Winter Fishing: Tail Water of the Big Thompson

Andre Profile Pic

By Andre Egli

DATE: 12/28/15

FLOW: 27 cfs

ROD: Redington Pursuit 8’6” 5wt

SET UP: I didn’t catch anything so whatever I was doing you don’t want to imitate.


Happy New Year friends! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I wish you all a fabulous 2016! For the vast majority of us this time of year also means cold weather and frozen lakes, streams, and rivers. However, those of you who live in areas that allow fishing 365 days a year you can still seek out tail waters if you refuse to put your fly rod away when the snow falls.

Quick fishing vocabulary lesson:

Tail Water – Waters located immediately downstream from a hydraulic structure, such as a dam, bridge or culvert. The water in this section of a river or stream is released from the deeper portions of the upstream lake. Subsequently, this water is warmer than normal and resists freezing until several miles downstream from the dam.


Estes Dam

Here in the Denver area we’re blessed with numerous tail waters that are open to us year round. I spent the other day up in Estes Park trying my luck on the tail water of the Big Thompson just below Lake Estes. However, I was not successful in coaxing a trout to bite my fly. Thus, I cannot instruct you on how to catch fish there but I can inform you of where to go.

The Big Thompson tail water is very heavily fished this time of year due to lack of other fly fishing options, so if you’re looking for solitude you won’t find it. There is ample parking available just below the dam accessed via a side road off of Mall Road.


Ample parking is available.

This area of the river is catch and release with artificial lures/flies only, but this is clearly marked all over the place.

It’s cool to follow the rules!

Most anglers focus their efforts near the dam, as there tends to be more food in this area for the trout. I started here but moved further downstream as the day progressed. In my limited experience here I have found the trout to be very picky and a nearly flawless presentation of just the right fly is needed for success. If you lack that ability, like I do, you can still enjoy watching the trout arrogantly ignore your flies as they drift past them.


Nice rainbow trout arrogantly ignoring my flies.

This section of the Big Thompson is located on the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park so even if you don’t catch anything you will be treated to amazing scenery. This time of year it will be COLD, and there is no avoiding this fact. I went on a beautiful sunny day so it was tolerable but still just 30 degrees. If you’re going to wade in the water while you fish be sure to double up your socks and wear some long johns to help keep you warm. It’s also advisable to bring mittens, hats, winter jackets, and anything else warm you own. Also, keep an eye on your rod as water will collect in the guides of your rod and freeze sometimes even freezing your fly line in place.


Define cold…

As I mentioned I was unsuccessful but the flies of choice for most anglers in this section are scuds, midges, and attractor nymph patterns. I tried all three to no avail but it’s at least a place to start. And remember even if you get skunked you still get to spend the day looking at this:


Estes Park, CO

Until next time, happy fishing!

– A. Egli

Categories: Fly Fishing, Places to GoTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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