Recently I had the privilege to fish with Colorado's own Steve Schweitzer, author of the ever-popular books A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
and A Fly Fishing Guide to Indian Peaks Wilderness Area
. Alan (aka alanlf5280 here on FishExplorer) joined as a winner in the FishExplorer Winter Giveaway last season.
We fished the Big Thompson River
in Rocky Mountain National Park, from the crossing of the Fern Lake Trail down and in the Moraine Park area. We took a quick hike up for about a half hour in quick-dry pants and wading shoes after arriving at the parking area around 7:30am. (See Nate's blog about RMNP entry
from earlier in the season.)
The hike was not difficult - not much of an elevation gain, the distance was quite moderate, and the foot traffic was fairly light (we crossed paths with perhaps 15 or so hikers on the way in). The area had experienced a heavy rainfall the day prior, causing the flows to rise and water clarity to worsen. We checked the gauge the evening before, saw that flows were decreasing, and hoped by morning the river would be fine.
Besides the upper stretches of this river in the Forest Canyon (a bushwhacking trip upstream) we can consider this the headwaters of the Big Thompson. Some of you may know the lower stretches
- perhaps the popular section below Estes Lake
, the variable sections through the canyon, or the flatter meandering portion in the Loveland area.
This upper section in RMNP produces smaller fish. We expected that and received that, but the numbers and colors made up for it. Fairly soon into the trip we all had our slam - brown trout, brook trout, and greenback cutthroat. Before long we stopped counting.
This is typical small-stream fly fishing. Tight shorelines lined with trees, grasses and brush. Steep and swift water riddled with boulders. Light rods and short presentations delivered with a variety of acrobatic casting positions. We found fish in nearly every pocket, seam, nook and cranny of the river.
Hiking down to the river from the well-maintained trail can prove tricky. Downed timber, ruts, and a variety of other things hid in the tall grasses just asking for a misstep and a sprained ankle. Spoiler: we all made it out unharmed.
We drove a bit further down river to explore a more meandering piece of the river in Moraine Park. After full casting concentration amidst the woods of the section above, it came as a bit of a relief to be fishing more of an open field environment. Fish seem to like this a bit more as well, as they were bigger and more aggressive. My only regret of this trip was not making it up in time to where Steve was fishing a minute earlier and had just released what he said was a remarkably large brown trout for the area.
I am sure Alan landed more fish than I, and I stopped counting at 5 which was maybe an hour into the day. We fished until mid-afternoon when storms worked their way through the area. It was simply catching all day.
Most of the time we were fishing simple hopper-dropper rigs, trailing either a small mayfly nymph or the popular favorite - Steve's own Caddis emerger. It is a simple tie, but one that proved to be terrifically effective. This pattern (a beadhead version and one weightless) might not strike fancy in a fisherman's eye but if you use one you soon realize that is not a pertinent goal. Catching the trouts' eye is more important, and it did. Perhaps the fact that it is not designed to catch fishermen is the reason Steve has met resistance when submitting it to fly-tying companies for reproduction. Luckily, he had plenty for us.
I hadn't been in the area fishing in perhaps 15 years. I did a trip in the Forest Canyon section many years back that involves a friend, a broken ankle, and a horseback rescue - but I'll save that story for later. I do not live far from this stretch and it amazes me that I had not fished it in so long. Maybe there are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week. Whatever the reason, the realization was renewed that I don't fish the abundance of local waters as much as I should. Given the beauty of the and the fish, in addition to the quantity of fish far outnumbering other anglers, I need to change that.
Thanks to Steve and Alan for the company and the experience.
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