Note: This report is a part of the FlyCast Lite reporting program and is updated seasonally or in the event of substantial changes that alter fly fishing tactics. FlyCast Lite reports are intended to give anglers a high level overview on seasonal conditions and general fishing tactics.
At this point in the year, the Crystal River is largely consumed by ice but there is some open water near Carbondale. Slush and ice runoff is a common occurrence during the winter when overnight temps drop below 20 degrees, so keep an eye on the forecast and do your best to fish when overnight temps sit above 20 degrees. If that isn’t an option, fish the warmest hours of the day (1 pm – 3 pm) to avoid slush. Flows near Carbondale currently sit at 55 cfs but will fluctuate ~20 cfs throughout the winter. Trout are in conservation mode and favoring soft water to conserve energy. Focus on pronounced pools, runs and pockets. Additionally, trout will spend most of their time in the deepest water column, so don’t be shy with your split shot. Dry droppers will work in shallower water but nymph rigs are needed when fishing deeper pools and runs. Midges are the primary food source and hatch sporadically throughout the day. Midge pupa patterns are hot during these periods and will put trout in the net. As far as patterns go, you can’t go wrong with a mix of midge larva and pupa patterns. If you go this route, lead with a midge larva and trail a pupa pattern. Blood Midges, Tube Midges, Miracle Nymphs, Zebra Midges, Black Beauties, Mercury Midges and Chocolate Foam Back Emergers are all good examples. Aside from midges, trout will respond to searcher and attractor patterns. Think Flashback Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Frenchies, Rainbow Warriors and Perdigons. These trout aren’t overly selective, so if you haven’t seen results, odds are your depth is off.
Located near world renowned ski areas and nationally recognized rivers (Frying Pan and Roaring Fork), the Crystal River is a hidden gem. The Crystal River originates above the town of Marble, situated in the Elk Mountain Range. From Marble, the river flows 35 miles north where it meets the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale. Situated below some of Colorado’s most iconic peaks, the Crystal provides anglers with incredible views. Located near some of the state’s most highly pressured rivers, Crystal River is a great option for anglers looking for solitude. The Crystal is a small freestone river that provides anglers with a variety of slow runs, deep pools, riffles and tight pocket water. Considering the small size of the river and high elevation, the best fishing is during late spring (pre-runoff), summer (post-runoff) and fall. During the winter, the river freezes over and as snow begins to melt in May, runoff will prevent anglers from fishing until water levels drop. While these trout may be a bit smaller than those found in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan, there is a healthy population of rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish that are eager to eat your fly.
Due to receiving considerably less angling pressure than the other rivers in the area, the Crystal is a great option for anglers of all skill levels. In general, these trout aren’t terribly selective and actively feed above and below the surface during the warmer months. As a smaller river, a dry dropper setup is a consistent tactic but if you find yourself fishing a deep pool or run, a nymph rig will be a good way to go. Anglers looking for flatter and slower sections will gravitate towards the section of river closest to the town of Carbondale. Further upstream, anglers will find faster moving pocket water, riffles and plunge pools. The Crystal experiences healthy bug activity spring through fall, consisting of midges, BWOs, PMDs, caddis, stoneflies and terrestrials. When trout are actively feeding on the surface, do your best to match the hatch and fish a single or double dry fly setup. If trout are sporadically feeding on the surface or in the upper half of the water column, a dry dropper led with an Amy’s Ant, Chubby Chernobyl, Elk Hair Caddis or stimulator is a great way to go. Sub-surface, trout will key on imitative midge, baetis, caddis and stonefly patterns, but we’ve found that starting with searcher and attractor patterns is a great way to go. Examples include, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, Guide’s Choice Hare's Ears and Rainbow Warriors.
Crystal River parallels Highway 133, providing anglers the opportunity to scout and access the river easily. To get to the river, take I-25 to Glenwood Springs and travel south on Highway 82. Once you hit the town of Carbondale, turn right on Highway 133. Along Highway 133 there are a number of dirt pull-offs and designated parking lots. View the map below for some of the most popular access points.