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Catching Fish With Cotter

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado
Photography by Dominique TaylorRiley Cotter feels at home fly fishing the Eagle River in Eagle-Vail.
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Frankly, there are some secret fishing spots in the valley that Riley Cotter just wouldn’t reveal for this story. But finding the surreptitious fishing stashes scattered around the valley is part of the satisfaction that comes with mastering the craft ” something some would argue isn’t actually possible.

Cotter grew up in Eagle-Vail, and though the self-taught fisherman didn’t start frequenting the nearby creeks and rivers until he was nearly 15, it took him just a little more than 10 years to make the Team U.S.A. Fly Fishing team in 2006. We think that makes him qualified to give us a tour of Eagle County’s trout havens, which amounts to “some of the best fishing in the state,” he said.

Best for beginners



The big, winding bends of water on Homestake Creek is where Cotter taught himself to fish and where he takes beginners to learn.

“It’s less intimidating,” he said.



Everything is sized down on the creek, Cotter said, from small pockets and riffles of water to the younger, modest-sized rainbow and brown trout that often hide in the pools and eddies near beaver dams scattered on the creek.

“Because (the fish) are quick, if you can learn to set a hook on them ” you can set a hook on anything and transition into bigger water, no problem,” Cotter said.

The area also has the added benefit of being one of the most scenic in the valley and it’s usually possible to find quiet water, free of other fishermen.



Insider tips: “As you drive up Homestake Road, maybe two miles, there’s this big pond up there. Park near the pond and walk up about a mile. The further away you go from the road, the better the fishing gets,” Cotter said.

“Although the fish are not selective when it comes to your patterns, you will have to cast upstream and get your flies away from you. The fish can be easily spooked because the water is typically thin.”

Middle ground

The Eagle River is a good place for intermediate-level fishermen, Cotter said.

“Any of the public access areas from Arrowhead to the town of Eagle can be fantastic water and great fishing,” he said. “It’s a little more open (than Homestake), which makes it easier to work a longer stretch of water for someone who isn’t 100 percent comfortable wading in ultra-fast water.”

Though the public/private access areas can be a bit confusing, Cotter said there are plenty of signs posted and “a lot of fishing leases that you have access to that allow you to walk over private land to access the river.”

If you’re still unsure, Cotter recommends hiring a guide or stopping by one of the local guide shops to ask.

“A guide will cut out a lot of the guesswork of where the fish are at and what to use to snag them.”

If you don’t want to spring for a guide, Cotter recommends parking in the dirt lot near Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards and walking southeast, across the railroad tracks and down to the river.

“You have two miles of accessible water and because you’re entering it from that side, it’s public to fish.”

The pocket water, long runs and deep holes are perfect for fishermen trying to broaden their fishing scope.

During spring and early summer, Cotter said float fishing on the Eagle River from the water treatment plant in Edwards, all the way to Wolcott or Eagle, can be superb.

“You have access to private water that you otherwise wouldn’t. You can’t get out and wade but you float through private water and have access to those fish.”

Insider tip: Cotter said he almost always fishes a dry double dropper. “The high stick method works well here ” you can get close to the fish because the water moves swiftly enough that you will not disturb them. Make short casts just long enough for your droppers to sink into the pocket and keep tension on your line so that as soon as the fish takes your fly, you will be able to get an instant hook set.”

Expert nibbles

If you’re up for a fishing challenge ” get thee to Gore Creek. The debris in the water makes it a little more technical and therefore challenging.

“The fish know how to break you off,” he said.

Expect almost entirely pocket water and though the creek doesn’t look very big, it can still be treacherous, Cotter warns.

“Moss collects a lot more on the Gore than any other creek or river in the valley. A wading staff can be very helpful when it comes to navigating the slick and uneven rocks.”

For a good fishing spot with easy access, park at Donovan Park and Pavilion off the south Frontage Road in West Vail. There’s a lot of accessible, good fishing along that part of the creek, Cotter said.

Insider tip: The best part about the Gore is you can see almost all of the fish and can cast right to them, Cotter said. “Don’t cast any more line than you have to ” sometimes you’re only fishing with your leader.”


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