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Trout fishing in Colorado - part II

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Fly fishing for trout on the Big Thompson River

sunrise over Moraine Park campground

Estes Park as a base for fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park

My recent fishing trip to Colorado started in Fairplay, but then continued to Estes Park, within the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). For this portion of the trip, we decided to go full-adventure mode and stay in the Moraine Park campground within striking distance of the Big Thompson River, commonly known as the ‘Big T’. This water is so close you could probably walk to it from the campground, but we were packing a lot of gear and opted to drive down to one of the many parking areas/pull offs along Fern Lake Road just south of the campground.

Fly fishing for trout on the Big Thompson River

The ‘Big T’ moniker belies the characteristics of this section of the water within Moraine Park. Between the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trailheads, the river was rarely more than 10 – 12 feet wide, and not very deep. Although the water was largely hemmed in by fencing to discourage large game access, we witnessed plenty of tracks from four-legged interlopers and even came across a family of Mule deer camped out in the high grasses. We also found ourselves doing a bit of bushwhacking to get to certain parts of the water in this section.

fishing the 'Big T' in Moraine Park

As such, we found quite a bit of water that did not seem to have much pressure, given how willingly the fish pounced our flies. We hooked up a good number of brookies and browns on elk hair caddis and a two-fly set up comprising a floating ant trailing behind a parachute hopper, royal wullf or elk hair caddis.

'Big T' brookie hooked on an ant pattern

Fly fishing for trout on the Big Thompson River at Waterdale Ranch

Our next date with the ‘Big T’ was our last day in Colorado and the only day we contracted a guide for our excursion. This was to be the highlight of our trip on private water – the Waterdale Ranch - near Loveland, about 30 miles east of Estes Park. A guide from Kirk’s Fly Shop was our host on an exciting section of the ‘Big T’ that included an iconic waterfall feature which some very big trout called home.

As it turned out, this would be an anti-climactic end to our fishing adventure. Serious rain storms had passed through on the previous day and ash sediment from wildfires to the north washed down the north branch of the Big Thompson, which seriously discolored the section of river we were fishing that day. To say the water looked like chocolate milk would be an understatement – it looked more like a dark alpine snowmelt. These were not good fishing conditions.

fishing in chocolate milk at the waterfall hole at Waterdale Ranch

Our guide, Gabe, from Kirk’s Fly Shop, tried everything in his arsenal of flies and when that did not work, he then turned to our fly boxes for inspiration. We managed a few hookups, but only one rainbow in the net; a reminder of why the sport is called ‘fishing’, not ‘catching’. I do not want to discourage my readers from fishing this water, we were just subject to the whims of mother nature on that day. My fishing companion has had epic fishing experiences on this private water, as have others I have heard from.

Tight Lines!

Note: I am not being compensated by my mention of Kirk's Fly Shop.

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