Yesterday, when deciding where to fly fish with only a couple hours of sunlight left in the brilliant fall day, my attention was all of a sudden dedicated to the idea of fishing as many local bridges as possible in my short fishing window that day. The Vail Valley is home to the Eagle River, one of many tributaries of the Upper Colorado River system. The Eagle is across the street from my home in Avon, Colorado but today the plan was to car hop and fish under a few local bridges.
Why not target the local bridges? It may seem like an odd choice first choice. Ascetically they may not be the most scenic place to fish in colorful Colorado, but consider some of the advantages and you may also entertain the idea of fishing your own local overhead structures.
The Advantages of Bridge Fly Fishing
Bridges are obviously man-made structures, some with serious flow impacts to consider when trout fishing. In general, most bridges have created habitat via water erosion with consistently above average depth holes than the river is able to create in its natural state. This said, large trout find deep pools very inviting, especially when autumn, winter and early spring flows remain low.
Another benefit fish find from hanging out near bridges besides security via the river depth is the overhead cover they provide. Central Colorado is home to many avian predators like merganser ducks, blue herons, white pelicans, osprey and eagles, which all fly the local river air ways. Bridges attract trout because these birds tend to avoid man-made objects with cars going over them. Mink and river otter also tend to avoid areas with a chance of human contact.
Besides the trout’s natural predators, anglers present their biggest challenge in a semi-urban environment and fly fisherman tend to avoid bridges. Spin anglers do not like to travel far from the car and they have long ago learned that deep holes near bridges hold fish. We already know spin anglers have mixed results most often, so do not believe they have cleaned out all the fish.
Fly fishers, on the other hand, tend to migrate away from the road, and why not? “Most people would not walk this far,” they say, and sometimes that’s totally true, but more times than not the water under the bridge is ignored or snubbed for a more scenic beat downstream.
If you are a fly fisherman, bridges can tend to present challenges when casting, offering up another reason their bounty goes unclaimed. Today that will not be the case. Approaching my first bridge with caution, I carefully slide out on my stomach to see if any fish are feeding below.
Some spots may not require so stealthy an approach but rest assured that any fish smart enough to hang out near a bridge is wise to people looking down from overhead at them. It is my lucky day and there are several small 10 to 14 inch fish in the shallow tail of the pool with a few large browns spaced out in deeper water.
After crawling down a steep embankment, another barrier of entry to most bridge accesses, I cast my nymph rig slightly ahead of the browns in the rear of the pool. Three casts with my size 20 may fly nymph tied to a 6X tippet and three small fish to the net. Next, I notice several fish scatter when they took note of my casting slightly behind them. The water is so clear this time of year that a soft upstream presentation is a must.
In a few short minutes my casts are going over a torpedo like brown just under the bridge. Second cast and the water explodes with several pounds of yellow vigor, the trout ran upstream, then came back for the cement bridge abutment, minutes later he came over the lip of my net. Four fish and a couple missed strikes in 15 minutes, that’s hot fishing, but the trout are easily frightened and a bridge specialist knows to keep moving.
The next two bridges went about the same as the last one, several good fish at each crossroad. Next time you just have a little time for some fly fishing, find a little time to fish the bridges!
Come in to Vail Valley Anglers’ fly shop for the best locations to hop under a bridge a for a short but productive fly fishing session on the Eagle, Gore Creek or Roaring Fork River.
Bill Perry, Guide and Content Writer