Big Thompson River – 04/13/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Approximately four miles below the dam.

Fish Landed: 19

Big Thompson River 04/13/2016 Photo Album

I suppose it is not rational to compete against a river, but that is the situation I found myself in on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. I visited the Big Thompson River the previous Thursday, April 7, and I felt like the river defeated me. I landed five trout in four hours of fishing, and I view that as a sub-par outing. In addition I made strategic errors, and I pledged to make adjustments and not repeat them. The low clear flows of the river got the best of me. My first shortcoming was my tendency to dwell in large pools where I could sight multiple fish. It never seems to work unless the fish are rising, and it did not prove to be successful last Thursday. Perhaps the greater flaw to my fishing style was my disregard for caution when approaching the stream. Darting fleeing fish were observed on numerous occasions, and this indicated my carelessness in wading and a failure to maintain a safe distance from likely fish holding locations. In reality the river did not conquer me, I defeated myself.

Wednesday was a perfect day for fishing. The high temperature reached 59 degrees and the wind was moderate. When I arrived at a pullout four miles below Lake Estes, I assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod and pulled on a fleece layer as the temperature was 51 degrees. I hiked downstream along the shoulder of the road and passed a private cabin on a bend, and when I reached the next seasonal residence, I cut down to the stream. Flows increased from 30 cfs to 40 since my last visit nearly a week ago.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Water” type=”image” alt=”P4130003.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

During my previous visit I fished nearly the entire time with a Fat Albert and trailing nymphs, and I questioned whether an attractor dry fly might have worked. I decided to test this theory, and I knotted a gray size 14 stimulator to my line. Since the small stimulator is not as buoyant as a foam attractor, I opted to tie a size 20 salad spinner to a three foot dropper. The salad spinner is a black midge larva/pupa imitation, and the reports I read indicated that midges are prevalent in the morning. These two flies proved to be a fortuitous choice, as almost immediately I began landing fish. The Big Thompson rainbows and browns jumped all over the salad spinner, and I landed seven fish in the first hour. I was amazed at the reversal of fortunes. Unlike the previous week I moved at a brisk pace and sprayed three to five casts in the likely spots before moving on. One of the seven fish landed during the late morning pounced on the stimulator, but all the others snatched the small midge larva from the drift. I continue to be amazed at the effectiveness of minuscule midges, and the ability of trout to see these tiny morsels in the rushing flows of a cold mountain stream.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Pretty Rainbow Early in My Day” type=”image” alt=”P4130001.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

 [peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Stimulator Attacker” type=”image” alt=”P4130004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I was feeling rather euphoric after an hour of fast paced action, and some dark clouds rolled overhead from the southwest. I was actually concerned that I neglected to pack my raincoat, but the cloud never yielded more than a few inconsequential drops. The heavy cloud cover provoked some baetis emergence, and this event coincided with my approach to a long smooth pool just downstream from where the car was parked. I waded to the bottom left corner of the pool away from the road, and I paused to observe. Sure enough I spotted several extremely subtle rises in the light riffle. I responded by tossing some half-hearted casts to the tail of the pool, but as I suspected, this action did not elicit a response. I swapped the salad spinner for a RS2, as I hoped the trout would chase the small nymph form of the baetis, but they were also having none of it.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Productive Pool with My Car in View” type=”image” alt=”P4130006.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

By process of elimination I concluded that the fish were feeding on or near the surface. Once again I reacted, and this time of removed both nymphs and tied on a CDC olive behind the stimulator. I do not often use a double dry set up, but the CDC olive was going to be difficult to follow in the dim light, and I liked the idea of having a large leading dry fly to gauge the drift of the olive. The twin dry fly configuration proved to be a stroke of genius, as I moved my fish tally from seven to fourteen by 12:30 when I broke for lunch. I was not instigating a take on every cast, but it obviously worked often enough to gain my confidence. The game became one of spotting a rise and timing my cast to the cadence of the fish, although I picked up a few by simply blind casting to likely holding locations.

Needless to say I was quite elated with my success when I climbed the bank and returned to the car to grab my lunch and water. My day was a success regardless of what transpired in the early afternoon. I ate my lunch on some rocks above a large deep pool directly across from the car, and I noticed two rises during my twenty minute break. I filed this information in my memory and then walked back along the shoulder to my exit point. I resumed my position along the left bank just below a long downed tree branch, and I quickly landed another brown trout on the CDC olive. Unfortunately when I cast to the juicy riffles at the head of the long pool, I experienced two momentary hook ups, but this was a small setback after the hot streak of the morning.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Gorgeous Color on This Rainbow” type=”image” alt=”P4130005.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Next I waded upstream to the large deep pool that I monitored while eating my lunch. Just as I expected, I landed a small brown from the center area where I noticed one of the rises. After releasing this fish I paused to scan for additional rises, but none materialized, so I made some prospecting casts to no avail. The blue winged olive hatch seemed to end temporarily, and the double dries ceased to draw interest, so I returned to the Fat Albert and nymphs system that yielded limited success the previous week. I chose a bright green caddis pupa as the top fly and a RS2 as the fly on the tip. I encountered a section of pocket water, and the change gave me hope when a brown trout snatched the caddis as it drifted tight to the roadside bank. This was a decent fish, but it escaped my grasp before I could snap a photo.

I moved again, and I quickly encountered a deep pocket. Here I tested my jigging and lifting technique that served me well on the Arkansas, and when I lifted the flies at the end of the deep slot, I felt a tug and landed a twelve inch rainbow. This fish sported spectacular color with many vivid black spots and a brilliant crimson stripe along its sides. Again the rainbow escaped my grip before I could snap a photo.

I wish I could report that the remainder of the afternoon yielded additional steady action, but that was not the case. I reached another long pool and once again I noticed a few sporadic rises. I cut off all my flies and tied on a single CDC olive, but I could not fool these fish into eating my fraud. I was guilty of dwelling in this pool far too long, but then I recognized the error of my ways and moved along as the stream curved away from the road. I reverted to the dry/dropper system, and finally in the last hour I landed number nineteen. It was a hungry rainbow that hammered the Fat Albert.

It was a fun day on the Big Thompson River in early April. My adjustments paid dividends, and I landed seven fish on a dry fly. The weather was cloudy, and this provoked a hatch, but it was not cold or wet enough to make life uncomfortable. Fly fishing in 2016 in Colorado is heating up, and this fly fishing blogger cannot wait to visit another stream in the near future..

Big Thompson River – 04/07/2016

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM

Location: Began just above flooded RV park and fished upstream to private water.

Fish Landed: 5

Big Thompson River 04/07/2016 Photo Album

I did not fall in the river, and the weather was beautiful, and I only lost one fly. These were the positives for Thursday on the Big Thompson River. Actually the river was quite clear although low at 30 CFS, and I spotted many fish. Unfortunately I only landed five fish in four hours of fishing, so my catch rate was sub par for my personal expectations, but all things considered, it was a fine day.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Starting Point” type=”image” alt=”P4070005.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Thursday was the first day in 2016 where I fished comfortably, and the wind was present but not a significant deterrent. I also scored another first, but more on that later. I arrived at the pullout five miles below the dam in Estes Park by 10:30, and I was on the water fishing a few minutes before 11AM. The water was very low and clear, so I concluded that I could use the dry/dropper approach and effectively fish most locations. An indicator with a split shot would disturb the water excessively, but a large foam dry fly would land with a natural plop.

I began with a size eight Chernobyl ant, and below that I attached an ultra zug bug on a long three foot dropper. In the first half hour I hooked but did not land two rainbow trout, and one felt like a fish in excess of twelve inches, which is decent for the Big Thompson River. Before breaking for lunch at noon I landed two small rainbows on the ultra zug bug, but I spotted many fish that did not respond to my offerings. In fact quite a few fish darted from cover next to the bank as I waded upstream. I decided to be much more cautious in my approach after lunch.

The first location that I encountered after lunch was a huge long smooth pool. I paused to observe before making any casts, and I could see at least seven fish in front of me. They were hovering a foot or so below the surface, and it seemed that they were feeding on something in the drift. In the morning I noticed a few refusals to the Chernobyl ant so I exchanged it for a Fat Albert, and I added a RS2 as a third fly. Unfortunately the visible trout in the pool treated these flies like unappetizing flotsam, so I was forced to reconsider my approach. I decided to try a dry fly, and I knotted a light gray size 16 caddis to my line after removing the other ineffective imitations. This created a refusal from a small trout, but then it was soundly ignored as well.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Gorgeous Pool” type=”image” alt=”P4070009.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Could the fish be accustomed to blue winged olives, and should I try one of my minute CDC olive flies? I decided to throw a double dry and tied a CDC olive to an eighteen inch leader attached to the bend of the caddis. I began shooting casts to the riffle at the head of the pool and allowed the dainty dries to dance along the seam toward the tail out and the smooth water. On the fifth cast I watched in amazement as a fairly large trout moved a couple feet and sipped something on the surface. I guessed that my flies were in this vicinity, so I set the hook, and a thirteen inch rainbow trout began thrashing angrily on my line. I maintained tension, and within a minute I maneuvered the prize catch into my net. The pretty silvery rainbow trout was probably my best fish on the season to date, and I induced it to sip my size 22 CDC olive. Needless to say I grinned, and I was quite proud of this turn of events.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Ready to Be Released” type=”image” alt=”P4070008.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I moved on, but I did not see any BWO’s in the air nor did I observe rising fish. Continuing to prospect with the small dries seemed like a difficult proposition, so I returned to the Fat Albert, emerald caddis pupa, and soft hackle emerger. A small caddis landed on my hand at one point thus the caddis pupa offering, and I continued to believe that blue winged olives would make a strong appearance at some point. I fished these three flies for the remainder of the afternoon, and I managed to land two additional trout, both browns. I covered a huge amount of stream for two fish, but both registered another first for me in 2016. They both appeared out of nowhere and smashed the Fat Albert!

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Fish on Fat Albert Tied in Winter” type=”image” alt=”P4070011.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I feel that the lack of a significant hatch was a factor contributing to my low catch rate on Thursday; however, fisherman error probably accounted for more of the slow action. I continually fight my obsession with thoroughness by forcing myself to move rapidly and to limit the number of casts to an area. Thursday was the perfect day to adhere to this principle, since I only saw one other fisherman on the stream, and that was just before my departure. Instead of constantly moving, I tended to dwell in areas under the false belief that I could change flies and eventually dupe the visible trout before me. It rarely happened.

I was also guilty of clumsily approaching pools and likely fish holding locations. I mentioned that I saw numerous fish scatter as I waded along the bank in the morning, and although I improved my approach in the afternoon, I have to admit that fleeing fish remained a common observance. Hopefully I can learn from my outing on the Big Thompson River and improve my performance on future visits.

Big Thompson River – 10/20/2015

Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Just above the fenced off and heavily signed private section after the first bridge below Noel’s Draw.

Fish Landed: 10

Big Thompson River 10/20/2015 Photo Album

I can feel the fishing season ebbing as the weather cools a bit, and along with the cooler temperatures, the availability of aquatic insects wanes. My thoughts increasingly turn to fly tying and building my inventory for the 2016 season. The weather forecast for the coming week projected rain and cool temperatures with highs in the mid-forties. However, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday suggested a continuation of the warm and dry conditions that blessed those of us who live in Colorado in 2015. I decided to take advantage and made the drive to the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes. My weather app did, however, indicate that rain could begin at 2PM, so I expected to register at least three hours on the river before inclement weather arrived.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Low Clear Flows on the Big Thompson River” type=”image” alt=”PA200053.JPG” ]

On a previous trip I experienced decent success in a boulder strewn segment of the river below the first bridge after passing Noel’s Draw, so I decided to park at the downstream border of public access before encountering a small private stretch that was well marked with warning signs and barbed wire. In preparation for Tuesday’s trip, I reviewed several of my posts from fishing the Big Thompson River in previous years during a similar time frame, and these logs indicated that I enjoyed reasonable success using a size 16 olive-brown deer hair caddis. Another productive fly during an October 23 trip was the beadhead hares ear. This information prompted me to begin my day with a deer hair caddis on my line.

The temperature was in the low fifties as I began, so I pulled on my fleece hoodie. I chose to cast flies with my Orvis four weight, and I quickly scrambled down a short bank to the edge of the river just above the no trespassing signs and barbed wire fence. The river was very conducive to my style of fishing with numerous attractive deep pockets and runs, and I worked my way upstream making quick short drifts with the caddis. Researching my blog posts paid dividends, as I landed four trout in an hour and a half of fishing before I broke for lunch. Three were brown trout and one was a rainbow, and I was surprised by this ratio, as I expected the larger browns to be in spawning mode.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Same Fish Out of the Net” type=”image” alt=”PA200055.JPG” ]

Among these four fish was a memorable scenario. I cast to a small nook tucked behind a huge boulder and within one foot of the far bank. I allowed the caddis to flutter down softly and created a small pile of coiled tippet to counteract drag. The dry fly sat motionless for an instant, and just as it was about to skate down the river, a twelve inch brown materialized and slashed the caddis. It was a fine fish by Big Thompson standards, and I was quite pleased to present my fly to a tough location, and then reap the reward of my efforts.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Rainbow of the Day” type=”image” alt=”PA200056.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Nice Pool Ahead” type=”image” alt=”PA200058.JPG” ]

During lunch I moved the car to a position above my exit point, and then I resumed fishing from where I quit. I managed to land one more trout on the caddis, and then for some strange reason, the fish of the Big T began to refuse the slender dry fly. I moved through a series of fly changes including Jake’s gulp beetle and a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear dry/dropper combination. None of these flies produced as well as the caddis, so after I passed under the bridge, I reverted to the fly that brought prosperity in the AM. Unfortunately this move did not resurrect success, so I pondered my options. It was now the time of day when blue winged olives typically get active, and the sky was clouding up in the west, so I elected to go back to the dry/dropper approach.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Parachute Hopper Victim” type=”image” alt=”PA200060.JPG” ]

I tied a parachute hopper with a hares ear body to the end of my line as the top fly, and then beneath it I knotted a beadhead soft hackle emerger. I prospected with these flies from just above the bridge until I was behind the first cabin next to the road at a large bend. Much to my surprise the parahopper yielded three trout and the emerger netted one. I covered quite a bit of water to attract these four fish, and contrary to conventional logic, tiny short pockets along the bank were productive, while juicy deep slow moving pools were fruitless.

When I turned the bend behind the cabin, I was facing west, and the lighting became quite difficult. I tried wading to the opposite bank, but this did not change the glare, and the only way to counteract it was to position myself upstream. The low flows of 34 CFS precluded this action, as the resident fish bolted for cover when anything disrupted their field of view while looking upstream. Given these difficulties, I decided to exit and walk back to the car, but along the way I stopped to observe a long smooth slow moving pool.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Rising Fish in This Pool” type=”image” alt=”PA200063.JPG” ]

I patiently waited along the shoreline near the midsection of the pool, and after a few minutes I saw what I was hoping to notice. A subtle ring appeared adjacent to the current seam that entered the pool in the center twenty feet above me. I crossed to the opposite side of the river and tied on a size 22 CDC blue winged olive. Once more I waited as I scanned the river for a second rise, and after a bit, I spotted one in the riffle of the center current. I lobbed a couple casts, and it was very difficult to follow the lint-like fly in the riffled water and dim light, but on the third pass, a swirl appeared where I approximated my fly to be. I quickly reacted with a hook set and played a nice rainbow trout to my net.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Blue Winged Olive Sipper” type=”image” alt=”PA200061.JPG” ]

I was very thrilled to have induced a trout to take my size 22 fly in very challenging conditions. Could I repeat this scenario? Once again I stood and watched, and sure enough I observed two more rises by separate fish on the opposite side of the main current seam. I carefully negotiated my way back to the bank next to the highway, and when I was properly positioned, I fluttered a cast to the spot where the lower of the two fish revealed itself. Again on the third cast a small fish rose, but before it sipped in my offering, it veered to the side and refused. Needless to say I was disappointed by this rude rejection.

But then I remembered there was a second rise farther upstream. I took a couple steps and then cast to the upstream target. I checked my cast high so the small morsel fluttered down with some slack, and splat, a fish nabbed the CDC BWO! I quickly lifted my rod and set the hook, and the fish streaked toward the center current. At this point I was disappointed to learn that the small rebel made a quick turn and slipped free of my size 22 hook. I was thwarted a second time, but I appreciated that my imitation fooled a second fish.

I rested the pool again for three or four minutes, but the fish were either spooked or no longer interested in feeding on surface naturals. The sky was getting darker and the wind was picking up a bit, and I wondered if perhaps the heaviest blue winged olive emergence was still ahead. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 3PM, and I debated whether I should wait or begin my drive home. If I waited much longer, I would face heavy rush hour traffic in Denver. In the midst of these considerations, the sun reappeared, and this made my decision. I already increased my fish count by ten, and there were no guarantees of future hatch activity, so I reeled up my fly and returned to the car and prepared for the return trip.

On October 20 I landed ten fish and all of them except one rose to a dry fly. I experienced several memorable situations that involved success under technical circumstances. It was a fun outing late in the 2015 season, and I am thankful for the opportunity.


Big Thompson River – 10/06/2015

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Began on dirt road to Grandpa’s Retreat and fished above mile marker 71 and then moved to the area where there is a very large pullout on the south side of the highway around a mile below Noel’s Draw.

Fish Landed: 11

Big Thompson River 10/06/2015 Photo Album

Just short of a week ago I enjoyed one of my best days ever on the Big Thompson River. Certainly a return trip on Tuesday October 6 would produce another memorable outing. That was my thinking, as I left the house and drove to the Big Thompson River below Olympus Dam. The air temperature was in the high 40’s when I arrived a bit after 9AM, so I chose to wear my fleece layer and my New Zealand hat with the ear flaps folded down. I can assure you that I was not overdressed.

Since I did not wish to fish the exact same segment that I covered the previous Wednesday, I drove farther downstream and pulled over in a small pullout along US 34. After I climbed into my waders, I rigged my Loomis five weight rod and then walked along the highway to a dirt road that angles away from the river before it reaches Grandpa’s Retreat. A large camping van was parked across the dirt road as if it was intentionally barricading access to Grandpa’s Retreat, so I dropped down the rocky bank fifteen yards from the intersection of the driveway and the highway.

I decided to test a Chernobyl ant and a hares ear nymph, as I began to prospect some very attractive pools and runs near the starting point, but the flies went unmolested. In fact I progressed around the bend so that I was next to the highway and away from the gravel road, and I did not even see evidence that fish were present in this portion of the Big Thompson River. Finally after a half hour of fishing I landed a small brown trout that savored the hares ear. Next I approached a spot where there was a nice deep run, and as the Chernobyl drifted along the main current, it attracted looks from two fish. The sight of fish provoked me to make a large quantity of futile drifts through the moderate depth run, but the fish were apparently aware of my presence. I pivoted around and plopped the Chernboyl in a short choppy pocket, and once again a fish floated up to take a look and then spurned my fraudulent food offering.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”An Early Brightly Colored Big Thompson Brown Trout” type=”image” alt=”PA060215.JPG” ]

Perhaps the trout were interested in midge larva? I added a zebra midge as a third fly, but the size 22 morsel was soundly ignored as well. An hour elapsed, and it was 10:30 on my watch, so I concluded that perhaps the baetis nymphs were getting active. I substituted a RS2 for the zebra midge, and this paid off with a decent brown trout. The pattern of changing flies and covering an abundance of water continued until I stopped for lunch at 11:45. By that time I landed four trout including the two already described. A decent rainbow rose to a Charlie boy hopper after I replaced the Chernobyl, and another small brown trout nabbed a soft hackle emerger from a riffle.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”I Exited for Lunch at Mile Marker 71″ type=”image” alt=”PA060216.JPG” ]

I exited the river for lunch at mile marker 71, and then after lunch I continued moving upstream past some aging cabins on the left bank until I reached some private water along Brown Trout Lane. I actually fished in private water for a bit since I did not see a sign down by the stream, although as I walked back to the car, I noticed signs along the road above the twenty yard section that I fished. Where the river moved away from the road, it deflected off a large vertical rock wall and created a long deep pool. A trail of small bubbles denoted the current line, and I drifted the dry/dropper flies with the Charlie boy on top along the current seam for the entire length. I spotted at least five refusals, so I took some time to swap the hopper for a Jake’s gulp beetle, but the change was not rewarded. In fact the beetle failed to generate any interest whatsoever during the morning and early afternoon time period despite its superstar performance on the same river on September 30. How quickly the conditions shift! I did manage to land two nice rainbows during the post-lunch time period, as they smacked the Charlie boy, and this moved my fish count to six. I was convinced this would be my final tally.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Nice Chunky Rainbow” type=”image” alt=”PA060217.JPG” ]

The sky remained partly cloudy throughout the morning with more sun than overcast, however I was anticipating rain since my Weather Underground app projected a 90% chance of rain by 1PM. It did not happen by one o’clock, but the lighting diminished and the sky darkened, and the wind picked up. This change in conditions prompted me to pull my raincoat on over my fleece. Just as I reached the no trespassing sign along Brown Trout Lane, I observed quite a few dimples in a huge pool on the other side of the private line. I was tempted to toss some casts into the private water while maintaining my position on what I assumed was public land, but I thought better of it and returned to the car and drove back toward Estes Park. I hoped to find the nascent hatch in a public location farther upstream.

I elected to stop just below an area where a very wide pullout exists on the opposite side of the highway among a grove of tall cottonwood trees. The stream here was characterized by many large boulders, plunge pools, deep pockets and faster runs. I was searching for water more similar to that which delivered superior results on September 30. By now the sky was quite black, and I felt a few drops of rain, so I flipped the hood of my raincoat up over my New Zealand hat with ear flaps. I had a beetle on my line with a soft hackle emerger on a 2.5 foot dropper, and I diligently covered some very attractive pockets around the many rocks. I was certain that this would yield some aggressive feeders, but it did not.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Approaching a Nice Pool” type=”image” alt=”PA060219.JPG” ]

I rounded the bend and reached a nice long smooth pool that was quite close to where I parked the Santa Fe, and as I paused to observe, I did in fact notice several rises throughout the pool. I removed the dry/dropper configuration and tied a CDC blue winged olive to my line. For the next hour and a half I fished the tiny dry fly to rising trout in the pool that I was in plus another nice stretch of deep water just above. Seeing my fly in the dim light was quite a challenge, but I did manage to land five trout during the hatch time period. I also experienced a few momentary hook ups and a host of splashy rejections. The number of casts per fish probably averaged thirty, and I spent a fair amount of time dabbing and drying the CDC wing which became saturated frequently due to the intensifying rain. I actually used three different CDC BWO flies in an effort to maintain some level of dryness in the soggy conditions.

Tuesday proved to be a difficult day on the Big Thompson River, which only six days earlier lured me into a state of euphoria with a twenty-eight fish day. On that earlier day the trout gobbled my Jake’s gulp beetle like children eating chocolates in a candy store. I knew there was a threat of rain, and I anxiously anticipated the clouds since those conditions generally foreshadow a strong blue winged olive hatch. My wish was fulfilled, and I managed some success, but the fishing was not nearly as productive nor easy as the beetle plopping of six days prior.


Big Thompson River – 09/30/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Began .2 mile below the first bridge after Noel’s Draw and fished back up until I was nearly at Noel’s Draw

Fish Landed: 28

Big Thompson River 09/30/2015 Photo Album

I was a bit disappointed with my outing on Tuesday afternoon mainly because I felt that I should have landed more fish in conjunction with the distance I covered. I sought redemption by planning a day trip to South Boulder Creek, since the flows there were 132 cfs. Generally I desire South Boulder Creek to be in the 80 cfs range, so 132 cfs was a bit high, but I have experienced success at 180 cfs. Given the relatively low conditions on most Front Range streams, I actually looked forward to flows that were a bit higher.

On Wednesday morning I packed the car, but before I departed, I decided to make a final check of the stream flows. Denver Water is notorious for making sudden changes, and that is exactly what I discovered as I opened the DWR website. South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir was rushing down the canyon at 175 cfs. I was game for 132 cfs, but I was not in the mood for the spring-like conditions that would accompany 175 cfs, so I made a last minute adjustment and headed to the Big Thompson Canyon below Lake Estes.

I arrived at the wide pullout just above the first bridge after passing Noel’s Draw by 10:00AM, and by the time I donned my waders and rigged my Orvis Access four weight and stepped in the water, it was 10:30. The air temperature was 57 degrees and some large gray clouds covered the sky so I pulled on a fleece. I walked across the bridge and then strode along the shoulder until I was .2 mile farther downstream. I read some posts from 2012 when I fished the Big Thompson at the same time of the year, and I learned that a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph were effective, so I tied on a Chernobyl and salvation and began prospecting the relatively low clear flows of 36 cfs.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Low Flows Expose a Boulder Field” type=”image” alt=”P9300167.JPG” ]

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Catch of the Day” type=”image” alt=”P9300166.JPG” ]

At these levels quite a few large boulders were exposed, but sufficient water remained to create some nice deep holes and pockets. It was not long before a pair of brown trout smashed the Chernobyl ant, and then a smaller cousin nabbed the salvation nymph in the swirling water behind a protruding rock. I was quite pleased with my early success, as I continued working my way upstream through the boulder field. Another small brown slurped the Chernobyl, and I was brimming with confidence. At this point, however, adversity decided to make an appearance. The Chernobyl became an object to observe rather than a tasty morsel.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Second Chernobyl Victim” type=”image” alt=”P9300168.JPG” ]

I concluded that the local trout were interested in terrestrials, but the Chernobyl was outside their size range, so I knotted a Jake’s gulp beetle to my line and began to plop it in likely locations. Almost immediately a ten inch rainbow reacted to the splash down in front of a boulder, and I was optimistic about my fly choice. For the remainder of the morning I landed three additional Big Thompson trout on Jake’s beetle, and then I broke for lunch. I advanced my fish count to eight by noon, and I was pleased to find a productive fly. I was concerned that my best fly was the one on my line, and I possessed no back up should it unravel or get lost on a tree branch.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”First Rainbow Loved Jake’s Gulp Beetle” type=”image” alt=”P9300169.JPG” ]

After lunch I resumed my progress upstream toward the bridge, but suddenly the beetle began to provoke refusals as well. I paused to consider my options and spied a few small mayflies fluttering above the stream. Given the overcast conditions, I expected blue winged olives, so I elected to revert to a Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph and beadhead RS2. These flies remained on my line as I fished up to and under the bridge, but they only produced one brown trout that nabbed the RS2 as it began to swing. The long dry spell convinced me that the trio of flies on my line was not what the fish were looking for, so I decided to perform another conversion. The thick clouds and heavy overcast indicated fast action, but I was missing out.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Reverse Side” type=”image” alt=”P9300172.JPG” ]

Jake’s gulp beetle delivered four fish in a short amount of time in the late morning, so I decided to return to that mode of attack. Quickly my fish count surged from nine to thirteen as I approached a nice long deep pool with a fast run along the upper third. Fish began to rise on both sides of the faster current, and they ignored my heretofore popular beetle. I took the plunge and clipped off the beetle and knotted a size 20 CDC blue winged olive to my leader. I shot a long cast half way up the pool on the left side of the center current, and I spotted a sip and reacted with a hook set and stripped in a feisty ten inch brown trout. Other fish continued to rise, but my CDC olive became radioactive, and the fussy residents of the stream avoided it.

I decided to abandon the picky eaters and moved on to faster pocket water. The tiny dry fly was not appropriate for this type of water, so I returned the beetle to my line and added a size 20 blue winged olive soft hackle emerger on a  2.5 foot dropper. This change proved to be magic, and I moved the fish count meter from fourteen to twenty-six over the remainder of the afternoon. This time period was approximately 1:30 until 3:00, and it coincided with the heaviest concentration of blue winged olives, although I would still characterize the hatch as light. Apparently there were enough nymphs and emergers to turn the fish on to my soft hackle, as it began attract their attention. I estimate that roughly one-third of my catch during this time frame resulted from the beetle, and the rest stemmed from the emerger.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Gorgeous Colors on This Jewel” type=”image” alt=”P9300173.JPG” ]

At three o’clock the response slowed measurably, so I substituted a salvation nymph for the soft hackle, and this move enabled me to add two more small fish to the daily count. By 3:30 I was twenty yards below Noel’s Draw, so I used this as an opportunity to cross to the road and returned to the Santa Fe.

Wednesday was a very productive day, as I landed twenty-eight trout. It did not seem like exceptionally hot fishing, but the action was relatively evenly spaced over my five hours on the stream. Most of the trout were in the 6-12 inch range with the vast majority nine and ten inch fish. I estimate that one-third were rainbow trout and the remainder were wild browns. Once I chose the gulp beetle and soft hackle combination, I settled into a nice rhythm and moved quickly from one likely spot to the next with short drifts and rapid casts. With this successful outing in the books I am anxious for my first fly fishing adventure of October. Stay tuned.

Big Thompson River – 04/29/2015

Time: 11:00AM – 3:00PM
Location: Downstream from the end of the catch and release at Waltonia Road
Fish Landed: 12

Big Thompson River 04/29/2015 Photo Album

Three hours of fishing on Tuesday were merely a tease, and I was itching for a longer stint of fly fishing with enough time to sink into a nice steady rhythm. Since I made plans for a two day excursion to the Arkansas River with Danny Ryan on Thursday and Friday, I did not wish to commit to a long drive on Wednesday. I surveyed the local options and settled on the Big Thompson River. The Big Thompson was severely impacted by the September 2013 flood, and I read that significant mileage was now devoid of fish, but electroshocking results in the eight miles below Olympus Dam actually yielded higher fish counts than prior to the high water event. I fished the Big Thompson one time in 2014 with fair results, so I decided to make a second post-flood visit.

Prior to departing I checked the CDOT web site in case significant delays continued on the main arteries to Estes Park and the Big Thompson River. Sure enough the map displayed construction cones on route 36 between Lyons and Estes Park, and when I tapped the cone, I learned that seven miles of my favorite route were reduced to one-way traffic Monday through Friday. Armed with this valuable information I chose the slightly longer but unobstructed route through Loveland and along the lower Big Thompson River. The water between Loveland and Drake was significantly stained, and I began to worry that I made a bad decision, and I would be fishing in murky conditions similar to Clear Creek on Tuesday.

I was relieved to discover however that the source of the  turbid flow was the North Fork of the Big Thompson which entered at the town of Drake, and once I traveled above this confluence, the water appeared to be nearly clear. Even though I’d driven this way in May 2014, I was still shocked by the stark scene of a stream tumbling through a wide trough covered with large boulders with virtually no vegetation along the banks. The flood apparently scoured all the trees and shrubs, and vegetation has not yet repopulated the riparian corridor. The riverbed rocks were stained an amber color, and this color bled through the stream flow to create the appearance of rusty water.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Flood Destroyed Vegetation” type=”image” alt=”P4280012.JPG” ]

When I reached the Waltonia Bridge at the extreme downstream border of the catch and release area, I pulled into a wide pullout and prepared to fish. I chose to use my Sage four weight rod for the comparatively narrow Big Thompson, and since the Chernobyl ant served me well on Clear Creek, I decided to offer it to Big Thompson fish. In fact I knotted the very same fly to my line that hooked all the Clear Creek fish. I began casting to pockets below the bridge and quickly moved to a position above the special regulation water. In a short amount of time I hooked and landed two tiny rainbow trout that were no more than three inches long. These fish caused me to suspect that the DOW stocked fingerling rainbows in an attempt to replenish the fish density after the flood. I began to have misgivings about my choice to fish so far downstream from Olympus Dam. How far downstream did the positive electroshocking results extend?

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The One and Only Producer on Wednesday” type=”image” alt=”P4290017.JPG” ]

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Beginning” type=”image” alt=”P4280008.JPG” ]

In a deep slot behind a large boulder just above the bridge, I was somewhat reassured when a nice twelve inch brown darted to the surface and slurped the Chernobyl ant. At least I knew there were some fish in the lower portion of the catch and release water. After the brown trout I covered quite a bit of water with no action and once again doubts crept into my head. Perhaps the brown was an aberrant fish, and fish density was quite low? I observed a few caddis in the air, so I decided to cover my bases and added a three foot dropper to the Chernobyl ant and then added an emerald caddis pupa as the point fly.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nicest Fish on the Day” type=”image” alt=”P4290015.JPG” ]

For some reason the dropper caused the fish to refuse the Chernobyl, and the caddis pupa was drawing no interest, so I clipped it off and returned to the single foam attractor as my offering. With the air temperature now climbing, the fish became more active and I landed four more brown trout before breaking for lunch. I was now convinced that sufficient fish remained in this section of the Big Thompson River to keep me entertained, although I was puzzled that they were all brown trout. The Big Thompson historically yielded 60-70% rainbow trout. Were the rainbows congregated somewhere for spawning or did they not survive the flood as well as the brown trout? I could only speculate on this sudden shift in the species ratio of my catch on the Big Thompson.

After lunch I crossed to the bank away from the highway and resumed my upstream progress while adding seven more brown trout to my fish count. It was a beautiful day with mainly bright sunshine and a cloudless blue sky, and the high temperature peaked in the low 60’s. A slight breeze rushed through the canyon from time to time, but it never impacted the fishing.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Fish Smacked Chenobyl Next to the Foam” type=”image” alt=”P4290021.JPG” ]

The water I fished was nearly all pockets and plunge pools, and the lower catch and release area became my private domain. This allowed me to move quickly without any concern of bumping into other fishermen. I scrambled over rocks and moved from pocket to pocket while popping the Chernobyl in all the likely spots with typically three to five drifts. As I prospected in this manner, I held my rod high to keep the fly line off the water and prevent drag. The most productive locations seemed to be deep slow flows next to structure. Most of the time the structure was large bankside boulders, but occasionally a log or an irregularity in the bank served the same purpose.

After my fish count reached twelve, the fish became more tentative toward the Chernobyl, and I experienced a streak of four or five hookups that escaped before finding my net. It seemed the fish were barely nipping the fly, and my hook set consequently had minimal staying power. My son Dan texted me that he had success on Scott Creek in North Carolina with a woolly bugger below a thingamabobber, so I decided to experiment with his approach on the Big Thompson. It was a nice thought, but it failed to produce so I reversed everything and returned to a single dry, albeit a size 14 stimulator with a medium olive body. This fly failed to live up to the Chernobyl performance, and I was about to return to the black oversized ant when I checked my watch and noticed it was 3PM. I was feeling quite weary from rock climbing, so I decided to halt my quest for trout at twelve and returned to the car.

Wednesday was a fun day. Fly fishing was reduced to its simplest form as I moved frequently and often and used only a size 10 Chenobyl ant. Success was totally dependent on a stealthy approach, reading the water, and executing a drag free drift. I’ll be returning to the Big Thompson again during the 2015 season.


Big Thompson River – 05/02/2014

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Began above RV park at bend on Route 34 (RV park has been washed away)

Fish Landed: 10

Big Thompson River 05/02/2014 Photo Album

Unusually heavy and steady rain during September 2013 brought flooding to most of the rivers and streams that drain from the front range to the South Platte River. This included several of my favorite destinations, the Big Thompson River and St. Vrain River. I read a report on the Big Thompson River which stated that the fish population was unaffected, and in fact electroshocking surveys suggested that the eight miles below Lake Estes contained more fish than were present prior to the flood. The St. Vrain suffered more devastation than the other front range streams, and I saw a report that the North Fork below Buttonrock Reservoir would not reopen for fishing until 2015.

The greatest obstacle to fishing the Big Thompson seemed to be damage to the highways that provide access to Estes Park and the river below the dam. When I checked the stream flows on Thursday night as I considered options for a day of fishing on Friday, I noticed that the Big Thompson was actually running low at 40 cfs. Flows on other streams in the Denver area were already edging up with snow melt entering the picture. Before committing to the Big Thompson, I decided to make a phone call to Kirk’s Fly Shop in Estes Park to get information on the roads between Denver and the river. The young man that answered the phone told me that waits were consistently one half hour on route 36 from Lyons to Estes Park. He recommended taking an alternative route out of Lyons that looped south and then along the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. When I asked about route 34 from Loveland to Estes Park, he suggested this as another good option as the construction waits averaged 5-10 minutes compared to longer waits on 36.

I decided to gamble on the route through Loveland and called my friend Lonnie Maddox to let him know I would be passing near his home. Lonnie said that he and Debbie would be home in the late afternoon, so we made plans for a short visit on my return trip.

Big Thompson Was Low and Clear on Friday

Big Thompson Was Low and Clear on Friday

I got off to a reasonably early start at 8:45 and arrived at a pullout next to the river by 10:15 as I experienced a 10-15 minute wait at the entrance to the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. As I drove west, I was a bit concerned because the river was chocolate covered over the first section from the canyon entrance to Drake, CO. Once I drove beyond Drake, however, the water clarity improved considerably until it became crystal clear where I stopped to begin my day. Low flows at 40 cfs and clear water suggested some skittish fish. The sky did have some high clouds off and on, so that helped a bit, but for the most part it was bright and sunny, and this added to the fishing difficulty. As always there were gusts of wind rolling down the canyon to make things more interesting.

Once I pulled on my waders and rigged my fly rod, I walked down the road twenty yards to the northern border of what used to be a RV park. The entire area that previously was filled with RV’s was now a sand beach with a few remaining platforms that were apparently solidly anchored during the flood. From the road next to my car I could see two or three fish in the clear pool below me, and I even spotted a rise or two. Because the water was so clear and low, I didn’t want to create too much surface disturbance, so I tied on a size 16 dark olive deer hair caddis and placed some long casts into the nice pool in front of me.

It wasn’t long before a brown trout smacked the caddis, and I landed my first fish of the day. Unfortunately as I cautiously moved closer to the deepest part of the pool, I could see quite a few fish in front of me, but they were showing no interest in my caddis. I turned my attention to a nice faster run that rushed by me ten feet to the right, and as my fly drifted along the inner current seam, a rainbow rose and slurped the caddis. It was a decent start to my day, but I could see a lot of remaining fish in the pool that were ignoring my offering. Perhaps they were tuned in to something subsurface such as an emerger or nymph.

Some attractive water beckoned above the pool that I dwelled in, and I didn’t want to jump to the dry/dropper method prematurely, so I moved on. I picked up the pace a bit and managed a third trout on the deer hair caddis before I looked at my watch and noticed it was noon and time to eat lunch. The car was quite close so I climbed the bank and grabbed my lunch and returned to the edge of the river to eat and observe. I didn’t really see any significant insect activity, so when I resumed I decided to try the dry/dropper method. The water that I was approaching was faster and appropriate for a nymphing method.

Pretty Big T Rainbow

Pretty Big T Rainbow

I snipped off the caddis and tied on a tan pool toy and dangled an emerald caddis pupa and below that a bright green caddis pupa. For the next two or three hours I worked this three fly combination through all the likely runs and pockets as I progressed upstream and landed another five fish including several pretty bright rainbow trout in the 12-13 inch range. I enjoy this type of fishing where I’m constantly moving and prospecting the likely holding spots. The large buoyant pool toy was a pleasure to use under these circumstances as it easily supported two beadhead flies and was readily visible in the swirling riffles and currents.

Emerald Caddis Pupa Produced Two Fish

Emerald Caddis Pupa Produced Two Fish

At 3PM I’d gone awhile without any action so I decided to make another switch. I noticed a few BWO’s fluttering about, so I downsized my top fly to a yellow size 12 stimulator and then I added a soft hackle emerger as a dropper. The soft hackle emerger is not as heavy as the larger nymphs and pupa, so I felt I could get away with the smaller top fly. I managed to land a trout on the yellow stimulator, but never had any success with the soft hackle emerger and eventually I clipped them both off and tried a Chernobyl ant with a salvation nymph. The salvation nymph proved to be a winner as I landed my tenth and last fish as I approached a forbidding barbed wire fence spanning the river with a sign that made it clear that no trespassing was allowed.

It was a beautiful spring day on the Big Thompson River, and I discovered that the trout do in fact remain despite the destructive forces of a flood. Fish apparently deal with natural disasters better than human beings. I drove back down the canyon with no construction stoppage on late Friday afternoon and then turned and drove a mile south from route 34 in Loveland and visited with Lonnie and Debbie for a half hour. Spring is finally arriving in Colorado.

Big Thompson River – 08/08/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Downstream end of catch and release water

Fish Landed: 14

Big Thompson River 08/08/2013 photo album

My original plan for the week of August 5 was to work Monday and Tuesday and then drive to the Happy Meadows Campground on Tuesday evening so that I was positioned to hike into Wildcat Canyon and fish the South Platte River on Wednesday. If all worked out, I planned to camp again on Wednesday night and then fish in Eleven Mile Canyon on Thursday. Unfortunately when I checked the weather report for Wednesday it called for an 80% chance of rain and 1 to 2 inches. This forecast spooked me so I decided to defer this trip and instead I reported to work on Wednesday.

The upside to all this is that I completed everything I can at work for July closing, so I am now in wait mode until the office manager completes her portion of the process. This probably won’t happen until August 26, so I’m pretty much free to fish for the next week and a half. Thursday became the first open date on my calendar so I made a trip to the Big Thompson River. The forecast for Estes Park on Thursday projected overcast skies and a high of around 70 degrees. This forecast did in fact turn out to be accurate.

The flows on the Big Thompson were slightly reduced to 90 cfs after running at 125 for most of the summer. These flows are still quite high for August, but create decent fishing conditions. I felt that the slightly lower flows and the cooler weather and overcast skies would create an ideal environment for catching fish. Was I right?

Chubby Rainbow Landed in Morning

Chubby Rainbow Landed in Morning

I set out by 7:15AM and arrived at the river by 9AM and was in the water fishing by 9:30. It was quite cool when I began, so I wore my fleece under my wader suspenders, but after 20 minutes or so the sun came out and I circled back to the car to return the added layer. After approximately 20 minutes of fishing a fish rose and smashed my 14 inch caddis with a palmered body and I landed my first fish of the day, a chubby rainbow trout. I was noticing quite a few midges in the air so I added a size 24 zebra midge dropper below my bushy caddis and picked up a small brown on the midge. After this however I went quite awhile before another similar sized rainbow gulped the caddis. Once again a dry spell commenced so I eventually removed the caddis and midge larva and decided to try a parachute green drake. This fly had been effective during my last visit to the Big Thompson, so why not give it another try?

Rainbow Was in Slack Water Along Willows

Rainbow Was in Slack Water Along Willows

I was below a narrow slack lane next to the willow covered bank so I made a left handed cast approximately 10 feet upstream and as the drake drifted back toward me, a fish darted from cover and blasted the green drake. I still had the rod in my left hand so I set the hook and played the fish which turned out to be an eleven inch brown. I was quite proud to land a fish almost entirely left handed.

I remember looking at my watch and being pleased that I’d landed four fish in the first two hours by around 11:20, but before I returned to the car to eat, I landed another small brown on the green drake. By 11:30 I was feeling quite hungry so I walked back along the shoulder of the highway to the car, and then executed a U-turn and found a pullout above the point where I’d exited for lunch. Here I crossed the road with my lunch bag and water and munched away on a nice flat rock overlooking the river.

Precarious Parking Spot

Precarious Parking Spot

After lunch I returned to my exit point which represented a nice opportunity to cross the stream to the opposite bank as the river fanned out and presented shallower depth and less velocity. My theory was that the flows at 125 cfs prevented other fishermen from covering the left bank, and this would work to my advantage. The sky brightened a bit, but there were still numerous large high clouds blocking the sun’s attempt to warm the atmosphere. I resumed prospecting with the parachute green drake, but covered quite a bit of water with only a few refusals to show for my efforts so I resorted to my old faithful combination of a gray hares ear parachute hopper and beadhead hares ear nymph.

This didn’t really improve matters so after a fairly short test in some very attractive water, I replaced the beadhead hares ear with a salvation nymph, and this proved to be the best combination I would discover on Thursday. The catch rate improved so that I landed another nine trout after lunch with most of the activity taking place between noon and 2:30. Most of the fish grabbed the trailing salvation nymph with at least one aggressively smashing the hopper imitation. It was the typical type of fishing that I enjoy; prospecting all the likely spots with three to five casts and moving on quickly.

Nice Rainbow Landed in Afternoon

Nice Rainbow Landed in Afternoon

The downside of working the bank away from the road was the difficult maneuvering required to migrate upstream. It involved rock climbing, moving up and down steep banks, and crashing through thick brush and tree limbs. This resulted in increased movement time and reduced time with my fly on the water as well as increased fatigue. By 3PM the sun was peaking out more frequently and the action slowed considerably so I decided to try the green drake again. I skipped past some fast water and walked up along the shoulder of the road looking for the most attractive water. When I found a nice pool and shallow riffle area I positioned myself downstream and covered the area with the green drake, but nothing was interested in my offering. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 3:30 and I was feeling more tired than normal so I decided to call it a day.

I was pleased to land 14 fish on the Big Thompson despite the fact that I saw very little hatching activity in spite of overcast skies and cool temperatures. Roughly half of the fish landed were rainbows and the other half browns and the largest fish was probably twelve inches. I probably had half a dozen momentary hook ups and long distance releases, so it could have been a better day, but overall I’m pleased with the outing. It surely served as good exercise.

Big Thompson River – 07/18/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Bottom of hill just before RV campground and then just above Grandpa’s Retreat

Fish Landed: 9

Big Thompson River 07/18/2013 Photo Album

After a slow hot day on the Colorado River on Wednesday I had another day available to fish since the office manager didn’t have June ready for my attention so I decided to make a trip to the Big Thompson River below Lake Estes. Flows have been at 125 cfs for several months now and fish tend to love consistency. The other option was the North Fork of the St. Vrain, and that was tempting, but I’d been there twice recently and I was looking for something different. I checked out the various fly shop reports on the Big Thompson before I departed at 7:30AM and all suggested that the fishing was reasonably good.

I arrived along the stream at around 9AM and parked on the right shoulder just above the RV park at a large bend. Quite a few of the pullouts upstream were already occupied and I continue to be amazed by the pressure this relatively small stream receives. I suspect Rocky Mountain National Park attracts a lot of tourists and they decide to hire a guide for the day and the Big Thompson in the canyon is the best local fishery.

It was already quite warm for 9:30AM as I waded into the Big Thompson just above the last RV. As is my custom I began with a Chernobyl ant and a beadhead hares ear and it didn’t take long before I landed an eleven inch brown as I lifted to recast, but then I began noticing refusals to the Chernobyl ant so I clipped off the two fly combo and began experimenting with different dries that the fish might be willing to eat. I tried a light gray caddis and a small stimulator with a green body but this didn’t even prompt refusals. Eventually I went back to the dry/dropper with a yellow Letort hopper and a salvation nymph, and the nymph produced a nine inch rainbow. After an hour of fishing I’d landed two fish, but I was covering a lot of territory in order to land a few fish and the air was getting warmer.

I worked my way up along the roadside bank prospecting all the decent pockets and slots and landed another small six inch rainbow on the salvation nymph, but I experienced a long dry spell so I decided to replace the salvation nymph with a bright green caddis pupa under the theory that the reports mentioned caddis and a pupa with some movement might create some interest. Sure enough as I was climbing over some rocks to move upstream I allowed my flies to dangle behind me and a rainbow nailed the caddis. I played it for a bit and could see it was a rainbow when it leaped from the water, but then it turned in some faster water and the fly came free.

It was now 11:15 so I decided to return to the car and eat my lunch and exchange my Loomis five weight for my Sage four weight as this is a stiffer rod and better for deep nymphing. After lunch I returned to a nice deep slot and began working the nymphs deep with a lot of movement. You don’t know until you try, and in this case I tried  with no results.  I grew bored with nymphing and hadn’t the fish at least been looking toward the surface and refusing the Chernobyl ant? I removed all the nymphing gear and returned to a gray parachute hopper with the beadhead hares ear below and returned to popping the dry/dropper into the likely pockets.

Pretty Rainbow from Big Thompson

Pretty Rainbow from Big Thompson

Sure enough in one nice pocket a rainbow tipped up and confidently slurped the parachute hopper, but the success did not repeat as several refusals ensued. By now the sky was getting dark and some large gray clouds were building to the west and I could hear distant thunder. I didn’t think it would rain much so I ignored the weather for awhile, but then the rain intensified so I waded to shore and pulled my raincoat from my backpack and slid it on under my wader straps. I pondered the success on the parachute hopper and then the refusals and remembered that one of the fishing reports mentioned drakes as a hatch that was present. I’d seen them on the Big Thompson quite a few years ago. Fish have a long memory for green drakes, so could they be mistaking the gray parachute hopper for a green drake?

Another Nice Rainbow from Big T

Another Nice Rainbow from Big T

I had nothing to lose so I pulled out one of the brand new parachute green drakes I’d tied this winter and tied it to my line. It looked great with a clump of long moose mane fibers for the tail and a white calf body wing that I colored gray with a marker and left the tip white for visibility. I applied floatant and flicked it upstream in a nice pocket and, wham, it disappeared in a confident swirl. Was this a tease like previous single hit flies? I continued casting the green drake and landed two more rainbows in the process, and I was quite excited by this discovery. Unfortunately the water wasn’t offering many good holding spots so I progressed quite rapidly to an area where another fisherman had just been so I decided to exit, return to the car, and drive to another location.

Parachute Green Drake Produced

Parachute Green Drake Produced

It continued to rain lightly as I drove further east on the highway and stopped at the small pullout just before the dirt road that leads to Grandpa’s Retreat. I jumped out of the car and grabbed my rod and gear and walkded down the dirt road until I spotted an RV parked along the shoulder. I wasn’t sure if this was a fisherman, so I decided to cut down to the water ten yards above the RV. I began casting the green drake but now the thunder grew louder and some flashes of lightning lit up the sky. The wind and rain picked up a bit, but I continued on and two more rainbows rose to the green drake. Unfortunately an increasing number of refusals were also occuring and it seemed I was covered more juicy spots with no reaction.

I had now landed nine fish so I focused extra hard to try and net number ten and this led me to an extremely juicy hole just down from the Santa Fe. I flicked the green drake to the foam line in the center of the hole and allowed it to drift right along the current seam to the tail. With my polaroid sunglasses I could see one, then two and then three rainbows rise to within six inches of the fly and then drop back down. I witnessed a triple refusal! It was clear that these fish were not going to be duped by the green drake so I ran through some fly changes….a light gray caddis, a lime green trude and an ant. They were having none of them and I was beginning to feel a bit chilled and it was approaching 3PM with no sign of let up in the weather so I called it a day and returned to the car.

In summary it was a slow day on the Big Thompson, but I at least unlocked the secret to some decent surface action in the afternoon. It was gratifying to see the success created by my parachute green drake invention. I was surprsed that the overcast and light rain didn’t initiate more hatching activity.

Big Thompson River – 07/13/2013

Time: 3:30PM – 5:30PM

Location: Downstream from Moraine Park and Bear Lake Road toward YMCA camp

Fish Landed: 3

Big Thompson River 07/13/2013 Photo Album

Having experienced the worst fishing ever on Roaring River, Jane and I packed up our gear and hiked down the Lawn Lake trail to the car and proceeded to drive to the Moraine Park area. Some dark clouds had moved in from the west and the sky was becoming threatening so we made sure we had our raincoats as we began hiking the trail along the Big Thompson River. We continued under the Bear Lake Road bridge and followed the path for a ways until we hit a wide path that led to a pedestrian bridge over the river.

Jane set up her hammock between some trees on the other side of the river and I waded in to a nice spot just above the bridge. I went back to my Chernobyl ant and salvation nymph and began prospecting the slack water along the side of the main run hoping I could induce a strike while Jane watched from the bridge, but I wasn’t so lucky. I moved up along the right bank and found a nice spot with a deep narrow slot about three fourths of the way across the river. I began casting high in the smooth water between faster currents and saw the foam ant dip and reacted with a hook set. Sure enough I felt momentary weight and spotted a fish flashing near the surface, but the weight disappeared in an instant.

I cast again and higher in the three foot slick area the same scenario repeated, and I was even more frustrated with my inability to land a fish. From this point until 5:30 I worked upstream and fished from small pocket to small pocket. The entire width of the river was 100% pocket water and I popped casts into each one that appeared deep enough and long enough to hold fish. This method of fishing involves short casts, keeping the rod high and the line off the water, and very short drifts before drag takes over. The other main accompaniment to pocket fishing is rock climbing. I carefully moved from boulder to boulder until I was in position to peer over the rim of the next upstream rocks into another pocket.

Difficult Wading

Difficult Wading

The Chernobyl and salvation nymph were not producing so I tried some caddis, but these also didn’t bring any action to my rod, so I eventually tied on a lime green trude. This fly elicited some refusals but also accounted for the three small fish I landed during the remaining time I fished. Two were six inch browns and one was a 6-7 inch rainbow. Some dark clouds moved in and it began to rain, but not enough to make my fishing shirt totally wet so I fished on.

But then I heard some thunder and saw some lightning and I heard a voice on the bank and it was Jane coming to be my better judgment and reeling me in from a poor fishing experience. I fished a couple attractive small pools as she looked on and almost fell in when my foot got wedged between two rocks. I did land the third small brown while she observed and then retreated to the bank and walked with Jane back to the car.

It was a rather frustrating fishing day in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the scenery was spectacular and I had the companionship of my lovely wife and I purchased a $10 lifetime admittance to all national parks so it was still a pretty good day in Colorado.