Byers & Gore Canyons; Gilbert, Lone Buck, Breeze & Kemp SWAs
The upper Colorado is just a short drive from Silverthorne and Dillon, offering easy access for fly fishing just north of Silverthorne.
What we at the Mountain Angler refer to as the “upper” Colorado begins just below Windy Gap Reservoir (15 mi. East of Hot Sulpher Springs) and extends down-stream to the “Pumphouse” river access (below Kremmling). This part of the river is essentially a very big, freestone stream with shallow riffles and fast runs interspersed with long, slow glides and slicks. Just to keep things interesting, there are Byers and Gore Canyons at either end which offer really “heavy-duty” pocket water.
Just below the town of Hot Sulpher Springs, the Colorado River drops into Byers Canyon — 4 miles of deep, strong-flowing “pocket water”. While there is good access from several pull-offs on the highway, you still have to scramble down about a hundred feet of boulders to get to the water. Dry-fly “purists” will have to look for spotty, but heavy, Baetis hatches in the Spring & Fall, or “pound-up” small fish along the edges with the ever-present Caddis. If you don’t mind “slinging lead”, bring a 6 or 7 wt. and fish big (up to #4) stonefly nymphs as deep as you can get ’em or try working a big Zonker or Wooly Bugger through the pockets. At the other end of the “upper” Colorado, just below Kremmling, is Gore Canyon with steep, fast rapids, riffles, & pocket-water down to the “Pumphouse” State Recreation Area where you’ll find a good trail up into the canyon. The rich variety of aquatic insects means you could find almost any of our important Stonefly, Mayfly, or Caddis hatches here; but in actual practice, you’ll seldom find fish feeding on the surface even during good hatches, so be sure your nymph boxes are well stocked.
Below U.S. 40 at the bottom end of Byers Canyon, the river runs through the D.O.W.’s “Gilbert” and “Lone Buck” units where there are several large islands which create sub-channels offering a great variety of fishing opportunities (riffles, fast runs, pocket water) and make this 3-mile stretch wadeable most of the year. From the Colorado / Williams Fork confluence near the “town” of Parshall you have nearly five more miles of lower-gradient water characterized by wide riffles & long, slow runs with very few rapids or heavy pocket-water. The aquatic insect life here includes at least a dozen species of Mayflies, eight Caddises and a half-dozen Stoneflies. On late summer afternoons you may find multiple hatches with fish feeding selectively on one particular insect. Nymph selection is pretty straight-forward with big Stones (dark brown or golden), mid-sized Bead Princes & Hare’s Ears, and tiny Pheasant Tails leading the list. When the fish are “Up”, though, it’s a different matter altogether and you probably won’t be safe leaving any of your fly boxes behind. For breaking the Winter-long dry fly drought, fish can often be found rising for Midges, tiny “Snowflies”, and Baetis starting early in March. After the river starts to clear and drop in late June and on into early October, a “Hopper / Dropper” rig can be effective during non-hatch periods when you’d rather not nymph deep. Several species of Caddis, as well as a variety of small pale Mayflies appear throughout the summer (most often mid-day and 3-5 p.m.) and the Fall “BWO” hatch can last into November.
The 2 miles of the Williams Fork River between Williams Fork Reservoir and its confluence with the Colorado at the “town” of Parshall provides some of the best fast-water nymphing around. The stream is only about 30′ wide and follows a fairly steep gradient all the way down, so you’ll find primarily fast runs and pocket-water with just enough riffles and pools that you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding good “dry-fly” water during a hatch. Although there is a solid 20-minute hike in to the river, the quality of the fish pretty much guarantees that you’ll be fishing 2nd- and 3rd- hand water most of the day, so take your time and fish everything very thoroughly — including the hard-to-reach or less-than-great-looking areas that others have probably ignored.
PumpHouse, Radium, State Bridge & below
The Lower Colorado River is most easily accessed from Vail. State Bridge is 20 minutes west of Vail on I-70 and we guide many Vail fly fishing clients on this piece of the Colorado River.
Although there a several points where one can access the river for wade-fishing on BLM land, the Colorado below Gore Canyon is much better suited to float-fishing from a raft or dory. Most of the water is Class II with only short, moderate rapids when the river drops to what we consider “prime” floating levels (600 – 1000 CFS) in mid-August. There are put-in and take-out points at Pumphouse, Radium, Rancho del Rio, Yarmony bridge, State Bridge, Bond, Catamont Bridge, and Burns. The Rodeo Rapids below Burns are a dangerous Class III drop through large boulders and can present a serious hazard. Excellent river maps for boaters can be obtained at the BLM office in Kremmling.
The 4-mile run from “Rancho” or Yarmony bridge down to State Bridge makes for a nice short-day float with plenty of opportunities to stop & wade fish along the way. The two miles above “Cable Rapid” (a mile upstream from State Bridge) offers some excellent pocket-water which can be accessed from the Trough Road for wade-fishing. Conversely, the long (14 river miles) float from State Bridge to Catamont bridge flows primarily through private property which means you’re not likely to see any “bank fishermen” all day. There are still plenty of islands where you can get out and thoroughly work the riffles and side-channels.