A Front Ranger’s Guide to Fly Fishing the Gunnison

 A Front Ranger’s Guide to Fly Fishing the Gunnison

Guest blog by Kyle Rutten

Forming at the confluence of the East and Taylor rivers near the small Colorado town of Almont, the “Gunny” is a whopping 180 mile long tributary, making it the second longest river in the Centennial State. The Gunnison River has earned a Wild Trout and a Gold Medal Water status, making it a perfect place for beginners and avid anglers alike.

While the river itself is the center of every angler’s attention around this part of Southwest Colorado, it’s sacrilege not to mention the land that surrounds it. The Gunnison River carves through visually striking landscape; the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Morrow Point Reservoir, and the Crystal Reservoir that is tucked into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. As it leaves the Black Canyon, the surrounding sky opens up as it flows through the flat top mesa lands of Grand Junction before it finally joins the Colorado River.

This part of Colorado lends a giant hand to the heavenly reputation that the state of Colorado has so rightfully earned. If you’re planning to head for the Gunnison River to get your fly fishing fill, consider yourself one lucky angler.

Best Places on the River to Fish

The Gunny is broken into two sections that each deserve their own spotlight; the Upper Gunnison Basin and the Lower Gunnison Basin. Both stretches have earned their Gold Medal Water status, so you know from the get-go that the fishing here will be more than good.

The Upper Gunnison Basin is designated as the 18 mile stretch that lies between the Taylor Park Reservoir and the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Here, anglers will come across just about any trout species they may desire, such as the brook, cutthroat, mackinaw, cutbow, tiger, and rainbow trout.

Rainbows and mackinaw trout have even broken some records from the Upper Gunny, measuring beyond 40 inches! In order to earn a Gold Medal Water status, there has to be at least 60 pounds of trout per acre in a given river. In the Upper Gunnison alone, Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimate that 141 to 234 pounds of trout per acre can be found.

The other section of the Gunny, The Lower Gunnison Basin, is a 39 mile stretch that begins around the Blue Mesa Reservoir and lasts until the town of Delta. In the section of the Lower Gunnison that tangles with Blue Mesa Reservoir, there is infamous kokanee salmon; a landlocked form of sockeye salmon that’s only found in a handful of places throughout the American West. Although these kokanee are not native to the area, anglers looking for a strong fight with these prehistoric-looking salmon keep coming back again and again.

Also deserving of its own shout out is the section of the Lower Gunny that flows downstream through the Gunnison Gorge. This red sandstone double canyon draws anglers from all over the world so they can have their cast at the rainbow trout exceeding 20 inches in length that reside here.

Best Time of Year for Fly Fishing on the Gunnison

If you’re wanting to hook the renowned kokanee salmon, the most optimal time of year will occur during the months of August through October when they are typically spawning. You’ll also likely come across some large browns following the kokanee run; these guys will take to egg patterns, nymphs, and heavily weighted streamers. The latter part of October and into November, when the days get shorter and the fishing pressure becomes very little, floating can get you a ton of bites from healthy fish that are fattening up for the long winter ahead.

Because of the limited sunlight that the Black Canyon portion of the river receives throughout the winter months, you’ll want to aim for the spring or early summer in order to fish there. Typically, that works out great for most anglers because it’s also around the time of the season where the large trout are more commonly caught. To match that hatch this time of year, Blue-Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes, Red Quills, caddis, and stoneflies should be in your tackle.

Also during this time of year (March-May,) pre and post spawn rainbows are caught nearly every day, willing to take flies to satisfy them after the long winter slumber they just endured. For rainbows, midges and mysis shrimp will be all you need.

Plan a Gunnison River Fly Fishing Trip

Like you expect from any other tributary, the Gunnison has its own set of regulations that vary depending on the portion of the river you’re eyeing and the season in which you plan on fishing. In order to ensure you stay in the good graces of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, make sure you read up on their latest Gunnison River regulations.

The Gunnison River is a tributary of Colorado that should be on every angler’s bucket list; river guides in the area are abundant, the kokanee salmon run known as the "Almont Slam” can be counted on every year, and the float fishing is some of the best in the country, bar none. With a tackle of bait matching the Gunny hatch, your fly rod and reel riding safely atop your vehicle in a fishing rod rack as you cruise the gorgeous US 285 and US 50 highways, and the hopes of hooking a Gold Medal Water fish riding passenger in your mind… we can't think of a better angling scenario than that.

Plan a trip today to try fly fishing on the Gunnison and make that idyllic scenario a reality!