Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Approximately four miles below the dam.
Fish Landed: 19
I suppose it is not rational to compete against a river, but that is the situation I found myself in on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. I visited the Big Thompson River the previous Thursday, April 7, and I felt like the river defeated me. I landed five trout in four hours of fishing, and I view that as a sub-par outing. In addition I made strategic errors, and I pledged to make adjustments and not repeat them. The low clear flows of the river got the best of me. My first shortcoming was my tendency to dwell in large pools where I could sight multiple fish. It never seems to work unless the fish are rising, and it did not prove to be successful last Thursday. Perhaps the greater flaw to my fishing style was my disregard for caution when approaching the stream. Darting fleeing fish were observed on numerous occasions, and this indicated my carelessness in wading and a failure to maintain a safe distance from likely fish holding locations. In reality the river did not conquer me, I defeated myself.
Wednesday was a perfect day for fishing. The high temperature reached 59 degrees and the wind was moderate. When I arrived at a pullout four miles below Lake Estes, I assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod and pulled on a fleece layer as the temperature was 51 degrees. I hiked downstream along the shoulder of the road and passed a private cabin on a bend, and when I reached the next seasonal residence, I cut down to the stream. Flows increased from 30 cfs to 40 since my last visit nearly a week ago.
During my previous visit I fished nearly the entire time with a Fat Albert and trailing nymphs, and I questioned whether an attractor dry fly might have worked. I decided to test this theory, and I knotted a gray size 14 stimulator to my line. Since the small stimulator is not as buoyant as a foam attractor, I opted to tie a size 20 salad spinner to a three foot dropper. The salad spinner is a black midge larva/pupa imitation, and the reports I read indicated that midges are prevalent in the morning. These two flies proved to be a fortuitous choice, as almost immediately I began landing fish. The Big Thompson rainbows and browns jumped all over the salad spinner, and I landed seven fish in the first hour. I was amazed at the reversal of fortunes. Unlike the previous week I moved at a brisk pace and sprayed three to five casts in the likely spots before moving on. One of the seven fish landed during the late morning pounced on the stimulator, but all the others snatched the small midge larva from the drift. I continue to be amazed at the effectiveness of minuscule midges, and the ability of trout to see these tiny morsels in the rushing flows of a cold mountain stream.
I was feeling rather euphoric after an hour of fast paced action, and some dark clouds rolled overhead from the southwest. I was actually concerned that I neglected to pack my raincoat, but the cloud never yielded more than a few inconsequential drops. The heavy cloud cover provoked some baetis emergence, and this event coincided with my approach to a long smooth pool just downstream from where the car was parked. I waded to the bottom left corner of the pool away from the road, and I paused to observe. Sure enough I spotted several extremely subtle rises in the light riffle. I responded by tossing some half-hearted casts to the tail of the pool, but as I suspected, this action did not elicit a response. I swapped the salad spinner for a RS2, as I hoped the trout would chase the small nymph form of the baetis, but they were also having none of it.
By process of elimination I concluded that the fish were feeding on or near the surface. Once again I reacted, and this time of removed both nymphs and tied on a CDC olive behind the stimulator. I do not often use a double dry set up, but the CDC olive was going to be difficult to follow in the dim light, and I liked the idea of having a large leading dry fly to gauge the drift of the olive. The twin dry fly configuration proved to be a stroke of genius, as I moved my fish tally from seven to fourteen by 12:30 when I broke for lunch. I was not instigating a take on every cast, but it obviously worked often enough to gain my confidence. The game became one of spotting a rise and timing my cast to the cadence of the fish, although I picked up a few by simply blind casting to likely holding locations.
Needless to say I was quite elated with my success when I climbed the bank and returned to the car to grab my lunch and water. My day was a success regardless of what transpired in the early afternoon. I ate my lunch on some rocks above a large deep pool directly across from the car, and I noticed two rises during my twenty minute break. I filed this information in my memory and then walked back along the shoulder to my exit point. I resumed my position along the left bank just below a long downed tree branch, and I quickly landed another brown trout on the CDC olive. Unfortunately when I cast to the juicy riffles at the head of the long pool, I experienced two momentary hook ups, but this was a small setback after the hot streak of the morning.
Next I waded upstream to the large deep pool that I monitored while eating my lunch. Just as I expected, I landed a small brown from the center area where I noticed one of the rises. After releasing this fish I paused to scan for additional rises, but none materialized, so I made some prospecting casts to no avail. The blue winged olive hatch seemed to end temporarily, and the double dries ceased to draw interest, so I returned to the Fat Albert and nymphs system that yielded limited success the previous week. I chose a bright green caddis pupa as the top fly and a RS2 as the fly on the tip. I encountered a section of pocket water, and the change gave me hope when a brown trout snatched the caddis as it drifted tight to the roadside bank. This was a decent fish, but it escaped my grasp before I could snap a photo.
I moved again, and I quickly encountered a deep pocket. Here I tested my jigging and lifting technique that served me well on the Arkansas, and when I lifted the flies at the end of the deep slot, I felt a tug and landed a twelve inch rainbow. This fish sported spectacular color with many vivid black spots and a brilliant crimson stripe along its sides. Again the rainbow escaped my grip before I could snap a photo.
I wish I could report that the remainder of the afternoon yielded additional steady action, but that was not the case. I reached another long pool and once again I noticed a few sporadic rises. I cut off all my flies and tied on a single CDC olive, but I could not fool these fish into eating my fraud. I was guilty of dwelling in this pool far too long, but then I recognized the error of my ways and moved along as the stream curved away from the road. I reverted to the dry/dropper system, and finally in the last hour I landed number nineteen. It was a hungry rainbow that hammered the Fat Albert.
It was a fun day on the Big Thompson River in early April. My adjustments paid dividends, and I landed seven fish on a dry fly. The weather was cloudy, and this provoked a hatch, but it was not cold or wet enough to make life uncomfortable. Fly fishing in 2016 in Colorado is heating up, and this fly fishing blogger cannot wait to visit another stream in the near future..