Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge
Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge- If you are a fly fisherman and a visitor, home owner or considering a Crested Butte home you will have access to great fly fishing in the rivers and streams in the Crested Butte area.
Because Crested Butte is at the end of the valley and surrounded by mountains – we also have many drainages that provide crystal clear mountain streams and rivers. There is Cement Creek, Brush Creek, Slate River, and the East River and Taylor River join in Almont to create the Gunnison River. See Fly fishing in the Crested Butte area.
There is plenty of great public water that you can float, or walk and wade. There are also many rivers and streams that flow through private land that offer great ownership opportunities with private fly fishing. The Reserve on the East River, The Wilder on the Taylor, Gunnison Riverbanks Ranches and Crystal Creek are all developments with private residences and homesites for sale with access to approximately 2 miles of private fly fishing in the Crested Butte area.
In addition to all the great fly fishing in the Crested Butte area – there are some great waters very close to Crested Butte. One of my favorites is the opportunity to fish the Gunnison River in the Gunnison Gorge.
I have had the opportunity to fish this section of the Gunnison river many times. I have hiked in, and I have floated six times over the past seventeen years. It is truly a special experience and my most recent trip was last July with seven other guys and four guides was memorable.
Where is the Gunnison Gorge?
The East River starts at Emerald Lake, joins with the Slate River and flows to Almont where it joins with the Taylor River to form the gold medal waters of the Gunnison River. The Gunnison river flows from Almont to Gunnison, then West where it settles into the Blue Mesa Reservoir. There are two more reservoirs downstream of the Blue Mesa – those being the Morrow Point Reservoir and the Crystal Reservoir.
The Gunnison starts flowing freely again below the Crystal Reservoir dam into the Black Canyon and this stretch of the Gunnison for most is “unfishable” because of the famous 1,500-foot sheer cliffs that drop into the canyon. Oh there are ways to get down to the water and I have “hiked” down via the S.O.B. trail (aptly named). As my friend Martin said after that hike down and back up the same day with my wife Francene, and my brother Rick: “That was NOT a hike, that was a rock climbing competition!!”
After the Gunnison River flows through the Black Canyon it enters the more forgiving Gunnison Gorge and this is where our journey begins. The most accessible trail to access the Gorge and float safely is via the 1.1-mile hike down the Chukar Trail. From this point there are 12 miles of pristine river, wild trout and the beauty of towering canyon walls that create the serenity of isolation.
There are a few outfitters who have limited permits to float and guide fly fishermen in the Gunnison Gorge. Gunnison River Expeditions (GRE) and Black Canyon Anglers are two that I have used.
Black Canyon Anglers
On our trip last summer, we were guided by Black Canyon Anglers out of Hotchkiss, Colorado. They have a stable of fly-fishing guides who double as skilled oarsman, cooks, and concierges. We arrived at their beautiful riverfront oasis the night before our trip through the gorge. Their lodge was a great meeting place for the guys in our group to meet as six of them flew in from Texas, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia.
Staying at their lodge was a great idea – we were assigned to small cabins and the accommodations were very nice. There was one other group of fly fisherman (and women) who had just come off the river and we gathered in the lodge for appetizers and fish stories before dinner. We mixed well with the other group and were all seated for a wonderful meal prepared by their local chef (who also prepared the food that we were served on the three day float trip). After dinner there were more stories, and a few games of billiards. Wake-up call was 5:30am the next morning so the group retired to bed fairly early.
A light breakfast buffet was ready for us promptly at 6:00am and then we met with our guides who looked through our fly boxes to ensure we had a supply of “what was working”. They have a small fly shop with a sundry of necessary items specific for the Gunnison Gorge.
Hike Down the Chukar Trail to the Gunnison River
If you are considering Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge – you will be hiking down the Chukar trail. We were given dry-bags to pack all our recommended list of clothes and personal items we would be taking on the three day, two night trip. All food and beverages, along with our rafts, was already packed down to the river the previous day by mule, and unloaded and was waiting for us. We loaded into a van and drove to the top of Chukar trail – the majority of the trip is on a slow bumpy dirt road to get to the trailhead – travel time a little over 1 hour.
At the trailhead we put on our dry bag packs and hiked the 1.1 miles down to the river. It is a pleasant 30-minute hike down a canyon trail and into the gorge. The anticipation builds as you can hear the water and feel the cooler temp as you near the river, but cannot yet see the water. Once at the waters edge we see our four boats waiting for us. We split up into teams of two and selected our guides (or our guides selected us – not sure) and rigged-up our rods. Each guide had a different idea about what to tie on, but all were nymph rigs – some with large dry fly indicators.
After we were done rigging up and repacking our dry bags the guides loaded each boat and tied down the gear. Each boat shoved off one by one and our float adventure was underway. One boat paddled upstream to access the calm waters below the Margaritaville campsites.
The next three days were fantastic fishing, camping, and camaraderie among our group.
Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge
This was my sixth float trip through the Gunnison Gorge – and fourth in the past five years. I have fished many waters in Crested Butte, the state of Colorado and the Western US and none compares to the peaceful serenity and beauty of fishing in this place.
The past three trips I have floated and paddled with three others in my two SOAR inflatable canoes. I have also hiked in to fish sections of the Gunnison Gorge, and have taken the jet boat up from Pleasure Park to Smith Fork Area & All-Day Float Back to Pleasure Park. These are totally different experiences that I won’t focus on here – but suffices to say the pleasure of fly fishing with a big group for three days and sitting on the large raft as a seasoned guide calmly navigates the class 3 and 4 rapids is quite a contrast to the hectic whitewater experience of a self-guided float. I am a pretty good fly fisherman – but I am much better when I have an experienced guide who selects the fly pattern and rig.
I have been in the gorge during the epic June stone fly hatch and have caught large rainbows that rise from the deep to attack these huge morsels of protein. It is exciting to see large rising trout as they feed non-stop on this hatch. We have literally had to peel the stoneflies off our faces and neck and out from under our shirts.
Gunnison Gorge Wild Trout
There are wild brown and rainbow trout in the Gunnison Gorge. The majority of the fish we caught were 12” – 20”, and they all had girth. We fished from the boat, and often eddied out to walk and wade and focus on a specific piece of water – a riffle, a pool or a deep run that held fish. We would change flies and tactics depending on the conditions and the instincts of the guide. It is nice to work a section of the river and rewarding to land a large fish after numerous casts with a near perfect presentation. It is also nice to be in a large group and get the benefit of others successes and what flies are working for them.
The beauty and serenity of floating through the Gunnison Gorge is hard to put into words. This is a very special place. If you are seeking a time to unwind and a few days of great time with family and friends, Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge is my recommendation.
The upper and middle sections of the river are full of cascading waters and rapids. This creates soft calm waters above and below and deep fast runs, and deep calm pools that hold lots of trout, and some very big trout. Floating along through miles of the gorge, it is spectacular to look up and admire the steep canyon walls that rise hundreds of feet above the flowing river.
The guided trip floating through the Gunnison Gorge is a full three days. There is a campsite sign-in sheet at the bottom of the Chukar trail to reserve the campsites for the two nights in the gorge.
A First Class Experience on the river
In addition to the awesome fly fishing – the Black Canyon Anglers guides prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is great, especially considering they pack in all the food, supplies and cooking gear. For dinner we had grilled steaks and salmon accompanied with salad, vegetables, potatoes, and even a scrumptious dessert.
Each time we went ashore for lunch or at one of our campsites we also get the opportunity to explore the bank up and downstream for some great fishing spots. I really love the chance to patiently work a section of the riverbank, or behind a large rock in the river, or the challenge of fishing in a deep pool knowing there are lunker waiting… I enjoy taking the time to look at the water, the current the structure, and think about where the trout are holding. I inspect the vegetation and trees along the bank, and plan my back cast, and where I want my fly to land, how I need to mend the line to carefully present my fly to the waiting trout…
When I return to camp, the food is almost ready and the banter from group and the reflection of the day on the river is a special time. It is a time to unwind and relax, a time to appreciate nature, and to enjoy the comradery of the group in this special place. The roar of the river is constant as a backdrop as we tell stories and laugh. There is no cell service and so we are all present in the moment… We share some photos of some of the big fish we captured on our phones and tell the tales of the ones that got away… the biggest ones!
Day one and day two are spent in the gorge – the canyon with its steep walls, and tumbling water. The guides skillfully navigate our boats through the rapids and around the rocks. There are many instructions to stop fishing and hold on as we wash over drops, bump off large smooth boulders, and crash through waves…
On this trip I was with the same guide for three days. He made a statement at the beginning of day one that he had not had anyone fall out of his boat in 11 years of guiding (he jinxed himself). I was in the back of the boat and my buddy Chuck was in the front and as we came through a tough section of the river and our guide had to skillfully thread our boat between the large boulders – he missed a paddle stroke and we smashed into a boulder head on. This compressed the front of the boat and the area where Chuck was sitting. Chuck dumped into the cold whitewater and was now swimming! His lifejacket kept him afloat and the safety instructions to point his feet downstream helped to keep him out of trouble. He managed to not lose the visor on his head, nor his fly rod from his grip – which was very impressive.
We eddied out and pulled Chuck from the river back into the boat. He was a bit shaken up, but unscathed. The banter from the other boats toward Chuck lightened the moment – and the subtle smirks on the other guides faces toward our guide was humorous. It is taboo to have client fall out of the boat – it happens for sure, but a badge of honor to NOT have it happen. Our guide’s streak of eleven years had come to the end. He was overly apologetic and concerned for Chuck – and deeply disappointed that he had a client dumped into the river…
Of course, at dinner that night – the others were ribbing both Chuck and our guide as everyone recounted their eye witness perspective of the event. As I laid down to go to sleep and looked up at the unbelievable sky of stars, and listed to the roar of the river, I was thankful that Chuck was okay, and I could not wait for our next day of fishing…
Day 2 Floating The Gunnison Gorge
The river and fishing day two is very similar to day one. And I was super excited to have breakfast, break camp and get back on the water.
When I woke up I felt good. But, I could tell I had not put enough sun screen on my face, and my right arm and shoulder were a bit sore from all the casting from yesterday. I caught a lot of fish, and as a result my right index finger now had duct tape on it to mask the pressure of the line when setting the hook and the tension of the drag I would apply to the fly line.
We switched up and I got the opportunity to fish with my great friend Mike. We have shared so many great times together – from middle school, high school, college and many years living in Dallas – he was also the best man in my wedding.
We had another great day on the river. The fishing was great, we lost and caught some big trout, and as usual time on the water goes by too fast. Soon we were sitting in camp reminiscing about the day once again. Our group bonded around the experiences we shared in this beautiful place. We had not seen another boat for two days and we marveled that we were less than two hours from downtown Crested Butte, but in such a remote and special and different place.
Day 3 Floating The Gunnison Gorge
The third day of the trip we stopped for lunch at the Smith Fork creek that flows into the Gunnison River. We were at the end of the canyon but not the end of great fly fishing waters. There is a sandy beach here and we stopped to have lunch. We had about 5 miles of flat water before the end of our adventure.
This section of the river is wide and typically there is a bit of a headwind. The guides told us we would be fishing with the biggest ugliest hoppers in our boxes. We sent long casts to the banks with overhanging brush to the large waiting brown trout in the crystal-clear water. This section of the river is not deep, and so many of the brown trout broke water which is so exciting to see and experience.
We stopped at a section of the river called power line hole – so named because there are power lines that go over the river here. There is a deep run and we were teased by huge rainbow trout that were circling and surfacing and feeding. We spent nearly 30 minutes in this spot, but did not hook-up with any of these giant rainbows. We later learned that each of the other boats had also tried with no luck that day…
The trip ends at the take-out at Pleasure Park. We were off the water by about 4:00pm and there were high-fives all around.
What a great adventure getting to float, fish, camp, and enjoy the friendship of others in such a beautiful setting.
People often ask me “What Makes Crested Butte Special?”
People often ask me what makes Crested Butte special – there are so many things…, but the amazing fly fishing we have here in the valley, and Crested Butte Fly Fishing The Gunnison Gorge and the opportunity to spend time in the Gunnison Gorge is one thing that is the most special to me.
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Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties
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