The fabled Roaring Fork River is home to some of the most prolific aquatic insect hatches and hardest fighting trout on the planet. It descends nearly seven thousand feet over the course of its 70 mile journey from its source high in the Sawatch mountain range to downtown Glenwood Springs where it gets swallowed by the Colorado River. The Roaring Fork is one of western Colorado’s premier trout fisheries and can be fished either on foot or by boat almost 365 days a year. If you have never taken a fly fishing trip down this legendary river, you are missing out on an unforgettable experience.
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Sections of the Roaring Fork
The upper Roaring Fork River runs from Aspen to the town of Basalt where it joins the Frying Pan River. This incredible fishery features dramatic scenery, plenty of hungry trout, and abundant insect life. The middle river, from Basalt down to the confluence with the Crystal River in Carbondale, winds and twists its way around islands and over rocky shelves, creating ample trout habitat. The water here is almost always cold and clear and it can be fished either from a raft or on foot. From its confluence with the Crystal River in Carbondale to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, the lower Roaring Fork flattens out and winds its way through open pastures, golf courses, and neighborhoods. Here, the river bustles with drift boats and fishing rafts year round. The bugs are plentiful and the fish are big. The lower Roaring Fork river is as rewarding as it is challenging, whether you are a brand new angler or a seasoned fly rodder.
Seasons of the Roaring Fork
The Roaring Fork River fishes well year round, and each season appeals to different types of fly fishermen, but most anglers agree that the months of March and July offer up the best fishing of the year. The low, clear flows of late winter and early spring combined with the first mayfly hatches of the year give float fishermen a chance to catch the giants that hide out on the bottom of the river throughout most of the year.
Like many of the big freestone rivers in Colorado, the Roaring Fork undergoes a rapid transformation during the spring high water season. River flows in Glenwood Springs can rise as high as 13,000 CFS on a big snow year and the water can stay muddy for weeks. Once the high flows subside and the water regains its clarity, bugs begin to hatch and fly fishermen return to the river’s edge. Late June and early July usually mark the beginning of the Fork’s fly fishing season and this is when the epic Green Drake hatch starts. Both float fishermen and wade fishermen can participate in the Green Drake hatch, but because much of the Roaring Fork flows over private property, fishing access is limited for walk-in anglers.
As summer progresses, flows drop significantly and water temperatures on the lower stretches of the river rise. August and even early September can bring difficult fishing down low, forcing anglers to share the limited access on the upper and middle sections of the river. It is always a good idea to carry a thermometer while you fish and to keep your boat, feet, and flies out of water warmer than about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
As autumn approaches, cool nights and shorter days bring back the phenomenal fishing that the Roaring Fork is known for. Grasshoppers, tricos, blue winged olives, and sculpins are all on the menu this time of year, and fishermen of all abilities can do well either from a boat or on foot. This is the time of year to start looking out for redds and spawning brown trout. Make sure not to walk on or fish over brown trout spawning beds and to pay close attention to the seasonal fishing closures along the river.
Seasonal fishing closures at the confluences of both Threemile Creek and Fourmile Creek are in effect from March 15 to May 15 and from October 1 to November 30. Make sure to keep your hooks out of the water for the 50 yards upstream and 50 yards downstream of these confluences. During the spring and fall, you are floating over huge populations of spawning trout in these areas.
The green drake mayfly hatch on the Roaring Fork is an event that brings serious dry fly fishermen from all over the world to its banks and boat ramps. These massive mayflies crawl along the riverbed to calm water on the edge of the river to begin their transformation into adulthood. Adult green drakes become vulnerable to feeding trout while they are hatching and while they lay their eggs, giving dry fly fishermen plenty of opportunities to fool a big trout on the dry. The hatch begins on the lower river and quickly makes its way to the upper stretches within a few days, meaning that if you want the full green drake experience, you have to keep a close eye on the water and show up right on time.