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My First Drive to Estes Since the Floods

Blog by: David Coulson 1/21/2014

Monday I originally thought about getting in a day’s fishing.  That was until Sue suggested we spend the day together and take a drive to Estes.  She also wanted to stop at Colorado Cherry Company to restock our depleted jam and jelly shelf.  Given she allows me to fish most anytime I want without complaint; I sure wasn’t going to say no.  Besides I hadn’t been up the Big Thompson canyon since the flood and was curious.

We got a late start to the day, sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast.  After breakfast our next stop was at Elkhorn Rod and Reel to get a reel fixed and pick up a couple fly boxes so I can ship out the flies won by oneeye and fiddler1986 this week.  While the shop wasn’t directly impacted by flood waters, the damage to Big Thompson fishery and closure of Highway 34 killed the drive-by traffic and resulted in a huge drop in business that is only now starting to recover.

If you haven’t been to Elkhorn, the next time you’re in the area drop in.  He has one of the best collections of fly tying material around.  While you there, test cast a couple of his rods and you’ll understand why I’m pleased to have him as a sponsor.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the drive to Estes, even though I knew the road had been badly damaged, and the pictures I’d seen in the news were eye-opening, to say the least.  I recognize a lot of work, a whole lot of work has taken place since the flood, but I was surprised how “finished” both Highway 34 and 36 appeared, even though we were met with traffic delays on both routes. 

While I expected to see some devastation, it was difficult to comprehend the near total trashing of the canyon is areas, and then a few miles upstream it was almost difficult to discern that a flood had occurred, then a few miles further upstream massive damage once again. 

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that the fisheries in lower sections of the Big Thompson and Saint Vrain took a hit, the streambeds are heavily scoured.  But the upper reaches for the Big Thompson look much as they always have (to me), but that may be in part due to the river being iced up until just below Olympus Dam. 

As I drove the canyon, it struck me of the wisdom of buying up the flood damaged properties in the seventies and not allowing them to be rebuilt.  Had that not been done the loss of life and property would surely have been much worse.  I can only hope we someday learn not to build in flood plains.  It seemed to me the “unimproved” areas fared far better than the built up areas.  But I suspect, within a few short years, folks will once again build in harm’s way.

For me, the damage is reminder of nature’s raw power. Nature also has a softer side, and as bad as the damage is in places, I’ve little doubt that with a lot of work and time, the Big Thompson will once again be an excellent fishery. 

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
Dangly, 1/21/2014 6:31:20 AM
Lyons ( my home town) is much the same story, The initial drive in on HWY 66 is not that impactfull, but turn south on hwy 7 at the end of main, then take your fist left after the river and you will be dumbstruck at the damage. I am so proud of us Colorado residents with how fast we cleaned up and moved toward recovery.
lewdog, 1/21/2014 10:46:36 AM
Well good writeup but did you catch any fish?
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/21/2014 10:59:02 AM
This may be hard to believe, but I left my gear at home. One, no conflicts with Sue, who did give me permission if I so choae. Second, I've been suffering with some foot pain, and opted to keep my hobbling around to a minimum. Although, I have to admit that a fully open Estes had me pining for a fly rod.
hunter creek, 1/21/2014 3:10:42 PM
I too took my first drive up the canyon on Mon. and I was amazed at how much more damage there appeared to be up the Big Thompson than up the North St. Vrain, not to say that there wasn't devastaion in both areas. I assume the red tags on many of the buildings mean that they are condemned, but there are also many green tagged buildings and I have no idea what those mean. By the way, I saw the article in the Post on Sun. saying that numbers of fish were high in the upper Thompson and very low in the lower part. After seeing how the stream bed is wiped out, it is not hard to understand why.
catfishking, 1/21/2014 3:26:41 PM
Some serious damage I've gone up threw Lyons and the backway through to Loveland the Loveland side has houses hanging on cliffs by the river pretty bad
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/21/2014 3:31:19 PM
I saw those houses with the land washed out from under and hanging there. I think the most impressive sight was where a section of hillside slide down due to the river washing out the support. When you see the lower river sections it's had to believe any fish could survive, yet a few did.
Fishful Thinker, 1/22/2014 8:54:05 AM
I spent a bunch of time flipping rocks in the middle and lower sections of the Big T back in early December...not a single bug of any kind was found. No bugs, no moss, no evidence of life or trout food of sort. Looked like the sream bed and all rocks within it were sandblasted. Bio tells of surviving fish in the upper canyon but it is hard to imagine they'll spread down the canyon until a full warm water season or two can kickstart the food chain. Besides, there is still heavy equipment working in the stream bed daily. The flood is still very much a reality for all canyon dwellers. Love that little river, but sadly it may be a while for most of it to recover.CL
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/22/2014 9:20:14 AM
There is no doubt it will take the lower section time to recover. I suspect that we'll see a viable fishery established by the end of the decade. A time by some standards, a blink of the eye by others. I would encourage folks to get involved with the fisheries recovery process. Contact Ben Swigle or Brian (Elkhorn Rod and Reel) for more information on how to get involved. I'm also sure the local fishing groups, especially TU chapters are involved also.
opencage, 1/22/2014 2:50:40 PM
I've yet to make the drive up, but I live close to the river in Loveland and it's night and day. All the new construction for River's Edge got washed away. Jayhawker's Ponds are open again, but just about everything else along the river is still closed. I'm glad the upper section has survived, and I look forward to helping the lower section and city section recovery effort.
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