Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM
Location: Waltonia Bridge and upstream
How universal is the appeal of Jake’s gulp beetle? I was very curious to determine if it was effective only on Clear Creek, or did the beetle’s popularity extend to other Front Range streams? On Sunday and Monday I landed 33 trout, and all were attributable to the workhorse beetle. In an effort to discover the answer to this question I planned yet another fishing trip, and this time I chose the Big Thompson River. Adequate stream flows of 49 cfs and solid fishing reports from the various fly shop web sites made this a logical choice. The weather in Estes Park, however, was a bit of a wild card, as morning rain was in the picture, and a 20% chance of showers in the afternoon loomed as a possibility. My new weather checking regimen includes wind velocity, and double digit miles per hour appeared on the Weather Underground chart. I decided to give it a try, since it represented a relatively close one and a half hour drive, and I was uncertain when my next opportunity to fish would arrive.
I drove downstream from Olympus Dam to Waltonia Bridge, which represents the end of the catch and release water when traveling east. I continue to be cognizant of the impact of the 2013 flooding, and the damage is greater as one moves away from Estes Lake. Clearly the section of river I chose to fish incorporated the risk of reduced fish population due to the flood. As I prepared my Loomis five weight, the sky was bright blue with occasional high white clouds. The pavement was wet from the recent rain, but it seemed apparent that I would enjoy dry conditions for several hours. The wind on the other hand was a concern, as the trees and bushes bent and shimmered in their effort to resist the stiff breeze flowing down the canyon.
I walked down the road and around the bend, until I was twenty yards above the Waltonia Bridge, and at this point I carefully scrambled down some large boulders to the edge of the stream. The experiment was about to begin. I knotted a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle to my line and began to plop it into the best trout holding habitat. Within the first half hour I witnessed four refusals to the beetle. Obviously the large foam terrestrial imitation was attracting attention, but the fish were deterred at the last minute. I concluded Big Thompson trout did not respond to Jake’s gulp beetle in the same way as Clear Creek trout. For the first time in three days of fishing I was faced with making a decision about what fly to use.
I elected to switch to a size 10 Chernboyl ant, and to hedge my choice I added a beadhead hares ear on a 2.5 foot dropper. The move allowed me to get on the scoreboard, when I landed a small rainbow trout, but the two flies were attracting less attention than the beetle. Perhaps the fish were hugging bottom in the cold morning water temperatures, and my flies were not getting deep enough? I added another dropper in the form of a salvation nymph, and this fly delivered a second small rainbow. Clearly the day was not evolving in the manner that I envisioned. Adding to my frustration with the slow fishing was the relentless wind that continued to gust down the canyon. It was impossible to deliver the flies accurately and with the soft presentation that I normally strive for.
At 12:15 I was stuck on two small trout, so I took a break and ate my lunch on a large flat rock next to the small river. I pondered my morning, and I concluded that the fish clearly looked toward the surface and largely ignored my subsurface offerings. I tried three large buoyant terrestrials, and they created some inspections, but none resulted in hookups. The three top flies were the Jake’s gulp beetle, the Chernobyl ant, and a hopper Juan. I decided that I would try a non-foam dry fly, and after lunch I inspected my MFC fly box and plucked a size 14 stimulator with a light orange-tan body.
My analysis proved to be correct, and between 12:30 and 1:30 I moved the fish count from two to nine. The wind played havoc with the light stimulator, and difficult lighting made it a challenge to follow at times, but if I could place my cast in the right kind of water, the fish responded. The right kind of water possessed depth and ran next to cover or along a current seam. At 1:30 I set the hook on a slurp at the tail of a pocket, and I was surprised to learn that the fish was gone as well as my fly. All the fish that I landed on Tuesday were in the six to nine inch range, so I concluded that I once again had an abrasion on my knot. The productive fly was a purchased fly, and it was the only one in my fly box, so I shifted to a size 12 gray stimulator.
At this same point in time some dark clouds rolled in from the west, and the wind kicked up even more than what I battled previously. I paused on the bank and pulled on my raincoat, and this proved to be a prescient move, as a ten minute period of steadily blowing rain arrived. Once the wind and rain subsided I continued my progress upstream with the gray stimulator, and I incremented the fish counter from nine to fourteen. During my last hour of fishing I was much more selective about my targeted casting areas. I skipped large deep pools as well as small marginal pockets, and I searched for nice pockets and shelf pools that displayed three to four feet of depth. Similar to Monday on Clear Creek I coaxed a couple browns to smack the stimulator by using downstream drifts. This approach took advantage of a tailing wind, and the lighting was much more favorable for following my fly.
After the rain ended, the sky partially cleared for twenty minutes, but then a fresh set of dark clouds invaded from the west. This generated a new wave of cold wind, and I decided that I did not wish to ride out another storm. I reeled up my fly and returned to the car and called it a day.
Tuesday was a decent day given the adversity of wind, clouds and rain. I hoped that the cloud cover would initiate a blue winged olive hatch, but I never observed a single baetis mayfly. Perhaps I departed too early. I managed to land fourteen trout in four hours of fishing, but the size was somewhat disappointing. The largest fish to find my net was probably a ten inch brown trout. Once again fighting the wind was frustrating, but at least I was able to cling to a single dry fly approach. This avoided the inevitable tangles that wind and a three fly dry/dropper configuration creates. I am already looking ahead to the weather next week, when I return from a trip to Pennsylvania. 2016 may yield a few more fish before I turn my attention to the vise.
Fish Landed: 14