Copyright 2016 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 upper, freestone
section of the river is low. That
makes it very easy to wade about
anywhere, but also very easy to
spook trout. Brown trout are in the
pre-spawn stage and some may be
already starting to spawn. Be sure to
avoid wading through their redds.
The tailwater discharges are normal
for this time of the year. The river
For the latest information, check out
the above link to the weekly updated
Gunnison River fishing report.
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
10/16/15 October Caddis are at the peak of their hatch. Kokanee Salmon are moving upstream
from the lake and being caught by anglers pursuing them. The stream levels in the freestone
section are fine. The weather is great right now but watch the stream levels. Lots of rain is in
the forecast. Anglers are currently catching lots of trout. Several hatches are taking place.
Terrestrials such as ants and beetles are also working well.
10/23/15 I wrote last week that the October Caddis were at the peak of their hatch but that
peak keeps changing as the hatch move downstream. The tailwater section is a little high right
now. You will have to watch the discharges carefully. There is rain in the forecast most days of
this coming week. Blue-winged Olives have begin to hatch again.
10/30/15 Conditions couldn't possibly be any better for this time of the season. Stream levels
are fine and you can wade just about anywhere in the freestone section of the river. October
Caddis are still going strong. Blue-winged olive hatches are getting more prolific each day but
best of course, on cloudy, overcast days. Brown trout are about to spawn and taking streamers
like our Brown Sculpin well.
11/06/15 The weather is finally getting a little chilly. It has been unseasonably warm. The
hatches are going to be reduced down to two sizes of Blue-winged olives and various midges.
The Brown Sculpin and White Belly sculpin flies have really produced some nice brown trout
the past two weeks and that should continue to work well. Stream levels are just fine in both the
freestone and tailwater as of now.
11/13/17 The best option right now, if you have a drift boat, is to fish the tailwater. Discharges
are low and fishing should be terrific. We recommend streamers, particularly our Brown
Sculpin. Hatches will be few and limited to Blue-winged olives and midges. Brown trout are
spawning and/or in the post-spawn stage in some cases. The upper freestone section is also in
good shape, so wading it is another good option.
11/20/15 The Gunnison Canyon tailwater is running very high right now but should be back to
normal late fall flows soon. The freestone section is also a little high but falling fast. After a little
more snow today, it will be clear for the next week, but colder. The water temps will be forty
degrees or below. Midges will you best shot at catching trout.
12/04/15 Snow ends tomorrow and the weather should be clear for the next five days. Stream
levels in both the freestone and tailwater sections of the Gunnison River are good and should
remain good for the next week. Midges are the main insect you should be imitating. The Brown
and White Belly Sculpin streamer flies are still catching some of the larger trout for our
12/11/15 The upper freestone section of the river has a lot of ice along the banks and is just
too cold to fish good. We recommend only the lowest end of the freestone section. As long as
the discharges are low, the canyon tailwater is the best section to fish. Notice we have added
Winter stoneflies to the list but midges are still the most important insect to be imitating. Don't
forget the Brown Sculpin Streamer. It has been catching some larger trout.
12/25/15 It is wintertime on the Gunnison River. For the first time this year, we can't
recommend fly fishing for trout anywhere on the Gunnison. The upper river is just too cold
barely above freezing with lots of ice. The tailwater is too high but you can watch the
discharges and there may be some opportunity there later on. Sorry for such a dismal report.
01/01/15 The upper river is very cold but you may try the lowest end of it near the lake. The
tailwater is still flowing high but that can change, so keep a check on it. It would be best if the
flows are okay. It is going to be a little warmer this week than last week, but still very cold.
Midges, fished in tandem with the pupa the top fly and the larva the bottom fly, is the best
option. The winter stonefly nymph is another good fly choice.
01/08/16 The Gunnison freestone section is too cold to fish. The highest water temperature is
near the lake at 37 degrees and that is only for an hour or two in the mid afternoon. The
discharges on the tailwater in the canyon is running a little high but okay for drift boats. Getting
there isn't an easy task with all the snow. The daily low air temperatures never as much as get
to zero. Conditions need to improve and they will do that soon, we hope.
01/15/16 There is a flood water every day for the next five days and there is a chance of snow
every day for the next five days. The freestone section is just too cold to fish and the tailwater
currently has heavy discharges. In other words, conditions for fly fishing the Gunnison doesn't
look good for the coming week.
01/22/16 The Gunnison is cold from top to bottom. The canyon tailwater is still high from higher
discharges and it is about the only option from a water temperature standpoint. It is a bottom
discharge with water temps in the high thirties and trout could be caught there but the entire
Freestone section of the river is just too cold, barely above freezing if that.
01/29/16 No reports were received this past week from anyone fishing. The freestone section
of the river is just above freezing with lots of ice on the banks and slush ice where the water is
slow. The canyon is the only option but make sure you can get there in the heavy snow and
that the discharges from the dam is reasonable.
02/05/16 At least there's no snow or rain in the forecast for a change. But don't get your
bathing suit out yet. It is still going to be very cold. The freestone section above the lake is just
too cold to fish with any reasonable opportunity. The tailwater discharges are still up but maybe
will drop. You will just have to check on that.
02/12/16 The upper freestone river is in good shape from a level standpoint but it is very cold
and will continue to be cold. The air will be warmer than it has been but that's still mostly below
the freezing level. The tailwater is currently running high. Even though it is going to be a warm
week, you could select a much better destination.
02/19/16 Unlike most of the state of Colorado, Gunnison River country continues to be cold.
The weather is going to be clear. The discharge level at the canyon tailwater continues to be
high. That would be the only good option is the flows were reasonable. The upper freestone
section is still too cold to fish.
02/26/16 It sure would be nice to be able to write a good report for a change, but the Gunnison
is cold as a .....The tailwater is still flowing high and to sum it up, there's much better
opportunities for fly fishing right now. The Taylor River is a nearby good choice, for example. It
is going to be slightly warmer this coming week with no snow.
03/04/16 As mentioned in the attached report, I get tired and bored of writing lousy fishing
reports but neither the freestone section or the tailwater is in good enough shape for us to
recommend. The best of the two would be the tailwater but neither would be as good as the
nearby Taylor, for example. El Nino weather doesn't help much in this regard.
03/11/16 The weather is going to be nice most of the coming week. The warm weather has
melted some snow along the banks of the lower freestone section and is keeping the water
from warming up much. The tailwater is finally down with good flows. Midges and little Blue-
winged olives are hatching.
03/18/16 The Gunnison is in a cold part of the state of Colorado. It's freestone section is slowly
getting a little warmer thanks to the recent warmer weather. The forecast looks good for the
next week with no rain or snow and warm days. Midges and little Blue-winged olives are
hatching. For the first time in a long time, you may be able to catch trout in the freestone
04/01/16 The freestone section of the Gunnison is in good shape with a stream level just below
normal. That makes it easy to wade. Midges and little Blue-winged olives are hatching good
and a few fish have been caught from the upper river for the first time in a long time. The
tailwater is also in good shapes, with good discharges and levels.
04/08/16 The freestone section is running a little high right now and likely to continue to rise
some. There is a lot of rain in the forecast. Melting snow is also contributing to it. March Browns
have started hatching in the lower elevations. Little Black Caddis are soon to follow. Right now,
Sculpin Streamers would be our first choice of flies.
04/15/16 I'm sure it isn't a secret to the locals, but the normal, usual April snow storm has
arrived and will slow things down for a few days. There won't be much opportunity until near the
end of next week. Little Black Caddis were just starting to hatch and when things settle down,
you can expect some very good action.
04/22/16 The freestone section of the Gunnison is high, cold and dirty. There is more rain and
snow in the forecast with warmer weather that is going to continue to add to the problem. You
can fish the canyon tailwater as long as the discharges are low, but otherwise, we don't see
much opportunity for the next few days.
04/29/16 The Gunnison remains on the cold side of good but that's not abnormal for this time
of the season. We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week. The freestone
section remains in the mid to high forties. Midges and little Blue-winged olives hatch most days.
There is more snow forecast for the next five days.
05/06/16 The upper river is high, stained and fairly cold from melting snow and rain. This is
likely to continue for the next few days. There may be some opportunity in the canyon tailwater
but that is also doubtful. You can check the discharges but the freestone section is not a
feasible choice right now.
05/13/20 The upper freestone section is in fair shape at this time. It is providing some
opportunity. The East River is in runoff to some extent but the Taylor is low and keeping the
overall condition worth fishing at this time. The tailwater is high and dirty and will likely be that
way for the next week.
05/20/16 The freestone section is a little high, too high to wade in most sections, but not as
bad as you may expect. The Taylor flows are low and most of the runoff water is coming from
the East River. The tailwater in the canyon is roaring high and blown out. You can expect high
levels throughout most of June.
05/27/16 The freestone section and the taiwater in the canyon are still high and dingy from the
Spring runoff. This condition will continue to exist for several more days. There is little to no fly
fishing opportunity in any section. Please continue to check back with us. We will keep you
updated as the status.
06/03/16 The river is in the full blown runoff stage with very high water in the freestone section.
The tailwater discharges are not that bad now, but I will assure you it won't last long. They have
to keep the lake level low enough to hold the runoff water. They will be running a lot more.
Quite frankly, there are other better fly fishing destinations at this time.
06/10/16 There isn't any opportunity for fly fishing at this time and it is doubtful there will be
during the coming week. This includes both the freestone and Black canyon tailwater. The
levels are extremely high and the water ranges from muddy to highly stained. Let us help you
plan that next trip by sending us an email.
06/24/16 It is getting into much better shape fast. We don't think it is worth a long trip yet, but
should be soon. There are a lot of insects starting to hatch, including the big Salmonflies and
some Golden stoneflies. There are two species of caddis and some Western Green drakes just
starting. These vary with the section of the river.
07/01/16 The stream levels continue to drop. There is some heavy rain falling and in the
forecast through the 4th, and that may bring it back up some, but otherwise, it will continue to
drop. Currently, you could probably find some sections low enough to pick and choose spots to
wade safely. Insects are hatching good but vary depending on the section of the stream. The
tailwater discharges are still on the high side.
07/08/16 The Gunnison is finally in good shape in all sections. The freestone section is down
and wading possible in all the places you can normally wade. The tailwater is down and
driftboat anglers should begin to catch a lot of trout. There are numerous hatches underway,
but they vary from section to section. This should be a very good week for fly fishing the river.
07/15/16 The Gunnison is in good shape from its uppermost section through the tailwater in
the canyon. There are a large number of insects hatching and we are getting some very good
reports from customers fishing in all sections. The hatches vary from section to section but the
hottest thing going is the big stoneflies in the canyon. The forecast for the coming week looks
07/22/16 The Gunnison river is in the best shape it has been in so far this year. Stream levels
are good from the uppermost section to the tailwater in the canyon. We received two good
reports from customers this past week. There are a lot of insects hatching. Late afternoon egg
laying caddisflies and little yellow stoneflies are bringing a lot of trout to the surface to feed, so
don't leave too soon.
07/29/16 Fly fishing doesn't get much better than it is right now on the Gunnison. Both the
freestone section and the Black Canyon is in good shape with lots of hatches and lots of trout
being caught. The hatches vary depending on the section. Send us an email for a detailed list.
Fish as late in the day as you can. The last two or three hours is the best time to fish.
08/04/16 Both the freestone and tailwater in the canyon are in good shape right now. There
are flash flood warnings for the next two days, so you better check the levels before driving
very far to fish. They likely will be high. There are still a lot of hatches taking place and
terrestrials are starting to work as well. The cooler weather forecast for this coming week will
08/18/16 The freestone section is low. You have to be careful wading and stay hidden from the
trout to catch them. The discharges and levels in the tailwater (canyon) are in good shape right
now. Kokanee salmon should begin to move upstream anytime, if not already. There are some
huge Tricos hatches taking place as well as three species of caddisflies.
08/26/16 The freestone section of the river is in good shape with Kokanee salmon starting to
move out of the lake upstream. Hatches consist mostly of caddisflies - little Sisters, Spotted
sedges and Green sedges. Tricos are hatching in most sections. The morning spinner falls will
get you some action. Early morning streamer fishing using Sculpin patterns is working good.
09/02/16 The stream levels in the freestone section is just a little below normal. The water
temperature and weather is cooler and in good shape. The tailwater is running a little strong
but still fine for drift boats. There are lots of caddisflies hatching in both sections. Fish
streamers like our Brown Sculpin in the early morning and the caddisflies hatches and egg
laying activity in the afternoons.
09/09/16 The freestone section is running a little low but that won't last long. There is rain in
the forecast about everyday this coming week. The low water makes it easy to wade but easy
to spook the trout. Stay low and hidden from them. Dress to match the background and make
longer presentations with lighter leaders and tippets. Sound easy, but it isn't so easy.
09/16/16 Good numbers of trout are being caught by our customers. There are still plenty of
hatches taking place and stream levels in the upper section of the river are near normal. The
cooler water has the trout turned on and feeding well. Some are doing good using terrestrials,
or ants, beetles and hoppers. Kokanee salmon are in the river up to Almont.
09/23/16 The river is in great shape for the first of Fall. The weather has turned cooler and that
has the fish in high gear. Our customers are catching good numbers of trout in all sections of
the river including the canyon tailwater. Mahogany duns and October Caddis have begin to
hatch. Lots of size 16 Blue-winged olives are hatching.
09/30/16 All sections of the Gunnison are in good shape. The tailwater flows are staying a little
strong. The freestone section has been high recently but down in good shape now. There are
several hatches taking place and our customers are catching lots of trout the past two days.
Conditions are about as they get on the river in the early fall months.
10/07/16 The river is in great shape and there are a lot of trout being caught. The brown trout
are in the pre-spawn stage, aggressive and territorial and taking streamers like our Brown
Sculpin and Matukda Sculpin very well. Blue-winged olives are hatching very good. October
caddis are still hatching. The canyon tailwater is also producing some good trout.
10/14/16 Normally, you can find one of the many sections of the San Juan River in good shape
to fish but it is rare you can find them all in good shape. Such is the case now. The discharges
and stream levels have been good for the canyon. The upper river all the way up to the Taylor
and East River is in great shape. It is a little low but wading is easy and our customers are
catching lots of trout.