Now that’s a true fish tale

Thanks to McCannel, Uncompahgre River will get its due in book

Matt McCannel, head guide for RIGS Fly Shop in Ridgway, plays a big trout in the Uncomaphgre River below Ridgway Reservoir. McCannel recently caught and released from a nearby stretch of the river a brown trout estimated to weigh 15.2 pounds.

Fishing guide Matt McCannel, left, of RIGS Fly Shop in Ridgway holds a large brown trout caught from the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam by Mark Armstrong of Montrose.

Perhaps the pen is mightier than the fishing rod, too.

As if catching a 32-inch brown trout weighing an estimated 15-plus pounds wasn’t enough, Matt McCannel says a new book to be published this spring might tip the public’s attention toward the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam.

“Not many people really know about this river but this area is going to be featured in Terry Gunn’s new book,” said McCannel, the head fishing guide for RIGS Adventure Shop in Ridgway, as he walked the banks of the Uncompahgre in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk section of Ridgway State Park.

“So the place will really be put on the map.”

Gunn is the owner of Lees Ferry Anglers on the Colorado River below Lake Powell and is among the West’s premier guides, photographers, and fishing authors.

His latest book is a follow-up to his popular “The 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish.”

McCannel, who caught the aforementioned very large fish earlier this month, has a well-deserved reputation for catching numerous large and toothy trout from the Uncompahgre’s tailwater flows.

He’s using that knowledge about this stretch of the Uncompahgre River to write for Gunn’s new book and acknowledges having mixed feelings about it.

“Just look around,” he said, waving his fly rod at the river he and two guests were passing. “Nobody here, and it’s rare you see a lot of people. That will change, which is good and bad.

“It may mean more business for me and other guides, but it’s a fragile resource and I hope having more people know about the river means more voices protecting it.”

McCannel said fishing below Ridgway Dam has improved markedly since a small hydro-power plant went into operation last June and changed the face of the river.

There are two hydro turbines, a smaller one that operates in winter’s low flows and a larger 7.2-megawatt system operating during higher summer flows.

Turbulence in the turbines adds oxygen and balances what once was an overload of nitrogen.

The added oxygen has underwater plants flourishing and underwater plant growth means more insects.

“We now have a phenomenal midge hatch,” McCannel said. “There’s also a great Green Drake hatch, but not many people know about it.”

He said the drake hatch comes on late July or early August, coinciding with a Pink Cahill hatch.

“So you’ll be fishing Green Drakes early in the day and the Pink Cahill (mayfly) hatch in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

That increased bug life, along with a generous stocking program by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, helps the native brown trout reach trophy proportions.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 15 years,” McCannel said.

A quick look through the RIGS Facebook page shows a lot of big fish coming out of the Uncompahgre but there still are doubters, McCannel said.

He looked up and down river, where on this briskly overcast morning he saw three anglers working the river and two more casting into the nearby ponds.

“For some reason, most people don’t assume that this is very good place to fish,” he said with a quiet laugh. “Even the local guides don’t take it seriously, but this can be a very technical river to fish.”


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