The Big Thompson

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A buddy of mine and long time local angler, Andy Barclay, was kind enough to write up a piece on a past trip he had to Colorado. Andy is a native Austinite and an avid fly-fisherman, and loves getting out on the water any chance he can. Read more about Andy at the bottom of this blog, first though, here is his take on the Big Thompson River.

Mention the Big Thompson River in Colorado to any serious fly fisherman and you'll see his eyes get as big as silver dollars and a grin come across his face. Yes, there is a river that holds Brook Trout, Rainbows , Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, Yellowstone River Cutthroat Trout,  Greenback Cutthroat Trout, and Browns  in Rocky Mountain National Park and if you fish it right then you'll catch them.

As soon as I graduated from college and could afford trips and fishing gear I decided to make a rule of hiring a guide the first time I attempted fishing new waters and the Big Thompson was no exception. My friends Brian and Dave and I booked Mike Oatley from The Estes Angler Fly Shop. Mike has a young family and is a veteran of the Big Thompson and knows exactly where to go and the techniques to catch trout. Meeting him at the fly shop we piled in to his old jeep and with the windows down and good tunes on the radio headed out to the river. He took us to the Fern Lake Trail in the park where you can access the Big Thompson and the river holds the most handsome and colorful fish you will ever see. The river itself is something to marvel at in all of its beauty.


Fishing the river can be done by wet wade in warmer temperatures or wearing a quality pair of waders and hopping right in the river. Summer time and early fall seem to be the best times to go. 3-5 weight  8-9 foot rods also work well with 7-9 foot leaders and  5x-6x tippet. Your local fly shop can advise the best flies for the time you are there, however, standards such as Wooly Buggers, Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams, and stonefly nymphs can catch trout. It is recommended that you practice your roll casting prior to hitting the river as some stretches are narrow with lots of brush to hang a line on. 

                                                                         Big Thompson Brookie

One advantage to using a guide and outfitting service, in addition to the local knowledge which can save much frustration on the water, is not having to pack waders and a rod in your suitcase when traveling.
Most guides have extra rigs and are happy to accommodate, although they will charge you for flies used on the water. Lodging for fishing Rocky Mountain can be found close to the park or camping in the park and we chose a cabin in Estes Park to be our home base. Estes is only an hour and a half drive from Denver, Colorado so all you have to do is fly there from anywhere in the nation, rent an SUV and head in the mountains for some fishing action.

In addition to fishing, there are many hotspots in the region to check out if you decide to break from days fishing. In addition to exploring the park, the Cache de Poudre river is only about an hour or so away near the town of Fort Collins if you are in search of some white water river rafting action. We booked a trip with A-1 Wildwater one of the days on our trip and found them to be a decent outfit. After rafting, the New Castle Brewery in Fort Collins is a must stop for quality beers and relaxation. The bar area can be packed, but come ready to enjoy a fabulous beer tasting and tour the facility. In my mind, the Rocky Mountain experience in search of trout is one of my favorites and haunts my fishing memories. No wonder, I keep going back.

Thanks Andy, great write up! It certainly makes me want to get back to Colorado to enjoy the Rockies. Here is more about Andy  in his own words.

                                                              Andy (Left) and his friend Dave

My first fly rodding outfit was a South Bend Trophy Tamer Rod and Martin Reel that my mother purchased for me at an Academy store that no longer resides on Burnet Road in Austin, TX. My first flies came from the Austin Angler and from an Orvis store that was located out at the Arboretum, but both fly shops have since closed down, I guess, after the fly fishing craze from the movie “A  River Runs Through It” died down in the early 2000s and most city dwellers got caught up in the latest new hobby. The first fish I caught were sunfish down at Bull Creek, when there was enough water to hold fish. I then graduated to the Blanco, Frio, Guadalupe, Colorado and San Gabriel Rivers and bigger fish. I had an old copy of Bud Priddy’s “Fly Fishing the Texas Hill Country” which I still have and a copy of the Roads of Texas which were considered the premiere guides of the time. My best high school friend, who taught me how to fish at a school retreat on the Frio River, and I would take off, first in my pre-owned black Volvo that my parents had me driving and later in my buddies tan Chevrolet 4x4 pick-up truck that could hold all our gear and could transport a canoe and kayaks. The old days are fun to think about. I don’t even have the Trophy Tamer or Martin Reel anymore. I eventually upgraded to Sage Rods and Cabelas reels. Fishing trips do get fancier and to further away places in search of rainbow trout.


Anonymous said...

Great job, Andy!

WDFloyd said...

Great write-up, Andy! I had a lot of fun on that trip and can't wait to get back up there next year.

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