Fewer anglers make for fun (but cold) winter fishing on Fryingpan River
BASALT — The shortest day of the year was a work in chiaroscuro, even Dickensian one might say, with none of the Colorado sunshine for which the state is known.
Such days are rare in western Colorado, although some might argue that point given the generally overcast skies of the past week or so in the Grand Valley.
At the turn of the last century, sunny days were in part the domain of entrepreneurs, such as those running the La Veta Hotel in Gunnison with its well-known offer to give each guest a free room or meal for every day the sun did not shine on Gunnison.
According to a hotel post card from 1927, there were only eight days between 1912 and 1927 the sun failed to shine, and two of those days were in 1921.
So a visitor Saturday to the upper Fryingpan River, that mile or so immediately below Ruedi Dam where the water stays open year-round, might have attributed the relative lack of anglers along the river to the spitting snow and low-hanging ceiling.
But Will Sands, shop manager at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, had the real answer.
“We just had our first big snowfall and that makes a huge difference,” Sands said, the popular fly shop bustling around him. “People around here have been chomping at the bit to ski, you think they’re going to miss a powder day after all this time?”
Overcast winter days are welcome on Colorado’s tailwaters, if more for the anglers than the fish.
A bit of cloud cover retains what little heat is there, which makes fishing a bit more comfortable as compared to the clear skies that bite the extremities with cold.
Tailwater trout might not notice the air temperature but having a blanket of relatively warm air above the river also indirectly increases bug activity, which in turn can increase fish activity.
The fishing clock is a bit convoluted, although Sands did his best to help a confused caller.
“Generally speaking, the best winter fishing on the Fryingpan is when we have evening lows in the high teens and the days get up to 35 or 40 degrees,” said Sands, who can be reached at 970-927-4374. “Anything over 40 and the fishing gets sort of magical.”
He said an angler should keep an eye on that 24-hour clock.
“If you have a warm evening, the water doesn’t cool off that much,” he said. “This morning my truck thermometer read 29 degrees, which means the water didn’t cool and as the day gets warmer the water will warm faster and the fish will be more active.”
He said the better winter fishing tends to come when the 24-hour clock shows a low of 20 and a high around 40.
“It’s not so much the water warming up but rather how cold it gets,” Sands said. “If it’s relatively stable (temperature-wise), the fishing stays hot.”
You can sleep in most days, since most winter fishing is on bankers’ hours, meaning 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or so.
That includes taking a river float, which Sands said remains a great way to see the river and catch fish.
“We had float trips out daily last week,” he said, adding the boats come with heaters. “We’ll float year-round. The only thing that precludes us is too much ice or slush. Last January it was so warm I did three commercial floats in the first week of the year.”
For information on winter wade or float fishing trips, call Taylor Creek Fly Shop at the above number.