The Frying Pan River:
Located in the mountains of Colorado Ski Country exists an extraordinary fishery, the Fryingpan River. A scenic 45 minute drive from Aspen and well under two hours’ drive from Vail is this world-class, fishing destination. It should be on any serious angler’s list of travel locations to fish. The Fryingpan River holds high regard amongst Vail Valley Anglers’ guides. Guides routinely test their skills against the educated lunkers found in the Catch and Release waters of “the Pan.” Winter is a prime time to exploit the low angler numbers and decreased fishing pressure.
The dam creating Reudi Reservoir was constructed in 1968. Construction changed the face of the river that flows through the canyon. Today the water that is discharged through the dam is of a consistent temperature. It possesses a specific menu of insects, and harbors a unique, high-protein food source that is only available in a few Colorado locations.
What makes it special?
Mysis Relicta is a small freshwater shrimp that fishery managers introduced into reservoirs throughout the west during the 1950s-1970s as a food source for trout and Kokanee (land-locked salmon). The resulting devastation from introducing a non-native, such as the Mysis, was unpredicted. The Mysis fed heavily upon the same zooplankton in the reservoir that juvenile salmon and trout needed as a food source. However, the tailwater section of the river benefited from this misguided management.
Trout in the Fryingpan River feed heavily upon the Mysis shrimp that flush through the bottom of the dam. The top two miles flowing out of the reservoir hold the highest numbers of Mysis in the water column, where giant trout swell under the high protein diet and end up looking more like Olympic weightlifters than beaver pond bookies. There are numerous Mysis patterns to fish on the Fryingpan, even your own Mysis creation can prove successful. Often it takes a few attempts with different sizes or flies that have more white or are more translucent to find the effective pattern for the day. And don’t be surprised if that pattern changes throughout the day too.
VVA guides have an arsenal of Mysis patterns in their fly boxes to tempt the trout in the Pan. Booking a guided trip on the Fryingpan with Vail Valley Anglers stacks the odds in your favor for hooking the trophy of a lifetime. (We do not guide the upper river only the lower 7 miles under DPW permit.)
Time in the Toilet Bowl:
THE place on the Fryingpan everyone wants to fish at least once is the Toilet Bowl. The water immediately exiting the dam, which creates a very deep round basin before flowing on downstream into the Flats, the Bend Hole, Beatis Bridge and more. The Toilet Bowl is the location where sighting 10, 12 even 15 pound trout can cause any angler to get a little excited. Mysis are the key in this area. When immediately flushed through the dam the Mysis are somewhat translucent but with very noticeable eyes. As the Shrimp drift downstream the shrimp slowly die and take on a milky, white appearance. Adjusting your flies to this change as you move downstream will enhance your on-stream performance. The epoxy Mysis patterns, such as Sand’s Epoxy Shrimp, are effective even in the frothy fast water gushing from the bottom of the dam. As you move downstream white patterns like Charlie’s Mysis attract more action.
Anglers have more than the water near the dam to explore. The river is very well marked to designate the public and private areas. Closer to Basalt, starting around the Seven Castles area, and for the last four miles of river there is a slightly different face of the Pan to fish. The bottom has accumulated enough silt to change the variety of insects found in the river. Stoneflies begin to appear and make a significantly larger offering. Green Drakes emerge in large numbers during the summertime and the big nymphs have developed within the watershed for years.
Anywhere throughout the entire length of the Fryingpan River is a good place to fish a midge pattern all the way down to the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. A suspended trout feeding actively in the middle of the water column will take a midge emerger but only on a perfect drift. The Fryingpan trout have received their PHDs from Umpqua University. Fooling these educated fish is often not easily achieved and requires flies in the size 18-22 category. Custom patterns can also make a huge difference.
However, some little things mean a lot when it comes to fooling some of the largest fish in Colorado. Knowledgeable anglers will take advantage of low light conditions such as extremely overcast days or even before sun-up. Fishing in this type of situation allows you to bulk up or move up a size in tippet without being detected as easily. The low light conditions make spooking trout with strike indicators difficult as well. Anglers can also get away with more movement without scaring the trout in front of you. Vail Valley Angler’s guides can often be the key to a super successful adventure on the Fryingpan River providing a variety of flies, an extra set of eyes and a large net for insuring a triumphant result.
Winter becomes a time when anglers can take advantage of less pressure, a consistent food source and heavier terminal gear. The hazards to fishing in the winter are evident in the temperatures you have to negotiate. Often single-digit temperatures routinely keep anglers away. However, with a little planning you can experience pleasant fishing in some of the harshest conditions around. The results can be the fish of a lifetime. Layering under your waders with insulating apparel like the Sitka Kelvin Jacket or a Simms Fall Run Jacket can make all the difference. Packing a portable heater when monitoring the Toilet Bowl maintains a bit of dexterity in numb fingers. This is especially helpful after a release.
The Fryingpan River rings in the ears of serious anglers all over the world. The truly trophy size rainbows, brookies and browns can cause any angler to get a little giddy. Mysis and midges are a necessity for wintertime success. Vail Valley Anglers is the source for flies, clothing and guides for a winter bound trip of a lifetime.
(Feature Photo Credit: Spencer Watson, @wading_ntime, Fryingpan River)