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On the Fly column: There’s no place like home

Besides hiking, golf, cycling, kayaking and all the other distractions this valley has to offer, fly fishing can be a very relaxing way to spend your day.  Even if you’ve never fished the Roaring Fork Valley, there are a bunch of great places to explore and wild trout to meet out there during the summer months. 

If you are visiting and don’t have any gear, most fly shops from Glenwood Springs to Aspen offer rental gear as well as top-notch guide services to maximize your time on our rivers, streams and lakes.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to where and when to go, as you can choose between intimate small streams, high country lakes and our world-famous gold medal waters. Any shop in the valley would love the opportunity to spread out a map on the counter and show you their favorite haunts, including what to use and how to fish the flies they recommend.  Finding great water is easy here; getting a license for the day or the week is even easier.

If solitude and wild cutthroats or brook trout are your speed, be sure to check out the upper Crystal River, Avalanche Creek or Rocky Fork Creek while here in the valley.  If it’s all about dry fly hatches and gold medal water, this is the time to be on the Fryingpan with a few green drake and pale morning dun patterns in your vest.

One caveat — the Colorado River is under a 24-hour closure as of late, due to warm and de-oxygenated water. Everything in the upper sections of the valley is cold and just fine.

Even if you have never fly fished, I guarantee (with the right advice and/or guide) you can have a blast on our rivers and lakes. Bring along some sunscreen, a few flies, and take in the gorgeous scenery we love to call home. You won’t regret it.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

On the Fly column: The state of the fishery

They say that history may not always repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Low flows and warm water concerns are back again this year in the lower-elevation parts of the valley.  

The majority of the Roaring Fork Valley is still (and will remain) on the menu for anglers, when you consider the myriad small streams, creeks, lakes, reservoirs and the ever-cold tailwater. The Fryingpan will always run 40 degrees under the dam, and the upper reaches of the Crystal and Roaring Fork will remain cold all summer as well. For the wade angler, most of what you enjoy fishing will continue to fish well all summer long.

The elephant in the room is concerning temperatures, flows and oxygen content downvalley on the Colorado River and increasingly on the lower Roaring Fork. Keep in mind that this could all change with boosted Fryingpan flows and cool monsoonal trends if we get lucky. That being said, the writing is already on the wall considering the below-average river volumes.

Most of you already know the Colorado River is under 24-hour voluntary closure all the way downstream to Rifle, due to warm and deoxygenated water.

CPW-22-Colorado-Closure

If the lower Roaring Fork gets too hot, local fly shops and the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance have agreed to reel it up and cease fishing in the afternoons on the lower river. This may become an official afternoon-only voluntary closure from Colorado Parks and Wildlife soon, but most local guides are already being proactive to protect this precious resource.

We can all do our part by using a stream thermometer, focusing on higher-up and colder fisheries, and making sure the fish we catch have regained their equilibrium before they swim away.

Misinformation abounds during these voluntary closures — many people believe you can’t fish anywhere, which is certainly not the case. The moral of the story is when in doubt, you should head up in elevation, pay attention to temperatures, don’t play fish to exhaustion and enjoy your time on the water while putting the fish first.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

Sports briefs: Polo match, Tri for the Sun on tap this weekend

Devereux Polo Cup match

The Devereux Polo Cup, pitting the Hotel Colorado/Stout Ranch versus the UC Ranch Properties teams, takes place beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Stout Ranch in New Castle.

Polo involves players on horseback competing to score goals using a mallet on a 300-by-160-yard grass field.

The event is hosted by the Roaring Fork Polo Club. Spectators can watch for free, including food and drinks. More information at stoutranch.com/polo.

Tri for the Sun triathlon

The Carbondale Recreation Department and Sunlight Mountain Resort team up for the Tri for the Sun “sprint” triathlon swimming, biking and trail running race on Saturday.

The race features a half-mile swim at the Carbondale Pool, a 16-mile road/gravel bike ride from Carbondale to Sunlight Mountain via Dry Park Road and a 5K trail run on the mountain.

Registration and details at runsignup.com/Race/Info/CO/Carbondale/TrifortheSun%5D.

Maggie’s Mountain Run 5K and 10K

The first Maggie’s Mountain Run 10K, 5K and 1 mile run/hike is scheduled for Saturday, July 9, on the privately owned Argonaut Farm Ranch, 7437 County Road 117 (up 4 Mile Roadtoward Sunlight Mountain). 

The race begins at Argonaut Farm Ranch as follows: 10K, 7:30 a.m.; 5K, 8:30 a.m.; and Maggie Mile Run/Hike, 9 a.m.

Registration is open at www.miraclesfrommaggie.org.

Proceeds from the event are to go to the fight against childhood cancer, including a local family currently battling pediatric leukemia. “Manuela Perez, 7, has just begun her fight and your entry fee will help cover travel cost, equipment and treatments,” a news release states.

Legacy of Grizzly Creek Fire, 2021 rains reshape recreation in Glenwood Canyon

A pair of hikers head up the Grizzly Creek Trail on a sunny and warm morning on the trail in Glenwood Canyon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Canyon recreation is back in (mostly) full swing after last summer’s mudslides, with the canyon bike path and boat put-ins open, Grizzly Creek trail hikeable (to a point) and the Hanging Lake trail reopening for fee-based access later this month.

But visitors should anticipate a bit different of an experience just two years removed from the devastating Grizzly Creek Fire and the record rains that resulted in massive mud and debris flows in late July and August 2021.

Just like last year, any threat of heavy rain over the burn scar will shut things down and people will be asked to evacuate for safety’s sake, explained those who have been working to get the picturesque canyon ready for people to enjoy again.

The Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, U.S. Forest Service and others will be on standby whenever the National Weather Service issues a flash flood watch or warning.

A watch will mean the rest areas, bike path and other trails will be cleared of people and closed temporarily. A warning will trigger a closure of Interstate 70 where it passes through the canyon.

But CDOT, the city of Glenwood Springs, trails groups and Forest Service crews have been busy getting the canyon as ready as it can be for the summer season.

Recently, professional trail crews with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers wrapped up work to restore the lower 2 miles of the Grizzly Creek Trail, which was heavily damaged by last year’s flooding.

“We had two areas of damage from the mudslides and the spring runoff, at right around 2 miles in and just past there,” said Jacob Baker, director of communications and strategic partnerships for RFOV.

Two dead trees sit precariously above the Grizzly Creek Trail.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

“At one spot, the material that came down over the trail was about two times my height,” he said. “And, there will probably be more material coming down those chutes again this summer.”

The work involved removing large trees and rocks from parts of the trail and rerouting about 135 feet of trail, Baker said.

Trail crews work to remove a fallen tree along the Grizzly Creek Trail in Glenwood Canyon this spring. The trail is open, but only to the 2-mile point.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers/Courtesy photo

Trail damage above the 2-mile point is much more extensive, and the risk of additional slides and rockfall more significant, he said. For that reason, the trail is only accessible to that 2-mile point.

Grizzly Creek Trail will remain closed beyond the 2-mile point indefinitely, due to remaining debris and dangerous conditions from last summer’s flooding across the 2020 burn scar.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers/Courtesy photo

Baker said they discovered some “geologically interesting things” in the process of assessing what needed to be done, including new creek channels and even underground springs coming up in new places.

“What I’ve been telling people is that, as the landscape changes our priorities have to change with that,” Baker said. “We do hope to have some good rains this summer, but if we see the rains like we did last year it’s almost certainly going to cause further changes to Grizzly, and potentially No Name (Jess Weaver Trail) and Hanging Lake.”

Access to Hanging Lake for those who make reservations and pay the fee to hike the trail starting June 25 will also have a different, more primitive hiking experience.

Crews have been able to repair and replace the bridges that washed out, but there are still spots where the trail passes over some of the debris flows that washed through Deadhorse Creek and over the trail.

The three-year, more than $3 million plan by the Forest Service, working with the National Forest Foundation, is to rebuild the trail in those areas in a way to avoid damage from future flood events.

Baker said a lot of people have been asking about volunteer opportunities with the trail restoration work. But, because that work is rather technical, it’s mostly being handled by professional trail crews, he said.

“We do have some different kinds of restoration work happening at the rest areas where we can put people to work,” he said.

Grizzly Creek Trail restoration work

Days worked: 4.5

Hours worked:130

Trail maintained: 2 miles

Corridor maintained/cleared: 2 miles

Trees cleared: 17

Trail rerouted: 130.5 feet

The debris flows also significantly impacted the Colorado River at the bottom of Glenwood Canyon, which includes several popular whitewater runs for rafters and kayakers.

But recent river restoration work that was part of CDOT’s extensive I-70 repair project has returned those stretches of river pretty much back to normal, said Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures in Glenwood Springs, one of the many local rafting outfitters.

“There are a few changes to the river that our guides have been made aware of,” he said. “But with the channel work, the current flows are very much back on track to where they were pre-mudslides.”

The spring runoff also worked to remove some of the strainers and other debris near the Shoshone rapids, he said.

While professional guides are aware of some of the technical nuances of navigating the river that have changed, Drake advised that private boaters take some time to scout the river first before setting out.

“It’s always a good idea to go out along the bike path and take a look to see what might be different, so you’re prepared,” he said.

With the bike path now fully open from Glenwood Springs on the west to the Dotsero trailhead on the east, Drake said Blue Sky’s bike rentals have also been popular as summer nears.

“People are glad to have the canyon views and the Colorado River back,” he said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Glenwood Canyon bike path now fully open for the season

The Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path is now fully open from Glenwood Springs to the eastern trailhead near Dotsero, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced recently.

Much of the path had been closed due to damage caused by last summer’s mud and debris flows in the canyon, which also closed Interstate 70 for nearly three weeks in late July and August 2021.

Users should be aware that recreation facilities in Glenwood Canyon, including rest areas, boat ramps and the 12-mile-long paved path, will be closed during heavy rain events when a flash flood watch is issued. I-70 is also subject to intermittent closures whenever there is a flash flood warning issued by the National Weather Service, CDOT advises.

On the fly column: Embrace your inner scientist

Photo of a local rainbow trout.
Courtesy of Jerry Pazar

If you boil it down, most scientific studies are a series of continual failures until they aren’t. The same applies to our fishing pursuits, and we need to use a process of elimination on the water if we are in the struggle box. We as anglers need to rely on the clues that the river, fish and insects are sending us and use that information to our advantage.

Most anglers have the occasional day where they can’t miss. Yet, when you go back to the scene of the crime, nothing is the same. The hatch is different, the fish are behaving erratically, and that fly they wouldn’t leave alone yesterday is being ignored with extreme prejudice today. We anglers are left to wonder why.

There may not be an answer, but our process of investigation should give us the clues we need. Did the flow of the river increase or decrease? Is today pre-frontal or extremely sunny while yesterday was cloudy? Did someone fish the pool before you today and put the fish “off their tea”? Most of the answers to these questions are better found using your powers of observation versus frothing the water with 10 different fly patterns.

My advice is to sit down, near the water, and just watch. Is anything hatching? How are the fish reacting, if they are at all? Are the fish glued to the bottom and sulking, or sharking around eating everything in sight with reckless abandon?

Clues and fixes abound out there. If you’re seeing the backs of the fish and not the noses, try sinking an emerger just under the surface. If you’re not hooking fish in the deep runs, try making your rig a bit longer and heavier. Are they looking at your dry fly and then refusing it? Try downsizing your tippet, and if that doesn’t do it, downsize the fly. Developing a process of elimination will add confidence to your day on the water, so embrace your inner scientist.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

On the Fly column: Tilt the odds in your favor

Guide Cameron Scott and a client fish the high water on the Roaring Fork River.
Courtesy of Taylor Creek Fly Shops

Be not afraid out there, fellow fly-fishers.

Rising rivers offer unique challenges to the angler as well as the trout, but you can take advantage of the conditions and turn them to your favor. There will be days you have to choose your battles out there, but these conditions can make the fish even more predictable when it comes to where they hang out and what they choose to eat. Just because the water is swift and increasingly dirty doesn’t mean that the fish will be on hunger strike until July. While most anglers are focused on the Fryingpan and other tail waters during runoff, you can enjoy vast swaths of the Roaring Fork in relative solitude in the coming month.

When the water is fast and visibility becomes an issue, this pushes most fish right to the edges of the river. Now you should be casting into the spots you would normally be standing in. This is the time for heavier tippets and bigger, eye-catching attractor dry flies, nymphs and streamers, too. It’s all about the caddis and stoneflies right now, which usually take their cues to hatch from the ever-increasing volume of water and brighter, hotter sun.

Having more than one rod rigged and ready to fish will increase your catch rate also. The fish can switch back and forth between subsurface and top water feeding at a moment’s notice, and having one rod rigged with dries and another with nymphs (or streamers) will save you rigging time and make you a more effective angler. This is ultimately a more economical way to change back and forth without wasting big chunks of expensive fluorocarbon tippets or chopping your brand new tapered leader in half.

Determining where the fish are in the river can be a challenge in itself, but during runoff the predictability factor tilts in your favor. Fish want to relax in “softer” water while being on the edges of the current, which enables them to lean out or come up to snatch a tasty morsel once in a while before it whizzes by. Just give them what they want, where they want it, and you will reap the benefits through high water season.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

Some Aspen-area campgrounds ready to roll, more to open for Memorial Day

Lake Havasu, Arizona, resident Lisa Goetz enjoys a book beside a small enclosed fire at Difficult Campground outside of Aspen on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Several campgrounds are already open in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, even if campers weren’t prepared to enjoy the great outdoors in a blizzard last weekend.

Additional campgrounds on Independence Pass will open for Memorial Day Weekend while the three “silver” campgrounds on Maroon Creek Road also debut for the season Saturday.

The Forest Service is advising people to make reservations when they can to assure they are happy campers.

“We expect another busy summer on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and across the White River National Forest,” said David Boyd, public information officer for the White River supervisor’s office. “Like past years, people will need to plan ahead and have a couple of options in mind in case the campground or trailhead they are hoping to use is full.”

The campgrounds that are currently open include Difficult, the 47-site campground popular because it is located close to Aspen and also at the gateway to Independence Pass. The fee for a site is $30.

The always-popular Chapman Campground nearly 30 miles east of Basalt in the Fryingpan Valley also opened on May 13, according to the Forest Service. Chapman has 78 spaces and a fee of $27.

Dearhamer Campground on the east end of Ruedi Reservoir opened May 13 along with the Little Mattie, Little Maud and Mollie B campgrounds closer to the public boat launch at Ruedi. Dearhamer and Little Mattie sites run $26 per night this season, while Little Maud and Mollie B run $29.

The 39 sites at the Redstone Campground opened May 13, with the fee at $34 at the Mechau Loop and $36 for the Allgeier and Osgood loops.

Bogan Flats, close to Marble, opened on May 13 with a fee of $29.

Sites at all those campgrounds can be reserved at Recreation.gov, which charges a processing fee.

With the opening of Highway 82 over Independence Pass expected later this week, the Forest Service is prepared to open Lincoln Gulch, Lost Man and Weller campgrounds in the near future. Exact dates weren’t immediately available and may depend on snow cover. All of those campgrounds are first-come, first-served and reservations are not available. The fee for all is $25.

Silver Bell, Silver Bar and Silver Queen on Maroon Creek Road will open Friday, according to the Forest Service. Reservations are taken. The fee is $15 plus a $5 “amenity fee” for visiting the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

Three area campgrounds will open at a time to be determined. They are Portal at Grizzly Reservoir, Avalanche in the Crystal River Valley and Elk Wallow in the north fork of the Fryingpan. All are first-come, first-served. The fee is $17 at Elk Wallow and a donation request at Avalanche and Portal. Elk Wallow and Portal don’t have water available.

Silver Queen ready to spin

The Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain will be open Saturday through Monday to kick off the summer season.

The gondola hours for Memorial Day Weekend are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last ride down is 4:30 p.m. The gondola will continue to operate on weekends only until June 17, when daily operations begin.

The daily operations launch June 21 at Snowmass, with the Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp chairlift running daily.

scondon@aspentimes.com

On the Fly: We’ll never be as good as our equipment

Photo of skiing and fishing legend Andy Mill courtesy of Silver Kings TV

Ski legend Andy Mill popped in the shop recently, and something he said really stuck with us: “Nowadays, we’ll never be as good as our equipment.”

Andy literally wrote the book on tarpon fishing (“A Passion for Tarpon,” Wild River Press), and this is so true, especially now. He’s a fixture on the Keys tournament circuit as well as the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork, and is one of the most diverse anglers we have the pleasure of knowing here.

Fresh and saltwater fly gear is simply spectacular these days, whether we’re talking reels, rods, fly lines, waders, you name it. Rod technology is way ahead of what used to be available, and even introductory rods have excellent action compared to yesteryear’s offerings. (Bamboo trout rods are still around and preferred by many who grew up with them, though.) The industry has come up with fly lines that float like a cork, sink like a stone, and everything in between. Modern reels have silky-smooth drags and can take much more abuse, and breathable waders are comfortable and fit you like a glove compared to older versions. Waders designed by and made for women are one of the best breakthroughs lately, as many women are (and always have been) embracing this sport.

Fly design has become an industry of its own, although many anglers still fish classic patterns that have been available for decades. Many of the flies these days are ultra-realistic, but many anglers still prefer the impressionistic ones. Many local guides are now signature fresh and salt fly tyers for brands like Umpqua, Solitude and Montana Fly Co. Leader and tippet is now much more consistent and diverse, although many old-school anglers still build out their own.

Despite the latest and greatest gear, you still need to practice, learn and listen to become the best angler you can be. We all know that fisherman decked out with all the latest toys but still doesn’t know what fly to tie on, as well as the trout bum with a 20-year-old rod and reel that plucks fish out of every little spot they cast to. New technology makes our lives easier, but becoming an accomplished angler still takes patience and practice, just like in the old days. Some things will never change, thank goodness.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

On the Fly: The caddis are coming

The lower Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers are starting to make the switch from blue-winged olives to caddis hatches. The first few days of the hatch are always interesting; it takes the fish a minute to remember what the heck caddis are. They are starting to recall now, and are looking up and eating adults after weeks of snacking on caddis larvae.

The caddis hatch is on at local rivers, which means for stellar fishing conditions.
Courtesy of Taylor Creek Fly Shops

Last week’s refusals on big dry flies will turn in to this week’s ferocious takedowns. Running double dries is a deadly combination, and if you have trouble with one fish on the end of your line, try fighting two at once! The Roaring Fork is absolutely crawling with caddis larvae, and it’s time for caddis to start their annual rituals of hatching, mating, laying eggs and dying. Sex and death, as John Geirach says.

There are a few techniques that are crucial to your fishing time, starting with having plenty of floatant. Your line, leader, tippet and fly must float well or you will be missing fish all day. Sunken dry flies usually don’t cut it with finicky trout, and caddis fishing requires high and dry presentations on your part. Imparting motion to your dry flies from the second they light upon the water until you go to recast is practically a must. Real caddis don’t just sit there and wait to get eaten, they are struggling to launch or at least make it to shore before trouble comes in the form of a hungry fish. Move them, skate them and “bump” them all the way through your drift.

Lastly, across and downstream casts make this much easier to do on your part. This technique has trickled into most of my dry fly fishing, whether it’s caddis, blue wings, pale morning duns, green drakes and even midges. Repositioning or twitching your flies is much easier when they’re downstream versus upstream. Be sure to get on the water on our upcoming hot and bright days, then get back to the water at dusk to catch the egg layer caddis frenzy. It’s time, are you ready?

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 TaylorCreek.com.