Gunnison River Fly Fishing in Southwestern Colorado

Gunnison River Fly Fishing in Southwestern Colorado

As the second-largest river in Colorado, the Gunnison River is known for some of the best river and lake fishing throughout the Centennial State. The 180-mile long stretch of the Gunnison River, Colorado, nicknamed the Gunny, forms at the confluence of the East and Taylor rivers in Almont, CO.

From there, it generally flows southwest, passing through the Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Morrow Point Reservoir, and the Crystal Reservoir in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Then, the Gunnison river continues on to Grand Junction, eventually joining the Colorado River in Mesa County.

Offering exceptional fly fishing year-round, the Gunnison River, Colorado enjoys dueling designations as Gold Medal waters and Wild Trout water. That makes the Gunny an ideal spot for fly fishing in Southwest Colorado, where beginner and avid anglers alike can land record-breaking catches.

If you’re looking for a great place to fish in Southwest Colorado or if you’re planning your next trip to the Gunny in Black Canyon, here is everything you need to know about Gunnison River fly fishing so you can make the most out of your next adventure.

Best Places for Gunnison River Fly Fishing 

The Gunnison River has two Gold Medal water stretches. Each has distinct characteristics that offer unique opportunities for Gunnison fly fishing in Southwest Colorado.

  1. The Lower Gunnison Basin: This 39-mile stretch of Gold Medal water extends from the ​Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of the Gunnison river's largest points, to the Delta. While the Blue Mesa Reservoir is home to a famed kokanee salmon fishery, the Gunnison Gorge downstream of Black Canyon is one of the most popular areas for anglers who visit the lower basin. The 20+-inch rainbow trout swimming in these waters are a big reason why.
  2. The Upper Gunnison Basin​​: Prized for offering some of the state’s finest fishing, the Upper Gunnison Basin refers to the 18-mile stretch from the ​Taylor Park Reservoir to the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Here, anglers can expect to encounter several species, from brook trout and cutthroat trout to mackinaw, cutbow, tiger trout, and rainbow trout. Legendary catches in these waters are true trophies. In fact, some record-breakers include mackinaw and rainbow trout measuring longer than 40 inches!

With good water quality, favorable stream flows, and a nice water supply 12 months a year, the Gunnison River, Colorado has optimal conditions for trout populations to thrive. In fact, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) estimates that the Upper Gunnison alone has:

  • 141 to 234 pounds of trout per acre
  • 41 to 70 trout, measuring at least 14 inches long, per acre

By comparison, the minimum to qualify as Gold Medal standard in Colorado is 60 pounds of trout per acre and a minimum of 12 trout (measuring at least 14 inches) per acre.

These conditions make the Gunnison River, Colorado an excellent choice for wade and float fly fishing (Class I & II at many flows) throughout the year.

Access Points

There is no shortage of public access points for Gunnison River fly fishing. The best ways to access the Gunnison river will depend on whether you want shore or boat access—and that can depend on the time of year you go and how high the waters are (you can use this tool to check current water levels and flow conditions at the Gunnison River, Colorado).

Some shore access points to the Gunnison River include:

  • Almont Campground
  • Gunnison Water Park
  • Neversink and Cooper Ranch Access

Boat access points include (and are not limited to): 

  • Almont (Hwy 135)
  • North Bridge (Hwy 135)
  • Gunnison Whitewater Park (Hwy 50)
  • Cooper Ranch Access
  • Blue Mesa Reservoir

Check out the CPW Gunnison River access map here to view the locations of some more popular access points on the Gunny.

Fly Fishing Almont, Colorado

Located between two Colorado towns notorious for outdoor recreation, Crested Butte and Gunnison, is the quaint town of Almont, Colorado. As mentioned before, the Gunnison River is formed at the confluence of the East River and the Taylor River located in Almont, Colorado. A great part of the river for seasoned anglers and greenhorns alike, Almont, Colorado fly fishing is a perfect place for everybody to score bites from trophy-sized rainbow and brown trout. But that's not the only species you can catch fly fishing in Almont, Colorado!

Every year, the fishing season ends with a big bang when the Upper Gunnison River is chock-full of Kokanee Salmon during their fall run. This event has been known as the "Almont Slam," the "Almont salmon run," or the "Gunnison salmon run." Anglers from all over the country travel to take part in Almont, Colorado fly fishing and get their fair share of bites from the Kokanee salmon. 

Almont, Colorado fly fishing offers a sampling of everything an eager fisherman is looking for; variety of species, relaxed fly fishing, and convenient accommodations located right in the heart of town. Check out a couple of the Almont fly shops such as the Almont Anglers and Three Rivers Resort & Outfitting for all your Almont, Colorado fly fishing needs. 

Best Time For Gunnison Fly Fishing

There’s no bad time for Gunnison River fly fishing, but there may be better times to go based on: 

  • Your skill level: Winter can bring tougher conditions that are not ideal for novices. Generally, there are better flows and bigger hatches available in the summer, making that one of the best seasons to fly fish in Black Canyon, regardless of skill level. 
  • What you want to hook: The kokanee salmon usually spawn from August to October, while the trout fishing continues year round on the Gunny.  The Black Canyon is most accessible in the spring/early summer depending on conditions due to the adverse hike in, which aligns with the perfect time to land large trout of many varieties. 

Flies Recommended for Gunnison River Fly Fishing 

Midges are available year-round on the Gunnison. Blue-winged olives, available in April, May, and from July through October, are usually better than midges for anglers in Black Canyon.

The table below shows some more options that can put fish in your net while Gunnison fly fishing.




Salmon Fly, Pale Morning Duns, Blue Winged Olives, Gray/Slate Drake, Caddis, Terrestrials, Green Drakes

Pupa Caddis, Net builder, Birds nest & Hares ear; Prince Nymph; Slim Shady, The Barrs Emerger & Pheasant tail; Deep Dish Green Drake, Green Drake nymph, Defcon 5 Green Drake

Elk Hair, X caddis, Butch Caddis; Coffin Flies & Adult Green Drakes; Tilt wing PMD, Improved Sparkle Dun & Extended Body PMD; Parachute Blue Winged Olive & RS-2


Gear for Gunnison Fly Fishing & Black Canyon Fishing

The best gear for fly fishing on Gunnison River also depends on what you want to catch and your skill level. It’s also important to think about the type of flies you are throwing. While your fishing license and waders will be mandatory, some other gear that can help you enjoy a fun, successful fly fishing trip in Black Canyon include: 

  • A 9-ft 5-wt fly rod with a floating line (when using dry flies & small nymphs)
  • A 9-ft 6-wt rod with a sink tip fly line (when using larger nymphs and streamers)
  • A tapered 9-foot leader, with a tippet size of 3X to 6X (depending on the flies) 
  • A map, a guidebook, or a professional guide if you are new to the area or new to fly fishing

Gunnison Fly Fishing & Black Canyon Fly Fishing Regulations

No matter when you want to do Black Canyon fishing on or around the Gunnison River, it’s key to know and abide by all regulations. Please be aware that different areas of the Gunny can have different regulations during different seasons of the year; so, it’s always good to check before you go if you’re at all uncertain. 

Below are the regulations for fly fishing the Gunnison River in Black Canyon (as well as between the Crystal Dam closure and Black Canyon’s boundary):

  • No fishing within 200 yards of Crystal Dam (downstream).
  • Artificial flies and lures only. NO BAIT.
  • The daily limit for brown trout is 4 to bag and 8 to possess.
  • Catch and release for all rainbow trout.

To view the regulations for Black Canyon fishing or fishing the Gunny, check out the CPW fishing regulation guides here.

Plan a Gunnison River Fly Fishing Trip

Are you ready to experience some of Colorado’s best fly fishing on the Gunnison River? If so, Riversmith has the top-quality, durable equipment you need to easily, safely transport your gear. With our rod tubes, rod racks, and more, it’s simple to pack for your next fly fishing trip to the Gunnison River, the Gore, the Pan, the Animas, or beyond.

At Riversmith, our anglers, engineers, and guides are always searching for ways to solve fishermen’s problems and make the adventure that much better. We love what we do, and we are known for designing premium fly fishing products. If fly fishing is your passion, Riversmith is here for you. 

Gunnison Colorado Fly Shops and Guides

When you head out to fly fish the Gunnison, Colorado River, be sure to support the local fly shops in the area or pay for an experienced guide who knows the river like the back of their hand. 

    Gunnison, Colorado fly shops are aplenty; anglers should have no problem booking guided trips or finding the supplies they need to stock up on. Support local and find anything you need at these Gunnison, Colorado fly shops. 

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