Fly Fishing the Gunnison Country
If you’ve never fished the Uncompahgre River tailwater below Ridgway Reservoir, you are missing out on Colorado’s best kept tailwater secret. While it won’t be confused with Colorado’s most famous tailwater fisheries, the “Unc” at “Paco” is probably the Centennial State’s most unknown and underrated tailwater fishery. Paco contains self-sustaining brown trout up to 19 pounds, both stocked and wild rainbow trout up to 30 inches, and Snake River cutthroat broodfish from the Crystal River Hatchery in Carbondale, which average 18 inches. Yeah, it’s an exciting fishery.
The name of the game at Paco is sight fishing. The 1.25 mile tailwater below Ridgway Dam is mostly a series of man-made plunges and pools. Your strategy this time of year, when water flows are low (currently 59 cfs) and fairly clear should be to travel from pool to pool and try to spot big fish. Cutthroats and rainbows are fairly easy to spot, while Paco’s biggest brown trout can be really hard to find as they prefer cover and shade.
Midges are the fly of choice right now, with a dual rig comprised of a black, grey, or red Zebra Midge, Miller’s D-Midge, Tungsten Head Midge Larva, or Black Beauty being a great bet to capture fish. Fish are taking blue-winged olives under the surface as well, so you might want to pair a Barr’s BH BWO Emerger with one of the aforementioned midges. However, my “nuclear option” for catching fish at Paco this time of year is a cranefly larva. Cranefly larva patterns with a little flash down the back are slaying Paco’s trout over the last month-and-a-half. I don’t typically use a cranefly larva anywhere else in the Gunnison Country, but they are worth their weight in gold at Paco.
Even though flows have been low thus far, on some days the water has a slight tinge of green to it which makes sight fishing a little more difficult. The cutthroats still stick out pretty well, but it really makes finding ‘bows and browns difficult, and any fish down in the water column more than 12-18 inches virtually disappear. On these occasions, blind casting is your only option when you can’t get a visual on the fish. Bump up the size of your fly a bit, and try to utilize a lead fly with some color. A good rig for slightly off-colored flows at Paco is a crimson Span Juan Worm with a red D-Midge trailing it. The “Span” Juan Worm, as opposed to a “San” Juan Worm, is thinner and less threatening to “educated” tailwater fish, and I believe at least at Paco is much more productive.
If you’ve never fished Paco, you are really missing out on a tremendous tailwater fishery where you stand a legitimate chance to land the fish of a lifetime. While this is a virtually unknown Colorado fishery, the fact that there are over 280 campsites at nearby Ridgway State Park makes Pa-Co-Chu-Puk a little crowded during the summer months. Winter and spring are unquestionably the best times to dredge a nymphing rig through Paco’s gorgeous plunge pools.