Flyfishing the Uncompahgre Wilderness

Cimarron River

The Cimarron River is a major tributary to the Gunnison River flowing through the Uncompahgre Wilderness and into the big river from the south, just below Morrow Point Dam. There are several ways to reach the Cimarron River basin including a scenic route over Owl Creek Pass from Ridgway. I think the Owl Creek drive is the prettiest in the state. Many scenes from True Grit were shot on location near here. You will be amazed by the diversity of landscapes, from alpine tundra to majestic spires, pinnacles and castles blocking the sun to dark, green forests carpeting steep mountains. And water, water everywhere.

Most of the lower Cimarron is private and off limits to the public but three miles of water above where it enters the Gunnison are open to fishing. There is some nice water below Silver Jack Reservoir running alongside the campgrounds on forest service road 858 but not as much solitude as you might want. (Big Cimarron Campground, 18 sites, no water, pit toilets.)

Flyfishers need to concentrate instead on the forks of the Cimarron where the swift waters hold lots of rainbow and brook trout (and some cutthroats). Anglers can cast flies to pocket water, smooth glides, riffle after riffle, and work from head to tail an occasional pool. The fish are rarely big, maybe 14-16 inches tops, more like 9-12 inches on average, but the rivers are fun to wade, built for dry flies and you won't be casting shoulder to shoulder with other fishermen. Both the Middle and West Forks have good road access from forest roads while reaching the balance of the East Fork requires hiking a streamside trail (TR 228). The East Fork runs through a green, grand valley from its headwaters. There is a loop trail which connects the two streams (TR 227).

The West Fork Cimarron River has cascading waterfalls and handsome scenery. You can see Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 feet) to the southeast. To the north, the Owl Creek Pass area and Chimney Rock and other rock pinnacles and precipitous peaks dominate the view. There are good roads which follow the stream (forest service road 858 also known as Owl Creek Pass Road and forest service road 860) as well as a nice trail (TR 226), the West Forks Trail, which follows it for some time. Some of the pools up by Owl Creek Pass have some small and plump but skittish cutthroat trout.

Cimarron River

Elevation: 6,750 feet to 12,960 feet.
USGS Maps: Sheep Mountain, Washboard Rock, Courthouse Mountain, Wetterhorn Peak, Cimarron
DeLorme Maps: Page 67 D6 to A5
National Forest/National Park/State Park: Uncompahgre National Forest, Uncompahgre Wilderness.
Type of Stream: Three forks form the main stem, a shallow, freestone stream.
Species: Rainbow, cutthroat, brook trout.
Accesses: Out of Gunnison, take US 50 West where there is an access road which follows the river. Both forest service road 858 and forest service road 864 follow forks of the river. Forest service road 858 leads to Silver Jack Reservoirthree miles of Cimarron River immediately above confluence with Gunnison River are open to publicaccess is from Cimarron.
Seasons: Late June to September.
Recommended equipment: 7- to 8-foot rods for 3-5 weight lines; hip waders okay in most places on the river.
Hatches and food sources: Mayfly, caddis.
Best producing flies: Attractor flies.
Directions: From Montrose, travel east on Highway 50, turn right (south) on Cimarron Road just after you pass the town of Cimarron.
Regulations: Standard.

Little Cimarron River

The Little Cimarron has good access from US 50 south upstream on forest service road 864 (Little Cimarron Road) which parallels it for nearly 20 miles. Fishing is good for brook trout in this valley stream. The stream is ideal for hip-wading the shallow riffles, whipping around a big number 12 Humpy and catching 8-10 inch squaretails. There are some beaver ponds worth looking into as well. Little Cimarron Trail (TR 229) parallels the creek to its headwaters. (DeLorme Page 67 D6 to A5)

Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake lies three miles below Silver Jack Reservoir. While it is a pretty lake of five acres, the fishing is fair at best. There are 11 sites at the Beaver Lake Campground. A half-mile north is the Big Cimarron River Campground with 16 sites and no fee. Elevation 8,740 feet. (DeLorme Page 67 C5; USGS Topo Map Washboard Rock)

Hampton Lake

You can find this 10-acre lake two miles west of the Cimarron River, just south of the Fish Creek Reservoirs. Less than half of the lake has good bank access. Float tubes will get you to the best spots on this lake. Hampton Lake (9,660 feet elevation) holds rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout. (DeLorme Page 67 B5; USGS Topo Map Washboard Rock)

Fish Creek Reservoirs Numbers 1 and 2

These two reservoirs also lie to the west of the Cimarron River. They hold stocked rainbow trout and are just a short walk away from each other. Fish Creek Reservoirs (9,344 feet elevation) hold 15 and 25 acres respectively. You will have to take a 4WD on the road west (forest service road 86) from Big Cimarron CG. (DeLorme Page 67 B5)

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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