Colorado Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Crystal River in Colorado

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

December 15, 2018

Crystal River near Redstone Colorado

The main attraction of Aspen may be the ski slopes and the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan; however, the Crystal River is an often overlooked but plentiful fishery found in the same general region. 

Making its headwaters up above Marble, the Crystal River runs approximately 35 miles through some of the most beautiful alpine vistas found in all of Colorado

The river terminates down around Carbondale, where it merges with the better known (and far more crowded) Roaring Fork River

About Crystal River

Fly fishing the Crystal River in the Roaring Fork Valley Colorado

Rainbows and browns are plentiful all along the Crystal River, but there is also a massive population of whitefish that far outstrips the local trout numbers. Whitefish are good eating when you are out camping, and if the trout aren’t biting that day, a catch of whitefish can sure help break that slump-feeling.

Most anglers visit for the trout fishing though, and you will find the best fishing is towards the tailwaters outside Carbondale, close to the Roaring Fork confluence.

Most of the Crystal River runs through White River National Forest, so there are few sections of the river that cross private property lines. The fishing varies widely all along the Crystal, with flatter runs providing plenty of pools and riffles around massive marble and granite boulders.

During spring runoff and the Crystal is a favorite spot for kayakers, as the fast flowing waters make for challenging navigation via boat and raft. You want to avoid the river during this season anyway, as the faster waters tend to get muddy after heavy rains and during runoff.

Crystal River Fishing Map

map of fishing hot spots on the Crystal River in Colorado

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Spots to Fish the Crystal River

For trout fishing, the best water place to fish the Crystal River is nearest to the confluence of the Roaring Fork River. The water stays fairly clear here, and the boulders and freestone of the riverbed create numerous pools and riffles where the fish like to hide and feed.

Best access to this section of the Crystal River is via Highway 82 and Highway 133. Several parks offer access to the Crystal, and there is even a hatchery about a mile south of Carbondale, too. To give the wilder waters a try, take the highway north through the White River National Forest lands and look for pull-offs and turn offs marked as public access.

To prevent accidental trespassing, pick up a current local map of the area and verify your position via the highway mile markers or your GPS. The majority of the Crystal River is open to the public on national forest lands, but there are small pockets of private property. The higher country fishing yields shallower freestone sections of water that offer faster fishing and more beautiful scenic views. Best bet is to start just outside Marble and Basalt and work your way southward along the highway from there.

River Flow and Current Conditions


Best Time to Fish the Crystal River

Summer to fall is the prime fishing season along the Crystal River, and the best hatches of the year are around August until the end of October.

The big hatches of the year are BWOs and Green Drakes. Midges are always a good bet year round. You may want to avoid fishing in the winter, however, given the northern location and higher elevation, unless you are thoroughly immune to the intense cold and severe low temperatures.

Keep in mind that runoff season is early spring until almost June, so try to plan your visit when the river will be at its clearest during the summer and fall.

Gear Recommendations

Waders are an absolute must if you intend to fish the upper waters of the Crystal near Marble, and nice to have if you stick closer to Carbondale and the tailwaters of the Crystal River. A 4-weight rod should be more than sufficient for the local trout. 

Best flies for Crystal River

Some of the best flies for the Crystal River include:

  • Adams (#10-20)
  • Sparkle Dun (#20-22)
  • RS2 (#20-22)
  • Midge (#20-24)
  • Tunghead Pheasant Tail (#20-22)
  • Epoxy Mysis Shrimp (clear #16-18)
  • Griffith’s Gnat (#20-22)
  • Foam Wing RS2 (black #20-22)
  • Perfect Baetis (olive/grey #20)
  • Poxybiot Baetis (black #22)

Crystal River Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops that publish Crystal River fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.

Fishing Regulations

Standard Colorado Division of Wildlife regulations apply along the Crystal River: 4 trout of any species possession limit. If you feel like catching a whole bunch of fish for extra practice, you can take and keep as many whitefish as you like.

Trip Planning Tips

You can get a bargain flight into Aspen-Pitkin Airport depending on what time of year you make your trip. If you don’t mind a 3-4 hour drive, you can fly to Denver and road trip the rest of the way out to Carbondale or Marble.

Regarding where to stay, Carbondale offers the most traditional accommodations, but there are hunting and fishing cabins up around Marble and Basalt.

State campgrounds are also plentiful near the White River National Forest land, and the ski resorts in Aspen and Vail often have deals on vacation rentals after ski season ends.

Don’t forget to check into local bed and breakfast places, as well as private vacation rentals, as you can often find unexpected bargains depending on the time of year you plan to visit.

Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado.

Feature image by Dave Dugdale