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Fly Fishing The Fryingpan River (Colorado)

The Fryingpan is one of the most famous rivers in the west. It is a very productive tailwater with lots of bug life. Fly anglers come from all over the world to fish this awesome river. Located above Basalt, Colorado, the Fryingpan flows about 14 miles from Ruedi dam down to the town of Basalt. Here, it flows into the middle Roaring Fork River.

Since the Fryingpan is a tailwater (dam release), the water temperature is pretty consistent year round. Often in the mid-40’s, this cold water keeps the trout happy and healthy.

Although the Fryingpan can be very productive, it is a tough river for beginners to fish. The trout see a lot of pressure, and you’ll need to get a perfect drift in order to fool them.

Some of the largest trout are located on the upper 2 miles of the lower Fryingpan. Here, the trout feast on Mysis Shrimp which come out of Ruedi Reservoir. These small shrimp are packed with calories, and are a big part of these trouts diet.

The Lower Fryingpan

This is the most well known section of the Fryingpan. As stated above, there is about 14 miles of water between Ruedi Dam and the town of Basalt. However, not all of it is public. There is a fair amount of private property and homes along the river. Although land owners aren’t required to post in Colorado, most of this private property is well marked. Most pullouts that look public, generally are!

If you want more solitude, fishing the lower canyon is a good choice. On these lower reaches, there are usually less anglers. As you get closer to the dam, you will see a lot more fly fishers.

For folks looking for a large trout, heading to the top section is the best choice. Take a right at the Rocky Fork Day Use Area – this will bring you down to Baetis Bridge and the rest of the upper stretches.


There is also the “Toilet Bowl” which is directly below the Ruedi Dam. Here, anglers can throw Mysis Shrimp patterns in hopes of a large trout. However, it is usually quite crowded, and there’s only room for a couple of anglers. It gets fished 24/7, even in the middle of the night.

Below the Toilet Bowl, there is an area called “The Flats”. This is a slower, flatter section which can offer some great sight fishing.

Below the flats, the ‘Pan meanders through the “Bend Pool” and some boulder gardens, and then hits Baetis Bridge. Below Baetis Bridge still offers good fishing with some deeper runs.

The Upper Fryingpan

The upper Fryingpan is located above Ruedi Reservoir. This section has a much shorter season, since it is a freestone stream that relies on snow melt.

During the summer months, this section fishes well with a dry-dropper setup. A small Stimulator or Caddis works well with a Prince Nymph or Hare’s Ear below it. Trout aren’t too picky on the upper section, as long as you get a good drift.

The trout on the upper ‘Pan are much smaller than the lower stretches. These fish have a much shorter growing season, so it is hard for them to get big.

A great spot on the upper Fryingpan is the Ruedi inlet. This is where the upper ‘Pan flows into the lake, and there are trout stacked everywhere. It is a great place to take the family, and kids can catch a lot of trout. For this inlet area, I like to fish streamers. However, I will also nymph and throw dry flies as well.

Flies To Use On The Fryingpan

There are many fly patterns that will work on the ‘Pan, depending on which season you fish. The Fryingpan is also known for having great dry fly fishing, even throughout the winter.

For the winter months, Midges will be the top food source. Also on the upper stretches, Mysis Shrimp patterns will work all winter long. I like Top Secret Midges #20-#26, Bling Midges #18-#24, Blood Midges #18-#26, Black Beauty’s #18-#26, Sprout Midges #20-#22, Griffiths Gnats #20-#24, Parachute Adams #20-#26, BTS Mysis #20, Charlie’s Mysis #20

For the spring months, Blue Winged Olives will become very important. However, Midges and Mysis will still work, too. I like JuJu Baetis #18-#22, Rs2’s #18-#22, Barr’s BWO Emerger #18-#22, Gulper Specials #20, Blood Midges #18-#22, Bling Midges #18-#22, Black Beauty’s #18-#22, BTS Mysis #20.

For the summer months, there are lots of bugs available to Fryingpan trout. PMD’s, Caddis, Yellow Sallies and Green Drakes will all work at different times. I like Rs2’s #18-#22, Barr’s PMD Emergers #16-#18, Melon Quills #16-#18, Electric Caddis #16-#18, Ginger Variants #14-#18, Orange Julius #16, Iron Sally #16, Extended Foam Drakes #10-#12, Quigley Cripple Drakes #10-#12.

For the fall months, Blue Winged Olives come back into play. Midges and Caddis patterns will continue to work as well. I like JuJu Baetis #18-#22, Rs2’s #18-#22, Gulper Specials #20, Bling Midges #18-#22, Blood Midges #18-#22, Black Beauty’s #18-22, Electric Caddis #18, Ginger Variants #18.

Throughout the whole year, streamers can work well on the ‘Pan. I like to throw smaller Slumpbusters and leech patterns, usually in black or olive colors – sizes #6-#12. Stripping huge streamers usually doesn’t work that well up there, so i’d keep your flies smaller. Woolly Buggers in sizes #8-#12 are also a good option when streamer fishing the Fryingpan.


Fryingpan River Access

The upper tailwater section is really easy to access because it is all public. Once you take a right onto Rocky Fork Day Use Area, you can fish all you want.

Accessing other areas off of the Fryingpan Road can be done using the dirt pullouts. Most of these pullouts are public, and you’ll see signs and posts in the areas that are private property. Unlike other rivers in the state, the Fryingpan is surprisingly well marked. Make sure to never fish in front of a house or a cabin, because they most likely own the river bed as well. Colorado is one of the strictest states when it comes to stream access laws.

Trout below the tailwater section tend to be smaller, so don’t expect to catch a trophy trout in the lower reaches. However, they do exist and sometimes you’ll hook into a big one.

Gear You’ll Need For The Fryingpan

When fly fishing the Fryingpan, I prefer a 4 or 5 weight fly rod with a floating line. I like a lighter rod because they offer more “tippet protection”. Often times on the ‘Pan, it is necessary to fish 6x fluorocarbon tippet. This is a very light material that can break easily. Having a lighter rod with some flex will protect 6x from breaking.

For throwing streamers, a 6 or 7 weight will do the trick. Since we like to throw smaller streamers on the ‘Pan, a 6 weight usually does just fine.

You will also want a good pair of waders and boots, as well as proper layering items. Weather on the Fryingpan can change quickly – it can rain, snow, and get sunny all in the same day.

Having a selection of small dries and nymphs is also a good bet. On the Fryingpan, we are generally fishing much smaller flies than on the Roaring Fork. Stop into one of the local shops to get the lowdown on flies. If you are fishing the upper reaches, make sure to pickup some Mysis Shrimp patterns.

A Note On Safety

The Fryingpan River has some of the slickest rocks I have encountered. Having studs on your wading boots helps a lot when navigating this river. Studded felt is the best option, but studded rubber boots also work.

Also, this river is extremely cold (45 degrees or so). Waders are always a necessity, even in the summer months. On the Roaring Fork, you can get away with “wet wading” in the summer, but not on the Fryingpan. Make sure you have a good pair of waders and boots before you venture into this river.

There are also a fair amount of black bears in the area. It is always a good idea to keep an eye on your surroundings. Black bears aren’t usually very aggressive, but they certainly can be. Especially if they’re with their cubs.

There is also no cell phone service on the Fryingpan. If you get a flat tire or have an emergency, it is good to have at least one friend with you. Once you are a mile or two up the Fryingpan Road, cell service shuts off.