If there is one thing I love about southern Colorado, it’s the variability. It could be dumping snow in the high country, but below 8000 feet, there are still plenty of fish to be found along the Rio Grande. Between the San Luis Valley towns of Creede and Del Norte, anglers have miles of potential to land big browns and feisty rainbows. And on any given late fall/early winter day along that stretch, you’re more likely to see deer, the occasional moose or elk and other wildlife than another fly fisher – a critter to angler ratio I tend to seek.
To be honest, it took me a while to figure out the Rio Grande and its South Fork – and to be really honest, every day on the water is a learning experience. Since moving here, I’ve leaned heavily on the advice of local fly fishermen and women, like Joel, owner of local fly/rafting/ski shop, 8200 Mountain Sports and Mountain Man Rafting. When do I fish it? Where do I access good sections? What flies should I use? So on and so forth…He can answer all of those questions for you, too, but here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned during my time on the Grande.
Fall means big streamers and small midges – ya, real specific, right? This time of year (mid fall), expect fish to lay low in deep pools on cold days, and on warmer days, I have been lucky enough to find some spunky browns willing to chase a big bugger, rubber legs or streamer (see Top 5 Flies for the Rio Grande). And when trout get sluggish as late late fall sets in, consider bouncing something off the bottom – weighted zebra midges, or an indiscriminate midge with a tungsten beadhead.
My go-to is a double nymph rig with an indicator (no, it’s not a bobber!) set 12-14 inches above the top fly. You’re going to want a smooth drift – and probably a hot cup of coffee – and to watch out for frozen guides later in the season/early in the morning (in the mid-late fall). The goal here is to have something small, but heavy, that can get into deep pools when fish aren’t feeding aggressively. Give them something they’ll just sip right in – and when you see the indicator dip, set the hook! Again, if you’re out early in the day or late in the season, it’s not uncommon to freeze up a bit – both fingers and your line. Just be aware (you can usually tell when your cast seems all wonky for no reason).
There is a lot of public access along the Del Norte to Creede stretch of the Rio Grande (but as always, be aware of the quick transition to private land). I’d suggest starting in the Del Norte Town Park stretch. It’s easy to access and if you’re around during the week, The Perk has a killer breakfast burrito and espresso (Mystic Biscuit has an equally delicious breakfast quesadilla and dirty chai on the weekend, if that’s your thing). Once you’ve gotten a taste of the Grande and fueled up for the afternoon, head upstream. You’ll drive through the town of South Fork to turn right on highway 149 (toward Creede) to access the Coller State Wildlife Area. From the lower to the upper, Coller has a number of great riffles and deep holes that are definitely worth the wade.
Enjoy your time in the SLV, and if you want to wet a line – or whet your palate with delicious local brews and foods – with a fellow angler, give us valley locals a shout! Good luck & tight lines.
Written by: –Ry Outside (Photographer & Blogger)