Throughout summer waves of tourists visit the Roaring Fork Valley. Whether it’s to spend a week in Aspen escaping the heat back home or go camping on the beautiful public lands we’re blessed to have, there is no shortage of fun to be had here. When it comes to the fishing, the summer months see a massive influx of anglers out on the water. At the same time the fish begin seeing more and more pressure, they also are facing another challenge: hotter water temperatures. When our water temperatures rise it becomes harder for trout to remain strong. If water temps get too high, ethical anglers understand that it’s good time to pursue other hobbies, as the simple act of catching and fighting a fish can spell doom for that fish. That’s especially true in years where the winter snowpack is well below normal, meaning the summer months will result in lower water levels.
When it comes to fishing in August, we don’t see prolific hatches like we do in the spring or early summer. That means when it comes to throwing dry flies, it’s pretty much grass hoppers or bust. Given the lack of prolific hatches and the stress over-fishing can have on our major fisheries, I always take friends and guests up to the high country during August. Colorado has over 100,000 miles of trout streams within its border…that means if you look on a map and see a tiny blue line on it, chances are there’s a healthy trout population in that stream. For me personally, there is nothing I enjoy more than being miles from the nearest angler (or person for that matter) throwing big dry flies at eager trout.
What gear and flies should I take?
There isn’t a whole lot of strategy involved in fishing the high country. Unlike their brethren in our main fisheries that see artificial flies all day every day, fish in the high country see very little pressure and are not wary of hooks. In most instances, they’ll happily rise to whatever dry fly you choose to throw at them. No need to match the hatch when you’re up high, just choose whatever fly you like that floats well. For me, that’s a Royal Whulff pattern. While some people prefer stimulators and others like to throw terrestrial patterns, I personally think Royal Whulffs are perfectly designed to float high in the water and have a large enough profile that any fish will see it. That said, it would strongly recommend you take quite a few flies with you. It’s not uncommon to catch several dozen fish and so it’s quite easy for the flies to get soaked through and not remain buoyant. If you notice your fly having a hard time staying above the water, attempt to dry it and use some dry shake floatant, but at some point just take a couple of minutes to change out the fly.
(Above) native Greenback Cutthroat trout (Below) brook trout
The water in the high country is typically crystal clear. In some cases I try to spot fish which is typically quite easy to do. In August they are usually feeding aggressively knowing that it’s time to feast for the long winter ahead. But instances where I can’t spot fish, I fish the water, meaning if it looks fishy it’s probably holding a fish or two.
In terms of rod and reel, it’s always a good idea to fish with a shorter rod (7-ish feet long) anywhere between a 0 weight and a 3 weight. That said, if you only have a 9′ 5 weight, that will work too! As for waders, leave them at home. If you can’t appreciate cold, clean snowmelt washing over your legs you probably oughta donate your fly fishing gear to the Salvation Army.
A couple of side notes…
While you should always be fishing with barbless hooks, that’s especially true with the smaller trout you’ll encounter in the high country. The last thing you want to do is bury a barb in a wild trout and rip its lip off removing the fly.
Also please note, if you decide to keep a couple of trout to take home to eat, please make sure it’s allowed in whatever area you are fishing. Generally speaking, brook trout are fair game but in Colorado all cutthroat trout must be returned to the water. If you don’t know the difference, err on the side of caution and simply return the fish. Our native cutthroat are struggling to maintain a foothold in our waterways, and should you stumble across some, rest assured a lot of effort has been put forth for you to enjoy that experience. Help do your part by practicing good catch and release methods.