Here in Estes Park, we enjoy excellent cold weather fishing. Some folks put away their fly rods and get out the fly-tying stuff this time of year, but locals enjoy the winter bite. Nymphs are the obvious go-to fly now but on the sunny days a good hatch of midges will bring trout to the surface in mid-afternoon. So, watch the temperatures which will vary from shade to sunny areas and check out these suggestions for some winter fun.
The best-known water that remains open through the winter is the catch and release stretch directly below the Olympus Dam. This section of the Big Thompson River stays open due to the warm water releases from the depths of Lake Estes. In the summer it’s too popular with visitors and guides for locals to enjoy. The exception summer is that time late in the afternoon and early evening after the guides have taken their clients back to the shop and the visitors are standing in line at a local restaurant.
This same stretch will provide good fishing in the winter with a weighted nymph to reach the fish packed into the deeper holes along the river. The usual patterns will work but locals go to a minimally dressed nymph with a splash of red tied in. Other popular patterns include the rainbow warrior and prince nymph. A little flash seems to help trout find these flies without chasing them down which saves valuable calories needed for their survival until spring.
Another of our favorite spots is dependent on the flow from the power plant discharge. If the turbines are turning the water running into Lake Estes below the power plant can be productive. This warm “tunnel water” brings food and warmth, both of which help create a great winter fishery. Always remember that trout are cold blooded and their digestive system, like any chemical reaction, functions slowly when cold. Tiny nymphs and mid-day midge emergers are more digestible in these temperatures than larger prey. No need to wait until evening like we do in the summer; these hatches happen in the middle of the day and only last an hour or so. The north shore of this outlet provides protection from the north wind and access to the best areas to fish.
Our version of “ice fishing” can be enjoyed at the inlet of the Big Thompson River by the 9-hole golf course. Here, though there is no warm water flow, there will be open pockets of water in the ice on the river. The trick is to get your fly into the open spots on the upstream end of the open area. A weighted nymph plus a split shot may be required to get the nymph deep quickly before the end of the open water. The next issue to deal with is landing the fish before it runs under the ice and your tippet breaks on the sharp edge. If you do get the fish out of the water, drag it across the ice and unhook it quickly. Now, the real challenge becomes releasing the fish back into the water. Do not walk out on the ice to get to the water. River ice is variable in depth and may not support your weight. Instead, find an open spot close to the bank and skate the fish across the ice and into the water from shore. Another issue with winter fishing is having your line and rod guides freeze, making it difficult to cast. Take time to remove the ice after every few casts.
It has been a tradition of ours to fish on New Year’s Day as a great way to start the year. For years, Kimball ventured forth in the freezing weather while I cowered by the fire waiting for spring to begin my fishing year. However, after she came back with pictures and stories of the fish she was catching; I became a believer and now would not miss out on our first fishing trip of the year. We always catch fish, making this an excellent choice for beginning the New Year. Dress warm and try it, you’ll like it!!