One of the classic half day float fishing stretches of the Colorado River lies between the small river community of Rancho Del Rio and the historic boat landing at State Bridge. Here the Colorado meanders and splits into various channels through steep canyon walls and open fields of sagebrush. These four miles offer fishermen a wide variety of long, slow runs and fast, deep seams and riffles.
Easy Access and Good Fishing
The access is mostly public land and can be reached either by boat or from walking trails along the Trough Road. Wild brown trout account for most of the fish here, but anglers commonly catch rainbows and whitefish as well. Fly fishermen occasionally connect with wild Colorado river cutthroat trout here, but they are not as common.
Many anglers often drive by Rancho Del Rio to float the more popular Pumphouse section of the Colorado but Rancho to State Bridge offers great fishing from April through November. Good hatches of Salmonflies, PMDs, BWOs and caddis keep the fish eating spring through fall. Streamers also work well here and the many braided riffles are great places to fish a nymph rig. Hopper fishing is at its best in August and September. While this is an ideal stretch for a half day float, anglers who take their time pulling over to thoroughly fish prime water can spend a full day here.
There are a few great stops that can be made along this float for both fishing and entertainment including Dinosaur Rapid, the confluence of the Piney River, and the outdoor amphitheater at State Bridge. This is one of the best sections of the Colorado River to fish for anglers who want to stay relatively close to home since it is only a short drive north from Vail and I-70.
The day starts at Rancho Del Rio. This is the place to make shuttle arrangements, get a fishing report, and pick up a last minute snack or six pack before your float trip. It’s also a good idea to give them a call ahead of time during monsoon season to check water clarity.
The first mile or so below Rancho Del Rio is comprised of slow moving water with large foam covered eddies, overhanging willow branches, and long, boiling seams. When the wind is blowing upstream float fishermen and guides will often row through this section quickly to get to the fast water, but if insects are out and fish are rising, this slow water can be the best part of the day. Long leaders and delicate presentations are required when fishing dries to these wary, slow-water fish.
The river characteristics change suddenly at the first riffle and so must anglers’ tactics. This is where the streamers, deep nymph rigs, and dry-dropper rigs usually come out. Most days fish are caught while fishing these rigs close to the banks in the seemingly endless, small, fast moving pockets. There are also a couple of larger class II rapids below here that can be easily scouted from the banks by unfamiliar boaters.
For those who have extra time, there are several great spots to stop the boat and wade fish. Numerous underwater rock shelves and channels give fishermen a chance to stretch their legs and work the water for fish that other float fishermen typically float right over. If you are willing to hike a little, you can stop at the confluence of the Piney River and experience a drastically different fly fishing experience. This small, clear stream holds browns, rainbows, cutthroat, and brook trout – all of which are eager to take a large hopper on a sunny afternoon. A short bushwhack up the Piney River can give anglers a shot at a western “Grand Slam”.
The day ends at the State Bridge landing opposite the river from the historic State Bridge amphitheater. This is a busy outdoor concert venue during summer weekends, and brings an eclectic group of music lovers to the water’s edge. Fly fishermen who are seeking solitude may want to steer clear of this section of river during these high traffic weekends, as the river is enjoyed by recreational boaters from all over.
As usual, the very best way to experience Rancho Del Rio to State Bridge is in the front of a drift boat with one of the pros from Vail Valley Anglers. Call or book online and make sure to request your favorite guide. Don’t for get our FreaknFish fall special on float trips goes through the end of the month.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer