Dean Miller, a local writer and outdoor enthusiast, will be sharing stories with our visitors on a regular basis. Dean spent his youth fishing with his brothers along the streams that drain Mt. Hood in Oregon; but it wasn't until he relocated to Colorado in 1999 that he first picked up a fly rod. That first day on the river renewed his love for fishing, and the challenges brought on by learning how to fly fishing only fueled his passion even more. He began to chronicle his fishing adventures nearly three years ago. He finds no better way to "cleanse his soul" than in the canyon along the banks of the Big Thompson River. He also distributes a free regular posting via email titled "Miller's Musings", which contains non-fishing stories, poetry, and observations of daily life. To subscribe, simply email Dean at: email@example.com and put "Miller's Musings" in the subject line and "add me" in the text body of the email. He resides in Loveland, Colorado with his wife and three daughters.
Spring Fishing; Winter Weather
I had not been on the river for two weeks. The mid-week snow storm had just ended, and the rain that preceded the snow had me anticipating an “angry” river. On the drive up the canyon, the river below the Idyllwild Dam was indeed, full of fury. The water, stained in a mocha color, rushed through “The Narrows,” like spring runoff, though that event typically starts two months later. I knew my day of fishing would have to start further upstream. Undaunted, I continued up the canyon.
The river’s volume began to subside as I proceeded past Drake. At the handicap ramp at mile post 72, the river began to present itself in a fishable manner. Pulling around the corner at 7 Pines, I encountered the first group of fellow anglers parked along the road. An additional one-half mile upstream, I passed another truck whose occupant had already geared up for the day. My next chance to fish would be three-quarters mile upstream. Rounding the bend, I found the pullout vacant. Since entering the canyon 14 miles back, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees; the car display read 37 degrees. The sun had yet to break through the clouds which skittered across the mountain peaks.
Today’s menu choice was typical for my spring trips, starting with a size 16-orange stimulator for the dry fly/strike indicator. Below that I tied on a copper john, also in a size 16, followed by a size 18-red midge emerger pattern. As I walked downstream to my intended point of entry, I noticed the river was higher than normal, but relatively clear. I also took note that a few sections of river I had fished a few weeks ago would have to be by-passed. The high flow of water would make wading across the river too dangerous. Alongside the road the rocks were draped with melting icicles, remnants of cold weather. I ventured an additional quarter-mile further downstream and began my day.
The sun came out just as I entered the river, which prompted my shadow to dance along the water’s edge. The river flattened out a bit which created a shallower drift, about mid-calf in depth. My first target of opportunity was a small pool of quiet water that rested behind a large rock. I made my first cast. It felt good to be back on the water.
Just three casts later, I hooked up with my first fish of the day, a small rainbow that was smitten with the copper john. I released him and returned my flies to the river. Methodically I plied my efforts, working upstream in concert with the easy pace of the morning. I missed the next fish; then I picked up three rainbows in quick succession, each fish bigger than the previous catch. The wind had gained in strength and challenged my casting skills.
I missed two more fish along the way, including one that took a long study of the dry fly. The next fish I caught was a nice 13-inch rainbow which proved to be feisty as ever. We tussled against each other for a couple of minutes until I got him into my net. I released him and moved a bit further upstream to work a drift along the far bank. Over the course of a few casts, I felt a couple of nudges on my line and knew a fish lurked there. My next cast allowed the flies to drift right along the bank. At the tail end of the drift, the dry fly stopped. I picked up my rod tip and felt a solid tug at the other end. A lengthy battle ensued. At its conclusion I netted a beautiful 15-inch rainbow. Its broad shoulders prevented my hand from surrounding its girth. Its deep red band was beautifully accented by the spots along its entire length. This fish confirmed that nature is the most gifted artist.
Releasing the beauty, I stood and took a couple of deep breaths to soak in the surroundings. I knew that I had most likely landed the fish of the day. I could’ve been “skunked” for the rest of the day, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
I waded upstream to the next pocket of water and proceeded to land another nice rainbow. As I approached the next section of water, I came upon a large boulder set a yard or two from the shoreline. I recalled on previous trips I had waded around this rock and had spooked a fish holding on the upstream side. Staying behind the boulder, I laid my flies on the water upstream from the rock. I watched them slowly drift past the boulder. Sure enough a rainbow was scouting for food and took one of the underwater nymphs. Unfortunately I set the hook late and the fish shook the red midge from its mouth. That release, combined with the rod pressure on the fish, put the flies high in the tree behind me. Sometimes the fish win, sometimes the trees win, and in this case they both did. I couldn’t reach the ensnaring branch; but I felt lucky to lose only the red midge, even though it was the last one in my fly box.
Choosing a small, red, San Juan worm as a replacement, I fished through the faster water without success. I elected not to add any weight to my line so it was not a surprise that I came up empty handed. Traversing a rocky section of the river, I came upon a stretch of water that, in the past, has produced large numbers of fish. Though a couple of smaller fish were in “feed mode,” I didn’t see any of the larger residents lounging about. I managed to coax one rainbow from the seam of water near the top of the drift, and then moved on. I noticed a fellow angler working the river about 100 yards ahead of me, so I took my time and hooked a couple of fish from the pocket water. While the wind continued to pick up energy, I found that mine had faded. The upstream angler had not moved yet, and a touch of hunger told me it was time to pack it in. I exited the water and made my way to my car.
I had some extra time left and thought I could make a secondary stop if the river downstream looked good. I drove five minutes and pulled off the highway. The river was still clear, so I decided to dance with her again. The second cast coaxed a brown from the edge of a rock, but he quickly shook the fly loose. Working upstream I didn’t find any fish wiling to play, so I ventured back downstream. The clouds had begun to spit snow and the wind gusts blew the flakes horizontally. Despite the change in conditions, I managed to hook up with one nice brown trout.
I started to get cold, and the clouds continued to thicken overhead. Though the calendar read April, winter refused to let go of the canyon. I knew the time to head home had arrived. I quickly changed out of my wet and found much-needed food and warmth in the car. After a prayer of thanks for the joy I experienced, I pulled away from the river and smiled, knowing that I will return again.