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.
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
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