Winter fishing has its perks

Despite cold, anglers can enjoy fishing Gunnison, Uncompahgre

A lone Great Blue heron stands on the shelf ice bordering the Gunnison River just above the confluence with the North Fork. The danger of walking on a thin shelf of ice makes fishing a risky proposition for heavier anglers.

Phil Trimm of Western Anglers Fly Shop shows what might end up on your line even in the depths of winter. This winter-stout brown trout was caught on the Uncompahgre River in Montrose during a recent fly-fishing trip.

To this reporter’s surprise, a recent Sunday noon found the Bureau of Land Management parking lot at the Gunnison Forks, where anglers can cross the North Fork to reach the main stem of the Gunnison River, empty of any signs of anglers.

A few tire tracks showed where someone had been there earlier in the day, and a short walk to the bank of the North Fork solved the mystery. A lip of shelf ice, of indeterminate thickness and strength, stretched six feet into the stream, making what’s normally an easy crossing a lot more dicey and dangerous.

Another shelf of ice came out from the far bank, squeezing the current and offering any angler brave (or crazy) enough to dare the ice a narrow, fast and deep river to wade.

No one was daring enough to risk the trouble, and the bank showed where a number of restless anglers that morning had walked up and down the bank, hoping against hope a way across might be found.

The vacant parking lot indicated no angler had found a safe way across the North Fork.

Two vehicles were in the BLM parking lot across the Gunnison, their drivers having dared the slick and steep road that cuts across the ridge from Peach Valley.

But the real puzzle was, where were Phil and Ned?

Phil Trimm, shop manager at Western Anglers Fly Shop, rarely misses spending his Sundays fishing the Gunnison. And with the sky clear and temperatures edging toward the 20s, it was too nice a day to sit home.

It turns out Trimm and his frequent fishing buddy Ned Mayers had arrived early at the Forks, weighed the chances of getting across the river without getting wet or worse, and decided to look elsewhere.

“We checked the Cimmarron (east of Montrose), but it’s pretty well blocked up (with ice), so we went to the Gunnison,” Trimm said.

He and Mayers fished the tailwater below Morrow Point Dam, where the deep canyon is locked in shadow this time of year.

“It was cold. There was no sun at all,” said Trimm, who has fished his share of cold days on the Gunnison. “So, we just fished for a couple of hours. Ned managed to catch a pretty nice rainbow.”

The hardy duo headed back into the sun and found themselves on the Uncompahgre River where it flows through Montrose.

“That was a lot warmer,” Trimm said. “By the end of the day we were down to T-shirts when we were gearing down.”

And the fish were a bit more active, as evidenced by the brown trout Trimm is holding in the accompanying photo.

Look closely at the photo of the winter-stout brown. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Trimm that he caught the fish on a streamer, his favorite go-to fly pattern.

“Oh, yeah, I’m definitely a streamer guy,” he said recently when talking about winter fly selection. “I’ll always start with a streamer.”

Most other winter fishing guides suggest using a double-nymph rig, something small, with maybe an emerger pattern on top and a nymph on the bottom.

Winter fish generally are slow-moving and rarely chase your fly, which doubles the importance of getting the fly down to where the fish are holding.

Short-line nymphing is extremely effective because it allows the angler to better control his line and keep an eye on the strike indicator, ready for even the most-imperceptible takes.

Unless, of course, you’re a “streamer guy” fishing for a hungry winter-sleek brown trout.


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