Fly Fishing Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall River
By Todd Hosman

In 1982, just six years after the Big Thompson River flood, an earthen dam at Lawn Lake gave way during heavy July rains. Athirty foot high wall of water crashed down the mountain through Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park. The water passed through Fall River in theHorseshoe Park wetlands but still packed power sufficient to wipe out lodges along Fall River Road, to flood downtown EstesPark, and to kill at least one camper (another was never found) miles from the site of the breached dam.

At the time, LawnLake water, though within Park boundaries, was privately controlled and"maintained." In 1982, the legally declared assets ofthe Lawn Lake water organization could barely cover the cost of a broken window in downtown Estes Park. Beyond anyrecompense was life lost, habitat destroyed, and businesses ruined. You should know that, to this day, National Parks are notfully protected, and that their exploitation poses a real and ongoing threat to all of us.

By all expert accounts, Fall River died in1982. A 1986 environmental study predicted that normal insect and fish life might not return for generations. The report statedthat the only insects present in Fall River were blackflies, and that there was no sign of trout. I'm grateful that fish and bugs can'tread. Four major orders of aquatic insects (caddis, stones, mayflies, and midges) have reappeared. You can catch troutagain wild browns, brookies, rainbows, greenback cutts, cuttbows, and stocked rainbows. In 1995, Fall River is coming backstronger than ever. Most often, though, you just can't see trout in postflood Fall River. The river is still stabilizing, andparticulates load what seems perfectly clear water. I remember stubbornly fishing a two-foot-diameter pocket in Fall River acouple of years ago, confident it held at least one trout. More than thirty presentations later, I'd hooked and landed a ten-inchbrown. Of course, not all Fall River fly fishing is so arduous, but it's often baffling. Don't give up.

In the meadows of HorseshoePark the river demands as much delicacy and finesse as does a spring creek. The surface is smooth and there's minimal cover:some undercut banks, overhanging grasses, and a few alders. The slightest angler error scatters trout for yards around; you'llhave to wait at least twenty minutes for things to settle down again. Use a twelve-foot leader tapering to 6X and a rod noheavier than a 4-weight. Unless the weather's inclement, the best times to fish there are around dawn and dusk.

A few hundredyards upstream of Aspenglen Campground, Fall River becomes pocket water. The fishing is much faster and less demanding than that of the meadow. Browns, brookies, greenback cutts, and rainbows there have all been known to fall for a #12 Parachute Adams floated through a Fall River run.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »