When winter fishing, how low can you go?

Shelley Walchak has a section of the Taylor River to herself during a January fishing trip to the tailwaters below Taylor Park Dam. Even with temperatures nearing 10 degrees below zero, the water from the dam was warm enough to keep the river open.

As the winter closes in on regional rivers, slush ice and shelf ice squeeze anglers into the tailwaters where water temperatures stay around 40 degrees year-round.

That means the biggest difference in fishing those waters winter or summer is how much cold can the angler stand.

“One thing about the Fryingpan is that we’re so high and the water so cold our hatches are late morning and afternoon” year-round, said Will Sands of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. “That means we have bankers’ hours fishing even in the summer.”

The Fryingpan River at the base of Ruedi Dam is 7,503 feet elevation, nearly 1,000 feet above Basalt, 11 miles downriver.

The warming affect of the dam keeps the water open several miles below the dam, and Sands said some good winter fishing may be found a few miles downstream in what’s known as the middle river.

“Yeah, that stretch doesn’t get as much sun so it’s a bit colder down there but that’s where the locals go when they want to avoid the busier water below the dam,” Sands said. “On warmer days, you can have really good fishing down there.”

He said Colorado anglers may be a bit spoiled when it comes to winter fishing.

“I had a guy call me one day when it was 5 degrees here at the shop and he wanted to go on full-day wade trip, starting at 8:30,” Sands recalled.

Sands tried to warn him that it would be much colder up at the dam.

“I told him we usually start our winter trips around 10 but he just said, ‘Don’t you have a guide tough enough take me out fishing?’ ” Sands said.

The caller told Sands he was from Minnesota and was accustomed to winter fishing on the frozen lakes.

“He said this Colorado fishing isn’t cold,” Sands said with a laugh. “I guess he thought our dry cold was more comfortable than what he had back home.”


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