Fishing The Eagle River
Fly Fishing Through The Fall On The Eagle River Colorado
Fall can be some of the best fly fishing of the year on the Eagle River, here in the Vail Valley. A Colorado Fall is one of the most picturesque and scenic times to be in the Rockies. The tourists have left town and the river, with it’s beautiful rainbow and brown trout, are left to the locals or the traveling Front Ranger. Though the water has dropped with snowmelt more accumulating than dissipating, cooler days and evenings drop water temps making the Eagle River available fish all day. In recent years, lack of moisture in the Summer mixed with hot temperatures has made for voluntary fishing closures in the afternoons. Not in the Fall!
Fall flows (Oct – Nov) for the Eagle River average between 110 and 160 cfs over the last 14 years. Considering the Eagle blows at 3000 ifs on average in June, Fall is a great time to learn the landscape of the river for the high water months and also catch eager trout looking to fatten up for winter. You can cover a lot more water with lots of open stream banks and less fishing pressure. Fish in the Lower flows and cooler water temps will spread well throughout the river system and can be found in a variety of locations making covering every piece of the river vital and really fun.
Fall hatches are some of the best of the year with the tail end of Trico hatch that Eagle River trout go absolutely bonkers for. Small flies and light tippet are key but even the fish in the 18 – 22″ range throw care to the side to eat these little macro invertebrate morsels. As the air temps get below freezing, the menu switches to midges and Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s), as far as bugs are concerned, and continues through the Winter. October Caddis are our last big hatch though they do not come off in numbers. Fish do react well to them wether you are fishing them as dry flies, swung wets or below a bobber. Though eggs are certainly thrown into the mix, some of the best fall fishing is done using streamers. As the brown trout start feeling their natural urge to procreate, they become quite territorial over prime spawning lies. Brown trout start claiming their spots as early as weeks in advance which works out great for fishing as we discourage fishing for active spawning fish. Do not be surprised if you hook a fat rainbow on the lower sections of the Eagle too. They are noticing the drop in flows, water temps and daylight and they want to go into Winter with a little extra weight on them too.
Temperatures and the weather fluctuate in Eagle County in the fall. The monthly high/low averages for October are 63/41 and 53/32 for November down towards Edwards, CO. It’s not uncommon to have it snowing sideways on ya, it could also be 80 degrees without a cloud in the sky. For any outdoor activity you are doing in the Vail vicinity, make sure to check the weather in advance. Afternoon thunderstorms are a 20% chance all Summer long and extend into early Fall so always pack an extra layer and a rain jacket in your car when fishing up here in Autumn.
Fishing farther west on the Eagle can be to your advantage as the sun continues it’s trend to its southern axis. The Vail, Eagle-Vail, Avon areas are prone to taller peaks on the south side of the river meaning that the sun does not hit the river until 9:30 or 10 am. These same peaks also throw shade on the river by 4 pm. Bugs, therefore fish, become a lot more active once the sun hits the water this time of year so if you are getting out earlier or later, avoid areas with tall peaks to the south and head west where water and air temps are a little warmer. The lower Eagle River (Walcott to Gypsum) plays host to some of the larger fish in this watershed which makes for great Fall Streamer fishing. There’s plenty of public land too so you can cover lots of water which is necessary for throwing meat. Prefer to throw small dries to large fish on light tippet? Mid-day BWO hatches in “The Ladders” in Eagle can make for some really fun days in the Fall. As far as gear is concerned, these cooler months mean it’s time to hang up your Summer wet-wading socks and knock the dust off of your waders. Depending on how you’d like to fish for the day, here is what Hill’s Discount Flies recommends for Fall fishing on the Eagle River…
Dry fly – 4 weight fly rod with reel to match. Elongated front taper fly line for delicate presentation and longer casts to turn over small flies.
Nymph – 4 – 5 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over indicator rigs.
Streamer – 6 – 7 weight fly rod with reel to match. Aggressive front taper fly lines to turn over sinking lines and heavy articulated streamers.
Best all around setup would be 5 weight rod with an all-round line able to throw delicate dries and turn over streamers.
Recommended flies for fly fishing the Eagle River in the Fall –
Traces on the Eagle are best fished under an indicator with weight earlier in the day and weightless when fish are eating drowned spinners. You can get them on dries however they normally have 1,000s of bugs to choose from making it difficult for them to key in on yours.
Fish go out of their way to eat these. Dries can be fished erratically, nymphs and soft hackles can be swung down and across and the nymphs can be twitted under a bobber as well! You do not have to see these bugs on the water to fish them. Try them for 10 minutes, if you do not get an eat switch. If you do…
For whatever reason, the Eagle River trout simply love to eat BWOs. They like them in all forms, nymph, emerges and adult and you can follow the hatch/eating patterns throughout the day. Some of the best BWO fishing on the Eagle can be mid-afternoon so feel free to sleep in!
Streamers (In your confidence color) – 18 PCS Small Profile Streamer PKG, 14 PCS Big Dog Streamer PKG, Sex Dungeons #2-8, Sculpzilla #4-8, Motor Oil #4-6, Motor Oil Articulated, Thin Mint #4-12, Sculpin Bunny Black.
Enjoy the Eagle River all Fall whether you are fishing #24 dry flies or #2 articulated streamers.
Fly Fishing the Eagle River in Winter
While everyone heads to the hills to risk life and limb for powder, you can find the guys at Hill’s Discount Flies bundled up on the river side, catching fish on the Eagle River in solitude. Everyone knows the incredible skiing opportunities here in the Vail Valley but few know just how great the fly fishing can be during the same months. Sure, you don’t want to go out during a snowstorm or when the temperature gauge in your car reads single digits but when planned right and dressed accordingly, Winter can be the best season to fly fish in the Vail Valley.
Though approx. 60 miles long; cold Winters with sections of river never seeing sun limits you to less than a quarter of that in the Winter. Anchor ice, ice covering the river and north facing sections of water give the trout solace through the upper and middle stretches of the river.
Though fishing can be done in Minturn in December, you are better off focusing on the lower Eagle so you aren’t relegated to “post holing” through the snow all day just to make a few drifts in each hole. Also, the ‘all day’ approach should be left to the warmer months as the best time to be on the water occurs between 11am and 4pm. Our finned friends are open to being caught during banker’s hours in the Winter. Thanks to a few warm water discharges in Avon and Gypsum, the Eagle stays relatively open in these areas and the fish on these stretches take advantage. You should too.
Fly selection can be narrowed in the Winter months and it’s to your advantage. Leave your Hopper Box at home and stick to the tiny bugs for optimal success. Midges, Blue Winged Olives (BWOs) and eggs are the main menu items and they can be fished as dries, nymphs or swung wets. If you are a die-hard streamer junkie, you could even get a few tugs in the right areas on the right day. Fish that gorged during the brown trout spawn in the Fall on the Eagle look forward to the whitefish doing their business in the Winter months also. As always, it never hurts to entice opportunistic trout with a hefty meal like a stonefly, worm or large caddis nymph to encourage them to move for your bugs when the water is in the 40’s.
Winter fly fishing on the Eagle River is a game of strategy if you want to optimize your time on the water. We’d be lying if we said that the Hill’s Discount Flies crew hits the water 365 days a year. Before you fish, take a look at the forecast and if you have the flexibility, aim for the warmest days of the week. Your fingers will be more nimble and you won’t have to get ice off the guides of your rod all day. Look for sunshine too if you intend to target fish with dry flies. The opposite side of the coin is to pick snow days when you know folk are headed to ski and not fish. A good snow can also sock in warmth and make for more comfortable days, just leave yourself extra driving time to deal with the inclimate weather. It also makes for wonderful scenery and adds to the adventure. Fish eat year-round and don’t fly south for the Winter, if you are itching to fish and only have a cold sunny weekend, bundle up and get ready to knock some ice out of the guides on your fly rod. You’ll still have fun and put some trout in the net. When checking the weather it is very important to put in the town you specifically intend to fish, not just “Vail weather”. Weather patterns change as you move further west and the altitude decreases. It’s not uncommon for Gypsum to be five degrees warmer than Vail which can make the difference between a cold day’s fishing and a comfortable day’s fishing.
As we noted above, the warm water discharges on the Eagle River open river miles and access for anglers, even on the coldest days of the year. Right downstream from our shop in Avon, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation plant keeps anglers happy for a few miles. Fishing behind Agave can be great in the winter and you can celebrate a good day with some tacos and tequila! The same can be said for the warm water discharge courtesy of American Gypsum down in Gypsum, Colorado except you can finish your day at Tu Casa with a cochinita or fish burrito. Focus your efforts on the slower deeper runs where our cold-blooded friends don’t need to exert as much energy to get a meal while the water is in the 40’s. Open water can be found everywhere in between, just remember to avoid any tall north facing hindrance like the steep Red Canyon walls in Wolcott and deep valley of Eagle-Vail. These areas see little to no sun in the Winter leaving little open water for months.
Now that you know where you want to fish and you’ve picked a warm day for it, you need to prep your gear. Here’s what we recommend using when fly fishing the Eagle River in Winter…
Dry fly – 8’0” – 8’6” 4 weight fly rod with reel to match. Elongated front taper fly line for delicate presentation and longer casts to turn over small flies.
Nymph – 9’0” – 10’0” 4-5 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over indicator rigs.
Streamer 9;0” – 9’6” 6 weight fly rod with large arbor reel to match. Aggressive front taper fly lines to turn over sinking lines and heavy articulated streamers.
Best All Around – 9’0” 5 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw delicate dries and turn over streamers.
This time of year, the most important gear to have is proper attire. Leaky waders make for short days, as well as not layering properly. Gearing up starts in your bedroom at home with breathable base-layers and insulative/hydrophobic tops and bottoms like fleece pants and polyester tops. A down or synthetic top to maintain core temperatures are a great addition as well. Warm socks are imperative though you don’t want too many pairs or too thick of socks if it means cutting off circulation to your feet. You will get colder and it will be counterproductive! Slide on your waders and cap it off with a waterproof winter fishing jacket, a warm hat and some fleece fingerless gloves or flip mittens. Being able to tie knots and manage your fly line is just as important in the Winter, if not more. Light tippet, small flies and discreet takes are the norm when Winter fly fishing so nimble fingers are a must.
Though a trout’s Winter diet is fairly set in stone, they can be particular as to which midge or bwo they’d prefer to eat over another. See below for some of Element Flies favorite flies for Winter fly fishing on the Eagle River –
Bundle up and enjoy the secret season on the Eagle River. Whether you are looking for an excuse to get out, appreciate the serenity, never miss an opportunity to catch trout or are new to Winter fly fishing, Hill’s Discount Flies will help you achieve success fly fishing in the Winter.
Spring Fly Fishing on the Eagle River
Spring on the Eagle River lets the fishermen know that good days are ahead. More water is opening up, hatches grow in density and the extra water tells the fish it’s time to gorge before run-off. There’s a few different parts to Spring on the Eagle River. Pre run-off, run-off and post run-off. All can be fished safely and successfully and all help to get you tuned in for a wonderful Summer of fly fishing.
Like every other season on the Eagle; knowing weather, flows, water temps and having a plan on which location you want to fish will help you have a successful day. This time of year, the river can rise and drop exponentially in a single day during run-off. Hitting the river pre run-off can be great to catch “Midgezilla” but you could get snow or excessive cold. The Eagle River can fish for you from top to bottom in the Spring so if you are going fishing come hell or high water you can also choose your spots based on weather, flows and water temps.
There are a few key hatches worth noting for the Eagle in this time frame. If Spring technically starts with the Spring Breakers, there is no better place to be fly fishing than on the Eagle River. Spring Break coincides perfectly with an epic early midge hatch, known in the area as “Midgezilla”. These midges come off in such volume, slow back eddies look alive with pupating midges, drowned adults, stuck emergers and millions of midge shucks. This brown/tan/black midge can be fished as big as a size 14 and are a protein-filled, highly sought after meal. Eggs come back on the menu as the rainbows and limited cutthroat start thinking about their annual commitment. A change in water temps, even just a degree or so can really make fish more active which means after a fairly dormant winter living off of small midges and baetis, these fish are hungry and really looking to fill their craw. During Spring run-off on the Eagle River, fish key in on anything that they can see through the stained water which makes worms, stoneflies and large attractor nymphs essential flies to have in your fly box. Post run-off, when the water clears and is coming down, is still pushy and moving at a good clip but that doesn’t stop the caddis from emerging. Large swaths of caddis start showing themselves twice a day, late morning and late evening and the fish key into the hatch accordingly. It’s a great time to take the lead off your line and swing flies to actively feeding trout.
The Spring weather on the Eagle starts with highs in the 50’s and gradually gets warmer. As the evenings warm up into late March and early April, the water on the Eagle River increases in flow. As always, dress appropriately for the weather for longer more comfortable days. More importantly than weather hazards this time of year is going to be the height and flow of the Eagle itself. During Spring, the river can rise multiple feet and push as much as 60 times it’s winter speeds. The river can fish extremely well during run-off. Fish stack up in slow back eddies and eat like they haven’t in weeks. That being said, sometimes one or two steps into the river can turn into a dangerous endeavor. We at Hill’s Discount Flies don’t recommend trying to cross during run-off and trying to stick to the banks as much as possible. Spring at peak flows is a great time to leave your dog at home as much as we love taking our four-legged friends to the stream with us. If you aren’t the most sure footed, stick to the earlier months like March and April. They are some of the best!
Fishing during pre run-off in March and April tends to be best from Avon to Gypsum in areas that aren’t shaded by mountains and trees most of the day. That’s more of an issue up valley than down. Fish eat great in the Avon and Edwards area of the Eagle river during pre run-off. Fishing above Avon can be spotty at best. During run-off, head upstream to Camp Hale. It’s a beautiful place to catch trout and nearby Homestake Creek fishes good at this time too. You can also fish the lower river in Eagle and Gypsum, focusing your efforts on slower inside bends and soft water above and below structure like rocks. This time is typically known as “mud season” and is when the big bugs and worms come into play. Post run-off when the water begins to drop and clear up, the whole Eagle comes into play. Again, we stress wading safely and picking longer runs with soft water instead of the high-gradient pocket/boulder stretches.
Rod selection in the Spring changes based on flows. Early on, you can use lighter tackle as there are dry fly opportunities and the water hasn’t come up too much yet. During run-off you want heavier tackle to steer fish into soft water and muscle them out of the current. Once the Eagle river starts to come down a bit, it’s whatever you are comfortable with though remember, the water will still be pushy. Here are some specifics for what Element Flies recommends for Spring fly fishing on the Eagle River –
Pre Run-Off – 8’6” – 9’0” 4 or 5 weight fly rod with reel to match. All around fly lines for throwing dries, nymphing or stripping heavy streamers. Tippet to match
Run-Off – 9’0” – 9’6” 6 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over weighted indicator rigs. 2x-3x tippet to your flies to muscle trout into soft water and keeping them there so you don’t lose your rigs on fish 40 yards downstream.
Post Run-Off – 9’0” – 9’6” 5 or 6 weight fly rod with large arbor reel to match. Aggressive front taper fly lines to turn over heavy nymph rigs or tossing soft hackled wet flies down and across the current..
Best All Around – 9’0” 5-6 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw sizeable dries and turn over heavy multiple fly nymph rigs.
The best part of Spring is the bugs are pretty easy to narrow down to be successful on the Eagle River. We’ll separate them by the different parts of run-off.
Pre Run-Off – Chocolate or Purple Thunder #18, Micro Midge Olive #16-18, Miracle Midge #18, Flashback WD40 #18-20 in Black or Brown, Skinny Baetis Jig #16-18, Rainbow Warrior Jig #16, Black/Copper Perdigon #16-18, Griffith’s Gnat #16-20
Post Run-Off – Hare’s Ear Flashback CDC Jig – #12-16, Olive Beadhead Caddis Pupa #14-16, Tan Caddis Soft Hackle #14-16, Soft Hackle Hares Ear #12-16, Tungsten Flashback Guides Choice #12-16 *A lot of the run-off flies will still work at this point too!
Though the flies listed above are what we use as go-to flies, don’t be afraid to try other heavy/fast-sinking bugs like Perdigons and thin profile jigs. Other small and realistic bugs can fish too if you see midge and baetis hatches. We didn’t really cover too many dries but, if you see lot’s of fish rising… you know what to do! We’re out there often so for day-to-day hatch info and places we recommend more than others, give us a call at the shop or shoot us an email!
Fly Fishing the Eagle River in the Summer
Like most trout streams, Summer is the best time to be fly fishing on the Eagle River. Besides the Vail Valley just being incredibly scenic and special in the Summertime; the hatches, the flows and the eager trout eats make Summer the most sought after season to fish the Eagle River.
At this time of the year, the Eagle fishes great from top to bottom. From the headwaters at Camp Hale down to the confluence of the Colorado River, the Eagle River can be fished in its entirety. Flows drop all Summer at a consistent rate and the clarity is pristine.Longer days mean more daylight and fish will eat flies from dawn to dark. The river comes alive with bug life and the fish react accordingly providing multiple ways to catch trout no matter which section you are fishing.
Summer on the Eagle River is bug heaven. Caddis come off in droves multiple times a day, PMDs are a favorite on a trout’s menu and Yellow Sally stoneflies round out the menu as far as river-given options. The icing on the cake are the terrestrial choices. Ants, beetles and grasshoppers round out the menu and provide great dry fly eats from bigger fish as well as edible indicators when fishing nymphs in the faster water. The options are plenty on the Eagle during the dog days.
Weather-wise, it’s not uncommon to have daily Summer thunderstorms in the afternoon. Luckily these storms move in small cells and don’t tend to ever last long. If a storm rolls up on you while you are fly fishing the Eagle River, pull out your phone and look at the weather radar. See which way the storm is moving and fish in the opposite direction. The air temps will be cooler and the fishing will be great. When the afternoon storms are far and few, the river drops quicker and warms up, especially further west where there are less trees on the river banks and less shade from tall peaks. In the last few years, voluntary “No afternoon fishing” has come into play. If you are fishing the Eagle River in August, make sure you have a stream thermometer so you aren’t stressing the fish we care for so much.
If you are looking for scenery, less pressure and dry fly eats, fish the upper Eagle River from Camp Hale to Eagle-Vail. This area is known more for quantity above quality however don’t be surprised if you feel a deeper bend in your rod every now and again. Browns and rainbows are the primary fish in these stretches but the occasional cutthroat shows it’s face up top towards Minturn. The Eagle from Avon to Wolcott is great this time of year but know the area in advance as there are many private areas in this stretch. This is a prime floating stretch both in the morning and afternoons for throwing dry flies and streamers. The lower river from Eagle to Dotsero floats great as well and is known for holding the biggest fish in the Eagle River. Though not as picturesque as the upper stretches, the big fish make up for the neighborhood and gypsum plant scenery. The lower river is a great night fishery during full moons in the Summer also.
Gear Selection is based on which section of the river you are fishing and how you’d like to approach it. The upper Eagle can be treated like a small creek where the lower Eagle River mirrors a Montana stream in the bottom stretches. Here are our gear recommendations for the different regions on the Eagle River
Upper Eagle River – 7’0” – 8’0” 3 or 4 weight fly rod with reel to match. All-around fly line for fishing dry flies and small dry-dropper rigs.
Middle Eagle River – 8’6” – 9’0” 4 or 5 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for multi-dry fly rigs, quick loading for lot’s of casting from a boat and throwing streamers.
Lower Eagle River – 9’0” – 9’6” 5 or 6 weight fly rod with reel to match. All-around fly line for fishing dries, nymphs and streamers, making longer casts and mending line.
Best All Around – 9’0” 5 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw delicate dries, turn over indicator rigs and chuck streamers.
Eagle River trout have a lot of food items on the menu but the main bugs for the Summer are going to be your caddis, Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) and Yellow Sallies. Tricos come into play late in the Summer and the fish absolutely forage on them as well. We’ll cover flies by bug type on this one and leave streamers up to your personal preference and confidence levels.
Pale Morning Duns
Yellow Sally Stonefly
Summer time fly fishing on the Eagle can be the best of the season. Whether you have all day or keep your fishing stuff in your car for after work, the Eagle can accommodate. If you are feeling up for it, keep a headlamp and a few mouse patterns in your box for full moon night fishing too. Watch the water temps and enjoy endless dry fly eats on the Eagle River in the Summer.