Fryingpan River: A winter tailwater destination
Nearby river should be on every angler’s winter bucket list
The Eagle River, covered over with ice, makes finding open water to fish a challenge. The Colorado River experienced the same cold snap and any shaded area has been locked up as well. Anglers unwilling to rack their rod can look into fishing some world-class tailwaters within a short drive from Vail. The Fryingpan River is a winter fly-fishing destination all anglers need to cover.
With a little extra time on my hands around the holidays, plans were made to make a day on the Fryingpan River. Vail Valley Anglers guide Casey Canada and I headed west on Interstate 70 to Glenwood Springs. In Glenwood take Colorado Highway 82 towards Aspen. Keep an eye open for Two Rivers Road, on your left at the Willits Lane intersection. Follow Two Rivers Road into the town of Basalt. In the middle of town, take a left onto Midland Avenue-Fryingpan Road. This road will parallel the Fryingpan River all the way to Reudi Dam.
From Basalt it is 25 minutes, normal travel time, to get to the dam. In the winter you want to add a little time for poor diving conditions. There are intermixed access points with parking areas along the way. Even in winter, the snowplow clears the roadside spots for anglers.
We met up with fellow Vail Valley Anglers guide Tom Gibson and his buddy Chris, two other die-hard winter fly-fishers. Both vehicles stopped around the midpoint between Basalt and the dam to begin. Cold and shaded, we knew the best part of the day was coming. Still the tempting water yielded a few nymph-caught browns.
”We got the skunk off,” was how Tom put it.
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We climbed back into vehicles to head farther up the river towards the dam, looking for sunshine. We ended up passing a few more access points before turning off Fryingpan Road at the dam access for Baetis Bridge and the well-known toilet bowl.
Not wanting to compete for position at the dam, we all ventured down into the wide, shallow flat above the bend pool. Earlier before the trip, I had asked Casey if we were going to throw streamers.
“I’m looking for dry fly action,” he said.
I got an ornery grin on my face as I pulled my streamer boxes out of my pack. Fishing dry flies, Christmas week? I’m in.
Well, we found them. Not the giants people find in the toilet bowl, but Fryingpan River browns and brookies eating on the surface in December. We didn’t even fish a Mysis Shrimp Fly. The Mysis Shrimp is a failed attempt to introduce a food source in the reservoir. As a result, shrimp are washed through the dam into the tailwater providing an easy, high-protein meal for trout. The Mysis is responsible for the colors and size of the massive Fryingpan River trout and the topic for a complete column on its own.
We all picked up a few more on dry flies. Tom slid in and banged four fish in a row on a special home-tied fly he twisted up, nice work. Even though we were all tossing dry or dry droppers, you know someone is going to sneak off and start throwing some meat. Chris tied on a small streamer and targeted the biggest fish of the day. Meanwhile, we were squinting to see our minuscule dry flies in the late afternoon glare.
When the gentlemen below us in the bend pool finished their cigars, we waded down to claim their vacated position. The fish were a larger class of fish and the action was hot. The four of us took up positions along the bend pool and caught fish after fish on dry flies. We experienced multiple “doubles” with two anglers fighting and landing trout at the same time.
Three seasoned guides and an experienced angler stood on the bank and giggled like kids.
“Should we be having this much fun?” Casey asked at one point.
Yeah we should, I thought. After all it’s Christmas and this was a gift I won’t ever forget.
Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.