Gunnison River: Gold Medal waters among the best in the nation

Mar 20, 2019

Colorado defines its “Gold Medal” waters as those conducive to landing big trout, and it’s a designation awarded to only 300 of the state’s 9,000 miles of trout-laden lakes and streams. The lower portion of the 80-mile Gunnison River is designated as Gold Medal water, offering a virtual trout-fishing paradise in the Rocky Mountains.

 Location/Geography

Flowing westward from the East River and Taylor River near the town of Gunnison in scenic western Colorado, the Gunnison River flows past the Blue Mesa Dam, the Morrow Point Reservoir and the Crystal Reservoir before joining the North Fork River, the Uncompahgre River and into the Dominguez Canyon near Grand Junction, where it terminates. At its widest, the Gunnison River (call it the “Gunny” if you want to blend in with locals) is 1,000 feet across and 50 feet deep. Until the early 1900s, the Black Canyon area of the river was not traversable, but a tunnel eventually allowed passage for travelers and anglers alike. The area was officially designated a national park in 1999, effectively preserving it for future generations.

Aquatic Species

Native

  • Colorado River Cutthroat trout

Non-Native

  • Rainbow trout
  • Brook trout
  • Brown trout
  • Mackinaw
  • Tiger trout
  • Kokanee salmon

Food By Season

Bug – Blue-winged olive
Season – early spring and late summer
Size – 14, 16, 18, 20

Bug – Midge
Season – All year
Size – 16-24

Bug – Nymph
Season – early spring
Size – 12, 14

Bug – Caddisfly larva
Season – early spring
Size – 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20

Bug – Western March Brown
Season – summer
Size – 12, 14

Fishing Techniques

Tip – Winter fishing on the Gunny is generally not advised for casual anglers.

Tip – Salmon spawn in late summer, making October an ideal time to find the bigger trout.

Tip – The best overall time to fish the Gunnison River is late June and early July, coinciding with the year’s first salmonfly hatch.

Tip – National Geographic topo map #245 is an excellent guide to the Gunnison.

Tip – From the East and Taylor rivers to the Highway 50 bridge, anglers are allowed artificial lures and bugs only. You can catch up to two 16-inch browns. Rainbows are catch and release only.

Gear

  • Use 5 or 6 weight line with a 9-foot streamer rod and a floating line
  • For leaders, use dry bugs
  • For nymphing, try 7.5 foot with 3 or 4x hooks
  • When streaming, try 0 to 2x hooks

Summary

With Gold Metal waters can come some tougher conditions, so it’s recommended to take a guide and float the river, especially if you’re traversing areas of the Black Canyon that can reach 1,000 cfs during spring and summer runoff. That said, the scenery along the Gunnison is among some of the best in the nation. The lower part of the river (near Delta, Co.), while rewarding, requires tremendous patience. Those with limited time might consider starting upstream, where you’ll be rewarded with a variety of trout types. Depending on which part of the river you want to fish, you might fly into Denver or Salt Lake City. If you’re fishing the confluence of the East and Taylor rivers, Denver is roughly 245 miles northeast. If you want to fish closer to Grand Junction, consider flying into Salt Lake and driving 285 miles south. Another option is Amtrak, which runs the daily California Zephyr train through the scenic Rockies, stopping in the quaint town of Grand Junction.

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