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Big Thompson River, a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Blog by: David Coulson 11/21/2013

Last night I attended the Rocky Mountain Fly Casters Chapter of Trout Unlimitedís guest night meeting.  Their guest speaker, Ed Engle, gave an interesting talk on becoming and living the life of a professional fly fisher.  The crowd was large, there was a huge raffle table from which I won a new fishing shirt, and it was good to visit with so many fishing friends, including Tom our very own state editor.

Prior to the program, Ben Swigle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist and a Fish Explorer field editor, gave a quick presentation on how the Big Thompson fared after the flood. As Iím working from rough notes and an OGís memory, I hope we get a more complete update from Ben in the near future.

The section of the Big Thompson from below the dam in Estes and several miles downstream can be considered Dr. Jekyll, as the fish surveys since the flood show it has a population of trout well within historical norms.  Oh, there is ďdamageĒ to be seen along the riverís course, but the river has maintained good structure, and the trout are still there.  Actually, in places the rainbow numbers are up thanks to fish being flushed out of Estes Reservoir and even a couple of walleye were sampled.

However, moving downstream to Drake and below we enter into the Mr. Hyde section.  Ben reports that the section in Drake looks a lot like an irrigation ditch and a similar situation exist around the Narrows where the river has been severely channelized.  Around Glade most of the stream improvements have been blown out and it now looks a lot like a prairie stream.  Sampling in the Glade area indicates the brown population has gone from 4,000 per mile to around 500. 

Ben feels with time and effort the lower river will recover and once again be a good fishery.  Toward that end CPW will be conducting further surveys to access the damage and progress.  They are in need of help and will be seeking it from the community, specifically in the areas of project support, willow plantings, stream restoration, and grant writing.

With the road opening soon, Iím sure many will make the trek to Estes to have a look for themselves.  Myself, I think Iíll wait until spring and maybe even fish upper section where the river where the trout have fared well.

Ben was asked a couple times how the other aquatic life did, and the answer is, they donít know as no assessments have been made to date.  The Poudre handled the flooding better than the Big Thompson and looks to be back to normal fairly quickly.  Asked when Watson SWA would be opened, due to the damage from the floods it looks like it will be at least another 6-8 months before we have access to the area.

Anyway, this is a quick overview from last nightís meeting.  While the Big Thompson now has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character, Iíve little doubt that will some hard work, it wonít be many years before we once again have good fishing throughout the Big Thompson from Loveland upstream.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
Opry99er, 11/21/2013 11:32:54 AM
One of my favorite fisheries... thank you for relaying the information. I used to spend days on days up there and in the St. Vrain between Lyons and Estes learning all the little eddys, flows, holes, riffles and runs... At one point, I had both those rivers fully scouted. Since the flood, I'm afraid to go up there and look...
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 11/21/2013 11:44:39 AM
I agree on not wanting to look, which is why I may wait. I do however think a lot of good effort is being made by CPW, Ben leading of course, TU is stepping up with resources (both Alpine and RMFC chapters, state and national, also, from what I understand), and there has been a working collation formed (sorry I don't have the info on them) to work toward recovery of the river. As I understand it, the biggest issue is to make sure that the river is "rebuilt" with consideration to the fishery, not just road building. That will be the challenge I think.
Opry99er, 11/21/2013 12:27:59 PM
For sure... we don't want a roadside ditch up there... Even more so than Clear Creek, BT always had a fantastic variety in fish habitats... deep deep pools, fast shallow flats, and everything in between. I'd hate to see it turned into an afterthought ditch on the side of a highway.
moosegoose, 11/21/2013 11:45:16 PM
I bet the Ed Engle talk was great!
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 11/22/2013 6:53:21 AM
Ed's presentation was very interesting It was about his life becoming a professional fly fisherman. The only thing is I wish those who speak publically would learn that a bit of movement and voice infliction makes their material a whole lot more interesting, or at least it holds the audience's interest a lot better. Simply Ed spoke in a monotone all evening.
opencage, 11/22/2013 2:56:07 PM
Yep, Ben put forward a lot of good info about what happened, what survived, and what will need to be done in the future. I look forward to working with a lot of organizations and Fish Explorer members to help restore the Big Thompson River in the upcoming year.
Swigs, 11/22/2013 9:44:52 PM
We really need some matching fund cash but volunteers to help planting would be valuable. Just like the 1976 flood, we have some time, improvements will not take place over weeks...rather months and years. Fish Strong.
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