Flyfishing the Uncompahgre Wilderness

Big Blue and Soldier Creeks
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Flyfishing in the mountains
Sweeping vistas and open bank fishing make angling in the Uncompahgre a pleasure.

Big Blue Creek, and two feeder streams, Soldier Creek and Fall Creek, run through the eastern section of the Uncompahgre Wilderness, past groves of colorful, singing aspens, past forests of spruce and fir. These creeks are three of the prettiest small, trout streams in Colorado, perfect for fishing dry flies. If you'll drive the twelve miles of dirt road back to Big Blue Campground, you'll see the best scenery in the Gunnison Area, and reach a great high mountain stream, perfect for flyfishing. Be sure to check out the beaver ponds near the campground for some challenging light-leader fishing.

The Big Blue has good beaver ponds, nice pools, undercut banks and offers anglers a chance to catch brook and cutthroat to 14 inches. Miss this stream and you'll miss the true flavor of this sparsely populated area of Colorado.

Big Blue Creek has many meadow stretches, which means lots of lively hopper action in August and September. On a hot day in July, expect to catch 10-20 brook and cutthroat trout chasing after attractor dry flies. The hot flies are typically Stimulators, grasshoppers, Adams trudes and Rmo Grande Kings. The trout in Big Blue don't grow big. A twelve-inch cutt caught in this shallow stream is a nice-sized fish. (I have caught several trout over fifteen inches in Big Blue and know others who have hooked trout to seventeen inches.) The best spots to hook up with the larger trout are the numerous beaver ponds along the creek, in the deeper pools and in the hardest-to-reach lies.

The stream is about 10-20 feet wide, full of deep runs along the many turns and undercut banks. Big Blue trout often hide under the fallen logs and trees, close to the deep banks and in the heads and tails of pools. Big Blue Creek has brush and trees lining the banks along much of its course making for sometimes difficult angling. The sections above timberline provide casting room and require the angler to use more caution when approaching the water.

I like to run a dry fly through a prospective section of the creek several times, especially when there is plenty of cover, hitting all the likely lies. I usually draw several strikes and hook-ups. Then, I tie on a dropper of a pre-tied length of tippet, about 14 inches, with a Prince Nymph or a Hare's Ear. I then float the dropper nymph back through the deeper flows. Dapping a dry fly is a favorite technique of mine on many of the small streams of southwestern Colorado. Another underrated technique is to swing a wet fly through trout lies, a size 12 or 14 Royal Coachman or a sparser-dressed fly like a Partridge and Green. The results on a brook stream can be amazing. You can even use a dry fly, like a House and Lot. Submerge it by cutting off some of the hackle on the bottom of the fly or use some Xink or mud to drive the fly underwater.

Slide Lake is a natural lake about 5 1/2 miles upstream from Big Blue Campground. Slide Lake holds mostly brook trout averaging 7-12 inches as well as a population of cutthroat trout. The lake does relinquish some trout which reach sizes of 14-15 inches. Typical ice-out occurs by the middle of June. The entire lake can be fished from the shore. Slide Lake is a nice spot to camp after the three hour hike on the well-maintained trail leading to it. The lake is on the decline from siltation and the number of years anglers may continue to expect to catch fish is limited. Check with wildlife authorities for the latest information.

Big Blue Creek

Elevation: 8,401 to 14,309 feet for Uncompahgre Wilderness Area; from 9,921 to 12,802 feet for Big Blue Creek.
USGS Maps: Lost Lake, Uncompahgre Peak, Sheep Mountain, Wetterhorn Peak, Alpine Plateau, Courthouse Mountain, Dallas, Handies Peak, Lake City, Ouray.
National Forest/National Park/State Park: Uncompahgre National Forest, Uncompahgre Wilderness.
Type of Stream: Meadow stream.
Species: Brook and cutthroat trout.
Accesses: Two-wheel drive road to Big Blue Campground. Can park at fence where road turns u-shaped to the campground. Foot and horse trail along stream. Can also be reached by four-wheel drive road from Nellie Creek to a foot trail leading to Big Blue Creek.
Seasons: Area closes for fishing in late October or early Novembermosquitos can be thick during and right after runoff.
Recommended equipment: Anglers need only light tackle; a 2-5 weight 7-foot to 8-foot rod. A good place to use a one weight, shorter rod if you've got one. If not, this stream is a good excuse to buy that one more rod. You need it, after all.
Hatches and food sources: There are no important hatches but there are caddis, mayfly, stonefly, terrestrial (especially hoppers in the meadow sections and black ants throughout) and mosquitos.
Best producing flies: Dry fly attractors work best on Big Blue Creek.
Directions: Getting to this paradise involves a long drive on one lane road. I recommend a 4WD auto but a high clearance 2WD vehicle is okay under dry conditions. We have taken low-slung passenger cars up this sinuous road but we never felt entirely comfortable. Travel north from Lake City on Highway 149 looking for the Big Blue Campground sign. Turn left and take your time to soak in the aspens stands, grassy meadows and wildlife. The drive is usually good for a deer or two early and late in the day. Drive about 11 miles (where you will pass Soldier Creek) before you reach Big Blue Campgrounds. If you have a mean machine, you can continue for another half-mile or to the trailhead. Another option for adventurous driver-anglers is to come in from Nellie Creek.
Regulations: Standard.

Soldier Creek

Elevation: 9,500 to 10,740 feet.
USGS Maps: Lost Lake, Sheep Mountain.
DeLorme Maps: Page 67 C6
National Forest/National Park/State Park: Uncompahgre National Forest, Uncompahgre Wilderness.
Type of Stream: Freestone meadow stream, so small, you can step over it. In places, a small rock would block its flow.
Species: Brook trout 3-8 inches long. I have caught a few 10-inchers from the deeper pools.
Accesses: Forest service road 868 (Alpine Road) runs alongside the creekentire stretch open to public.
Seasons: Late June to October (or first snow).
Recommended equipment: Cane pole for kids works well with flies (seriously). Just tie a short piece of tippet (18-24 inches) to the end of a cane pole or even spincasting rod; flyrods should have short leaders and anything over an 8-foot rod is too long.
Hatches and food sources: The creek is so small, the hatches really don't matter.
Best producing flies: Humpy, Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Irresistible, and other basic attractor patterns. Beadhead nymphs tightlined through the deeper pools and past undercut banks work consistently.
Directions: Long drive on a one-lane road; better for high-clearance vehicles than passenger cars. Road can get hairy after a good rain.
Regulations: Standard.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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