Time: 9:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Between Noel’s Draw and next bridge
Fish Landed: 25
Would you expect to have one of the best days of the season fishing with dry flies on the Big Thompson River on October 5? I didn’t, but in fact that’s what occurred so read on.
The weather was forecast to continue nice albeit cooler than the recent run of 80 degree days, although mid-70’s in Denver is still bonus time in my opinion. With a trip to Hilton Head looming from October 7 through October 12 I was itching to get in another day of fly fishing. Jane and I had tickets to a Broadway musical for Wednesday night, so I needed to visit a close destination and elected to drive to the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes. The report from Kirk’s Fly Shop indicated flows were 67 and from experience that is a nice comfortable flow. The web site suggested fishing royal humpies and caddis as dries and for nymphs a myriad of RS2-like subsurface patterns.
I got off to a nice early start at around 7:30AM and arrived at the stream and was prepared to fish by around 9:00AM. The air temperature on the dashboard was 56 degrees so I wore a layer of fleece and a rain jacket as a windbreaker. I drove to the upper river and parked just before the first bridge after Noels Draw which used to serve as the upstream border of special regulation water until it was extended to the dam. I waded to the far side and tied on tan parachute hopper trailing a RS2. I cast this as I worked upstream for twenty yards with no response so I switched the hopper for a small olive stimulator. The stimulator was probably a size 12 2XL and I continued to fish with the trailing RS2. This combination served me as I fished to the bend, and I landed two browns on the RS2.
The stimulator was generating a few refusals, but the fishing was definitely slow as I began thinking about the suggested flies on the web site. I’d stocked four red humpies in my fly box and considered tying one to my line. But then I remembered the caddis and decided to tie on a size 16 deer hair caddis with a light gray body. I did spot occasional caddis dapping the surface of the stream so perhaps the fish were used to seeing these insects when the food supply was lean late in the fall. Almost immediately a small rainbow attacked my caddis just as it began to drag away from the bank under some overhanging branches. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was around 11AM, and I’d now landed three fish.
As I worked around the bend I landed three more rainbows in short order and several were quite nice fish in the thirteen inch range. The fish weren’t rushing to explode on the flies on the surface, but instead were slowly rising and sipping the caddis with confidence. It was 11:30 and I had now netted six fish so things were picking up. Since it was now late morning and the air temperature was warmer, and I switched flies, and I was fishing water on the opposite side of the river from a cabin with no trespassing signs in the front; it is difficult to assess which variable caused the improved fishing success.
The next two hours proved to be magical. I continued casting the caddis up along the left side of the stream, and I was consistently rewarded with confident sips and gulps of primarily rainbow trout. The most difficult aspect of this fishing was following the small size 16 fly as clouds intermittently covered the sun creating a glare. I managed to change the angle of casting and viewing frequently and on several occasions when I lost my fly I noticed a nose and mouth rise above the surface at which point I set the hook into nice fish. Several of the rainbows appeared to be in the fourteen inch range and that’s at the top end of the size range for the Big Thompson fishery based on my experience.
I continued beyond the cabin a bit and as I released the twentieth fish of the day glanced at my watch and was surprised to learn that it was 1:30PM. The fishing was so good that I skipped past my normal lunch hour.
As I was leaning on my wading staff to cross the river to the road and return to the car it snapped in half. This was the second outing in a row where my wading staff malfunctioned. I picked up the broken end and returned to the car and decided to drive further downstream and test the caddis at a different location. There were a few other fishermen, but the fishing pressure was clearly down from my last visit. I don’t know whether this is attributable to it being a Wednesday or the later date in the season. I ended up stopping at a small pullout just above the exit from Grandpa’s Retreat and quickly munched my lunch on a rock overlooking the fall scene along the river.
After lunch I went down the bank and found a dead branch that would serve as a temporary wading staff to cross to the side away from the highway. I began fishing the caddis similar to the previous location and once again began connecting with fish, although these fish were predominantly brown trout and smaller in size than the earlier fish landed. Five fish were landed in the next hour or so as I worked upstream in front of three or four cabins on my side of the river. The sky was getting even cloudier, and the glare was even more difficult to deal with than earlier in the day.
There was a car parked at one of the cabins, and I didn’t feel comfortable fishing right in front of the cabin, so I found another branch and crossed to the bank along the highway and worked further upstream. The glare was just as bad on the road side of the stream, and now I began to experience refusals to the caddis. I spotted two or three BWO’s rising slowly through the air, so perhaps the fish had switched to BWO’s? I planned to quit by 3:30 so I could return to Denver and watch part of the Phillies vs. Cardinals playoff game so I didn’t bother adding a RS2 dropper or switching to a CDC BWO or red humpy. I stalled on 25 fish for the day and didn’t add to my count over the last 45 minutes or so.
But even with the slow ending to the day, it still qualifies as one of the better days of the 2011 season particularly the hot stretch between 11:30 and 1:30.