Copyright 2018 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Gunnison River In
The Gunnison River is seventy-eight miles long
including the lakes it flows through. The river drains a
huge part of the state of Colorado. It's formed by two
major streams, the Taylor River and the East River,
both of which are fine trout streams themselves. It's one
of the most diversified trout streams in the state of
Colorado. Fly fishing the Gunnison River is a truly
unique experience all avid anglers should experience.
The river starts at Almont, Colorado. It gets larger the
closer to the Blue Mesa Reservoir you get. The upper
section is referred to as the section above the Blue
Mesa Reservoir, upstream to its beginning. The lower
section of the river generally refers to the section
starting below Blue Mesa Reservoir at East Portal down
to the rivers junction with the North Fork of the
Gunnison. This section consist mostly of what is usually
called the Black Canyon. These two sections of the
river, the upper and lower, are completely different.
The upper section is affected by the spring runoff more
than the lower section. It usually gets high and stained
around the middle of May and stays that way until the
middle of June or even later depending on the weather
and snow pack.
The Gunnison River is affected by the flows from the
East River, a freestone stream draining from Emerald
Lake high in the Rockies near Crested Butte. It is also
affected by water released from Taylor Reservoir, or the
Taylor River. The above links describe its two sources
of water in detail.
The Gunnison River can be waded and fished from drift
boats. During times of high water, a drift boat is by far
the best option. There are several public access points
where anglers can wade the river.
The river consist of long runs and riffles and many large
and some very deep pools. Aquatic insects are plentiful.
The Gunnison River is probably best known for its
Salmonfly hatch. There's a "catch-and-release" season
for the kokanee that extends from August 1st to October
The Gunnison River is one of Colorado's best trout
streams, and that's saying a lot. It offers year-round,
versatile fly fishing opportunities with various species of
trout and other fish species. It is both a freestone stream
and a tailwater and almost always provides an
opportunity for anglers to catch fish.
If you haven't fished the Gunnison River, your missing
one of the best trout streams in the nation.
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Recommended Tackle & Gear
5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 & 12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 71/2
ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six
For 5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
You can fly fish the Gunnison River
Although you can fish the Gunnison during
the winter months, fishing is generally very
From late March until the runoff in mid-May,
the river fishes okay using nymphs, midge
larva and caddisfly larva imitations.
Fly Fishing Guide to the Gunnison
The methods and techniques used for fly
fishing the Gunnison River vary depending on
the section and of course, the time of year.
The upper Gunnison is a freestone looking
stream although one of the two streams that
form it, the Taylor, is a tailwater. It has several
tributary streams including the Ohio Creek,
Tomichi Creek and Antelope Creek. Although
you can catch trout on nymphs and midge
larvae imitations before the runoff, it is usually
near the end of June before the better fishing
starts on the upper section. The salmonfly
hatch, which usually starts from around the
middle of June to the first of July, is the first
big event to occur. Much better fishing gets
underway in the month of July and you may
be able to start catching trout on the dry fly.
In the middle of August, the Kokanee salmon
start their run up the river from the Blue Mesa
Reservoir to spawn. This event last through
October. It provides some exciting fishing
because the salmon will usually readily take
streamers and even nymphs at times. The
salmon must all be released back into the
stream. October is also the spawning time for
the big brown trout that reside in Blue Mesa
Reservoir. They move out of the lake and up
into the river to spawn and anglers have the
opportunity to catch some large trout.
The lower section of the Gunnison, or the
Black Canyon, is a beautiful, wild and
almost untouched wilderness area. It is a
tailwater and the flows are controlled by
the dam. It has a lot of large brown trout as
well as some rainbows. Water from the
upstream boundary of the Black Canyon of
the Gunnison National Monument,
downstream to the North Fork of the
Gunnison River, is classified as Gold
Medal Water. This simply means the state
rates this part of the river among the best
of the state's trout waters.
The lower section consist mostly of pocket
water with deep pool, riffles and runs.
Many anglers prefer to float this section.
You can fish it by hiking down into the
canyon and by camping along the river in
one of its designated camp sites. Access to
the canyon is controlled by strict rules
established to help maintain the wilderness
as it should be. Browns average around
fifteen inches with many are over eighteen
inches. The rainbows have suffered loses
from whirling disease but are still present
and average an even larger size than the
brown trout. The highlight of the canyon
section each year is the Salmonfly hatch
although there are many other aquatic
insects that hatch in the canyon.
Gunnison River Hatches and Trout
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and nymphs,
not guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing. Unlike the generic fly shop
trout flies, we have specific imitations of all
the insects in the Gunnison River and in all
stages of life that are applicable to fishing. If
you want to fish better, more realistic trout
flies, have a much higher degree of success,
give us a call. We not only will help you with
selections, you will learn why, after trying
Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our
customers will use nothing else.
The hatches on the Gunnison River varies
some from the canyon section (tailwater) and
the freestone section of the stream. We are
going to include both together in this section
although the dates of the hatches can vary
some. The hatch charts separate them.
Midges exist throughout the stream and hatch
throughout the year. Most anglers consider
them important only when there are no other
insects hatching. Imitations of the larvae,
pupae and of the adults will catch trout
anytime during the year.
Blue-winged Olives are probably the most
plentiful species of aquatic insects in the
river, other than the midges. The first hatches
start about the middle of April and last until
around the middle of May. These insects are
bi-brooded and have another hatch from
about the middle of July through October.
The exact time of the hatch varies depending
on the location.
Brachycentrus caddisflies, or American
Grannoms, start hatching around the middle
of April and last for about a month depending
on the particular section of the stream. This
can be a great hatch to fish if you catch it just
Western March Browns are present in most of
the stream. They hatch from about the first of
April through the first week or two in May.
Pale Morning Duns, or PMDs, start hatching
around the last week of June. The hatch can
last as late as the first week or two of
September, again, depending on the
particular location on the stream.
Green Drakes are present in some areas of
the Gunnison River. The hatch starts from
about the first of July and last until near the
middle of August. Again, this greatly depends
on the particular section of the river. It can be
affected by the runoff in the freestone
section. Red Quills hatch during July and
Several species of Stoneflies are included
on the list of most important insects. The
Giant Salmonflies are present especially in
the Canyon section of the river. They
hatch from about the first of June through
the first week or two in July. Little Yellow
Stoneflies, called Yellow Sallies, are also
present. They hatch from about the middle
of July through most of August. Golden
Stoneflies are also present in the stream.
They hatch from around the last of June
through the month of July and into the first
week or two of August, depending on the
location. Little Green Stoneflies are also
present in parts of the stream. They hatch
from near the end of July through August.
LIttle Short-horned Sedges, or
Glossosoma species, hatch from May
through the month of June. Theres also
some Great Gray Spotted Wing Sedges
that hatch during July and August. Spotted
Sedges are present from June through the
month of September.
Terrestrial insects become important in the
month of July, August and September.
These include grasshopper, ants and
Streamers are also very popular with the
locals. Don't forget to carry them if you
plan on fishing the fall salmon run. These
fish don't eat during the spawning run but
they will attack attractor type streamers.
Imitations of Sculpin and various baitfish
will take their share of trout, especially
during the fall brown trout spawning
We recommend our "Perfect Fly" trout flies
for the Gunnison River simply because we
have the most realistic and effective trout
flies you can purchase. Our stonefly
imitations have proven to be very effective
on this stream. If you haven't done so
already, we hope you will give them a try.
This hatch chart will provide the details for
the upper river and this hatch chart will
provide the details for the canyon..
Summer brings on the hatches and the dry
Big browns move upriver out of Blue Mesa
Reservoir to spawn during the fall.
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
Headlines: The river is in good
shape with a little warmer water in
the freestone and tailwater sections.
Skwala stoneflies are hatching good.
Midges, creams and light greens,
are still the most important insects to
imitate. For the latest information,
check out the above link to the
weekly updated Gunnison River
We have Perfect Fly
website pages on
each of these other
fine trout streams.
descriptions of the
location, species of
fish, a fly fishing
guide, a fly fishing
report, hatches and
flies, fly fishing gear
USGS stream data,
much, much more
Map of Gunnison River