The Gunnison Valley is home to Colorado’s state-record brown, rainbow, kokanee salmon and lake trout and offers the best fishing in the state. Our valley offers both great river and stream fishing and lake fishing. Colorado’s largest body of water—Blue Mesa Reservoir—is just ten minutes west of Gunnison. Other popular stretches of river are the Catch and Release section of the Taylor River and the East River at the Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery.
Both types of fishing follow their own annual cycles and patterns. Knowing these cycles will ensure that you have the most successful fishing trip to the Gunnison Valley possible.
Book Your Gunnison Valley Fishing Trip
Call Gunnison-Crested Butte Reservations at (844) 209.6795 to talk to a friendly local who can book your lodging, air tickets, and more for you.
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Crested Butte and Gunnison River & Stream Fishing
Rainbows and browns move in behind the salmon clusters and absolutely bang egg patterns and bunny flies. Fishing the salmon pods for trout produce some very big fish—often the biggest fish of the year.
Tips for Fishing the Taylor River
The Taylor River is a prime fishery located half way between Gunnison and Crested Butte and is a main stem of the Gunnison River. The secret behind the Taylor’s success is the reservoir upstream which controls flows all year long and the consistent gradient of the river downstream. Large boulders and bedrock riffles litter the run and provide perfect spots for trout to congregate. These same features also help the aquatic insects flourish and huge hatches of Caddis, BWO, and PMD can cover you in the evenings.
In the winter the Taylor River is the only place to fly fish in the valley. Below the dam for a 1/3rd mile downstream stay ice free due to the temperature of the water. This is the Catch and Release section of the Taylor, often referred to as the C&R. The primary fly to use here most of the year is the Mysis Shrimp in a variety of ties. The big fish here will rise to a well-presented single dry fly if a hatch is happening and your tippet is tiny. If these techniques aren’t producing for you try some small midges and emergers. The last resort is always to try something outside the box. Maybe that fly you’ve been carrying unused for 10 years is the one that pays off.
The rest of the Taylor fishes normally for a western river. Most people use 4X-5X leaders and tippets. Fish the hatch as it comes off and then be ready to switch back to a dry-dropper as necessary. Hare’s Ears, Zebra Midges, and Psycho Princes are just a few of the large selection of nymph patterns that will catch fish on the Taylor. These are often hung off the back of large foam flies like Pool Toys and Chubby Chernobyls.
Tips for River & Stream Fishing
Our Valley’s moving water is not pastoral and much of it is fast-flowing. Being in decent physical shape helps us get through days of fighting currents and fish. Metal cleats are becoming more popular here because of their grip on our rocky river bottoms.
Most our guides offer dory or raft float fishing on the Gunnison River. Half the Gunnison is private land, and floating is the only way to access some superb water that is otherwise unavailable to wading anglers.
Nets are useful. Fighting a fish and trying to maneuver to shore can often pose a difficult task. We have all lost big fish because we didn’t bring a net with us.
Wear sunscreen and keep some bug dope handy. Mosquitos and biting flies are usually not much of a problem, except when they are.
A wading staff is a helpful tool for an unsteady angler.
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Gunnison Valley Lake Fishing
Ice Fishing is the name of the game. Higher elevations will see ice as early as the beginning of December while Blue Mesa Reservoir usually will not have safe Ice on the west end until late December. The ice on the “Big Blue” will work its way east as the winter gets colder, most years being fully frozen by mid to late January.
In general trout are very comfortable in cold water allowing them to occupy large portions of the reservoirs during Ice Fishing season. Focus on structure such as rock piles or points in 10’-40’ of water for Rainbows and Browns using bait or small jigs such as Rapala ice jigs, Dynamic HD ice, or small hair jigs tipped with meal worms. Lake trout will be deeper, anywhere from 40’-100’ +, mainly on the edge of large flats. They will be more susceptible to tube jigs, often tipped with sucker meat, keeping in mind that even a giant lake trout may bite so softly that the rod tip does not even bend. Kokanee will be suspended over deep water and the use of electronics is essential in locating constantly moving schools of salmon.
Ice off is the most wonderful time of the year to be a lake fisherman. Blue Mesa typically ices off sometime in April, dependent on how cool or warm the spring is. Taylor Reservoir is almost always one month behind with the higher elevation lakes not thawing until June most years.
From ice off until water temperatures reach the mid 50s, anglers will find brown trout hugging rocky shore lines making them easy to catch with crank baits, ¼ oz jigs, and spinners. Fish in the 15”-20” range are common with a chance at a brown in the 5-10 lb range a real possibility. Rainbows will be shallow as well, spawning in the spring time. Focus in and around coves with running water using the same tactics as Browns. Lake Trout LOVE cold water too. Spring time is the time of year when “all of those pictures” are taken of giant lake trout. Try trolling big crank baits and flat fish or vertical jigging tube jigs in 5’-60’ of water, typically on larger flat areas of the reservoirs.
Trout will remain active especially Rainbows, often catchable on the surface, but usually away from the banks. Lake trout will move to almost uncatchable depths.
Early summer however, is prime time for Kokanee fishing on Blue Mesa. Trolling from a boat is the preferred method. Kokanee will start shallow in early summer and work their way deeper as water temperatures rise. Start in early June by looking at the top 20’ or 30’ of the water column over deeper parts of the reservoir. By the end of July kokanee should be between 60-100’ again over deeper water. The use of downriggers or lead core line to troll or vertical jigging with 1oz-2oz lead jigs as schools of four year olds prepare to run up the rivers in late summer are practically the only two ways to catch kokanee in the reservoirs.
Tips for Lake Fishing
Fish early and late in the day during summer time:
Unlike the rivers that constantly flow cold water, surface temperatures can vary as much as 10-15 degrees in a single day on lakes and reservoirs. All of the fish species in the valley are considered cold water species and they do not respond well to warming water. Fishing during times when the sun is not directly warming the water often provides for more active fish.
Taylor Reservoir is home to some truly large Northern Pike. Try casting the shallow weedy areas from June through October for a chance at a 20+lb toothy trophy. Blue Mesa Reservoir has seen an explosion of Perch in the last couple of years. These fish, though small, are very tasty and easy to catch. In late summer months and even into the fall when other fishing may be tough, take the kids perch fishing. Use small jigs tipped with small pieces of earth worm in coves with structure like weeds or trees. Fish in 10’-20’ and keep moving until you find a school of fish, then enjoy non-stop action.
CPR for Fish:
Trophy fish are a true prize for all anglers in the Gunnison Valley and are typically very old (it’s not uncommon for large trout to be over 20 years old!). Modern day replicas can be made that last longer and look more realistic than skin mounts. The use of Catch – Photo –Release (CPR) will help preserve our valley’s fisheries giving all anglers the opportunity to catch trophy sized fish.
Fishing Outfitters, Guides, & Shops
As you plan your Gunnison Valley fishing vacation, you may want to book a professional angler who can guide you to the holes, tie the flies, and untangle the line. Some of our local guides can even provide you with lunch and private land access.