There’s no task more daunting in a fisherman’s life than fishing a new river.  Whether it’s a new stretch of tailwater or a roaring torrent of fish and bugs, there’s nothing quite as gratifying as hooking up on an unfamiliar lip and feeling as if you’ve conquered a new beast. To make such an endeavor slightly more palatable, we’ve compiled a list of a few flies you might want to find at the end of your line on new waters. With advice from local shops, guides, and the fishy folks who know these waters best, here are the best flies to fish the Gunnison River.

brown trout on the gunnison river
Image courtesy of Matt McCannel

The Gunnison River. This river is the largest tributary of the Colorado River in Colorado, with a length of 180 miles, multiple hydroelectric dams, and many confluences with other bodies of water. The upper river or the Upper Gunnison is a classic freestone river that flows from the confluence of the East and Taylor rivers and into the Blue Mesa Reservoir. This river can rival the mighty Colorado in terms of its flow into the Grand Junction during high water. Its most famous stretch is below Crystal Reservoir where Gold Medal Water and Wild Trout Waters converge into the Black Canyon, one of the world’s longest, deepest, and narrowest gorges in the world. The river is home to Rainbow trout, Cutthroat, Cutbow, Brook trout, Tiger trout, and Brown trout. There have even been quite a few records pulled out of the Gunnison such as a 26-inch Brook trout, 33.5-inch Cutbow, 31-inch Cutthroat, a 40-inch Rainbow, and a 28-inch Tiger to name just a few.





The river has a multitude of hatches from Salmonflies, PMD’s, to Gray Drakes. To help with these hatches Dragonfly Anglers have a full hatch chart on their website. Below, we’ve listed some of the most influential hatches on the Gunnison.

stoneflies in hand
Image courtesy of Matt McCannel
  • Salmon Fly (Pteronarcys Californica) Hook Size 4, 6, 8
    • Gunnison River (Black Canyon) – – – – – – – – – – June 20 to July 1
  • Pale Morning Duns (Ephemerella inermis) Hook sizes 14, 16, 18, 20
    • Gunnison River (Blue Mesa – Almont) – – – – – – – – – – June 25 to August 20
  • Blue Winged Olives (Ephemerella cornuta) Hook sizes 14, 16, 18, 20
    • Gunnison River (Black Canyon) – – – – -April 15 to May 15
    • Gunnison River (Blue Mesa – Almont) – – – – April 20 to runoff
  • Gray/Slate Drake (Siphlonurus occidentalis) Hook sizes 12, 14, 16
    • Gunnison River – – – – – – – – September 10 to October 10
  • Caddis (Tricoptera) Hook sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20
    • Gunnison River (Black Canyon) – – – – – – – – – -June 15 to August 30
    • Gunnison River (Blue Mesa – Almont) – – – – – – – June 1 to September 1
  • Terrestrials 
    • July 15 to September 30
  • Green Drakes (Ephemera Guttulata) Hook Size 10, 12 ,14
    • Gunnison River (Blue Mesa – Almont) – – – – – – – – – – June 20 to August 10

Now keep in mind that river conditions and flies change regularly. You won’t be throwing the same bugs in 2 months. Below is a list of universal flies for the year, but remember to always check in with the local shops to get an idea of the hatches and what the fish are keying in on.

Dry Flies:

  • Caddis (Elk Hair, X caddis, Butch Caddis)

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  • Green Drake (Adult Green Drakes, Coffin Flies, Extended body Green Drakes)

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  • PMD *Pale Morning Dun* (Tilt wing PMD, Extended Body PMD, Improved Sparkle Dun, Rusty Spinner)

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  • BWO *Blue Winged Olive* (Parachute Blue Winged Olive, RS-2, Blue Wing adult, Hatchmaster Blue Winged Olive)

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    • Caddis (Pupa, Hares ear, Birds nest, Net builder)

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    • Green Drake (Deep dish Green Drake, Green Drake nymph, Defcon 5 Green Drake)

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    • Stoneflies (Pat’s rubber legs, Prince Nymph, Wired Stonefly, Jighead Pat’s rubber leg)

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    • BWO (The Barrs Emerger, Slim Shady, Pheasant tail)

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  • Leech (Classic leech black or Olive)

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  • Baitfish (Montana Mouthwash white or olive)

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  • Baitfish/Sculpin (Dirty Hippie (*single or double* tan, olive, black, white)

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  • Baitfish/Sculpin (She Demon baby gonga gray or baby rainbow)

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With this information and a general introduction to one of the country’s most iconic rivers don’t let it be intimidating. Get out on the water, explore new rivers, and more importantly learn. Nothing betters you as a fly fisherman more than taking a leap of faith and continuing to learn.

Featured Image Courtesy of Matt McCannel

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