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Angling in the Uncompahgre Valley and Beyond

The Uncompahgre Valley is home to one of Colorado’s premier Gold-Medal designated rivers, and while many anglers pack up for the season as temperatures begin to drop, those in the know get excited at the prospect of cold-weather casting.

Photography by Jessica Bidwell

Affectionately called “The Unc” by locals, the Uncompahgre River river winds down from the San Juan Mountains, through Ouray, Ridgway, and Montrose, to its confluence with the Gunnison River in Delta, and anglers come from near and far to test their skills against the brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout that populate the Unc.

Summer days see the banks of the Unc dotted with anglers, with Riverbottom Park and the stretch behind Home Depot in Montrose being particularly popular, but when the leaves have turned and many of the tourists have packed up to return home, plunging temperatures also frighten off many local anglers who pack up their gear for the winter to await the return of sunny summer days. This mini exodus, however, allows heariter anglers the chance to take advantage of the great fishing that the area offers during fall and winter, not to mention the stunning scenery the changing seasons bring.

This river, which shares its name with the valley, has some of the finest tailwater fishing in the state. Water released from Ridgway Reservoir and adjacent to the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground flows, ice-free, all winter long and offers fruitful fishing during the winter months. Low water levels and cooler temperatures scare away most anglers, making normally popular spots less crowded.

Transform Your Technique

As the weather changes, so does the behavior of the fish, and that means techniques must follow suit and adapt, too. Colder water temperatures and less abundant food sources drive trout to the bottom of deep, slow-moving holes in the river where they are less active. So instead of attracting fish with dry flies on the surface, as is common during the summer, using small nymphs, plenty of weight, a proper drag-free drift, and a strike indicator are the tried and true tactics for winter. It is also best to fish during the middle of the day, when the sun is high in the sky and the air has warmed up.

Beginners to fly fishing and those who have not yet braved the winter temperatures need not fret as there are several companies and individuals in the area that offer guided trips to teach proper technique.

And while the Unc is a great spot for cold-weather angling, it isn’t the only option in the area. Stretches of the Colorado, the Animas, and the Gunnison rivers have also had the Gold-Medal designation bestowed upon them, with the lower stretch of the latter offering a warmer option thanks to the winter sun reflecting off canyon walls.

With proper planning, cold-weather fly fishing in the Uncompahgre Valley is as rewarding as any other time of the year.

Essential Equipment Made in the Valley

The Uncompahgre Valley is not only home to some of the best fly fishing in the state, but there are two major fly fishing gear manufacturers located here. Mayfly Outdoors consists of three brands: Ross Reels, Abel Reels, and Airflo fly lines. Ross and Abel Reels, two of the industry’s leading fly reel brands, are not only designed, but manufactured in Montrose. Scott Fly Rod Company also calls Montrose home and are well known for their high-end handcrafted fly fishing rods.

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