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> > Turbulence and Trout: Heaven and Hell in One Location

Report at a Glance

General RegionN Colorado
Specific LocationBig Thompson River
Time of DayAll day!
Fish Caught~15 trout to 13+"
Conditions & HatchesGlossosoma, Baetis tricaudatus, midges.

Details and Discussion

PaulRobertsApril 27th, 2012, 5:28 pm

Posts: 1776
The Big Thompson is a large high gradient canyon stream dropping at an average of 100ft/mile, producing strong turbulent flow. Typical of these granite bedded canyon streams, the trout are smallish, 10"to 13"on average for the Big T, an inch or so less for other nearby canyon streams. It’s a challenge to fish though, easiest to negotiate with short-line methods due to the myriad conflicting currents. Combine this with its clear water and heavy fishing pressure and it can be downright humbling at times.

Since I don’t own a light 10ft nymph rod I broke out the “Tenkara”-type telescoping pole I had bought in China 15 years ago. When Chinese friends learned I liked to fish they set up a day for me at a “fishing park” (there was no public fishing water nearby). Others offered to poison a river for me! No joke! For the more sporting of the two ventures I bought what the Chinese (and many Asians) used, something equivalent to the cane pole –usually used with an ultra-sensitive quill float. I also got to pole fish in Thailand, in a medium sized stream with a woman who cooked for the guest house I was staying in. We pursued various tiny to small fishes for curry, essentially “Czech-Nymphing” with bait. Toi, my “guide” told me to go into the forest and cut myself a Rattan pole, not bamboo –“Rattan for fishing pole,” she instructed. Rattan is, like many tropical life forms, well defended:

With it I high-sticked a little freshwater puffer, a miniature version of the saltwater ones, and it puffed up big as a golf ball! The little buggers are very territorial and bit us when we swam in the stream, effectively chasing some westerners shrieking out of the water.

For my Chinese fishing excursion I bought a high-tech telescoping high-content graphic number that was 10.5ft long (stowing down to 23”) and made in Korea from I believe a Shimano factory as I recognized the blank and lettering. I won’t bore you with the “fishing park” as it was lined almost elbow to elbow with anglers and I managed only one roach-like cyprinid, and saw few other fish caught, although one hot-shot caught 3 large roach while I was there. I envied him, and he had the air of an “expert” from anywhere: kept to himself and showed no emotion, as if he does it all the time, and probably does. The novice would be whooping, or looking around to see if anyone was watching.

I’d yet to apply my broad (but not very deep) pole fishing talents to trout so I thought the Big Thompson was the perfect place. The ability to reach out and high-stick over those maddening currents was kindof exciting.

I used a 9ft 1X tapered leader to a 14” piece of Berkley Sensation CoPoly in “Blaze Orange VF”, to a tippet ring, to which 3.5ft of tippet was tied. I took the “high tech” a step further and used Berkley Nanofil in .002 diameter (~3lbs) for my tippet. That oughta get those little jigs down, and offer the best feel and hooksets. This leader is longer than the rod meaning I’d have to hand-line the fish the last few feet.

I followed George Daniel’s advice and tied up some tungsten critters in keeping with the Colorado canyon stream fauna (Glossosoma, Brachycentrus, and some stoneflies), as well as some on standard trout-sized lead jigheads. For the tungsten flies, I used a tying technique that I saw on YouTube. The guy calls it the “Polyphitus” style, the meaning of which is lost on me. However, it has some attributes that do make sense: The hook rides up stabilizing the fly and helps keep it from hooking bottom debris, and it allows a larger bead to be used with a smaller gap hook:

Here’s how to tie this style:

Fashion a sewing pin thus.

Being a “jig” I left a bit of barb as such weight in a fish’s mouth, esp sans fly-line to help create the drag to keep it in place, is asking for lost fish.

Both the larva and pupa of Glossosoma are such plump little guys and similarly colored that I assumed/hoped this (in #16) would do double duty, or just plain catch trout. It did.

OK…I got flies. We’re outta here!

About an hour’s drive.

The Big Thompson in all its glory, and…turbulence..

Rigged and ready.

The first things I noticed when I arrived were the Glossosoma winging up and down the river. I tied on a tungsten #16 Glossosoma larva/pupa and went to it. The first spot I hit was a nice shoreline run created by the bank. On such turbulent rivers the shorelines create good feeding spots for trout because they offer relatively calm flow and are excised enough to offer sufficient depth. The cool thing was it was on the OTHER side of the river; No worries about spooking fish. ;) I waded out a short ways and flicked the little tungsten jig to the head of the run, drew up my blaze day-glo “sighter”, followed the drift, and Pop! My first pole-caught trout was zipping around the chute.

I must say, it felt…weird. No reel! Just lead ‘em over with a very vertical rod, shorten the rod by holding further up the blank for leverage, then grab the line and draw em in. Pop! –the hook popped out. This happened more than I would have liked during the day so a net is rather important, esp with such heavily weighted flies –maybe a longer handled one. I hooked 4 trout in that first 10ft of shoreline run, bringing two to hand. The first popped off, the other, a nice ~12” ‘bow, broke the Nanofil. Turns out the stuff is fragile, apt to shred, and being such a pain to tie knots with (it’s thinner and nearly as soft as sewing thread), I went to 6X fluorocarbon. I tried 4X at one point but found I needed too much of it to achieve depth on such short drifts.

As you can see, this river receives some angling pressure.

Bows outnumber browns here, but calmer shorelines give up nearly all the browns. At one particularly nice long shoreline, banked with undercut grasses, I sneaked in from below only to find I'd misread the depth (easy to do at a distance), finding the tail cushion (prime brown lie) further back than I'd expected. And I watched a large (~15-16") brown bolt. That's a particularly nice trout for this stretch. But I now have an address.

The next spot I hit gave up 2 more fish, before a prescient breeze appeared and all but shut down speed control and strike detection. I say prescient in that it brought the T-storms that conjured up a nice Baetis tricaudatus emergence. I then stashed the pole and got to actually cast a fly-line, which is the very reason pole fishing will never replace conventional fly fishing. I was again, however, re-introduced to all that conflicting turbulence. After trying to cast and mend my way out of trouble I finally added 18” more of tippet and was in business. In the turbulent runs the trout rarely rose, showing more in chasing pupae (both Glossosoma and midge) than for duns. Thus my Baetis dries were never more than observed and refused, but a Baetis nymph fished sans weight on a short dropper, took fish.

Speaking of refusals… These are NOT unsophisticated mountain trout, like tend to exist in adjacent canyons. These little shts (I actually said that!) would inspect, refuse, and spook like crazy little banshees at too big an indicator dry, or tippet landing on em, or seeing the same “not food” pass by more than 3 times. In those unpredictable canyon breezes, and turbulence that too often took a cast or two to figure out, I’d finally get a “good drift”, you know the ones you EXPECT fish on, and the little ____ would say, “Nope!”

“NO!???”, I’d stammer.

“What, do we look stupid??” they’d reply.

Yes, I’ve been known to talk to fish, and have them answer. Haven’t you?

I broke each spot down like it was its own small stream –like one must often do with bigger water. However, with such a gradient, the river was parceled into micro-streams; multitudes of current tongues like the chaotic streams of subway riders in New York’s Pennsylvania Station, each with their place to go, sometimes melding for short distances, then careening off one other. Reading currents, a stealthy approach (often kneeling or sitting midstream), a long tippet and slack casting, got the job done, but not at the rate I somehow felt justified for the effort of negotiating that rocky canyon river.

Trout were EVERYWHERE however. I mean, everywhere. Six inches of water, if it was at the right speed, was good enough. And, except for some larger individuals I’d spook out of some inches deep flat-calm backwater, they were never alone. Groups of 6 or more jostled for drift space. It’s one thing to spook trout; It’s another to spook 6 or more at a go.

I also found groups of midging trout, in still eddies, or calm, nearly still side pockets. I took a few on a #22 RF (rabbit’s foot) damp midge, suffering more refusals or splashy attempts followed with no bend in the rod, than hook-ups. “Little ____!! Do you know how much money and time I have invested in you??”

“Ha ha ha ha ha….” They gleefully chuckled back as I headed out of that canyon river, my left boot FULL of water, from a leak I’ve yet to pinpoint, that had run all the way up to my crotch from “keeping a low profile” sitting in midstream. At least I thought I heard sniggling, or maybe it was all those nasty little currents.

EntomanApril 27th, 2012, 9:04 pm
Site Editor
Northern CA & ID

Posts: 2604
Nice expose', Paul! Beautiful western river. Gorgeous redband in the net. Looks pretty pure... Could have come right out of Fall R.! Perhaps some real McCloud R. rainbows before they got mixed with the coastal strains in the hatcheries? Very rare because the pure strains were only shipped a few times and they tend to not interbreed (as evidenced here). The other rainbow is classic CA coastal hybrid as planted all over the place. It looks like it held over?

BTW - Love your jig method.
"It's not that I find fishing so important, it's just that I find all other endeavors of Man equally unimportant... And not nearly as much fun!" Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Fisherman
PaulRobertsApril 27th, 2012, 9:41 pm

Posts: 1776
The Big T isn't stocked anymore (since '94) except in the very lower reaches. Likely, bows being bows, they travel.
FalsiflyApril 28th, 2012, 11:32 am
Hayward, WI.

Posts: 656
Great post Paul. I never fished the Thompson but I was living in Littleton on the day it became “Hell”. Saturday 7/31/76. I’ve read that it reached 35,000 CFS on that fateful day, talk about turbulence.
When asked what I just caught that monster on I showed him. He put on his magnifiers and said, "I can't believe they can see that."
PaulRobertsApril 28th, 2012, 1:11 pm

Posts: 1776
Thanks, Alan.

Yes. 119 people died in that flash flood. If the weather looks like a potential for flooding I look around at the landscape and make myself aware of my alternatives, if it were to happen.
JesseApril 29th, 2012, 1:37 pm
Posts: 378
Great stuff man it seems as though you had an excellent day on the water! Well done!
Most of us fish our whole lives..not knowing its not the fish that we are after.
MartinlfApril 29th, 2012, 1:41 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2880
Paul, I read each of your reports with the same pleasure (and sometimes the same kind of pleasure) that I experience reading poetry. Thanks for taking the time to share, and for your talent with words. My own report follows, but will be much more mundane, as my time (and perhaps talent) are limited.

I fished the West Branch of the Delaware last week. Although I caught a number of fish on dry flies (Hendricksons and olives) my two best fish came on an iron lotus fished euro style in riffles. I've come to enjoy nymphing this way pretty much the same as dry fly fishing, and had to be called out of a riffle when the fish began to rise freely downstream. My friends couldn't believe it, and started to suspect my wits had begun to turn a bit. Later, one of my fishing partners and I debated the relative benefits and drawbacks of different styles of nymphing, and I finally concluded that fishing with no shot just suits me for some odd reason. I do believe it leads to more success for me, and that is probably the main reason, but it is such a pleasure to dispense with slipping shot that inevitably come off and are not noticed, or casting a big ball of yarn or a foam float. The direct contact with the flies feels so much more right to me.

Finally, I'm glad your experiments worked so well, and must admit that I too talk to fish. Some 7-8" b______ds on the Little Lehigh gave me fits a few trico seasons ago. Their arrogance is documented in a thread somewhere here, along with suggestions from several Troutnuts on how to get the upper hand with them. Most of the fish had the last word.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
PaulRobertsApril 29th, 2012, 3:56 pm

Posts: 1776
Jesse, I didn't do as well as I'd hoped, or one might expect given the number of trout in that river. I used to spend time on a bass fishing site, and one of the posts that would always come up was titled something like, "I could see em but I JUST COULDN"T CATCH EM!!!" I always respond that if we could see what's actually going on down there, all the fish we don't catch, we'd probably hang it up. Knowing all the things that can go wrong, rather than right, esp in moving water, it should really be o surprise. But it is vexing.

Thanks, Louis. Gee. It's more about time than talent, I think. least that they are related.

I feel the same way about nymphing. I think it has something to do with being able to visualize what's going on what you cannot see. From there the interest can grow. It's unnerving to feel "out of touch", so many anglers just never get over the hump.
LastchanceApril 29th, 2012, 6:54 pm
Portage, PA

Posts: 437
Hey Paul. Nice report. I'm very interested in learning how to make those jig nymphs. They're very expensive to buy. Do you have a link to which we can refer? As far as nymphing, Czech, French, European, Chinese, American, etc. etc. it's all pretty much highstick fishing in my opinion. But, to each his own and that's just my opinion. I watched that video, but it revealed little.

PS. I find that people who complain about nymphing and nymphing with shot usually can't master the technique.
MartinlfApril 29th, 2012, 11:22 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2880
Hey Bruce, how about a lesson sometime? And take another look at Paul's photos. They give a good idea of how to tie the jig nymphs.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
JesseApril 30th, 2012, 12:19 am
Posts: 378
Paul on your comments about whats going on under the water's surface that we can't see: It's unbelievable. I will never forget it was last summer that i spent in-terning with the fish and boat commission. We were trying to get an accurate fish count on a wild trout stream to see if it had the qualifications to make the class A category. I wanted the stream to get more strict regulations in order to help protect it. It was during the peak of summer, and the fish department chose a section to shock on the river's lower section. We did a 100 meter stretch of water that looked like shit. It was slow moving, stagnant, no really nice features, no bank protection (it was all rock bank to help flood control), and because it was the river's lower section the water was a lot warmer this far down. I was mad because i didn't think the true numbers that the river holds would produce from this 100 meter stretch of water. The first pass through the section and we counted roughly 245 fish ranging from 2-20 inches. The next day we came back to shock roughly 260 fish, only 30 or so being the same fish that we encountered on our first pass. I have never been so amazed with a fish. That was water that, especially given the time of year, i would normally look at and go to the next bit of appealing water. Thank God we can't see whats going on underneath the surface eh..?
Most of us fish our whole lives..not knowing its not the fish that we are after.
PaulRobertsApril 30th, 2012, 11:01 am

Posts: 1776
I loved electro-fishing -violently invasive as it was. It's so exciting to see an entire stretch of stream opened up before me.

The problem/challenge is to make a fly a look like "food" -do the right thing- despite all the factors involved (varying currents, clarity, sky, real "food " activity, spookiness, ...) and be able to detect those takes and "samplings". It's a tall order really. We earn each fish. Relying on luck makes for a dull day -like expecting to win the lottery over and over again.
Feathers5April 30th, 2012, 11:03 am
Posts: 287
Hey Bruce, how about a lesson sometime? And take another look at Paul's photos. They give a good idea of how to tie the jig nymphs.

Hey Louis! I don't think you need nymphing lessons. I understand how to tie them, but what is that needle and how do you get it to hold the bead? What is a sewing pin and how do you fashion it to hold a bead?

Paul, do you mean a safety pin? Id sew do they come in sizes?

Louis, have you heard anything about the sulfurs yet?

The Best,

PaulRobertsApril 30th, 2012, 11:14 am

Posts: 1776
I want to add to the report above that fishing pressure is only part of the story/excuse. The sheer number of trout I was seeing indicate greater productivity in this stream compared to adjacent canyons. The main reason is probably two-fold: The larger canyon supports more space for houses and hamlets increasing nutrient load (it's all tanks w/leach fields). Secondly, there is a dam with lake above. This is a "top-release" dam so it's not a true tailwater but the lake does add nutrients, warm and stabilize the flow somewhat. Productivity means more food and the opportunity for fish to be choosier. At least this is the theory.

I sampled a single riffle only and found the usual canyon species, but there was an inordinate abundance of midges, and this river is known for this, and the midge option s always open on the "Big T".
PaulRobertsApril 30th, 2012, 11:21 am

Posts: 1776
Bruce, it's a ... sewing pin ... insect pin ... the box says "dressmakers pin" from any sewing/craft store, even grocery store probably. You know the saying, "smaller than the head of a pin"? That head fits nicely inside the wider hole in a bored out beadhead bead. Bend the head with needlenose, nip the pin off to shank length, thread the bead on the pinhead seating the head into larger hole. Lash to top-side of hook shank -as in pics.
GldstrmSamApril 30th, 2012, 6:17 pm
Fairbanks, Alaska

Posts: 212
Wow, Paul! What a great story/report. You are one person who can write lengthy posts that are still interesting and entertaining by the time I get to the end.

By the way what sized hooks did you use?
There is no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm. ~Patrick F. McManus
PaulRobertsMay 1st, 2012, 12:15 pm

Posts: 1776
Thanks Sam.

"Jigs" were 12, 14, and 16. Baetis 16 to 20. Midge 22.
MartinlfMay 15th, 2014, 1:36 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2880
OK, just reread this one. We should be paying Paul for these. What a wonderful tale, and full of instruction. As well as some fine toned humor. If you haven't seen this post, it comes highly recommended.

Paul, a few questions:

The caddis--tied with twisted antron or canvas yarn? The stoneflies? Would you share the extended body method?

This thread's resurrection proves timely as I just tied some stones on jig hooks, putting the tungsten bead on Slumpbuster style, after losing a bunch of standard ties to a very rocky run during a productive day of fishing. With the jig, so far I haven't lost a one. But, with limited testing, I also haven't hooked any fish on the jig versions either. I hope it's not due to the design. Time will tell. But, amnesiac me, I was trying to figure out how to get a dependable hook up orientation, also bending some hooks a bit to get a semi-jig design; I had completely forgotten the pin-bead technique. Coming back to this thread gives me something else to play with and a way to use hooks at hand without buying more jig hooks, or bending my regular shank hooks!
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Kschaefer3May 15th, 2014, 2:00 pm
St. Paul, MN

Posts: 376
I completely agree, Louis, about paying Paul for these. Reading some of Paul's posts from before my time here has been a real treat. This,

I used to spend time on a bass fishing site, and one of the posts that would always come up was titled something like, "I could see em but I JUST COULDN"T CATCH EM!!!" I always respond that if we could see what's actually going on down there, all the fish we don't catch, we'd probably hang it up.

is just perfect. I fish with a friend who regularly fishes a run and then says, "Man, I can't believe there are no fish in there".

I tend to laugh at him and say, "There are fish in there, we just couldn't get them to take".

I fish a couple spring creeks that have 5000-15000 fish/mile. There are days when you (I) still can't buy a fish. I have to NOT think about how many fish I spooked and walked past during the day. It's too demoralizing when I do.
CrepuscularMay 15th, 2014, 4:59 pm
Boiling Springs, PA

Posts: 917
I fish a couple spring creeks that have 5000-15000 fish/mile.

Can I come visit? ;)

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