Gunnison River brown trout

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Gunnison River in Colorado

If you’re planning a fly fishing expedition you could hardly pick a better location than the Gunnison River in Southwestern Colorado.

This renowned, year-round fly fishing destination is home to large brown and rainbow trout, and is considered one of the finest fisheries in the continental United States.

The upper section of the river has been designated as both wild trout water and gold medal water.

Fly Fishing the Gunnison Gorge by The Shire Life

In the waters of the Gunnison River you’ll find record size brown and rainbow trout and even Kokanee salmon.  The Gunny, as it is known locally, has a reputation among Colorado natives as the scene of some of the best river and lake fishing to be found anywhere in the state.

The upper section of the river in Gunnison Valley is know for some of the finest fishing in the state. Here you’ll find brook trout, cutbow, cutthroat trout, mackinaw, rainbow trout and tiger trout. 

Some of the record catches in the valley include a 26 inch brook trout, a 33.5 inch cutbow, a 31 inch cutthroat trout, a 46.9 inch mackinaw, a 40.5 inch rainbow trout and a 28 inch tiger trout.

The state’s second largest river has a wide variation of widths that range from 100 to 1,000 feet, and the strong current and rapids found upstream make travel virtually impossible.

While there, you’re likely to see herds of mule deer and North American elk in the surrounding forest, and the sights of walls of ebony schist towering at more than 2,000 feet tall in the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park is a sight that can only be described as majestic.

Gunnison River Map, Fishing Access Sites and Boat Launches

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Gunnison River (Colorado): 38.610714, -106.510620
Gunnison River (Lower): 38.481049, -107.581291
Gunnison River Gorge: 38.481049, -107.581291
GUNNISON RIVER AT DELTA, CO: 38.753039, -108.078403
GUNNISON RIVER BELOW GUNNISON TUNNEL, CO: 38.529153, -107.648947
GUNNISON RIVER NEAR GRAND JUNCTION, CO.: 38.983316, -108.450645
GUNNISON RIVER NEAR GUNNISON, CO.: 38.541936, -106.949766
NORTH FK GUNNISON RIVER ABOVE MOUTH NR LAZEAR, CO: 38.785167, -107.833417
NORTH FORK GUNNISON RIVER BELOW PAONIA, CO: 38.857500, -107.621944
NORTH FORK GUNNISON RIVER NEAR SOMERSET, CO.: 38.925823, -107.434221
OHIO CREEK ABOVE MOUTH NR GUNNISON, CO: 38.587770, -106.931432
TOMICHI CREEK AT GUNNISON, CO: 38.521111, -106.940958
Gunnison River (Fishing Access): 38.663516, -106.847503
Gunnison River (Fishing Access): 38.654020, -106.857158
Gunnison River (Whitewater Park Access): 38.531550, -106.950464
Gunnison River (Fishing Access): 38.518044, -106.994407
Gunnison River (Fishing Access): 38.515136, -107.018313
Gunnison River (Cooper Ranch Access): 38.507509, -107.025005
Gunnison River (Blue Mesa Tailwater): 38.453085, -107.338107
Gunnison River (Morrow Point Tailwater): 38.452076, -107.539465
Gunnison River (Black Canyon Section): 38.529348, -107.648838
Gunnison River (Fishing Access): 38.554509, -107.686400
Gunnison River (North Fork of Smith Fork Section): 38.731958, -107.387924
Gunnison River (Smith Fork): 38.682361, -107.415090
Gunnison River (Smith Fork Campground Access): 38.726300, -107.505212
Gunnison River (Lower Section): 38.620089, -107.828608
Gunnison River (North Fork Section): 38.940018, -107.358921
Gunnison River (Pleasure Park): 38.784649, -107.836862
Gunnison River (Gunnison Gorge Access): 38.743155, -108.223357
Gunnison River (Delta SWA): 38.778276, -107.900499
Gunnison River (Gunnison Gorge): 38.652271, -107.858657
Gunnison River (Gunnison River SWA): 38.562161, -106.945746
Gunnison River (Gunnison River SWA): 38.581202, -106.922508
Gunnison River (Headwaters): 38.502700, -107.023700
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Best Places to Fish the Gunnison River

A major tributary of the Colorado River, the Gunnison is almost 80 miles in length. Its confluence, formed by the Taylor River and East River, are well known themselves as excellent trout streams.

The upper section of the river is largest above the Blue Mesa Reservoir which is a renowned kokanee salmon fishery. The lower section lies below the reservoir in the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park where trophy rainbow trout measuring over 20 inches can be found.

Each section of the river has its own unique characteristics with the upper section being impacted more by the spring runoff season.

Downstream of the Black Canyon, just south of the confluence of the river, is Gunnison Gorge. Here, within the steep-walls of the gorge, the river offers one of the top fly fishing destinations to be found anywhere in the lower 48 states.

The Gunnison River offers several public access points (see map above) for wading, though fishing from drift boats when the waters are high is preferable. The river has many long runs and deep pools, and aquatic insects are to be found just about everywhere. 

Gunnison River Flow and Current Conditions

Upper Gunnison River

GUNNISON RIVER NEAR GUNNISON, CO.

  • Flow: 461 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 1.46 ft
.
USGS

Gunnison Gorge of the Black Canyon (below Crystal Reservoir)

GUNNISON RIVER BELOW GUNNISON TUNNEL, CO

  • Flow: 730 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 2.86 ft
.
USGS

Lower Gunnison River

GUNNISON RIVER AT DELTA, CO

  • Water Temp: 62.6 ° F
  • Flow: 957 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 2.01 ft
.
USGS

Best Time to Fish the Gunnison River

In winter, fishing the Gunnison is tough and for only the heartiest of fisherman. Nymphs, midge larva and caddisfly larva imitations will fish okay from late March until the runoff that occurs in May.

Dry fly fishing and the major hatches are in full force in summer. The first big hatch of salmonfly occurs from mid June until the first of July which leads to much better overall fishing.

Kokanee salmon begin their run upriver from Blue Mesa Reservoir to spawn in August through October, which is also the time when the big browns in the reservoir spawn. As they move out of the lake into the river it’s a great time to catch large trout.

Gunnison River Fly Box

Midges hatch throughout the year in the Gunnison, but are generally used only when there are no other insects hatching.

Blue-winged Olives are plentiful beginning in April until mid May, and again from July to October.

Other flies used for fishing the river include: caddisflies, Western March Browns, Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes, Red Quills, Stoneflies, Yellow Sallies, Great Gray Spotted Wing Sedges, and Streamers.

Gunnison River Fishing Tips

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Gunnison River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Gunnison River Fishing Reports

Gunnison River Fishing Regulations

The Gold Metal Water section of the Gunnison River extends from 200 yards downstream
of Crystal Reservoir dam to the North Fork of the Gunnison. See the Colorado Parks & Wildlife fishing brochure for special regulations that apply to the Gunnison River.

Gunnison River Trip Planning Tips

You can fly directly to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport where you’ll be able to access the river’s upper section at the town of Gunnison just two miles away. If you’re flying in to Denver the confluence of the river is located approximately 243 miles southwest via I-70 W.

If you fly in to Salt Lake City, Utah you’ll have to drive 284 miles south, southeast via US-6 E and I-70 E to the city of Grand Junction Colorado. 

You can stay in the city of Grand Junction or in towns closer to the actual river and fishing such as Hotchkiss, Crawford, Sapinero and Gunnison. There are numerous cabins, motels and campgrounds in the area to stay in.

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


About the Author Ken Sperry

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and is on a quest to map the best places for fly fishing in America. He created DIY Fly Fishing and the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish. Have a question? You can get in touch with Ken here.