Bird’s-eye view of habits of anglers on Gunnison

A brooding storm over Grand Mesa finds a solitary angler mid-stream on the Gunnison River. With so much trout habitat,finding the right place to fish can be difficult.

Big fish have big teeth, and big brown trout eat smaller fish, which often hang around the river bank seeking shelter from predators. The Gunnison River predominately holds brown trout, which also prefer undisturbed habitat along the shore.

AUSTIN — The high trail that follows the Gunnison River upstream from the Pleasure Park and the confluence with the North Fork offers hikers a bird’s-eye view of the river.

Sunday, the view also revealed a winter storm spreading like gray wool across Grand Mesa, with curtains of snow hanging between clouds and earth.

Midway through November, the weather is climate-change mild, allowing a hiker to pause and study how some anglers approach their day of recreation.

Of the few anglers in view, the nearest was a half-mile upstream of the North Fork confluence.

That angler had walked up the bank and, without pause, stepped into the river and started wading and casting, appearing not to have a game plan for catching fish.

As I watched, I envisioned him being joined by a dark-hooded figure, carrying not a fishing rod but a scythe, and announcing in a grim tone, “Your best fishing is passed.”

Not “past,” mind you, but “passed.”

This isn’t the end of your fishing days, but perhaps of today’s fishing.

That angler, and several others I watched that day, wittingly or otherwise broke what the late Denny Breer often termed the first commandment of river fishing.

“Don’t stand where you should be fishing,” he’d bellow as he rowed his boat down the Green River’s famed Flaming Gorge.

Breer, who passed away four years ago this month, would direct his boat close to the bank — sometimes between the bank and wading anglers — and would laugh when his clients caught fish the wading angler had walked beyond.

But Breer wasn’t the only one knowing the value of watching before you wade.

“I can go all morning and by noon my waders are barely wet,” mentioned Phil Timm, shop manager at Western Anglers Fly Shop, while discussing a recent day he spent on the Gunnison. “I’ll walk the bank, casting upstream and working the overhangs.”

The idea — not new, of course — is to catch the fish before you scare them.

The Gunnison holds predominately brown trout, which prefer to hang out where they find a meal, which is along the shore where smaller fish find cover.

Browns also prefer slower water, again along the bank where boulders and grassy overhangs provide them shelter from ospreys, herons and anglers.

So an angler looking for bigger fish soon learns to spot trout, or at least trout habitat, before sticking a foot in it.

“I also like to go early, before the other anglers disturb the fish,” said Timm, who can be reached at 244-8658. “They just jump in, instead of fishing from the bank. Once everyone else starts splashing around in the river, the good fishing is done.”

It also should be mentioned that Timm prefers to fish streamers, on the premise a hungry trout prefers a mouthful to a nibble.

“I’m a streamer guy, I’ll fish streamers until the fish quit chasing them,” he said, unapologetically. “When that stops, I’ll go to a nymph system. Last winter was so mild, I fished them all year.”

Several anglers Sunday mentioned how hard the fishing has been, with water levels low and clear. The conversations mainly focused on, “I fished hard yesterday and only caught (pick a number) small ones.”

Timm smiled when he heard this.

“I did pretty well last week, fishing streamers from the bank,” he said.

Which means the best fishing is still ahead.


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