Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Clear Water

With yet another day of exploration and yes, maybe even some fishing, I planned to explore a new area, stop by an outdoor store I wanted to check out, and drive up a canyon looking for trout.  There are numerous fishing opportunities along the front range here in Colorado that also happen to be a reasonable distance away for me.  Boulder and South Boulder Creeks, the various forks of the St. Vrain, the Big Thompson, the Cache la Poudre, and Clear Creek.  Now, with a name like "Clear Creek," you would assume that the water would be,well, clear.  Since my destination was indeed Clear Creek above Golden, I was able to do a first-hand investigation into Clear Creek and what I found was  intriguing on many levels.

The day started with a leisurely breakfast of biscuits and gravy and scrambled eggs.  Fresh raspberries and strawberries added color and flavor not to mention the feeling that I was at least somewhat healthy. After eating as well as much debate, we headed west to catch high 93 south to Golden.  I wanted to visit a cool outdoor store, called the Bent Gate, owned by a new friend out here in Colorado.  They carry a nice selection of outdoor gear including climbing, backpacking, skiing and snowboarding equipment and all in a store with a great personality.  I'll definitely be back when I need new gear!

Leaving Bent Gate, we headed up Clear Creek Canyon.  The majority of the river is public land which is great as a fisherman since I could fish just about anywhere on the river.  Not too far into the canyon, I noticed a deep run cutting up against a rock face.  Visions of big trout brought the car to a quick stop and soon I was tossing a #10 Crawbugger with a #14 Mustard John trailer.  Noticing a nice fish rising in the shade of the far bank, I tossed the rig over that way.  Carefully working the water brought no sign of the trout, convincing me that my first instinct of tying on a BWO was probably the correct one.

By this time, I was noticing fairly good numbers of BWOs both sailing downstream and flying around as well.  The rising trout were remarkably absent however.  Deciding that perhaps a BWO nymph would produce better, I switched my rig around with a hot wire caddis pupa soft hackle I tie with a little dark #18 BWO nymph dropped behind that is a cross between the RS2 and a Barr Emerger.

Working upstream, I soon found a deep pocket that just looked fishy.  On the second drift, my line stopped and I set the hook into a leaping trout.  It turned out to be a beautiful little rainbow that was nice to catch since my research indicated that rainbows were not very common through this stretch of river.

Deciding to explore some more, I guided the car on up the canyon.  There were large numbers of people out enjoying the day.  Some were fishing, but many were picnicking, climbing, and even panning or sluicing for gold!  That's right, apparently Clear Creek is open to prospecting for the most part and many people were out enjoying the day while looking for gold.  This explained the slightly cloudy water I encountered at my first stop downstream because the water higher in the creek was truly clear as is fitting.

Reaching the upstream limit of my exploration goal, I turned around and began to drive slowly back down the river while carefully examining the water for that one spot that I hoped would produce a memorable fishing experience.  Finally, I noticed two large pools in a steep section with difficult access.  Immediately downstream, a nice pullout offered stream access.  I just needed to rock hop a hundred yards upstream to be on some prime water.

I warmed up right by the car and finally added a little brown on the caddis pattern.  It was tucked up under a rock and came out to hammer the fly.

Pictures of the fish led to pictures of the stream.  The water almost had an aqua tint although that may have been my imagination.  Probing a deep plunge pool resulted in two missed strikes and a spooked 6 inch brown.  Looking upstream, I realized that if I was going to fish the water I wanted to, I had best make my way to the pool.

Approaching the pool while hitting only the prime pockets on the way up, I remembered something important.  Back in Tennessee, nice fish are often in the first riffle or run immediately below and above the prime hole as those places are prime feeding zones for fish that normally reside in the safety of the deeper water nearby.  I carefully approached a small non-descript run that had one dark hole near the back with large rocks around it.  Perfect ambush spot for a brown.  

Tossing the two fly rig just above a small brown came out of the very back of the run to take the caddis pattern.  A holding lie that good must have a better fish.  Tossing my flies back in to the very top of the riffle so they could drift through the deep slot, I felt a satisfying jolt.  Attached to the best fish of the afternoon, I carefully guided it into the shallows where I could corral it for a quick picture.

After watching the fish disappear, I glanced upstream.  A rise.  Then I saw another and another.  This pool was shaded by the high canyon walls and BWOs were hatching surprisingly well for this early in the fall, but it is fall now.  Lengthening my leader to end in 6x tippet, I found a sparsely tied #18 BWO Sparkle dun, left over from a trip long ago.  You know what I'm talking about; one of those flies you really don't remember when it was placed in your fly box but you do know it will catch fish.

Soon I was casting to rising brown trout.  In the shadow of that canyon, along a busy highway, I found fly fishing paradise if only for 30 minutes.  Trout would willing rise, just as long as the fly did not drag, and there were enough tricky micro currents to keep things interesting.  Some fish would rise soooo slowly only to refuse at the last second.  Others would appear out of nowhere to smash the fly before something larger got to it.

Finally the bite seemed to be winding down.  I had either stung, landed, or spooked somewhere north of 15 trout.  Not bad for a little local river.  Heading back down the canyon, I was tempted to explore further, but after fishing to rising trout in my own pool, I figured it might be a little greedy to push my luck any further.  Satisfied with a great afternoon, I headed home to find something for supper.


  1. Nice little exploring and fly fishing trip it seems. It's often those things that leaves an impression that stays in your memory. Lovely fish in beautiful surroundings.
    My Best,

  2. M.O.

    Despite the long days dedicated to fly fishing over the last several years, its the shorter days that usually have something memorable for me. Thanks for reading!

    David Knapp

  3. You seem settled in Colorado now. I'll just hang in and wait for your next adventure. This was a good one.

    1. Mark, I'm hoping to have more adventures over the next week or two so hopefully you won't have to wait to long! I know I don't want to wait, but somehow work tends to get in the way...

  4. Thanks David for a fine report and photos. I'm in love with Clear Creek...although sometimes I don't know why.

    1. Howard, I can see why that would be. It is the type of stream that appeals immediately, and it has some pools that just scream "Big Fish" at me. I know I'll be back for sure...

  5. Anonymous10:43 PM

    David, enjoyed reading of your adventure up Clear Creek. Never fished therre, before after reading this and seeing your pictures may have to give it a go one of these days. Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Mel, I only have a couple of hours of experience on Clear Creek, but would definitely recommend it as being worth your time based off of that. Thanks for reading!

  6. Anonymous1:45 PM

    Wow, what a beautiful place!
    James Marsh linked me to your site- and this is just beautiful. I'd say your form of sluicing (fly fishing) struck gold in beautiful numbers with those trout.

  7. Laura, it was definitely an amazing place! I might have to take a gold pan next time but those golden colored browns are a lot easier to find, and I'm thinking they may be more fun as well. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Anonymous9:34 AM

      Haha, sounds like a plan! Yeah I enjoy your site! The photos are amazing!! Also, thank you for the mention on your site!

  8. DarrellKuni6:12 PM

    D, beaut of a post, beaut of an outing.