The private life of fly fishermen |

The private life of fly fishermen

Louis Cahill Photography
Louis Cahill Photography |

One of my personal goals in my own fly fishing career has been to fish the entire length of the Fryingpan River from its headwaters above Nast down to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. Earlier this summer, after a moderate but lengthy hike, I had finally checked-off fishing the headwaters of this wonderful river after 20 years of plying its water.

Like most others, I typically fish the tailwater below the dam. I know and am comfortable fishing this 14-mile stretch of river, but there has always been something that kind of irked me. Of the 14 miles of river below dam, about eight miles of it is open to the public. That leaves me with six miles of private water that I’ve slowly been whittling away at on my bucket list of fishing on the Fryingpan.

A friend of mine has been pestering me for the past two months to come and fish a particular private stretch of water that his family has access to about halfway between Basalt and Ruedi Dam. This year alone, I’ve driven past this large swath of water at least 100 times, always wondering what it’d be like to fish “on the other side of the fence.” Finally, after several weeks of trying to make our schedules mesh, I finally had the opportunity to fish on a new stretch of the Fryingpan River.

After donning the requisite numbered badge required to fish here, we bushwhacked through the overgrown thickets of willow and oakbrush that lead to the river. I was surprised to find the river virtually unmanicured; no drop structures, no massive slicked-out pools of glassy water and not artificial in appearance at all. If anything, the river felt amazingly familiar. The water was easy to read at a large flow of 300 cfs (cubic feet per second); mostly fast pockets of water along the banks with an occasional deeper run.

Being a dry fly junkie and seeing a few caddis fluttering around in the early light, I tied on a size 14 Humpy in red on 5x tippet and quickly started to cover water with my casts. The fishing was refreshingly difficult; not at all what I had anticipated. Being a blue collar commoner without the budget to pay for fishing on private water, I guess I had always thought that the fish would fight to take your offering the instant it hit the water. I worked at catching every fish that I hooked, making short trick-shots under overhanging branches, casting long darts up swiftly moving runs and everything in between.

Sure, I was able to get away with fishing a large dry fly during a light hatch of caddis on 5x, where the fish ate my offering well enough, so I guess it wasn’t exactly “technical” fishing, but the fish were far from pushovers, either.

So, is fishing in private water better than on the public water? Not necessarily. Was it neat to fish through new water, though? I’d have to respond with a resounding “yes.” It was definitely fun to briefly live (fish) as an outsider. That said, the next time you see me, I’ll still be the same guy sitting on my busted tailgate with a spare tire on in public water fishing to the commoners’ fish.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at (970) 927-4374 or

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