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.
If you’re looking for solitude in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Crystal River is the place to be. The spring season is typically short due to runoff, but with delayed runoff, right now is a great time to get out. The lower sections of the river near Carbondale are fishing particularly well. The upper sections are improving every week as ice clears up and water temps rise. With flows currently sitting in the low 100 cfs range, water clarity is high and trout are able to spread out from deep pools and runs to feed in slow riffles, pocket water and transitions. We typically see flows in an upward trajectory by now, but late season snow helped delay runoff. Unless we receive a considerable amount of snow over the next month, we expect runoff to pick up over the coming weeks. As flows rise, trout will seek soft water for protection and to conserve energy. Banks, eddies and slack water will be good sections to target. As flows near 500 cfs, it’ll be time to find a new river and let kayakers have their fun. Until that happens, you’ll have success with nymph rigs, dry droppers and dry fly setups. Caddis larva, stonefly larva and flashy searcher/attractor patterns are great lead flies for nymphing. Baetis emergers, midge pupa and caddis pupa won’t let you down in the trailer position. If you’re looking to target trout on the surface, Parachute Adams, Sparkle Duns, Elk Hair Caddis and Chubby Chernobyl’s will get the job done.
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.