Float fishing the Colorado River between Radium and Rancho Del Rio is one of the most scenic floats the river has to offer and the fly fishing is nothing short of excellent. In earlier blogs we discussed fishing the upper Colorado at Gore Canyon and Pumphouse and will be running a weekly series discussing the various float trips available to anglers on the upper and lower Colorado.
The Upper Colorado River offers float fisherman 5 miles between Radium and Rancho Del Rio with excellent opportunities to fly fish from a boat as the class I-III, intermediate water, is inviting for most angling boaters. Varying water types and a good trout population will keep anglers happy.
Radium BLM Recreation Area
This scenic river float begins at the BLM boat launch in Radium, a small railroad community along the Upper Colorado River known most for the hot springs found about a mile upstream from the improved boat launch. The BLM Radium Recreation Area provides camping ($6 per night), restrooms, pay phone, picnicking and river access. The cement boat ramps can fill up quickly with white water rafters, as this is one of the State of Colorado’s most popular white water runs, plan to arrive early. Access is easy via the Trough Road from either highway 9 south of Kremmling or via 131 north of Wolcott.
The Colorado River has just exited Gore Canyon about five miles back upstream, several miles downstream is Sheephorn Canyon and after passing by Radium the river is going to enter Red Gore Canyon about two miles downstream of the launch. Where we find uplifts and faster water along the Colorado River we tend find more trout. These great canyons have been created for thousands of years by deep fast moving water, great for trout habitat. The faster water can support more aquatic life then the slower sections of the Upper Colorado. The Radium to Rancho Del Rio float tends to flow with less turbidity than stretches down river and is slightly cooler in the summer both trends providing more prolific hatches in this section.
The slower meadow water from the boat launch down to the canyon is great for dry fly fishing from a boat, with several foam holes and eddies you may want to nymph just below the surface of the water. Please respect private property, as some of the river here is private-mostly on the north side- until the water exits Red Gore Canyon where both sides are public BLM land and you enter an area called the “benches” camping and picnic sites which are found river left.
These areas are great for a shore side lunch, short wading stop or overnight camping spot (first come, first serve). Bench number one is an island; others are marked by paths up to tree stands with picnic tables and level camping areas. From this area down to the takeout at Rancho Del Rio the water is slower and braided with easy rowing and excellent dry fly fishing.
You may use a raft or drift boat for float fishing the Colorado River but it will depend on the river level to determine your best selection. Fly fishing can be good at almost any flow if water is clear enough but after about 3,000 cubic feet per second you may want to consider another float. This section float fishes best anywhere around 800-1200 cfs and begins to get dicey for drift boats below 600 cfs. Above 3000cfs drift boats should be avoided and caution should be excersised even rowing a raft.
The Yarmony Rapid, located at the end of Red Gore Canyon can be dangerous at these high flows, hire an experienced local float fishing guide from to navigate this class 3 (4 at very high water) section of river unless you are an experienced boatman.
For anglers looking for a very long one day float or overnight options this is a great float. Several campsites are available along the river. This float can be combined with the Pumphouse upstream section or float anglers can continue down to State Bridge past Rancho Del Rio.
Fly Fishing Radium to Rancho
The Radium float through the canyon can have a pretty good salmonfly hatch in early June-although perhaps not quite as heavy as the Pumhouse section directly upstream. PMDs, yellow sallies, BWOs, Red Quills, various caddis and planty of terrestrials all hatch from spring through fall.
The upper part of this float has great dry fly banks, recirculating eddies and braided runs and riffles for nymphing. The lowest part of the canyon below Yarmony rapids has excellent habitat and the fishing is great. When you exit the canyon look for good nymphing and dry fly opportunities in the “Benches” areas. Streamers can work well throughout the float, especially on cloudy days from late summer through fall.
The water in the Colorado River naturally slows as you move away from the canyon and the river gives way to what becomes almost like three separate lakes. This stretch can provide the best dry fly float fishing opportunities on the Colorado River when conditions are right and features incredible hopper fishing and trico hatches from mid to late summer. But, when the wind blows this area can be the curse of a rower. Often the wind-as long as it is not too heavy- can be welcome in this section of river during the hopper season because large trout will rise when the wind blows knocking hoppers into the water.
Shuttles, Gas, Food
When you make it out of the “lake area” or “wind tunnel” the water picks up a little speed and has very good dry fly banks for about a mile until you reach the boat take out at the rafting community of Rancho Del Rio. Rancho has a boat launch, small convenience store, packaged goods, ice, shuttle service, parking and on some days, an outdoor barbeque restaurant. For more fishing reports or details on floating this stretch give the experts at Vail Valley Anglers a call or stop by our shop in Edwards.
Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer