Big Thompson River – 05/12/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM

Location: Upper Canyon below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 05/12/2017 Photo Album

History taught me that the best way to beat a cold is to rest, and that is what I did from Saturday May 6 through Thursday May 11. I discontinued my running and exerciese activities and slept a lot. By Friday May 12, however, the worst was behind me, and I was anxious to resume my fly fishing adventures in 2017.

I surveyed the Department of Water Resources web site and reviewed several fly shop fishing reports, and I concluded that my best option was the Big Thompson River below Estes Park. Flows were increased to the 100 cfs range five days prior, and I knew from experience that the river is reasonably manageable up to 150 cfs. The other two options I considered were Boulder Creek and the North Fork of the St. Vrain. Boulder Creek recently dropped from a spike of 120 cfs to 70, so I was leery of an unsettled situation. The North Fork of the St. Vrain remained at a nice steady 52 cfs, but I prefer to hike a decent distance from the parking lot, and I needed to return home for a conference call by 4PM.

I chose the Big Thompson, and I managed to pull together all the fly fishing necessities by 8AM, and I arrived at a pull out in the upper canyon below Estes Lake by 9:30. Since I enjoyed my throwback day on Boulder Creek on May 4, I assembled my Fenwick two piece five weight fiberglass, and I ambled along the shoulder of the road for .3 mile until I encountered a no trespassing sign. My Instagram friend Trevor was singing the praises of glass, so I decided to pull it out of mothballs, and I enjoyed the short flexible rod for casting large dry/dropper rigs and playing small fish. I did not plan to stray far from the car, so I knew that I could return and switch to one of my graphite models, if I grew dissatisfied with the old cheap glass rod.

When I reached the boundary of the private water, I veered down a rocky embankment, and I configured my line with a size 8 Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and beadhead salvation nymph. I crossed the river at the tail of some wide shallow riffles and began my venture by working up along the bank away from the highway. I was surprised as I waded through some extremely shallow uninteresting water, when a pod of five or six fish scattered in front of me. I made a mental note to prospect shallow riffles, and this paid dividends later in my outing.

Within the first fifteen minutes I experienced several refusals to the large foam terrestrial. I was pleased to attract the attention of fish, but I recognized that I would probably need to downsize the Chernobyl in the not too distant future. Just below a single lane private driveway bridge I allowed my flies to swing and dangle, as I prepared to wade underneath the bridge, and I was shocked to feel the pulse of an active fish on the end of my line. I swept the rod sideways and behind me and found myself attached to a ten inch rainbow trout. I counted the windfall, but I always feel somewhat guilty, when I catch a fish in such a fortuitous manner.

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-1OjUmZVy50Y/WRdPLzgtwUI/AAAAAAABJZ8/TIQfHHpQj9QukvnORDifNLSBzb3p_Fd1QCCo/s144-o/P5120001.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6419686852641659633#6419686858064511298″ caption=”Above the Bridge” type=”image” alt=”P5120001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Above the bridge I created a vexing tangle when my line wrapped around a stick that was hidden in front of an exposed boulder. It took me quite a while to unravel the birds’ nest, and I resorted to clipping off all three flies. Since I considered testing a smaller terrestrial as an adjustment to the refusals, I used the unexpected undoing of my dry/dropper as the trigger to move to a Jake’s gulp beetle. It was a logical choice, but the fish were not impressed, so after a brief trial, I reverted to a dry/dropper.

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-RBLX-K2EIO8/WRdPMsFA2yI/AAAAAAABJZ8/k7YYEvuXIrcEysDH4NXcBRORSbgI6XmmgCCo/s144-o/P5120002.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6419686852641659633#6419686873249143586″ caption=”Action Begins” type=”image” alt=”P5120002.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

This time, however, I opted for a size 10 Chernboyl, a beadhead hares ear, and a small RS2. This lineup would remain on my line for the next 2.5 hours. I recalled the early incident, where I spooked a pod of fish from the shallows, so I tossed some casts to a similar area above the bridge. Voila! Small brown and rainbow trout attacked the nymphs on nearly every drift. I was shocked by this shift in fortunes simply due to some astute observation at the start of my day. At the same time I began to observe some small size twenty blue winged olives, as they hovered above the surface of the water. The hatch remained sparse under the mostly clear bright sky, but the baetis nymphs apparently caught the attention of the fish.

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-mkMPHwAzPMc/WRdPNk2nvNI/AAAAAAABJZ8/ByojCbSVyPE6BGew76M6Z_S5IjrW8N9BgCCo/s144-o/P5120004.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6419686852641659633#6419686888489598162″ caption=”Gorgeous Colors” type=”image” alt=”P5120004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

From 10:30 until 12:30 I incremented the fish count from one to twelve, and I noticed nearly as many momentary hook ups as fish landed. Initially I instigated hits when I raised the rod tip to recast, but as the emergence continued, I also hooked fish with upstream casts, when the Chernobyl stopped dead in its tracks. I continued to be amazed by this level of aggressiveness when the nymphs are active during an emergence. Surprisingly the deep pools and pockets were a waste of time, and I focused my efforts on shallow and moderate riffles. Apparently the fish of the Big Thompson spread out in marginal lies in order to gorge on the blue winged olive nymphs.

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-DPYig5vcUic/WRdQSU4IpZI/AAAAAAABJbs/7uQjnfGjDF4Y1ZYz7MQ9et12nx8bWkZiACCo/s144-o/P5120009.MOV” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6419686852641659633#6419688069611955602″ caption=”” type=”video” alt=”P5120009.MOV” image_size=”1920×1080″ ]

By 12:30 the sparse hatch dwindled to a nonevent, but I continued my progression upstream with the dry/dropper approach, and I managed to fill my net with a couple additional brown trout. I moved faster and covered quite a bit of the stream, and by 1PM I experienced an extended lull. Since the air temperature warmed, I speculated that perhaps the fish might react to a caddis dry fly, so I tied a gray body deer hair caddis to my line and prospected along the bank away from the road. The fly was very difficult to follow, and sensing that the trout were not interested, I converted to a size 14 gray stimulator. This fly was a pleasure to follow, but it also was not on the Big Thompson trout menu.

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-9iOADFIuraw/WRdPQxp-J-I/AAAAAAABJZ8/2rlPJHdipyU7fGz64URHMuWAdYorOayagCCo/s144-o/P5120011.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6419686852641659633#6419686943465809890″ caption=”A Bit More Size” type=”image” alt=”P5120011.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

At 1:30 I reminded myself of my 4PM commitment, so I crossed the river and returned to the Santa Fe for the return drive. Friday was an enjoyable return to the streams of Colorado, and the hot hatch period between 10:30 and 12:30 was a welcome event. I was quite pleased that my early observations guided me to fish areas that I would normally skip over, and this decision in turn rewarded me.

Fish Landed: 14

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