Fishing Colorado's Most Unique Freestone River, The Gold Medal Waters of the Animas

Fishing Colorado's Most Unique Freestone River, The Gold Medal Waters of the Animas

The Animas River near Durango, Colorado, is perhaps one of the most sought-out rivers by fly fishermen thanks to its diversity and accessibility.

The Animas River is one of the last true remaining freestone rivers in Colorado. And its popularity within the United States’ fly fishing community promotes it as one of the most sought-after bodies of water in Southwest Colorado. Here are some ways to maximize your experience. 

Seek Local Knowledge

Like fly fishing any river in any part of the world, seeking local knowledge is always a good idea. In the spring, the Animas has a number of good bug hatches though midges and blue winged olives are the most consistent. Caddis are typically reliable too. Some days, larger drakes will appear late on cool evenings.Durango Colorado Local Knowledge

Most of the local experienced anglers who have caught their abundance of large trout on the Animas abide by the theory “the tug is the drug.”  Streamer fishing is the most effective way to cover ground and most fish year round on the Animas.  This watershed has sculpin and with regular stocking of smaller fry by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, any pattern which can manipulate this prey will trigger aggressive eats from Browns and Rainbows alike.  

Have multiple weight rods available because dry caddis hatches may be peaking in the mid day or late afternoon requiring a more delicate cast or be ready to huck large meat at ideal trout lies when aggressive fish are protecting their turf.    

Both brown and rainbow trout are common catches on the Animas. It’s not unusual for anglers to pull up 20-plus-inch browns around town while even bigger fish hold on some of the private, unpressured sections, which will tell you in a second how to get access to.

Locals and out-of-towners alike can also find answers at Duranglers, historically one of the most popular fly shops in the region. They are happy to tell you what’s hatching.  The San Juan Angler is another excellent local fly shop with a large selection of flies and tying materials for anything related to the Animas River.  Just be sure to return the favor at these shops when stopping in to collect local knowledge by picking up a few flies, materials or gear after all these businesses make money on advice. 

Get a Tribal Fishing Permit

Some waters along the Animas River are private. Others are held by the Southern Ute Indian tribe. These sections of river are not necessarily off limits. You can obtain a Tribal Fishing Permit that allows you to cross tribal lands and access those waters. Often you’ll find the fishing top notch.

Take Advantage of Technology

There’s a new company called Expedition Outside helping fly fishermen and women get access to those private stretches of river. Their tagline is Private Land on Demand. And for good reason. 

use technology

For instance, if you’re unfamiliar with the Animas River, and would rather avoid spending all day looking for public access or the cost of hiring a guide, you can use their website to quickly and easily find and book a private stretch of river for the day.

“We are a conservation-minded company that uses technology to help fly fishermen find their perfect spot,” said Christian Barnes, Expedition Outside’s founder. “Our goal is to preserve our public natural resources by pulling pressure away from those areas and giving those who seek quality fishing and solitude a day on the river they’ll never forget.” 

Animas Access

The Animas runs for seven miles right through the heart of Durango and provides a myriad of river activities like rafting, tubing, and of course fishing. These downtown spots generally get fished pretty heavily (as well as traffic from rafters and tubers) due to their easy access. However, fishing can still be pretty good as Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) regularly stocks it. 

Animas river access

If you’re willing to put in the legwork, look away from town for some settings that are a bit more difficult to reach. Small creek fishing in the mountains is a great way to spend the day. The little town of Hermosa, just north of Durango, provides a plethora of small creeks that run in and out of the Animas. 

Throughout the Durango River Gorge, also north of town up toward Hermosa, there are miles of Animas River only accessible by those with strong legs and lungs. You can reach some of these trailheads by taking a ride on the D&S Train, which leaves daily out of downtown Durango. Regardless of where you go, pack food and plenty of water. 

South of town the Animas River becomes harder to access as it runs through a lot of private and Southern Ute Tribal Land. Expedition Outside provides access to several high-quality fishing spots throughout the Lower Animas River south of Durango.

Spring conditions on the Animas River can be volatile thanks to runoff from snow melting up in the mountains. The U.S. Geological Survey’s website is a good place to check on river conditions before making the journey. You can also pick up the phone and call any local fly shop. Catch it on a good day, when the water is clear and the bugs are hatching, and you’ll undoubtedly understand why so many fly fishermen flock to the Animas River.

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