Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM
Location: Just above the fenced off and heavily signed private section after the first bridge below Noel’s Draw.
Fish Landed: 10
I can feel the fishing season ebbing as the weather cools a bit, and along with the cooler temperatures, the availability of aquatic insects wanes. My thoughts increasingly turn to fly tying and building my inventory for the 2016 season. The weather forecast for the coming week projected rain and cool temperatures with highs in the mid-forties. However, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday suggested a continuation of the warm and dry conditions that blessed those of us who live in Colorado in 2015. I decided to take advantage and made the drive to the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes. My weather app did, however, indicate that rain could begin at 2PM, so I expected to register at least three hours on the river before inclement weather arrived.
On a previous trip I experienced decent success in a boulder strewn segment of the river below the first bridge after passing Noel’s Draw, so I decided to park at the downstream border of public access before encountering a small private stretch that was well marked with warning signs and barbed wire. In preparation for Tuesday’s trip, I reviewed several of my posts from fishing the Big Thompson River in previous years during a similar time frame, and these logs indicated that I enjoyed reasonable success using a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. Another productive fly during an October 23 trip was the beadhead hares ear. This information prompted me to begin my day with a deer hair caddis on my line.
The temperature was in the low fifties as I began, so I pulled on my fleece hoodie. I chose to cast flies with my Orvis four weight, and I quickly scrambled down a short bank to the edge of the river just above the no trespassing signs and barbed wire fence. The river was very conducive to my style of fishing with numerous attractive deep pockets and runs, and I worked my way upstream making quick short drifts with the caddis. Researching my blog posts paid dividends, as I landed four trout in an hour and a half of fishing before I broke for lunch. Three were brown trout and one was a rainbow, and I was surprised by this ratio, as I expected the larger browns to be in spawning mode.
Among these four fish was a memorable scenario. I cast to a small nook tucked behind a huge boulder and within one foot of the far bank. I allowed the caddis to flutter down softly and created a small pile of coiled tippet to counteract drag. The dry fly sat motionless for an instant, and just as it was about to skate down the river, a twelve inch brown materialized and slashed the caddis. It was a fine fish by Big Thompson standards, and I was quite pleased to present my fly to a tough location, and then reap the reward of my efforts.
During lunch I moved the car to a position above my exit point, and then I resumed fishing from where I quit. I managed to land one more trout on the caddis, and then for some strange reason, the fish of the Big T began to refuse the slender dry fly. I moved through a series of fly changes including Jake’s gulp beetle and a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear dry/dropper combination. None of these flies produced as well as the caddis, so after I passed under the bridge, I reverted to the fly that brought prosperity in the AM. Unfortunately this move did not resurrect success, so I pondered my options. It was now the time of day when blue winged olives typically get active, and the sky was clouding up in the west, so I elected to go back to the dry/dropper approach.
I tied a parachute hopper with a hares ear body to the end of my line as the top fly, and then beneath it I knotted a beadhead soft hackle emerger. I prospected with these flies from just above the bridge until I was behind the first cabin next to the road at a large bend. Much to my surprise the parahopper yielded three trout and the emerger netted one. I covered quite a bit of water to attract these four fish, and contrary to conventional logic, tiny short pockets along the bank were productive, while juicy deep slow moving pools were fruitless.
When I turned the bend behind the cabin, I was facing west, and the lighting became quite difficult. I tried wading to the opposite bank, but this did not change the glare, and the only way to counteract it was to position myself upstream. The low flows of 34 CFS precluded this action, as the resident fish bolted for cover when anything disrupted their field of view while looking upstream. Given these difficulties, I decided to exit and walk back to the car, but along the way I stopped to observe a long smooth slow moving pool.
I patiently waited along the shoreline near the midsection of the pool, and after a few minutes I saw what I was hoping to notice. A subtle ring appeared adjacent to the current seam that entered the pool in the center twenty feet above me. I crossed to the opposite side of the river and tied on a size 22 CDC blue winged olive. Once more I waited as I scanned the river for a second rise, and after a bit, I spotted one in the riffle of the center current. I lobbed a couple casts, and it was very difficult to follow the lint-like fly in the riffled water and dim light, but on the third pass, a swirl appeared where I approximated my fly to be. I quickly reacted with a hook set and played a nice rainbow trout to my net.
I was very thrilled to have induced a trout to take my size 22 fly in very challenging conditions. Could I repeat this scenario? Once again I stood and watched, and sure enough I observed two more rises by separate fish on the opposite side of the main current seam. I carefully negotiated my way back to the bank next to the highway, and when I was properly positioned, I fluttered a cast to the spot where the lower of the two fish revealed itself. Again on the third cast a small fish rose, but before it sipped in my offering, it veered to the side and refused. Needless to say I was disappointed by this rude rejection.
But then I remembered there was a second rise farther upstream. I took a couple steps and then cast to the upstream target. I checked my cast high so the small morsel fluttered down with some slack, and splat, a fish nabbed the CDC BWO! I quickly lifted my rod and set the hook, and the fish streaked toward the center current. At this point I was disappointed to learn that the small rebel made a quick turn and slipped free of my size 22 hook. I was thwarted a second time, but I appreciated that my imitation fooled a second fish.
I rested the pool again for three or four minutes, but the fish were either spooked or no longer interested in feeding on surface naturals. The sky was getting darker and the wind was picking up a bit, and I wondered if perhaps the heaviest blue winged olive emergence was still ahead. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 3PM, and I debated whether I should wait or begin my drive home. If I waited much longer, I would face heavy rush hour traffic in Denver. In the midst of these considerations, the sun reappeared, and this made my decision. I already increased my fish count by ten, and there were no guarantees of future hatch activity, so I reeled up my fly and returned to the car and prepared for the return trip.
On October 20 I landed ten fish and all of them except one rose to a dry fly. I experienced several memorable situations that involved success under technical circumstances. It was a fun outing late in the 2015 season, and I am thankful for the opportunity.