October 3, 2016
Eagle County’s creeks and rivers offer
fly-fishing opportunities for all experience levels
photography & text By Dominique Taylor
The snow is gone, the water is flowing and the Colorado River, one of the many fishable rivers in Eagle County, just received a gold star rating for trout fishing. As summer rolls around, what better way to explore and enjoy the Vail Valley's great outdoors than on a fly-fishing trip? The beauty of fly fishing is that each trip can be specifically designed to cater to any skill level. Multiple fly-fishing outfitters in the valley offer a variety of float and wade trips, whether you are a beginner hoping to catch your first fish or an advanced fly fisherman looking for a new challenge. Fly fishing is an adventure open to all.
Cast your first line with Gore Creek Fly Fisherman
For beginners, Gore Creek Fly Fisherman, an Avon-based outfitter, recommends a half-day or full-day wade trip. So that's what Steven Kempf and Patti Noble of Philadelphia opted for; they had fly-fished once before.
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"Wading is generally more personalized, as your guide can work with you side-by-side, developing the basic skills," explains Will Sands, area manager for Gore Creek Fly Fisherman.
Setting the couple up for half-day wade trip with veteran guide Mike Geisler was a great way to ease them back into the sport. Chosing a relatively slow-moving section of the Eagle River in Avon, he sees wade trips as a great way to teach people how to read the water, as well as how and where to cast.
For Steven Noble, the clarity of the Eagle River, along with the slower-moving water, made learning the techniques of fly fishing, like casting and mending the line, more manageable. Wading through the river and being near the fish proved to be both grounding and calming for Patti Noble.
"I really liked that this was a slower activity and kind of learn at your own pace," she says, adding having a guide who is patient and good at pointing out where she can improve is also helpful.
Geisler's main goal for beginners, meanwhile, is for them to have an enjoyable time.
"Yes, we do want them to catch a fish, but I want them to learn about fishing and do it the right way,” he says. “So, hopefully, they'll want to do it again."
Mission accomplished. After landing seven trout between them, the Nobles are excited to do it again.
"It's exactly what I was looking for, being outside with an experienced guide and working the river,” Steven says. “Perfect."
Managing your line with Minturn Anglers
When planning a trip for an intermediate fly fisherman like local resident Gregory Lam,
Minturn Anglers guide Joel B. Sharp suggests a full-day float trip. For his trip, Sharp chose to float the Colorado River from Pump House to Radium, where the fish are plentiful and the scenery is amazing. Local wildlife abounds and the combination of flat water and whitewater makes for a well-rounded trip.
Here, the midlevel fisherman can practice fishing “on the fly,” so to speak, as they move through the water. They also can slow the trip down and wade certain sections of river and work on their technique.
As an intermediate fisherman, Lam was looking for pointers and corrections on his techniques, as well as hoping to catch fish. He liked that Sharp could show him where and how to cast — but was not overly technical. He learned about line management, otherwise known as "the art of not getting tangled and caught on stuff as you float downriver."
Sharp, meanwhile, says that’s one of most important lessons you can take from a float trip.
The trip covered 5 miles of river in about four hours.
"It's just more fun when you're moving the whole time," Lam says. "The scenery changes. It's not the same fishing hole — you're getting a different opportunity the entire time."
Landing two fish and missing five or six bites, Lam jokes, "it's always the big one that gets away."
That's enough to get him coming back for more.
Night fishing with Vail Valley Anglers
If you are an expert fly fisherman looking for a new challenge, Mike Whitfield, a guide with Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards, recommends a night float trip on the Colorado River.
That's what long-time local Patrick Perry decided to do, lured by promises of a high density of fish in big water. With few — if any — other people fishing then, there is less pressure on the fish and a completely serene, peaceful setting. Plus, there's the potential to catch bigger trout, which tend to feed at night.
Vail Valley Anglers general manager John Cochran explains that for an expert who is used to being able to see where to cast to and when a fish eats your fly, the element of darkness adds a whole new layer of complication to your goal.
Perry, who has 20 years fly-fishing experience, has caught plenty of fish during the day. He was drawn to the challenge of night fishing for bigger fish using mouse patterns and streamers. Trips start around the twilight hours, so guests can enjoy the sunset, fish the “power hour” at dusk and also get a feel for the river before it's "lights out." Once night falls, the scenery changes, the wildlife changes and it can become a very mental game as guests learn to use their other senses — like hearing and feeling, instead of sight — to find and land fish.
"You have to really tune in to what's going on out there," Whitfield says. "Don't expect to catch anything and then you may be rewarded."
"You're going on your instincts and how the rod feels and all by touch — so it's a lot more advanced," adds Perry. He likes that Whitfield kept it creative, constantly changing flies and actions to try to attract fish in the dark.
Perry found the scenic experience of floating the river by moonlight as much fun as the challenge of night fishing.
"It just feels like you and the wilderness. It's a totally different experience, which is awesome for someone who has floated the river his whole life," Perry says. "To do it at night just takes it to the next level."
While Perry only landed one fish, he had plenty of bites to indicate the abundance of fish, as well as the success of his chosen flies. The challenge of landing them is what has him excited to try it again.
After all, as Mike Geisler will attest, "Fly fishing is a lifetime of learning."