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Fishing Trips :: Water We Fish

The Colorado River -
Rocky Mountain National Park – The Colorado River at its source! It starts out as just a trickle. Once it tumbles into the Kawaneechee Valley, it grows to a size that holds respectable trout. We call it the valley of 10,000 bend pools. When you enter our area from the summit of Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuously paved road in North America), you will see what we mean. At a glance, the meanders seem to go on forever. Bring your three weight and a thirst for adventure. The River is crossed by several trailheads offering good access. If a hike is in order, all the better way to trade human company for that of the natives. Moose, deer, elk, and bear are just a few of the critters you may share the views with. Once spring runoff subsides, you will find productive fishing with mayflies, midges, caddis, and terrestrials.

The North Fork of the Colorado – This stretch, commonly called “The North Fork” is situated between Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby. If Lake Granby is low you can fish almost 2.5 miles of river. It is a mini tail water in most respects. The Colorado here is quite unique in that you can step into the water on one side of the stream from the Arapahoe National Recreation Area and step out on the other side into Rocky Mountain National Park. The flows in early spring can be a bit low. Once runoff arrives, the levels increase, and fish will move in from Lake Granby. At times it is possible to catch up to 7 species in this small stretch. It is worth noting that the North Fork closes to fishing from October to January for Spawning Kokanee Salmon (check Colorado state regulations for exact dates or go to the Colorado Division of Wildlife website: wildlife.state.co.us). Insect activity includes midges, mayflies, caddis, and even stoneflies. The dry fly fishing can be outstanding through the heart of the summer. With multiple hatches that can occur simultaneously, the action can get pretty exciting.

The Colorado River – Many people feel that the Colorado River is really born once it joins with the Fraser River near Granby. This occurs just above Windy Gap Reservoir. This small impoundment is a wildlife sanctuary, and also the hub of the Big Thompson Water Project. There is a small section of public access below Windy Gap Reservoir, but for all intents and purposes, public access really begins in Hot Sulphur Springs. Pioneer Park, a town park in our county seat, offers the first extensive public access to the Colorado River below its confluence with the Fraser River. From here downstream to Kremmling, the River has a great deal of public access in the form of Colorado State Wildlife Areas and parcels of Bureau of Land Management water. These are intermingled with private sections, so a good map or some local knowledge is a good idea here. A good portion of these waters are considered Gold Medal Fishing which means the angler has a better than average chance at a trophy fish. Gold Medal waters also carry a catch-and-release designation; so make sure to consult Colorado state regulations. The Colorado River in this area has a beautiful, healthy population of brown trout, and some rainbows and cut-bows that will surprise even the seasoned angler. Hatches are quite varied and very strong. Midges, Baetis, PMD’s, Tricos, Caddis, Yellow Sallies, Stoneflies, and terrestrials are just a few of the more notable.

Once past Kremmling on the Colorado River, we encounter Gore Canyon. This stretch is very rugged and can be very good fishing for the wade fisherman. Floating Gore Canyon is best left to experienced kayakers and whitewater rafters. It carries a Class V rating and can be formidable. The best access for fishermen looking for a bit of adventure is Pumphouse Recreation Area, which can be accessed from Grand County Road number 1 (locally known as “Trough Road”). In addition to serving as a take-out for Gore Canyon, Pumphouse is a very popular put-in for the next sections of the Colorado River. The next 15 miles should not be taken lightly in terms of whitewater, however, it is not as burley as Gore Canyon. From Pumphouse, we pass through Little Gore Canyon to Radium, and then through the Red Gorge to Rancho Del Rio, and eventually State Bridge. This stretch is very popular with whitewater enthusiasts since its rapids rate II-III. It does not elicit the same feelings of fear in most recreational boaters as does “Big” Gore Canyon. The fishing here can be fantastic since the hatches mentioned above move through this stretch of river as they move upstream to more notable waters. If you can manage to time the Salmonfly hatch right in the spring (late May through early June), and if the runoff flows cooperate, the fishing can be nothing short of spectacular. Later on in the summer months do not hesitate to throw terrestrials. This is the perfect setting for them, and the fish see them regularly. As we pass by State Bridge, the whitewater mellows for a while, but the fishing does not. Nymphing continues to be a popular technique as in the upstream waters, however, I will opt for big dries and terrestrials with a dropper when at all possible. Streamers can be a lot of fun in most sections of the Colorado River as well. The float to Catamount Bridge is a long one since there is not much public land here. It will be a 14 mile day, but it is a wonderful section of river. Below Catamount there is one rapid of note, Rodeo Rapid. It is a class III located near Burns, and is definitely worthy of scouting. This rapid is also not recommended for drift boats as there is a very real chance of sinking/destroying it on one of the “wrap rocks” at the bottom of the drop. Also of note in this section: public and private land will intermingle, so a bit of research is a good thing to locate camp sites and potential wade fishing areas. The rest of the float to Dotsero is fairly similar in character with the occasional class II rapid and seemingly endless “fishy” looking shore lines. If you were to do the float to Dotsero, it could be done in 2-3 days or more and makes quite a nice multi-day float.

The section of the Colorado below the confluence with the Eagle River is quite slow moving and can be fun at times to cast dries to risers much like in your favorite lake. This section can be floated using float tubes or pontoon boats. Please be aware of the Shoshone Power Plant at the downstream end of this stretch. There is no way to float past the diversion dam, and you will want to avoid the water below it as it is very hazardous. There is a put-in below the power plant that is heavily used by whitewater enthusiasts. While this stretch can be float fished, you may opt to put in at Grizzly Creek about 4 miles below. The water between here and Glenwood springs can be wonderful, and regularly has strong hatches of mayflies, caddis, and midges. A black wooly bugger with chartreuse eyes is a great standby pattern in this area. As the Colorado ambles through the South Canyon, New Castle, and Rifle areas, the fishing can still surprise most anglers. The water tends to be a little more featureless, however, streamers, large terrestrials, and occasionally small dries will still take some nice fish.

If an angler can’t find water that suites their tastes on the Colorado River from its headwaters through the Rifle area, they are simply not trying.

The Fraser River -
The Fraser River is an amazingly prolific fishery considering all of the adversities it faces. Water diversion to fuel development of the Front Range of Colorado is at the core of the river’s hardships. With a total length of only 29 miles, it has relatively little time to make us believers, but it does. Very few anglers come away from a day on the Fraser without being amazed at the quality of the fish. With precious little public water available to the angler, it is probably best to stop in the shop for some specific directions. Its headwaters start on the 7 Mile Trail on Berthoud Pass near Winter Park. As it passes the Robber’s Roost campground, it picks up just enough volume to hold some tiny brookies. When you get to the Denver Water Board diversion dam near the entrance to Mary Jane, the brookies are large enough to enjoy with your favorite 2 weight. From here to the town of Winter Park, there are numerous pockets that hold similar sized brookies. Some spots do not get enough sunlight to really support a good biomass. Think about this if you are not seeing much action in a particular spot. Once in Winter Park, you will find Confluence Park where Vasquez Creek tumbles into the Fraser. The brookies, and even the occasional rainbow are a blast here. As you work downstream, there are private stretches intermingling with public, so it is prudent to know where you are.

Below the Rendezvous Bridge, there is about 1.5 miles of open space belonging to the Town of Fraser. The Fraser River Trail parallels this stretch. There are several access points. If you want, park at the shop, and make that long, 50 foot trek to the water. This is the first stretch that will start to make you a believer. At this point, the Fraser has broken out into a classic riparian meadow area dotted by willows and the occasional pine. Here you will find willows overhanging tantalizing bend pools, as well as classic riffles and runs. Be aware that it is common to encounter a Moose now and then especially in the springtime. The Town of Fraser, Trout Unlimited, and several other organizations put together close to a million dollars to put in a low flow channel through a large part of this stretch in an attempt to help with high temperature issues as a result of trans-basin diversion. In a nutshell, it keeps the river channelized at lower flows so it cannot spread out through riffles and warm up as easily. It is not noticed at higher flows until you connect with the product of cooler temperatures and better habitat. Once you get to County Road 8 on the north end of Fraser, the river is private until just north of Tabernash as you enter the Fraser Canyon. There are two stretches of public land within the canyon that are about 1 mile each. Please stop by the shop to get directions so we can avoid stressing relationships with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and other landowners. You will encounter one other small stretch of public land adjacent to Kaibab Park in Granby. It is the immediate left as you cross the Highway 40 bridge across the Fraser as you enter Granby from the south.

The insect life in the Fraser is truly amazing. From caddis hatches that keep you from taking a full breath to green drake hatches that are just intense, our little piece of heaven definitely has the bugs. As with most water in the Colorado area, April and May are the time of midges and baetis. The San Juan Worm “hatch” that we see through runoff is what you would expect of most rivers seeing higher flows. The Fraser can see a salmonfly hatch in the latter days of May and into June. They may not be as big as those you will encounter on the Colorado during the same timeframe. Mid June we get into our green drakes. According to Mr. Nelson’s river log (Nelson’s Fly and Tackle), they always start about the sixteenth of June. Some spring caddis can also be encountered through late May and all through June. The end of June brings PMD’s and Yellow Sallies. In July the PMD’s and Sallies will continue, and caddis will start to come on strong. The evening hatch can be pretty amazing. Terrestrials start to be a viable alternative in July as well. As we near the end of July, tricos and baetis begin to show up.

 
 
Mo Henry's Trout Shop • 78902 US Hwy 40 • Winter Park, CO • 970-531-8213 • mohenrys@hotmail.com
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