Salomone: Safe fishing alternatives for the angler on foot during high water
Vail Valley Anglers
A look at the Eagle River now is a bit daunting. The dangers with wade fishing are apparent as heavy water overflows bankside boulders. Foot-bound anglers looking for safe locations to fish need to plan their angling outings accordingly. During high water, alternatives can be found from one edge of the county to the other. From extremely manicured to hidden pockets of nature here are three stillwater locations to try.
Stillwater fishing will elevate your angling. Applying your knowledge of fly fishing on moving water to flat water is a challenge but rewarding. Targeting structure, drop-offs, ledges and weed banks puts you in the game.
Stillwaters such as ponds, lakes and reservoirs provide safe angling experiences during hazardous river conditions. Families with kids or young anglers can eliminate their concerns over rushing water at all three of these locations.
While rainbow trout are the predominant fish stocked by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, bluegills, smallmouth bass, perch and crappie are prevalent in one location. Counting different species caught in one day is a great measurement indicator for budding anglers.
On the eastern side of Eagle County, near the top of Vail Pass are the Black Lakes. There are two lakes at this location, the upper lake being the larger of the two. The main fish in these lakes are rainbow trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides routine stocking. Many fish in the 14″-16″ size exist in the lakes with trout regularly exceeding these marks.
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Burrowed into the red cliffs the lake butts up to the mountain on the far side, away from the road. Interstate 70 pumps a constant flow of traffic beside the hidden lakes that you seldom notice once on the water. Exiting at the Vail Pass off-ramp is the proper way to access both lakes. A frontage road passes alongside the top lake. The road ends at a gate for the bike path.
Anglers wanting to focus on the lower lake need to walk a short distance down the bike path to the lake. The dam is on the far end of the lake and holds the deepest water.
When dangled beneath a strike indicator scuds and San Juan worms tempt the trout who have just recently emerged from the ice cover. A dry dropper rig can be a surprising delight. Trout will readily take a large dry fly and cruising trout will intercept the dropper regularly. And a black streamer is always a good choice.
Black Lakes offer a good blend of manicured and natural settings. The lakes are very pretty but a few polished amenities give a tailored edge to the upper lake. A handicapped angler fishing deck is located near the dam on the larger, upper lake. Parking is available near the paved path for the deck as well. Another parking lot is located where water flows into the lake.
The lower lake possesses a more natural setting. Positioned lower in the valley the intermittent sounds of Interstate 70 are broken by the towering lakeside pines. Access is a little more demanding. The trails are unfinished and a bit more of a scramble in places.
Nottingham Lake in Avon is the most manicured location in the valley. The lake has parking in many locations, a paved path encircles the entire lake and surprisingly high numbers of fish. Rainbow trout are again the main target with the occasional rogue brown trout tossed into the mix.
Anglers walking around the lake will find a large sandy beach on the north side. There are numerous benches and swings as well as a large kids park. An outdoor stage provides the backdrop for spectacular music events.
The most natural setting for easy access is Gypsum Ponds State Wildlife Area. Multiple ponds hold a variety of fish. Young anglers have a chance for mixed catch. My daughters and niece have caught eight different types of fish from Gypsum Ponds SWA.
A dirt path weaves through the lower stretches of the property. And a gorgeous section of river borders the edge. Gypsum ponds is a location where an angler can get lost a little.
Foot-bound anglers have multiple options for stellar stillwater fishing throughout the valley. Whether it is a manicured setting for ease or a more natural setting to disappear into, anglers are the winners in any of these places. Black Lakes, Nottingham Lake and Gypsum Ponds SWA are three safe angling alternatives while the water is high.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, 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.
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