Colorado trout: The Gunny

Editor's note: Contributor Gary Giudice, who penned Wannabe Trout Bums and The Slam Haunts Me for ESPNOutdoors.com, is back with trout buddy Ed Weber as they scour Colorado — which they deem the best trout state — searching for its best trout stream.

"The biggest problem with the Gunny is trying to get a fly to the big fish," said Eric Grande, one of the top guides on the Gunnison River. "The little fish will beat 'em to it!"

Not all the little fish get there first. Ed Weber and I just got off the river and it's been a dream day. Countless browns and rainbows, some big as the belly of the net, others just big enough to be difficult to land, but all were wild and beautiful.

Many came on dries, others on nymphs but most on ermergers. We floated a long day with our friend Eric. We met him last year when we fished our way up the Rockies from near Mexico to almost Canada.

Now we're trying to find the best river in our favorite trout state, Colorado. We'll never find it. There's just too damn many and too short a time to look. But the Gunny is almost impossible to beat. It's a big, bold river meant to float, yet access can be a problem.


Gunnison River

Thousands of trout holding pockets line the banks, and most do hold trout. Fisheries folkds say there are thousands and thousands per mile, more pounds of trout per acre than some fish hatcheries. We believe it. Some fish are huge, 8-, 9- and even 10-pounders are caught from time to time. Not by us, but still, we know they're there.

Eric guides out of Willow Fly Anglers in Three Rivers Resort. It's a great fly shop with everything we could possibly want to fish the area. The folks in the shop are as free with good information as any we've ever visited.

The Gunnison River is born here right out the front door. The Taylor and East River join up to form the Gunny, one of the most famous trout streams in America. Its fame comes with good reason. It's easy to fish, it is beautiful water and it has tons of fish. And these fish bite!

We put in at the shop. Eric's16-foot raft is rigged for fishing, drift boat anchor, rod racks for spare fly rods, comfortable seats fore and aft with a rowing seat in the middle.

Ed took the front seat, leaving me with the clean-up spot. Ed gets cranky if he doesn't get the front of the boat. Me? I'm just happy not to have to row. We'd be in the bushes the livelong day. I've tried it several times and it's not pretty.

A spin fisherman came down to the water as we were shoving off and immediately hooked a nice trout. A couple of good jumps later he had the fish in a net and a wide smile on his face. I thought that fish was going to be his lunch but he released it unharmed.

We were not out of his sight before Ed hooked a nice trout on his namesake fly, the Webers. Eric netted the fish and it was Ed's turn to smile. The Gunny is that way. Everybody's smiling all along the river. Every boat we passed, every fisherman wading as we went by acted like they were living in a dream. And why not? The mountains, the fish and the river. What more could they ask for?

As the day progressed, big green drakes started hatching. Then more bugs, caddis, PMDS and some olives, the fish and the fishing got out of control. Ed and I doubled up six times in little more than an hour. All at once the bugs were gone. Like turning a switch, the dry fly action was over.

Back to the nymphs. The fishing slowed some but not by much. We kept on catching browns and rainbows, some over 20 inches long. A day on the Gunny makes us think we're getting good at this game. A day on most any other river will bring us back to reality.

We were both using nine foot five weight rods, mine an Orvis Helios Ed's a Sage TCR, both with floating weight forward Shark line from 3M. Five X leaders are the choice of most.

We went through about a blue million flies nymphing. Most were Eric's. We've got to find a way to pay that guy back some day. Most fish came on the Weber's, a size 14 caddis emerger, and many others came on 18 beaded mayfly nymphs that Eric ties.

Me? I tied none, I just mooched. And to make matters worse, I think I lost the most as well.

We floated from Almont down through the town of Gunnison and out the other side, some 16 miles total.

You never know you're in town; the river has wild banks with all manor of songbirds and other wildlife. The Palisades area feature towering cliffs that rise hundreds of feet over head. Other parts of the float went though pasture land and canyons. But then water never stops and the fish bite from beginning to end.

Casting mile after mile, poking into the pockets, makes my hands and shoulders scream, but I can't stop. It's not every day I get on a river like the Gunny. I don't want to miss a thing.

Take-out comes all too soon, even though we had been on the water for over 10 hours. What a day!

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. A battle as old as the Wild West rages on, it's about water rights.

As I write this, land developers are trying to shut down floats on the Taylor River and eventually the Gunnison. Perhaps all state rivers that flow through private land. They don't want boats going by next to their property.
With back room deals, big-time lobbyists and plenty of money, they hope to win the fight.

Surely the good people of Colorado will see through their rhetoric. Surely they will see that the Gunny and other rivers like it are meant to be floated, fished and be enjoyed by everyone. Not just the wealthy few.