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.
For our second destination, we stopped to check out one of the most popular tailwater for those looking to take a trip into the mountains: The Taylor River.
Note: For this guide, we will only be paying attention to the water below Taylor Park Reservoir
History of the Taylor River:
In 1878 a small mining settlement named Tin cup was formed in response to the discovery of Gold in the area of, what is now the Taylor Park reservoir, in 1859. A man by the name of Jim Taylor, who the Park and River are now named after, was one of the first to strike gold in the area. Miners would transport ore down through Taylor River Canyon to Gunnison where it would be loaded onto trains and shipped off. In 1881, Almont Colorado, a popular pinpoint for anglers fishing the Taylor Tailwaters, was founded.
In 1935, US Representative Edward Taylor, a Glenwood Springs resident, helped pass a Congressional bill that authorized the aptly named, Taylor Reservoir and dam. The dam Finished construction in 1937.
Today, the Taylor River is a hot spot for anglers looking to take a trip to the mountains. With waters flowing in from the Elk Mountains, through the Taylor Reservoir, and into the Tailwater of the Taylor, which has risen to fame as a local and international favorite trout fishery amongst adventurous anglers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Fishing the Taylor River
Fly Shops on the Taylor River:
If you’re planning on starting your trip near Almont, which is right above the confluence of the Taylor and the East River (conjoining to create the Gunnison), you can stop into Almont Anglers or Three Rivers Resorts and Outfitting to grab a few flies. However, if you’re coming in from Highway 135, there’s a good chance you’ll be passing through Crested Butte. If this is the case, you can stop by either Crested Butte Anglers or Dragonfly Anglers.
On our Tailwater Tour, we made our way into Crested Butte to stop into Dragonfly Anglers. There, we met our guide Jim Garrison, who has been guiding for Dragonfly for over 27 years. After grabbing a bagel from Butte Bagels, we made our way into the shop where Jim guided us over what flies we’d need for the day.
Flies to use on the Taylor River:
Depending on the time of year, subsurface fishing is usually going to be your best bet. However, in the late spring and early summer, the Taylor’s peak fishing season, you can expect some pretty responsive top-water action. For this time, we’d recommend tying on a Caddis, Grey or Green Drake, an Adams, a Trico variation, or a Blue Dun imitation. Anywhere from a size .14 to a size .20 fly can yield effective results, but the best way to judge what to use is to observe whatever hatch is going on around the river.
When it comes to the colder months of late Fall, Winter, and early spring, the fishing tends to slow down a bit. During these times, your classic tailwater flies will become extremely effective. These include small midges and baetis variations such as size .18 to .22 pheasant tails, RS2’s, zebra midges, and copper johns. Another fly that is extremely popular on the Taylor is the Mysis shrimp, which is a small freshwater crustacean that is generally abundant in Tailwaters around the state.
Also, during the early months of fall, streamer fishing becomes a pleasantly productive option. Small sculpin and leach imitations make incredibly enticing snacks to fish stocking up for the winter.
Fishing the Taylor River
Before you get on the water, it’s incredibly important to read the river’s regulations, which can be found HERE.
Below the reservoir, you can find some truly remarkable fishing that shows why the Taylor is such a popular river amongst fly-anglers. As you work your way down-stream from the Taylor Park Dam, you’ll make your way past the crowds that assemble around the catch and release section (325 Yards from the dam). In these sections, you can find some healthy rainbow and brown trout lurking in the depths
Parking is generally accessible, as you can find a number of pull-offs on the side of the road. When surveying for a good fishing spot, take into account a few factors: Refuge, Water Level, and Crowds. One of the great things about the Taylor River is the amount of natural debris that has collected in the river. Large boulders that have fallen from canyon walls and into the river to create a natural refuge for big trout looking to escape the current.
The current is the next factor to look for, or more importantly, the gauge height and the flow rates. Hydrometrics can be accessed HERE and make a great indicator as to how successful your day of fishing will be/ which type of flies you’ll most likely be using.
Finally, when scanning the side of the river for a put in, take the crowds into consideration. If you see a parking area with 2 or more cars parked already, it’s best to just move on to the next spot. Most anglers know that crowds are never conducive to good fishing. If you’re hammering water all day, not only will the fishing slow down for you, but it diminishes for all parties concerned. This can even prove to affect the health of the river in the long run.
When is the fishing best on the Taylor River? As mentioned before, the late spring and early summer often times yields excellent results, and fun to be had by all as the dry fly bight becomes abundant. However, the Taylor, much like any other tailwater, remains a solid fishery year-round. In the late Fall, streamers and nymphs are a plentiful food source for trout, and once winter rolls in, tiny nymphs and technical rigs are an angler’s go-to for success.
Something to take into consideration when fishing any river in the fall and spring is to MIND THE REDDS. What’s a Redd: A Redd is a spawning nest made by a fish, especially a salmon or trout. These spawning beds are where fish go to release and fertilize eggs to bring create the next generation of trout that will populate the wild waters of the river. Often-times, when fish are on their reds they will become extremely territorial, making them easy prey to unethical angling. However, these fish need to save their energy for spawn, and when caught on their redd, are much more likely to die, and or, destroy their nest. This can be detrimental to a river’s ability to sustain a wild fish population.
How to identify a redd: They’re hard to miss. Redds are smooth, oval-shaped patches of gravel in a riverbed, usually constructed with lighter colored rocks than the surrounding area. On top of said gravel beds, you can usually find big trout protecting their eggs. In-terms of proper approaches to these areas, it’s best to avoid them entirely. During the spawning seasons (Late fall for Brown Trout and Early Spring for Rainbow Trout), it’s important to keep your eyes down and scanning for these nests as to not accidentally walk over them. For more information on Redds, check out this article HERE.
In our experience fishing with our guide Jim, he favored the approach of tight line nymphing, as it allowed him to quickly work fast-flowing seams in an effective manner. With the use of heavily weighted flies, a little bit of split shot, and no dependence on a bobber, Jim was able to pull trout after trout out from behind boulders and pockets of smooth water. No matter what you think of the technique, 27 years of experience doesn’t lie.
Places to Visit Around the Taylor 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 around the river.
Drive-up Keblar Pass – If you follow Highway 12 out of CB, you’ll find yourself making your way up beautiful Keblar Pass. This mountainside drive is one of the most scenic passes in the area and offers a variety of beautiful views along the trip. If you’re an animal lover, there are also plenty of horse ranches, cattle farms, free-range sheep, and wild turkeys to be encountered along the drive. The pass includes plenty of pull-offs to safely check out the one of a kind views, and snap a few pictures that you’ll be sure to cherish forever.
Visit Historic Tin Cup – The town of Tin Cup, which was established in 1879 as a mining town after lodge deposits were located in the general area, is an incredible piece of history that is still explorable today. Now considered a ghost town, Tin Cup is now mostly a tourist attraction for those looking to take a peek into the fascinating past of the Colorado Gold Rush. In Tin Cup, you can find a general store, a church, and the Tin Cup Pass which connects Almont to Nathrop. For this pass, we recommend a high clearance vehicle. For this, Jeep rentals are easily accessible.
Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum – Located in the middle of town, this museum offers a quick and enjoyable walk through of Crested Butte’s rich history. From its founding, to mountain conservation efforts, to the fascinating ski and biking culture that has defined the town; there is a plethora of fascinating history to absorb and appreciate through the museum’s interactive models and historic relics.
Hike Copper Creek Trail – For a fun and semi-challenging hike, you can hike up Copper Creek trail. There are two trailheads, one of which being a lower parking lot which is easily accessible, the second being the upper parking lot which is accessible with a high clearance vehicle. The hike is about 12 miles round trip and offers explorers breathtaking views of waterfalls, wildflowers, and (if you’re quiet enough) some incredible wildlife.
Crested Butte Skiing – If you’re visiting in the cold months of winter, the fishing may be a little slower, but the skiing will be on fire. For more info on skiing CLICK HERE
Food by the Taylor River
If you’re looking for fun and unique places to grab a bite, the town of Crested Butte will not disappoint. With more options than you can shake a fly-rod at, there is something here that everyone can enjoy.
Brick Oven Pizzaria and Pub – We had a chance to stop by the Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub to refuel after a successful day on the water. With an extensive beer menu, and dishes that call into question the standards of a Mainstreet pizzeria, we were left not only satisfied but jubilated by our experience. For a personal recommendation, try the flavorful roller coaster that’s the honey salmon platter. (Thank us later)
Montanya Distillers – Inside or outside, upstairs or downstairs, rum or…well, rum: this place has it all. With a wide selection of mind-blowing in house distilled rum-infused cocktails, Montanya Distillers is the perfect spot for a quick happy hour, or a culinary experience. Their food menu offers just as wide a variety as their drink menu, offering delicious options. However, when it comes to these dishes, their ramen remains king. Grab a hearty bowl of noodles that could feed a village (but we know you’re just going to eat the whole thing…we can’t blame you), and slurp down one of the many protein-based options Montanya offers. You certainly won’t regret it.
The last Steep – This burger joint is an excellent option for anyone looking to fill their stomach with some exceptionally crafted bar food. Burgers, wraps, and sandwiches alike, you really can’t go wrong as you jam out to what’s most likely some most welcomed Grateful Dead in the background.
Teocalli Tamale – If you’re looking for some quick fuel that’ll leave you satisfied for hours to come, stop into Teocalli Tamale. Established in CB for over 20 years, this burrito stand delivers a simplistic, yet satisfying, local feel to your run of the mill Texmex cuisine.
Sherpa Cafe – For those in the mood for something to shake up their usual run of burgers and beers, the Sherpa cafe is a delicious escape from the norm with authentic Himalayan inspired dishes.
Places to Stay by the Taylor River
From those who care to “Rough it” to those who seek out exquisite ski-town-luxury, there is something for everyone around the Taylor river.
Eleven Experience: Taylor River Lodge – Located directly on the Taylor River itself, the Taylor River Lodge by Eleven Experience is an angler’s dream brought to life. Including private queen cabins, the main cabin with a kitchen and bar, a bathhouse, and a hundred other amenities we don’t even have the energy to list; Taylor River Lodge is the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury. Check out the lodge spotlight we did with them last year below.
- Elevation Hotel and Spa – For a nice place to stay with everything you could need + some added amenities, Elevation is a delightful place to spend a night or two. Located at the base of the mountains in CB, this ski-in and ski-out resort will certainly have you jonesing to strap in and head out for a rip. Affordably priced, the hotel offers a spa and its own restaurant. However, it’s still only a 10-minute drive from the main part of town.
- The Old Town Inn – For a refreshingly classic “mountain town inn” feel, check out Crested Butte’s Old Town Inn. With 33 rooms to choose from, the inn is located within walking distance from the town park, and right across the way from historic downtown.
- Almont Resort – Established and family-owned since 1893, the Almont resort is located on the East River, which meets with the Taylor to form the Gunnison. With a built in restaurant, bar, and entertainment room, these 20 cabins are spitting distance from the river, and offer a great place to get away for a few days.</li>
- Camping – Resorts and hotels not your thing? Lucky for you, there are a number of great campsites located around Almont which offer a great place to set up a tent. Whether your goal is to save some money and spend a night in the great outdoors, or just be first to the water, you can check out a list of the best campsites HERE.
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 Dragonfly Anglers, and our guide Jim Garrison for helping us navigate, and learn more about your home waters.