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Vail Valley Anglers
Float Fly Fishing on the Eagle River with Vail Valley Anglers in Vail, CO

Eagle River

Overview

The Eagle River is a true year-round fishery and Vail Valley Anglers’ home trout stream. It grows in size as it tumbles northwest from near Tennessee Pass to its confluence with Gore Creek near the town of Vail. Here it turns west and flows through steep, rocky canyons, wide open pastures, and past several small mountain towns until it quietly collides with the Colorado River in the town of Dotsero. The Eagle’s rocky river bed and cold, clean water make the ideal habitat for a huge variety of aquatic insects and strong, wild trout alike.

Sections of the Eagle

We think of the Eagle River as having three distinct sections of water that fish totally different from each other. The upper river flows from Camp Hale to the town of Avon and is known for holding smaller trout and having generally low fishing pressure. If you are after scenery and solitude, then the upper Eagle is a great place to spend the day. The middle river runs from Avon to the town of Eagle. This stretch is perhaps the most popular of the three and it gives both float and wade fishermen excellent dry fly fishing all summer long. Public access on this stretch is hard to come by, but it is well marked. Be sure to pay close attention to signs and fences in order to avoid trespassing. The lower river runs from Eagle to the Colorado River confluence in Dotsero. Here the water temperature rises through the summer and conscientious fishermen leave fish alone until the fall. This stretch holds fewer fish than the rest of the river but hard-working anglers can still have good days occasionally.

Seasons of the Eagle

The Eagle is a river of many seasons, and fishing conditions change quickly. It fishes well twelve months a year, but most guides will agree that the month of July is its prime time. During this time anglers enjoy long days of productive dry fly fishing with numerous hatches occurring each day. The Eagle River can be fished either from the bank or from a raft when flows are high enough, but most experienced anglers prefer to use the raft because it allows them to fish the miles upon miles of water that are unreachable for the walk-in angler. As river flows slip below 300 cubic feet per second, float fishing becomes impossible and opportunities for wade fishermen become more widespread.

While dry fly fishermen can still do well during late summer and early fall on the Eagle, this is a time when subsurface techniques begin to work best. When the water is low and warm during the heat of August, anglers stay away from the lower river and focus most of their attention on the water upstream from the town of Edwards. The water does not stay warm for long, and usually by early September fly fishermen are back down on the lower river chasing big fish with streamers for the rest of the fall fishing season.

Once winter sets in, much of the Eagle river freezes, making fly fishing opportunities more scarce. With a little exploring and some local knowledge, these opportunities can be exploited throughout the winter months to produce some truly incredible days on the water. This time of year, nymphing with bead headed attractors and tiny midge patterns is the go-to method for most anglers, but fish will still eat streamers and dry flies on a limited basis. Many fishermen report catching their biggest fish on the Eagle during the coldest months of the year.

Springtime is the Eagle River’s best kept secret, and is the time of year that local fly fishermen cherish. Rising water temperatures, increased insect activity, and limited angling competition make for some of the best days of the year. As flows come up, float fishing becomes possible once again and streamer fishermen can find some of the most aggressive fish of the year. Mid May usually marks the beginning of runoff here on the Eagle and, depending on snowpack, there are usually a couple weeks of muddy water and difficult fishing. However, with the right flies, enough weight, and a little patience, good days are still possible during the runoff season.

The Eagle River can deliver unforgettable fishing no matter what time of year you visit, and it rarely disappoints, whether you are looking to hook your first trout on the fly or chasing a wild trophy trout.

Best Hatches

The Eagle’s rich waters are home to aquatic insects of all kinds. Stoneflies, mayflies, and midges all thrive here, but caddisflies are the main attraction for most fish and fishermen. If you are a dry fly fisherman, there is no better experience than a day of dead drifting and skating floating caddis in front of the thousands of hungry fish on the Eagle River. This epic hatch usually peaks in early July and it draws hordes of experienced anglers to the river’s edge, so if you are looking to take full advantage of it, it is a good idea to fish from a raft.

If you miss the early summer caddis hatch, you can still get into some seriously fun fly fishing throughout the rest of the summer with daily explosions of yellow sallies and pale morning duns. Later on into the fall, blue winged olives dominate the river’s airspace and slowly give way to the wintertime midges.

Before fishing the Eagle River, make sure to stop by the fly shop in Edwards to chat with the experts behind the counter and pick up the right flies for the day you are fishing.