The Big T Is Back

By Randy Scholfield

We’re reminded at times that river canyons can be violent, unforgiving places.

I hadn’t been back to the Big Thompson since the rampaging floods of last September, which scoured the canyon to the bone in places, tilting roads over gutted banks, taking homes and life.

Months later, I’m here on the Big T, on the day before Easter, rigging up my rod, and all is calm and right with the river gods.  

The resurrection is in full swing. A hatch is under way. Fish are rising in the gray overcast light of midday to dimple the surface. Not missing a beat.

A car drives by and slows down. Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along.

Walking along the bank, surveying the runs and rises ahead, I get that trembling feeling of anticipation. It's spring, and it's on.

That said, this outing feels a bit creepy, like drive-by rubbernecking at a disaster site. Along the banks you see signs of the deluge—a sheet of tin wrapped around a tree. . . a 1940s-vintage cabin-motel sagging toward the river, windows boarded. Orange cones along the roadway. Climbing over boulders, you find evidence of humanity routed by nature--an old blanket here, a soggy stuffed animal there.  Cold comfort.

The river itself, at least in the upper canyon below Estes, has reverted to its normal course, and again runs glimmering and inviting through pocket water and runs. The Big T can be a great dry-fly river, and today the water is low and clear, the fish looking up. At times they seemed to be rising everywhere in the river.

After the devastating Front Range floods last fall, I wondered how our local rivers, including Boulder Creek and the Big T, would be fishing this year. Most have made strong recoveries, their instream habitat scoured and renewed by the high waters. Don’t tell anyone, but the fishery in this stretch of the Big T is better than before the flood—in fact, that’s been confirmed by fish counts in the first 10 miles of the upper Thompson canyon. The number of rainbows has doubled since the flushing flows of last fall. 

My friend Peter and I had steady action throughout midday when BWOs were popping off the water—we caught rainbows and browns, on both dries and midge nymphs. 

Later, the action turned off. I couldn’t get them interested in my offerings, despite some frequent changeups. It was OK. I’d already had a good day. I took a break and sat down on a boulder, looked around this beautiful place, and watched the river flow.

Back at the car, we broke down our rods and compared notes. Peter took out a flask and we drank a quick toast.

Welcome back, old river.

Randy Scholfield is TU communications director for the Southwest region.

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