Category Archives: St. Vrain Creek

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.

St. Vrain Creek – 08/23/2023

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: National forest land

St. Vrain Creek 08/23/2023 Photo Album

The high in Denver was once again forecast to reach the nineties, and after a long journey on Tuesday I was interested in a shorter drive to a high country creek with cold water temperatures. St. Vrain Creek was just such a location, and I quickly settled on it as my fly fishing destination on Wednesday, August 23, 2023. On my previous visit to this tumbling mountain stream I encountered two massive moose. Were they still patrolling the area, and could I meet up with them again? Read on.

The sky was quite overcast, when I arrived at the trailhead parking lot, and the temperature remained in the low seventies. I stripped down to my quick dry T-shirt for the inbound hike, and I stuffed a dry shirt and my fishing shirt in my fishing backpack along with my lunch. My Orvis Access four weight was my chosen wand for a day of fly fishing in a small creek with tight vegetation. My hiking distance remained an uncertainty, as I embarked, but eventually I decided to put down a decent distance from the trailhead. Along the way I met a returning fly fisherman, and when I queried him on how the fishing was, he replied that “there were at least one or two in every pocket”. That statement raised my expectations, and I probably accelerated my pace.

Lunch Spot and Start to My Day

Wow on the Colors

Eventually I reached my chosen starting point, and since it was 11:45AM, I decided to munch my lunch, before I got involved in my fly fishing adventure. This proved to be only the first of many interruptions to my fishing rhythm, although I had not yet begun, so an interruption is probably not the proper term. After lunch I rigged my four weight with a solitary peacock hippie stomper, and I was on my way. The stomper generated refusals in the first couple pools, but eventually it attracted the attention of three brook trout. Since the number of refusals equaled or exceeded landed fish, I decided to make my first change. I plucked a classic Chernobyl ant from the fly box and knotted it to my line. I love the buoyant foam attractor in tight backcountry streams, because it does not require a backcast to float. The Chernobyl produced a couple small brook trout, but then it fell out of favor, and it was difficult to track the low riding fly in the shadows and glare of the small creek.

Nice Hole

Prime spots were not producing, so I speculated that perhaps the bigger fish were hunkered down low and eating subsurface morsels. I added an ultra zug bug below the Chernobyl, but the nymph made no impact on the feeding habits of the resident trout, so I once again considered a change. I ruled out dry/dropper and converted to a size 14 gray stimulator, that I fished solo. The fuzzy dry fly generated quite a few refusals, and one aggressive feeder to bring the fish count to seven.

Pumpkin Belly

I was stuck on seven for quite a while, when a fish swirled and refused the stimmy. I responded with a solid hook set, but in the absence of resistance I hurled the fly into a stiff evergreen branch obviously out of reach. I was forced to resort to applying direct pressure, and I snapped off the fly and a long section of leader. In fact, the tapered leader was reduced to five feet, and it ended with a thick stub that probably equated to 1X. I was reluctant to build tippets off this stub, so I removed it and installed a new 7.5 foot tapered leader that ended with 5X thickness. Needless to say, I was not pleased with yet another interruption.

Better Second Shot

Over the course of the remainder of the afternoon, I suffered through three brief thunderstorms. I stood beneath a dense evergreen through the first rain shower and managed to stay reasonably dry, but numbers two and three were accompanied by heavy rain, so I was forced to once again interrupt my fishing to remove all my gear to access my rain shell and then pull it on. While Denver suffered through a ninety degree day, I was chilled by the cool and damp weather conditions at high altitude on St. Vrain Creek.

Promising Pool

Once I looped my new tapered leader in place, I added a size 14 light gray deer hair caddis to the end of the line, and this became my most popular fly during the early afternoon. The trout responded with confident takes, and I raised the fish count from seven to sixteen before a toothy eater cut the hackle. I nipped off the damaged fly and stuck it in my fleece wallet, and I replaced the poopular caddis with a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. This smaller caddis imitation duped one fish, but then it was ignored in a gorgeous pool, so I made another change.

Orange Pink

During this time I spotted two green drakes, as they struggled to lift off from the surface tension, so I removed a parachute green drake from my drake box, and I prospected this fly for twenty minutes. In a long smooth run of moderate depth, the drake pounded up two nice brook trout, and subsequently it added two more, but eventually the green drake was ignored in some prime pools, so I reverted to another light gray deer hair caddis. In this instance I chose a size 16. The small dry fly was difficult to track in shadows, glare and turbulent water, but it was effective enough to boost the fish count to twenty-six.

Sweet Pool

By 4:00PM I was chilled and wet from the rain showers, and I was about to move from some attractive runs to a narrow section with fallen logs and plunge pools. These spots equated to difficult wading and reduced productivity, so I used the stream structure as an excuse to exit. I crawled over some deadfalls and found the path and hoofed it back to the parking lot.

Wild Turkeys

Twenty-six fish sounds like a solid day, and all but one landed fish were brook trout. The largest brook trout may have stretched the tape to ten inches, and many were short little chubbies barely over six inches. I landed one nine inch cutthroat, and I bypassed taking a photo, because I was sure larger cutthroats were in my future. This is the second stream in Colorado, where it seems like the cutthroat population is missing. As always the scenery was spectacular, and having an entire stream to myself in a backcountry location made the day a success regardless of the fish count. On my return hike I encountered a huge rabbit, which I assume was a snowshoe hare, and on the drive back to Denver I stopped to videotape a small flock of turkeys, after they crossed the road in front of me. The moose clan steered clear of me, so I settled for other forms of wildlife.

Fish Landed: 26


North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 03/10/2023

Time: 11:15AM – 2:30PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 03/10/2023 Photo Album

January, February and March have been consistently cold months during the winter of 2023, and I anxiously awaited a break that would enable me to visit a local stream to kick off the new season. When I checked the high temperatures in Denver for Friday, March 10, I noted sixty-one degrees, so I immediately checked some towns near Front Range streams. This process led me to Lyons, CO with a high of 59, so I decided to initiate my season on the North Fork of the St. Vrain northwest of Lyons. A quick check of the flows revealed 20 CFS, and although this was on the low side, I decided to give it a go. My history with opening days was not good, so I set my expectations low for Friday.

I arrived at the nearly vacant and muddy parking lot at 10AM, and the temperature on the dashboard registered thirty-two degrees. I was skeptical that 59 was attainable, but even more problematic was the gusting wind that sent chills down my spine, as I exited the car to gear up for my first day of fly fishing. I quickly pulled on my fleece hoodie and North Fork light down and then added my raincoat as a windbreaker. My bag yielded a New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps, and I searched through the fishing bag for my woolen fingerless gloves. This was evidently winter fishing and not the warm spring outing that I anticipated. My new Redington waders barely slid over my bulky layers, and when I slipped on my new backpack and front pack, I realized that the straps needed significant adjustment. By the time I had everything tuned up, my hands were stinging from the cold and wind, so I jumped back in the car and turned on the engine and listened to some sports talk for ten minutes.

Deep Pool

Finally my hands were back to normal, so I tugged on my fingerless gloves and snapped on my front pack and backpack and assembled my newly repaired Sage four weight and began my hike on the dirt road that follows the creek. By 11:15 I arrived at my favorite starting point, and I was sheltered to some degree in the canyon, although the wind remained a nuisance throughout the day. I began with a size 8 yellow fat Albert and added a three foot dropper with a beadhead hares ear nymph, and these were my flies of choice for the 45 minute morning session prior to breaking for lunch at noon. The late morning creek exploration failed to yield a single landed trout, although a fairly nice fish crushed the fat Albert and immediately cleared the surface, before it shed the hook and escaped to freedom.

Looks Promising

After lunch I exchanged the hares ear for a green and black Pat’s rubberleg in order to gain more depth, but the stonefly imitation was not on the menu. In the 45 minutes after lunch I prospected with the rubberlegs, bright green go2 caddis pupa, and ultra zug bug, but the subsurface offerings failed to interest the stream residents. I did, however, manage to hook and land a ravenous nine inch rainbow that slurped the yellow fat Albert, and I celebrated my first fish of the year. Unfortunately the little fighter wrapped the trailing rubberlegs and caddis pupa in an ugly snarl, and I spent five minutes untangling the mess.

First Trout of 2023

By 1:30PM I approached a gorgeous long smooth pool with several swirling current seams, and before I could make a cast with the dry/dropper, I noticed a series of sipping rises. What could be bringing these trout to the surface? I decided to take advantage of the unexpected early season surface feeding, and I removed the nymphs and fat Albert and tied a size 24 CDC BWO to my leader. I spent ten minutes spraying casts to all the locales that revealed sipping trout, but the tiny mayfly imitation was soundly ignored. Were the fish eating small black stoneflies? I encountered them previously on this section of stream, so I knotted a size22 black bug to my line with a swept back poly wing. The move did not pay off. The flurry of rises seemed to follow strong gusts of wind, so I guessed that perhaps ants were blown from the trees into the creek. I stripped in my line and replaced the black stonefly with an olive size 16 deer hair caddis and then added a parachute black ant on an eight inch dropper. Some excellent drifts with the visible double dries were met with total disregard, so I returned to the dry/dropper that produced my only trout.

Nice Pool

For the next hour until I quit at 2:30PM I prospected upstream with a size 14 peacock body hippie stomper, ultra zug bug and size 20 BWO soft hackle emerger. After a reasonable trial period the emerger got stuck in my frontpack mesh, and I bent it in the process of removing, so I replaced it with a size 20 sparkle wing RS2. One refusal to the hippie stomper was the extent of my action on the dry/dropper combination, so I hooked the RS2 to the rod guide at 2:30PM and retreated to the car. The sky was partly cloudy, and the wind continued to howl, as I tramped back along the road to the mud bound Santa Fe.

One fish in nearly three hours of fishing was not a stellar outing, but I was, nonetheless, pleased to land a rainbow in order to initiate the fish count for 2023. The cold and wind provided significant hurdles to success on Friday, although I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a brief hatch. I also broke in and adjusted new equipment, and that should prepare me for future fly fishing ventures. I am rooting for you, spring.

Fish Landed: 1

St. Vrain Creek – 09/27/2022

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: West of Lyons, CO

St. Vrain Creek 09/27/2022 Photo Album

Jane and I returned from a weekend trip to Oregon, and I once again felt the itch to cast my line. The high temperature on Tuesday was projected to reach the upper seventies, and this generally translates to ten to fifteen degrees cooler at high elevation, so I decided to visit a high country stream, while the the temperatures remained conducive to fly fishing.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot and assembled my Orvis Access four weight and began my hike. I decided to forego my usual longer hike and cut to the edge of the stream after fifteen minutes. I was skeptical that the stream was significantly more pressured .4 miles from the trailhead than 2 miles on this creek. The temperature, as I embarked, was 53 degrees, but I wore my short sleeved quick dry undershirt and packed my other layers. I planned to swap out my under layer, once I completed my hike.

High Gradient

My plan worked quite well, although that fact is probably more attributable to my short hike in cool conditions. I knotted an olive hippie stomper to my line and began to lob casts to likely trout lies, but I detected no sign of fish life in the first twenty minutes. I paused and added a salvation nymph, in case the fish were hanging deeper in the water column, and this ploy yielded a pair of small brook trout, although initiating the fish count necessitated abundant casts and covering quite a bit of quality trout water. I managed to guide one more brook trout, that chomped the hippie stomper, into my net, before I endured a long dry spell. Mixed among my three landed trout were a number of refusals to the stomper, so I decided to try a double dry with an olive-brown size 16 caddis as my trailing fly. The small dry fly proved its worth, and I nudged the fish count to five including my first cutthroat. I sensed that I was passing up prime spots with no results, and I began to question my decision to jump into the creek so close to the trailhead, so I exited and found the main trail and hiked west for an additional two miles. This delivered me to a stretch that I fished previously, and based on that experience I knew that a decent fish population was present.

Prime Time

First Cutthroat

After lunch I continued my pursuit of trout, but the productivity of the creek did not really change substantially. The fish count grew from five to eleven by the time I quit at 3:30PM, but six fish in 2.5 hours was a mediocre catch rate at best. I modified my fly lineup by replacing the salvation with a sunken ant for awhile, but the terrestrial never produced a fish. Eventually I returned to the stomper and salvation combination, but nearly all the afternoon landed fish chose the hippie stomper. I lost two salvations to tree branches and finished my day with a size 18 pheasant tail nymph, but it was ignored by the resident fish.

Fine Pool

The positive from the afternoon was netting three gorgeous cutthroat trout in the eleven inch range. These trout grabbed the salvation nymph in relatively shallow riffles. On the day, I landed six brook trout and five cutthroats, and this was highly unusual for a stream that normally produces 80% brook trout and 20% cutthroats. I concluded that the brook trout were in spawning mode; and, thus, procreation superseded appetite. I observed some spawning action in a shallow slow moving side pool, and that confirmed my suspicions. I blamed my early lack of success on my short hike, but in reality I now believe it was more related to the advent of the spawning cycle in the high country stream environment. Another significant factor was the seasonally low and clear state of the creek. In spite of my efforts to approach promising locations carefully, I noted some spooked fish, as they darted after a cast or two.


Extended Out

At approximately 2PM I was standing in the middle of a narrow section of the stream, when I heard some strange sounds approaching from behind and to the left. I glanced to my left, and I was shocked to see a large dark form trotting along the south bank. It was a black bull moose, but it seemed to ignore me and wandered along the stream and crossed thirty yards above me. I pulled out my camera and started shooting a video of the intruder, just as it approached the creek, but while this transpired, I heard more tromping from behind accompanied by a sort of low moaning and wheezing sound. I pivoted with the camera, and captured a second albeit much larger moose, as it emerged from the forest. Unlike moose number one, this one stopped no more than thirty feet to my left, and it stared down at me, while I returned the look. I ended the video, but before I stuffed the camera back in my carrier, I snapped a still photo. Needless to say, I was in an elevated state of fear, until the massive beast moved on. It headed toward the southwest, but eventually I saw it turn right, and it wandered slowly toward the creek. I whipped out my camera and poised it, and recorded another short video, as the large mammal crossed the creek at the same spot as moose number one. My heart raced. In retrospect my brief state of fear was outweighed by the awesome sighting of two moose in close proximity. The size of these majestic critters is absolutely stunning, and the antlers on the second moose were ridiculous. Imagine how strong their necks must be to carry that rack around continuously.

Surprise Visitor

Nice Brook Trout

My fishing experience on Tuesday was decidedly mediocre, but wildlife viewing was first rate. My focus on high country streams during warm fall days was solid reasoning, but I needed to factor in the risk of brook and brown trout fall spawning. This logic points me toward streams populated by a higher ratio of rainbows, cutbows and cutthroats for future fly fishing adventures. Also, larger rivers and streams in the valleys at lower elevation remain warmer and, consequently the spawn is more delayed. Stay tuned for more fall fishing adventures.

Fish Landed: 11

Another Tough Lie

Nice Color Here






St. Vrain Creek – 08/26/2022

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from Lyons

St. Vrain Creek 08/26/2022 Photo Album

Jane and I along with some pickleball friends reserved campsites near the St. Vrain from August 14 through August 17. Unfortunately a family emergency caused us to cancel our reservation, and it also thwarted my plans to fish the St. Vrain. Today, however, August 25 I returned to the St. Vrain for a day of fly fishing.

The temperature was sixty degrees, as I pulled into the parking lot and prepared to fish. I assembled my Orvis Access four weight for the small stream with tight vegetation, and I hiked a decent distance to create a buffer from the parking lot angling crowd. When I approached the creek, I was pleased with the perfect clarity, and the flows seemed a bit higher than normal for late August. I was actually pleased with this circumstance, since the conditions dictated less stealth than required at lower levels.

Ready to Start

I began my day with a peacock hippie stomper fished solo, but after ten minutes with only refusals, I swapped the stomper for a size 16 olive body deer hair caddis. The refusals transitioned into takes, and I quickly built the fish count to five before a fairly lengthy lull suggested another change in flies. The small caddis was difficult to track, especially in faster runs and in riffled pockets, so I made a radical change to a classic size 10 Chernobyl ant. The Chernobyl produced several swirls and a temporary hook up, but it was ignored in some prime pools, so I reverted to the hippie stomper with a beadhead hares ear dropper. My evaluation of the dry/dropper was cut short, when I set the hook on an imaginary fish and catapulted the two flies into a live evergreen that was out of reach. Direct pressure resulted in the loss of both flies, and I used the pause to settle on a mossy bank to consume my lunch.

Gold Speckled Brook Trout

Trout Lair

After lunch I replaced the dry/dropper with a Jake’s gulp beetle, since the fish showed interest in the Chernobyl, which I consider a large beetle. I hoped that a downsizing strategy would incite the resident fish to eat, but it did not, and I quickly converted once again to a yellow stimulator. The yellow stimulator accounted for several fish, and the fish count blossomed to double digits. The sixty degree air temperature by now had moved up moderately to the mid-sixties, but I was chilled from the perspiration from my inbound hike, so I pulled on my raincoat for additional warmth. This move proved to be a winner, as several waves of heavy cloud cover moved over the stream during the remainder of my time fly fishing. In fact, I spent the last hour fishing in the rain.

Nice Little Pool

Sought After Cutthroat

As was the case with the previous flies, the stimulator wore out its welcome, and I paused to assess my choices. I decided to once again prioritize visibility, and I returned to the peacock hippie stomper, and during this installment, I added a black sunk ant on a 1.5 foot dropper. I wanted the ant to be near the surface, since most of the feeding seemed to be in the top layer of water. I finally found a consistent producer, and I maintained the stomper/ant dropper combination for the remainder of the afternoon and built the fish count to thirty-three. Once I settled on the productive combination, I had a blast. I moved relatively quickly and focused on the water types that generated the best results. Long riffles over coble bottom with two feet of depth or greater were sure bets. Soft shelf pools and deep plunge pools with slow moving current were also attractive options. Depth and cover were the two main qualities that defined consistent positive results on the high country stream on Friday.

On Display

Maybe Best of the Day

Wide Body for This Creek

What was I catching? My largest fish were cutthroats, and I landed six absolutely gorgeous slash jawed trout during my four hours. The cutthroats were not as populous, but they definitely guarded the prime locations. The rest of the fish that dwelled in my net were brook trout, and they were much more aggressive feeders and disbursed throughout the system, but the largest brookie measured eleven inches, and most fell within the six to eight inch range. The brook trout made up for their lack of size with their color schemes, as I released many with bright orange bellies.

Several Fish Emerged from This Long Slow-Moving Pool

Another Prime Cutthroat Spot

Friday was a fun day. I love prospecting high country streams in spite of the tendency for the fish to be on the small side. The surprise of a surface smack by a wild trout never grows old, and the possibility of encountering a copper hued speckled cutty with bright red cheeks and a slash under the jaw is hard to resist.

Fish Landed: 33

Deep Colors

Brook Trout Magnificence


03-25-2022 North Fork of St. Vrain Creek

Time: 10:45AM – 3:30PM

Location: Button Rock Preserve

03-25-2022 North Fork of St. Vrain Creek Photo Album

I must admit that my first fishing outing of 2022 was  a bit disappointing, but at least I lit up the scoreboard with six fish. Unfortunately they were quite small. One twelve inch brown chomped a fat Albert after lunch, but the other landed trout were in the six to eight inch range. As I look back on first days in Colorado, I can remember a few skunkings on the South Platte River, so at least I avoided that embarrassment.

The high temperature was predicted to be in the mid-60’s in Denver, so I checked the options within a one day drive of Denver, and I settled on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. A high in Lyons, CO was predicted to peak at 62 degrees, and the flows on the small tailwater hovered in the 25 CFS range. The South Platte River on a Friday was risky due to crowding, and the temperatures were colder in the narrow canyon that carries the flows of South Boulder Creek. These were my alternatives.

Snow Remains on the Bank

I arrived at the Button Rock Preserve parking lot by 10:00AM, and I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight rod. I considered the shorter and lighter Orvis Access, but periodic gusting wind convinced me to go with the rod that carried a stiffer backbone. The temperature, as I embarked on the dirt road that follows the creek, was 42 degrees, and I wore my light down parka and New Zealand hat with earflaps. These clothing choices were welcome, particularly, when I waded through shaded areas. A fair amount of snow remained along the stream; however, the creek was very clear and devoid of any ice or snow.

Fish Number One of 2022

After a medium hike I configured my line with a peacock hippie stomper, beadhead hares ear nymph and salad spinner. I cast this combination for thirty minutes and managed to land my first trout of the 2022 season. It was a seven inch brown trout that munched on the hippie stomper, and I was quite pleased to be on the scoreboard. In the next half hour before lunch I swapped the salad spinner for the ultra zug bug to gain more depth, and this fly accounted for a second and slightly larger brown trout.

Number Two Nabbed an Ultra Zug Bug

I tied some beaded mini leeches on Thursday, and I was itching to break them in, so I exchanged the hares ear for the mini leech after lunch. In order to support the extra weight of the larger bead on the mini leech, I replaced the hippie stomper with a size 8 fat Albert and added a sparkle wing RS2 on the point. Amazingly the fat Albert produced two fish including a twelve inch brown, and that was my largest fish of the day.

Best Fish of the Day Ate a Fat Albert

During my time on the North Fork I cycled through a large array of flies including a soft hackle emerger, sunken ant and prince nymph in addition to those already mentioned. At one point I revisited the hippie stomper, and it yielded a small brown in addition to several refusals. Between 1:15PM and 1:30PM I spotted four or five blue winged olives, as they danced along the surface during a gust of wind. A few dimples revealed rises in some slow moving sections, and I converted to a single CDC BWO, but I was unable to fool any surface feeders. In addition, three small gray stoneflies fluttered above the creek just before the blue winged olive emergence, and I tried a non-beaded gray soft hackle emerger in an attempt to mimic the small stoneflies, but this ploy also failed to lead to success.

Gorgeous Pool Beckons

After I reverted to the peacock hippie stomper accompanied by a size 14 prince nymph and sunken ant I managed to land two more small trout on the prince. I covered a significant amount of water including some very attractive pools, and the small trout were my only reward. By 3:30 my back began to cramp, and I concluded that 4.5 hours was an excessive amount of time for my first outing of the season, so I hooked my fly to the rod guide and made the return hike to the parking lot. It was fun to get out on a stream again, and I am anxiously checking the weather for another opportunity to fly fish in the near future.

Fish Landed: 6

St. Vrain Creek – 08/10/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Lyons, CO

St. Vrain Creek 08/10/2021 Photo Album

After five days in Pennsylvania I returned to Colorado and immediately departed on a camping trip to a Front Range Campground. A group of pickleball friends reserved three sites in February, and after a six month wait, our turn to enjoy the beauty of the mountains west of Lyons, CO arrived. One of the campers was a Brit named Dave Hughes, and he was a very reluctant participant and not fond of roughing it in these modern times. In an effort to make him feel at home, Jane went all out and set up the picnic table with a lace tablecloth, wine bottles, wine glasses and a summer flower bouquet. We think he was impressed, but we were certain the other ladies in our camping group were wowed by the effort. For dinner the first night we made salmon wrapped in pancetta skewers with a fresh garden salad. After dinner the entire group gave Jane a standing ovation including the reluctant camper, Dave Hughes.

Tuesday was my allotted day to fish. A week transpired since my last outing on August 3, so I was very anxious to wade into an ice cold mountain stream. St. Vrain Creek rushed by our campground, so I took advantage of the convenience. After a delicious breakfast prepared by the Hughes party, all the campers loaded themselves in two cars, and we drove 1.2 miles to the trailhead. There were ten of us, and the other nine charged up the trail, while I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and pulled on my waders. I probably should have chosen wet wading on August 10 with high temperatures peaking in the low 90’s in Denver, but I felt that the high altitude would keep temperatures at a tolerable level. I failed to account for the body heat generated, while I hiked uphill for a couple miles.

Breathtaking Pool

I caught and passed the nine hikers from our group and found a spot above a narrow cascade with steep vertical walls on both sides, and here I cut through some spaced out trees to the creek. The water was crystal clear and flowing at a healthy pace on the high gradient stretch. I began my quest for mountain trout with a peacock hippie stomper, but after ten minutes I concluded the locals were uninterested. I was about to make a change, when I was greeted by my wife and four of the hikers. We chatted briefly, and then they continued their hiking journey.

Colorful Brook Trout Above the Water Spot

I abandoned the hippie stomper entirely and opted for a gray size 14 stimulator and trailed a purple haze. The haze and stimulator picked up a few fish, but refusals outnumbered hook ups, so I once again paused to make a change. The flows were a bit high for early August, so I decided to test a dry/dropper approach to get deeper in the water column. I knotted a classic Chernobyl ant to my line as the top indicator fly and then attached a salvation nymph below that. The Chernobyl attracted attention in the form of refusals, and the salvation was ignored, so I added an iron sally below the salvation. The iron sally enabled me to pick up a few more fish, but the long leader from the foam attractor to the iron sally was cumbersome and induced an abnormally high number of snags. I decided to swap the top fly to a yellow fat Albert for better visibility, and I reduced the subsurface offering to the solitary iron sally. This combination seemed to work better than the three fly dry/dropper, as the iron sally accounted for a few more fish, and the fish counter elevated to seven.

A Gem of a Cutthroat

I paused for lunch a bit after noon, and shortly thereafter I approached a beautiful smooth, placid pool. I recognized that the fat Albert would simply spook the fish in this fragile setting, so I reverted to the peacock hippie stomper and added a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis on a twelve inch dropper. The hippie stomper was simply an indicator to allow me to track the tiny caddis fly. The ploy was a success, and I persisted with the double dry offering for the remainder of the afternoon. The fish counter climbed steadily to twenty-two, before I climbed the bank and followed a faint path to the main trail. The caddis was responsible for the majority of the takes with a few gullible fish falling for the hippie stomper. In the early going I landed four cutthroat trout, but all the double dry responders were brook trout.

Tough Water to Approach

Wow, Those Colors

Surprisingly the type of water that produced consistently was wide riffles that were a couple feet deep. The obvious large, slow-moving, deep pools were not trout factories, although many of them were bordered by well worn paths and casting perches. I suspect that hikers and four wheelers cherry picked the obvious spots with bait and spinning tackle. A few pools produced, but these locations typically required significant effort to climb over large fallen logs or bashing through thick streamside vegetation, and of course the riffles and marginal pockets were probably overlooked by the spin casting crew.

Postcard Pretty

The hiking crew used my car to return to the campground, so my return hike was incremented by 1.2 miles, and needless to say, I was hot and thirsty, as I removed my waders and gear at the campsite. Tuesday was a fun day on the St. Vrain Creek. Sure, the fish were quite small with all falling in the six to nine inch range. I may have landed a ten inch cutthroat, but that was a lunker for the section of the creek that I covered. I spotted a few larger trout in a couple prime pools, but these trout saw me and bolted, before I could entice them with my flies. The bright colors of the trout made up for their lack of size, and the spectacular landscape made the day worthwhile. I am pleased to be back in Colorado, and I am already contemplating another outing on Friday, August 13. Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 22

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/03/2021

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/03/2021 Photo Album

My last fishing day was Wednesday, July 28, so I was itching to get in another outing before my scheduled trip to Pennsylvania for a reunion. I desired a short drive and reviewed the stream flows for the usual Front Range options. Heavy thunderstorms and rain caused flash flooding and mudslides over the previous five days, so I wanted to assure myself that I would not be impacted by these events. Three streams stood out from my review: South Boulder Creek, the Big Thompson River, and the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. South Boulder Creek was running at 185 CFS, which is higher than I desire, but manageable, particularly if insect hatching activity is present. That option, however, involved a fairly significant and strenuous hike into the canyon, so I moved on to the Big Thompson River, which was rolling along at 126 CFS. Once again this volume was higher than I favor, but I in the past I fished the Big T at 125 CFS successfully. The North Fork of the St. Vrain Creek was registering flows of 46 CFS, and I knew from experience that these levels were quite favorable for fly fishing. The NF of the St. Vrain was a 1.25 hour drive and closer than the Big Thompson River, so it became my choice.

I prepared the night before and arrived at the Buttonrock Preserve parking lot by 9:45AM. Steady rain commenced, as I drove through Lyons, CO, and it continued, as I rigged my Sage four weight and pulled on my waders and raincoat. Six cars were in the parking lot when I arrived, and the quantity quickly shrank to three including me, as dog walkers and hikers returned to their cars to avoid the rain. I was gloating internally, as I prepared to fish in spite of the wave of hikers and walkers avoiding the steady preciipitation that was more than a drizzle but less than a steady downpour.


Stretched Out for Viewing

I hiked for forty-five minutes and then paused to configure my line for a day of fly fishing. I began with a peacock hippie stomper, but it was totally ignored in some very attractive deep pockets and pools. I added a purple haze, and a small surface disturbance appeared just below the trailing purple attractor. This told me that the fish were looking toward the surface, so I swapped the purple haze for a size 18 olive-brown deer hair caddis. Bingo! A small rainbow trout and brown trout responded to the change and sipped the tiny caddis. I was off and running with a fish count of two within the first thirty minutes. Unfortunately the catch rate quickly dropped to zero, and the small caddis was nearly impossible to follow in the glare created by the overcast skies.

Salvation Nymph and Yellow Sally

Narrow Band Along the Rock Produced

The creek was nearly devoid of insect activity, so I decided to experiment with a dry/dropper approach. One never knows what works, until one tries. I began with a Chernobyl ant trailing an iron sally and salvation nymph. The dry/dropper ploy worked, and I steadily increased the fish count from two to six, as the salvation nymph caught the attention of the local stream residents. Even with this improvement in action, I remained dissatisfied with the effectiveness of my offerings. The Chernobyl ant was totally ignored, as was the iron Sally, so the only productive fly on my line was the salvation nymph. The Chernobyl ant was increasingly hard to follow in the glare due to its sunken position in the surface film, so I exchanged it for a tan pool toy hopper. While doing this, I extended the leader between the hopper and the first fly, which I swapped for an emerald caddis pupa. The combination of the hopper, caddis pupa and salvation remained on my line for most of my remaining time on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek, and it served me quite well.


Deeply Colored Wild Brown

I ramped up the fish count from six to eighteen between noon and 3:00PM, when I pulled down the curtain on a successful day. The sky remained overcast, and consequently the temperature never spiked out of the seventies. The weather conditions were nearly ideal for fly fishing in the middle of the summer. Most of the trout snapped up the drifting salvation nymph, but three crushed the pool toy hopper. One of the pool toy hopper lovers was a sixteen inch cutbow, and it smashed the large terrestrial in the middle of a large smooth pool. Needless to say I felt very fortunate to net the beauty. Another pair of brown trout in the twelve inch range mauled the hopper as well, so the terrestrial imitation was popular with larger than average fish.

Great Side View

I was also surprised to land a nine inch lake trout. I can only assume it washed over the top of Buttonrock Dam, and that also may have been the case with the cutbow. The lake trout and cutbow when combined with the rainbow trout and brown trout allowed me to claim credit for a grand slam, and for me a slam including a lake trout is very unusual.

Head Shot

Tuesday, August 3, evolved into a very enjoyable day. The flows were favorable, and the cool overcast skies were very refreshing after the recent string of ninety degree temperatures. Eighteen fish in four hours of fishing was very respectable. Two-thirds of my catch were small trout in the six to ten inch range, and the remainder included the cutbow and a bunch of eleven to twelve inch brown trout. The quality of the fish was quite acceptable for a small stream such as the North Fork of the St. Vrain.

Fish Landed: 18

So Green

Another Shot

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 08/08/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 1:00PM

Location: Buttonrock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 08/08/2020 Photo Album

One of the by-products of my mitral heart valve surgery was getting introduced to many front-line health care workers within the Boulder Community Health network. Among my favorites is Meghan Gerlach, one of the anticoagulation pharmacists that I conferred with on nearly a weekly basis, while I adhered to a blood thinner regimen after my heart surgery. In one of the early appointments I mentioned my passion for fly fishing, and she informed me that her eleven year old son, Lucas, was an avid fisherman. Apparently Lucas experienced some success fishing for bass while visiting his grandparents cabin in Missouri, and he was keenly interested in advancing his capabilities in the realm of fly fishing. I volunteered to guide Lucas on a local stream or lake, once my arm and shoulder recovered sufficiently from my surgery, and when the covid19 threat was minimized.

Fast forward to August 8, 2020, and the two conditions described above were met, and Meghan and I worked out a plan, whereby I would meet them at Buttonrock Preserve for several hours of instruction and fishing. Boulder Creek in Boulder Canyon was my first choice, but ongoing road construction presented a formidable obstacle with forty-five minute delays and potential disruption of the stream clarity. My second choice was the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek in Laverne Johnson Park in Lyons, but an online search revealed that the park was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek at Buttonrock Preserve offered more challenging conditions, I opted for it anyway, since it was relatively close, and the flows were in a reasonable range for a novice fly fisherman. The large parking lot offered a nice space to introduce some casting instruction, and I was hopeful that the attractive pools next to the parking lot might harbor a few willing trout.

I arrived at the Buttonrock Preserve parking lot at 9:45 and quickly secured one of the six remaining spaces. I prepared to guide Lucas by pulling on my waders, and I set up my Orvis Access four weight. Meghan told me in a text that Lucas had his uncle’s fly rod, but I wanted to provide an alternative. Lucas is saving money that he earns from chores to purchase a starter rod, and I wanted him to have a basis of comparison. As I waited for the two Gerlach’s to arrive, additional preserve visitors appeared, and the free parking spaces dwindled to two. I kept my fingers crossed, and the move paid off, as a white Toyota Sienna arrived and secured a parking space one car over from mine.

Friday’s weather was in line with the recent trend of a lingering heat wave, and the thermometer was already in the low eighties when we began. I pondered suggesting wet wading for Lucas, but he was wearing shorts, and I was concerned about sunburn and scratches, so he climbed into my backup waders and boots. In case you are wondering, he is eleven years old and already has a foot size equal to mine. He is shorter, and this caused the waders to bunch up a bit, but we made it work by shortening the shoulder straps and cinching the belt around his waist.

We began the outing with some casting practice in the parking lot, and although Lucas did not perfect dry fly casting, he advanced his abilities to the point, where I felt he was ready to attack the stream. We meandered to the edge of the creek by a nice starter pool, and I tied on one of the size 16 hippie stompers, that he showed me in his fly box. I directed his casts, and we worked through three or four nice pools and pockets, but neither of us saw any evidence of trout. The high sun and hot atmosphere dampened my confidence, but Lucas was undeterred.

I was reluctant to deploy a dry/dropper due to the risk of entanglement, but I decided to give it a trial. I swapped Lucas’s hippie stomper for one of my peacock size 12’s, and then I added a beadhead hares ear on a 2.5 foot dropper. Lucas managed the two fly system quite well with only a few minor tangles, but the trout in the North Fork were not cooperative. In one shallow run I took the rod to demonstrate how to flick a short backhand cast, and a small four inch brown trout grabbed the hares ear near the middle of the run. Lucas’s eyes grew wide, and I could sense that his level of determination elevated, after he actually held a small trout in his hand.

Lucas Examines His Line

At noon we paused for lunch, and Meghan had moved the minivan closer to the western portion of the parking lot, so we made a short hike to the nearby van. While we munched our snacks, another angler returned to his car right next to us, and he had been fly fishing in Ralph Price Reservoir. I asked him how he did, and he extracted a nice fourteen inch rainbow trout from his bag. It was already gutted and ready for the grill, and he related that he caught it on a woolly bugger. Of course this merely served to get Lucas more optimistic about landing a fish from the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. The neighboring gentleman also suggested that a good approach to the creek was a chubby Chernobyl trailing a beadhead pheasant tail.

Since our morning results could be described as futility, I adopted the suggested approach. I knotted a chubby Chernobyl with a tan ice dub body to Lucas’s line and then added a super nova nymph as a dropper. The super nova is a close approximation of a pheasant tail. Forty-five minutes remained in our allotted time, before Meghan needed to return to her father’s house to collect Lucas’s sisters. We escalated our focus and fished with intensity for the remainder of our time, but I am sad to report that Lucas failed to land a fish. I concentrated his casts to the whitewater spots at the head of the runs and pools under the theory that the trout sought oxygenated water during the high air temperature conditions. In one promising pocket along the right side Lucas flicked a nice cast next to the seam, and the chubby Chernobyl dipped quickly. Lucas responded with a quick side set, but nothing was attached to his line. I suspect this may have been his closest encounter with a fish.

At 1PM Meghan was ready to depart, so I climbed up some large boulders to join her. Lucas remained in the stream and executed several eleventh-hour casts in an effort to avoid a skunking. I was very impressed with his intensity and persistence, and I am certain he will grow up to be a first rate fly fisherman. He is thirsting for knowledge and willing to seek sources of instruction. These qualities should carry him a long way in fishing but also in whatever career path he pursues. I was very pleased to meet Lucas, and perhaps we can meet again when the temperatures cool in September or October.

Fish Landed: 0

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek – 07/09/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 2:00PM

Location: Button Rock Preserve

North Fork of St. Vrain Creek 07/09/2020 Photo Album

Thursday’s fishing adventure was the polar opposite of Tuesday on the Colorado River. The results were also on the opposite end of the spectrum, but the one consistency was the continuing heat wave in Colorado. July and September are generally my most productive fly fishing months. so I felt a strong impulse to utilize the summer prime time to rack up fly fishing hours. As is my practice, I evaluated all the Front Range streams, but some of my favorites continue to crash through their drainages at very high rates. The two exceptions to this condition were the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek and the Cache la Poudre River. I decided to sample the closer North Fork of St. Vrain Creek on Thursday, and planned a longer trip to the Cache la Poudre River in the canyon west of Fort Collins on Friday.

My last trip to the St. Vrain took place on 06/24/2020 with Dan, and it was essentially a bust from a fishing perspective, so I was a bit apprehensive about another visit. The water gauge below the dam registered 68 CFS, and that elevated my optimism, although the flows dropped from 90 CFS to 68 CFS twenty-four hours earlier. I generally try to avoid fishing within the first couple days after significant flow changes, but a downturn is usually less disruptive than a large increase. I rolled the dice and made the one hour and fifteen minute drive to the Button Rock Preserve northwest of Lyons, CO.

Such Unique Flowers

As I mentioned at the outset of this piece, the heat wave that settled over Colorado continued on Thursday, and the warm temperatures prompted me to undertake my first wet wading effort of the year. It proved to be a solid decision, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cold flows, while the air temperature soared to the upper eighties. Unfortunately trout did not appear to adapt as readily to the high temperatures. I fished from 11:00AM until 2:00PM and landed five small trout including three browns, one rainbow, and one cutbow. The creek was clear and cold, and the flows were very conducive to successful fly fishing. Insect activity was largely absent, and this might explain the lack of action. After lunch I noticed a couple pale morning duns and a single yellow sally, but that was the extent of my observed food sources.

Slick on the Right Looks Promising

I broke for lunch at 11:45 and landed four of the five fish in the first forty-five minutes. This is an indicator of how slow my early afternoon was, when the temperature climbed into the eighties. I began my day with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph; and the salvation produced three of the morning catches. The other trout gobbled the hares ear. After lunch a lengthy period with no action transpired in spite of some very attractive structure, I began to cycle through a variety of flies. I swapped the salvation for a beadhead emerald caddis pupa, and then I exchanged the hares ear for an iron sally. These flies were totally ignored, however, a couple looks and refusals to the fat Albert caused me to reconsider my approach. If the fish were looking toward the surface, perhaps a single or double dry approach would release the lock on the fish counter? I experimented with a size 14 gray stimulator, size 14 yellow stimulator, a size 14 deer hair yellow sally, a size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and a size 16 light gray comparadun. The stimulators and gray deer hair caddis spurred refusals, but none of the imitations yielded a trout to my net.

A Little Jewel

In a last ditch effort to dupe the St. Vrain trout with dry flies I tied a peacock hippie stomper to my line, and then copying from my Tuesday guide on the Colorado, I trailed a gray caddis eight inches behind the stomper. Both the hippie stomper and caddis attracted refusals, but the persnickety trout were apparently looking for something else. I finally abandoned the dry fly approach and returned to dry/dropper with a size 12 prince nymph and size 16 fusion nymph trailing the hippie stomper. At the lip of a long deep run a cutbow snatched the fusion nymph, as I began to lift it to complete another cast.

Area to the Right Beckons

After releasing the cutbow I continued fishing for another fifteen minutes, but at 2PM the stream ahead look less appealing, and I decided that the slow catch rate and diminutive fish did not justify additional time on the St. Vrain. I hooked my fly to the bottom guide and hiked back to the car. Thursday was a rough day on the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek. It was the second unproductive visit in a row, and I blame the heat and the lack of insect availability. The recent change in flows may have also played into the situation, with the stream residents requiring more time to adjust.

Five trout in three hours of fishing is not a ridiculously poor showing, but the size was very disappointing. The largest fish was perhaps nine inches, and most were in the six to seven inch range. The ice cold creek kept me very comfortable, and that was probably the highlight of the day. I will seek other options, before I make a return visit to Button Rock Preserve.

Fish Landed: 5