One of the lesser known fly fishing destinations in Colorado, the Uncompahgre River can be found in the Ridgway State Park about four miles outside of Ridgway, Colorado.
The north face snowmelt from the San Juan Mountains descends into Lake Como near Silverton, where the headwaters of the Uncompahgre begin at an elevation of over 12,000 feet.
Snowmelt runs from the first snows of autumn until at least mid-July, providing ideal cold-water fly fishing conditions along the 26 mile northward flowing expanse that is the Uncompahgre.
Gale Doudy with a 25+ rainbow from the Uncompahgre River (Pa-Co-Chu-Pak Tailwater) in Ridgeway State Park, Colorado
En-route to the Gunnison River in the town of Delta the Uncompahre river flows through the Ridgway State Park which provides plenty of parking and exceptional public access to the water for anglers.
Ridgway State Park also offers numerous hiking, boating, camping, and biking opportunities amongst some of the most scenic vistas Colorado has to offer. There is a fee of approximately $6 to help cover the cost of maintaining the 1,000 acre fishing preserve around the Ridgway Reservoir, but the dam release flow in the tailwaters here provide some excellent trophy sized fish.
Due to the generous insect population and periodic restocking of the reservoir with rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, landing a trophy sized fish below the reservoir is something even novice anglers find within their skill set. Provided you match the hatch the Uncompahgre may just become your new favorite spot to fly fish in Colorado.
Colorado Division of Wildlife rules apply to the tailwaters below the reservoir, but one of the greatest advantages to visiting Ridgway State Park to fish is that the best fishing spots along the Uncompahgre are all on public land. So long as you abide by fishing regulations, you don’t have too much to worry about in the way of trespassing.
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The most popular spot for rainbows and cutthroats is a 1.5 mile stretch of the river below the Ridgway Reservoir. The Pa-Co-Chu-Puk, or Cow Creek, is the preeminent fly fishing destination along the Uncompahgre River, providing trophy sized rainbows, browns, and cutthroats.
You can access this prime fishing spot just below the Ridgway Reservoir just off of Highway 550, and the parking here is plentiful. Your chances of landing that monster rainbow or cutthroat are best in the tail water below the Reservoir itself.
The second best spot to try your luck is the Ridgway Reservoir itself. It is stocked every year with rainbows, and the cutthroat and wild brown trout populations are quite large out on the manmade lake above the dam.
For those in search of a real fly fishing rarity though, boating out into the lake often scores anglers the occasional wild Kokanee Salmon if they are willing to venture out to deeper waters. Whatever you are fishing for on the Reservoir, the public access is easy to reach along Highway 550, and while it is a popular spot for anglers there is plenty of room for everyone.
Mid-summer to early fall is the peak season for trout in this area, as the hatches of baetis and stonefly are best at this time of year. Water temperature along the river is usually in the 50s Fahrenheit, and and the water is crystal clear to around 3 feet.
As far as the time of day to go for the best conditions, midday is your best bet no matter where you are fishing along the Uncompahgre. You can fish year round along the Uncompahgre River and in the reservoir, but water clarity in early spring is very poor below Cow Creek all the way to the town of Montrose.
Hatches are small baetis, midges, stoneflies, yellow sallies, and leeches/worms are all plentiful foods for the local trout, particularly in the summer.
Some recommended fly patterns for the Uncompahgre include:
- Birchell’s Hatching Midge (black or olive #22-24)
- Bead Head Brassie (#22-24)
- Rojo Midge (#18-24)
- Flashback Baetis Nymph (black #18-24)
- Micro Egg (#20)
- Elk Wing Caddis (tan #16-20)
- Blue winged olive (olive #22-24)
- Zebra Midge (black #20-24)
- Pheasant Tail Flashback (brown #18-22)
- Wooly Bugger (olive/grizzly #6-10)
Waders are a good idea for fishing below Ridgway Reservoir, and a 9’ 6” 4-weight rod using a 12 Foot Leader and a 5X tippet is the recommended rig for landing fish most effectively in the waters of the Uncompahgre.
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Uncompahgre River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Anglers planning to visit the Uncompahgre can fly into the Montrose Airport, about 20 minutes drive from the state park. There are plenty of accommodations to be found in Montrose itself, as well as nearby Cimarron, Telluride, and Silverton.
Those who enjoy the rustic life can camp in the Ridgway State Park or rent one of the numerous hunting and fishing cabins in the area while they ply the local waters for that prize trout.
There are also a number of excellent low-cost vacation rentals in the area that can be a real bargain depending on what season you plan to visit the Uncompahgre, so definitely do some research on these when looking for a place to stay during your visit.
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 the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish.
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