Why fish just one of the Gunnison’s three unique sections?

Marshall Pendergrass lobs a nymph into green waters of the East Portal, one of only two drive-to access points in 26 miles of trout-laden water. Otherwise, get out your hiking boots.

Once plentiful in the lower Gunnison, rainbows were hit hard by whirling disease years ago. But restoration efforts are paying off. Rainbows and browns are in high supply.


MONTROSE — Do you want the complete package? One local cable company temptingly offers the “Triple Play,” a complete-package deal for all three services they offer.

Interested in an even better deal? Try this version of the complete-package triple play: One river — the Gunnison — with three very different kinds of fishing water.

Part one of the package is the upper Gunnison north of the town of Gunnison.

Part two is the middle Gunnison west of Gunnison.

Completing the value proposition is the lower Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Although only one of the several major river drainages in western Colorado, the Gunnison stands out for its variety of topography.

Topographic changes within its triple-play geographic boundaries make for a smorgasbord of fishing water types.

The upper Gunnison is generally characterized as a relatively narrow stream channel with faster, broken water because of its higher gradient as it exits the mountains.

Downstream, the middle Gunnison picks up volume from several tributaries but still offers a generally calmer stretch of water flowing across the wider, gentler valley floor.

The lower Gunnison is famous for the churning, deep canyon waters of the Black Canyon as well as the scenery along the river.

Access is somewhat of a mixed bag.

Although the upper and middle sections are the easiest to access because of the highway along the river course, private land dominates.

In the lower section, public land abounds but physical access is challenging and accessed mostly by significant hiking.

So how do you choose? You don’t! Remember the triple play — just fish all three parts.

The Gunnison begins at Almont, where the East and Taylor rivers converge. Public access is available just south of Almont for wade fishing and camping.

This is also a raft or drift boat put-in. Here, one can float the upper Gunnison, taking out at the river bridge north of Gunnison or other takeouts west of town.

More foot access is available on the west side of town on the Van Tuyl easement.

The upper section also is known for its fall run of kokanee salmon.

The middle section is best fished in the western half above Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Parking and wide-open wade access is available at Neversink and Coopers Ranch. Here, the river is wide and somewhat shallow in places, but bends, pools and running riffles hold fish.

Although not common, the opportunity is here for a fish measured not in inches, but in pounds, as they migrate upstream out of the reservoir.

The inlet to Blue Mesa can vary greatly in its length and water type. When the reservoir is full, backing up into the inlet, the river is more like a slow moving lake down to the Lake City Bridge.

When low, the river channel is exposed and fishing is more like a mountain stream, with the channel sometimes extending downstream past the bridge.

Blue Mesa offers great lake fishing from shore or boat, and is accessible for much of its shoreline, particularly the north side adjacent to the highway.

Morrow and Crystal dams are contained within the steep canyon walls, accessible at Pine Creek trail, Pioneer Point trail and Cimarron.

Breaking free again below Crystal Reservoir, the Gunnison River becomes wild and mystical.

Deep within the sheer walls of the Black Canyon, first the river is a part of the Black Canyon National Park.

This part of the river is characterized by fast water and boulder-strewn pockets with occasional long, deep pools.

Farther down, the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area is just the opposite, primarily deep pools with shorter but serious rapid sections.

The park section is accessed by the East Portal Road, the only vehicle access to the river bottom, and by a series of steep trails from both the north and south sides.

The trails have elevation changes ranging from 1,200 to more than 2,000 feet, making this an outing reserved for the physically and mentally fit.

Twice I have traversed this wild section by climbing, jumping, swimming and body floating this incredible natural wonder.

The Gunnison Gorge, with “easier” foot trails and elevation changes of “only” 600 to 900 feet, has more visitors than the park but still provides a secluded experience.

Private and commercial rafting is available from Chukar Trail downstream to the confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison.

Other trails in the Gorge include the Duncan, Bobcat and Ute.

The Bureau of Land Management has a great brochure available describing the trails.

Having done it all over 30-plus years experiencing the magic of the Gunnison, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite part of the Triple Play.

As long as physical ability holds up, I do love the inner Black Canyon and am most attached to Red Rocks.

Or should I say Tomichi? Or maybe it’s the Portal.

Why should I have to decide?

# # #

Joel Evans is a Montrose-based angler and outdoors writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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