The Fringes of the Roaring Fork Valley
Posted on 29 September 2021
The Roaring Fork. The Fryingpan. The Colorado. The Crystal. In the world-famous Roaring Fork Valley, there are so many places and ways to fish that it is an embarrassment of riches wherever you turn.
Long days floating the Fork throwing green drakes down into ‘Bonedale, or stalking the wily fish of the ‘Pan, squinting to try and ascertain what invisible bug, that I never heard of, they are sipping.
A foggy early morning on the Colorado, and the mist coming off the hot seeps in downtown Glenwood as you head downstream throwing streamers.
With all of the great fishing in the Valley, why would you ever look for more? Well, though you don’t have to, its there. Because having the good fortune to travel to the valley often and because many of my favorite fishermen guide in the valley, over the years I have learned that some of the best of the valley is a bit off the beaten trail.
Just downstream of Glenwood Springs and right along some of the best trout floats are many calm and serene backwaters. Looking at most of these, a trained eye would right away notice the lack of current and typical trout structure. Keep looking beyond the seam and into the bay, and you might see a carp tailing. And there’s more. Those calmer backwaters can be really fun to fish, and though you usually see a few carp, you can also catch bass, both large and smallmouth, the occasional big trout, chubs and as you go farther downstream, even the occasional pike and walleye.
These multi-species floats are fun, different, and offer another view of the river that you often don’t see when solely targeting trout. The more savvy guides prefer a well placed Clouser Swimming Nymph for these sight fishing opportunities, and outspoken oracle of all things, guide Gifford Maytham argues forcefully the virtues of a skillfully thrown #8 Halfback for these finned alternatives.
Another really overshadowed fishing opportunity in the valley is the small stream fishing. From streams closer to Aspen such as Castle Creek and the uppermost Roaring Fork, to Snowmass Creek and the upper Frying Pan. All of these fisheries can offer one thing that can be difficult to find on some of the other, more celebrated stretches…….solitude.
A very long time ago, during a summer soccer tournament, I wandered down and into Castle Creek only to find the biggest mayflies I had ever seen hatching and fair to good size fish of four different species going berserk for them. Later that weekend, I went again to the high country and caught a nineteen inch brown on a dry fly in uppermost Snowmass Creek! Throughout the higher creeks of the Roaring Fork Valley, a topo map, a two or a three weight and a box or two of flies is all one needs to find lots of willing fish and sometimes a big surprise.
The last offbeat fishing pursuit that the Roaring Fork Valley has to offer is actually not quite in the Valley. Downstream from Glenwood Springs and then up into the western rim of the Colorado River Canyon are two reservoirs that offer up a cornucopia of different species and profound challenges. Rifle and Harvey Gap reservoirs are both full of bass, perch, crappie, trout and walleye. But if you ask some of the guides in the Valley what they are doing on their days off, they will tell you that it is the pike in these two reservoirs that they are pursuing. Long thought of as unsophisticated savages that will clobber anything around them, the pike in these two lakes will test even the most advanced fly anglers trying to convince a following fish to eat in the clear water. Talk to five guides in the Valley, and you will get some real disparity as to what it takes to make these up to four foot fish bite. You hear that a red and yellow streamer is all you need. Others say it is a windy and rainy spring day, and yet others still say that it is a perfect cast and presentation with a clear tip and black bunny in the warming mornings of April and May. I have caught great fish with all of these techniques, but never very many. These are some of the toughest and biggest fish that this state has to offer, and they will never come easy, and that is why we keep going back.
Written by Frank Smethurst, Fly Fishing Movie Star