The Salmon are Running toward Crested Butte up the Gunnison and the East Rivers Every year sometime starting from the middle to the the end of August the Kokanee salmon migrate from Blue Mesa Reservoir up the Gunnison River to the East River and back to The Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery just South of Crested Butte. I have had the opportunity to experience the fun and excitement of fishing for the Kokanee salmon in the East River – and to take others to enjoy this unique angling event. A big part of the challenge is searching for and finding the pods of salmon holding in deep pools while they make their way up the river. They are not easy to spot – but once you find a deep pool that you can see into, you will notice the shadow of tens or hundreds of fish hanging together like the Peleton in the USA Pro Challenge. These fish are working together fighting the current and drafting off of each other as they make their way. Every once in a while you will notice the fish change positions and a new fish join the pod. The rig and technique to catch these fish on a fly rod requires weight, red fly patterns (salmon eggs, San Juan worm) and getting your fly down to the depth of the fish. Cast above the pod and drift into it – the salmon will ignore your presentation – or be mad and attempt to move it with their mouth (some believe that is why the males develop the hook jaw). Since the salmon do not eat once they spawn they will not hold anything in their mouth long before they spit it out. The best hook set will be a straight lift of the rod above your head, but you will find that you get a high percentage of foul hook-ups when you set the hook. These are strong fish compared to the trout you are accustomed to catching in the East or Gunnison River. Be prepared for the line to wizzzzzzz off your reel and a very sore arm as you fight to keep that rod tip up… best to have a partner or guide to net the fish as well. If you have never successfully fished for these salmon I strongly suggest you hire a fly fishing guide. My first experience years ago was that I was literally 10 feet from 200 fish but could not see them. The patient guide pointed to the front and back of the pod of fish – all I saw as I looked into the water was the rocks on the bottom… On a recent trip I saw three fisherman as we were leaving a very productive pool – and they said they had driven from Denver in pursuit of Kokanee salmon here in Crested Butte. Once on the East river, they had walked for miles, they saw no fish, and caught no fish but probably walked past thousands of fish. Like me at the beginning of my quest – they did not know what to look for. I gave them my polarized glasses to look through, pointed out the pod of fish right in front of them, gave them some tips and while they stood there – literally showed them how, and caught a fish… lesson to others – hire a guide. Below are some well respected fly shops and fly fishing guide services in the Crested Butte area:
- Dragonfly Anglers – Crested Butte: dragonflyanglers.com
- Crested Butte Angler – Crested Butte – crestedbutteangler.com
- Willowfly Anglers – Three Rivers, Almont: willowflyanglers.com
- Kokanee (Oncorhyncus nerka) are sockeye salmon that spend their entire lives in freshwater.
- The males will develop the hook jaw and teeth once they start spawning. Both male and females will turn color as they spawn.
- Mature salmon will spawn after 3 or 4 years – they will swim all the way back to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery and actually swim into the raceways where the males and females are separated, the eggs and sperm are extracted into large buckets and the miracle of life begins for millions of salmon (a high of 8 million in 2007) that will develop into fingerlings in the Hatchery building. Each year in the Spring about 2.7 million fingerlings will be released from the Hatchery back into the East River and make their way to the Blue Mesa Reservoir.
- The Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery just South of Crested Butte provided 60% of the Kokanee eggs needed for stocking 26 lakes and reservoirs in Colorado.
- Kokanee production and fishing contribute $29 million annually to the Colorado economy.
- The Kokanee salmon are catch-and-release only in the rivers currently until balance in Blue Mesa is determined to be back in check.
- Lake Trout in Blue Mesa Reservoir are voracious predators and the population of both Rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon has diminished over the years prompting the DOW to try to keep the species in balance. They are doing this by removing some larger lake trout from Blue Mesa – both netting and asking anglers to keep the fish they catch.
- The water conditions at Blue Mesa are ideal for Kokanee salmon. The lake produces significant amounts of plankton which is salmon’s main source of food. The access to the river and the hatchery also makes the location ideal for collecting salmon eggs.
Her are some other fish stories that may be of interest: Fly Fishing in the Crested Butte Area Huge Rainbow Trout Caught at Wilder on the Taylor Guy Harvey Magazine – Last Cast Fishing Moving Water (East River in Crested Butte) by Fred Garth I hope you get to enjoy the fun of catching the salmon as they run up the Gunnison and East Rivers. This is just one more great amenity of the Crested Butte Area! If you are considering Riverfront property in the Crested Butte area – here are a couple of links to explore: Video Tour East River Ranches Homesite #5 Wilder on the Taylor River – Master Fly Fishing Guide If I can help you explore the many wonders of this beautiful place or if you are interested in learning more about the Crested Butte Area or Crested Butte Real Estate, or considering me to represent you as a Buyer, I would appreciate the opportunity to earn your business (or that of a friend you think I could help). It would be my pleasure to be your Crested Butte REALTOR®.