DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lake Fork Gunnison River in Colorado

Something of a hidden treasure along the Upper Gunnison, the Lake Fork provides drainage during runoff and heavy rains for the North East San Juan Mountain range.

Not only is it one of the most beautiful stretches of mountain river for fly fishing in all of Colorado, but it also boasts some of the most productive Gold Medal waters in the west.

The waters here are so rich with trout at Lake Fork that the CDOW has stated that it has more than double the number of 14-inch and larger trout to qualify as a Gold Medal fishery.

Fly Fishing Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, CO by The Angling Channel

Anglers in search of trophy rainbows, cutthroats, and browns in large numbers will not be disappointed should they decide to visit the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Here you will find numerous fast riffles and slower sections of pocket water to ply your skills regardless of what style of fly fishing you prefer. 

The waters along Lake Fork can be challenging, but for those anglers that thrive on the challenge will never be disappointed in a trip to this stretch of the Upper Gunnison.

Best of all, if you aren't finding any luck on Lake Fork (which is unlikely but possible), there are numerous other places along the Gunnison River that are every bit as promising if you don't mind a bit of a hike or a short drive. 

Lake Fork Gunnison River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Lake Fork Gunnison River in Colorado

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Lake Fork Gunnison River

It's hard to pick a wrong spot to fish along Lake Fork or the rest of the Gunnison for that matter. Access to the river for Lake Fork is usually accomplished via the campground roads from the highway just outside of Gunnison

You can also hike from San Cristobal Lake Inlet as well if you don't mind making your way over a little rough country. Watch for private property as you go, and always ask permission from property owners if you happen on private land or a posted sign in your travels.

A lot of anglers find some of the best fishing near Cherry Creek or downriver over Argenta Falls. An advantage to visiting the section of Lake Fork here is that it provides easy access from many of the local resort's lakeside. 

There are also many campgrounds, RV parks, and cabins you can rent nearby that make fishing the Lake Fork near Blue Mesa Reservoir more of a vacation and less of a wilderness hiking and fishing excursion.

Best Time to Fish the Lake Fork Gunnison River

Right after the runoff in the spring until early fall provides excellent fishing opportunities all along the Lake Fork.

Winter fishing can be a bit treacherous along certain stretches, but the year-round supply of midges keeps the fish biting.

The mayfly hatch in the springtime is your best bet for early prime season fishing, and caddis flies are the best summer hatch by far.

Lake Fork also tends to stay pretty quiet throughout the season due to the technical difficulty of fishing the richer stretches of its waters.

The further you are willing to venture into the wilds along Lake Fork through, the higher your chances of success in any season.

Best Flies for Lake Fork Gunnison River

Recommended fly patterns for Lake Fork include:

  • 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)

Need flies? 

Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere.  Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box. 

Dry Flies
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant

Nymphs/Wet Flies
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black

- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)

Lake Fork Gunnison River Fishing Tips

Lots of opportunity for bank fishing, but you may want to pack some hip waders for the more extensive sections.

As for what rod to bring, a 9-foot, 5-wt is pretty standard.

Need Gear? 

Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.

Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.

High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.

Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet.  3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.

Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable.  If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.

Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market.  Excellent foot and ankle support.  Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.

Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!

Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats.  Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish.  Simply the best nets on the market.

Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam.  If you need more storage - you have too many flies!

Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.

Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.

The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes.  Game changer.

Note: DIY Fly Fishing earns a commission (at no cost to you) on sales made using the links above. Thank you for your support!

Lake Fork Gunnison River Fishing Regulations

If you do decide Lake Fork is the right spot for you, some special regulations govern different stretches of the river.

Lake Fork Gunnison River map of special regulation fishing areas

 Colorado Parks & Wildlife fishing rules are as follows:

(I) High Bridge Gulch downriver to BLM boundary (below Gate Campground) and Cherry Creek to upper Red Bridge CG boundary: artificial flies/lures only, bag and possession for Browns is 2, minimum 16", all rainbows catch-and-release

(J) BLM boundary below Gate Campground to Cherry Creek: Bag and possession for trout is 2

(K) Argenta Falls downstream to Blue Mesa Reservation: Kokanee Salmon snagging permitted Sep. 1 to Dec. 31

Lake Fork Gunnison River Trip Planning Tips

Flights into Denver can be connected to the Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional Airport in Gunnison, so getting to Lake Fork generally isn't all that difficult or expensive.

If you are a fan of rough living and the great outdoors, there are numerous campgrounds in and around Lake Fork that provide easy access to the river as well.

Similarly, there are many RV parks, regular hotels and motels, and even a lakeside resort nearby that offer varying levels of luxury and comfort depending on your budget.

Check to see what their "offseason" time of year is, and book accordingly. It's also worth looking into local vacation rentals, as these can yield unexpected bargains regardless of the season as well.

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

Featured Image by Jeffery Beall

Ken Sperry

About the author

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.

Get Directions to the Best Places to Fish in America!

Check out our interactive map of over 30,000 of the best places to fly fish in the US. Get directions to access points, boat ramps, and real-time USGS stream flow data. 

Get App