Colorado Trip Report: The Gunnison (East Portal)

David Holmes

Formerly known as "capmblade"
My parents live in the town of Montrose, in Western Colorado, which is very close to some of the best fishing in the rockies (so I've heard). When we arrived there the first thing I did was head to the local fly shop (Cimmarron Creek) for the skinny. All over the rockies this time of year, they said, you have to deal with runoff. Basically you have to limit yourself to fishing tailwaters which will be somewhat protected as the flow is regulated. So they directed me to the East Portal in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Amy and I fished it the next morning, and we had such an wonderful time that we went back there every day for a week. The water was muddy and had about 4" visibility. I am wondering if this actually made fishing easier for us because most of the fish we caught were at right at our feet. Literally within inches of the bank.

Anyway, on the first morning we rigged up my 5wt with a #14 orange shrimp that I copied from a fly I bought at the shop and her 4wt with #16 red copper john. That morning it seemed we could do no wrong. I would spot what I thought looked like some good water, and Amy would cast into it and bam, fish on. She hooked and released a couple of small browns. I spotted a big brown and directed her to it and sure enough she hooked him. He was probably 18" and he took off into the current and broke her off.

She hooked a 20" rainbow later and this time she knew to follow the fish downstream where she landed him on a little beach. My big fish of the day was the rainbow that I present in the picture. I also caught a brown that was probably 15". Our final tallies for the morning were 4 fish each and several lost.

Over the next week we fished that same mile over and over again and found fish all over the place. One of the highlights for me was hooking a 20" fish on a size #20 EHC. He got away though when he threw the hook after a long (and delicate) fight. I had actually hooked that same fish three other times in the previous few days (behind the same rock) on shimp and egg patterns. He got off each time, leading me to assume that he no longer has any lips with which to get caught on.

Amy's best fish (no picture) was an 18" brown that she caught in the last 5 minutes of a long fishless day (for her). We fished a pool at the end of wadeable stretch of river where I could see many browns with their tails up rooting in the dirt in shallow water. I hooked and lost two of them on my shrimp patterns. She came in and landed the 18" brown. He put up no fight at all -- clearly he had done this before. So we dragged him up onto the bank and boy was he surprised when I bashed his head in with a rock (she wouldn't do it). We are C&R 99% of the time, but my mom loves fish and she scolds us whenever we don't bring her any.

As we made the 1/2 mile trek back to the truck with the dead fish we got some looks from some stuck-up ff anglers there but here's the reality: We had been license-checked by the park ranger the day before, and he told us that they were trying to re-introduce rainbows into the river (whirling disease had decimated them). Apparently the browns were dominating (read: eating) the rainbows, so he encouraged us to take home a brown or two (under 12" or over 16").

Those who know me know that I am primarily a still water fisherman. But that might change now. I had such a great time on the Gunnison that I am having trouble thinking about going back to lakes and ponds. We'll see what happens. Maybe I will have one wife and one mistress.


A quick word about fisheries management. I am no expert on this topic, but from my limited experience it seems to me that Colorado takes its fisheries much more seriously. Every toilet facility I visited was clean enough to eat in (if you were so inclined). I saw big trout in all three rivers we fished. I saw very small amounts (or none at all) of trash. I got creel checked twice (see the Uncompahgre report) by young, good looking, friendly people. I never saw a poacher -- hell I only saw maybe 2 gear fisherman in eight days of fishing. Everything about our Colorado fishing experience was just great. Why shouldn't we stock our river they way they do theirs? I wonder if we in WA have anything to learn from the CO dept of f&w.

End of Editorializing.

Anyway, the next time we visit my parents I intend to fish the East River, the Uncompahgre again, the gunnison again (of course) the San Juan, etc, etc, etc.


Great report and, capm!:)
A couple of thoughts on your observations about Colorado.
All the lottery proceeds must, by law go to the great outdoors, perhaps the reason for edible toilet seats you saw.
You were on unique rivers, at least on the Gunnison and Uncompahgre. Dam controlled, tailwaters where trout can get big.
The lack of trash I would attribute to the fact that you were fishing where fly fisherman fish and we're a pretty tidy lot or,.... the high water washed it to Utah. Go where the bait guys or gear chuckers go and you'll find the usual stuff.
I'm glad you had a great time but don't blame it on our DOW, almost anything good that happens fishing-wise here is strictly by chance.:D :D