100 Best: Big Thompson RIver
Location: Central Colorado
Type of stream: Freestone, then Tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, Spinning, Bait
Species: Browns, rainbow, cutthroat, brookies
Supporting Services: Estes Park
Short take: Love the Big T, but oh you Roaring River
Handicapped Access: None
Closest TU Chapter: Alpine Anglers
Just below Forest Canyon Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park at roughly 11,000 feet begins the thin alpine stream that carries the name of the Big Thompson River. For its first 20 miles or so the Big T makes a beeline from its headwaters down to Lake Estes with a dogleg to the northeast at the mouth of the canyon where Spruce Creek comes in. The Fern Lake trail follows about two miles of the lower river where small rainbows may be caught. The further up the canyon you fish, the greeter your chances of catching the Colorado state fish—the apricot hued greenback cutthroat.
Most serious anglers eschew the water above Estes Park and fish the Big T tailwater below Olympus Dam. If the tailwater looks too large to come from a lake fed by such small streams, keep in mind that a tunnel brings water from Shadow Mountain Reservoir on the Upper Colorado River and releases it in Lake Estes to quench the thirst of citizens of Loveland and eventually Denver. Less than a mile below the dam, the river enters Roosevelt National Forest and, with the exception of an occasional private parcel, is open to fishing. U.S. Route 34 follows the river through the canyon. Access points are numerous.
Rainbows make up about 70 percent of the trout in the canyon and the rest, mainly, are browns. A typical fish runs in the 12 to 14 inch range, but 16 to 18 inch fish are not uncommon. The further the river progresses toward Loveland, the warmer the river becomes and greater the density of browns. Hatches of mayflies and caddis are prolific, and the river seems to fish best at flows between 90 cfs and 150 cfs.