Fish Tales

Tales, tall and short, about fly fishing Sylvan Dale’s private trophy trout lakes, bass ponds and the Big Thompson River.

Big Thompson River by Jessup Lodge

Big Thompson River by Jessup Lodge

Flood 2013 - New flood plain by Homestead big-t-trout-dan-franz-and-bonnnie-mize








The devastating flood of September 2013 deposited tons of rocks and silt in the old river channel and killed most of the trout and aquatic insects.  Thanks to the outstanding efforts of Larimer County and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, a temporary channel was re-established in March 2014.  As of August, aquatic insects were making a comeback, brown trout had reappeared, and an experimental stocking of rainbows proved successful, with wide-girth trout now taking on the bright colors of wild trout.

Much remains to be done.  Parts of the channel are straight “sluice-box” runs with little or no trout holding water.  Corey Engen, a highly regarded fisheries habitat consultant and owner of Flywater, Inc., is creating a state-of-the art aquatic habitat design for the 3-mile reach of river from the mouth of the canyon downstream past the City of Loveland Filtration plant.

The design work is financed by grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the City of Loveland, supplemented by the new Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning at Sylvan Dale Ranch, which will use this design as a model for onsite experiential learning events for people who want to know more about river recovery and trout habitat design.

When the design is finished, we’ll be raising funds to leverage other grant monies needed for the heavy lifting work requiring large, expensive equipment.

Stay tuned!

By David Jessup

Here is an account I wrote in August, 2010, worth posting now that I have a blog!

I caught the biggest trout I ever caught in the Big Thompson River yesterday.  Twenty-one inches.  A huge, fat rainbow, like one from our trophy lakes. 

That big boy came out of the stretch of river in the lower valley where it slows into a riffle above the irrigation dam.  It was about 7 pm.  The slanting light from the setting sun lit up every bug like a firefly, including my size 16 royal trude.  The cliffs above were ablaze, and it was hard to not look at them instead of focusing on the end of my line. Read more on Moby Trout…

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Fishing report for a hot summer day in mid-July…

By Steve Musick

I arrived before the Ranch was awake….which is hard to do I grant you.  The fishing permit was fastened to the front porch with a rock.  It read, Musick, info on file, 07/14/2009 with an arrow pointing to the river wanting to be as anonymous as possible today.  Sometimes solitude is the soothing elixir for whatever ails the soul.

I rigged up by the horse shoe pits down by Daddy J pond.  It’ll be a couple of hours before the sunshine hits the water here the fish should be comfortable for awhile.  I ran into Chuck Prather, one of the fishing guides here at the ranch.

Got clients here today? Secretly hoping not.

Naw (whew!),  saw yer car and thought I’d come down to yak a bit.  I see the flow is down from last week but it’s still not low enough to cross.  Tough to work the river from just one side this time of year.  Ya fished it much this year?

Yeah, couple of times early in February and March.  He gave me a pattern he said was working well a couple of weeks ago.  It was a brown and orange body with brownish rubber legs.  Couldn’t tell if he was kiddin’ or not…..crazy thing looked goofy like a clown.  Looking down at my black and white Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes size 15 tied on over my neoprene waders I thought I fit right in.  Clown shoes……clown fly.  I decided to drop a gold ribbed hares ear off the goofy pattern just in case.

There is a real nice glide flat with undercut banks down where the rope is stretched across the river presumably to keep the inner tube “swimmers” from ending up in downtown Loveland.  First good drag free drift ended with a nice cutbow in the net.  Next good drift was a brown.  Both fish took the hares ear.  Maybe the goofy fly started them laughing before they decided to eat real food. Moving slowly I worked all the way to where I was standing in midstream, within casting range across to the undercut bank.  It’s so hard to get a drag free drift in there with the swift water at hip level.  I do a hook set after a slight pause of the strike indicator no movement.  Rats!  I’m hung up on something on the bottom.  Then the bottom started moving upstream causing me to lose my balance.   It was all I could do to keep from getting royally baptized.  I finally catch my balance surely looking like a tight rope walker in a high flying act at the circus (now I am really glad for the solitude.) The big brown is still miraculously hooked to the goofy fly.   Nice male hook jaw with an orange and brown rubber legged morsel hanging out the right hand side of his mouth.  Sure enough he was sittin’ underneath that undercut swam out leisurely to take the dead drifted goofy fly.

I carefully cross the river.  Carefully means that I recheck all the Velcro on every pocket and zip all the zippers in my vest.  Anything falls out crossing today is found by a lucky somebody way way down stream.  Water this deep and this fast wading is accomplished by “seeing” the bottom with your feet.  Upstream leg first followed by the trailing leg all the way safely across.  The fish in the canyon section were all acrobats even the 14 and 15 inch variety.  After the hookset they became tailwalkers.  Catching air for a fish seems as unnatural as me trying to save myself from drowning by diving deeper into a place while I still can’t breathe.  And yet that exactly what the acrobats did that morning.  All the fish were a healthy mix of cutbows, rainbows, and browns.  They took the goofy fly more often than the hares ear.  Thanks Chuck.

The river bends to the right and heads for stream construction pools and glides and runs.  My shoulder was tired of catching fish…..did I just write that???? …It was true:  high stick nymphing in fast water is hard.  Time for some dry fly action.  How about a stone fly?  The hatch has been over for weeks but the fish memories might linger I’ll bet. The construction section of the river by the kitchen is wonderful.  Lots of looking up fish remembering the stone fly hatch well.

I walked past some people getting ready to eat lunch.  Don’t see any fish in your net.  I told her it was catch and release.  She said yeah right.  They were meat fisherpeople probably from Iowa.  I heard them all laughing as I trudged off to eat my lunch in solitude.  Distinctly heard them mention the clown shoes.  Shoulda showed ‘em the goofy fly that enticed most of the fish that day.  Laughter is as good for the soul as solitude is sometimes.

Came for solitude received a goofy fly, acrobatic fish, and a clown shoe clod tightrope act of my own.  A cirque de Sylvan day at the ranch I love.


STEVE MUSICK, Annual member and clown for a day

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by Steve Musick, Season Member

2.13.11 ~ The digital clock said 9:00 right next to the 59 degrees temperature gage of my new fangled computer empowered car. I figured this computer chip was the same type used by my doctor’s office medical systems to calculating my REAL age. Those damn things say I’m just under 71. I’m 54 and don’t understand how computer chips work.

Rigging up I finally embraced the computer data….59 degrees in February at 9:00 no less….if the wind stays down and the cloud cover stays this could be one for the books. Winter fishing in Colorado! The ice on Mother must have been melting all night. As the sunshine came over the rise the Texas size ices sheet gradually became Rhode Island by the time I finally left around 4:00. Open water everywhere and the fish well disbursed. I caught about two fish and hour using an ultra slow retrieve of Clousers and olive Woolly Buggers. This time of year I usually go through the ritual of dressing up for comfort using layers to brunt the snow and ice cold conditions. Wool, poly pro, gloves, gator around my neck, knit stocking hat, along with the wind proof jacket all never got out of the car. I also usually endure the ritual of changing up from fly to fly to fly trying to figure out the right pattern. Not today. My fly patch held three patterns all variants of fry. (I didn’t try any crawdads or mice guess I really didn’t need to.)

I did land Big Mikes kid brother. I will send a photo if I can get the computer chip in my camera to introduce itself to the one driving this beast on my desk top. So far they act like one is a Democrat the other a Republican. I have a ritual of ALWAYS bringing my large net to Sylvan Dale came in handy today landing him solo. If I lose the battle of the chips, imagine a 24-inch long, 7 to 8 inch wide hook jaw brown trout took the olive woolly and me into my backing….. twice.  Right after the picture was taken he flipped, jerked and smacked the water, vanishing into the deep with two thrusts of his tail.  Sheeesh! and I thought I was going to need to go through the ritual of gently reviving him after such a long fight. Seems I was the one in need of reviving!

Driving out I completed the last two rituals. I clicked the lock to the gate securing this magical valley for the next time, and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God and to the Jessups for allowing mere mortals to walk this close to heaven….while still on this earth.   ~ Season Member, Steve Musick

by Steve Musick, Season Member

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