100 Best: Rio Grande River
Location: Southcentral Colorado
Type of stream:
Angling methods: Fly, Spinning, Bait
Species: Browns, rainbows, cutthroat, brookies
Supporting Services: Creede, South Fork
Short take: Beautiful browns in a river of history
Handicapped Access: None
Closest TU Chapter: San Luis Valley
In the shadow of a bevy of 13,000 foot peaks in the San Juan Mountains, the Rio Grande rises to flow more than 1800 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The river’s headwaters are isolated, and you’ll mostly find small trout in pockets and tiny plunge pools. At the base of the mountain, the Rio Grande enters the reservoir of the same name, constructed in 1914 in response to the water wars that plagued the region in the 1890s.
Below the dam, Rio Grande meanders gently through a narrow valley. When flows are close to minimum around 150 cfs, this can be a delightful stretch to fish for browns. Take County Road 18 to River Hill Campground and fish upstream or downstream. The valley tightens at its lower end and the Box Canyon stretch begins. With adequate flows, floating this stretch will put anglers over browns in the 12 to 16 inch range. No formal trails provide access for walk/wade fishermen in the canyon.
Beyond the canyon, the river breaks into a broad valley. When the river reaches Creede, it turns southwest again and the mountains begin to close in. Rather than broken by sets of rapids as on the upper Gunnison, the Rio Grande here is essentially a long flow of pocket water. Colorado Route 149 follows the river and pull offs offer places to park and fish. At times when the dam is not releasing, the Rio Grande here offers excellent fishing.
From the Colorado Rt. 149 bridge at South Fork to the Rio Grand Diversion canal at Del Notre, the Rio Grande has been designated a Gold Medal stream by the state. When Colorado anglers think about the Rio Grande, it is this stretch that they have in mind. With more than 70 miles of high quality trouting, the Rio Grande has room for hundreds of anglers and can offer solitude to all who seek it. Numerous guides float clients down the river, an excellent way to scout new water.