Gunnison River

Just returned from a long weekend trip to the Gunnison River. Accompanied by my wife Lynda and our 19 year old son Chris, we went to check out the fall colors and to fish for Kokanee Salmon.
Every fall the Kokanee run up the river from Blue Mesa Reservoir bound for the Roaring Judy Hatchery on the East River. We'd taken the same trip in late September two years ago and had been blown away by the weather, the scenery and the fishing. Despite going a bit later this year, I felt good about our chances. A couple reports I'd heard told of hundred fish days. That sounded exhausting to me, so I figured what the hell, we'll land 40 or 50 before lunch then call it a day. As always, we found it's easier said than done.
It turned out that we were a little late for the fall colors and the fish. The trees were beautiful, but in the passes many had all ready lost their leaves. In the section of river that we fished, only a smattering of Kokanee were present. But, Chris and I did manage to find a couple.
We started fishing Saturday morning a short distance below Almont, at the campground. I went downstream to search for good holding water, while Chris headed for the "sweet spot" we'd found on our last visit. Lynda was a bit hinky about wading in the rushing waters, so she stayed on the bank opposite Chris's position.
Finding no good spots below, I climbed out of the river and headed back to join the family. Lynda called me on the two-way as I began the short walk back. Seems that young Chris had a good sized Koke on and he was chasing it downriver. Just before I reached them, I heard a loud expletive bounce off the canyon walls and I knew in an instant what had happened, Chris had lost his fish. I could see him, as I stepped out of the trees into the river, looking dejectedly downriver. It had been a good fight and he had lost. We've all been there. We met midriver where he told me what had happened. He'd taken his net out just as the fish made one last, desperate run. As luck would have it, the knob on his reel got caught in the net and stopped cold, breaking the fish off. I put my hand on his shoulder and said something like "sh!t happens." He crossed the river and joined his mom, while I took my turn in the "sweet spot."
My 1st cast brought a small rainbow to the glo-bug dropper. A couple casts later a slightly bigger bow slammed the glo-bug and, after a brief tussle, he threw the hook. The next fish, was the one I was lookin' for. After settin' the hook the fish sprinted to midriver, came out of the water, and cart-wheeled across the surface. Next instant, he heads downstream, leaps a couple more times and continues to peel off line in the heavy current. I glanced down at the reel to see how close I was getting to the backing, then across the river at Lynda and Chris. "I hope they're getting this on film.” Knowing that I had to gain some line or lose the fish, I gave chase. Stumbling and staggering over the slippery rocks, I found myself barely able to keep up until the salmon moved into a slower stretch of water. Finally, I gained some line and started looking for a suitable landing spot.
The good news was that there was a nice little beach ahead and to the left, which would do nicely I thought. The bad news was, the fish was moving back into the heavy flow and I could not stop him. Just below us, the current sped up as it flowed into a narrow chute next to a large rock. I could pursue no father, I had to make a stand.
Rearing back on my rod, I tried to turn the fish toward the landing spot. At this point two things became evident; my rod could bend no farther without breaking and...the Kokanee was snagged. Although I hadn't been able to pull the fish out of the current, I had managed to bring it to the surface where it lay sideways to the flow. Damn! Only one thing I could do. I moved my hands up the rod till I could grab the line, and I pulled fish in hand over hand.
It wasn't all that big, around 18 inches or so, but holding it was like trying to hold onto a flexed muscle on a mission.
The glo-bug was stuck in it's tail and the beadhead bugger was impaled in it's side. A less than stellar way to catch to catch a salmon to be sure! Amazingly, when I released the Kokanee he seemed fit as a fiddle. I guess he was following his primal urges and I merely slowed him down.
For whatever reason, after that we couldn't buy a strike. We moved upriver looking for fish. Stopped at the Confluence Hole where the Taylor and East Rivers join to form the Gunnison. I left my rod in the car, hoping to make good on my guarantee to Lynda that she'd catch a big Kokanee. She cast into the riffle that spilled into the Confluence Hole over and over with no success. A few Kokes moved through while we were there, but it was damn few.
We packed it in and headed up the East River to the hatchery to see what was happenin' there. The Kokanee were stacked up in places and so were the anglers. We saw no one hooked-up in spite of the numbers of fish before them. Seems they had developed a severe case of lock-jaw. One fellow was casting into a pool that contained at least a hundred fish and getting nada. Talk about frustration.

Only one more trip on the books before the water gets stiff. That'd be to North Delaney in two weeks for the big, brawny Browns that dwell there. Hopefully, we won't be too late for that one.

Haven't quite figured out how to put pictures on yet. I guess I'm still computer illiterate. Did manage to put 3 in the gallery.

Nice report. I try to make that trip in late August or early September each year. For the kokanee, I've found that you have to get the fly on the bottom. It's a lot more weight than I am used to and really stretches the limits of my 4 weight. Next year, I'll be using a 6 weight Sage XP. Large bead head princes are good; if you tie one up with a red tail, even better. Stop at Dragon Fly Anglers in Crested Butte next time. They've got the stuff. It's a little way up the road, but while you are there, you can stop at Camp Four Coffee. Best coffee in Colorado as far as I'm concerned. I always bring a couple of pounds of whole bean back with me. BTW- I brought a couple to hand this year that had to have gone 6 lbs. Here are pictures of a smaller one.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
Very good story. And I kinda liked that think about the water getting stiff.

But being that I'm in an area where we seldom get too many days below freezing,our water never get to the stiff way. That what you meant I hope.


Thanks for the tips! We'll have to make the trip a little earlier next year and check out that coffee. Look forward to seeing that picture.

Old Man,

Thanks! It is exactly what I meant. Other than the local tailwater fisheries, everything around these parts will be frozen till March or so.


Steve Rohrbach

Puget Sound Fly Fisher
Bill, thanks for the great story. I have been fortunate enough to fish the Crested Butte and Gunnison area for years. We did a float trip one year down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and were able to tie into some of the great trout in that stretch. I have fished the East River, the Slate, the Taylor River and one of my favorites, Oh Be Joyful Creek. OBJ is not a great fishing creek but there is something special about spending a day on water called Oh Be Joyful. Thanks again for sharing, Steve
A few of my formative days in fly fishing were on the Gunnison, we stayed right there in the lodge at the confluence you're talking about - it was fall. Kokanee were in pretty thick, but I targetted trout. I swung a purple ESL for the kokes for a little bit, but the salmon holes were stacked heavy with people and the trout fishing (nymphs) was just a lot better.

Thanks for the great report.

Any suggestions on the Slate? I fished it above Gothic in September. Brought two beautiful brookies to hand fishing the beaver ponds. Have you fished it up that far?