Flyfishing the Uncompahgre Wilderness

Adapted from Flyfishing Southwestern Colorado
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The Big Blue
An eagle-eye view over Big Blue

My favorite place to fish in the Lake City area, maybe in the state of Colorado, is the Uncompahgre Wilderness, a primitive wilderness of 102,525 acres in the Uncompahgre National Forest north of Lake City stretching west to Silver Jack Reservoir. Most locals refer to the area as "Big Blue," a reference to the namesake stream in this wilderness area. It takes a solid two-wheel drive vehicle to reach its campgrounds as a jump-off point, but a four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle makes the bumpy ride a little easier. Bureau of Land Management land was added in 1993 and the name was changed from Big Blue Wilderness.

The scenery is magnificent, with views of alpine meadows, craggy peaks, 14,000-foot snow-capped mountains, dense forests, and glacial valleys, making this a United States version of Switzerland. The streams are clear, cold and small and have a short fishing season but they are teeming with brook trout and the occasional rainbow and cutthroat. The southern end of the Uncompahgre Wilderness is punctuated by rugged, steep peaks while the northern section is dissected by numerous creeks and streams. Numerous trails follow the drainages most of which interconnect. The backpacking angler can have a field day with all the pristine streams and alpine lakes along these hundreds of miles of trails. These fisheries are infrequently fished and are full of wild mountain trout. Anglers with four-wheel-drive vehicles can make hay on all of the old logging and mining roads (I hesitate to call some of them roads) which crisscross the backcountry. Drive deep into the wilderness on a dirt road and launch a days-long fishing trip from one of the trailheads.

The Uncompahgre Wilderness is a good starter area for backpacking anglers. The main streams like Big Blue and Cimarron run for tens of miles virtually unfished, full of wild trout. If you can hike 5-10 miles up or downstream, you will probably not see another soul, and the resultant fishing on the pristine waters and beaver ponds will provide unforgettable dry fly fishing. The terrain the streams flow through is relatively flat, namely the timbered Big Blue Valley and Cimarron Valley, and that means easy hiking and ideal spots to set up a tent.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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