The snow melts and drains from peaks as high as 14,000 feet in the Elk Mountain Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. These majestic mountains are the source for our pristine rivers and abundant fly fishing opportunities in the Gunnison Valley. During the dead of winter when it’s 30 below zero (or even colder!), I look at these mountains and know that soon the snow will melt and feed my favorite rivers, and I will again experience some of the best trout fishing of my life.
The main three rivers here are the Gunnison River, the Taylor River, and the East River. The East River is a freestone river which drains out of Emerald Lake, located at about 10,500 feet near Crested Butte. It flows down the valley to Almont, where it joins the Taylor River to form the Gunnison River. The Taylor River flows from the peaks surrounding Taylor Park, near the Continental Divide. The river drains into Taylor Reservoir at about 9,300 feet. The tailwater below the dam flows down through Taylor Canyon some 20 miles to Almont. From its headwaters in Almont, the upper Gunnison River widens as it flows down through the valley and into Blue Mesa Reservoir. (View map of Taylor River and its tributaries.)
There are hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in our area. We are surrounded by Forest Service lands which provide for a lot of public access to our fisheries. The 20-mile stretch of the Taylor River which flows from Taylor Reservoir to Almont includes about 12 miles of public access alone. In addition, there are also several state managed areas and landowner easements. This area offers a wide variety of water to fish, and it can be enjoyed by anglers of all skill levels – from first-timers to the most experienced fly fishers. We fish for brown trout, rainbows, cutthroat, cutbows, and brook trout throughout the season.
Our main fishing season runs from April through October, with the peak of the season occurring during the summer months – from mid June to mid August. Our Kokanee salmon run attracts anglers from mid August through October. The early season can provide some excellent fishing as the rivers warm up and the bugs begin to hatch. Run-off normally kicks in by around May 1 or so, and the big rivers are usually not fishable again until about mid June (give or take). Summer dry fly fishing is great, with our Green Drake hatch providing anglers with 20 to 30 fish days all on big dry flies. Summer mayflies and hoppers give way to fall, and the brown trout and Kokanee salmon prepare for spawning. This is one of the best times to be here and my favorite season to fish. The fish are very active before the long winter kicks in again, and you just might get the biggest trout of the year…or your life.
Winter fishing can be challenging and it is certainly not for everyone. But it can also be very rewarding. The scenery is beautiful and you can enjoy solitude on our rivers during this time of year. The trophy trout section of the Taylor River (C&R) can be fished year round. The C&R is well known for very large, beautiful wild fish, some of which push the scale past the 8-pound mark. During winter, the crowds at the C&R thin out, but the fish remain.
I would advise planning your trip around run-off and the weather. Both are not easily predicted, and each year is different. You can only plan for so much, and things do change pretty quick here, so be prepared for a variety of conditions.
For more information and details about fly fishing in the Gunnison area, download my Fly Fisher’s Quick Reference Guide to the Gunnison Valley.