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Gunnison and Crested Butte Fly Fishing Report- May 16th, 2023

Reporter: Dan Jones

It’s runoff season in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. Freestone rivers are running fast, many streams are off-color, and it’s time to choose wisely when deciding when and where to fish.

Gunnison River Fishing Report

The Gunnison River is the beneficiary of the Taylor River and the East River, which meet in Almont, Colorado. The Taylor, which is a dam-released river below Taylor Reservoir, holds (somewhat) steady stream flows, even during runoff. The East River, however, is a freestone river, and its flows are purely dependent on natural snow melt. The Gunnison has other tributaries near town, such as Ohio Creek and Tomichi Creek, contributing to this bountiful watershed. 

The Gunnison has been bouncing between 1800 and 2500 for about a week, with its dips coming in the late evenings and during prolonged stretches of cooler temperatures. Flows over 1,800 with off-color water make the Gunnison River challenging to fish. 

When the water is high and dirty, bugs are tricky for fish to spot, making it difficult to present your fly to a trout. Therefore, we recommend oversizing nymph choices by a size or two and targeting the slowest-moving water near banks or eddies for the best chances. 

Darker-colored nymphs (black and brown) and ones with brighter attractor colors often perform better in off-color water because it provides some contrast and flash for the fish to see. 

Dead-drifting black streamers with delicate twitches and slow retrieves can also be productive when the color of the water is less transparent and moving swiftly. 

Heading into June, we expect day and night air temps to rise, contributing to an even more ferocious runoff. Flows north of 3,000 cfs (or more) will soon be expected on the Gunnison River. The river looks very different than it did this time last year. If you’re not familiar with the Gunnison at these levels, don’t plan to float.

Taylor River Fishing Report

Due to the Taylor being a dam-released river below Taylor Reservoir, its flows are more consistent the further up the river you go until you reach the dam. As you can see in the Taylor at Almont streamflow graph, flows are increasing and are more variable due to tributaries such as Spring Creek, Lottis Creek, and Cold Spring between Almont and the dam.

At the C&R, fishing has been steady, as always. However, another flow increase is scheduled this week, which will once again change how fish behave. Midges, Mysis shrimp, and, recently, BWOs are all on the table for hungry trout. 

The C&R trout buffet has begun expanding its menu!

This tailwater fishery will contain more transparent water than the freestone rivers but will also be more hazardous to wade as flows skyrocket. We advise anglers to fish cautiously with a friend and choose softer water to wade in. 

Or, if in doubt, fish from the bank during the bulk of the runoff. 

When fly fishing the Taylor River, we recommend BWO, Hares Ear, Stonefly, and egg patterns in sizes 14, 16, and 18. Trailing a size 20 tailwater midge behind larger flies such as a black beauty, RS2, or zebra midge can also be productive to catch a weary trout.

Casts should be concise and aimed towards pocket water where fish likely hold.

It’s spawning season for rainbows. Keep an eye out for redds, don’t step on them, and leave spawning fish alone!

Gunnison County Fishing Report

The remainder of Gunnison County is also in full runoff mode, and fishing conditions vary from river to river and often from week to week. Before driving an hour+ to remote lower-elevation streams, call us at 970-349-1228 for the most updated beta on fishing conditions. 

The East River has been flowing above 1,200 for about a week, which is typically too high to effectively fly fish. It’s worth noting the East River is expected to continue becoming more violent for the next several weeks. Consequently, we recommend punting on any East River fly fishing until its flows come down.

In some of the smaller tributaries of the East River and the Taylor, anglers can find medium-dark water and favorable wade-able conditions. Throwing small caddis dries with a light dropper in soft water can be enough to initiate an explosive take by a hungry trout.

Stream flows on creeks south of Blue Mesa Reservoir are more mellow than in the higher elevations near Crested Butte. We advise seeking clear to medium-dark water for the best chances to catch fish. 

Large stonefly patterns such as size 8-10 Rubberlegs, 12-14 Copper Johns, 14-16 pheasant tails, eggs, and worms are now the best go-to flies. 

Have fun, stay safe, and thanks for reading.

Team Dragonfly