Last summer, I finally had the opportunity to fish the North Fork of the St. Vrain River. This is the stream that, along with the South Fork and Middle Fork, forms the St. Vrain river made famous by John Gierach .A year earlier, while hiking to Ouzel falls on the trail paralleling the creek, I had my tenkara epiphany. The North Fork is exactly the type of steep-gradient freestone stream tenkara was “invented” for. This section of the North Fork is a liquid ribbon of boulders, cascades, and small pockets, anxious water and colliding currents, with a good population of eager brookies and, at higher elevations, native greenback cutthroat trout. I can’t imagine a better day trip than hiking the 2.7 miles from the Wild Basin trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park to Ouzel falls, fishing along the way, picknicking with the roar of the falls as a backdrop, then fishing and hiking back down. This is an easy-to- moderately difficult hike with about a 1,000 foot elevation gain. For a multiday trip, trekking the full 6.8 miles to Thunder Lake (the source of the North Fork) and camping on the lakeshore would be a great backcountry experience.
My wife and I, our children and granchildren, were spending a few days near Estes Park. Along with the hiking, sightseeing, horseback riding, swimming, etc., my son and I reserved the last day of the trip for a Rocky mountain tenkara outing, our first, in fact. Although an avid outdoorsman, my son had never fly fished.
Due to unforseen family issues, our fishing time was compressed into only about four hours. My son and I drove the couple-mile dirt road leading to the Wild Basin ranger station and parking lot, passing a bull moose along the way. The trail from the parking lot is very easy to follow and a popular day hike for visitors to the park. A typical late summer early afternoon in the Rockies, building, towering cumulus clouds promised a thunderstorm, the air a pleasant 75 degrees. With my 12′ Iwana stowed in the quiver my wife had crafted, the attached compartment containing a small flybox and tippet, we started up the trail. All of the water looked so appealing, so fishy, that it was hard to keep hiking. But I wanted to get a little farther up the trail, because I remembered a wooden footbridge that spanned the creek where I had observed some pretty nice-sized trout the year before.
Reaching Copeland falls, we could hike no farther without wetting a line. I extended the Iwana and attached the 4.5 level line, five feet of 5X tippet, and a black deer hair beetle, size 14. A few casts and I began getting those violent strikes that usually signal “brook trout.” After a few missed hookups due to the difficulty in seeing the beetle on the shadowed water, I switched to a #16 parachute Adams, having observed a sparse mayfly hatch. Almost immediatley I began to land some eager brookies in the six to nine inch range.
For the next 45 minutes, my son and I traded the rod and the camera. Although he is not a fly fisherman, my son was soon hooking trout also. Then, as expected, the sky darkened, and a summer thunderstorm erupted. When the rain became torrential and the lightning commenced, we sought shelter under the streamside pines. Unfortunately, after the storm passed and the sky faired again, it was time to hike back down to the car. All in all, a great, but too brief, trip. We had the good fortune, however, to watch the antics of a water ouzel and observe firsthand the regeneration of the forest from a large fire a quarter century ago.
We will be back for a more extended expedition, and I’ll still get to that bridge with the largish trout waiting underneath like the troll in the Billy Goats Gruff.