Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Downstream from first bridge after Noel’s Draw and back up to bend
Fish Landed: 17
After another April cold snap and snowstorm I was anxious to get out on Colorado streams. I checked both flows and weather before settling on the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes. The DWR web site indicated flows of 40 cfs, but because this area is higher in elevation than the Arkansas and South Platte drainages, I was concerned about how cold it would be. The high in Denver was forecast to be low 60’s so that translated to low 50’s near Estes Park. I decided to give it a shot, but planned to depart at around 9:30PM and expected to be on the water by 11AM. This allowed time for air temperatures to rise to reasonable levels.
This plan worked pretty well and it was 49 degrees when I arrived at the first bridge downstream from Noel’s Draw and quickly prepared to fish. I wore my Under Armour long sleeve shirt along with my fishing shirt, fleece, and raincoat as a wind breaker and I was comfortable for most of the time I fished. I elected to test my Orvis four weight rod for the first time in 2013 since the Big Thompson is a smaller stream and the flows were relatively low. I decided to walk downstream across the bridge and then another 100 yards or so beyond a small bend in the river to a point where the bank was lower and the water spread out a bit. My choice for the initial stretch of fishing was a Chernobyl ant and a salvation nymph and this performed rather well as I landed five trout before I broke for lunch at 12:30PM. The first three fish of the day, two browns and one rainbow, were some of the largest I would land, so that was an auspicious start. I also noticed several splashy refusals presumably to the Chernobyl ant.
When I reached a cement structure that funneled runoff from the road to the river, I climbed up the rocky bank and broke for lunch. As usual I munched my lunch along the river even though the air temperature was probably in the low 50’s. I mysteriously broke off the salvation nymph right before lunch so I replaced it with a beadhead hares ear nymph after lunch, and this yielded three small fish, two from a deep hole slightly upstream from the cement culvert where I ended my morning fishing session.
When I waded above the bridge I noticed several active fish below the surface as they darted from side to side to intercept some form of drifting food. Unfortunately they were not interested in my Chernobyl ant or beadhead hares ear nymph, so I swapped the BHHE for a salvation nymph and then added a RS2 as a third fly and second dropper. I managed to prick one fish most likely on the tiny RS2, and then I observed a few fish actually break the surface as they sipped a tiny morsel from the film. It didn’t take long before I noticed some small BWO’s drifting slowly up from the surface of the stream, so I removed the three fly combo and replaced them with a single CDC BWO. It didn’t take very long before I landed a deeply colored rainbow on the tiny olive imitation.
Between 2 and 3PM I enjoyed some great suface action and landed six rainbows on the CDC BWO as well as experiencing several momentary hookups. Toward the end of this period before I moved upstream I hooked and landed a nice rainbow that was feeding in some relatively shallow smooth water 25 feet across from me. As I played this fish I noticed at least fifteen other fish scatter due to the splashing and commotion created by my hooked fish. I was amazed at the number of fish that were dispersed across this area just upstream of the bridge.
After the fish scatter event I decided to move on and skipped the faster water between the Santa Fe and the next bend in the river. I cut down to the river where there is a tiny island and just above the island there is a nice deep run with some small pools on either side. Here I spotted two fish rising on the right side and I began making some long casts and checking them high to create some slack upon landing. It took awhile, and I experienced a momentary hook up with the larger of the two fish, but eventually I duped the smaller rainbow into sipping my fly and landed it. Next I moved to the left side of the deep run and shot a cast to the top of the smooth area along the current seam. I didn’t see any rises or spot any fish, but as the fly drifted four feet, a silvery dart emerged from the bottom and shot a foot to the right and inhaled my imitation. This was the most exciting take of the afternoon, and I landed a fine Big Thompson rainbow.
The stretch of water above the pool was not as conducive to prospecting with the tiny CDC BWO and the hatch had pretty much subsided, so I decided to switch to an olive brown size 14 deer hair caddis. I’d spotted a few caddis flitting about so felt this might attract a few aggressive fish still looking toward the surface for a meal. This move proved to be reasonably correct and I landed three more smaller fish, one rainbow and two browns, on the caddis before quitting at 4PM.
All in all it was an enjoyable day particularly the BWO surface action between 2 and 3PM. I’d fished the area above the bridge many times before but never experienced much success, but the emergence of the tiny mayflies apparently made these fish more susceptible to my offerings.