By Randy Scholfield
Here on the Front Range, where plains meet mountains, winter weather is always unpredictable, a hit-and-run affair. We might get a foot of snow—and three days later, it’s 70 degrees and you get a hatch of Boulder dudes in shorts and flip-flops.
For the past week, we’ve been having one of those almost surreal winter respites. While it’s been lulling me into expectations of equatorial warmth in February, I know deep down that this is an illusion, a fleeting sideshow. And after weeks of indoor torpor and unhealthy levels of binge TV, I know I need sunshine and a quick fishing fix.
So, on short notice, I grab my rod and head out to seize the unseasonable afternoon.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to explore more of the miles of creek waters close to home. Boulder Creek, for one, is 15 minutes from my house, and I sometimes neglect it in the search for farther-flung adventures. Through downtown Boulder, the creek is a surprisingly reliable fishery throughout the year.
But my real interest this afternoon is in exploring new (for me) and less-pressured areas of Boulder Creek on the edge of town, where the creek meanders through open space and pastures, often hidden behind a suburban facade of office buildings and warehouse yards.
I park at a post office close to a major intersection, clogged with afternoon traffic, and follow a nearby footpath to the wooded creekline. I’ve heard that what this outlying area of Boulder Creek lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality—while it’s hit and miss, larger browns are sometimes pulled out of these unassuming waters.
Today, the creek through most of its length has a ditchy, diminished look—I’m looking for deeper, tanky holes where trout are likely stacked up against the lower flows. I walk along the creekbank toward the large bridge overpass, the steady hiss of commuter busyness and frantic schedules sounding louder.
Heading upstream into trees, I come up on a long deep holding run below a riffle. The water is a clear, greenish hue with cobbled depths, with several fishy tailouts below the riffles and meandering lines of foam near the far bank.
A few casts into the head of the riffles brings quick confirmation of what I suspect. Through the drift, I see white flashes in the depths as the fish turn in striking at the nymph rig. I quickly bring in a couple of small browns and have a few more strikes. They’re going for a small flashback prince.
Taking a break, I sit on the bank for a minute, where a stream of sunlight slants through the trees. The midday sun is piercingly warm on my neck and lulls me into a happy summerlike reverie. This is February? I should have brought a beer, I think. Hot and thirsty, I take some long swigs of water and drift away, watching the stream.
Then a man appears by my side, almost startling me. He is wearing glasses, a button-down work shirt and one of those government-issue looking name ID tags around his neck. He looks like a bureaucrat.
He introduces himself and says he fishes this stretch regularly on work breaks. Through the trees, I see the outlines of a large glassy building across the highway.
“I caught an 18-inch brown just past the bridge there,” he offers, nodding upstream. He caught it on a Tenkara rod, he says, and pantomimes the battle that ensued, trying to follow the fish up and down the stream with no extra line or drag help.
After a few minutes of angling chat, he wishes me luck and ambles upstream, stopping at different points to lean over and inspect the water.
He, too, is a fellow escapee, chasing this summer lark of an afternoon.
I walk upstream, fighting thick brush to get to glimpsed holes and runs, hoping to find the secret redoubt of one of those big brown outliers.
At one bend along a cutbank, I catch another small fry. And then a few casts later I break off my rig on a submerged inner tube—flotsam of lost summer fun. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve pushed the day and my luck far enough. The sun is fast sinking in the sky, as I clamber through the brush and make my way back to the creek trail and then the concrete footpath, bicyclists whizzing past.
Tired, I walk lazily back to the car, across a major intersection, feeling the eyes of the lined-up commuters in their machines, seeing the cold blue clouds gathering in the mountains and eclipsing the retreating sun.
The big brown never reveals himself. Not today. And winter will return with a vengeance soon enough.
But that’s OK. Driving home, I know this afternoon is a stolen gift. I’ll take it.
Randy Scholfield is the communications director for TU’s southwest region. He lives and works near Boulder, Colo.