Gunnison River Brown Trout

Where to Fly Fish on the Gunnison River CO (Maps, Flies and Technique)

Southern Colorado never gets enough love for the high quality fly fishing rivers it has. The most famous river in this region is the Gunnison. Located near Gunnison, Colorado, it’s home to a healthy, diverse fish population.

It will always be one of my favorites. The Gunni is the first place I ever caught a salmon thanks to the annual Kokanee Salmon run! It’s a perfect river for nymphs, dries and streamers. You’ll struggle to find a river that consistently fishes as well as the Gunni.

Fly Fishing on the Gunnison River
Fly Fishing on the Gunnison River

A Little Bit About the Gunnison River

The Gunnison is Colorado’s second largest river. It flows for 180 miles through three dams and eventually reaches the Colorado River near Grand Junction. Some of the river is challenging to access offering some of the most remote and fly fishing in all of the state. Anglers all over the world hold it in high regard.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a newer national park that offers anglers a phenomenal chance at landing a trophy rainbow trout. The hike down into the canyon is very challenging. It’ll take three or so hours to get to the bottom and a bit longer to get all the way out of it! However, there are true opportunities to land trout over 20 inches. There is both pocket and smooth water at the bottom of the canyon.

You will need a wilderness permit to hike to the bottom, and those can be reserved the day before! If you’re in good/decent physical shape, you need to give this a try! There aren’t many places like it to fish in the lower 48. Start from the Oak Flat trailhead linked below.

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More Colorado Hot Spots to Toss a Fly

South of the Town of Gunnison

If you’re looking for an easier access point, then check out this spot below the town of Gunnison. At this point, the river splits in two. The section closest to the road is skinny with great cut banks! If you wade through this to the opposite bank and through the vegetation, you’ll find the main channel. Either place is great to fish.

You can drift nymphs, throw dries and even swing streamers through the main section of the river. It doesn’t get too heavily pressured and it gives you a decent challenge.

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Below the Blue Mesa Reservoir

Below the Blue Mesa Reservoir is another good place to fish the Gunnison. It holds massive fish and the water temperature stays consistent throughout the year. Since there are so many different places to fish on the Gunnison, this section is not like many other tailwaters you find. It’s not constantly crowded with people, but it’s still extremely productive.

Take the Pine Creek Trailhead down to the bottom and fish. It’s fairly wide and can be moving fast, so be prepared to fish with nymphs and indicators.

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Why the Gunnison River is Perfect for Fly Fishing

The Gunnison River is perfect for fly fishing because it has healthy fish, great public access and amazing scenery. The Game and Fish Department Stocks brown, brook and rainbow trout annually to ensure that the fish population stays healthy.

Guide Pro Tip: The State of Colorado manages the Gunnison and many others rivers as “Gold Medal Rivers”. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides an awesome atlas of river access. Check it out with this link 👉 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing Atlas

The river is also surrounded by a decent amount of national forest land. The land offers great camping and hiking opportunities! If you’re more interested in the city/town life, it passes through the towns of Gunnison, and Delta! The river offers something for everyone in the family. Even if you aren’t a diehard fly angler, you’ll still find success if you stay patient and aren’t afraid to fail.

What Stream Flow is Best for Fishing the Gunnison

Gunnison River Stream Flow
Gunnison River Stream Flow – image USGS – LINK

The Gunnison is a larger, faster moving river than many others in Colorado. Since it passes through three reservoirs, the flows are fairly regulated. Learn more about moving water and where fish hold in How to Read Moving Water.

Generally, fishing the Gunnison when it’s at 400 to 600 CFS is best. Since the river is fairly wide in most places, it won’t look like it’s moving too fast, but you’ll quickly realize how many casts you’re going to be making. It requires hard work and hundreds of casts, but you will land fish.

What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the Gunnison River?

Kokanee Salmon
Kokanee Salmon

In the Gunnison, you’ll find healthy populations of brown, rainbow and brook trout. Its claim to fame, however, is the Kokanee Salmon run that occurs every year. These fish live in the Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Checking the spawn can be tricky, water temperature, flow and fish patterns all contribute. Read more in this article What’s the Best Time of Year to Fish in Colorado.

Favorite Flies for the Gunnison River

Elk Hair Caddis Fly Pattern
Elk Hair Caddis Fly Pattern
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Woolly Bugger
Woolly Bugger

Elk Hair Caddis- Size 18

An Elk Hair Caddis is the ideal dry fly option! The Caddis hatches on the Gunnison are large, so a size 18 should work perfect for you. Both the mornings and evenings offer large hatches in the summer months.

Pheasant Tail Nymph- Size 20

Small nymphs in general seem to work well on the Gunnison. Size 20-24 nymphs aren’t always easy to use, but they’re guaranteed to catch fish. Drift these along the banks and through the riffles. You’ll definitely land fish.

Black Woolly Bugger- Size 6

While the Gunnison isn’t necessarily known for its pools, there are plenty of deep portions of water that work for streamers. A medium sized black Woolly Bugger can be stripped or swung depending on your preference. The fish are aggressive.

Hatch Chart for the Gunnison River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
 Midge 14-18 April 1 November 31
 Caddis 10-18 May 1 September 1
 Salmonfly 4-8 June 30 August 1
 Little Yellow Stonefly 14-18 June 30August 1
 Blue Winged Olive 14-18 June 30 October 31
 Green Drake 10-12 June 30 August 1
 Pale Morning Dun 14-18 June 30 August 1
 Red Quill 14-18 June 30 September 1
Golden Stonefly 6-10 May 1 July 15
 Terrestrials 8-16 July 1 September 31

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Gunnison River

For the Gunnison, you’re going to want a bit larger setup. A 5-weight or 6-weight 9’ rod is a good choice. The water is wide and the fish are big. You want to make sure you’re able to make longer casts and strong mends. It’s not as wide and intimidating as other western rivers, but it’s no mountain stream!

Looking for the perfect fly rod combo for the Gunnison River?

The Sage Foundation Fly Rod Combo comes with everything minus flies. The rod in made in the U.S.A. and comes with the typically lifetime warranty. The fast action allows you to cast in the windy conditions found on the Gunni. Even better – when your buddies see you casting a Sage you’ll get the jealousy looks.

Bring a matching reel with floating line. You can use anywhere from 1x to 4x leader and 3x through 5x tippet depending on the water clarity. The fish aren’t terribly spooky, but they do see flies regularly.

Guides and Fly Shops

  • The Gunnison River Fly Shop in Gunnison is a great choice for your Gunnison excursion. The full-service fly shop offers incredible wade and float trips!
  • Gunnison River Guides is another fly shop that specializes in fly fishing on the Gunnison river. Anglers speak highly of their services!

Last Cast for the Gunnison River

It doesn’t take long for fly anglers to form an opinion of a river. A quick assessment is going to tell you quite a bit about the water, fish health and pressure. When you visit the Gunnison, it gives you a feeling of anticipation. You know it holds large fish that are able to be caught. A trip on the Gunnison is one you won’t forget.

You’ve got to check out other great spots to toss a fly like the Taylor, Blue and South Platte.

Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels

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