Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Roaring Fork River, Colorado
The Roaring Fork River is one of the steepest rivers in the state of Colorado. The decline of
the stream from it headwaters to the Colorado River doesn't allow the water to flow lazily
along in very many places. The name of the river says it all. It does roar. The typical fast
water also provide a good clue about the way you have to fish the Roaring Fork River.
The small tributary streams hold a lot of small brook trout but once they form the main stem
of the Roaring Fork, rainbows and browns begin to show up. These trout don't average as
large as the ones in the middle and lower sections of the river, but they are easier to catch
because they are not as picky. This upper area flows from the headwaters through Aspen.
This part from its headwaters through Aspen down to the Woody Creek Bridge, is considered
the upper section of the seventy mile long stream by the locals. The upper section that's
inside the White River National Forest area is all open to the public for fishing.
The middle section of the Roaring Fork River extends from just below Aspen to Carbondale.
One of the best areas to access and fish within the middle section is from the Jaffe Park.
This is prime pocket water. It also has excellent access from a trial that follows the river for
over five miles. Most of the time, this part can be waded easily. It is best fished in an
upstream direction. In general, short more accurate cast are preferred over long cast, or
downstream cast. You want to keep your rod tip held high and as much fly line out of the
water as possible to prevent drag. Fish the current seams between the fast and slow water
and on the side of the pockets. The long runs and riffles generally hold the most active or
feeding trout. There are plenty of trout in the pools, but they are not as easy to catch.
Another tip is that if you fish a nymph, the "high stickin" method usually works better than
using strike indicators and making longer cast. There's plenty of fast water where you can
get very close to the fish without spooking them if you do it correctly and carefully.
The middle section gets the water from the famous Frying Pan River at Basalt. It adds a lot
more water and most importantly, increases the pH of the water. There's a lot more aquatic
insects in the river from that point downstream. This area is easily accessed from Basalt
down to the Lower Bypass Bridge. This is also one of the best places to fish during the winter
because of the warmer water from the Frying Pan River tailwater. The river changes in that
the extra water makes wading more difficult but it is still possible to wade on normal and low
levels if you exercise caution. There are a lots of hatches in this section and plenty of trout.
At Carbondale, the Crystal River adds its water to the flow. The lower section is considered
to be from this point all the way to the Roaring Forks confluence with the Colorado River at
Glenwood Springs. This section of the river is much larger with the added water from both
the Frying Pan and the Crystal River. This section flows through a lot of private property. It is
best fished from a drift boat. This area has a huge amount of aquatic insect life. The trout
grow large, especially the brown trout, and aren't quite as easy to catch as the middle and
upper section trout, but they are certainly catchable. You have to pay more attention to the
hatches and also more attention to the water because of the Crystal River water. Its Spring
runoff affects the Roaring Fork and when theres heavy rains in the upper Crystal River area,
the water can quickly become cloudy because of the quarries located in the upper area of
the Crystal River. You may want to review this river included within this site.
Keep in mind when you are fishing the Roaring Fork River that the elevation at Glenwood
Springs is a few thousand feet lower than the headwaters well above Aspen. In other words
the water temperatures can vary drastically at any one time depending on where you are
fishing. This has a big influence on the timing of the hatches.
If you prefer drift boat fishing, then by all means fish the lower section. It you prefer wading
and good size trout, fish the middle section. If you prefer the high altitude streams, its
beautiful scenery and lots of easy to catch wild trout including brook trout, fish the
headwaters. Wherever you fish this very fine freestone river, you should find it rewarding in
many ways. It is one of the best freestone rivers in the state of Colorado and one of the few
that flows very far without being dammed.
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