The Roaring Forkof Colorado

Carbondale to Glenwood Springs
By Al Marlowe

This is the stretch most anglers think of when planning a trip to the Roaring Fork. If fishing from araft, anglers have access to 11 miles of water. With the exception of the high-water season during runoff, wading fishermen can reach much of the river. (See map).

Some of the largest fish in the Fork are found on this stretch. One March day I watched Ray Sapp, a partner at The Colorado Angler in Lakewood, take not one but two rainbows of more than 20 inches. And we were still within the Glenwood Springs city limits.


Thanks to the low elevation around Glenwood Springs, the river comes alive in late February to mid-March. This just could be the best season to enjoy the Fork. The water is still cold but the warming trend awakens the fish from their winter lethargy. Insects come awake then, too. Hatches produce dry-fly action during the warm hours of midday. Baetis become active after noon when conditions are right. At 300 to 400 cfs, the river is easy to wade. In some sections anglers will be able to cross with little difficulty.

The Roaring Fork is not only a great stonefly river but it produces an incredible caddis hatch, thekind you read about but seldom experience. The rafter hatch begins in spring, too. That's not all bad,though, because floating the river is the only way to fish many of the private sections.

In early May, the river is usually fishable, but melting snows send a raging torrent down its channellater in the month. It's called the Roaring Fork for good reason. With flows that run as high as 6,000cfs, forget about fishing. In spite of the large flows, big stoneflies hatch in June and offer good fishingin places you can reach.

The Fork is again easy to wade by midsummer. In the postrunoff period the river begins to drop andpresents the angler with some of the state's finest dry-fly fishing. Mayfly and caddis hatches occurthroughout the summer, though the caddis are not as prolific as in April. Smaller stoneflies hatch, too.

Fall puts the browns into a spawning mode. Mayflies and caddis still hatch through the fall, but theirnumbers decline as winter approaches. Flows are steady, having reached their low for the year. Thisis one of the best times to fish not only the Fork, but all of our Colorado rivers. By Septemberanglers seem to have forgotten that the fish are still hitting. That means the streams are less crowded.

The Fork is a rarity. It's Colorado's only major free-flowing river that is fishable throughout the year.In spite of winter's efforts, the lower river downstream from Carbondale is usually open, though timeon-stream will be limited. Slush ice is the problem. During this season, warm days present the bestopportunity for wetting a line. Even then, it can be almost noon before the ice clears enough to allowfishing.

Whitefish are common on the Fork and will eagerly take a fly. In December this may be the mostfrequently taken fish. I have even caught a few on #4 stonefly nymphs.


The average size of the Fork's trout, its strong currents, and the slippery bottom make a rod of at least a 4-weight advisable. Cleats or studs on your boots will help provide better footing. For late-summer conditions—low, warmer flows—lightweight chest waders will be comfortable.


Dry flies: Adams, Blue Dun, Blue-Winged Olive, Brown Hackle Peacock, Elkhair Caddis, GingerQuill, Green Drake, Griffith Gnat, Humpy, Rio Grande King, Royal Wulff. Nymphs: Breadcrust,caddis emerger and larvae, Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear, Green Drake Emerger, Halfback, Prince, Little Yellow Stone. Streamers: Woolly Bugger, Spruce Fly, Muddler Minnow.Roaring Fork Hatch Chart Blue-Winged Olive Mar - May, Sep - Nov Green Drake Jun - Sep PaleMorning Dun Jun - Sep Caddis Apr - Sep Stoneflies Pteronarcys May - Jun Golden Jun - AugMidges Nov - Apr Terrestrials Jul - Aug

Access and Parking

State Highway 82 runs parallel to the Roaring Fork from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale.Between the traffic light by the railroad tracks on the south end of Glenwood and Buffalo Valley, the old highway gets you close to the river for about 3 miles.

CRMS Access
Follow the Crystal River downstream from the CRMS bridge, which is westoutside of Carbondale, to the confluence with the Fork. Fish upstream to Sutank Bridge on the south side of the Roaring Fork. This accesses a quarter-mile of the river.

Wheeler Access
Exit State Highway 82 about 10 miles south of Glenwood. Follow the dirt road upstream to CDOW signs. You can fish a quarter-mile of the river here.

Burry Access
At mile marker 9 south of Glenwood, 1 mile of river along the right (north) bank isopen by permission.

Westbank State Wildlife Area
At milepost 5 south of Glenwood on State Highway 82, turn right on Garfield County Road 154 to the river. About a quarter-mile of the river is open to public fishing. You may launch or take out a raft here.

Glenwood Airport
About one-third of a mile of the river along the left (south) bank is open by theairport, which is city property. The airport is located south of the Sunlight Bridge along County Road117, which goes to the Sunlight Ski Area.

Glenwood Park
A half-mile of the river upstream of Three Mile Creek, as well as 200 feetextending downstream from it, is open along the left (south) side of the river. Access is from CountyRoad 117.

Sunlight Bridge
Near the south end of Glenwood, Old Highway 82 jogs off to the west toward theRoaring Fork. State Highway 117 heads toward Sunlight Ski Area at the Sunlight Bridge. Limited parking space is available near the bridge approaches, and steep paths lead down to the river. Fromhere you can fish a half-mile upstream to Berthod Motors (county property) along the east bank anddownstream for one-quarter mile.

Veltus Park
This park is located on the west side of the river a couple hundred yards upstreamfrom the confluence with the Colorado. This area has handicap access. City of Glenwood propertygives access to the east side of the river between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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