In collaboration with Colorado Tourism and their “Care for Colorado” initiative, we set out to explore some of the most well known and widely admired tailwaters of the great state of Colorado. While on this adventure, we met with local fly shops and guides to have them show us exactly what makes their home waters so special, and more importantly, why they’re worth exploring and protecting. Along the way, we explored local restaurants, activities, and places to rest and relax to create a complete guide for exploring these iconic tailwaters. The Frying Pan River
For our first destination, we stopped to check out one of the most famous tailwaters in not only Colorado, but the United States: The Frying Pan River.
The History of the Frying Pan River
The Frying Pan valley was home to Native American hunting parties, miners, railroaders, ranchers, and recreationists since it was first explored in 1880. The origin of the “Frying Pan” name is uncertain, but the most colorful story is that of a group of prospectors who fled hostile Utes only to run into another encampment, whereupon one prospector remarked that they had come “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” However, another legend of similar nature describes the name originating from the story of a similar run in between a native tribe and a group of trappers. The wounded trapper sent a party out to find help, and to mark their location, placed a frying pan in a tree as a marker. Regardless of which tale is true, this river definitely possesses a mystical ora to it.
Today, the Fryingpan River is a renowned Gold Medal trout fishery whose designation stretches 14 miles from Ruedi Dam, which was constructed in 1968, to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River in the town of Basalt. While the trout used to bost a mix of native cutthroat trout, as well as a mix of invasive Brook Trout, the water now belongs to mostly Brown and Rainbow trout, with the occasional Cutthroat making a welcomed appearance.
Fishing the Frying Pan River
Fly Shops on the Frying Pan River:
We had the chance to stop into Taylor Creek Fly Shop and meet up with guide Shannon Outing before heading out on the river. Shannon has been a guide at Taylor Creek for 6 years now, and never ceases to find a few trout hidden in the complexed ecosystem the frying pan offers. While in the shop, she walked us through their extensive selection of flies, and with the aid of some ‘specimen references’, we found a few that looked like they’d do the job.
Flies to Use on the Frying Pan River:
Depending on the time of year, the flies and methods you’ll want to employ will vary. Since we were fishing in the middle of October with moderately low flows, we chose to nymph under an indicator. Some flies that proved to be effective were of the small midge and Baetis variation. Some patterns to consider would be some sparkle baetis variations, rs2’s, pheasant tails, or a gold ribbed hare’s ear all-around sizes 16-22. Also, remember to keep that line weighted so those flies can get down into the appropriate feeding zones.
Nymphing can be a productive fishing method pretty much all year-round on the Frying Pan, but it proves especially lethal in the colder months of late fall into spring. That being said, once the weather warms and bugs start to hatch, nothing beats the dry fly bight. In the months of June through September, one can’t go wrong throwing caddis, drake, and stimulator imitations for an exhilarating top-water bight.
Fishing the Frying Pan River:
First and foremost, the Frying Pan River is marked as a Gold Medal trout fishery. To achieve gold medal status, the waters are defined as being able to produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, and at least twelve 14″ or larger trout per acre. To make sure these waters are able to remain Gold Medal status, take some time before you fish to read over the Frying Pan Fishing Regulations, which can be found HERE.
The Frying Pan River is an extremely popular spot for anglers around the country, and is fishable year-round. An important thing to note is that the scenic appeal has also attracted a fair share of affluence to establish property lines along the river. This being said, it’s important to take notice of established private property on and around the river and respect those areas. Luckily, the waters of the Pan are vast, and there is no shortage of public access points. Always remember, fishing public land is a group effort, so always make sure to pack out all your trash (this includes used tippet).
The beauty of the Frying Pan, and many other tailwaters like it, is the diversity of water. In deep pools, you can fish long, slow-sink nymph rigs, or even smaller streamers such as minnows or leach patterns. Faster riffles are more welcoming to the use of weighted nymph rigs, set to quickly survey mossy bottoms. Then of course, there is an abundance of pocket water where a well placed dry fly is sure to be made a quick meal.
In our experience with Shannon, we moved up and down the river, primarily focusing on deep runs. Even as the chill of the mid-months of fall encroached the river, a rig composed of several baetis variations proved fruitful, and our efforts were rewarded with absolutely gorgeous Frying Pan Brown Trout.
For best results when fishing the Pan, feel free to check the discharge rates and gauge height. Considering tailwaters are all located downstream of hydraulic structures, in this case, a dam, it’s important to take into account what kind of state the river is in and plan accordingly. This information can be found HERE.
Places to Visit Around the Frying Pan River:
Whether you’re off a good day of fishing, or if fishing just isn’t your thing in general. Here are a few places to check out along the river.
Located right at the entrance of Downtown Basalt, The Roaring Fork Conservancy exists to serve residents and visitors throughout the Roaring Fork Valley through school and community-based Watershed Education programs and Watershed Science and Policy Projects including regional watershed planning, water resource policy initiatives, stream management, and restoration. If you’re looking to learn more about the factors that affect the waters that we as anglers cherish, be sure to check out some of the programs offered by the Conservancy.
On our tailwater tour, we were able to stop in and catch up with Christina Medved and Megan Dean to learn more about our local waters, and the issues that affect them. While there, we were able to get a glimpse at some of their amazing research, as well as try out their augmented reality sand table to monitor changing hydrology and geology in real-time.
- Woody Creek Distillers – A praised Basalt distillery recognized for their use of local Colorado ingredients. A great place to raise a glass.
- Aspen Shooting – A great place to practice your skills on the range. Located right next to the Frying Pan River, this is a great place to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery and fresh air in the Aspen valley, while perfecting your target shooting skills
- Day Hike/ Camping: Thomas Lake Trail – The Thomas Lake trail is an excellent day hike for those looking to get in some moderately challenging walking to a beautiful lake. Once at the Lake, you can choose to camp out at some of the designated camp spots, or if you’re looking for a real challenge, continue all the way to the peak of the iconic Mt. Sopris. Also, if you’re interested in being a part of what makes these trails so special, check out the Care for Colorado Volunteerism opportunities to find ways to make your visit even more enriching.
- Check out Reudi Reservoir – While we were focused mainly on the tailwaters of the frying pan, above the dam is the Reudi Reservoir, which is a beautiful body of water that holds endless possibilities. If you’re a fan of sailing, water skiing, or simply camping; be sure to take a beautiful drive up the Frying Pan Road and check out the Reservoir.
Food By the Frying Pan River:
The town of Downtown Basalt is a thriving hub of culinary delights. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there is surely a covid-conscious place to leave you feeling safe and satisfied.
The Tipsy Trout – After a day of fishing the Pan, we stopped into the Tipsy Trout, which is a great lunch spot adjacent to the Frying Pan River, and Taylor Creek Fly Shop. If you’re looking for a relaxing environment to enjoy a cold Coors and a chicken sandwich that’ll blow your mind, the Tipsy Trout is your place. If you stumble in around 3 pm or later, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to catch an interesting story or two from a local fly-fishing guide wrapping up a hard day’s work.
Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar – If you’re looking for an upscale spot for a date night or a last hoorah in Downtown Basalt, this is your place. With margaritas that’ll add the perfect amount of flavor to an evening, Free Range is a great destination to close out an amazing time spent with good folks.
Capital Creek Brewing – If you’re looking for a local beer experience, check out Capital Creek Brewing. With an exciting menu that’s always evolving, this brewery is a great place to grab lunch, or spend an evening enjoying locally sourced beer with friends. (If you go there, try the Green Drake IPA, it’s a favorite of ours).
The Brick Pony – If you’re looking for a fun place to kick back and enjoy a drink on a Friday night; the Brick Pony is your spot. Being within spitting distance of Frying Pan Road, you can jump off the water and be consuming a plate of nachos the size of a small horse within 20 minutes.
K’Gen Asian Cuisine – When it comes to Asian food, it can be hard to miss. However, not only does K’gen deliver some surprisingly incredible sushi, but it’s at a pretty impressively low price. For a fun dinner spot that fits the budget, this is an easy decision that’s got something for everyone.
Places to Stay by the Frying Pan River
Whether you’re looking for a rustic log cabin feel, or an aspen-inspired hotel, when it comes to lodging by the Pan there’s something for everyone.
Taylor Creek Cabins – While prepping to meet up with Shannon, we had the chance to stay in one of the cabins of Taylor Creek Cabins. Located right on the river, this is an amazing spot to hang out before a day on the river, including some included private water, or exploring the beautiful area surrounding Basalt. With a wood-fired stove to heat the cozy little cabin, you can really feel like you’re escaping the confines of modern society, all while being 10 minutes from downtown Basalt.
- The Frying Pan River Lodge – With a Riverside location, this lodge offers an affordable place to stay that’s within walking distance of any restaurant in downtown Basalt.
- Basalt Mountain Inn – If you’re looking for something a little more updated, Basalt Mountain Inn offers a fun modern atmosphere for those who are looking to explore the Pan and the Roaring Fork Valley.
- Lodge at Rivers Edge – If you’re looking for a place that still gives off that remote cabin feel, but delivers a little more luxury than the average riverside accommodations, you’re looking for the lodge at River’s Edge. Remodeled in 2018, this lodge offers an upscale stay directly above Basalt.
Feel free to CHECK HERE for additional hotels and accommodations
We would like to take the time to remind you to practice proper social distancing regulations and to always wear a mask in public places. As we enjoy what this beautiful state has to offer, it’s crucial to remember that we’re all just visiting, and as visitors, it’s our job to work to preserve and respect these incredible places. To find out more on conservation initiatives, and ways you can make your time in the area more meaningful, feel free to check out ways to get involved HERE.
If you’re looking for additional info, or just want to learn more about the state and the opportunities it has to offer, check out the official Colorado Tourism Page HERE.
Thank you to Colorado Tourism for this incredible opportunity to explore our backyard. Stay Tuned for more installments of Tailwater Tails, and tips on exploring on Colorado’s famous Tailwaters. Also, thank you to the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Taylor Creek Cabins, and Taylor Creek Fly Shop, and our good friend Shannon for your aid in helping this project come to life.