We anglers go to great lengths to find new fishing holes. Some pay the big bucks to hire a helicopter fly-in guide in New Zealand. Others hike for miles above tree line to reach a Rocky Mountain lake someone long ago said, “There are monster trout there no one knows about just waiting for some lucky angler!” Usually the hard to get to places are the ones with the best fishing. I was looking for an easy hot spot recently. Bicycling Mighty Glenwood Canyon would be a low-cost way to try a new fishing hole.
I had on my radar a piece of river I had been looking at off-and-on for more than fifty years and was convinced there were many a biting trout just waiting for me to toss my line to even though it was right next to a highway. Problem was you can’t just park your car on this highway, (I-70 through Glenwood Canyon) and scoot on down the rock embankment to fish. That is with the exception of the four pull-offs in the sixteen miles of canyon highway. I was convinced there were hot spots along the river’s bike path that hardly anyone has tried to fish. Most of the bicyclists riding through the canyon are just in it for the ride. I have never seen one toting a fishing pole.
The plan started when I asked my fishing buddy, Jonathan, if he would like to join me for a Colorado River fishing adventure. He took all of two seconds to say, “I’m in. When do we go?” I told him the fall of 2015 looked good, and the plan was hatched to meet at the Eagle River in Eagle, Colorado behind the rest area/visitor’s center. That would give us a fishing practice session the day before the big bike ride of thirteen miles by catching a few fish in the Eagle. We are both catch-and-release fishermen so that keeps it simple. We would only have our poles, and fishing vests plus some water. We expected a four to five hour bike journey though one of the most awesome canyons in Colorado. Neither of us had ever walked it or biked it.
Thousands of people go through this multi-colored geologic paradise every day on cars, trucks, bikes, rafts and kayaks hardly thinking about fishing the river. I have learned over many years in Colorado that just because a river has a lot of human traffic around it doesn’t mean there isn’t great fishing to be found. Case in point is the Eagle River behind the visitor’s center where I have pulled out big trout of two pounds or more on several occasions in the last five years. I also used to catch ten or more trout per session in the middle of Salida on the Arkansas River back in the 1990’s. When I lived in Silverthorne during the 1970’s, I could walk out to the Blue River and catch trout on every try behind the rental I lived in. Therefore the Colorado River had to be great!
I flew in from my home in Baltimore on a beautiful blue sky day overnighting in Denver to get acclimated. The next morning I blasted out of town straight to the Eagle River to try out my new pack rod. When I arrived it was about 10:30 a.m. and the party sunny skies were perfect for my morning fishing warm-up. It didn’t take long before I caught my first fish, a nice ten inch Brown Trout that I quickly release by giving it slack line. The next one was a fat and feisty Rainbow of just over two pounds that made several runs. Over the next hour I caught one more and missed several, including a large brown before meeting Jonathan for lunch.
After lunch we decided to try a different public spot on the Eagle where over the course of three hours we both caught or hooked three trout well over two pounds. It was a great start for the main event in the canyon the next day. I caught at least eight and Jonathan caught about ten making it one of our best outings in Colorado ever.
The big day dawned mostly cloudy and in a state where there are over three hundred days of sunshine per year; we were going to get clouds. No matter. We were in high spirits as we drove off to the Bair Ranch rest area to start our bike/fishing journey. There were no promising fishing spots until we had ridden about a mile. Huge eddies on the other side of the river promised large trout just waiting for us to toss our single hook, barbless lures into. My new rod and reel were casting nicely and I could reach the other side of the river in most spots. I was amazed that neither of us got a hit at the first spot we tried. It looked great and there had to be fish in there, but we had many more spots to hit and the day was young. Then the rain came and threatened to soak us. We took shelter under the I-70 bridge for five minutes as a passing shower headed to points east.
Our next stop was above Hanging Lake exit on a bend in the river with several enticing rock eddies and great looking water. At this spot we had our first follower when a huge trout tried to sniff out Jonathan’s lure. It didn’t bite though and on we went to the next stretch below the highway tunnel. I caught my first brown of the day there and figured things were looking up. We had ridden over two miles and not seen another angler, but we did see two bicyclists one of which Jonathan almost took out coming around a pullout by a small rock tower unseen. All I heard was, “Holy shit!” as the old guy barely avoided hitting Jonathan. It is important to stay safe on the trail since you might be miles from a spot where a vehicle could pick you up for quick medical evacuation.
On we rode until we approached the Shawnee Intake, a power generating complex in the canyon. At Shawnee I was surprised to see professional guides launching their rafts into the river on a steep concrete embankment using ropes to lower them. It was so steep they practically needed a helicopter to lift their clients in the boats! I figured if the guides fished this stretch it must be good. We hurried on to beat the guides to waters unfished that morning. We found a stretch that was mostly covered in willows that proved to hold a couple of takers, both around ten inches. We admired the towering rock walls that soared nearly a thousand feet above us with mysterious caves and ledges holding monstrous pine trees. It is not a place to think about how many big rocks have fallen from high up the cliffs over the years!
After two hours of fishing and only two fish each I was beginning to think we picked a bad day to fish. When the guide raft caught up to us I stopped fishing to watch them fish some great looking eddies and pools out of reach from us. They did no better than we did as I didn’t see them hook up once. This after paying around $250 per person to go guided. Even though we weren’t knocking them dead like the day before we only paid a few bucks to be there. There are days when the trout just aren’t very active and this was looking like one of those. We reached the Grizzly Creek rest area and fished just below with no luck.
Even though we got an occasional hit we didn’t hook anther fish the rest of the day. We tried several spots right up until he hit the No Name Rest area where the first steep hill greeted us. After several scrambles over wet rocks down to the river, as graceful as a mountain goat with two broken legs, plus eleven miles of bicycling we were getting tired. With my rod in my left hand I wasn’t able to use those gears to downshift and didn’t make it up the hill pedaling. I walked the last forty yards huffing and puffing remembering former days when that hill would have been easy.
Upon summiting this mighty mountain at least a hundred feet high I enjoyed the downhill ride gawking at canyon walls turned a shade of eerie blue from the rain adorning the moss rock walls. It was worthy of a photo stop. There were more caves and interesting ledges I hadn’t noticed before and a large pine tree that was almost ninety degrees to the others nearby looking like it might fall off its two hundred foot perch any day. We had another hill to ride before crossing over I-70 one mile out of Glenwood Springs where the bike path parallels the highway. After that it was a noisy ride of ten minutes into town, and up one last hill before crossing the bridge over the churning Colorado River to turn in my rental bike at Canyon Bikes.
It was thrilling to ride and fish thirteen miles of river in the mighty Glenwood Canyon. I had never seen most of it close up even though the fishing wasn’t great it was worth it. There is a great deal of satisfaction in not needing a guide to fish a new spot and the scenery was unbeatable. It was more than satisfying to finally fish this place that had held my gaze for decades of driving through the canyon heading somewhere else. I would highly recommend this trip to anglers wanting a four to five hour adventure on the Colorado River along with some exercise. The river is probably teaming with fish; we just picked a slow day. I hope to come back and try it again in early April before the runoff muddies the waters. I might even try it again next fall if I can wait that long because we know there are big fish just waiting to be caught and photographed. The only question is, who will it be catching that big one?