Fishing the Taylor River, Colorado
Dates: April 13-16, 2021
Fly Fishermen: Joe Nicklo (leader, sage, and experienced fisherman), John Scarcelli (experienced, patient trout fisherman), Steve Edwards (has done a lot to trout fishing, but mostly with a guide), and Paul Robertson (the rookie at trout fishing).
We began planning this trip back in February, when we were able to take advantage of some $98 round trip tickets to Denver, CO, on Southwest Airlines. And we also all realized that we would all be Covid-19 vaccinated by then.
Day 1: Travel from Houston to Gunnison. We left Houston mid-morning and arrived in Denver around noon. There we rented a SUV, loaded our gear, and headed toward Gunnison. Of course, we had to a make stop at Apple Jacks liquor store for some evening beverages. We made it Gunnision by late afternoon. Once we checked in to the motel, we made quick stops at Walmart for fishing licenses and a grocery store for lunch supplies. That was followed by pizza for dinner. Then it was back to our rooms to get ready for the next day of fishing.
Day 2: The Taylor River starts up high in the Colorado Rockies, traveling south past several 14’ers. It runs into Taylor Reservoir at about 9,300 feet, which has a beautiful setting overlooking the Collegiate Peaks. There are seven 14’ers looming off to the east. The tailwater below the dam flows down through Taylor Canyon some 20 miles before it joins the East River to form the Gunnison River at Almont. The Taylor is a medium-sized river which contains deep pools and
pocket water, and plenty of riffles and runs. The bottom releases from Taylor Reservoir provide constant and predictable flows, and consistent hatches throughout the season. The Taylor River contains a very high density of trout, including wild browns, rainbows, and cutthroat. The area we fished was the upper section of the Taylor River just below the dam, which is designated catch-and-release water. It is affectionately called the Hog Trough as this is trophy trout water with a lot of fish in the 8 to 12-pound range, along with some much larger fish. These big wild trout enjoy a constant food source which includes a steady diet of mysis shrimp and midges.
A Mountain Stream
The mountain stream was crystal clear
Flowing water passing by at speed
Pouring from above, where snow is melting
Refreshing as it moves at pace from where it lay
Giving a new freshness to the land
Feeding everything on its way
Then flowing into rivers and spreading nutrients
The life it re-awakens thankful
And a cycle continued
Until the winter returns
And then it pauses as it waits for spring
This crystal clear mountain stream where I drank
And sat for a while
And watched And marveled at the complexity
The water temperature in the C&R section was 44 degrees and the water flow for this trip was about 85 CFM. When they do releases from the dam, the mysis shrimp come through to the C&R section, resulting in some large fish. Unfortunately, they were not releasing water yet. And we had all tied and/or brought lots of mysis shrimp patterns! Oh well, we’ll use them another day.
Joe and John were planning on targeting the big ones. Paul and Steve were interested in fish of any size—just hoping to catch anything. We learned that though some of the big ones had migrated upstream, we were just a little early in the season for many of them. The drive up to the C&R section is about 30 miles, a 45-50 minute drive. It is a beautiful drive through the canyon and along the river once you get past Almont. Each day we saw lots of deer and big horn sheep along the way.
Our first day we left the hotel about 7:30. Upon arrival, Joe sent Paul to the Avalanche Hole and suggested he use a streamer with a tailing midge. He found the secret to be using a fast sink poly leader with a Guadalupana and a rainbow warrior midge, letting it get to the bottom and doing short eractic retrieves. Though a novice, he netted 14 brown trout that day—all in the same area. While there, another fisherman was in the bottom of the hole and hooked one of the large rainbows. He did not have a net, so he hollered for help. Paul joyfully netted it and took a few photos for him.
That day Joe and Steve headed up the river and nymph fished upstream. They both caught several fish.
Joe has been fishing the Taylor for the past ten years. He noted that this trip was enjoyable but not as productive as years past. He decided early on to limit his fishing time to dry fly fishing and locating fish for the other members on the trip. The dry fly fishing lasted only for one to two hours each day when the Blue Wing Olive (BWO) would hatch. He was able to catch several brown trout each day using a hook size 20 or 22 BWO dry fly on either a 6X or 7X tippet.
Unfortunately, using this size tippet, which was necessary to fool these educated fish, resulted in several strong fish breaking off. He commented: “I found enjoyment in watching Paul, John and Steve find pleasure in observing the beauty of the area and the trout they brought to the net! I have a saying: ‘I would trade three days of nymph fishing for three hours of great dry fly fishing!’”
John started upstream and ended up fishing some below the Avalanche Hole. He caught several fish.
The temperature that day got up to about 40 degrees. But, by the afternoon the wind had really picked up (steady winds of 20+ mph) and we headed back to the hotel about 3:30 or so.
Day 3: Paul and Steve headed for the Avalanche Hole first thing. Within a couple of hours Paul had caught 8 more nice brown trout. About that time, the excitement began. Steve was fishing the bottom of the hole with a streamer with a tailing midge. He hooked one of the big rainbow trout. Paul knew that it was a big one when it rolled over and he saw the deep red underside. The coloration is caused by the high protein diet of mysis shrimp they eat. He set his pole
down and headed over to net the fish for Steve. When he got to Steve, he took Steve’s net and got ready. The fish was still running around. It swam in a circle and somehow went behind Paul and ran between Paul and his net which was hanging off his back. They thought they would lose the fish. As Paul tried to turn around to get untangled, he tripped and went for a swim in the river, taking water in his waders. Fortunately the fish did not break off. Paul was able to get
up with a little lift from Steve and soon he netted the rainbow trout—about 25 inches. Steve caught several more fish that afternoon. Paul tried to fish some more, but was quite cold and eventually went back to the SUV to warm up. After lunch, he tried fishing again, but the wind was by then howling and he was just too wet and cold.
John and Joe headed upstream. Both caught fish. At the end of the day Joe spotted a big one (around 25”) for John, who tossed a nymph at it and landed it with Joe’s help at the net.
The high on Thursday was about 32 degrees. Paul had on so many clothes that Joe nicknamed him the Abominal Snowman. (But if you see Joe, ask him who was cold on Thursday afternoon and who was not.) Both Thursday and Friday we were contending with ice on our rod guides.
About 3:00, because Paul was wet and cold (shivering), we headed back to Gunnison. As we got back a little earlier, John and Steve made a run to Gene Taylor Sporting Goods where they left a few greenbacks, while Paul dried out his clothes and waders at the motel. We enjoyed a nice Mexican meal that evening.
Day 4: We woke up to a lite snow on the cars in Gunnison. As we drove up the canyon, it looked like there had been about 4” of snow up the canyon. It made for a beautiful drive. Paul and Steve again headed for the Avalanche Hole. Paul carried two rods as he wanted to try dry fly fishing when a hatch occurred. Steve fished with a streamer and caught several browns that morning. Paul started in the lower part of the hole with a streamer. He actually hooked one of the big ones on the trailer midge, but it broke his tippet (4x). About late morning the hatch occurred and Paul grabbed his other rod (5 wt) and began fishing a Blue Winged Olive (size 22). During the hatch he caught seven. He wrote about his morning, “I almost got one of the big ones! I can still see it leaping out of the water (my heart rate rose with it), shaking its head, sporting its red belly …. and breaking my line. We were only joined together for a few seconds, but it was a marvelous snippet of eternity. And then just a little later to catch seven on a dry fly I tied. I still can hardly believe it!” The fishing in the Avalanche Hole with streamers shut down by mid-morning and never did pick up again.
John and Joe again went up river and caught quite a few fish during the BWO hatch, several up around 19”.
The early Friday morning temperature was about 20 degrees, with a high temperature of about 30 degrees. The day started off with very little wind and made for some nice casting. In the afternoon the wind picked up and it began snowing Pellet Snow. That was the first time several of us had seen that. With the cold temps, wind picking up, and snowing, it was a cold—just ask Joe. We headed back to the hotel about 5:00.
“Snow was falling, so much like stars filling the dark trees that one could easily
imagine its reason for being was nothing more than prettiness.”
We had planned to celebrate our trip with a steak dinner, but it was so late when at that we went in a different direction—beef stew for one and elk burgers for the others. It was the end of another delightful day on the water. Back to our rooms to pack up.
Day 5: Travel from Gunnison to Houston. We started the day with breakfast at Power Stop. Other morning we had “breakfast” at the motel—warmed up front at the front desk and eaten in our rooms. Then the drive to Denver began. As we began heading up the mountains toward Monarch Pass—one of the most breathtaking high elevation mountain passes in Colorado, 11,312 feet, along the Continental Divide. We encountered quite a bit to snow. We estimated 4-6 inches fell that night. There was some snow/ice on the roads. John was driving and managed it like an ole pro. Paul and Steve were in the back and just a little relieved once we got over the pass and off of the snowy roads. But the views through the mountains, with fresh snow piled up on the tree were breathtaking. Several times we stopped to just take it in and take photos.
The Mountains—group unnoticed—
Their Purple figures rise
In Their Eternal Faces
The Sun—with just delight
Looks long—and last—and golden—
For fellowship—at night—
We arrived in Denver around 1:30, checked in our SUV and headed to the airport. We had a small scare on the shuttle bus to the airport. Joe couldn’t find his phone, and we were prepared to have to go back to the car rental facility. But, he finally found it….in his shirt pocket. We all had a good laugh. Once we arrived at the airport, we had one last meal together before boarding the plane. We all had safe trips home. A memorable and wonderful trip with four gentlemen.