Crystal River Fly Fishing

Crystal River Fly Fishing Secrets You Need to Know

Colorado is home to many outdoor activities, with skiing, mountain biking, and hiking top the list. But the draw for fly fishers is the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers.

However, many overlook a notable river in the same valley, the Crystal River. Dumping into the Roaring Fork River near the city of Carbondale many of those bucket list trophies found in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork call the Crystal River home.

Crystal River is a famous fly fishing destination situated west of Denver. It flows from Marble CO to Carbondale where it empties into the Roaring Fork River. It has a wide range of fish species such as cutthroat, brook, brown, and rainbow trout. With the proper knowledge of species locations, regulations, timing, and gear, you can experience amazing fly fishing. (source)

So, in this article, we will give you a few imperative secrets on how to get the most out of this river. While we’re at it, we’ll also show you where to fish and have fun.

Rainbow Trout in the Crystal River
Rainbow Trout in the Crystal River

Crystal River Fly Fishing Secrets You Need to Know

The Crystal River is River Roaring Fork’s tributary that is about 40 miles long in the western parts of Colorado. This river rises in the Elk Mountains in Gunnison County and passes through Crystal City’s ghost town, which some summer residents still inhabit. It then flows to Pitkin County before joining the Roaring Fork. (source)

Even though it’s known for hiking and fishing, the unpaved road is almost impassable to vehicles; therefore, you may need an off-road motorcycle or an ATV to explore the Crystal River fully. Luckily, a 4WD jeep tour operates out of Marble, but only in summer when rock, snow, or mudslides do not block the roads.

Why Is Planning Necessary?

Like with every fishing trip, proper planning is mandatory; after all, you can’t just cast your line and expect to catch something every time in the Crystal River. Remember, just because this river has lots of fish species, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to catch something every time without the right tips. So here are some exceptional Crystal River fly fishing secrets you need to know before visiting this beautiful river:

1.   Know Where to Catch Certain Fish Species

The Crystal River is an exceptional destination for fly fishing for a wide range of fish species, including brook, brown, and rainbow trout. You can find massive fish species here ranging from 8 to 15 inches. This river has many large carry-over species like rainbow trout that weigh up to 10 pounds. The Brook trout you can find here can attain a maximum length of about 11 inches.

But the key to having a successful catch is knowing what species you’re targeting and where you can find it in abundance in the lake. If you’re targeting a trophy rainbow or brown trout, you should start at the lower parts of the river right below Redstone. On the other hand, the East Fork has a significant population of brook and cutthroat, but you can also find brook trouts in the upper parts of the river and beaver ponds. You can find some rainbows on the lower parts of the river while the south Fork holds average-sized brook and cutthroat trout. (source)

Fortunately, the Crystal River is an excellent fly fishing destination and great for lure fishing; hence, you can have fun in most parts of the river.

Looking for Where to go on the Crystal River

If your not the camping type, I would setup base camp in Carbondale. If your the back woods type willing to “bushwhack” the map below will take you to some campgrounds closer to the headwaters outside of Marble. My favorite is Bogan Flats Campground.

Map to Bogan Flats Campground along the Crystal River
Map to Bogan Flats Campground along the Crystal River – image Google Maps – link

2.   Know More About the Cutthroat

Generally, out of all the fish species in the Crystal River, the only fish that was not introduced to the region by human beings is the cutthroat. Unfortunately, they’re not found in most rivers, thanks to competition from the other species. Therefore, you can only find it in certain parts of the river.

Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat Trout

Colorado is home to three cutthroat species and includes Greenback, Colorado, and Rio Grande cutthroats. But thanks to their dwindling numbers, these fishes are protected by the state; therefore, fly anglers are not allowed to catch them. (source)

3.   Start Fishing at the Right Place

Knowing where to find these fish species plays a crucial role in your weekend fly-fishing getaway goal. So even if you know where to find these species, you need to locate the exact position of the school of fish. And one of the best ways of locating the best inshore fishing spots is by knowing where their prey is available.

Therefore, even with the above information, you should look for places with a massive population of crustaceans and baitfish in the water. You can start your search near oyster bars, bays, channels, mangrove lines, and grass flats, where you are highly likely to find these fishes. Knowing where to locate the baitfish can help you narrow your search to a specific part of the river.

Orvis Clearwater 5 wt 9 foot Combo
Orvis Clearwater 5 wt-9 foot Combo

The Perfect Fly Rod Combo for Colorado

Orvis originated in the fly fishing business. The Orvis Clearwater Combo is perfectly balanced and comes with everything except flies. It’s so easy to cobble together an outfit that just doesn’t cast right. No worries with that using the Clearwater Fly Rod Combo.

4.   A 4wt Fly Rod Can Help You Catch the Local Trout

If you plan to stick to the tailwaters and Carbondale or near Marble, you need a wader. A 4wt rod can do the trick, especially if you’re staying away from the huge trout in the region. You can attach it to a matching fly line and the right fly. Some of the best dry flies for fly fishing in Crystal River include:

  • Griffith’s Gnat
  • RS2
  • Sparkle Dun
  • Epoxy Mysis Shrimp
  • Tungsten beadhead Pheasant tail
  • Midge
  • Perfect Baetis
Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern

These dry flies can help you get their attention even when not feeding. It can also distract them while they are feasting on the fish baits. Luckily, some of these dry flies are very easy to tie and have been very effective.

5.   Try And Cover the Water as Fast as Possible

To effectively fish the Crystal, you need to quickly identify “fishy” water.  I’ve got an article that talks more about reading the water that you can fine HERE.

Many times, I’ll turn to a searching fly pattern like a stimulator with a dropper to hone in on the tactic and flies that are turning the trout on. 

What has always worked is to cast 2 or 3 times to likely spots and move.  Don’t dwell on water that either isn’t holding fish or aren’t interested to bite.  The fast current requires the trout to make fast decisions about eating or not, as the angler your job is to find eating trout.

Some Searching Fly Patterns:

  • Chubby Chernobyl
  • Stimulators like Stoneflies
  • Hoppers with Legs

Don’t forget use a dropper.  Small beadhead Zebra Midge and Pheasant Tails are perfect. Learn more about Dry Dropper Setups

More Colorado Hot Spots to Toss a Fly

6.   Know The Best Time to Go Fly Fishing

The best fishing season along the Crystal River is between summer and fall. You can find the best hatches in the region between August and October. The huge hatches every year in Crystal River include the Green Drakes and BWOs.

Midges can also be an exceptional bet, but you should avoid fishing this river in winter; after all, some of the parts of this river are prone to snow and mudslide, which can be pretty dangerous. Plus, given the higher elevation of this place, fly fishing here may not be a good idea, but if you’re immune to low temperatures and intense cold, you can try winter fishing.

The runoff in the season in the region is from early Spring to June, so you should plan your trip in fall and summer when the river is clear. Plus, there is a tour van in summer from Marble that can take you to your destination. But if you own an ATV or off-road bike, this may be the best time to have fun with your family members and pals. (source)

7.   Crystal River Fishing Regulations

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations applies to the Crystal River Crystal; therefore, you’re only allowed to take only four trout of all the species in the river. If you’re looking for a place to practice and perfect your casting skill, then this is the place to visit. You can catch as many fishes as you want and keep as many whitefish as possible. Crystal River is also one of the few places in the United States where you can finally land your trophy catch.

Last Cast

The Crystal River is a well-hidden gem with more than enough to offer, especially for fly anglers who love hiking. This river has a vast population of different trout species and white fish that can give you the needed fun during your weekend getaway. And with the above secrets, you can find the exact species you’re looking for with ease. So instead of doing some guesswork, why don’t you visit the Crystal River and try these secrets? Trust me; you won’t be disappointed.

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish


  1. Jim MacCracken, Aspen & Pitkin County Colorado Fishing & Floating Guide Book, May 17, 2022, Accessed
  2. Wikipedia Contributor, Crystal River (Colorado), Accessed May 17, 2022,

YouTube Contributor, Top 3 Search Baits for Finding Bass, Accessed May 17, 2022,

Scroll to Top