Dress warm, drift deep pools and fish for trout all winter

The vivid colors of a winter-caught Gunnison River rainbow bring alive the rewards of a winter day spent fishing on a favorite river.

Winter on the lower Gunnison at the Forks brings solitude for Kurt Zelazny of Montrose. Against a backdrop of white cliffs, Kurt looks for feeding trout in a deep broken run.

A popular winter fly pattern on the Gunnison is the 18 Joker, here in size 18, tied with black and white wire and a sparkle floss wing and tail. The fly is particularly effective when fished as a dropper and trailed behind a larger attractor-style nymph. Joel Evans


There came a time — years ago — I considered moving to some place where it was warmer in the winter.

Just once that occurred to me. But I quickly reasoned that doing so would severely impair my opportunity to meet and greet trout.

So I never brought it up to myself again.

Wrongly so, some miscreants would argue that not catching trout in the winter is OK. Or they might mistakenly harbor the opinion that catching other kinds of fish in the winter is a reasonable substitute.

I’d enjoy that myself, but only in addition to, not in exchange for, trout.

Perhaps they would correctly state there are a few places in the Southern states with winter trout fishing, ignoring the obvious truth that those locations are but temporary and token mimes of the Rockies.

Those of high economic means could indeed hop and skip around the southern hemisphere from October to March, creating an endless summer of trout fishing.

A 10-pound brown trout in Argentina is pretty much the same as a 10-pound rainbow in the Fryingpan River when it comes to picture time.

Not that I know much about either one.

So, if you are one of the fortunate ones with a New Zealand trip planned this winter, do you need a baggage boy? Otherwise, let’s you and I look locally, even though we might be dreaming globally.

Sort of like the free seminars on making a quick million in real estate, space is limited.

Aside from ice fishing, in which I do participate, there are precious few places to winter river fish: a half-full fly box to my way of thinking and better some than none.

Not ignoring some great winter fisheries statewide, perhaps the best choice for a day trip from Grand Junction is the Gunnison River downstream of the Black Canyon, between Delta and Hotchkiss.

Drive-to access, miles of easy access by car or foot, low and wadeable winter flows, high fish biomass numbers — all combine to make a mild winter day well worth an excursion.

Commonly known as “the Forks,” the North Fork of the Gunnison and the main stem Gunnison connect here for a popular access point.

Of course “popular” is relative in the winter. On one hand, there are fewer fishermen, but conversely, due to limited winter water, the few there are, gather in the few available places.

The lower Gunnison is such a place. So even in winter, expect some like-minded, rod-wielding crazies.

About halfway between Delta and Hotchkiss on Highway 92, a short gravel road leads to the confluence river bottom, with ample parking and a boat ramp.

From the parking lot, adjacent to the North Fork, an easy winter wade across the North Fork opens up a 4-mile, upstream stretch of Gunnison water.

Here the river flows south to north, with the Smith Fork at the southern end and the North Fork confluence at the northern end.

Follow the river upstream along the eastern bank, an easy hike. (Downstream of the Forks can be accessed by gravel road out of Austin).

If low flows allow, find a wide spot in the river and wade across to the western bank. Crossing has no advantage other than to spread out the fishermen to the various deeper holes along the way.

It’s in those deep holes you will find the fish. Most of the river linear footage will be shallow, faster water, void of fish in the winter. Look for slow and deep. Don’t ignore the occasional deep run along a bank, but concentrate on the long, deep pools below riffles and bends.

A warm, sunny day may bring some small dry-fly action, especially in the middle of the day. Tiny mayfly or midge cluster imitations could get some lookers. Most fish are caught on midge patterns fished deep, trailed behind a larger attractor nymph, egg or worm.

Given the fish are hanging deep, reluctant to move very far from their lies, the deep pools should be thoroughly, systematically, repeatedly drifted.

Experiment not only with different patterns, but also different depths. Adjust your weight with less at the head and tails of the pools where it will be shallower, and more in the deepest, darkest, slowest water in the heart of a pool.

Quartering casts upstream with regular mends get the fly down. Allow the drift to completely play out on a downstream swing. This not only covers the water column, imitating different stages of insect life, but it also makes the next upstream cast easier by using the surface tension of the downstream line to load the rod for a lobbing forward cast, eliminating false casting and tangles with a weighted rig.

Pick a cold day and you will have to contend with your rod guides icing. A warm day is more comfortable, but increases the elbows you will rub.

But either way, the fish are home. Browns dominate the numbers, but several years of stocking whirling-disease-resistant rainbows have given the browns good company.

Dress in layers. You’ll look and walk like a bloated snowman, but the awkwardness will be forgotten with the first hookup. Respect the glorious Colorado sunshine with plenty of sunscreen.

Or you could move to a warmer climate. Ponder that thought, but only once.

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Joel Evans is an avid angler and writer based in Montrose. He can reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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