5 Tips For Fly Fishing Colorado’s Wilderness Rivers

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Fishing conditions on our private stretch of the Piney River are at their best. River flows have come down to the perfect level. And summer dry fly fishing continues to be outstanding. When it comes to fly fishing Colorado’s remote and scenic rivers, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Fly fishing on small wilderness rivers, like the Piney River, comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Even our guests who are experienced anglers might learn a few new tricks if they are used to fishing on bigger waters.

Here are five tips to remember when fly fishing any of Colorado’s small wilderness rivers:

  1. 1. Pay Attention to Your Profile

The water here can be crystal clear. It’s beautiful, and it’s fun being able to spot the fish. But it’s important to remember that the fish can also see you.

Colorado Fly Fishing Trip

On a guided trip, pay attention to how our guides approach the river. When fishing small wilderness rivers, it’s important to be aware of your profile. If you walk right up to the edge of a cut bank and see the shadows of trout skittering across the river, you’ve gone too far.

Instead, you may need to approach the river cautiously. Don’t let your profile loom over the places where fish are most likely to be holding.

  1. 2. Make Upstream Casts

In many other situations, anglers are used to making quartering-upstream casts, allowing the fly to drift downstream, past the angler’s position.

Here on the Piney River, take note of where your guide positions you for the cast. When fishing these high alpine streams, it’s more common to make upstream casts, and allow the fly to drift back down toward the angler.

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Trout tend to face upstream in the current, opportunistically feeding on insects that come drifting down to them. By making an upstream cast, you’re approaching the trout from behind, where they are less likely to see you.

  1. 3. Start at the Bottom of a Run

When you approach a new run or riffle, it’s often beneficial to begin at the downstream or tailing end, and work your way up. This allows you to target the downstream fish first, without spooking the fish at the head of the run.

Vail, Colorado Fly Fishing

This technique isn’t unique to wilderness fishing. The same principle applies to larger rivers. However, it’s especially important on these small alpine waters. In such clear water, it’s easy to spook fish if you’re not careful. When you target fish at the bottom first, and then work your way upstream, you’ll maximize your opportunities.

  1. 4. Don’t Ignore the Little Pockets

Most anglers have a tendency to fish the biggest, most promising-looking runs and riffles on the river. But when you’re fishing on wilderness creeks, don’t skip over the small pockets. You might be shocked at where you’ll find big trout holding. This is true here on the Piney River and most other high country creeks.

Don’t be surprised when your guide asks you to make a cast into a surprisingly small and innocuous-looking piece of pocket water. These little holes can be full of surprises. You might only get a two-second drift through one of these little pockets. But sometimes, that’s all you need for a fish to attack your fly.

5. Stop and Look Up

When you’re fishing these mountain rivers, the fast-action fishing is exciting. On each cast, you’ll be expecting the water to blow up beneath your dry fly. It’s addicting. And while it’s tempting to keep your head down and tell yourself, “Just one more cast!” don’t forget to lift your eyes and look around you.

The scenery here on the Piney River Ranch is nothing short of stunning. Every once in a while, take a break from casting and enjoy what’s around you. Enjoying the mountain scenery here in Colorado is an important part of the experience.

Colorado Mountain Scenery

Join Us on the Piney River

Our private stretch of the Piney River near Vail is exclusively available to Sage guests, and receives no public fishing pressure. Additionally, our knowledgeable guides help maximize our guests’ experience. Whether you’re a beginner angler, or a crusty old veteran, we work hard to make the most out of your time on the water.

We offer half-day and full-day guided trips on the Piney. To learn more, please explore our Fishing Page. If you have questions about availability or other details, please contact us. We look forward to helping you plan a memorable fly fishing adventure!

Featured River: The Arkansas River

The whitewater rafting season has been outstanding here in the Vail valley and across Colorado, and we’d like to introduce you to another one of our favorite rivers.

In case you missed our previous featured river, go back and check out our profile on the Eagle River, which offers some of Colorado’s best seasonal rafting from Vail, down through Avon and Beaver Creek.

This time, let’s talk about the Arkansas River. The ‘Ark’ is well-known in Colorado for it’s incredible whitewater all summer long. But there’s more than just rapids that make the Arkansas special.

“The Arkansas River brings to mind crystal clear, relatively warm water, in a semi-arid desert with warm air temps that create a perfect rafting environment,” Commented Cole Bangert, owner and guide here at Sage.  “It’s totally unique in the west. The flows on the Ark are augmented by reservoirs upstream, so rafting is phenomenal all summer; not just during early snow melt periods, like you see on the Eagle River or Clear Creek.”

According to Cole, the backdrop on the Arkansas River also makes it unique. The entire corridor is lined with towering 14,000-foot peaks, the highest concentration of “14-ers” in the state. With snow-capped peaks above and desert granite boulders below, the banks of the Arkansas River are scattered ponderosa pine, and the vanilla aroma from their bark fills the air.

If all that isn’t enough, the whitewater is top quality. 

“The upper stretches of the Arkansas boast big class V rapids, with the steepest commercially run rapid in the U.S.,” Cole added. “The Pine Creek section drops at a gradient of over 200 feet per mile. This is a mile-long class V rapid with tricky moves, fast water, big waves, and big hydraulics that must be run with precision and power.”

Just below Pine Creek is the popular, “Numbers” stretch, where rafters will find some of the most fun class IV drops anywhere in Colorado.

And finally, below the town of Buena Vista is the most popular stretch on the Arkansas River, Browns Canyon National Monument. This spectacular canyon was designated a National Monument in 2015, and for good reason.

“Here, you have the opportunity to float through a jaw-dropping gorge,” Cole concluded. “It consists of ten miles of class III rapids, where groups and families can enjoy an incredible experience amid these impressive natural surroundings.”

For more information on our rafting trips, or on any of the great outdoor adventures that we offer from Sage headquarters in Vail, explore the rest of our website at SageOutdoorAdventures.com or call us at 970-476-3700.

Runoff is Coming, Prepare for Your Rafting Adventure

This year’s runoff is shaping up to be a memorable one! There’s a ton of snow in the high country and recent storms have continued adding to our snowpack. Statewide throughout Colorado, snowpack is currently over 140% of normal. Here in the Colorado River basin, snowpack is currently 138% of normal. And over in the Arkansas River basin, it’s 148% of normal! It’s going to be a long, high water season on our rivers.

As you prepare for your summer rafting adventure, there are a few things to think about. First, is what to bring. The list is pretty simple but you’ll want to make sure you have a few key items. Here’s the rundown.

On every rafting trip we provide a helmet, a wetsuit on cool days, a splash jacket, a PFD and wetsuit booties.

You should bring your swimsuit, and wear it underneath your street clothes for the ride to the river. On hot, sunny days when we’re not wearing wet suits and splash jackets, you might want to wear a cover shirt for sun protection. We also recommend that you wear and bring sunscreen and chapstick. If you plan to wear your sunglasses on the raft, don’t forget Croakies or Chums to keep them in place! Finally, bring cash to tip your guide (18% is normal).

Check out this quick video, as Cole and Kyle explain what to bring and why:

With your bags packed, you are all set for your whitewater rafting adventure. It’s going to be an epic season here in Colorado, and we hope to see many of you on the river. As you prepare for the trip, how about some questions you might want to ask your guide? Here are a few things you might want to ask while you’re on the river:

  • How does this water compare to other times of the year?
  • What animals may we see on the water today?
  • What’s your favorite part of being a rafting guide?
  • What do you do during the off-season?
  • What other stretches of river do you run?
  • Where is the best swimming hole?
  • Ask about the history of the area.
  • Ask for any crazy river guiding stories they have!

If you’d like more information on rafting with Sage Outdoor Adventures, please be sure to check out our Rafting Page. And explore the rest of our website to see all the other fun activities we offer, including horseback riding, ATV tours, fly fishing and sporting clays!

For details, availability and booking call us at 970-476-3700 or contact us online.

Update On Summer Rafting Conditions

The whitewater-rafting season in Colorado is in full swing and we’ve enjoyed an awesome summer so far. With heavy spring snowpack across the state, we’ve experienced fun high water conditions throughout June and now well into July. Even as the summer moves along, most rivers are still running at normal or above normal levels.

Whitewater Rafting

Right here in the Vail valley we experienced outstanding rafting conditions on Gore Creek and the Eagle River. Now the Arkansas River and the Colorado River are also running at perfect levels. And with the warm summer weather that we’ve had, conditions have been ideal to be out playing in the water.

While our headquarters are here in Vail and most of our business comes from the Vail and Beaver Creek area, we offer a wide range of rafting options. From class II family floats to class IV and V adventures, it’s all available. In addition to our ‘home waters’ on Gore Creek, the Eagle River and the Colorado River, we also offer trips along the Arkansas, including the famed, “Numbers” section and Browns Canyon National Monument.

In case you didn’t see it, be sure and check out our blog post from last week, highlighting the Arkansas River and some of its highlights.

Rafting TripWith warm weather and great water levels, we expect rafting conditions this year to be excellent well into the fall. If you’re planning a summer trip to the Vail or Beaver Creek area, be sure and give us a call. While the summertime rafting is awesome, there’s also something very special about those early fall trips. After all, there’s nothing quite like September in Colorado!

If you have questions or would like more information on our trips, please call us at 970-476-3700 or send us a message. You can also find information on our other activities by exploring the rest of our website at SageOutdoorAdventures.com.

See you on the river!