Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM
Location: Big Thompson Canyon below Lake Estes
With an off day between physical therapy appointments I decided to take advantage with a day of fly fishing. I noted that the flows on the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes dropped to the 125 CFS range, and from past experience I recognized that this level translated to manageable albeit higher than ideal wading. I packed my gear and arrived along the river by 10:15AM, and after I jumped in my waders and strung my Orvis Access four weight, I was in the water ready to cast. I added four sets of stretches for my ailing elbow to my already lengthy preparatory routine.
The air temperature was in the sixties, when I began my quest for Big Thompson trout, and the high temperature peaked in the upper seventies. The stream was indeed clipping along at 125 CFS, and it carried a slight bit of turbidity, but I judged the clarity adequate for fly fishing. I also noticed rather large clumps of ice particles, and this provided evidence of a fairly intense hail storm, but I had no knowledge of the timing. I surmised that a storm generated the ice balls and clouded the water overnight.
I began my fly fishing adventure on Thursday with a size 14 parachute green drake. A bit of research on my blog and fishing reports revealed that I experienced a small amount of success with green drakes on the Big Thompson River in July, although the encounters were documented at earlier dates. I observed no other insect activity and assumed that the trout had long memories, when green drakes were involved.
The green drake hunch paid dividends, when a ten inch brown trout surfaced and nabbed the low floating dry fly on the fifth cast of the day. I was guardedly optimistic at this point, although I would discover that more effort was required for future success. I continued on with my upstream movement and landed a nine inch rainbow in a wide riffle close to the bridge below my parking space. Instead of passing under the bridge, I ascended the steep bank and walked along highway 34 and then dropped back down to the stream on the western side of the overpass.
The river at this point narrowed, and the targets of my casts were deeper and generally faster. I questioned whether the solitary green drake was the best approach in this type of water, so I converted to a tan pool toy, prince nymph and salvation nymph. I chose the prince and salvation in case green drake and pale morning dun nymphs commanded the attention of the local trout. The three fly dry/dropper set up enabled me to fish deeper, and my focus intensified with the change in approach, but I failed to attract interest during the forty-five minute period, before I paused for lunch.
Since I was directly below the Santa Fe, I climbed the bank and tailgated for lunch. I used the stop at the car to stock two additional longer prince nymphs in my fleece wallet, and one of them took a position on my line in the first fifteen minutes of the afternoon. I sought a longer nymph more in line with the size of a western green drake. The thought process was sound, but the trout failed to affirm my logic.
Green drakes typically hatch in the afternoon in Colorado, and the parachute version accounted for my only landed fish, so I reverted to the same size 14 green drake imitation, that served me well during the first hour of fishing. I flicked the large dry fly to likely fish holding lies and bumped the fish count to four, before I approached a long pool that contained a deep entry run, that sliced the slow moving section in half. The tail of the pool widened, and an assortment of relatively shallow pockets spanned across the river, before the current funneled through a large narrow whitewater chute.
I began spraying short downstream casts to the staggered pockets, and much to my surprise trout rose and chomped the green drake. Most of my casts were downstream, and I added two additional netted fish to the count, although I also experienced three momentary connections. This section and time period represented the fastest action on July 26.
Eventually I exhausted all the small pockets and turned my attention to the gorgeous shelf pools on either side of the deep center current, but surprisingly the trout did not react to my green drake in the attractive area. A short section of additional pocket water above the pool yielded two additional trout, and my confidence in the parachute fly surged once again.
I was about to prospect some deeper runs and pools, when a dark cloud drifted overhead, and the sky darkened considerably. In an effort to anticipate a rain shower, I undertook the process of putting on my raincoat. I was about to resume casting, when a relatively loud thunderclap caused me to reevaluate. Good sense prevailed, and I crossed the river and bashed through some brush and returned to the car. I opened the hatchback and sat on the rear mat just as some large raindrops splattered on the pavement. One minute after I perched on the rear of the car, the rain accelerated and descended in sheets for eight minutes before the sun reappeared.
Blue sky to the west was my sign to resume, so I ambled back along the shoulder of the road and assumed the position that I recently vacated. I peppered the area above me with fluttering casts of the drake, and in two instances I observed a trout, as it finned toward the fly and then dropped back to its resting place after a rude rejection of my offering. This shunning behavior caused me to experiment with three alternative flies in the form of a Jake’s gulp beetle, size 18 black parachute ant, and a size 16 gray deer hair caddis. The beetle prompted a refusal, and the other pair of trial flies failed to exact any form of reaction.
I checked my watch and noted that the time was after 3PM. The non-existent action convinced me to call it quits, and I strode back to the car and stashed my gear. Thursday was a slow day on the Big Thompson River. Eight fish landed in four hours represented an average catch rate, and the largest fish may have stretched to eleven inches. The flows were on the high side, and this circumstance reduced the number of possible fish holding locations. All the trout rose to the parachute green drake, and this occurred even though I never witnessed a single green drake natural. I did discover that many fish patrolled relatively shallow pockets, and these stream residents seemed the most willing surface feeders. In retrospect, I probably should have sought more stretches that presented a similar water type.
Fish Landed: 8