January is just about over and here at Vail Valley Anglers we’re pretty excited about that because it means some of the best of Vail, Colorado’s winter fly fishing is just around the corner. The snow is piling up, which means we’re looking at good water levels for this summer. In the meantime, the days are starting to get a little longer and temperarures will moderate. Usually, by mid-February we start seeing the ice begin to break up on the Eagle which opens a lot more water for local and visiting anglers. Additionally, we’ll start seeing more regular and intenste midge hatches, the first of the year’s BWO’s, golden stonefly nymphs on the move and rainbows that eat more aggressively before the spring spawn.
All of this adds up to one of our favorite times to be on the water. We saw a glimpe of what is to come in the way of outstanding winter fly fishing on Tuesday with a large group trip on the Eagle that did very well. Half day wades are still the trip of choice on the Eagle and Gore Creek while full day wades and floats are now a pretty good option on the Roaring Fork and lower Colorado River. Here is quick run down of local winter fly fishing conditions:
The Eagle is coming to life in recent days. Nymphing deep holes and runs is still necessary. The fish are concentrated in this type of water so finding them should not be a problem. Black and olive midges, smaller goldenstonefly nymphs along with attractors like princes and copper johns should do the trick. Best times are noon to four pm. Gypsum and Avon are two prime areas to target and we’re looking forward to more water opening up to give anglers more choices on where to go.
If you are willing to wade through more snow than water, Gore Creek is fishing fairly well from Lionshead down past Donovan Park. Hop from hole to hole and look for deep water. Ice is not a problem in this stretch. Micro-eggs, red and black midges, and various WD-40 and RS-2 type emergers will get eaten on a dead drifted presentation. 6X Fluorocarbon tippet helps achieve a good sink rate and stealthy drift. Rainbows and cutthroats have been eating well lately but browns and brookies are also in the mix. Try using the small 1/2 inch Thingamabobers to avoid spooking fish in low, clear water.
Head west to Glenwood Springs and south to Carbondale for some of this winter’s hottest fly fishing. The Fork stays open all winter and supports a huge population of large browns, rainbows and whitefish. The rainbows are especially active this time of year. Late morning until dark has been good. Look for a big hole where you can spend some time. You won’t need to move around once you find the fish. Lots of weight with two fly rigs drifted in the deepest areas will produce consistently in the morning. Fish may slide into shallower riffles and tailouts when heavy midge hatches begin and continue through late afternoon. The big olive midges will appear soon and the trout will take notice. Rising trout are now a good possibility on warmer days. Stoneflies, princes, worms, eggs, and a host of midge patterns will all work well while nymphing and rising fish should not refuse a tiny parachute adams or renegade. Floating the Fork this time of year is one our guides’ favorite trips and opens up opportunities not available to wading anglers.
Late winter may be the best time of the year to experience a float trip down the Lower Colorado River. Winter fly fishing here is second to none. Nymphing is still the ticket for winning the numbers game but soon, dry flies and streamers will also put some big trout in the net. Fly selection for nymphing is not complicated- a big attractor like a stonefly or pink worm trailing a black, gray or olive midge or even a BWO emerger will get pounded when the fish are feeding. Wade fishermen can also find success nymphing deep runs close to the bank but the Lower Colorado between Glenwood Springs and Rifle is best attacked with a raft or drift boat. Afternoons are best but mornings following a warmer, cloudy night will also see active trout. The possibility for a giant is always there on this stretch of river.
The long wait is just about over and central Colorado’s late winter fly fishing is about to break loose. Call the Vail Valley Anglers shop or check out our fishing reports online for details. We are booking guided trips every day!
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer