Late Summer Scouting in Gunnison

The Goal

This weekend’s adventure was a little scouting and camping trip to the Gunnison area.

As a backstory, this will be my third year competing in the Flyathlon, a wonderful adaptation of a traditional triathlon with the three events being trail running, fly fishing, and drinking beer. In reality, the beer drinking isn’t competitive, but there is a lot of it and they resupply you with it at the half-way point.

There are several Flyathlons each year, and I compete in the Lake Fork event, on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison. The race involves running (in my case, 10 miles) along a river. It’s an out-and-back race, and the goal is to land a fish before crossing the finish line. The bigger the fish, the more time you shave off your total race time.

You have to carry all your gear with you, and not catching a fish before finishing triggers a time penalty.

The overall objective of the event is to raise money for native trout conservation. In our case, it goes toward restoring the Rio Grande cutthroat, which competes with nonnative species in southwestern Colorado waters.

Our trip this weekend was partially to get out of the house, and also to check out the Lake Fork before the race in a few weeks. Until now, I’ve only gotten to fish it during the event. It’s a beautiful piece of water, though, and we’ve been itching to get over there to fish it for fun. The goal was to check out different runs, see what was working, and in the spirit of things, drink some beer.

The Trip

We had planned to sleep along the river in one of the six or so campsites scattered along it in the canyon. As we drove in around 11pm, we were a little surprised to find them all taken, considering how far out of the way that area is. We pulled off the road and pitched our tent in a gravel pulloff, a little worried that this is where we’d be staying for the weekend.

Fog comes over a mountain in the distance
A view from our second camp spot of the trip

We woke up to rain and decided to do another drive along the river looking for openings. With a little luck, we found a site open and quickly threw the tent in the car to switch spots. As if all our luck turned around at the same time, the sun came out and turned into a bluebird day.

We spent the day walking the road and fishing familiar runs from years past, seeing how they fished this year. Apart from the heat of midday, when we went back to camp for a little R&R, things fished pretty well.

There isn’t too much to speak of in terms of size in that river. A good fish is 10-15 inches, but they are pretty.

A brown trout caught on the fly is held in the water
A rainbow trout caught on the fly is held in the water
Some beauties from the trip

The real treat was the gin clear water. I’d usually see a fish take my nymph before I even saw my hopper go under, and it actually caused me to jump the gun on the hook set a few times.

We also deviated from the actual race-track later in the trip and followed a trail off the end of the road. This section seemed to fish even better than it had farther upstream, and there was absolutely no one there. Even though nymphs were the name of the game throughout the weekend, we did get some hits on dries. We also kept one legal rainbow to roast over the fire that night, which was a delicious treat at the end of a long day.

Thoughts

We’ve only been back two days now, but I’m already jonesing to get back in a few weeks. I found a few new sections of river that I’m excited to try out during the run.

I’m curious how much the time of year and weather had to do with the fishing this past weekend, and how it will stack up once September rolls around. The past two years, we had snow once and a sunny, but crisp, day the other. The snow year was hard on the racers, and quite a few people struck out with the fish. It was better last year, and with any luck it will be even better this time around.

I’m hoping the blue skies and mild weather stick around just a few more weeks to give everyone a good shot at bringing in a fish on race day, and I’ll be recapping that race as well as the Flyathlon in general in about a month.

Until then, wish me luck and we’ll see how it goes!

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This is a list I made and use for my own trips, and I think any backcountry angler will find it handy.