Fishing in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado
Summers in Texas can be brutal. Hundred degree days, humidity, little to no rain. It is no wonder that many native Texas quit the state for a few days, a week, a month or even a season for points north. I started coming to Colorado to work for Elktrout Lodge in the summer of 2006 and am worried what will come of me if the next time I summer in Texas. Don’t get me wrong, Texas is home and I love it in Texas, I just wish someone would figure out a way to get Colorado weather in Texas in July without having an A/C bill that looks like my contribution towards ending the national debt.
For the past couple of years I have been spending July, August & September working for Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt. Basalt is located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers, about 20 minutes from Aspen and 30 minutes from Glenwood Springs. You can fly into Aspen or Eagle or, for those who are coming for more than a few days. The drive from Denver (about 3.5 hours) will take you through Eisenhower Tunnel, over Vail Pass and through Glenwood Canyon on one of the more interesting Interstate drives in the country. For more the more adventurous, the drive over Independence Pass on Colorado 82 is a very good way to get above tree-line and experience some true mountain driving.
The Frying Pan Below Ruedi Reservoir
The Frying Pan River is a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, which then flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. The lower 14 miles of the Frying Pan is a tailwater river and a Gold Medal Stream, which is a designation that the State of Colorado gives to a river that supports at least 1000 pounds of fish life per mile of river. To say that the fishing on the the Frying Pan is good would be an understatement.
In the spring and fall the hatches on the Frying Pan include BWOs and midges. While they bugs are small, they are prolific and it is not uncommon to be able to stand in one place and see over 20 fish rising in an area that you can cast to without having to move your feet. In the mid-summer the hatch changes somewhat, and includes Pale Morning Duns and Green Drakes. This is the hatch that most people come to the Pan to fish, as the bugs can come off in sheets and the trout tend to be very willing to eat on the surface. At the peak of the summer PMD hatch you will see bugs that are so thick that you can see an additional 15-20 naturals floating down the river with your fly. On days like that, when the bugs are so thick that it is almost impossible for a fish to choose your fly over the others on the water, we are able to get on a Green Drake and have fish jump out of the water to take that fly. In the mid-summer, we continue to see nice hatches of midges on most days, though typically more in the mornings and evenings.
The Frying Pan is for many one of the best experiences with dry fly fishing in all of Colorado. There are many days where you will start out nymphing in the mornings but by late morning or early afternoon are able to tie on a dry fly and stay on top for the remainder of the day.
Flies for the Frying Pan
Stand around in a fly shop in Basalt long enough and you will here “So what’s working on the Frying Pan?” asked so often that you can answer the question even before you are half way through your first cup of coffee in the morning. Practically put, matching the hatch of the Frying Pan can involve the use of anywhere from as few as three and as many as 20 patterns in a given day but on average will use about 12 different patterns in a typical day.
There are many standard patterns that work on the Frying Pan such as a Parachute Adams or Pheasant Tail Nymph, and there are some patterns that are specific to hatches on the Frying Pan. When putting your boxes together for a trip, make sure to include your small bugs. Quite often on the Frying Pan you are better to go smaller when making your fly selection. Once you reach Basalt, a stop at Frying Pan Anglers to get the most recent fishing report and suggested flies will help you in learning the lay of the land as well as round out any gaps in your boxes.
The Roaring Fork River
The Roaring Fork River is another Gold Medal Stream and is both a float and wade river that starts on the western side of Independance Pass and flows through Aspen, Basalt & Carbondale, eventually joining the Colorado River. The Roaring Fork is aptly named, as the river has a greater drop (starting near Independence Pass and flowing to Glenwood Springs) than an Olympic Whitewater Kayaking course. There are numerous stoneflies in the Fork, as well as caddis, midges, BWO, yellow sallies and green drakes. From a guiding perspective, I prefer to float the Roaring Fork, covering as much as 14 miles of water in a day. For wade fishermen there are numerous access points throughout the valley and in many cases you will find fewer people on the Roaring Fork than you will on the Frying Pan.
Typically the fishing on the Roaring Fork involves more nymph fishing than dry fly fishing as well as more opportunities to catch fish on streamers than on the Frying Pan. For float fishing, the better time to fish the Fork is in the late Spring and early Summer months, but the lower sections of the river stay open to float fishing in the late summer and into the fall. For wade fishing, the upper river is much easier to fish in the late summer and into the fall and the lower river can be fished throughout the year.
The Colorado River
The Colorado River from Glenwood Canyon to Rifle is one of the lower stretches of the Colorado that fishes very well for trout in the summer months. This section of the Colorado is primarily a float river, as it is big and wide through this reach. My favorite time for fishing the Colorado is in the late summer and into the fall. At this point in the year the flows on the Colorado are down nicely, making the floating much more enjoyable for anglers than the Roaring Fork and the water color is very nice on the river. Much like the Roaring Fork, the Colorado is better fished with nymphs and streamers throughout the year and it is not uncommon to spend a day using 3X tippet to your first fly (compared to 6X on the Frying Pan) and being able to “lay wood” to a nice brown or rainbow that is 19” or bigger.
What to Bring
Coming to the mountains in the summer means packing smart. In July and August daytime temps can range from 80-95 degrees and evening lows from 45-65 degrees. In September, temperatures cool in the mornings to between 40 and 55, but it is not uncommon to see lows near freezing by the middle of the month. Highs in September range anywhere from the mid 50s to near 85 and many days you find yourself in a light fleece in the morning, t-shirt in the afternoon and a jacket in the late evening. The two things I always make sure to pack when coming to Colorado are good socks and layers.
- Fishing Gear
- 4-5 wt dry fly rod (some nymphing) for the Frying Pan
- 5-6 wt nymph & streamer rod for the Roaring Fork & Colorado
- good wool socks for the Frying Pan
- boat shoes (typically no waders) when floating.
- Rain Jacket
- Extra Layers (lightweight wading pant or silks and a fleece vest or light pullover)
- I prefer studded boots on the Frying Pan & Roaring Fork
- Wading staff for the Roaring Fork and sometimes on the Frying Pan (depends on flows)
Other things to Do
In addition to world class fishing, there are a number of things for non-anglers to do in the Roaring Fork Valley. There are miles of hiking trails in the area, with the Maroon Bells or Hanging Lakes Trail being two of the more spectacular choices. For those who golf, the Roaring Fork Valley has numerous courses to challenge novices and scratch golfers alike. Rafting companies in the area offer various trips on both the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers and are a nice way to take the whole family out for a little white water adventure. Other things to do include horseback riding, shopping in Aspen and sitting back and enjoying the clear mountain skies.
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