Big Thompson River – 10/03/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Special regulation water below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 10/03/2019 Photo Album

I planned another trip to Eleven Mile Canyon on Friday, so I sought a nearby destination for my fishing venture on Thursday, October 3, 2019. The flows on the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes were in the 45 – 50 CFS range, and I knew from past experience, that this level was nearly ideal. The fly shop reports were encouraging, so I reviewed all my posts on trips to the Big Thompson in late September and early October since 2010. The blog descriptions reminded me of some stellar days, so I decided to make the drive. I noted that deer hair caddis, stimulators, Jake’s gulp beetles, blue winged olives, and salvation nymphs produced decent results on previous trips.

I arrived at a pullout along the upper river several miles below the dam by 10:30AM, and I was perched on a rock with my Orvis Access four weight ready to cast by 11AM. The temperature was a chilly 48 degrees, so I snuggled in my Northface light down coat for the morning session.

Shadows Over My Morning Starting Point

My quest for Big Thompson trout commenced with a tan pool toy hopper, salvation nymph and soft hackle emerger; and I netted three trout in the first hour, before I paused for lunch a bit after noon. Two of the early catches were brown trout, and one was an eleven-inch rainbow. Each of my flies attracted a fish in the early going.


Number Three

After lunch I continued through a very attractive section that featured deep runs and pools, and I concluded that my flies were not drifting deep enough for the trout, that were likely hugging bottom, until the sun warmed the water column. I lengthened the tippet section that connected the hopper to the salvation, and I replaced the non-beaded soft hackle emerger with a beadhead hares ear. These two changes extended the length and added weight with the hope of generating deeper drifts.

Another Fine Rainbow

The move paid dividends, and the fish count rose steadily from three to eight. Most of the early afternoon landed fish were rainbows, and several chunky thirteen inchers surprised me. The ‘bows grabbed the hares ear in narrow, deep slots; and I congratulated myself for the modifications that produced deeper drifts.

Love the Speckles

By 1:30PM I reached a long slow-moving pool, and earlier I witnessed two anglers, as they prospected the smooth water. Rather than fish the water that experienced recent thrashing, I climbed the bank and returned to my car. I performed a U-turn and drove downstream for another mile and then parked in a pullout just before the first bridge-crossing after Noel’s Draw. I used this as an opportunity to shed the light down layer, and I replaced it with a fleece hoodie.

I geared up once again and hiked down the highway, until I was .2 mile below the bridge, and at this point I encountered another angler, who was striding up the shoulder of US 34 toward the section, that I targeted. When I remained thirty yards above him, I decided to descend down a steep bank covered with large boulders. This proved to be a flawed strategy. I was one-third of the way down, when I stepped on the top of a rock and placed all my weight on it. As I prepared to make another step, the rock shifted, and I lost my balance and fell forward. In a split-second reaction, I dropped my rod and reached my two hands forward and broke my fall on a large flat rock below the unstable rock that proved my undoing. Once I got over the shock of the mishap, I became aware of a burning sensation in both wrists and the palms of my hands, as they absorbed the brunt of my weight. Additionally, my right shin throbbed, and I concluded that I bruised it on the crest of the rock responsible for my plunge.

I decided to sit down to rest, regain my composure, and assess the extent of my injuries. I checked my rod, and it survived the accident in one piece, and I was pleased with that outcome. My throbbing leg was inside my waders, so I was not in a position to examine the damage, but I was fairly certain that it was a deep contusion. The burning nerve sensation in my wrists and palms gradually subsided, and I decided to resume fishing. I prospected the dry/dropper through three or four nice plunge pools with no success, but my mind remained more concerned with the aftermath of my dangerous fall.

At this point I reached a whitewater chute, so I carefully climbed the rocky bank on all fours and reversed my direction, until I was beyond the bridge and the Santa Fe. I cautiously maneuvered down a much shorter bank and resumed my upstream progression. By now all aches from my left hand disappeared, but my right hand sent out twinges of pain, when I bent my wrist backward beyond 45 degrees. I periodically tested my wrist by flexing my fingers and bending the wrist in various directions, and mobility remained, although the backward bend generated the most discomfort.

Lovely Spot

I covered the relatively straight trough between the bridge and a long smooth pool in the early afternoon with no landed fish, and I considered quitting, but the sight of the pool caused me to reconsider. I decided to change my approach and tied a size 16 gray deer hair caddis to my line, after I removed the three-fly set up.

The injured wrist continued to shoot spurts of pain up my arm, but I fired a series of long casts to the shallow and clear tail of the pool, and a few spooked fish darted downstream. After five minutes in the slow tailout I reached the midsection, where the main channel fanned out, and two nice deep shelf pools occupied the space between the center run and the banks. I paused to observe, and several random rises increased my interest level, and allowed me to temporarily forget my discomfort. The gray caddis was ignored, so I switched to a black parachute ant. I did not see blue winged olives, and the wind gusted periodically, so I concluded that the rises resulted from terrestrial windfalls.


The theory was sound, but the ant was treated with disdain. Again, I pondered my next move, and I spotted a pair of small mayflies fluttering erratically in the wind above the river. I knotted a CDC blue winged olive to my line and sprayed casts to the sites of recent rises, but my favorite BWO imitation was ignored. After twenty minutes of futility I swapped the CDC olive for a Klinkhammer BWO emerger, and although it required a bountiful amount of casting, I eventually duped two decent fish on the low floating emerger style dry fly.

The fish count was perched on ten, but I was challenged by a very respectable rainbow, that darted to the surface to suck down a tiny morsel on a fairly regular timetable. The fish was no more that five feet away and three feet beyond the center current seam. I decided to revert to a CDC olive, but this time I selected a size 24 with a very slender body and a tall CDC wing. The choice proved fortuitous, and in a short amount of time I pricked one fish and hooked and played another for a few seconds, before it escaped. While this action was transpiring, the dark rainbow continued to tease me with aggressive darting rises right under my nose.

Brilliant Colors

I sopped up the moisture with my shirt and dipped the CDC olive in my dry shake canister and fluffed the wing, until it stood erect with a narrow profile. I began to make short casts above the targeted rainbow, and I held my line off the water, so that only the fly and leader touched the surface. Finally, after at least ten drifts, the crimson form darted upward and sipped my fly! Since I was holding my rod high to keep the line off the water, I only needed to execute a quick lift, and I was attached to a writhing rainbow trout. After a few minutes I dipped my net beneath the thrashing beauty, and I celebrated my hard-earned success.

CDC BWO Finally Worked

The last hour of dry fly action enabled me to forget my fall and the periodic pain in my right wrist. I salvaged a double-digit day that included some very bright vividly colored rainbow trout. I canceled my plans for an Eleven Mile trip on Friday, but hopefully my wrist recovers enough to allow a day of fishing on Monday. Early October is way too early to end the 2019 fishing season.

Fish Landed: 11

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