Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: First bridge after Noel’s Draw and then downstream another .5 mile.
When I checked flows on the DWR web site on Wednesday, I noticed that the Big Thompson River finally dropped to 113 CFS, and this was in the upper range of ideal. The Big T has been chugging along in the two hundred CFS range nearly all summer, so this piece of news was welcome. With high temperatures in Denver projected to reach the seventies after a snowstorm and frigid temperatures on Monday, I enthusiastically prepared to make the trip to the tailwater below Estes Park.
I arrived at a dirt parking area .75 mile below Noel’s Draw by 10:45, and after assembling my Orvis Access four weight rod I was prepared to cast at 11AM. I began fishing with a size 14 gray stimulator, and I quickly prospected some nice pocket water. After twenty minutes of futile casting, I dapped the stimulator in a tiny pocket in front of an exposed rock, and a chunky rainbow trout slurped the fake. The rainbow measured twelve inches, and I quickly snapped a couple photographs to capture my first fish of the day. Needless to say after failing to catch a fish on Sunday, I was thrilled to finally feel a tug on my line. My confidence plummeted rapidly after Sunday’s poor experience, and I savored this initial success.
Unfortunately this was the only fish to bend my rod between 11AM and 2PM, and my fragile sense of fly fishing bravado once again began to dip. I cycled through a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis, a Jake’s gulp beetle, and a black parachute ant with only a refusal and inspection to show for my efforts. I sat along the stream and ate my lunch at 12:20PM, and when I resumed fishing, I decided to try a dry/dropper approach. The single dry fly method was not delivering results, so I surmised that perhaps the higher than normal flows promoted subsurface feeding.
It was a theory, but it did not prove to be reality. I tied a Chernboyl ant to my line and added a salvation nymph and RS2. I enticed a brown trout to smash the Chernboyl ant on top, but the fish wiggled free before I gained control. At 1:30 I waded underneath the bridge and found myself on the southeast side of the river, where I worked my way along the bank for a bit with no sign of fish. The lighting was challenging and the wading difficult, so I crossed back to the roadside in a wide relatively shallow riffle and continued upstream along the right bank.
The dry/dropper technique proved to be less productive than the single dry fly approach, so I snipped off the three flies and reverted to the gray stimulator. The stimulator accounted for my only landed fish, so why not give it another trial? Prior to Thursday’s trip I read my blog posts that chronicled previous visits to the Big Thompson in October, and I noted that a gray stimulator and gray deer hair caddis generated a fair amount of success.
After a few minutes I encountered another spot, where I was able to cross the stream, so I took advantage and began prospecting the left bank with the large attractor dry fly. As I made this transition to the opposite bank, a guide accosted me from the road. He asked if he could place his clients in the river across from the red house that was fifty yards upstream. I did not give it much thought, and I agreed to his proposal, since I was not having much success.
Eventually I covered the attractive slow water along the left bank with my stimulator, and I circled around a twenty yard whitewater chute. The guide and his two clients by now were wading in the long pool above the fast water, where I hoped to cross. Unfortunately the angler that was not accompanied by the guide began fishing at the tail, so I edged my way part way across, and then asked his permission to skirt just below his position. He agreed, and when I climbed to the top of the bank along the road, the guide hustled back and motioned to me. He was concerned that I changed my mind, but I told him that I simply wished to cross the river to return to the car, and the only safe wading location was at the tail just below his client. He was fine, and we exchanged information about effective flies, and I hiked back to the Santa Fe.
The guide was quite courteous, so I was not upset, but my path upstream was now blocked by the party of three. I was not prepared to quit, so I packed my gear in the car and drove downstream for another .75 mile to a nice wide pullout. From previous experience I knew that this section contained some very nice pockets and runs of moderate depth. I quickly grabbed my rod and gear and walked along the shoulder for a bit, until I cut down to the river to a stretch that contained some attractive pockets.
By now it was two o’clock, and I was entrenched on one fish after three hours of fishing. Needless to say my confidence was once again at a low ebb. I decided to stick with the stimulator a bit longer, but I already anticipated that my next step was to switch to a deer hair caddis. I made a few quick casts to some marginal small pockets, and then I encountered a gorgeous deep run along the far bank, where two currents merged in a deep trough. I made a couple casts across the main current and held my rod high so the line would not drag. On the third cast I executed a reach cast and flipped the line upstream thus enabling a very nice long drag free drift, and just as the fly bobbed through the seam where the currents merged, it disappeared in a swirl. I set the hook and quickly maneuvered a ten inch rainbow trout to my net.
After I released my second catch of the day, I sensed that the run was too good to hold only one fish, so I made a couple more reach casts. On the third drift a large nose appeared, and once again the stimulator disappeared in a swirl, and this time I connected with a beautiful fourteen inch rainbow trout. This was my best fish of the day, and I was ecstatic to finally feel the weight of a substantial fish.
The remainder of the afternoon was a blast. I landed a fourth rainbow on the gray stimulator, and then I spotted a few blue winged olives, as they tumbled along the surface, when the wind periodically gusted. In fact the wind was a huge negative during my entire time in the canyon. The BWO sighting prompted me to add a size 20 RS2 on a three foot dropper to the stimulator, and the move paid off, when I landed six brown trout that snatched the small nymph, as it began to swing or lift. Sandwiched between these brown trout was a fifth rainbow trout, and just like its rainbow cousins that rested in my net earlier, it slashed and ate the stimulator.
At the end of the day the fish counter rested on eleven, including six brown trout and five rainbows. The rainbows were on average larger than the browns. It was interesting to note that all the brown trout grabbed the trailing RS2, and all the rainbows smacked the stimulator. I landed one trout in the first three hours and netted ten in the last two hours. It was a Jekyll and Hyde day in many ways, but I was pleased to reach double digits on a blustery afternoon with higher than normal flows on the Big Thompson River.
Fish Landed: 11