Notes from the Field: The Big Thompson Through Moraine Park


Rocky Mountain National Park.  Today I fished the Big Thompson River at its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Soon after the river exits its upper canyon, it passes through a valley known as Moraine Park.  Along this reach, the river cuts a meandering path through an open expanse of tall grassland.  At this time of the year, the stream side vegetation holds grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, a terrestrial smorgasbord that keeps the fish in the Big Thompson well fed and healthy.

When I hit the river through Moraine Park at 1:00 p.m., the skies were partly cloudy, the wind was up, and the sun felt warm on my face and neck.  I started fishing with a size 12 tan Fat Albert – a beetle imitation that has consistently delivered fish during the fall of the year.  Within the first hour, I’d landed 7 fish – all browns – one of which measured 15″ long and had a bit of a hooked jaw.  It was a beautiful, big fish for such a small stream.  I also netted a couple of other browns in the 12″ to 13″ range.  Just as the fishing started to really kick off, a thunderstorm rolled in from the northwest.  With the rain coming down hard, and the thunder rumbling above my head, I decided to sit on the bank and wait it out.  Within twenty minutes the storm had passed off to the east.  Moments after the last droplets splashed down on the Big Thompson’s surface, I started fishing again.  Unfortunately, the storm slowed things down.  The fish just weren’t hitting as consistently or as viciously as they had only a half hour earlier.  Exactly why, I didn’t know.  Nevertheless, I kept on moving upstream, casting my Fat Albert into the riffles and atop the flat water just downstream from the holes – these were the places the fish were holding in.  Over the next two hours, I caught another 8 fish – some were tiny – maybe 5″ long – others were larger – in the 13″ range.

I missed one of the day’s  biggest fish.  When the Fat Albert drifted over a large smooth boulder, a big brown came out from under the cut bank and literally swam up on top of the boulder.  Nearly all of the  fish’s body was visible atop the shallow water flowing over the boulder.  When I saw the size of the fish squirming across the rock – I panicked.  I ended up jerking the rod back too soon, before the fish could fully take the fly.  After failing to set the hook, my fly rocketed back toward me, whizzing passed my head.  At that same moment, the big brown slid off the rock and disappeared.  I wanted that fish, but my wanting had been too great, so I lost it.  Just as I got off the river, another storm was bearing down on Moraine Park.  During the course of the day, I’d landed 15 fish and hooked and lost about 15 more.  All in all, it was a really good day.


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