Boulder Creek provides fishing outlet just east of Boulder

Fish habitat along Boulder Creek includes the historical irrigation headgates that still deliver water to nearby hay fields and meadows. Gordy Reese of Boulder tries his luck in one of the deep holes upstream of a headgate.

Tom Leifer of Boulder works a long pool while wet-wading in Boulder Creek. Improved stream habitat and protective regulations have made the suburban creek a popular yet uncrowded fishery. Sunday, the stream was flowing at 75 cubic feet per second.

BOULDER — The invitation said we’d be fishing a small stream and included the addendum that a short fishing rod would be best.

A compact rod, 7 feet at most, comes in handy when dealing with streams an arm’s-width across, overhanging branches and bankside willows eager to snatch your fly, fish that are extremely shy and usually not very big, and dodging the occasional high-speed stroller careening down the walk-in path.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention we’re fishing Boulder Creek.

A three-day weekend on the Front Range was saved when a friend who has an admirably serious case of the fishing bug made a quick call and in less than 15 minutes had us on the water, surrounded by greenery and as isolated as if we were fishing the Flat Tops, if it were the Flat Tops with a Starbucks seven minutes away.

Admittedly, it’s not often a Western Sloper will drive three hours east to fish the suburbs of Boulder, but when business or family finds you on the Front Range, it’s nice to have options for your sanity.

And if you consider the antics of dodging bicyclists, high-speed strollers and bevies of runners as simply big-city versions of avoiding errant bailing machines and flocks of cattle and sheep, the angst is lessened tremendously.

The Boulder Creek tributaries include South Boulder Creek, which rises in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, gets bumped with Western Slope water coming through the Moffat Tunnel and flows through Eldorado Canyon before skirting the southeast edge of Boulder where it meets Boulder Creek.

North and Middle Boulder creeks come off the Continental Divide, join to form Boulder Creek above Boulder Canyon and flow through Boulder, picking up South Boulder Creek on the east edge of the city.

From there, Boulder Creek flows northeast to join the St. Vrain River just before that river flows into the South Platte River.

Once in the open east of Eldorado Canyon, the stream is classic small-water fishing and, thanks to the city of Boulder’s open-space program, offers miles of public access to what for years has been an angler-friendly stream.

“I started fishing this when I was 13, and back then there was a lot less public access,” recalled Boulder native Tom Leifer, who was raised on a horse farm just outside a then-much-smaller Boulder. “I’d ride my horse over here, park it up by the fence and fish my way all through here.”

In recent years the city and the Boulder Chapter of Trout Unlimited have partnered on some major stream rehabilitation work, including channel modifications, anti-erosion structures, plunge pools, deep holes and stream-bank restoration, that keeps the current moving in winter.

“Before all this stream work, you’d find maybe two or three holes deep enough to hold fish in the winter,” said Leifer, 53, wet-wading a stretch of Boulder Creek lined by willows and tall cottonwoods and oak trees. “You’d walk up to one of the holes in winter, and you’d see 100 or more fish crowding in the holes. It probably wasn’t very good for them.”

Now, with more winter habitat, pour-overs mixing oxygen to the water, and a healthy mix of aquatic insects, the fishing is good year-round and excellent during the dry-fly season.

Leifer said the fishing never was bad, thanks to the surprisingly light pressure this close-in creek receives.

“I don’t think there are more fish now, but I think they’re healthier and bigger than before,” said Leifer, who recently caught a 22-inch brown the same day another angler caught an 18-inch rainbow. “I know other anglers get here, but you rarely see them. And if you do see someone else, there is enough room for everyone.”

New Zealand mud snails were found in Boulder Creek in 2001, and to help slow the spread of the mud snails, two sections of the creek east of Valmont Road are closed to angling access.

Our trio of anglers spent more than two hours on the creek, hop-scotching upstream, catching fish and covering only a small portion of what’s available.

It wasn’t the Flat Tops, but the coffee was better.


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