Fishing’s sweet season
Spring is when Colorado fish start to get hungry
Some states close the fishing season for the winter. They have their reasons, I suppose. Not so in Colorado. Thankfully there is not “a” season in Colorado. Instead, there are several seasons from which to choose and experience.
For trout fishing, most would say summer is the best. Can’t argue with that. Summer weather is great, the high country is accessible, fish behavior is predictable. I would agree.
But, I like spring.
Spring is the sweet spot. Spring is short but special.
For fishing, spring is not measured by flowers blooming and birds chirping, and the sudden crowds at the garden store. It is not measured by the calendar. Rather, spring fishing is that brief time between the end of snow and cold and the beginning of snowmelt. So, yes, March, maybe. Yes, April, maybe. Maybe May, probably not, depends on where.
Coloradans know that in March it can be summer-like for a few days, then out comes the snow shovel one more time. But trout aren’t concerned with that. Their world is more consistent. Their underwater world is not concerned with the external out-of-water weather, but rather it is motivated by internal in-the-water changes. Daylight hours are lengthening, water temperatures are rising, and insects they feed on are beginning to appear. Fish get cabin fever too and itch for spring.
That’s a good match for local fishermen. We get the itch, too. The spring sweet spot is delicious for several reasons.
One, it helps that the fish are accommodating because of their increased activity. Our finned friends are hungry after a winter of dearth.
Two, spring is the chance for locals to be on the water before the summer crowds, both residents and visitors, come out in greater numbers, which is a way to say fish are not as wary.
And finally, runoff murk has yet to start. Compared with summer, water is clear and usually a lower flow, making the art of fish hunting an effective tactic. Fish still tend to be concentrated in the deeper holes and soft runs where they are easier to find.
So, if it is such a great time to be on the water, why don’t we go more? You tell me. What’s your excuse? Not knowing where to go is not an excuse.
Here are some of my favorite rivers in western Colorado:
Roaring Fork: It always tops my list. Because the Roaring Fork is a freestone river, beginning in some lofty elevations near Aspen before it combines with the distant Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, it has seasons in and of itself. The fishing first turns on at the downstream end in the Glenwood area while the upper end is still locked in winter.
From Basalt downstream, it benefits from the relatively warmer water coming in from the Frying Pan. So one can follow the spring season upriver over the course of March and April, at least until runoff starts.
Speaking of runoff, it can come in spurts. There is usually a light runoff as the valley snow melts away and taints the water slightly. For fish catching, that can actually be a good thing to disguise fisherman and leader. Then, that goes away or is diluted progressively downstream and there is a time again of water clarity before the real mud season starts.
Public access is good with sporadic but numerous walk-in points between Glenwood upstream to Carbondale. Floating is a good way to go, putting in at Carbondale or Basalt. This lower section is the earlier start, and March can be great. In the upper river, access is continuous from the Upper Woody Creek bridge to Aspen. This section is narrower, more of a canyon, so sunshine is less direct, and snow lingers longer. March may be good, but April is prime.
Eagle: Similar to the Roaring Fork, this midsize river has distinct sections. There is ample access in the lower river in the flats along Interstate 70 from Dotsero, where it disappears into the Colorado, then on up the Eagle.
Here the river is slow and wide, with faster runs followed by slow deep holes, which is where the spring fish will be.
Farther upstream in the ski country, the river character changes to riffles and pocket water. From Eagle, through Wolcott, and on to Edwards, interstate traffic is heavy, but the main road before the interstate was U.S. Highway 6, which parallels the interstate and provides the access. Most water here is private, but a few public points let you find some water. Several of the pull-offs provide only a short stretch of river, so be well aware of boundaries.
This can make it challenging to find a spot, even in the lower pressure time of spring. Some of the best access and my favorite reaches are in the towns of Eagle and Edwards.
Colorado: Big water, big fish. Because of its higher volume, the Colorado can be difficult to fish in the summer by wading and is best with a boat. But again, spring is special.
My favorite spring section is from Glenwood downstream to New Castle. Heavier rods with deepwater streamers can be jolting. Upstream of Glenwood, there is public access at various interstate exits, where the water can be too fast and big in summer, but fishable in spring.
Other great options include the upper Colorado above Wolcott, the Yampa at Steamboat Springs, the Blue downstream of Silverthorne, the Animas at Durango, the Taylor below the reservoir, and the lower Gunnison near Delta.
Don’t wait for the prime of summer. Spring may be the prime time!