Southwest Fly Fishing

By Ken Proper

The trail started at a Carbondale residential crosswalk, slipped between two houses, down a long wooden stairway, and we were on the Crystal River. A trash can, apparently ravaged by a bear the night before, sat askew next to a picnic table. I can throw a baseball farther than that walk.
   “There are no secrets at our shop,” Scott Spooner, a guide with Taylor Creek Fly Shops said. “This is a good spot and I wanted to show it to you first.”
   The opposite hillside was dotted with conifers, sagebrush, and the occasional cliff. Limestone-tinted, crystal-clear pocket water, nestled in heavy willows on our side, invited us to start angling.
   “Caddis, yellow stones, Copper Johns, and midges are excellent flies to fish here,” Spooner continued. “You’ll catch rainbows, browns, mountain whitefish, and some cutts released from the hatchery.”
   The Crystal is a major tributary to the Roaring Fork River and is best fished in late summer and fall. Many creeks enter this scenic little river and it is susceptible to turbidity during heavy rainstorms. The wading was easy and really we could have wet waded on this warm, late August day.
   After a while, we drove along the river up Colorado State Route 133 passing Redstone Campground, golden-tipped aspens, and many turnouts with river access. Spooner suggested the etiquette of fly fishers driving to the next spot if they see anglers. We pulled over several miles into the White River National Forest.
   He had a knack for keeping his caddisfly imitation, with a Pheasant Tail Nymph as a dropper, in the slick above and below midstream rocks. His cast, with a lift and a mend, seemed to stay stationary in the pocket water forever. Spooner treated his leader and line frequently with floatant and dusted his flies in desiccant to keep his presentation high and dry. Occasionally, he would pop his rig to the banks lined with hard rock cliffs and deeper water.
   “Size 4 to 6 Stimulators, ants, beetles, and hoppers work well in the fall,” he told me as we drove farther up the river, which makes a turn eastward toward Marble, Colorado, at Forest Road 314. We stopped at Bogan Flats Campground and hiked down a steep embankment. The freestone river is smaller there, but sports plenty of pocket water. Walking up- or downstream is a good bet to reach trout that haven’t had as many flies thrown at them. They aren’t big, but they’re fun to catch. 
   Spooner had to return to the shop in the afternoon and left me to explore. He recommended following the river to Marble, which is famous for, well, marble. Early prospectors were so intent on finding gold and silver, they ignored the most precious resource. Finally, 20 years later in 1893, John Osgood entered a block in the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and judges rated it as some of the world’s finest.
   Immediately, the State of Colorado ordered stone for the new capitol being constructed in Denver. Quarrying marble became a successful enterprise for the little town, which shipped 1.2 million cubic feet to Manhattan in 1913 for the early Equitable Building skyscraper. The prestigious Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., came next and, finally, the largest block ever cut, a hundred-ton slab, was transported for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. The yards of every house have beautiful white sculptures. The school was built with marble and the mill continues to ship stone around the world.
   The Crystal River will neither compete with the big name rivers in Colorado nor for the crowds in those places, but a day trip up this scenic valley is truly rewarding.tossed their way on a
winter day.

 

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