Fly Fishing in the Crested Butte Area
Fly Fishing in the Crested Butte Area – There are many recreational activities here in the Crested Butte area – but none to me are as enjoyable as the time spent on the many rivers and streams matching wits with elusive trout. I consider myself a journeyman – I am often humbled by missed strikes and other fisherman, but I enjoy the lifelong pursuit required to master the knowledge, skills and techniques of fly fishing.
Every Spring my thoughts turn from skiing to fly fishing (it is possible to do both in the same day here in Crested Butte). There are many variables – including the location, the water, the wind, the time of day, the hatch, and most important the presentation of the fly. A big part of the joy of fly fishing is the journey and being a student of the game…
Before getting started as a fly fisherman you will need some “stuff”. As with most pursuits, and especially fly fishing there is lots of equipment you can buy. You can get just the basics, or you can spend quite a bit of money on equipment (I have) and this can be important – but remember the trout don’t know how much you have spent on your stuff. Other items include clothes, waders, special fly fishing boots, a net, a hat, polarized sun glasses, boxes to hold your flies, leader, tippet, maps, sunscreen…etc. There are a few very good fly shops in the Crested Butte area (Dragonfly Anglers, Crested Butte Angler, Willowfly Anglers) that can set you up with a guide and all the gear that you will need. It is common to have afternoon thunderstorms roll through in the Summer – a light fleece and a poncho or raincoat can be essential. It has been said, “if you look good, you feel good…” and a proper state of mind is key to fly fishing – so spending a little doe on some good new stuff may be a good idea.
Hire an expert: It is always recommended to consider the services of a fly fishing guide to make the most of your vacation time and enhance your experience, especially if you are new to fly fishing, or new to the Crested Butte area – I have some favorites and can make a recommendation or as mentioned the local fly shops have a stable of well qualified guides. Most guided fly fishing trips here in Crested Butte will be float trips – you will sit and stand comfortably in an outfitted raft for 2 fisherman and your guide where you will likely float the gold medal waters of the Gunnison River. You will probably start in Almont and float to a spot above Gunnison, or below Gunnison – depending on if you booked a full day or half day trip. There is about 15 miles of great water and this can be a very rewarding fishing experience. I have taken many of my real estate clients on float trips down the Gunnison River – and many great memories. If you are wanting to walk and wade it is also a good idea to hire a guide so you will know exactly where to go, won’t be trespassing on private land, and since guides are typically on the water every day – they know what flies are working.
What trout will you catch? – It is most likely that you will be fishing moving water. The largest rivers are the East and the Taylor that come together to form the Gunnison river. But there are many other smaller tributaries that hold some very nice fish such as the Slate River, Brush Creek, Cement Creek, and Spring Creek. There are also many mountain lakes and two large reservoirs (Taylor and Blue Mesa) in the Crested Butte area. All of these waters are home to brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout. Probably the most common is the hard fighting brown trout, which is usually more of a golden yellow color with bright orange spots. The rainbow trout is a beautiful silver fish with a pinkish red color running the length of its body and known for jumping out of the water once hooked. The cutthroat has a beautiful red orange coloration on it’s gills and is a prized catch. The brook trout which you may catch here in smaller streams or mountain lakes is actually a member of the char family and is known for its unique dark green markings on its back.
The Taylor River – There are almost 30 miles of the Taylor River and half of it has public access providing one of the most scenic and exciting fishing experiences in our area. The Taylor River starts where the water releases from the Taylor dam – here there is a section of the river for about ½ mile that is public access and some of the largest fish in our valley live right here. You will regularly see fisherman here hoping to catch one of these whoppers. These fish feed primarily feed on the very small mysis shrimp that are in the water coming out of the dam. This makes them big, old and smart. The Upper Taylor has some swift water and can be tough fishing, there are many great stretches along the lower Taylor before it joins the East River in Almont to form the Gunnison River. There are many convenient points to access the Taylor river from the road – you will also notice many sections that are private. If you want to own a piece of paradise some of these private sections have land for sale – The Wilder on the Taylor is a 2,100+ acre shared ranch with 2 miles of Taylor River running through the property that is located 5 miles above Almont and offers homestead sites on the Taylor River. As of this writing there are Wilder homestead sites available between $1.65M and $2.2M. I have had to opportunity to fish the 2 miles of river that flow through the Wilder on the Taylor and it is truly special – they have engineered the river to be a world class trout fishery with shallow riffles, and deep pools that hold large brown and rainbow trout. There is also a separate 3 mile stream (nicknamed “the dream stream”) and 6 stocked ponds with large trout waiting for the fly of the young and old.
The East River – This great river starts as a stream when it falls out of Emerald Lake well above Gothic. It is a picturesque setting to look down on this meandering river from Gothic Road as it winds it way around the back side of Mt. Crested Butte where it is joined by Brush Creek. It continues on the East side of the valley and the Slate River runs into it before the bridge on Highway 135 below CB South. Unfortunately the majority of the East River flows through private lands – there are some stretches behind Mt. Crested Butte that offer access as well a few miles of public access at the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery (if you have not visited – you will see the sign off Highway 135 on the West side of the highway – drive in and look a the thousands of fingerling and larger trout in the raceways – ask a Ranger for some fish food and if they have time they will give you a quick overview of the facility). In the late Summer and Fall there is a run of Kokanee Salmon from the Blue Mesa Reservoir up the Gunnison River, then the East River back to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery – this can be an exciting time on the water! Here is another article about Flyfishing on the East River. Another flyfishing development in the Crested Butte area is The Reserve on the East River – this development has 35 acre home sites available and boasts 2 miles of private fishing on the East River. Parcels are also in the $2M range and like Wilder there are numerous amenities including fishing ponds, guest lodging, equestrian facilities, and hiking trails.
The Gunnison River (“Gunny”) – This river starts in Almont at the confluence of the Taylor River and East River and flows through Gunnison into the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The water makes its way through two additional dams before becoming a river again as it carves its way through the Black Canyon and then the Gunnison Gorge. Most anglers will first experience the Gunnison River with a guide on a float trip. This is an easy float and a great way to see a lot of the river and get the opportunity to present your fly to many awaiting trout. Officially classified as Gold Medal Waters – the Gunnison River below Almont with its variety of shallow and deep pools provides a near perfect habitat for brown and rainbow trout. There are miles of public access along the Gunnison River – depending on the water levels it may be tough to walk and wade this river, but typically in the late summer months and into the Fall it is very accessible. Many fly fishing guides do walk and wade trips to sections of the Gunnison River, a map is also a recommended purchase at one of the fly shops. Gunnison Riverbanks Ranch is a development along the Gunnison River with homesites available. This ranch is South of Almont that also has about 1.5 miles of the Gunnison River flowing through it.
Lakes, Beaver Ponds, and Small Streams – I prefer moving water, but there are many cold high mountain lakes in and around the Crested Butte area that can be really fun to fish and they hold some large trout. There are also some small high altitude streams that offer cutthroat and brook trout – typically these are small fry, but can be very fun to catch as they have rarely seen a fisherman and are usually enthusiastic. I often marvel that there is a trout able to survive in these small waters, and some of the prettiest colorations can be found on these small trout holding in the pools of remote streams. Sometimes it pays off to combine the hiking guide book with some local fishing knowledge. If you have a lightweight rod – or a 7 piece rod this can be perfect to take with you into the backcountry and on family hikes. When I plan hikes through the wildflowers around Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte with my wife and daughters many of these hikes have water destinations – there are many cascading streams, waterfalls and high altitude lakes that hold wild trout. I know that we will take a break for an hour or so before turning around – so while my family rests and eats lunch, I fish.
- It is tempting to fall back to the caveman mentality of being the hunter/provider and wanting to keep what we catch to put on the table. While it is legal within the Colorado fishing regulations to keep some of what you catch – I would suggest that it is mostly frowned upon to do so. Unless you are fishing in a lake or reservoir where the fish are plentiful, and are managed (stocked), you should consider Catch and Release. Think of it as recycling and giving that beautiful trout the opportunity to grow and reproduce to create more trout for you to catch next year!
- Delicate release – always wet your hand prior to holding a trout – a dry hand can wipe the outer protective layer from the trout’s skin. You may have noticed at high altitude the fish are not the only ones with less oxygen to breathe. If the trout you caught put up a good fight you should reward the trout by holding it outside the main current, facing upstream and gently rocking it back and forth.
- Know where to go fly fishing in Crested Butte – In Colorado the land below the water including the rocks is owned by the landowner. For those from out of state (especially Texas) this is different from what you may be used to. In Colorado the landowner may own the land on one side or both sides of a river – but he does not own the water or the fish in the water. Get a map, ask people in the fly shop, look for no-trespassing signs, or better yet get a guide so you know where you can fish. Be respectful, do not trespass, do not ground your boat on the rocks, or get out of a raft to pee or fish on private land.
Final Thoughts – There are many mountain activities and recreational pursuits, but fly fishing is my favorite. To me standing in a river or stream with the cool waters flowing past me and the sound of the tumbling water and nature, gives me serenity. I learn something every time I fly fish, and each experience is different. I have spent hours and not caught a trout, and many times the first cast results in a strike – this is the wonder of fly fishing. Like most fisherman I enjoy catching fish, but whether I catch a trout or not, doesn’t make my day – just being in the moment with the opportunity to fish and share my experience with others is special.
People often ask me “what makes Crested Butte a special place?” It is hard to put into words, but the unbelievable fly fishing in the Crested Butte area is part of the charm of Crested Butte for visitors, locals and second homeowners. Whether you are a first time visitor or long time second homeowner I strongly recommend you carve out some time to go fly fishing and the excitement of watching a rising trout take your fly.
Searching for real estate in Crested Butte can be as daunting as your pursuit of elusive trout. As you consider your options, I hope that you give me the opportunity to earn your business. Like hiring the right fly fishing guide – I can really help you. I was once in your shoes, and was a second homeowner here in Crested Butte for 10 years prior to moving here full-time. Give me a call and let me help you to find that perfect mountain home for you and your family.
If you have enjoyed this article Fly Fishing in the Crested Butte Area and have an interest in Crested Butte Real Estate and would like to start a conversation about homes, condos or land in the Crested Butte area, call me.
Looking for some additional reading about Crested Butte fly fishing? Fred Garth is a second-homeowner here in Crested Butte, a gifted writer, and also the Editor of Guy Harvey Magazine. Here is a great article by my dear friend Fred describing a humorous day we shared on moving water. “Last Cast – Fishing Moving Water”
Author: Chris Kopf
Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties