BASALT — Somewhere, maybe mapped in the pages of some underground guide to fishermen's fashion, there exists a spot delineating the precise area in the Roaring Fork Valley where fishing waders cease to be considered stylish streetwear.
Certainly it lies downstream of Aspen, where waterproof Gucci has yet to debut, and upstream of the Roaring Fork's terminus at Glenwood Springs, where the smell of fish blends comfortably with geothermic sulphur.
Split the difference and you wind up in Basalt, a cozy spot that Colorado anglers should regard as fishing central.
"Basalt is kind of central in the Roaring Fork Valley, the middle of what are kind of opposite ends of the spectrum, both geographically and demographically," said Will Sands, a veteran guide at Basalt-based Taylor Creek Fly Shops. "Certainly there are other very good and beautiful fisheries in other areas of Colorado, but the mass opportunities surrounding the fishing and nonangling options close at hand are what set this area apart."
Pick any direction from the hub of Basalt and you're bound to find prime fishing water. Whether it's the world-renowned waters of the Fryingpan River, fast action of the Roaring Fork, scenic cascades of the Crystal River or the big volume — and fish — of the nearby Colorado, the odds of finding a fishery that exceeds your expectations are, as they say, off the hook.
"You have the longest continuous stretch of Gold Medal water in the state, starting at Ruedi Dam on the Fryingpan to where it enters the Roaring Fork in Basalt, then the Fork all the way to Glenwood. That's more than 40 miles," Sands said. "Both rivers are managed as wild trout fisheries and trophy trout fisheries, with rules and regulations in place to sustain the trophy trout population."
What makes Basalt such a stellar fishing destination encompasses the overall character of cold-water fishing in Colorado. With an estimated 9,000 miles of trout streams statewide, about 170 of them designated Gold Medal by Colorado Parks and Wildlife — those waters that have the greatest potential for trophy trout fishing — there's incentive to cast a line in virtually any direction.
"What separates Colorado as a destination is that you can travel north, south, east or west and find so much access and water within an hour," said Landon Mayer, author of "Colorado's Best Fly Fishing" (Headwater, 2011). "While other Western states have pockets of great fishing spread out in different areas, here there's a world-class tailwater that's 35 minutes from a freestone, that's right next to amazing still water. It's no problem to hit a number of great spots even in a single day."
Ask the guide and guidebook author where he would spend his busman's holiday and it varies with the season. Come spring, Mayer points his fly rod toward North Park and the Gold Medal water of North Delaney Butte Lake, where lunker brown trout prowl the depths.
"In the summer, I find myself traveling a fair amount to the freestone rivers like the Roaring Fork and the Arkansas, hitting the caddis, PMD and green drake hatches as summer progresses," he said.
When fall arrives, the Florissant resident stays close to his home waters on the South Platte River and the trophy fishing opportunities on and around the reservoirs of South Park. Come winter, it's the famous tailwaters of the Taylor River, the Fryingpan and the Arkansas below Pueblo Reservoir.
Those hot spots are but a sliver of our state's abundance of cold-water fishing commodities, albeit an impressive one. But attempting to pinpoint the paramount fishing in Colorado is a bit like picking out the best flavor at the ice cream shop. They're all appetizing.
So, instead of settling on a single flavor, here's a sample platter of fishing options and suggested base camp communities where you won't feel weird walking down the street — or into the ice cream parlor — in soggy shoes.
Base camp: Basalt.
Fishing: Roaring Fork, Fryingpan, Crystal, Colorado River, Ruedi Reservoir.
Guide's choice:"A short window and dry flies ... I'm going to run up the 'Pan for a couple hours," Will Sands said. "If I've got a full day, I'm in my drift boat down the valley on the Fork and/or the Colorado, depending on which river is fishing best and the type of fishing available."
Call of the wild: The upper Fryingpan above Ruedi is an overlooked and secluded fishing spot.
Call of the mild: Dearhamer Campground at the Fryingpan inlet of Ruedi Reservoir is kid-friendly with plenty of stockers to catch.
Guides/shops: Taylor Creek Fly Shop (970-927-4374, Taylorcreek.com); Frying Pan Anglers (970-927-3441, Fryingpananglers.com); Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale (970-963-5741, Crystalflyshop.com); Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs (970-945-0180, Roaringforkanglers.com).
Grub: Riverside Grill in Basalt Center Circle overlooks the Fryingpan.
Sleep: The Green Drake Motel (970-927-4747, green-drake.com); Aspenalt Lodge (970-927-3191, aspenalt.com); Taylor Creek Cabins (rent-cabins-colorado.com/). Little Mattie, Little Maud, Mollie B or Dearhamer campgrounds.