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


River Restoration Tour Stops At Sylvan Dale

Four years after a monster flood tore through the Big Thompson River corridor, great progress has been made in restoring ecological health and resilience to a dozen of the hardest hit stream reaches.

Shayna Jones, Director of Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, leads river restoration tour

These projects, carried out by the non-profit Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, were visited by a busload of landowners, public officials, technical advisers on September 27, 2017.  One stop was at Sylvan Dale Ranch, where trout habitat was restored along a mile of river.  Renewed water flows in a side channel will be the location of environmental education courses for the Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning, a new non-profit that will hopefully assume ownership of the 3200-acre ranch in the future.

A great description of the tour appeared in today’s Loveland Reporter-Herald.


Trout Habitat River Restoration at Sylvan Dale Ranch

Jurassic beast, monster jaws scooping mouthfuls of rocks and cobble, seizing boulders the size of refrigerators, uprooting trees, pushing aside mounds of rubble as if they were feathers, roaring and clanking.  Then, with a sudden personality change, it swivels its long neck around to gently sprinkle sand and gravel over the sloped river bank, pat it down with gentle bumps of its huge head, nudge rocks into place, scraping and smoothing the surface as if building a nest, then washing the dirt off the rocks with a slurp from the river water splashed onto the bank.

The 2013 Big Thompson River flood devastated trout habitat, leaving behind a “sluice-box” run of shallow water rushing down a uniform gradient with no holding water for trout.  The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition obtained a flood recovery grant to restore the stream here at Sylvan Dale and in several other reaches of the river.  Work was completed in May 2017 by Environmental Resource Consultants.  The trout are happy.  So are the anglers.



These Fishermen Don’t Lie

David J with big fish croppedEver ask a fly fisherman how he did?  Did you believe his answer?

We fly fishing fanatics are sometimes known to exaggerate stories about our catch.  Hey, it’s part of the fun!  But at a river habitat restoration workshop on March 9 at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a group of anglers pledged to tell only the truth.  Their job?  Take a fish inventory to see how trout are recovering in the Big Thompson River 18 months after the devastating flood of September 12, 2013.

After hearing speakers talk about techniques of river habitat restoration, five avid anglers set out to do some “fish sampling.”  Armed with fly rods and their favorite trout flies, with notebooks and pens in pockets, they fished for three hours pledged to keep careful track of size, type and condition of all trout caught.

The results:  twenty one healthy, bright-colored rainbows, ranging from 12 to 16 inches, caught mostly on small nymphs, and released back into the water.

How can trout recover so fast from a deposition of rubble and silt up to twelve feet in depth from a flood that left the river corridor looking like a moonscape?  Bugs, mostly.  A “bio-blitz” of aquatic insect life, carried out by another group of workshop participants, found a healthy population of mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies and midges in the river.

Mother Nature can be destructive, but also has awesome healing powers.  We’re pleased by the Big Thompson River recovery so far, and we’re looking forward to even greater fly fishing when we implement a grant this fall to place boulders and downed trees in the river channel to create even more spectacular trout holding water.

David J


Trout Habitat Restoration at Sylvan Dale

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!