Float Fishing the Eagle River Pre-Runoff
Spring float fishing on the Eagle River is almost here. Every year about the beginning of April the rivers in the Vail Valley start to rise and local fly fisherman begin floating the Eagle River prior to the runoff. This is a little known, almost secret, float fishing “window” on one of central Colorado’s most prolific trout streams. The Eagle River’s “Sweet Spot” can be found while floating from Edwards to Wolcott, through some of Colorado’s best private water. Some spring days on the Eagle, every fish in the river is either feeding on the surface or willing to chase a streamer and provide for some “spectacular float fishing opportunities” for wild brown and rainbow trout averaging 12 to 16 inches with a good chance at some much larger specimens.
The saying “Timing is everything” is never more important than during the springtime in the Rockies. Weather changes quickly and can often change fishing conditions for better or worse. When the weather warms the flows increase and water clarity decreases. Both factors can contribute to great fly fishing opportunities as the trout are just beginning to spread out and feed on the prolific midge and Blue Wing Olive hatches and drifting caddis larvae. Conversely, if the weather warms to quickly the water can shut down temporarily.
The Eagle River received its name from the Ute Indians, who thought the river had as many tributaries as the Eagle had tail feathers. This fact contributes to the fly fishing window for floating the Eagle during spring. Almost every night this time of year the temperature is below freezing, allowing for the water to clear during the day creating ideal fishing conditions. Ideal flows for floating the Eagle during this short time frame before run off shuts things down with high off color water are between 400 and 800 cfs.
This opportunity may last anywhere from ten days to almost two months depending on how warm it gets in April and May. When flows get above 800 cfs they will quickly continue to rise to well over two thousands cfs, shutting the fishing down for a month or so.
The Sweet Spot
The launch point for float fishing the Eagle River in the spring time is in Edwards, as the float stretches eight miles west through private land. Please remember to stay in your boat and respect landowners along the river as most all of the land is private on this float. The Eagle River above Edwards is to shallow to navigate and the river below Wolcott is most likely muddy from March till the end of May. Check in with the local fly shop, Vail Valley Anglers, located along the river in Edwards, just minutes from the boat launch for current conditions. Eagle River Shuttles, 970 376-8520 can help if you require a shuttle.
Conditions this time of year vary and the rowing is tricky, class 2 and three at this low level, consider taking a local float fishing guide who will be able to safely navigate, while you catch fish, even if you are a well-schooled river floater.
Spectacular Float Fishing
The Eagle River’s 2,000 plus trout per mile found in the “Sweet Spot” can keep the average fly fishing angler plenty busy using a variety of midge, BWO, Golden Stone, Caddis and egg imitations. Some of my favorite fly’s during the pre-runoff period; Biot Midge 18 to 22, Barr Emerger 18 to 20, Sparkle RS-2 18 to 22, Bead Head Prince 14 to 18, Electric Caddis Olive #14, Twenty Incher 10 to 12 and the Parachute Adams 18 to 22, Peacock Stimulator #16. During some years the river is still in prime shape for the thick Mother’s Day caddis hatch. This is also when streamers can put a lot of fish in the net. Olive Sculpin imitations are a good choice.
Float fisherman will be most successful using a nine foot four or five weight fly rod. Keep tippet sizes to several feet of 4, 5 or 6X, use nine feet of leader and change flies if you are not slaying fish because these trout are pretty consistent eaters. For streamers go with a heavier leader. If you are catching large browns and rainbows you are keyed into the hatch, small fish means you can change flies for better results.
This raft only float trip can be done in a half day when water is high but use a full day to enjoy the spectacular pre-runoff float fishing on the Eagle River!
Guide and Content Writer