Category Archives: Big Thompson River

Big Thompson River – 04/18/2022

Time: 11:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: A couple miles below the dam.

Big Thompson River 04/18/2022 Photo Album

I reviewed the weather and flows on several Front Range streams for a trip on Monday, April 18, 2022, and I eventually settled on the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes near Estes Park. The air temperature was 41 degrees at the start of my day, but it eventually rose to the low sixties. For most of my time on the river it was sunny and windy, and I wore my fleece hoodie and light down coat along with the New Zealand billed cap with earflaps.

Pocket Water Ahead

I began my search for gullible trout with a yellow fat Albert plus a beadhead hares ear nymph on a dropper and beneath that an ultra zug bug. In the early going I landed a small brown trout that nipped the ultra zug bug, but then I suffered an extended fish drought. I paused for lunch at noon with the fish count stalled on one.

On the Board

Nice Wide Pool

After lunch I continued through some promising water with no results, so I changed my strategy. I concluded that the large size 8 fat Albert was too impactful for the 33 CFS flows. While eating my lunch, I noticed a few random rises in a nice pool with a deep center cut run, so I switched to a peacock hippie stomper trailing a CDC BWO. I tossed out a cast, and a sip and set produced a brown trout for number two on the day. I wanted to persist with the CDC BWO, but even with the leading hippie stomper it was difficult to track in the faster water, so I swapped the olive for a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. The caddis nailed a fish, but then it became the object of refusals, and I was forced to reevaluate my strategy.

Nice Size for Big T

For the remainder of the afternoon I switched between the CDC BWO and the caddis and boosted the fish count to twelve. In many cases, the caddis produced refusals, but at least it allowed me to identify the position of a target catch. I then re-armed with the small CDC BWO, and fooled the previously picky eater. This model did not yield fast and furious action, but steady fly fishing was nonetheless a result. I was proud of my ability to accomplish a degree of success with the “bait and switch” strategy.

Another Fine Pool Beckons

I noticed only very sparse blue winged olive activity between 1PM and 2:30PM, but even that disappeared over the final hour. I tried a yellow size 14 stimulator in conjunction with the stomper during this time period, but it was not an answer.

A twelve fish day under cool and windy conditions with virtually no cloud cover was very satisfactory. The Big Thompson remains a solid return candidate during the pre-runoff time frame.

Big Thompson River – 10/29/2021

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 10/29/2021 Photo Album

Combine a weather forecast featuring highs in the low sixties in Estes Park with a fine outing on Monday, 10/25/2021 and the desire of a beginning fly fisherman to squeeze in another trip before the wintry winds become prohibitive, and what do you get? The combination yielded another trip to the Big Thompson River in the canyon below Estes Park with my new fly fishing companion, Howie. Monday’s visit elevated my optimism, and I was convinced that the rainbow trout of the Big Thompson would satisfy Howie’s appetite for at least one wild Colorado trout.

Fishing Pair

I picked up Howie at 9:30AM, and this enabled us to park in a pullout four miles below Estes Park by 11:00AM. The air temperature was sixty degrees, and, much to our delight, that exceeded the forecast. The section where we began was bathed in sunlight, but I chose to wear my raincoat as a windbreaker, although I soon discovered that I was over dressed for this delightful late fall day in the Rocky Mountains. I told Howie the plan was to alternate fishing, and in this way I would remain close by for assistance, but I could also log some fly fishing time.

Focused

Unfortunately our starting point was a long slow-moving shallow pool, and we were mesmerized by a few rises and an abundant quantity of darting trout, as I stepped into the water. I immediately recognized that tossing a dry/dropper would create excessive disturbance, so I rigged Howie’s line with a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. I suggested that he begin at the bottom of the pool and fire long casts directly upstream, but in retrospect, we should have skipped the entire area. The whole exercise was extremely challenging, and as if the distance casting and skittish nature of the fish were not enough, gusting crosswinds made the adventure futile. I occupied a position along the left bank and began shooting long casts with a hippie stomper and caddis, and even my many years of experience offered no advantage. I was just as unsuccessful as Howie.

We finally moved on and prospected upstream for another 75 yards, before we returned to the car for our lunches. which we grabbed and munched next to the river across from the Santa Fe. During the pre-lunch time Howie encouraged me to work ahead of him, and he voiced the goal of me catching one fish, before we would break for lunch. I decided to take him up on his offer only because I wanted to apply my rapid fire dry/dropper experience to the enterprise in hopes of discovering an approach that would yield results for both of us. When I finally reached a nice section where the canyon narrowed to create some very attractive deep runs and plunge pools, I temporarily hooked a fish tight to a rock with one of my nymphs, and then I connected with a rainbow for a half second on the hippie stomper. I knew it was a rainbow, because it immediately leaped above the water and shook free from the foam dry fly.

Howie Looking for Trout

After lunch we drove west toward Estes Park to another spot that delivered positive results in the past. I was now tossing the hippie stomper with an ultra zug bug and beadhead hares ear, and I modified Howie’s line to include a size 16 Chernobyl ant with an orange body and a size14 2XL nymph with a tinsel abdomen. These were both in his box, and he wanted to try some his flies. I gambled that the locals might be drawn to something different from the usual offerings.

We scrambled down a steep rocky bank to a gorgeous deep pool, and we both saw quite a few nice fish cruising along both shorelines. Howie positioned himself at the bottom left tail of the pool and began lobbing casts to all the feeding lanes. Unfortunately the fish showed no interest in the Chernobyl and nymph menu items, but he persisted with the tantalizing presence of visible fish prodding him on. Meanwhile I covered the next forty yards of pocket water, and I was convinced that it would produce a hungry fish or two; but, alas, Friday was proving to be a far different day than Monday. After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting, another angler appeared twenty yards above me. He was a large man with a gray ponytail, and I was immediately angered for being high-holed. but then I reconsidered and concluded he did us a favor by driving us from unproductive water. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that we were out of sight deep in the canyon and behind some large boulders.

A Big Grin

I returned to check up on Howie, and he informed me that he had some good news and bad news. The good news was that he tied on two new flies himself. The bad news was that he hooked some tall grass along the opposite bank and broke off the Chernobyl ant and flash nymph. I carefully moved upstream a bit to some shallower water that fed the pool and crossed to search the tall grasses. He remembered that the break off occurred within a twelve foot section, and he also felt that the fly was at eye level. I systematically moved along the bank and visually searched for an orange Chernobyl. How hard could it be to see a size six foam attractor? Well, it was hard. I covered the entire section without success and then returned to the upstream border and began scanning the dried grass a second time, but during round two I gazed lower toward the edge of the river. Much to my surprise at the halfway point I spotted the sun reflecting off a thin section of monofilament, and I followed the line upward, until I found the oversized ant dangling from the tip of a dried stalk of grass. It was a forest from the trees situation, as the ultimate landing spot reached out over the stream, and I was looking at the dense clumps of grass that grew vertically along the bank.

We hoofed it back to the car and stashed our gear and drove west to one of the places that I fished on Monday. I knew there were fish in this spot, so failure to catch them could only be attributed to our flies or abilities. I parked above a bridge, and we walked along highway 34 for 50 yards, until we dropped down a short rocky bank to a gigantic pool with a nice center cut deep run. I converted Howie back to a dry dropper rig that featured a hopper Juan as the surface fly and an ultra zug bug on a three foot dropper. By now I was tossing the hippie stomper, ultra zug bug and a size 18 black stonefly nymph imitation.

We took both sides of the pool, and I was shocked to learn that nary a fish showed interest in our flies. I never even saw a fish or rise, and this was highly unusual for this prime pool on the Big Thompson River. Next we moved above the pool and began to prospect some deep pockets and runs. Howie hooked a branch on the bank that bordered the highway, and this misfortune morphed into a nasty tangle. I worked it for a bit, but two very tight wind knots developed, and Howie volunteered to address the mess of his own doing, so I acquiesced and handed the line off.

The Area That Produced

Deep Colors

While Howie puzzled over the monofilament snarl, I advanced upstream at a fairly rapid pace. The river in this area was entirely covered by shadows, and the air temperature in the shade seemed to plummet ten degrees. I quickly popped three to five casts in likely fish dens, and within ten minutes a small rainbow latched on to the ultra zug bug, and I was on the scoreboard with the first fish of the day. For the next thirty minutes I worked the deep runs and pockets, and suddenly the river came to life with hungry trout. I landed four more wild finned residents, and the late afternoon catch included two brown trout and three rainbows. The last two fish were easily twelve inch gems.

Upper Productive Stretch

Scarlet Gill

A few attractive deep runs remained, and I was satisfied with my late salvage effort, so I turned my attention to Howie. He had gained ground on me, and he was positioned twenty yards downstream. I called out and motioned him to join me on the north bank. When he arrived, I examined his flies, and a triangular loop remained on the hopper Juan, so I snipped it and removed the small section of knotted line. I lengthened his dropper to three feet and knotted an ultra zug bug to the point. As I did this, I realized that I was done fishing for the day, and I could have just handed him my rod, but in hindsight, the large hopper Juan was more easily tracked than the hippie stomper in the dark shadows and fast churning current.

A Second Look

I switched into guide mode, and Howie showed me some much improved casting, as he prospected a pair of marginal slots in the middle of the river. Next, however, we approached a very promising deep slow moving slot that flowed along the south bank. Howie expertly tossed the hopper to the top and allowed it to drift through the prime holding water. On the third such pass with the dry/dropper, the hopper plunged, and Howie reacted with a swift hook set. Before the whoops and hollers could escape my mouth, however, the brightly colored rainbow leaped a foot above the surface and tossed the ultra zug bug back to the depths. Howie and I were sorely disappointed with this turn of events, but we persisted.

A Jewel

We moved through a few more deep runs in the middle of the river, and then we came to a moderately promising pocket. The current angled toward us and then sped up and churned downstream, until it reflected off a large exposed boulder. I pointed this out to Howie, and I predicted that if a trout called this pocket home, it would be in the bottom third, where the current ran past the rock. Howie was ready, and on the third drift the hopper paused, and Howie lifted the rod tip and connected with a ten inch brown trout. There was no messing around, as my fishing companion hoisted the wild thing of beauty into my net. We snapped copious quantities of photos and exchanged fist bumps and gently released the little brown trout to live another day.

The Man and His Fish

What an ending to what seemed to be developing into a very disappointing day! I managed to land five trout including a pair of twelve inchers, but I was more thrilled to see the wide grin on Howie’s face, as he landed his first trout in Colorado. The rainbow that escaped along with the brown trout that he landed gave him a small taste of the fun that lies ahead, if he continues to hone his fly fishing skills.

Fish Landed: 5

Big Thompson River – 10/25/2021

Time: 11:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: In the canyon below Estes Park

Big Thompson River 10/25/2021 Photo Album

The weather forecast for Monday, October 25 predicted a high temperature of 78 degrees in Denver, and I was unable to resist the allure of fly fishing. How many more opportunities would arise over the remaining days of 2021? If you read my last post, you know that streams with a higher ratio of rainbow trout ranked high on my priority list for autumn fly fishing, and the Big Thompson River was one of them. Rainbows are not encumbered by spawning activities; and, therefore, are focused on binging on food in preparation for the long winter ahead.

With temperatures forecast to peak in the upper sixties in Estes Park, I made the Big Thompson River in the canyon below Lake Estes my destination. I departed from Denver a bit after 9AM, and after a stop to refuel I arrived next to the river at 11AM. The air temperature hovered in the mid-fifties, so I slipped on my fleece hoodie and topped it with my rain shell. I assembled my Sage four weight, packed my lunch in my backpack and ambled along the shoulder of highway 34 for .2 mile, before I cautiously dipped down a rough path to the edge of the river. According to the DWR water graph, the flows were 31 CFS, and as I surveyed the condition of the stream, I was quite pleased with the water level.

Productive Slicks

Glistening Number Three

I decided to experiment with a dry/dropper, before I resorted to other methods, and I knotted a classic Chernobyl ant to my line along with a beadhead hares ear nymph and beadhead ultra zug bug. Within the first fifteen minutes I landed two small brown trout, and then after a brief lull I netted a very feisty eleven inch rainbow trout. In addition I suffered a pair of refusals to the Chernobyl and a momentary hook up with an energetic trout that slipped free from one of the nymphs. At 11:45AM I encountered a perfect lunch spot that consisted of a wide flat rock, and I paused to consume my typical lunch.

Targeted the Area Next to the Big Rock

Home of the Beast

After lunch I continued my upstream progression, and after a few more refusals I exchanged the Chernobyl ant for a peacock hippie stomper. The white poly wing on the stomper was much easier to track in the shadows and glare that prevailed on the left side of the stream. In the half hour after lunch I added another rainbow to the fish count, and I was perched at four, when I approached a short but deep pocket next to a large exposed boulder. I dropped several casts in the middle of the pocket, and on two separate occasions, as I lifted my rod tip to keep the line off the water, a huge rainbow trout appeared to closely inspect the hippie stomper. The Big Thompson beast showed interest, but not enough to open and close its mouth on my offering.

Rich Spot Pattern

Amazing Girth

Normally after two refusals I abandon the hole and move on, but in this instance the size of the interested party caused me to deviate from tradition. I decided to invest some time in a fly change. I plucked a size 14 deer hair caddis with an olive-brown body from my MFC fly box, and I tied it to the tippet that extended eighteen inches behind the hippie stomper. I dabbed some floatant on the body and proceeded to lob a short cast to the center of the pool. While my eyes focused on the larger hippie stomper with the white wing. my vision picked up the targeted rainbow, as it elevated  and sucked in the caddis. The take was almost imperceptible, but I reacted to the tipped mouth and felt solid contact with the pink-striped bruiser. I was able to contain the fight within ten feet of my position, and after some active thrashing and rolls, I managed to lift the trophy into my small net. The rainbow easily stretched beyond the net opening, but the girth was what made it impressive. After I photographed the slab and removed the fly, I held the bulky fish above the river, and my hand could only grip half of the body. I congratulated myself on my good fortune and concluded that my day was a success, even if I failed to catch another fish.

Ultra Zug Bug

Fortunately that was not the case. I continued with the double dry for a bit, but neither fly produced so much as a look, so I decided to switch back to the dry/dropper approach. I returned the ultra zug bug to my line in the upper position, but the end position was assigned to a size 16 salvation nymph. During the next phase of my day I built the fish count to eleven, and the hippie stomper was largely responsible for my success. At least four of the trout landed in this time period emerged from a nice long run of moderate depth just below the start of a section of private property. I systematically executed thirty-five foot casts from the bottom of the run to the top, and the trout aggressively smashed the surface attractor.

Free from the Monofilament

I exited the river at this point and circled around the home with an abundance of unfriendly warning signs and then re-entered upstream of the driveway. The dry/dropper remained my offering of choice through some nice pocket water, and then I encountered a long smooth pool. A few small trout darted for cover at the downstream tail of the pool, and I realized that the splash down of the nymphs would startle all the fish present in the pool. I took the necessary time to reconfigure to the double dry with the size 14 olive-brown deer hair caddis, and I began to fire long casts upstream from my position. At this point the wind reared its ugly presence, and I recall making some casts that started over the middle of the pool and ended up next to the left bank. This gusting hassle lasted for fifteen minutes, before it calmed to intermittent breezes. Near the midsection I shot a cast at a forty-five degree angle toward the bank next to the road, and a fine brown trout in the twelve inch range gulped the hippie stomper.

Stomper Chomper

The top of the pool was directly across from the Santa Fe, and I moved upstream for another forty yards, as I continued my search for trout. The sun was bright, and I fished in full sunlight for the first time on Monday, but the river was wider and offered fewer attractive holding lies. I managed one more decent brown trout, as I drifted the nymphs through a deep slot that bordered the roadside bank.

Good Thickness

By now it was 2:30, and I was near the upstream border of the public water. I debated whether to move and continue or call it a successful day, since eleven fish easily surpassed my expectations without even considering the seventeen inch rainbow that graced my net. I decided to throw my gear in the car and moved downstream a mile or two to one of my favorite sections of the river. I parked in a pullout before a bridge and ambled back upstream along the shoulder to a spot, where I could angle to the tail of a gorgeous pool. This spot delivered numerous fun experiences over the years especially during spring and fall blue winged olive hatches. On Monday, however, it failed to produce, but I continued upstream for the next hour and built the fish count from eleven to eighteen. Most of these landed fish were rambunctious rainbows with a pair of decent browns also in the mix. I replaced the unproductive salvation nymph with an emerald caddis pupa. The caddis pupa accounted for one trout, and the others were split between the hippie stomper and ultra zug bug. This section of the river featured some very nice deep slots and runs, and the trout responded aggressively to my casts and drifts.

Rose

At 4PM I decided to retrace my steps and skirted some private property in order to reach the shoulder of the highway, and then I hiked back to the car. What a day Monday turned out to be! Eighteen trout was significantly beyond my expectations, Dry fly action on the hippie stomper was totally unexpected. I estimate that six of the landed trout were browns, and the remainder were rainbows. Quite a few of the rainbows and browns were in the twelve inch range, and all were brilliantly colored wild fish. Could the Big Thompson River provide another enjoyable fly fishing outing before the season ends? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 18

Big Thompson River – 12/08/2020

Time: 12:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: West of Loveland, CO

Big Thompson River 12/08/2020 Photo Album

Elusive. If you follow my blog, you know that I am on the verge of completing a lifetime first; landing a trout in each month of the calendar year. In 2017 I netted a trout in every month except January. During January 2020 I landed two trout on a mild day near the end of the month and then notched another pair on the first day of February. I salvaged May after heart surgery recovery with a few trout at the end of the month. The final hurdle is December, and some unseasonably mild weather featuring a high temperature in the low sixties encouraged me to make another attempt on Tuesday, December 8.

Initially I selected the North Fork of St. Vrain creek as my destination because of its lower elevation, but the DWR web site displayed flows of 0 CFS. I was unsure whether this was a technical glitch in the gauge or evidence of a dry streambed, so I called the Laughing Grizzly fly shop in Longmont. The young man who answered the phone was very patient and helpful, and he informed me that work was being done on the turbines at Buttonrock Dam, and only a minimal amount of waters was trickling through the canyon to keep the fish population alive. The Laughing Grizzly was asking anglers to refrain from fishing the creek to avoid stressing the trout. I respected his request but then asked what site he would recommend as an alternative. He promptly responded with the Big Thompson River and suggested two sections. I knew the Big T was also registering minimal flows of 14 CFS, and he agreed that the fishing was challenging in the low and clear water, but customers provided reports of decent success. I decided to heed his advice and headed to the Big Thompson River west of Loveland, CO.

On Thin Ice

I arrived at 11:30 and quickly pulled on my waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod. By the time I was ready to fish, my watch displayed 11:45AM, so I sat in the car and munched my lunch. By noon I began to hike downstream on a narrow path. After .3 mile I arrived at a section with a slow moving current through an area of moderate depth along the northern bank. As I traveled along the river on my downstream hike, I noted many areas with very thin shelf ice.

I pondered my choices for a fly fishing method and settled on indicator nymphing that utilized poly yarn. I pulled out my New Zealand strike indicator tool and attached the poly yarn and then knotted an orange perdigon and classic RS2 to my line. The perdigon contained a tungsten bead, so I chose to forego a split shot. I began working my way upstream and disturbed a twelve inch trout in the first pool. My optimism surged with the sighting of a trout in a never before fished section of the Big Thompson River.

The Ice Shelf Created a Dam

I persisted for the next .2 mile, but landing a December trout remained an elusive goal. In all fairness the circumstances could not have been more challenging, as much of the river was wide, shallow, clear and very slow moving. The light indicator minimized the entry disturbance, but not completely. I sought out the places with faster currents and riffles at the head of pools in order to mask the splash down of my casts, but even that ploy failed to allow success. During this time period I swapped the RS2 for a zebra midge, but the change was not effective.

One of the More Attractive Runs

After .2 mile I arrived at a highway overpass and continued for another short distance. The character of this section was more conducive to trout, as the streambed narrowed and large boulders created nice deep runs and pockets. Unfortunately only three such segments appeared, before I encountered some yellow private property signs. I spotted one more small trout, that I disturbed from a deep hole, and I would have been happy to land it to reach my December trout goal. Since I ran out of public real estate by 2:15PM, I decided to drive back downstream for a couple miles to a stretch near my friend Lonnie’s house.

When I arrived on the south side of the river beyond a bridge, I parked and then hiked on a dirt trail that followed the river to a fence with a no trespassing sign. At this point I veered to the right for a short distance and intersected with the river. For the last half hour of the day on Tuesday I migrated upstream with the perdigon and zebra midge and prospected likely spots, but once again the fly fishing gods thwarted my efforts to land a December trout. After three hours of fishing my December trout remained elusive. Weather will dictate whether I enjoy additional opportunities to achieve my 2020 goal of a trout in each month of the year.

Fish Landed: 0

Big Thompson River – 10/02/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Upstream from the handicapped platform in the special regulation water below the dam

Big Thompson Rive 10/02/2020 Photo Album

Am I addicted to exploring new streams and rivers never before experienced? Can I still derive enjoyment from returning to an old favorite that offers familiarity but minus the excitement of sampling new stretches? 2020 has been a season of discovery, but on Thursday, October 2, I decided to return to the recognizable confines of the Big Thompson River below Estes Dam. This was my first visit to the relatively nearby front range stream since last year, as the flows were maintained in the plus 200 CFS range for much of the summer, and I am reluctant to fish the narrow canyon stream at levels above 130 CFS. When I checked the flows on Wednesday evening, the chart revealed 71 CFS, and this was well within my desired range. However, I checked the graph again this morning while composing this blog, and I was surprised to learn that, while I was present, the water managers increased releases to 85 CFS. In fact today the graph depicts a spike to 121 CFS. Clearly the Big Thompson is experiencing abnormal variability, and historically I learned that trout are not a fan of large changes and require some time to acclimate. I read my blog post from from October 3, 2019 on Wednesday evening to gain an understanding of what flies typically produce in early October, and this reminded me of a very scary fall. I admonished myself to be extra cautious and hoped not to repeat that incident.

I arrived at my chosen destination by 10:40AM, and I assembled my Sage four weight and prepared to fish. The air temperature was 64 degrees, so I elected to forego an extra layer. Dense smoke from the Cameron Peak fire filled the canyon air space, and this layer of atmospheric pollution shielded the sun for much of my time on the water. The bright thick haze added an eerie aura to the experience. By 11:00AM I quickly crossed the busy highway and strode along the south shoulder for a short distance, before I dropped to the edge of the water. I began my search for canyon trout with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl, salvation nymph and sparkle wing RS2. The fly shop reports suggested that I could expect blue winged olives, so I was prepared for active subsurface baetis nymphs. In the hour before lunch I managed to land two small trout, one rainbow and one brown, on the RS2. The predominant action, however, consisted of splashy refusals to the hopper.

Number One on Friday

After lunch I implemented a switch to an olive stimulator, and this fly also attracted attention in the form of short strikes, although I did record a temporary hook up with a small brown trout. The stimulator was difficult to see in an upcoming stretch of fast pocket water, so I reverted to a dry/dropper method, but in this instance I substituted a tan pool toy hopper for the chubby Chernobyl, and I replaced the salvation nymph with a 20 incher to create more depth on my drifts. The modified approach was a certifiable failure, as I fished for quite a distance with only a few refusals to the pool toy to report.

The Rainbow Came from the Slick in the Center of the Photo

Yum Yum

I was resigned to a two fish day, when I approached a gorgeous moderate depth run at 2:00PM. Two fish inspected the hopper, but then returned to their holding position, and given my lack of success, I decided to experiment with different flies. I removed the dry/dropper set up and replaced it with a peacock hippie stomper, and this provoked more refusals. I added a Jake’s gulp beetle behind the stomper, and the fish yawned, if in fact fish are able to yawn. I removed the hippie stomper and tested an olive-brown deer hair caddis, and once again the trout across from me expressed their displeasure with annoying refusals. I finally decided to abandon the quality riffle and moved on to the next pool.

Scene of a Temporary Hook Up

One of the Better Fish

My confidence was quite low at this point, so I decided to simply pause and observe the smooth pool before going into fish combat mode. A few random rises attracted my attention, and a solitary blue winged olive in the air above the water convinced me to switch to a baetis dry fly. I knotted a Klnkhammer style BWO to my line and flicked several casts to the areas, where I observed the riseforms, but the emerger failed to generate interest. Perhaps the size 20 Klinkhammer version was too large? I plucked a size 22 CDC BWO from my fly box and crossed my fingers. Finally! Within the next hour I landed four small brown trout in the nine to ten inch range on the tiny fluff of a fly. The hatch was fairly sparse, but it revealed enough feeding trout for me to target in order to somewhat salvage my day. The relatively steady rising activity lasted for only thirty minutes, and then I migrated to the next quality pool that was upstream.

Pretty Brown Trout

This pool offered a couple very sporadic rises on stragglers, but I was unable to interest these picky feeders in my previously effective CDC blue winged olive. After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting, I debated trying an ant or beetle, but my watch displayed 3:30PM, and I was tired and concerned about constantly breathing smoke filled air, so I retreated to the Santa Fe and called it a day.

Thursday continued the trend of disappointing days on the Big Thompson River over the last several years. I avoided injury, but that’s a fairly low bar for success. Two small fish in four hours of fishing is rather futile, with thirty minutes of fun during the hatch allowing me to elevate the rating from failure to worse than average. Now that I saw the DWR graph, I am inclined to attribute some of the poor fishing to the sudden changes in flows. In this case returning to familiar territory was not a recipe for success.

Fish Landed: 6

Big Thompson River – 10/03/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Special regulation water below Lake Estes

Big Thompson River 10/03/2019 Photo Album

I planned another trip to Eleven Mile Canyon on Friday, so I sought a nearby destination for my fishing venture on Thursday, October 3, 2019. The flows on the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes were in the 45 – 50 CFS range, and I knew from past experience, that this level was nearly ideal. The fly shop reports were encouraging, so I reviewed all my posts on trips to the Big Thompson in late September and early October since 2010. The blog descriptions reminded me of some stellar days, so I decided to make the drive. I noted that deer hair caddis, stimulators, Jake’s gulp beetles, blue winged olives, and salvation nymphs produced decent results on previous trips.

I arrived at a pullout along the upper river several miles below the dam by 10:30AM, and I was perched on a rock with my Orvis Access four weight ready to cast by 11AM. The temperature was a chilly 48 degrees, so I snuggled in my Northface light down coat for the morning session.

Shadows Over My Morning Starting Point

My quest for Big Thompson trout commenced with a tan pool toy hopper, salvation nymph and soft hackle emerger; and I netted three trout in the first hour, before I paused for lunch a bit after noon. Two of the early catches were brown trout, and one was an eleven-inch rainbow. Each of my flies attracted a fish in the early going.

Productive

Number Three

After lunch I continued through a very attractive section that featured deep runs and pools, and I concluded that my flies were not drifting deep enough for the trout, that were likely hugging bottom, until the sun warmed the water column. I lengthened the tippet section that connected the hopper to the salvation, and I replaced the non-beaded soft hackle emerger with a beadhead hares ear. These two changes extended the length and added weight with the hope of generating deeper drifts.

Another Fine Rainbow

The move paid dividends, and the fish count rose steadily from three to eight. Most of the early afternoon landed fish were rainbows, and several chunky thirteen inchers surprised me. The ‘bows grabbed the hares ear in narrow, deep slots; and I congratulated myself for the modifications that produced deeper drifts.

Love the Speckles

By 1:30PM I reached a long slow-moving pool, and earlier I witnessed two anglers, as they prospected the smooth water. Rather than fish the water that experienced recent thrashing, I climbed the bank and returned to my car. I performed a U-turn and drove downstream for another mile and then parked in a pullout just before the first bridge-crossing after Noel’s Draw. I used this as an opportunity to shed the light down layer, and I replaced it with a fleece hoodie.

I geared up once again and hiked down the highway, until I was .2 mile below the bridge, and at this point I encountered another angler, who was striding up the shoulder of US 34 toward the section, that I targeted. When I remained thirty yards above him, I decided to descend down a steep bank covered with large boulders. This proved to be a flawed strategy. I was one-third of the way down, when I stepped on the top of a rock and placed all my weight on it. As I prepared to make another step, the rock shifted, and I lost my balance and fell forward. In a split-second reaction, I dropped my rod and reached my two hands forward and broke my fall on a large flat rock below the unstable rock that proved my undoing. Once I got over the shock of the mishap, I became aware of a burning sensation in both wrists and the palms of my hands, as they absorbed the brunt of my weight. Additionally, my right shin throbbed, and I concluded that I bruised it on the crest of the rock responsible for my plunge.

I decided to sit down to rest, regain my composure, and assess the extent of my injuries. I checked my rod, and it survived the accident in one piece, and I was pleased with that outcome. My throbbing leg was inside my waders, so I was not in a position to examine the damage, but I was fairly certain that it was a deep contusion. The burning nerve sensation in my wrists and palms gradually subsided, and I decided to resume fishing. I prospected the dry/dropper through three or four nice plunge pools with no success, but my mind remained more concerned with the aftermath of my dangerous fall.

At this point I reached a whitewater chute, so I carefully climbed the rocky bank on all fours and reversed my direction, until I was beyond the bridge and the Santa Fe. I cautiously maneuvered down a much shorter bank and resumed my upstream progression. By now all aches from my left hand disappeared, but my right hand sent out twinges of pain, when I bent my wrist backward beyond 45 degrees. I periodically tested my wrist by flexing my fingers and bending the wrist in various directions, and mobility remained, although the backward bend generated the most discomfort.

Lovely Spot

I covered the relatively straight trough between the bridge and a long smooth pool in the early afternoon with no landed fish, and I considered quitting, but the sight of the pool caused me to reconsider. I decided to change my approach and tied a size 16 gray deer hair caddis to my line, after I removed the three-fly set up.

The injured wrist continued to shoot spurts of pain up my arm, but I fired a series of long casts to the shallow and clear tail of the pool, and a few spooked fish darted downstream. After five minutes in the slow tailout I reached the midsection, where the main channel fanned out, and two nice deep shelf pools occupied the space between the center run and the banks. I paused to observe, and several random rises increased my interest level, and allowed me to temporarily forget my discomfort. The gray caddis was ignored, so I switched to a black parachute ant. I did not see blue winged olives, and the wind gusted periodically, so I concluded that the rises resulted from terrestrial windfalls.

Lowering

The theory was sound, but the ant was treated with disdain. Again, I pondered my next move, and I spotted a pair of small mayflies fluttering erratically in the wind above the river. I knotted a CDC blue winged olive to my line and sprayed casts to the sites of recent rises, but my favorite BWO imitation was ignored. After twenty minutes of futility I swapped the CDC olive for a Klinkhammer BWO emerger, and although it required a bountiful amount of casting, I eventually duped two decent fish on the low floating emerger style dry fly.

The fish count was perched on ten, but I was challenged by a very respectable rainbow, that darted to the surface to suck down a tiny morsel on a fairly regular timetable. The fish was no more that five feet away and three feet beyond the center current seam. I decided to revert to a CDC olive, but this time I selected a size 24 with a very slender body and a tall CDC wing. The choice proved fortuitous, and in a short amount of time I pricked one fish and hooked and played another for a few seconds, before it escaped. While this action was transpiring, the dark rainbow continued to tease me with aggressive darting rises right under my nose.

Brilliant Colors

I sopped up the moisture with my shirt and dipped the CDC olive in my dry shake canister and fluffed the wing, until it stood erect with a narrow profile. I began to make short casts above the targeted rainbow, and I held my line off the water, so that only the fly and leader touched the surface. Finally, after at least ten drifts, the crimson form darted upward and sipped my fly! Since I was holding my rod high to keep the line off the water, I only needed to execute a quick lift, and I was attached to a writhing rainbow trout. After a few minutes I dipped my net beneath the thrashing beauty, and I celebrated my hard-earned success.

CDC BWO Finally Worked

The last hour of dry fly action enabled me to forget my fall and the periodic pain in my right wrist. I salvaged a double-digit day that included some very bright vividly colored rainbow trout. I canceled my plans for an Eleven Mile trip on Friday, but hopefully my wrist recovers enough to allow a day of fishing on Monday. Early October is way too early to end the 2019 fishing season.

Fish Landed: 11

Big Thompson River – 03/28/2019

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Above RV park at large bend in special regulation water

Big Thompson River 03/28/2019 Photo Album

After three challenging days of fishing on the North Platte River, I was anxious for a day of rest on Wednesday. Unfortunately this day developed into the nicest day of the spring of 2019. It would have been an ideal day to fly fish, but I took advantage to plant the remainder of my raised beds. A glance at the five day forecast revealed that Thursday was the last mild day, before cold weather and a storm arrived. One day of relaxation was enough, and I pondered options for a day of fishing on Thursday.

South Boulder Creek, the North Fork of St. Vrain Creek, the Big Thompson River and the Cache la Poudre were on my radar, but after reviewing streamflows and fly shop fishing reports I settled on the Big Thompson. Current flows in the canyon below Lake Estes were a moderate 37 CFS, and I was drawn to low clear water after the dirty conditions on the North Platte.

I departed from my house in Denver by 8:45, and this enabled me to arrive at a pullout five miles below the dam at 10:30AM. The low clear flows were indeed in place, and the air temperature was in the mid-fifties, as I jumped into my waders and pulled on a fleece layer. The weather remained comfortable throughout my day on the river. The wind gusted off and on, but it did not represent a significant hindrance until the final thirty minutes.

Lots of Visible Fish in This Starting Area

The starting location was a thirty yard long relatively slow moving pool, and five or six small trout darted from the bank, where I entered to begin my morning quest for trout. I began the morning with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph, and red annelid worm. I prospected with this combination for ten minutes, and managed two refusals to the fat Albert. I was skeptical of the annelid, so I exchanged it for a beadhead RS2. These three flies finally attracted interest, and I landed four trout before I took my lunch break at noon. A brown trout and rainbow nabbed the RS2, and then a small brown grabbed the hares ear. The last of the four trout netted in the morning slurped the yellow fat Albert, and this represented my first trout caught on a dry fly in 2019.

Grabbed a RS2

During the one hour before lunch I continued to notice sporadic refusals to the fat Albert, and I was late to set the hook on quite a few fish. I speculated that these were small fish that nipped the tiny RS2. I observed several groups of rainbows that appeared to be in spawning mode, so I exchanged the hares ear for an apricot soft egg, and I bounced this along the bottom for the last thirty minutes to no avail.

A Rainbow Joins the Count

The Trout Snack

After lunch I continued with the egg and RS2 for a bit without success, so I once again made a change and replaced the egg fly with a salvation nymph. A fifteen minute trial failed to change my fortunes, so I reverted to the hares ear and retained the RS2. From 12:30 until 2:30 I migrated upstream with the yellow fat Albert, hares ear, and RS2; and I tallied three small brown trout. All these fish slashed the RS2, as I drifted the dry/dropper configuration along the rocks that bordered the left and right bank. The third brown actually consumed a sparkle wing RS2, as I broke off the initial RS2 in the process of landing fish number six.

By 2:30 I encountered another angler, so I climbed the bank and hiked back along the shoulder of highway 34, until I returned to my starting point. This section of the river was the thirty yard slow moving pool that entertained me during the early stages of my outing. I decided to experiment with a dry fly in the area, where I could see the reaction of visible trout. I selected a size 14 gray stimulator from my fly box, and I began to shoot long casts to visible fish. The wind accelerated significantly compared to earlier, and I was forced to compensate by directing casts ten feet to the right of the location I targeted.

Needless to say accuracy was not an effective part of my arsenal; however, I did manage to generate a look and several splashy refusals to the stimulator. I paused to consider downsizing to a size 16 deer hair caddis, but the wind once again lashed out with several extended gusts. These outbursts rippled the surface of the water, but once the blast of air subsided, three or four rises materialized throughout the pool. I knew from similar experiences in the past, that the sudden surface feeding probably resulted from terrestrials being blown into the water. I immediately stripped up my line and added a size 18 black parachute ant on a twelve inch dropper behind the stimulator.

Lunch View

I began to cast the double dry to the areas, where I spotted rises, and during the last twenty minutes I succeeded in hooking and landing a brown trout to elevate the fish count to eight. In addition I generated three temporary connections. I feel certain that I cracked the code, and ants were the food of choice for the opportunistic Big Thompson trout. Unfortunately it was very difficult to detect the subtle slurp of the trout given the low riding ant and the rippled surface.

Thursday was a pleasant spring day in the Rocky Mountains. I landed eight small trout over four hours including two on dry flies. The catch rate of two per hour was average based on my fly fishing history. In retrospect I should have factored in the high ratio of rainbow trout in the Big Thompson River and the seasonal spawning ritual, when I chose my destination. I plan to rest the Big T for several weeks, before I return, when the rainbow reproduction cycle ebbs.

Fish Landed: 8

 

 

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.

Resting

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