Fish on: Winter angling on the Roaring Fork River |

Fish on: Winter angling on the Roaring Fork River

Roaring Fork Anglers’ Tom Trowbridge watches his line Saturday in the Roaring Fork River near Three Mile Creek. Trowbridge said fish feed considerably less in the colder months but can still be caught. PETER BAUMANN / POST INDEPENDENT

From the Oconto River in Wisconsin to the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers locally, Tom Trowbridge has fished waterways across the country. 

For the better part of 15 years, the avid fisherman has assisted locals and tourists alike on their own fly fishing endeavors as manager of Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs.

“It’s not really so much which specific area is going to be the best in the Roaring Fork Valley,” Trowbridge said. “But more so, what you do when you get to the river on the areas that you choose to fish.”

Fly fishing during the winter season can present the occasional safety hazard anglers should stay mindful of Trowbridge said.

Edge ice – aptly named because it forms along the banks of a river – should generally be avoided whenever possible. Another hazard that’s far less common is if an ice dam breaks.

Although a rare occurrence, such a breakage can push rushing water carrying sheets of ice and debris through narrow river channels.

“It’s not common but it happens,” Trowbridge said. “We haven’t seen any significant effects from an ice dam in the Glenwood Springs area in quite some time…the river channel is just too wide.”

According to Roaring Fork Anglers Owner Jeff Dysart, waterways more susceptible to ice dams include those between Snowmass Canyon and Carbondale.

“It only happens after, usually, a pretty extended cold snap with consistent snow and then a really quick warmup,” Dysart said.

A strike indicator rests on the ice of the Roaring Fork River on Saturday. It’s part of Tom Trowbridge’s typical line setup for wintertime fishing in the Roaring Fork Valley. PETER BAUMANN / POST INDEPENDENT


During the winter, brown trout, cutbow, rainbow trout as well as Rocky Mountain whitefish all remain active.

However, a fish’s length means more to anglers like Trowbridge than its species.

“Any fish over 20 inches is what we love,” Trowbridge said.

Regulations along the Roaring Fork River’s Gold Medal stretch between Basalt and Glenwood Springs caps the number of trout anglers can keep to two, and institutes a minimum length requirement of 16 inches.

A selection of flies are kept in Tom Trowbridge’s fly box. Although a variety of flies are necessary in warmer months when there are more insects out, Trowbridge said wintertime fishing is consistent enough that he can typically put flies on his line before leaving his house. PETER BAUMANN / POST INDEPENDENT


That stretch of Gold Medal water permits flies and lures, only.

Additionally, the section of the Roaring Fork River between McFarlane Creek – located a few miles above Aspen – and the Upper Woody Creek Bridge near Snowmass only allows fly fishing, and anglers must catch and release.

“All fish there need to be returned to the water immediately,” Trowbridge said.

During the winter months, anglers like Trowbridge generally fish deeper and slower sections of the river.

Tom Trowbridge puts a copper John fly on his line Saturday. While most fish go for the smaller nymph fly (not pictured) he typically has on his line in winter, bigger fish are more interested in the copper John. PETER BAUMANN / POST INDEPENDENT


“Often in the winter, if your flies aren’t touching the bottom you’re not deep enough,” Trowbridge said. “We are often going to use some split-shot or additional weight to get the flies down to the level where the fish are.”

Trowbridge, who has been fly fishing since the age of 12, said he sees more locals during the winter months visiting Roaring Fork Anglers whereas the summer season ushers in plenty of tourists, too.

“We fish 12 months a year,” Trowbridge said. “This is a valley where people come all over the world to fish.”

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