Spring Fishing – The Uncompahgre and Gunnison

Spring is a great time of year to fly fish in Southwest Colorado.

Our world-class tailwaters provide year-round fishing opportunities and offer some of the best fishing of the year during the early season from March through May. Anglers can enjoy good flows and water temperatures, consistent hatches, and low visitor numbers during spring. As the weather warms, water temperatures will get up above 40 degrees, which increases insect activity and gets the fish moving.

Spring Fly Fishing on the Uncompahgre River

The Uncompahgre River at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk (Paco) is the tailwater section below Ridgway Reservoir. This is a quality tailwater with trout pushing 10 pounds or more. The flow at Paco during this time of year typically ranges from about 100 CFS to 400 CFS, as the release from the reservoir is ramped up from early March through mid-May. These flows and conditions provide for easy access and the ability to sight fish for trophy trout. Hatches during this time include small midges and Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs), along with caddis as the weather warms. As flows increase, fish will spread out more and hold in the current as well as the slower, deeper runs. Trout will also be less spooky, providing anglers with an opportunity to get in close and more easily target fish. Nymphing is the most productive technique, and a longer fly rod in the 9’ to 10’ range allows for greater reach and easy mending for better drifts. Fishing small flies in size 20 to 26 with 5x and 6x fluorocarbon is the recommended approach. Matt McCannel, RIGS head fishing guide, says, “The top reasons to head to Paco in spring include consistent flows and excellent water clarity. There are also fewer anglers on the river.” For good fly patterns, Matt recommends Black Killer Mayflies size 24, CDC Emerger Baetis size 22-24, Barr BWO Emerger size 20, Dorsey’s Top Secret Midge size 20-22, Tailwater Tiny Olive size 20, Foam Back Emerger Chocolate size 22. For dry flies, Matt likes Eric’s Midge size 22 and Brooks Sprout Baetis size 20. In addition, Matt likes to throw leeches at Paco year-round. Good leech patterns include Mayer’s Mini Leech size 16 and Hot Head Squirrel Leech size 10 in both brown and natural.

Fly Fishing the Gunnison River above Pleasure Park

The section of the Gunnison River from Pleasure Park upriver about 4 miles to the confluence with the Smith Fork can really light up during the early season. It’s a beautiful stretch of river that twists its way through sandstone cliffs. Flows on this stretch range from about 600 CFS to 1,500 CFS from early March through mid-May, before flows are increased through the Black Canyon. These flows and conditions allow for easy walk-wade fishing the entire stretch of river. This is a great time of year to jump on some early season dry fly fishing. The major hatches include BWOs and caddis, with the peak of the BWO hatch occurring during April. Caddis will hatch from late April through May. These hatches typically occur during the afternoon from about 1 PM on. Nymphing will be most productive in the mornings before the hatch. A 9’ 6” 5-weight fly rod is a good choice for the Gunnison, along with 9’ 5x leaders for flies in size 14 to 20. Matt loves to fish the Gunnison this time of year, and says, “The April BWO hatch is something you don’t want to miss!” Matt’s recommended fly patterns for the hatch include Brooks Sprout Baetis size 20, Morrish’s May Day BWO size 18, Extended Body BWO size 20, Crime Scene Caddis size 16, Matthew’s X-Caddis Brown size 16, and Caddis Variant Ginger size 14.
Our area is arguably the most beautiful part of Colorado with some of the best tailwater fishing in the country. This is truly a great time of year to be here and chase big trout. Our top fly fishing trips during spring include walk-wade trips at Paco, and a special sight-fishing trip at Paco with Matt McCannel, and walk-wade trips on the Gunnison River at Pleasure Park. Contact the RIGS fly shop for the latest on fishing conditions and to book your spring fly fishing trip.