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