Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM
Location: Just above the destroyed RV park in the canyon special regulation water and then upstream a mile.
Fish Landed: 13
Big Thompson River 05/28/2015 Photo Album
Sometimes it pays to be a contrarian. This was the lesson I grasped today on the Big Thompson River.
With above average rain in May and unseasonably cold temperatures, Colorado streams were swollen and discolored, and the snow melt had yet to commence. This limited my options for a day trip, but a review of the department of water resources web site yielded two possibilities; South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River. I chose the Big Thompson since I visited this local stream once this year and once in 2014 with reasonable success. The flows were a steady 125 CFS, and I knew from experience that this level is quite manageable. Also the stream reports from the area fly shops indicated that clarity was decent, and they reported angler success was fair to good. The shops suggested fishing deep with prince nymphs, San Juan worms, and scuds; and they recommended adding a baetis nymph imitation in the afternoon.
When I arrived at a pullout just above the RV park that got destroyed in the 2013 flood, I checked the water, and indeed it was flowing somewhat high with a bit of stain. Before rushing to a starting position, I checked my fleece pouch and added some pink San Juan worms, orange scuds, hares ear nymphs, prince nymphs, ultra zug bugs and marabare nymphs. I was dutifully following the recommendations of the area fly shops, and when I moved next to the river, I rigged with a strike indicator and split shot along with a bright pink San Juan worm and beadhead ultra zug bug.
With this configuration I worked through three attractive deep runs with no success, so I began experimenting with different fly combinations. I snipped off the ultra zug bug and replaced it with an orange scud. At the point I also experimented with a beadhead hares ear, a classic prince nymph, a bright green marabare, and a copper marabare; but none of these favorites produced fish. Perhaps the top fly was too bright? I swapped out the bright pink worm for a less obtrusive light pink version. Finally this did the trick, and I quickly landed two ten inch rainbow trout on the light pink worm.
My fish count remained at two as noon approached, and then I suffered through a half hour dry spell before I once again hooked a fish. This catch was a brown trout, as I got a good look before it broke off at the San Juan worm. I cursed the abraded knot, and unfortunately I only had one more light pink worm in my fleece book. I discovered that the thread was unraveling on my choice of a replacement, but then I uncovered another pink worm made with a sparkle chenille. I found this fly on a tree many years ago, so I elected to give it a try. Much to my chagrin on the third cast I snagged bottom, and it was in a deep fast run, so I was forced to snap off two more flies.
It was now noon so I returned to the car to soothe my frustration with a quick lunch. After lunch next to the river, I returned to the car and configured my line yet again. I had plenty of light tan or beige worms, so I tied one of these to my line in the top position and then added a salvation nymph to the point position. I fished this combination with confidence after lunch, but either the fish lost interest in worms, or they favored only light pink, because an hour elapsed with no action other than rigid sticks and rocks along the stream bed.
As I was stuck on two fish and time was rapidly passing, I began to fear that I was destined for a two fish day. On several occasions I witnessed a refusal to my strike indicator. How should I interpret this? Despite the conventional wisdom of the fly shop reports, some fish were looking toward the surface for their food. Surely dry/dropper fishing could be no worse than the slow action of my worm and nymph combination, and at least this would allow me to drift along the bank more effectively. I took the plunge and tied on a tan Charlie boy hopper with an ultra zug bug on a long three foot dropper.
Unfortunately as I made this change in tactics, a strong cross wind began to torment me, and it became very difficult to place casts within six inches of the rocky bank. I persisted however and managed to provoke a couple refusals to the hopper. Again I was forced to reconsider my approach, as this confirmed that a surface fly was receiving attention, but apparently the Charlie Boy was not what they desired. I decided to change to a size 14 stimulator with a gray body. This was a smaller offering yet still quite visible in the swirly currents and variable light.
My choice proved to be a colossal success. For the remainder of the afternoon I cast the gray stimulator along the very edge of the river and experienced great success while landing eleven more fish. Most were brown trout with a couple rainbows in the mix. On two instances I allowed the dry fly to slowly creep upstream to the source of a vortex, and a brown came out of nowhere to slurp the fly. Clearly the fish were tucked tight to rocks and stream side structure, but they could be coaxed to the surface with a drag free drift over their secure holding positions.
The fly shops recommended fishing deep with the usual suspects of high run off offerings, but I was a contrarian. I fished a single buoyant dry fly and created success. Today the choice of fly was key, but more important was the presentation and the choice of where to drift the fly. Fishing in high water is a challenge, but I’ll continue my efforts to beat the odds as long as reasonable options exist.