Fishing Rocky Mountain National Park
Last week, my family and I got to check off another National Park from our bucket list. From South Dakota, to Texas, to Montana – we all gathered together in a cabin between Estes Park and Allenspark, Colorado for a week of hiking, fishing, rafting, and, of course, eating delicious food.
Our cabin was set in a hillside looking across the valley to Mount Meeker, a 13,911′ monolith that was the first thing to catch in light the cabin’s windows each morning as the sun turned it into a purple mountain majesty. Of course, usually it was the sound of the area’s hummingbirds coming to feed at the feeders my grandma set up that would wake us up before the light could even rouse us. Forever a source of entertainment, we spent our mornings with coffee and evenings with beer sitting on the deck as the birds would whiz around our heads.
The morning after Logan and I arrived at the cabin, my dad, brother, Logan, and I went to Kirk’s Fly Shop in Estes Park to get our licenses and some beta. One of the ladies working (I tell ya, fisherbabes have all the best information) directed us to a small stream that feeds into the St. Vrain River as a starting point for the day’s fishing. As we approached the stream, we divided…..and conquered. Every single one of us walked away having caught more than a handful of brook trout, even the most novice fisher among us. As we were walking back from the last hole in the stream, my mom pointed across the stream and we spent the next ten minutes watching a cow moose and her calf forage. Of course, we also watched as people who clearly don’t have a ton of respect for wildlife got too close to be considered safe. While these two folks weren’t trying to harass the wildlife, they were more concerned about getting the ideal picture than with staying safe.
(Pro-Tip: Don’t be that guy.)
Satisfied, we went home to spend the evening with the family. We fished the creek just down the hill from the cabin and had a blast catching the “little guys” on dry flies.
The next morning, the fellas and I met up with my friend Todd and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park on Highway 36 and went to fish Moraine Park. Although the Park sees 4.5 million visitors a year, we fished a stretch of the Big Thompson River and only ran into a couple of other anglers. The river, though it’s called The Big Thompson, fished similarly to what we call creeks up here. Beautifully braided and the textbook picture and definition of a cutbank, the river offered opportunities for a variety of types of casting. Some areas were broad and meadowy, perfect for luxurious back casts and other areas were overgrown with willows and even roll casting was a challenge. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve found a better water to fish for the variety of skill levels we had fishing that day.
Even though the water was clear, the fish weren’t as spooky as I expected. The areas where they were holding were easy enough to find and we were all able to fish dry-fly all day. As a self-professed dry fly brat….it was heaven. The morning started with catching brookies and cuttys on PMD patterns and moved into attractor dry delight. The Purple Haze, a staple in SW Montana, clearly didn’t get used much down there and was incredibly successful for the majority of the day. Just after noon, the fishing got tough and the best luck happened on terrestrials. While we all stayed within “hollerin’ range” in case we needed help or ran into trouble, it largely felt like a day to myself on the river.
When we all gathered together at the the end of the day, we shared stories of successes and losses. Todd shared how he was one rainbow short of a Colorado Grand Slam. My dad laughed as he told us of how he, on his Tenkara rod, crushed it in a pool that the rest of us only had mediocre success. Derek, my brother, regaled us with stories of how he sat and battled the willows trying to get his fly to drift right along the edge of the far side of the creek, and how it paid off with an aggressive take. Logan, who caught the most and the biggest fish the day before, bore the brunt of breaking a rod beautifully and ended the day on a high note by catching a healthy, fat, brook trout on his last cast using my H2.
I haven’t yet decided what was so rejuvenating about that trip. Part of it was definitely getting to fish new waters. Part of it was getting to teach people I love about fly fishing. But I think my favorite part of fishing in Colorado was seeing the people who are closest to me, walk up from the creek towards the car with smiles plastered on their faces, knowing that they’ve just had a great day and made some incredible memories.
Fishing can be just about fish. It can be about catching a monster, or getting a new record for fish caught in a day. It can be about marking off another species of fish caught. It can be about be about size, number, species, or any other bit of data you want to track.
Fishing can also be about relationships, and people, and memories. It can be about enhancing someone’s life and sharing with them an activity they can do well into old-age. It can be about creating a legacy of conservation and about education.
Whichever way you approach it, tight lines to you and your loved ones. Swing by the shop and tell us your stories. We’ll be happy to hear them!