Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: National forest backcountry
After recent trips to the high and clear Eagle River and Arkansas River with decent results, I felt the urge to spend a day on a small high country creek. The high temperature for Tuesday in Denver was projected to reach the upper nineties, so that provided another solid reason for fishing at high elevation. The real question, however, was where to fish. Some of the Front Range freestones such as Boulder Creek and Clear Creek continued to race along at high levels, as did Chalk Creek on Monday, so I needed to exercise caution with my choice. I have a list of high country creeks that I have sampled or that I hope to sample this summer, so I pulled it up on my iPhone notes application. As I scanned down the list, Pine Creek caught my eye. I fished there one other time on 09/08/2021, after Jane and I scouted it via a hike. As luck would have it, there was a water gauge for Pine Creek on the DWR web site, so I checked it, and I was pleased to discover flows in the 30 CFS range. I suspected this was on the high side, but I was also fairly certain that it was manageable.
I arrived at the dirt road that serves the Pine Creek trailhead by 10:15AM, and I was surprised to see five or six cars parked along the rough and rocky road half a mile away from the trail. I decided to snag an open spot near them, since I was convinced that the closer spots were already taken. The hike from my parking space to the start of the trail was only .5 mile, and I always need steps. The air temperature was 77 degrees, as I prepared to fish, and the high was predicted to reach 84 degrees, so I pulled on my wet wading pants and wading booties. Tuesday would be my first wet wading outing of 2023. For a rod I selected my Orvis Access four weight, and this too was the first usage of the small light weight rod for the new year.
Once I was properly prepared, I hiked for a bit less than a mile, and then I cut across a sagebrush flat and eventually bashed through some trees and bushes to the edge of the river. As I suspected, the creek was flowing along at a rapid rate, and my starting section was particularly intimidating due to the high gradient. I was forced to navigate the brushy bank for quite a distance, before I encountered a pocket that might allow a trout to hold in the heavy flows. Given the tight quarters and heavy flows, I opted to start with a classic Chernobyl ant, as it is nearly entirely comprised of foam and thus capable of floating without a backcast.
During the forty-five minutes before lunch I hooked and landed three brown trout, and I was pleased with this performance; however, I experienced an abundance of temporary hookups that far exceeded the number of trout that found their way into my net. After lunch I replaced the Chernobyl ant with a peacock body hippie stomper, and this fly remained on my line for the remainder of the afternoon. Actually the hackle on the first hippie stomper unwound after getting chopped by fish teeth, so I replaced it with another exact replica. The hippie stomper converted a few fish, but I felt that I was bypassing some as well, so I added a salvation nymph on a 1.5 foot dropper. These flies remained as my trusted offering for the rest of the day.
By the time I quit at 4:00PM, the fish count rested on twenty-one. As I mentioned, the first three nabbed the Chernobyl ant, and I estimate that five of the remaining eighteen nipped the salvation nymph with the remainder attracted to the hippie stomper. During the last hour, all the landed trout crushed the hippie stomper, and when I returned to my car to remove my flies at the end of the day, I discovered the explanation. The salvation nymph was missing a hook point, and that explained the high escape ratio on nymph takes.
The species of the landed trout was split fairly evenly between brown trout and brook trout. The brown trout were easily the larger fish, and I actually netted a pair of fine thirteen inchers. The other browns were in the eight to eleven inch range. The brook trout on the other hand were quite diminutive, with perhaps two extending to eight inches. They made up for their small size by displaying vibrant colors including bright orange bellies.
Locating trout was easily accomplished, as nearly every spot with some depth and a length of slower moving water harbored fish. Wading to a casting position and placing a cast while avoiding the streamside vegetation was another matter. In addition, the trout were quite finicky, and I probably tallied twice as many long distance releases compared to landed fish. Of course, many of these fish were tiny brook trout beneath the six inch cut off required in order to be counted.
Tuesday was a successful day and a great introduction to high mountain stream fishing for 2023. The quantity of fish landed was more than I expected, and a few twelve inch plus browns kept me interested. I sensed that the ratio of brown trout to brook trout was greater than my previous visit on September 8, 2021. Tangles caused by spinning small fish were an ongoing frustration, but I managed to persist beyond this small adversity. Wading in the ice cold currents of Pine Creek on a hot day was an added bonus.
Fish Landed: 21