OUT: Count on using smaller flies in limited dayligh
ALMONT — As you pull into the turnout next to the Taylor River, you notice the thermometer on the truck’s dashboard reads minus 12.
You tap it, just to see if something is stuck, but you do it gently, in case the numbers want to go down, instead of up.
“At least it’s not windy,” you mumble, looking out to where the dark river curls past head-high mounds of snow.
There isn’t anybody on the Taylor River today, at least no one here in the quarter-mile catch-and-release section immediately below Taylor Park Dam. That in itself is a sign and not necessarily a good one, since it’s a rare day you have this section of river alone.
The C-and-R, as locals know it, is as renowned for its football-fat trout as much as it is for the oft-crowded conditions where it’s not quite elbow-to-elbow, full-combat fishing but awfully close.
Those anglers are seen mostly in the summer, when the “fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,” as the renowned angler George Gershwin once wrote.
On this day, when the fish are deep and cottony snow mounds are blocking easy access to the river, the lack of other anglers tells you two things.
First, it’s too danged cold to fish and second, well, the first is enough.
“Winter fishing can be great as long as you’re prepared for the conditions,” cautioned Cam Scott of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. “You can have some awesome fishing days in mid-winter.”
The Taylor Creek shop is an easy roll cast from the Fryingpan River, which offers winter fishing at moderate temperatures.
Most anglers on the Fryingpan River focus their attention just below Ruedi Dam, where water conditions are similar to those below Taylor Park Dam.
Consistent winter flows at 42 degrees exiting the dams provide a relatively warm-water experience for trout compared to stretches farther downstream. There also is more bug life in the tailwaters, although the insects are quite small and trout have a tendency to select the smallest bug they can find.
It’s not that they love tiny bugs, but it seems the bigger bugs come with a steel stinger.
Trout go smaller, so anglers go smaller to catch the trout.
But there’s one major difference between winter fishing on the Taylor River and winter fishing on the Fryingpan.
When it’s 9 degrees in Gunnison, it might be 40 in Basalt.
“That’s one big reason I moved over here,” said Scott, who prior to moving to Basalt worked for two years with Rod Cesario at his Dragonfly Anglers in Crested Butte. “It definitely doesn’t get as cold.”
Scott said it’s not unusual to enjoy 20- to 30-degree days in midwinter on the Fryingpan.
“It’s been raining here so it’s really warm,” he said during a break Saturday. “The Fryingpan has been fishing really good this whole winter.”
The Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork both see a few more crowds, particularly over the Christmas and New Years’ holidays when Aspen visitors might ski or snowboard a half day and then fish the other half.
There also frequently are weekend anglers that drive over from the Front Range, but again that’s early. By this time of the winter, the rivers virtually are deserted.
Winter angling on the upper Taylor is limited to the 400 yards or so of public water below the dam. Past that, it goes into private property and by the time the river again reaches public land, it’s no longer a tailwater.
The Fryingpan, however, offers 11 miles of public waters, all of which are fishable now.
“Even the lower ’Pan, from the confluence with the Roaring Fork to about mile marker 3, is fishing good,” said Scott, who can be reached at 970-927-4374. “It’s sort of a secret, in that not many fishermen go there in the winter.”
The lower river doesn’t hold as many fish per mile as in the upper stretches, Scott said, but it’s still more than in most rivers.
And, he nearly whispered, you can use bigger flies in the lower river.
“Not many guys know this but in these warm spells like we’re having, I think the stoneflies start moving around a little,” Scott said. “We’ve been using stoneflies in sizes 8-12 and dropping off a midge pattern.”
And at 30 degrees, icing problems are minimal, he said.
Angling days are short, starting around 10:30 or later and ending soon as the sun hits the ridge top.
“You don’t have to hurry to get on the water,” said Scott. “But this is a great time to be fishing.”