Big Thompson River – 07/26/2018

Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Big Thompson Canyon below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 07/26/2018 Photo Album

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.

Area Along the Left Bank Yielded Trout Number One

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.

Parachute Green Drake Produced

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.

Another Decent Brown Trout

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 Drake Adorns Corner of Mouth

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.

On Display

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.

Very Pretty Rainbow

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

Big Thompson River – 04/30/2018

Time: 11:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: Below Lake Estes in the canyon

Big Thompson River 04/30/2018 Photo Album

I chose the Big Thompson River on Monday because high winds were forecast for other potential destinations (as well as the Big Thompson), but the drive to Estes Park was shorter, and this translated to less time sacrificed, in the event that I was blown off the water. When I checked the flows on Sunday night, the Big Thompson chart displayed 83 cfs, and I knew from past experience that this level was very manageable. However when I arrived, the river seemed higher, and consequently I was never able to cross to the opposite bank due to the strong velocity. When I prepared my notes for this blog, I checked the flows again, and I discovered that my personal assessment was accurate. Flows elevated from 83 cfs to 111 cfs in the morning of April 30, before I made the drive. I never seem to do well when flows increase dramatically in a short window, and Monday maintained that trend.

Starting Point

Although temperatures peaked in the upper seventies in Denver, I suspect they remained in the low to mid 60’s below Estes Park. The wind was tolerable, but intermittent gusts were a factor. Dense gray clouds blocked the sun much of the afternoon, and this atmospheric condition likely explained the lower temperatures in the northern Front Range.

Sparkle Wing RS2

I fished at three different sections of the Big Thompson, with the first stop located two or three miles below the dam. Each succeeding location was farther downstream and within a mile of the first. I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and a sparkle wing RS2 attached to my four weight line on my Sage nine foot rod. In the first forty-five minutes before I paused for lunch, I landed three trout that were barely over my six inch threshold to qualify for counting. Two were brown trout and one was a diminutive rainbow. I also witnessed two splashy refusals to the fat Albert, so after lunch I exchanged the top fly for a size ten Chernobyl ant.

I continued to fish upstream, until I approached the point where the river split around an island. I decided to halt my progression at this position, and I drove downstream to locale number two. Another car was parked ahead of mine, and I quickly determined it was another angler, who was nymphing just above a bridge. I decided to hike down the road for .3 mile, with the hope that the other fisherman might vacate by the time I returned.

Getting Bigger

Shelf Pools Were the Ticket

During the next two hours I worked my way upstream with the three fly dry/dropper combination, and I succeeded in boosting the fish count to seven. Numbers four and five were also on the small side, but a nine inch rainbow thrashed in my net and boosted the count to six. During this time I swapped the hares ear for an iron sally, and after the sally failed to excite the fish, I replaced it with an emerald caddis. The first six trout nabbed the sparkle wing RS2, so I was quite suprised when a ten inch brown trout grabbed the emerald caddis pupa near the top of a deep run. This fish proved to be the longest of the day.

A Rainbow Joins the Mix

When I reached the bridge where my car was parked, I noted that the vehicle of the other angler remained in place. I was noticing some sparse blue winged olive activity, and I decided to investigate a nice run and pool upstream from my parking space. On previous trips I experienced decent success with rising trout in the aforementioned pool. Unfortunately as I approached the anticipated section, I encountered the other fisherman once again.

I reversed and returned to the car and once again drove to another pullout less than a mile downstream. For the next hour I progressed upstream through some nice pockets and moderate depth runs, but my efforts were in vain. At 3:30 as the sky darkened due to dense clouds, I noticed an increase in blue winged olive activity, and eventually several rising fish revealed their presence. I decided to take the plunge and removed the dry/dropper rig and converted to a Craven soft hackle emerger and fished it like a dry fly. I applied floatant to the body, and after a large number of drifts I managed to hook and land another small brown barely over six inches.

For my final act I skipped some marginal pockets and advanced directly to a long pool across from the Santa Fe. I paused and observed for a few minutes and spotted three tiny trout along the edge in front of me, as they darted to the surface to grab tiny morsels on a fairly regular basis. I was about to pass on the sighted fish because of their diminutive size, but I reconsidered and shot ten casts over the area. I could not follow the low riding emerger in the current seam, and I was about to quit, when I caught a glimpse of a rise next to a bank side boulder on the opposte side of the stream. This fish was a bit larger, and it captured my interest.

BWO Lover

I waded one third of the way across the river, and I began executing reach casts above the rock that served as a current break for the target riser. After several casts four additional feeding trout revealed their presence. They were all ignoring my emerger, and I was unable to follow it in the dim light and swirling current, so I opted to replace it with a Klinkhammer BWO. The change proved fortuitous, and I netted two additional trout before I called it quits at 4:30. One was a ten inch rainbow and the other a comparable brown.

Monday was a challenging day, and I attribute the difficulty to the sudden rise in stream flows. Fortunately I adjusted and managed to make the best of the situation to reach double digits. The fish were small, but I was thankful for any action on April 30.

Fish Landed: 10

Big Thompson River – 10/12/2017

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: First bridge after Noel’s Draw and then downstream another .5 mile.

Big Thompson River 10/12/2017 Photo Album

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.

Pocket Water at the Start

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.

First Trout Was This Fine Rainbow

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.

Salivating Over That Deep Run

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.

I Love the Subtle Pink Stripe

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

Big Thompson River – 05/25/2017

Time: 12:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: In the canyon below Lake Estes.

Big Thompson River 05/25/2017 Photo Album

Jane and I enjoyed six days in Oregon, as we visited our daughter, Amy, and attended her graduation from Pacific University. We were quite proud to be present when she accepted her doctorate in physical therapy diploma. The moment when she bowed on the podium for the placement of the doctoral hood was special, and graduating with distinction was a testament to her many years of hard work. Amy worked at a bakery and attended classes part-time in order to obtain the necessary credits in science and math for acceptance into Pacific University. A doctorate in physical therapy was a special achievement by an extraordinary person.

Since I was away from the Colorado fishing scene for nearly a week, I was skeptical that I would find viable stream fishing, as I reviewed the flows on the DWR web site. On the return flight from Portland my thoughts were already focused on stillwater options. I was pleasantly surprised, when I learned that South Boulder Creek flows were reduced to 66 cfs, and the Big Thompson was chugging along at 125 cfs. From prior visits I recognized that both these streams offered manageable levels for fishing, but I chose the Big Thompson because the trend line displayed a flat line over the most recent five days. South Boulder Creek dropped from 110 cfs to 66 cfs within the last twenty-four hours, and I attempt to avoid rivers and streams after abrupt changes.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”High and a Bit Off Color, but Not Bad for Late May” type=”image” alt=”P5250127.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I arrived at a paved parking area along the Big Thompson River at 11:30AM, and I quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage four weight. I crossed the highway and surveyed the river and noted that it was indeed relatively high, and it displayed a slight brown tinge. The conditions were not ideal, but quite favorable for late May with run off in progress on many other Colorado drainages. The road was wet from a recent storm, and some dark clouds were visible in the southwestern sky. I opted to pull on my long sleeve Under Armour undershirt and then added my fleece and a raincoat as well. Intermittent rain showers and small storms passed overhead during my three hours on the water, and I was very pleased with my fishing attire. By the time I was prepared to fish, the clock displayed 11:45, so I elected to remain in the car, and I quickly consumed my lunch. Some rain drops splattered the windshield during the last five minutes of lunch, but when I climbed out of the car and gathered my gear, the precipitation ended.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Go2 Sparkle Pupa” type=”image” alt=”P5250128.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Another fisherman was forty yards below my parking spot, so I walked upstream a bit until I was next to the right braid in an area where the river split around an island. I tied a size 8 Chernobyl ant to my line, and then I added a bright green go2 sparkle pupa and a beadhead hares ear. The higher than usual flows forced me to skip over quite a bit of water, as I searched for viable fish holding runs and pockets. I crossed the right channel and moved up the island, but my efforts failed to yield a fish in the first half hour.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Landed Fish” type=”image” alt=”P5250129.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

When I approached the upstream tip of the island, the river spread out a bit, and I quickly discovered that my prospects improved in this type of stream structure. The wider streambed created more shallow runs and pockets, and the dry/dropper approach delivered fish in this scenario. I also swapped the hares ear for a RS2 in case baetis nymphs were active, and the go2 sparkle pupa caddis and bwo nymph imitation remained on my line for the remaining 2.5 hours.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Unusual Spots” type=”image” alt=”P5250135.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Once I committed to the caddis and mayfly nymph, my fishing success began to click. Over the course of the afternoon I landed ten trout, and eight were rainbows, and two brown trout made an acquaintance with my net. A wide riffle above the tip of the island was the most productive area, and I landed four or five from this spot. It was here that I observed a couple BWO adults in the air, and as expected the trout began to attack the RS2, as it lifted near the end of a drift. Several also responded to a late swing at the downstream tail of the riffles. After seven netted fish I exchanged the RS2 for a soft hackle emerger.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Vivid Colors” type=”image” alt=”P5250134.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

The blue winged olive hatch seemed to occur in waves, and the most dense emergence coincided with the fifteen minute period when the sky darkened prior to periods of rain. I noticed three or four rises in one section with deep flows next to exposed rocks, but I avoided the hassle of shifting from dry/dropper to a single dry fly, and the fish did not seem to mind. Apparently there were enough active nymphs and emergers to retain their interest in my subsurface offerings.

On Thursday one brown trout smashed the Chernobyl ant, two nabbed the soft hackle emerger, two snatched the go2 sparkle pupa, two nipped the hares ear, and the remainder locked on the RS2. A variety of flies produced, and I was fortunate to select them for my line. I was pleased to experience a double digit day in late May just prior to the heavy snow melt time frame. I hope to defer lake fishing as long as decent stream options are available.

Fish Landed: 10



Big Thompson River – 05/12/2017

Time: 10:00AM – 1:30PM

Location: Upper Canyon below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 05/12/2017 Photo Album

History taught me that the best way to beat a cold is to rest, and that is what I did from Saturday May 6 through Thursday May 11. I discontinued my running and exerciese activities and slept a lot. By Friday May 12, however, the worst was behind me, and I was anxious to resume my fly fishing adventures in 2017.

I surveyed the Department of Water Resources web site and reviewed several fly shop fishing reports, and I concluded that my best option was the Big Thompson River below Estes Park. Flows were increased to the 100 cfs range five days prior, and I knew from experience that the river is reasonably manageable up to 150 cfs. The other two options I considered were Boulder Creek and the North Fork of the St. Vrain. Boulder Creek recently dropped from a spike of 120 cfs to 70, so I was leery of an unsettled situation. The North Fork of the St. Vrain remained at a nice steady 52 cfs, but I prefer to hike a decent distance from the parking lot, and I needed to return home for a conference call by 4PM.

I chose the Big Thompson, and I managed to pull together all the fly fishing necessities by 8AM, and I arrived at a pull out in the upper canyon below Estes Lake by 9:30. Since I enjoyed my throwback day on Boulder Creek on May 4, I assembled my Fenwick two piece five weight fiberglass, and I ambled along the shoulder of the road for .3 mile until I encountered a no trespassing sign. My Instagram friend Trevor was singing the praises of glass, so I decided to pull it out of mothballs, and I enjoyed the short flexible rod for casting large dry/dropper rigs and playing small fish. I did not plan to stray far from the car, so I knew that I could return and switch to one of my graphite models, if I grew dissatisfied with the old cheap glass rod.

When I reached the boundary of the private water, I veered down a rocky embankment, and I configured my line with a size 8 Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and beadhead salvation nymph. I crossed the river at the tail of some wide shallow riffles and began my venture by working up along the bank away from the highway. I was surprised as I waded through some extremely shallow uninteresting water, when a pod of five or six fish scattered in front of me. I made a mental note to prospect shallow riffles, and this paid dividends later in my outing.

Within the first fifteen minutes I experienced several refusals to the large foam terrestrial. I was pleased to attract the attention of fish, but I recognized that I would probably need to downsize the Chernobyl in the not too distant future. Just below a single lane private driveway bridge I allowed my flies to swing and dangle, as I prepared to wade underneath the bridge, and I was shocked to feel the pulse of an active fish on the end of my line. I swept the rod sideways and behind me and found myself attached to a ten inch rainbow trout. I counted the windfall, but I always feel somewhat guilty, when I catch a fish in such a fortuitous manner.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Above the Bridge” type=”image” alt=”P5120001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Above the bridge I created a vexing tangle when my line wrapped around a stick that was hidden in front of an exposed boulder. It took me quite a while to unravel the birds’ nest, and I resorted to clipping off all three flies. Since I considered testing a smaller terrestrial as an adjustment to the refusals, I used the unexpected undoing of my dry/dropper as the trigger to move to a Jake’s gulp beetle. It was a logical choice, but the fish were not impressed, so after a brief trial, I reverted to a dry/dropper.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Action Begins” type=”image” alt=”P5120002.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

This time, however, I opted for a size 10 Chernboyl, a beadhead hares ear, and a small RS2. This lineup would remain on my line for the next 2.5 hours. I recalled the early incident, where I spooked a pod of fish from the shallows, so I tossed some casts to a similar area above the bridge. Voila! Small brown and rainbow trout attacked the nymphs on nearly every drift. I was shocked by this shift in fortunes simply due to some astute observation at the start of my day. At the same time I began to observe some small size twenty blue winged olives, as they hovered above the surface of the water. The hatch remained sparse under the mostly clear bright sky, but the baetis nymphs apparently caught the attention of the fish.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Gorgeous Colors” type=”image” alt=”P5120004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

From 10:30 until 12:30 I incremented the fish count from one to twelve, and I noticed nearly as many momentary hook ups as fish landed. Initially I instigated hits when I raised the rod tip to recast, but as the emergence continued, I also hooked fish with upstream casts, when the Chernobyl stopped dead in its tracks. I continued to be amazed by this level of aggressiveness when the nymphs are active during an emergence. Surprisingly the deep pools and pockets were a waste of time, and I focused my efforts on shallow and moderate riffles. Apparently the fish of the Big Thompson spread out in marginal lies in order to gorge on the blue winged olive nymphs.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”” type=”video” alt=”P5120009.MOV” image_size=”1920×1080″ ]

By 12:30 the sparse hatch dwindled to a nonevent, but I continued my progression upstream with the dry/dropper approach, and I managed to fill my net with a couple additional brown trout. I moved faster and covered quite a bit of the stream, and by 1PM I experienced an extended lull. Since the air temperature warmed, I speculated that perhaps the fish might react to a caddis dry fly, so I tied a gray body deer hair caddis to my line and prospected along the bank away from the road. The fly was very difficult to follow, and sensing that the trout were not interested, I converted to a size 14 gray stimulator. This fly was a pleasure to follow, but it also was not on the Big Thompson trout menu.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Bit More Size” type=”image” alt=”P5120011.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

At 1:30 I reminded myself of my 4PM commitment, so I crossed the river and returned to the Santa Fe for the return drive. Friday was an enjoyable return to the streams of Colorado, and the hot hatch period between 10:30 and 12:30 was a welcome event. I was quite pleased that my early observations guided me to fish areas that I would normally skip over, and this decision in turn rewarded me.

Fish Landed: 14

Big Thompson River – 10/11/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Waltonia Bridge and upstream

Big Thompson River 10/11/2016 Photo Album

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Start” type=”image” alt=”PA110029.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”On the Board with a Small Brown Trout” type=”image” alt=”PA110030.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Small but Pretty Rainbow Trout” type=”image” alt=”PA110031.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Typical Productive Pocket Ahead” type=”image” alt=”PA110032.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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


Big Thompson River – 09/29/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Private boundary upstream until near Noel’s Draw

Big Thompson River 09/29/2016 Photo Album

After a day of rest on Wednesday I was anxious to visit a local stream on Thursday September 29. The 2016 season is winding down, and I felt the need to take advantage of gorgeous weather while it lasted. I drove to the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes and arrived at the pullout above the first bridge after Noel’s Draw by 10:30. After I pulled on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight, I walked downstream along the highway, until I reached the barbed wire fence that denotes the beginning of private water.

It was a beautiful late September day, as the temperatures reached the middle seventies by the afternoon. I wore only my fishing shirt, and I was comfortable all day. The stream flow was 39 cfs, and this is a bit below ideal for the Big Thompson, but fairly normal for early autumn.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Trout on September 29″ type=”image” alt=”P9290001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

To begin my quest for Big Thompson River trout I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line and then added a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph. These mainstays from my fly box allowed my to net four trout, before I broke for lunch at noon. Two of the morning fish were brown trout and two were rainbows. One of the rainbows smashed the Chernobyl ant, and the first fish snared the salvation nymph. The brown trout that snatched the salvation shot under a small branch, and I was certain I would lose the fish. By some stroke of good fortune the Chernobyl got lodged on the submerged stick, and I was able to wade over and net the brown trout. That was the good news. The whole episode created one of the worst tangles of my fly fishing career, and that is saying something. The other two morning catches favored the hares ear.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Bright Rainbow Adds to the Fish Count” type=”image” alt=”P9290003.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After lunch I continued to plug along with the same flies for a bit, and I landed a nice brown on the hares ear to boost the fish count to five. The catch rate, however, slowed appreciably, and I spotted a pair of blue winged olives in the air. This observation prompted me to switch the salvation for a soft hackle emerger. The change did not spur instant results, however, and I covered a significant amount of water with no results. By the time I moved above the bridge below the Santa Fe, the fish count rested on seven as a result of two small fish that latched on to the hares ear.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lots of Boulder Hopping” type=”image” alt=”P9290004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I moved rather quickly through the long pool located above the bridge and next to my parked car, and then I arrived at another elongated pool next to the cabin on the side of the stream opposite the road. I spotted two rises near the tail of the deep center run, so I made the effort to remove three flies, and I tied on a size 22 CDC blue winged olive. The fish that rose previously ignored the tiny speck, but a prospecting cast prompted a darting rise from a small brown, and I moved the fish count to eight. Catching a fish on the microscopic dry fly boosted my spirits, so I made a long cast to the top left side of the long run. I lost sight of the tiny fly, so I lifted and found myself momentarily attached to a decent fish, but it managed to escape.

Above the long pool the river transformed into deep runs and pockets, so I shifted my strategy back to a hopper/dropper arrangement. I tied on a beige pool toy hopper, and then reattached the hares ear and soft hackle emerger. For the remainder of the afternoon I cast the threesome to deep pockets and runs, as I maneuvered my way around the bend and eventually exited thirty yards below Noel’s Draw. This period was the most productive segment of the day, as I incremented the fish count from eight to fourteen.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Another Hungry Rainbow” type=”image” alt=”P9290005.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Surprisingly the hares ear was the productive fly; whereas, I expected the soft hackle emerger to shine in the midst of the sparse BWO hatch. During this time one fish snatched the soft hackle emerger, and the rest nabbed the hares ear. At one point I landed three foul hooked fish in a row. I suspect these fish refused the pool toy, and when I recognized the splash in the glare, I reacted and pulled the trailing soft hackle emerger into the front fin.

It was a decent day, but most of the action took place between 2:30 and 4:30, when some clouds moved into the area. I could have skipped the noon until 2:30 time period and saved quite a bit of wear and tear on my arm. The wind was a factor from time to time, and I suffered some of the worst tangles of the season. I blame the tangles on the wind and casting three flies, which is always a challenge. I suspect a cooler overcast day would enhance the intensity of the blue winged olive hatch, so I will keep a watchful eye on the weather forecasts.

Fish Landed: 14

Big Thompson River – 08/03/2016

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Upstream from the border with the RV park that was destroyed in the September 2013 flood

Big Thompson River 08/03/2016 Photo Album

After three consecutive days of outstanding fishing, I was due for a reality check, and today August 3 served that purpose. Hopefully today’s results are not a sign that I need to select tailwaters and high elevation headwaters over lower valley rivers and streams at this early juncture in August. The high temperature reached 98 degrees in Denver, so I suspect heat is the main explanation for my slow day on the Big Thompson River. The DWR web site displayed flows of 103 cfs, and this is actually relatively high for early August, so I cannot blame the challenging fishing on the amount of water.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”103 CFS” type=”image” alt=”P8030001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I arrived at a pullout along US 34 approximately six miles below Olympus Dam at 10AM, and by the time I assembled and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and gathered my fly fishing essentials, it was 10:30. I began fishing with a size 14 gray deer hair caddis, and three fish in the wide relatively smooth starting pool found it to their liking. The moderate flows enabled me to cross at the wide starting point, and I love the idea of fishing along the bank that is away from the road, so I adopted this approach. As I slowly moved up the river prospecting with the small caddis, I upped my fish count to four, but then the fish began to ignore my offering.

The type of water may have had something to do with this, since it transitioned into faster runs and pockets. In an effort to make my fly more visible to me and the fish, I swapped the size 16 caddis for a size 14 stimulator with a gray body. This change did not tempt the stream residents, so I defaulted to one of my favorite lineups. I tied a size 10 Chernobyl ant to my line and dangled a 20 incher and salvation nymph below it. By 11:45 as I climbed the rocky bank to return to the car for lunch, I added one more small fish to my tally, after it struck the salvation nymph, as I lifted to make another cast.

I walked back to the Santa Fe and executed a U-turn and parked high above my lunchtime exit point. I sat on a large rock with a great vantage point, while I munched my sandwich, but I failed to spot any insects or fish. It is very unusual not to see fish in the deep pools of the Big Thompson River.

After lunch I continued from my quitting point, and within minutes I was perched at the tail of a long deep run that transformed into a wide pool. The entire area was 25 yards long and the pool covered the entire width of the river. I made some long angled casts to cover the lane along the opposite bank, and I noticed a refusal to the Chernobyl, and the brief glimpse suggested a decent fish. In the midsection of the pool, another fish flashed to the top fly. What could these fish be looking for?

It was a bit late in the season for green drakes, but I recalled encountering them in the Big Thompson in prior years, so I decided to test one. I knotted a Harrop deer hair green drake to my line, and it also generated a look but no take. Next I switched to a size 14 parachute green drake, and the large low floating mayfly created interest from three fish that elevated to inspect and then turned away. I had one more style to try, so I tied a size 14 comparadun to my line, but this was totally ignored. Since the parachute style prompted the most action, I reverted to it. I made a forty-five degree cast up and across, and as the parachute drifted across from me, a decent brown trout rushed to the surface and nipped the fly. I felt weight for a split second, and then the fish was gone. After this weak endorsement of my offering I wasted an excessive quantity of additional futile casts, before I finally conceded defeat and moved on.

The next section of water consisted of large pockets and deep runs. The green drake induced a couple more refusals along the edge, so I gave in to my instincts and returned to the dry/dropper approach. Unlike earlier I selected a tan pool toy as my top fly and added a beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Fly Is Almost Larger Than the Fish’s Mouth” type=”image” alt=”P8030004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

It was now early afternoon, and the intense rays of the sun were shining directly on the Big Thompson River. It was quite warm and bright, and I regretted not selecting wet wading for this unusually warm summer day in the mountains. Over the two and a half hours between 1:00 and 3:30, I worked my way upstream and covered a significant amount of water. I limited my casts to three or four and then moved on. I also attempted to focus more on the banks, although the level of the river and the large population of rainbows should have supported fish in the attractive pockets and pools in other places.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Legacy Fly Accounted for Two Fish” type=”image” alt=”P8030006.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I feel fortunate to report that I increased my fish count to eleven before I quit for the day. Three fish grabbed the salvation nymph, and one aggressive bank dwelling brown smashed the pool toy. Part way through this period of slow action, I decided to experiment with some old flies that I carry in my fleece pouch and rarely tie on my line. I grabbed a long narrow gray wet fly with a copper rib and replaced the hares ear. Miraculously this fly accounted for two small rainbows that snatched it, as it drifted through a run of moderate depth. This was probably the most significant positive for my day on the Big Thompson River on August 3.

Fish Landed: 11


Big Thompson River – 05/09/2016

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Downstream border of special regulation water near mile marker 73.

Fish Landed: 10

Big Thompson River 05/09/2016 Photo Album

Having finally conceded that emerging caddis on the Arkansas River were not on my list of 2016 fly fishing successes, I refocused my efforts on other local stream options. High temperatures in Denver in early May remained in the sixties, and this delayed the inevitable run off on Front Range streams. Realizing that I was living on borrowed time, I committed to take full advantage of my retirement status to jam as much fishing into the next couple weeks as possible. Monday was the beginning of promise fulfillment.

On Mothers’ Day Jane and I drove to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we completed several hikes in various popular sections of the park. During these travels I obtained a good look at the Big Thompson in Moraine Park and Cascade Creek along the road to Bear Lake. Both streams were a bit high but very clear. In addition Jane and I traveled along the Big Thompson River in Estes Park and also skirted the North Fork of the St. Vrain northwest of Lyons, CO. All the drainages mentioned remained in fine shape for fishing in advance of the inevitable high muddy snow melt.

On Monday morning I checked the stream flows and fly shop reports on the Big Thompson River in the canyon below Lake Estes, and all the information indicated that this was a solid destination for a day of fishing. I departed from my house at 9:45 and after a stop for gas made the two hour drive and arrived at the extreme downstream boundary of the catch and release water below Lake Estes. I parked facing west near mile marker 73, and I elected to assemble my Sage four weight rod.

The air temperature was in the low fifties so I pulled on my green Columbia fleece to provide added warmth. The fleece remained a critical part of my attire throughout the day, and I added a raincoat and my hat with ear flaps in the afternoon when numerous large gray clouds blocked the sun and held temperatures in the range requiring extra layers.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”2013 Scoured the Vegetation” type=”image” alt=”P5090012.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I read some blog posts from previous trips to the Big Thompson in late April and early May, and based on this review, I opted to begin with a single size eight Chernobyl ant. In 2015 at this same time, the solitary Chernobyl produced a solid day, and I did not want to over complicate my choices. Within the first fifteen minutes I generated two split second hook ups with the foam ant, but then the large attractor simply drew refusals. After four or five teasing looks with no take, I decided to experiment with some alternatives. First I tried a smaller size ten Chernobyl, and this also drew some inspections accompanied by rejection. Next I downsized again to a size 14 Jake’s gulp beetle. Although this fly looked more like a real terrestrial than the Chernobyls, it was soundly ignored.

I hoped to avoid the next step in fly experimentation, but several of the reports I read referenced success with dropper flies. I returned the size eight Chernobyl to the end of my line, and then I added a three foot dropper with an emerald caddis pupa attached. This combination finally delivered my first fish of the day at 12:30. I celebrated the success of the emerald caddis pupa by breaking for lunch.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Quite a Meal for This Little Guy” type=”image” alt=”P5090011.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

As I munched my sandwich on a large rock near the river, I observed two small blue winged olives. I was not surprised by this development because the sky was growing increasingly overcast, and perfect blue winged olive weather arrived. When I resumed my upstream progress, I added a Craven soft hackle emerger to my dry/dropper configuration. I was now certain that I had the correct combination of flies to accumulate some landed trout over the remainder of the afternoon. My last remaining hope, the ability to cross the river flowing at 97 cfs, finally reached fruition when I found a section with a wide and relatively shallow depth. I was now positioned to prospect the most attractive pools, runs and pockets on the side of the river away from the highway and less pressured by most fishermen.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Nice Shelf Pool Produced a Rainbow” type=”image” alt=”P5090013.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Between 1PM and 3:30PM I built my fish count to ten. I would be embellishing the truth to state that it was hot fishing, but my catch rate was steady. The entire lower section of the catch and release area belonged to me, and I took full advantage by moving quite rapidly from prime run to juicy hole. I disciplined myself to deliver only three to five casts depending on the quality of the location. Most of the landed fish were on the small side, but I also netted a twelve inch rainbow and a couple eleven inch brown trout.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lots of Pockets and Pools” type=”image” alt=”P5090019.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

The overwhelming highlight of the afternoon unfolded when I reached a deep pocket where two currents merged. One small flow skirted below a large exposed boulder at the very top of the small pool. A larger run merged at an angle from the right. Initially I was certain that any resident fish would hold out in the deep pit in front of the merging currents, but my drifts through this area proved fruitless. The small run that flowed from the left was only two feet wide, and a small foam slick hovered just below it. I lobbed a cast to the left side so that the smaller current carried the flies along the edge of the foam and, wham, a fish nose appeared beneath the Chernobyl. I reacted with a swift hook set, and I was certain that the fish inhaled the ant.

The fish reacted to my quick lift by making a dive and then thrashing around the perimeter of the pocket. Either I connected with a decent fish, or I foul hooked a smaller trout when it refused the Chernobyl. I held my breath and maintained tension on the line as the fish slid downstream into some moderately faster water. I followed it for a few steps until I could lever the head above the surface and guide it to my net. Much to my delight the fish in my net revealed the emerald caddis pupa in its mouth, and a quick glance told me that it was the largest brown trout I ever caught in the Big Thompson River. In fact it was likely the biggest trout of any kind that I landed in the Big T. Once Mr. Brown settled in the net, I estimated that it was sixteen inches long, and it carried a decent amount of weight for its length.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Beautiful Fish” type=”image” alt=”P5090018.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Monday proved to be a solid day on the Big Thompson. Ten fish landed in 3.5 hours of fishing represents a reasonable catch rate, and the Big Thompson trophy brown was icing on the cake. I moved about freely and used my dry/dropper method effectively. Three of the ten smashed the Chernobyl on the surface, two fish nabbed the soft hackle emerger, and the remainder were attracted to the emerald caddis pupa. Clearly Monday was solid justification for maintaining, as my review prompted me to use the Chernobyl ant and the emerald caddis pupa. Four more weekdays remain in the current week, and the weather forecast improves with each additional day. I cannot wait.

Big Thompson River – 04/21/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: A couple miles below Estes Lake before lunch and then below the first bridge after Noel’s Draw in the afternoon.

Fish Landed: 3

Big Thompson River 04/21/2016 Photo Album

After a surprisingly productive day on Boulder Creek on Wednesday, I was quite enthusiastic about the prospect of making another trip on Thursday. Based on my success on a recent visit to the Big Thompson and flows running at 35 cfs, I chose this fine Front Range stream as my destination. I did not bother to remove my fishing gear from the Santa Fe, so I saved the time of unpacking and packing before my back to back trips.

Thursday was forecast to be warmer than Wednesday, although high temperatures in Estes Park were projected to remain in the low sixties. I was prepared to depart by 9AM, but I decided to make one last minute check of the stream flow data. I was disappointed to discover that the flows spiked from 33 cfs to 49 cfs on Thursday morning. Based on history, I typically avoid fishing in rivers and streams immediately after significant change in water levels, and a 48% increase fit this criteria. Nevertheless, I rationalized that 49 cfs remained at a manageable level, and since the water is discharged from a dam, clarity would not be an issue.

I rolled into a wide paved pullout approximately two miles below the dam at 10:45AM, and I pulled on my waders and rigged my Loomis five weight rod, so that I was ready to step into the river by 11:00. I knotted a medium olive size 14 stimulator to my line, and beneath it I attached a salad spinner. This combination produced nicely on my previous trip, but on Thursday the trout showed no interest. I did observe a couple refusals to the stimulator, but then I was surprised to notice quite a few subtle rises in the beautiful run and riffles ahead of me. What could these fish be feeding on? I scanned the surface of the river, but no obvious food morsels were evident. I gazed at the air above the river, and all I saw were minuscule midges, but even this possible food source was quite sparse.

I snipped off the salad spinner and replaced it with a beadhead RS2. The fish were having none of my offerings, and they continued to feed fairly regularly. Perhaps they were attacking emerging caddis that spent minimal time on the surface? I swapped the stimulator for a size 16 olive brown caddis dry fly, and this once again elicited a pair of refusals. The behavior of these fish was maddening. Was a blue winged olive spinner fall in progress? I replaced the RS2 with a beadless size 20 soft hackle emerger, and I applied floatant to the body. Charlie Craven claims that the soft hackle emerger is often taken as a spinner cripple, so I was applying his theory to my current situation. Nothing. The fish continued to rise right next to my double dry fly combination.

In a fit of despair I stretched my seine across the opening of my net and held it in the water for a minute. When I raised the mesh cloth to examine the sample results, I witnessed ten to fifteen minute empty worm cases. I assumed these were midge larva or pupa, and the fish were eating emerging or adult midges. The cases were segmented so I opted to test a black zebra midge, as it approximated the correct size and presented a similar segmented appearance.

I resumed casting the size 16 caddis with the tiny zebra midge dropper, and finally after twenty casts, a small brown trout darted to the right and grabbed the trailing midge. Perhaps I unlocked the code? I resumed spraying casts throughout the attractive area in front of me, but I only succeeded in registering another fifteen minutes of arm exercise. Finally I decided to abandon the jaded fish in the pool in front of me, and I moved farther upstream. The small dry and dropper seemed futile in the absence of rising fish, so I made the switch to a fat Albert trailing a bright green caddis larva and zebra midge.

I progressed at a faster pace, but the fish again ignored my presentations, so I exchanged the zebra midge for a beadhead hares ear. As I sat on a midstream boulder to make the change, I spied some caddis, so I plucked one and observed a gray-olive body. This color reminded me that these adults typically emerge from a caddis worm that displays an emerald color, so I elected to exchange the bright green caddis for an emerald version. Alas, all these experiments failed, and as I reeled up my line, I remained mired at a fish count of one. In addition another fisherman arrived and assumed a position forty yards above me. With my upstream migration blocked, I concluded it was a perfect time to return to the car for a lunch break.

I stashed my gear and drove another couple miles downstream until I reached a favorite pullout just before the first bridge below Noel’s Draw. Here I quickly devoured my lunch, and then I grabbed my rod and hiked across the bridge and downstream for another .2 miles. I was unable to solve the hatch, and my favored dry/dropper technique was not producing. The only flies that produced interest were the stimulator and caddis, albeit refusals. Since I captured three adult caddis on the rock, I decided to experiment with a single caddis dry fly. I removed the three fly ensemble and tied a single size 16 olive brown adult caddis to my line.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Brown Trout Sipped a Caddis from This Area” type=”image” alt=”P4210001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

It was 1:30 as I began prospecting likely slow moving eddies and seams with the solitary caddis. The change in strategy was partially successful, as I landed two small trout on the caddis within the next hour. One was a small brown, and the other was a brightly colored rainbow. Both darted to the surface and smashed my small caddis in riffles that were two feet deep. I was confident I now knew the type of water that would produce more fish, and I had a winning fly on the end of my line.

Unfortunately I did not have the answers. I moved along popping the caddis to likely trout lairs, but the fish count remained locked at three. Admittedly I found it difficult to find similar moderate riffle water, as I encountered deep plunge pools and shelf pools, and these spots seemed barren of fish. Finally by 3:30 I was weary, and I lost all confidence, so I hooked the caddis to my hook keep and called it a day.

Perhaps the weather was too nice with virtually no clouds in the sky and bright sunshine during my entire visit to the Big Thompson River. A sudden spike in flows may have disrupted the feeding rhythm of the resident fish. More likely this fisherman was unable to find the key to unlock the feeding preferences of the trout of the Big Thompson River. Just when I thought I had fly fishing figured out, I was given a rude awakening. Once again I learned that change is constant in fishing, and success is a momentary state.