Mixed bag on Gunnison

Late-winter, early spring fishing has its challenges on Gunnison River

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio displays a brown trout netted from the Gunnison Gorge during population sampling last fall. Brown trout numbers still dominate the Gunnison River fishery.

Efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to rebuild populations of rainbow trout in the Gunnison River have been dramatically successful.

Gunnison River Expeditions owner Al DeGrange takes his first ride of the year up the Gunnison River above the Pleasure Park. DeGrange offers the only jet-boat service from the Pleasure Park to the Smith Fork, allowing anglers to access quickly water that otherwise takes hours of hiking.

Temperatures reaching nearly 60 degrees last week at the Pleasure Park on the Gunnison River made anglers think it was March and not the middle of February.

Anglers this winter have encountered little snow while hiking the river trail from Pleasure Park upstream toward the Smith Fork, making for a pleasant hike.

Although it has been an open winter with mild temperatures, reports of fishing success have been mixed.

Anglers patiently stalking fish to find their holding lanes reported an increase in catch rates. Folks who didn’t find those locations had poor success.

During the winter months, fish tend to occupy the deeper water and won’t move far from their holding lane to take a fly. Weighted nymphs need to be presented directly to the fish.

Flows last week dropped for three days to 300 cubic feet per second and less to facilitate the Uncompahgre Water Users’ maintenance on the diversion dam at the East Portal.

Flows have now returned to 620 cfs but are subject to change depending on the Bureau of Reclamation’s forecast for runoff into the Aspinall Units.

Anglers have reported catching more large rainbows than during previous years, but browns still dominate the total population.

In 1992 whirling disease, caused by a parasite that attacks the skeletal structure of young fish, was discovered in the river and decimated the world-class rainbow fishery.

A decade ago, Colorado Parks and Wildlife imported from Germany the Hofer strain of whirling disease-resistant rainbows, cross-bred these with Gunnison River rainbow trout and stocked the progeny in the river to jump-start the population.

Ironically, it was rainbows from the Gunnison River near Gunnison that were exported to Germany more than a century ago to help that country’s fisheries.

Have the Gunnison rainbows returned home? Not quite. Kamloops rainbows from the Columbia River Basin were originally brought to Colorado in the 1880s and thrived in the clean, cold fast waters of Colorado.

Multiple efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to restore rainbow fisheries over the past 20 years have been successful and, hopefully, we are on track to again have a world-class rainbow fishery.

Although many anglers spend their days targeting rainbows, the Gunnison River has a healthy population of brown trout. The disappearance of rainbow trout because of whirling disease allowed the brown trout population to increase significantly.

Anglers have been using small midges, such as the zebra midge in sizes 16-22, and emergers, such as the soft hackled midge in size 18, to bring fish to the net.

Double nymph rigs are also a good bet with a larger nymph up top (Pat’s rubber leg or a big prince); trailed by a smaller nymph; red copper John; very small, nonbeaded pheasant tail; or small, nonbeaded hare’s ear.

Eggs, worms and even a few smaller streamers have also been producing fish. The water is gin clear, and the fish can be easily frightened if anglers approach too close.

The day I visited the river, Al DeGrange, owner of Gunnison River Expeditions, made his first run of the year jet-boating anglers four miles up the main stem of the Gunnison to the confluence of the Smith Fork.

His boat was heavily laden with a 13-foot raft and two anglers who would spend the day floating back to the Pleasure Park.

DeGrange, who can be reached at 970-778-8431 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), offers raft and pontoon boat rentals or will transport your watercraft for a fee. This is an affordable adventure and allows anglers to fish some of the waters that normally require a several-mile hike.

Pat Oglesby of Grand Junction is a member of the Grand Valley Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers and is a Federation of Fly Fishers-certified casting instructor.


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