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Fly-Fishing in Colorado

Publishers Marc Rochelson and Amy Campbell visited Five Gold Medal-Designated Rivers and Salida Last Summer

Marc and I share similar passions for fly fishing and have been trying to plan a Western fishing trip for years. As we both love fly fishing in the rivers and mountain streams of East Tennessee, we wanted to explore new locations and experience trophy fish-producing trout waters. When my newly retired brother and sister-in-law, John Campbell and Karin Papenhausen, moved to the town of Salida, we were thrilled to visit them and have a chance to explore the area and try out our skills on Colorado waters. We set aside 19 days to try several of the state's famed waters.

Colorado does a magnificent job of maintaining their trout stocks, both wild trout and hatchery-raised stocked trout, and has nearly 325 miles of Gold Medal streams, rivers, and lakes. Colorado Parks and Wildlife may designate a water as “Gold Medal” once it has demonstrated that the fishery consistently produces a trout standing stock of at least 60 pounds per acre and produces an average of at least 12 quality trout (14+ inches) per acre.

We began our journey with a few days stay in Carbondale, a three-to-four-hour drive from the Denver airport. Close to Carbondale, we first discovered Marble, Colorado and found small streams behind Beaver Lake for wild trout. I caught a beautiful rainbow around 12 inches. We were warned to be wary of bears in the area and kept a close eye on our surroundings. 

Marc explored the Roaring Fork River, which flows through Carbondale, and caught a few nice fish near our rental. There is a lovely, paved walking and biking trail that runs along the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale and goes all the way to Glenwood Springs. We were able to get some great walks in on this greenway and saw all sorts of native wildflowers, such as yew, hops, roses, and species we had never seen growing wild as Tennesseans. Though we were surprised at the lack of open areas to fish around Carbondale, river access is mostly private property. We saw lots of float trips that anglers found from area fly shops. 

The next day, we hired a guide from the Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. Their guides were great and took us to a Gold Medal section of the Frying Pan River.  We had a blast catching large brown and rainbow trout, 14-16 inches minimum, one after another. The following day, we went back to the same spot, this time without a guide, and had similar success. Marc caught a huge brown trout, easily 28 inches long that barely fit into the net. A guide who was working with another group came upstream to help get it into the net. He called it a “fish of a lifetime.” 

The next day, we left Carbondale to travel to Salida. This is a gorgeous, mountainous drive that passes through Aspen, over the Continental Divide through high-altitude passes like The Tennessee Pass at an elevation 10,424 ft. Along the way, we found several spots for short hikes to explore. The clear, cold streams within the San Isabel National Forest are home to wild brook trout, and Marc had fun catching several. We traveled down the pass and made our way to Salida passing snowcapped 14,000-foot peaks of the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Mountain Range. 

Salida, Colorado is a charming town that sits on the Arkansas River and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. It is the perfect retirement location for John and Karin, who are serious about their biking, paddling, and hiking with their two dogs. We walked everywhere we went and enjoyed the restaurants and walking paths that are situated right on the river. Salida is a town that revolves around the river, and we enjoyed watching children and adults rafting and surfing in the river while we were there. 

The next day we drove down Highway 50 passing Wellsville to an area near the Rincon Campground. Here we parked, and being mindful of scorpions and snakes, found a spot to go into the river. The river is big and wide in this area, and we fished different sections over a few days. It did not disappoint.  I mostly caught brown trout on dry flies, and Marc even caught a Tiger trout, which is a colorful hybrid of brown and brook trout. 

We finished that day by eating pizza on a deck overlooking the Arkansas River and sharing great memories with family. All and all, it was a great trip. We got some great fishing in, explored new rivers and trails, and were able to experience the lovely Colorado town of Salida.