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Fishing

Gunnison Valley holds the records in Colorado for kokanee salmon and brown, rainbow, and lake trout. You can find the best fishing in the state here. Our valley offers great river and stream fishing as well as 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.

 

Lake and stream 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.

Erica Nelson (@awkwardangler) fly fishing on the Taylor River

Gunnison Valley Fishing Records

By Weight


Species Weight Length
Rainbow Trout 19lbs. 10oz. 34″
Brown Trout 30lbs. 8oz. 36.4″
Mackinaw 50lbs. 6oz. 44.25″
Tiger Trout 8lbs. 3.68oz. 27.5″
Kokanee (Snagging) 7lbs. 5oz. 27″

By Length


Species Length
Brook Trout 26″
Cutbow 33.5″
Cutthroat Trout, Snake River 31″
Mackinaw 46.9″
Rainbow Trout 40.25″
Tiger Trout 28″

Crested Butte and Gunnison River & Stream Fishing

The Gunnison Valley is home to some of the finest fly fishing in Colorado, if not the entire Rocky Mountain west. Use our hatch chart below to plan your visit.

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successful fly fishing trip on a high country lake

The upper stretches of the Taylor River (locally known as the Catch and Release) regularly produce the valley’s largest trout, many in the 10# range. The Taylor, a tailwater, fishes well through the winter months. Mysis shrimp patterns work year-round, as well as midges and other small nymphs. The fish are selective and 6-7X fluorocarbon tippets are the rule, even knowing that the larger trout will have more than an even chance of breaking off.
The Taylor, Gunnison, and East Rivers and some of the lower valley creeks and streams begin fishing well before runoff and as the days begin warming. Some of the best fishing of the year is in the spring pre-runoff; the trout are hungry. San Juan Worms, stonefly nymphs, and big hare’s ears are the ticket as the water starts to stain. Streamer fishing can also be a blast.
Our free flowing rivers are blown out, and although the Taylor River runs clear it will be high and pushy for the wading fisherman. The Taylor is your best bet for fishing during the runoff months.
The Black Canyon is rightly famous for its big wild fish and great natural beauty. The fish in the Black Canyon are picky most the year, the noticeable exception being the giant stone fly hatch, often called the “Father’s Day Hatch” because of its timing. This hatch can only be described as spectacular. Bottom dwelling 20”-30” browns and rainbows come up and slap wildly at Sofa Pillows and other dry stone imitations. 30 minutes can go by when there is a fish on literally every cast. Don’t imagine you can hook and land any of these big fish in this swift water without a sturdy, 3X tippet. Anything lighter than a 5 wt. rod is not recommended and it is not uncommon to see fishermen with 7 wt. gear.

Hiring a guide is one of the best ways to experience the Black Canyon. Several local guides have connections with permits, or you can check out Black Canyon Anglers to set up a trip.

BWO’s, a variety of nymphs, dry caddis, and other dry mayfly patterns rule the day for the heart of the fishing season. Even in October, there are hatches most days. A good Red Quill pattern is a go-to dry fly during the fall. Don’t underestimate the power of the Parachute Adams; a variety of sizes from 10-18 will land fish in the hatches throughout the season.
The Green Drake hatch, typically June-July, is the best dry fly hatch of the year. Big fish move to the surface and drys and spinners patterns all get a look. This hatch lasts weeks as it moves its way up the Gunnison to the East and Taylor Rivers. If it hits the Catch and Release be ready to fight some big fish.
The Gunnison and East Rivers see the largest kokanee salmon run in the United States. These freshwater Sockeyes start their spawning run in the Blue Mesa and end at the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery where fingerlings are reared over the winter and released to return to the Blue Mesa in the spring. The kokanee hit sparsely dressed wet flies fished as nymphs or as streamers. The salmon are in the 2#-3# range, with larger fish present.

Rainbows and browns move in behind the salmon clusters and absolutely slam 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 halfway 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 that controls the flow all year long and makes the gradient of the river downstream consistent. Large boulders and bedrock riffles litter the run and provide perfect spots for trout to congregate. These same features also help aquatic insects flourish. 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. Downstream below the dam for a 1/3rd mile stays 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 popular here because of their grip for the rocky river bottoms.

Most of 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. Many big fish have been lost because there wasn’t a net to catch them.

Wear sunscreen and keep some bug spray 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.

Gunnison Valley Lake Fishing

The Gunnison Valley is home to the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest lake. We also have a few other smaller lakes that offer very good lake fishing. Our calendar will help you plan your trip.

For more details about fishing in the Blue Mesa Reservoir go here.

lake trout from blue mesa reservoir

Ice off (when the ice starts melting) is the best time of year for a lake fisherman. Blue Mesa typically ices off sometime in April, dependening on how cool or warm the spring is. Taylor Reservoir is almost always a month behind because the higher elevation lakes don’t thaw until June most years.

Anglers will find brown trout hugging the rocky shore lines making them easy to catch with crank baits, ¼ oz jigs, and spinners from ice off until water temperatures reach the mid 50s. Fish in the 15”-20” range are common with a possibility of a brown in the 5-10 lb range. 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 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, especially rainbows, will remain active, often catchable on the surface but usually away from the banks. Lake trout will move to almost uncatchable depths.

Early summer is prime time for kokanee fishing on Blue Mesa; the preferred method is trolling from a boat. 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. In late summer, while schools of four-year-olds are preparing to run up the rivers, practically the only ways to catch them in the reservoirs are trolling with downriggers or lead core lines or vertical jigging with 1-2oz lead jigs.

Both brown trout and lake trout spawn in the fall. Look for them just off of rocky flats as they prepare to move to and then come off spawning grounds. Trout typically spawn in water that is between 48 and 55 degrees. Fish coming off the spawn are often very aggressive as they try to regain calories lost during the spawning cycle. Most of the four year kokanee will have ran up the river by this point, but a few schools of fish that were stocked by truck will attempt to spawn where they were stocked, often around the Bay of Chickens on Blue Mesa and by the dam of Taylor Reservoir. Snagging salmon is legal on both Taylor and Blue Mesa Reservoirs during certain times of the fall. Check Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations for dates and locations as they change frequently.

Ice Fishing is the name of the game. Higher elevations will see ice as early as the beginning of December while Blue Mesa Reservoir will not usually 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, usually becoming fully frozen by mid to late January.

Trout are generally 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. Keep in mind that even a giant lake trout may bite so softly that the rod tip doesn’t even bend. Kokanee will be suspended over deep water so electronics are essential for locating constantly moving schools of salmon.

Tips for Lake Fishing
Fish early and late in the day during summer time:

Surface temperatures in lakes and reservoirs can vary as much as 10-15 degrees in a single day, unlike rivers that constantly flow cold water. All the fish species in the valley are considered cold water species and do not respond well to warming water. Fish will often be more active during times when the sun isn’t directly warming the water.

Other species:

Taylor Reservoir is home to some truly large northern pike. Try casting the shallow weedy areas in June through October for a chance at a 20+lb toothy trophy. Blue Mesa Reservoir has seen an explosion of perch. These fish, though small, are very tasty and easy to catch. In late summer months and into the fall when other fishing may be tough, take the kids perch fishing. Fish in coves with structure like weeds or trees and use small jigs tipped with small pieces of earth worm. Fish in 10’-20’ and keep moving until you find a school, 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 and give all anglers the opportunity to catch trophy sized fish.

Erica Nelson (@awkwardangler) fly fishing on the Taylor River

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 even provide you with lunch and private land access.

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Activities in Gunnison-Crested Butte

Be sure to check out the other summer and fall activities Crested Butte and Gunnison have to offer. We have stellar mountain biking trails, an abundance of hiking trails, rivers to raft and fish, rocks to climb, good food to eat, and cool towns to see. Check out our activities page to learn more!

Crested Butte and Gunnison hotels

Whether you’re looking for a cabin or a condo, a hostel or a traditional hotel, we’ve got you covered for a vacation rental. Visit our Lodging page to learn more!

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