Time: 10:00AM – 12:30PM
Location: Various places around the entire lake
The long anticipated conversion from fly fishing in streams to casting in lakes is now in progress in Colorado. The stream possibilities dwindled considerably today. After reviewing the streamflow data on Sunday, I made plans to meet @rockymtnangler ( AKA Trevor) at the Big Thompson River tailwater below Lake Estes. I knew from past experience that 128 cfs is a very manageable velocity on the popular small river near Rocky Mountain National Park.
I arrived at the pullout on Mall Road at 9AM, and I discovered Trevor sitting on the tailgate of his Subaru. A white SUV with flashing lights was parked behind him, so I continued over the bridge and pulled into a small space on the north side. I walked back across the bridge and met Trevor part way, and he first informed me that the flashing light vehicle was supporting some workers doing a bridge inspection. Next he pointed to the river and suggested that we make alternative plans. I glanced down, and I was instantly shocked to see large waves and thrashing whitewater. Clearly the flows were recently adjusted upward, and the brown opaque color of the water made fishing in the Big Thompson a foolish option.
Trevor suggested that we continue on to Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I quickly supported his idea. We drove to a parking lot near Kirk’s Fly Shop on the main street of Estes Park, and I transferred my gear to Trevor’s Forester. While Trevor drove to Sprague Lake, I checked the flows, and sure enough the DWR graph looked like a flat line that ran into a vertical wall. On Monday morning the water managers opened the valves, and the Big Thompson flows skyrocketed from 128 cfs to 325 cfs. It was a stark example of the vagaries of fly fishing in streams during the spring run off in the Rocky Mountains.
After a short drive that included viewing several elk and deer, Trevor pulled into a parking space at Sprague Lake. Trevor was already dressed in his waders, so he simply pulled two rods from his rod vault and began his assault on the Sprague Lake trout population. I meanwhile found partial privacy in front of his car and pulled on my waders and then assembled my Sage four weight. I quickly crossed the narrow footbridge that spans the feeder creek to Sprague Lake and joined Trevor along the paved path that leads to the main lake. Several fish rose in the small but deep pool that was located upstream from the inlet to the lake, and Trevor announced that he had already landed two small brook trout and experienced several momentary connections with other residents of the pool.
I quickly tied a size 16 light gray caddis adult to my line and flicked it to the vicinity of a recent rise, and within minutes two small trout rocketed from the depths only to veer away from my fly at the last instant. Clearly I needed to make an adjustment. I asked Trevor what was working for him, and he informed me that he had a large surface attractor with a red and peacock midge larva on a dropper, and the fish were assaulting the midge larva. I adopted his dry/dropper approach and added a mercury flashback black beauty to my line on a 2.5 foot dropper, but my flies continued to drift unmolested in the pool.
I stripped in my flies and swapped the black beauty for a black zebra midge with a small silver bead to attain a faster sink, but this fly was also ignored. While this was unfolding, a steady stream of tourists paraded along the path, and this caused Trevor and I to pause frequently in order to avoid impaling the RMNP patrons with hook points. Non-fishing tourists were a nuisance, but the squadron of fly fishermen that arrived next were another matter. There must have been thirty wader clad individuals carrying fly rods along with a few spinning rods, and we asked each other whether there would be any remaining space along the shoreline of Sprague Lake.
Eventually we gave up on the pool above the inlet, and we wandered in a counterclockwise direction on the path that circles the lake. As the entire lake came into focus, we noted three circles of fishermen situated across the lake. One group of eight was waded into the west end, one commandeered the center of the lake, and a third was situated along the east bank. A guide or teacher for each group began to instruct his or her students in the steps of casting.
Trevor and I circled around a cove and stopped at a point where the shallow muddy bottom transitioned to a deeper rocky structure. We covered this area for twenty minutes, and during this time frame I decided that I needed more flash and color on my midge larva imitation, so I replaced the zebra midge with a rainbow warrior size 18. This was a fly that I recovered from a tree branch on one of my previous fishing ventures, and it was the only one in my possession. Trevor moved to a location next to a small outlet stream, and he managed to land another brook trout when he cast his dry/dropper parallel to the shoreline.
Once again my flies were undisturbed, so we made another move to a space in front of a second outlet. I waded into the lake for eight feet to create more backcasting space, and Trevor continued around the east side to the inlet. I sprayed some long casts to various spots above the outlet, but it was merely another period of arm exercise with no response from fish.
Again I reeled in my line and marched around the eastern side of the lake to complete the circle, and I found Trevor back at the slow moving pool where our Sprague Lake fly fishing adventure began. Trevor was positioned farther upstream than earlier, as he executed nice casts to the deepest hole ten feet below the footbridge. As he fished, several fishermen sporting large spinning reels and bobbers sized for bass ponds arrived, and they began splashing their floating grenades just above his flies. Trevor decided to rest the water, and I took a position toward the downstream end of the pool.
I lofted a cast halfway across the pool, and after it drifted a few feet, I was distracted by one of the tourists, who asked me how I was doing. In the moment when I glanced at my questioner, Trevor shouted set, and I reacted and hooked a small seven inch brook trout. I thanked Trevor and vowed to ignore the passers-by. I shot a longer cast to within four feet of the far bank, and once again the fly began to slowly crawl downstream. This time a balding gentleman inquired as to whether I was fishing for stocked fish. Again I made the mistake of turning to look at him before answering, and again Trevor shouted to set the hook. I raised the rod tip and felt the throb of a slightly heavier fish, and in a short amount of time I held a ten inch brook trout in my hand.
During the last half hour some dark clouds materialized in the western sky, and as I released my second catch, we heard a loud clap of thunder. This was our warning signal, and we reeled up our lines and returned to the car. I quickly removed my waders and stashed my gear and rod in order to avoid the possibility of executing this routine under sheets of rain back at my car.
As we returned to Estes Park, we decided to stop for beers at the Estes Park Brewery. We sampled some free tasters, and then we moved upstairs where Trevor ordered and devoured a burger, waffle fries and IPA; while I sipped a Redrum Ale. When we finished, Trevor returned me to the Santa Fe, where I once again transferred my gear. Trevor departed, and since the rain had passed, I grabbed my lunch and ate it at a convenient picnic table next to the raging Big Thompson River. It was still quite early in the day, and I pondered the idea of traveling south through Boulder and then heading west to scout out two ponds in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. I read about Slough Pond and Kiley Pond on the DOW stocking report, and I was curious to check them out and perhaps catch a few fish to finish out the day.
I made the trip, and used US 36 to reach the north edge of Boulder until I turned on to Broadway. Broadway conveniently traversed the university town and transitioned into CO 93. I followed 93 until I was near Golden, CO, and then I turned right and negotiated numerous curves and climbs until I reached Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A mere mile beyond the visitor center I spotted Slough Pond on the left, and it was quite small and deserved the title of pond. A short distance beyond Slough, a parking lot appeared on the right, and a Colorado State Parks sign announced that I arrived at Kiley Pond. This body of water was roughly 1/3 of the size of Sprague Lake, and at least six other vehicles occupied the small parking lot. Quite a few fishermen were scattered along the banks, and this suggested that the DOW stocking report is popular with other Colorado residents.
A dark gray cloud was visible to the west, so I decided to save time and skip the process of putting on my waders. Shore fishing was the name of the game here, so why bother? I quickly pulled on my backpack and front pack and removed my Loomis two piece from the rod case. I wore my fleece as well as my raincoat to combat the biting wind, but as I turned to stride toward the pond, strong blasts of air accompanied by sheets of rain confronted my being. In an instant the parking lot was filled with scrambling anglers, many dressed in T-shirts and shorts, as they sought the shelter of their cars. Without giving it a second thought, I returned to my car and hit the tailgate button and reversed my recent actions. The lack of waders lowered my standing on the comfort index below the X axis, as the windblown raindrops drenched my jeans.
Monday turned out to be an eventful day, but most of the events had nothing to do with landing fish. The Big Thompson is likely off my destination list for at least four weeks, and Trevor and I stumbled into casting classes on Sprague Lake. We also discovered that Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular tourist destination in early June. I weathered several thunderstorms and scouted out a possible stillwater destination to satisfy my fly fishing addiction until the rivers and streams subside. The highlight of the day was spending time with Trevor and sampling some craft beers at the Estes Park Brewery.
Fish Landed: 2