Location: Roaring Fork Valley
Date: March 10-12, 2023
Trip Captain: Phil Lucks
The idea of this weekend is a "build your own adventure" kind of weekend. You can float, you can wade, maybe even get to a lake or reservoir.
As the Roaring Fork river winds its way down from the high country above Aspen, it transforms from a running stream to the deep and wide flow of a mighty river as it reaches Basalt and Carbondale, before it joins the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. And let's not forget about the Crystal River...
It's safe to say there is still plenty of wild water and Gold Medal fishing to be discovered along the Roaring Fork River. Most of the floating takes place from Basalt to Glenwood Springs, while most of the wading takes place from Aspen to Basalt.
For lodging, there's a plethora of options, from hotels of any range, camping, and RV Resorts.
Here's a small preview, but read on below for more details:
Best Places to Fish the Roaring Fork River
The designated Wild Trout Waters of the Roaring Fork run from Hallum Lake (located in Aspen) all the way downriver to Upper Woody Creek Bridge (found between the towns of Aspen and Basalt). Cutthroat., Rainbow, and Brown trout are particularly plentiful along this section of the Roaring Fork.
From Basalt to Carbondale, the river widens and gains depth as the Frying Pan River connects to the Roaring Fork proper. During high water, this is a great area for floating, and you can access the river in and around Basalt and Carbondale.
Two Gold Medal stretches of water:
- The first section to visit is on the waters between Hallum Lake in Aspen and Upper Woody Creek Bridge just before you reach Basalt.
- The easiest way to access this area is from the Rio Grande Trail running along the north bank of the Roaring Fork.
- The second is found at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and the Crystal River just outside Carbondale. The area continues downstream all the way to the where the Roaring Fork meets the Colorado itself near Glenwood Springs.
Roaring Fork Float Trip Options
The float fishing on the Roaring Fork really gets going in late February or early March and runs through spring for several weeks, usually until late April or early May.
For the majority of float anglers, the “Lower Fork” is where the majority of early season float trips occur. From Carbondale down to Glenwood Springs, the Fork offers twelve miles of superb fly fishing for large rainbows, browns and whitefish with the occasional cutthroat trout.
There are three boat ramps that split this Gold Medal stretch into two separate floats or one long one. Put in at Carbondale and take out halfway to Glenwood Springs at the Westbank boat ramp. This float features long riffles and several deep holes where trout congregate in the early season and gets more sun exposure. At Westbank, anglers can float down to the Two Rivers Park on the Colorado River. This section has more deep holes and less sun exposure because of a more canyon-like nature. The long float from Carbondale to Two Rivers is best when the river flows begins to come up a little later in the spring because it takes much longer to float this stretch.
Rafts might be preferable to hard bottom, only because flows could be a little lower.
Early Season Roaring Fork Hatches
Beginning in March, the first real hatch starts with the Midgezilla. These large olive midges run about a size 16-18 and are often confused with BWO mayflies which start reliably hatching little later in March. Each of these hatches spurs the Fork’s trout into heavy feeding both under and on the surface. Some favorite flies include the Olive Biot Midge and BWO Parawulff.
Stoneflies also make an appearance at this time. Golden stonefly nymphs are very active and run from size 6 to 12. Hatching stoneflies are olive and brown much like a Skwala and average size 10-12. It’s hard to beat a Rubberleg Twenty Incher or brown Pat’s Rubberleg.
Because of its lower elevation and tendency to warm up early in the spring. This means caddis make an appearance here before many other rivers. In late March and early April, a size 14 Caddis will begin hatching.
Don’t forget the junk flies. Spring fly fishing on the Fork often sees fish that will aggressively eat eggs and worms. These flies also excel when a warm day causes the river to get colored up. The fishing can really turn on when the water goes from clear to green and may get tough when it changes again from green to brown.
Nymphing is the old standby that puts a lot if fish in the net. In the morning, focus on deeper holes and runs. As the water warms and hatches begin, look for fish to slide into riffles.
In March, trout will usually begin rising around lunchtime and continue through the afternoon. Early season dry fly fish should be targeted in the shallower tailouts of long deep holes.
The first big streamer day of the year will usually happen about the same time trout are willing to actively eat on the surface and feed on emergers in faster riffles. Warm, cloudy days are best. Try a Vanilla Bugger or olive sculpin patterns stripped through deeper pockets and potholes near the bank.
Best Flies for Roaring Fork River
Midges and BWOs hatch in their largest population in the springtime, but they see small population booms even on warmer winter days.
Recommended flies for the Roaring Fork River:
- Pheasant Tail,
- Baetis (18-20, grayish-olive)
- Pats 20 Incher,
- Pats Rubberleg (10-12)
- Copper Johns,
- GB Epoxy Stone,
- Midgezilla (16-18)
- Streamers: Black Woolly Bugger, Vanilla Bugger or olive sculpin patterns
Basalt is the recommended area to find lodging because it's central for the whole valley, but if you are camping we seem to be limited to stay in GLENWOOD.
- Unfortunately, many of the regular campgrounds are closed until May and tent sites at the RV locations are "weather dependent".
- I am booking at the Glenwood Canyon Resort Camping-RV-Cabin Sites
- Cost is $70/75 per night depending on vehicle size & riverfront
- 1 night non-refundable payment is due at time of booking, balance is cancelable 7 days or more.
- Includes a 10% discount to Iron Mountain Hot Springs as part of reservation
- If you need alternate location there is also:
- Prices range from $150/night to $300. Check Hotels.com for a wide range, but some recommendations near Basalt are: