Monday, March 18, 2013

Floats of the Roaring Fork River

The Roaring Fork River has bugs...lots of bugs.  And fish.  This is good news!  Well, this probably isn’t news to those of you who fish here often.  Several varieties of stoneflies, mayflies, midges and caddis are found on the Roaring Fork. This equates to plenty of food for eager trout. Or is it lots of trout for eager anglers? 

The Roaring Fork encompasses over seventy miles of river flowing from south to north eventually dumping into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs. The Fryingpan River spills cold water into the Roaring Fork at Basalt, revitalizing the river by keeping it cold during the summer months. I highly encourage all of you reading this article to experience this scenic river by boat. Floating is the best way, in my opinion, to access this largely private river.  Out of the 70 total miles of river, there are about 50 miles that are floatable by drift boat or raft. Depending on your fishing ability and your guide’s plans, there are a multitude of put-ins and take-outs on the river.  Always let your guide choose the section of river to float. Most likely, there is a method behind their madness.

The nice thing about floating the river is that it gives you access to fish private water that is otherwise unavailable to wading anglers.  The state of Colorado decided way back when that the property owner owns the river bottom but not the river itself, meaning that you’re free to float the river but cannot get out of the boat, drop your anchor, or otherwise touch the river bottom.  Much of the Roaring Fork is private. So, it’s good to know someone with a boat or to hire a guide.  In all seriousness though, floating is in my opinion the way to go when fishing the Roaring Fork.

A wealth of insect hatches occurs on the many various sections of the Roaring Fork depending on the time of year and dependant on current water levels.  You cannot set your watch to the hatches of the Roaring Fork like you can on the Fryingpan.  The Fryingpan is reliable like this because it is a tailwater fishery where the water temperature does not change. The Fork on the other hand, is somewhat more of a crap shoot.  There are general hatch timeframes for sure, but they are just that, general.  I can tell you that from July through the end of September, you or your guide will find plenty of bugs and fish that like to eat them. Last year, there were more golden stoneflies hatching than I have ever seen before and the hatch seemingly lasted for months. I didn't get the memo that that was going to happen, but it was great nonetheless! The Fork is always full of surprises and you never know what is going to happen until you get here. The best time to go float fishing is when you get here.

Jaffe Park to Basalt:

Jaffe Park is a put in down river from Aspen near a public park in Woody Creek. This is a raft only area, although I have done this stretch in a dory my first year as a guide. I was eighteen and it wasn't my boat. It was Ry Neilly’s.  We made it down in one piece and it was exciting to say the least. I think Will Sands was mildly impressed that his two newly hired guides were that stupid. This ten or so mile float to Basalt is definitely thrilling. You get to run Tooth Ache Rapids, a technical rapid between slabs of bedrock. There is a great deal of maneuvering between some of the tighter rapids and runs. This stretch is almost entirely private water. There are lots of trout in pockets behind rocks, waiting to be picked out with a decent drift.  You cannot really stop and re-rig just anywhere so I would classify this float as an expert only stretch. This is my opinion, not the rule. It will be to your advantage to have had a great deal of experience fishing from a boat. This is simply due to the quick speed of the river in a fairly tight canyon.  I like this stretch for the coveted "green drake super-hatch" and for all flavors of attractor dry fly fishing. Streamer fishing can be great on the upper Roaring Fork as well. Strip some streamers, watch some bobbers, dabble some dries, you might do it all in one day. This is the smallest section of river that we float with the casting being fast and furious. This piece of the Roaring Fork is only accessible when the river is flowing above 600 cfs, so it may not be an option to float come August. The prime time to float the Jaffe-Basalt stretch of river is during the month of July, though anytime after the river lowers and clears from runoff yields spectacular fishing!

Basalt to Carbondale

This section of the river has a ranch feel to it. The surrounding houses are much further away from the river for the most part. The Roaring Fork meanders through pasture land and it is mellower of a river than the Aspen down to Basalt area. This is because the river drops in elevation far less than from Aspen to Basalt. There are a few different places to put your boat in by Basalt. Fisherman's Park and Hooks Bridge are my two favorite places to drop in and launch. I would characterize this stretch as having long, shallow riffles and runs that hold a plethora of nice browns and bows. High water last year changed the river a great deal through here. Large gravel bars were moved hundreds of feet down the river and new side channels were blasted through existing banks. A significant section of the river above Carbondale was rerouted through a horse pasture in Tom Bailey's property. The river moved gravel for the better in my opinion. A flush of this magnitude helps clean out silt deposits that were accumulating for years. Below Basalt, the river provides the angler with perfect water for long drifts. Tip - When in doubt, leave your rig in there as long as there is no impending doom for your flies. Your fishing guide will appreciate it greatly if you can achieve a healthy, long drift without dispatching all of your flies in some precarious situation. Any time after runoff is great for the middle section of the Roaring Fork.  Fishable year round by raft, the middle section is great hopper-dropper water. It is just as easy to fish with an indicator; your guide's discretion is often key. The hatches depend on water levels and time of year, but good blue wing olive, pale morning dun, green drake, caddis, stonefly and midge hatches can be found from March through October. 

Carbondale to Glenwood Springs

The "bread and butter" section of the Roaring Fork is superb. Taylor Creek guides float this section more than any other section of river. There are a pile of trout and more biomass than any other section of the river with the addition of the Crystal River confluence below Carbondale. This is the easiest portion of the river to learn how to fish from a boat, yet is still challenging to the most seasoned angler. Green drakes hatch around the end of June but prove to be elusive at times depending on runoff.  There are lots of stoneflies of all sizes and varieties in the lower river. The mighty pale morning dun is rampant during July as they begin to move about. Blue wing olives dominate during both spring and fall. This fourteen mile stretch from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs is a full day float even in high water. Later in the fall, this section can be split into two seven mile sections which allow guides to spin circles and focus in on the deeper pits, pools and seams. This may be your best opportunity to catch a sucker or record whitefish. Both flannelmouth and red horse suckers inhabit the depths of the pits on the Roaring Fork. Trophy whitefish, including the current state record, reside in the lower Fork.  Guides love suckers and whitefish!  No matter which section of the Roaring Fork that you float, either privately or with a guide, you should have no problem having a fun float and relishing in the superb fishing.

Taylor Logsdon – Taylor Creek Guide
Reprinted from The Fly On the Wall, April 2012
Photo courtesy of Kirk Webb