Roaring Fork River offers ample fishing opportunities
Brevity breeds urgency. Hesitate and the peak weeks will be gone off the calendar before you can wake up and rub the winter sleep from your eyes. If you mentally long for summer days on the river, your daydreaming will skip the perfect season — spring.
Consider the resume of spring river fishing. Low water, accessible and wadeable. Clear water, providing trout a clean window to spot your offering. Warming water, where just a few degrees’ increase gets the trout moving around and the bugs they feed on to come out of hiding.
Solitude, before the crowds of summer arrive. Eagerness, a time when winter-starved trout don’t show much selectivity and will munch on just about anything that looks edible. Accessibility, when the drive-to waters of the valley floor are the place to be with no need for trips to the distant high country.
There are similar waters on both sides on the Colorado Continental Divide, but for me the best, the sweetest, is the Roaring Fork.
And because the Roaring Fork stretches from lower-elevation Glenwood Springs to higher-elevation Aspen, the spring season stretches with it. Follow the warming water up valley and the spring season keeps repeating itself as you progress upriver.
Numerous public access points for the floating and wading fisherman mean that especially during the off season for tourism, between winter skiing and summer visitors, you will easily find a spot to call your own for a day, particularly if that day is a weekday. Starting downriver in Glenwood Springs, follow spring upriver at these fishing locations.
Immediately in the town of Glenwood Springs are several places to jump into the river. Working up from the confluence with the Colorado River, the first access is the Seventh Street Bridge and Veltus Park. Farther upstream but still in town are Sunlight Bridge, Rosebud Cemetery, Three Mile Creek, and the airport.
From Glenwood Springs to Carbondale, look for public water at the Westbank Bridge, Aspen Glen, Burry property, and the Coryell Ranch.
At Carbondale, find the Sutank Bridge and above and below the Highway 133 intersection and bridge. Here the Crystal River adds volume and seasonal change.
Upstream from Carbondale to El Jebel to Basalt, stop at Catherine’s Store Bridge, Blue Creek Ranch, Mount Sopris tree nursery, and Hooks Bridge. At Basalt, access is both above and below town along the old highway.
At Basalt, the Frying Pan River joins the Roaring Fork. The storied Pan is another story, but the significant story here is that the Frying Pan adds volume and cold water to the Roaring Fork. Downstream of Basalt, the additional cfs of the Frying Pan can influence the Roaring Fork fishing from several factors, such as water clarity, water temperature and insect life. For the same reason, float fishing is typically done below Basalt. Several boat put-ins/take-outs are strung from Basalt to Glenwood Springs such as the upper Basalt, Two Rivers Road, Hooks Bridge, Catherine’s Store, Carbondale, Westbank, and downstream of Glenwood Springs on the Colorado River.
My personal favorite section is upstream from Basalt to Aspen. Access is plentiful, especially at the upper end closer to Aspen. Along the way, you can get in the water above Basalt, at Old Snowmass, the Dart property, and several short pieces below the Lower Woody Creek Bridge. Access comes again at both the Lower and the Upper Woody Creek Bridge. At the upper bridge, access is continuous upstream all the way to and through Aspen.
Above Aspen, access is limited until one gets past the houses and into the national forest east of town, continuing uphill to the headwaters near Independence Pass. Although continuously public, most of the river here is away from the road. This is the domain of the hiker and camper looking for small-stream solitude.
Fishing the Roaring Fork in the spring can generally be divided into three opportunities, all very different because of the Frying Pan. One is floating down the lower half from Basalt, two is wading the lower half below Basalt, and three is wading above Basalt.
Below Basalt, the valley floor and the river is broader with a strong flow alternating between fast riffles and deep long pools. Floaters meander among bluffs and houses and golf courses. Above Basalt, a narrower river is home to rocky runs and pocket water, suitable to the wader.
Spring insect hatches are certainly less abundant than summer, but not absent as some would believe. Cloudy afternoons can bring out the small mayflies for dry fly fishing. Although maybe not hatching just yet, other insect groups such as caddis, midges, and stoneflies are abundant and active. Nymph fishing is excellent — in my experience, no other Colorado river equals nymph fishing here in the spring. Streamer fishing while floating the lower river is highly effective.
Return in the summer to wet wade. Return in the fall to cast among the golden leaves. Even winter on the lower river can be a sunny mid-day getaway. But do not miss spring — the perfect season — on the Roaring Fork.