Despite being named the East River, this free flowing stretch of water makes its way through the middle of the Colorado high country, meandering southwards from Emerald Lake, running northward of Crested Butte, and flowing into the Taylor River at the headwaters of the Gunnison River in Almont.
Some of the best freestone fishing in the state can be found along the banks of the East River, and its designated Wild Trout section yields some of the fastest fishing for wild browns, rainbows, and cutthroats.
Wild Trout water runs from the bridge by Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery for roughly one mile. The hatchery trout actually stock numerous other lakes, streams, and rivers throughout other parts of the state, but ironically the river closest to the hatchery is teeming with trout born in the wild.
The majority of the East River flows through a valley north of Gunnison, and is primarily composed of cattle ranching country. Nearby Crested Butte is a legend among mountain bikers and fans of extreme winter sports, but following the East River is akin to taking a time machine back to the days of the Old West, as little has changed here in the past 140 years. The 12,000 foot peaks on either side of the valley feel like the finishing touch on this vista of the American West.
Obviously, for wild trout fishing you need to visit the section of the river closest to the Roaring Judy hatchery. To get there, take 135 North from Gunnison, then take the left fork at Almont and keep following 135 til you see the bridge by the hatchery entrance.
Three miles further down river from here is the confluence of the Taylor and the headwaters of the Gunnison. Access to the river is easy via the hatchery and at access points further downstream. Neversink and Cooper Ranch are both popular spots to get out onto the water, so be sure to check these out, too.
If you want to try your hand at angling for some Kokanee salmon, stick closer to the waters of the Gunnison downstream of the Taylor. The Kokanee run up the Gunnison from Blue Mesa Reservoir and are catch-and-release from August 1st to October 31st.
The scenery here is absolutely gorgeous, and if you visit in the late summer or early fall you will find some of the best freestone fishing you are likely to get in central Colorado. Keep an eye out for private property property boundaries, and do your part to keep fly fishing in Colorado a friendly and respectful sport.
There are no dams on the East River making flow from season to season dependent on runoff. Be sure to check stream flow conditions on the USGS gauge at Almont before setting out.
Fall is considered one of the better seasons for fishing the East River, with good hatches of BWOs, Gray Drakes, Midges, and Caddis peaking. Since the river is dependent on runoff as far as flow is concerned, you want to visit during the summer and fall for best results and conditions as a general rule.
Additionally, the best fishing of the day is typically between noon and 4 p.m., so there is no need to be at the river at the crack of dawn. Moreover, it tends to be less chilly weather wise at this time of day in the fall, too.
Major hatches for the East River are BWOs, Gray Drakes, Midges, and Caddis, so plan your fly box accordingly.
Recommended fly patterns are as follows:
- Micro Egg (Pink / Org #18)
- RS2 (Grey #20)
- TH Zebra Midge (Black #20)
- TH Zebra Midge (Cream #20)
- Tunghead Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail (PT #16)
- Tunghead Hare's Ear Flashback (HE #16)
- Globug Egg (Orange #16)
- San Juan Worm (Brown #14)
- Parachute Adams (Gray #18)
- Two Bit Hooker (Red#14)
Pack your hip waders, and make sure you have 9-foot 5-weight rod for wild trout along the East River. If you are planning to fish for Kokanee salmon during their annual run, definitely pack a 6-weight.
There are a number of area fly shops and that publish East River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Modified Colorado Division of Wildlife rules apply to the majority of the East River, with a possession limit of 2 trout under 12 inches. Kokanee salmon are catch and release only, and there is no fishing allowed from the Roaring Judy hatchery outlet down to the Roaring Judy SFU between August 1 - October 31.
The Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport is the closest access to the East River by air, and there is also access from Aspen if you are willing to drive a bit. Given that it’s a four hour drive from Denver and closer to 3 from Colorado Springs, these airports are going to be your best bet.
Crested Butte features a resort that has excellent rates during the skiing/winter sports off season, and there are numerous hunting and fishing cabins and campgrounds all around the greater Gunnison area. Don’t forget to check local vacation rentals for surprise deals and bargains as well, since you never know what is available until you look.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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