Genuine two-for-one deals don’t come along all that often. There’s usually a catch, and it rarely involves fish.
The Piedra River in Colorado is one of the rare exceptions to that rule, and it directly involves fish.
With a short drive from Pagosa Springs, CO you can enjoy one of the most beautiful and unusual canyon river fishing spots in all of Colorado, and have a better-than-average shot at landing a big rainbow, brown, or cutthroat trout.
Fly Fishing the Piedra River near Pagosa, Colorado
The headwaters of the Piedra start way up in the Weminuche Wilderness, then form a trident of waterways consisting of East Fork, Middle Fork, and Williams Creek. These three separate waterways roll south and merge with the Piedra River proper in the Piedra Wilderness. The best ten miles for fishing can only be reached on foot, but they are absolutely worth every single mile you traverse.
What makes the Piedra River such a fantastic two for one deal for lovers of fly fishing and the great outdoors is the unique nature of the canyon itself. Eons of erosion by the river have worn down the volcanic rock and crimson-tinged sandstone into one of the most picturesque and vividly colored canyons in the United States.
The millenia of erosion have also given birth to numerous deep pools, bend pools, flat meadow pools, and plunge pools all along the canyon section of the Piedra River, making it a fly fishing angler’s paradise, especially if you are looking for those big browns, rainbows, or the occasional cutthroat. Not only is the view fantastic, but the fishing conditions are prime pretty much year round. It’s a winning 2-for-1 deal no matter why you are there.
Anglers looking to land rainbows and browns should stick to the waters past the merge point of the East, Middle, and Williams Creek in the base of the canyon along the main Southern Stem of the Piedra.
You will need to hike a ways to get to the fish, but the distance between you and the public access generally means you will be one of the only anglers out there depending on the season.
Don’t plan on fishing the canyon during spring runoff season though, as the frigid meltwater coming off the mountains chills the water and creates dangerously fast currents and significantly deeper waters.
If you are visiting the Piedra for cutthroat, the East Fork is their primary stomping grounds, though they are catch and release only throughout this section of the river. You also want to keep in mind that the Piedra attracts not only humans (kayakers, rafters, hikers, other anglers etc), but also a fair number of wild creatures as well.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife introduced river otters to the Piedra some years back, and they can be seen hunting, fishing, and frolicking in the water. The local black bear population also likes to visit the Piedra during the warmer months of the year, so be aware of your surroundings even as you take in the beautiful scenery and excellent fishing.
The major hatch on the Piedra River is primarily stoneflies, with midges and mayflies a close second. The caddis hatches are also fairly plentiful here from spring through the fall. Winter fishing is all right with midges, but you really want to avoid the Piedra during runoff in the springtime, as the flow and water level can get dangerously fast and high.
When planning your trip to the Piedra, definitely book for late spring, summer, or anytime in the fall for the best conditions. Additionally, you probably don’t want to be hiking the canyon trails when snow and ice are a factor, as one tumble into the freezing river below could prove quite fatal.
Make sure you’ve got some good stonefly, mayfly, and caddis flies on-hand. Terrestrials are also good for a few sections of the river, and it’s hard to go wrong with midges anywhere along the Piedra, too.
Here are a few of the most highly recommended patterns for the Piedra River:
-Pale Morning Dun (white, yellow #14-#20)
-Golden Stone (yellow, tan #8-#14)
-Midge (black, white, gray, cream, olive, red, brown, blue, purple #16-#24)
Waders are always a good idea to take along, particularly if you are fishing in the canyon during the low water season. Pack your 9-foot rod with a 5-weight on it.
There are a number of area fly shops that publish Piedra River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Keep in mind if you visit the Piedra that the waters extending from the Piedra River Bridge to about a mile and a half above Highway 160 are designated CNR only for any species of trout that you land. Essentially, this covers all of the river from where the three forks of the river merge to the highway just west of Pagosa Springs. Additionally, if you decide to fish the East Fork, all cutthroats are CNR only. Be sure to check the Colorado Fishing Brochure for current fishing regulations on the Piedra River before you head out.
The Durango-La Plata County airport and the Avjet-Pagosa Springs Airport offers flights that will put you just a short drive from the Piedra River. The town of Pagosa Springs itself has numerous accommodations that range from traditional cut-rate motels to high-end luxury resort spas.
Don’t forget to peruse the local ski lodge listings during the off season too, especially Wolf Creek Ski Resort. Some ski resorts offer fairly good off-season deals for travelers passing through when the slopes are closed for the season.
Don’t miss an opportunity to have a soak in the nearby Pagosa Hot Springs when you’re done hiking and fishing for the day, and if you have time make sure you stop by Chimney Rock National Monument as well.
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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