

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/01/2024

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/01/2024 Photo Album

A projected high in the mid-60’s in Denver motivated me to plan a day of fly fishing on Friday, March 1, 2014. I debated between Clear Creek and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek, but a wind icon on Weather Underground for Idaho Springs prompted me to choose the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. I recently underwent physical therapy for an annoying case of tennis elbow resulting from overly aggressive pickleball sessions, so I was cautiously interested in testing my elbow’s reaction to fly casting.

I arrived at the parking area for my chosen section of the creek, and the thermometer registered 51 degrees, so I pulled on my Columbia long-sleeved thermal undershirt, fleece cardigan and North Fork light down parka. A constant wind swirled through the parking lot, so I was pleased to have the layers, although I was concerned that I would overheat during my 1.5 mile hike.

My concern over being overdressed was somewhat valid; however, I was rather happy to have the layers for most of the day and especially while positioned in the shade of the canyon walls, when the wind was gusting. I began my quest for St. Vrain trout at 11:15AM with a size 8 yellow fat Albert, prince nymph and salvation nymph; however during the forty-five minutes before I broke for lunch, I managed to avoid landing any trout. Although I may have been deceived, I think two fish elevated to look at the fat Albert, but they were sightseers and not eaters.

I sat in a sunny location along the creek to consume my small lunch, and then I proceeded to advance up the creek at a steady pace, until I quit at 2:30PM. The wind was a significant nuisance, as it gusted regularly and pushed my casts backward or sideways. This circumstance affected my accuracy and forced me to make more casts than usual, and this in turn raised my fear of elbow strain.

During my three hours on the creek I managed to land two trout, and I connected temporarily with three others. All but one of the interactions with trout were surprisingly related to the fat Albert. The first landed fish was a respectable twelve inch brown trout, and the big fat Albert was prominently displayed in its lip. Number two was a small brown and also a fat Albert chomper in the eight inch range. Toward the end of my time on the water, another brown trout gobbled the fat Albert, but it managed to shake free after a short fight. My last stop was a gorgeous deep pool with wide riffles feeding into a deep run. After failing to interest trout in my dry/dropper arrangement, I broke out one of my recently completed Mickey Finn streamer flies. I fired at least twenty casts across the riffles and allowed the streamer to sink, before I stripped it back with varying cadences and twitches. It was fun to watch my new creation, but the trout demonstrated zero interest in my classic streamer offering.

Most of my success stemmed from the fat Albert, yet I persisted throughout the day with subsurface offerings. I began with the prince nymph and salvation nymph, and then I cycled through a 20 incher, emerald caddis pupa, juju baetis, and apricot egg. I was shocked over the lack of interest in the subsurface offerings. The flows were 25 CFS and very acceptable for March 1. I covered a significant amount of stream mileage, and I focused on areas with depth and moderate to slow current. The trout that rose to the fat Albert did so after quite a few drifts, and this was probably an indicator of the lethargic state of the fish due to the cold water temperatures. Two fish in three hours is definitely subpar, but March 1 is quite early in the season, and my expectations need to be moderated. Normally i would expect to spot more fish or spook fish while wading, and the absence of this sort of activity makes me question the fish density in the North Fork. I will avoid this destination for the remainder of the pre-runoff time period. I avoided the loss of flies, I did not get hurt, and I did not damage any equipment; so all was not lost on March 1, 2024.