Cimarron River in Colorado
The Cimarron River in Colorado is located in southwestern Colorado just south of Cimarron township.(WGS84 38.44122 - 107.55616) Its total length from the 14000 headwaters of the three forks to the confluence with the Gunnison River near the small settlement of Curecanti where it ends at 7000 is only 22.5 miles, but very interesting miles. Follow the Cimarron Road south to Silver Jack Reservoir. See DeLorme map page 67. Take the Cimarron Road number 858 (dirt but fine for cars) south from Hwy 50 to Silver Jack Reservoir or take it east from Hwy 550 north of Ridgway.
Nearby towns include Aspen, Durango, Telluride, Avon, Glenwood Springs, Pagosa Springs, Ouray, Cortez, Grand Junction and Montrose. This is a rich area for recreation, sight seeing and FISHING.
The Cimarron Combines Spectacular Scenery with Outstanding Fishing
Paul B Downing
My royal coachman bounced on the surface of crystal
clear water. A beadhead pheasanttail dug deep 2 feet behind it. The stream
flowed over a rock lip and into deeper water, heading past overhanging willows.
As I watched my flies I thought that this water was too shallow for there to be
a trout in it. I could see the bottom clearly and there was nothing to see. But
hope springs eternal for a fly fisher. In this case hope was rewarded. My
coachman disappeared in a splashy strike. Keeping the fish out of the shoreline
tangles, I guided a beautiful trout to my net. What a sight! Golden sides
melted into a bright crimson belly. This was a Colorado River cutthroat, the
native fish of the area. The beauty of this spectacular fish was matched by the
country it is found in. Releasing this treasure, I took time to admire my
Towering bluffs sculpted into massive drip castles
crowd the stream from both sides. In the valley, a crystal clear stream full of
trout bounces through gravel, around boulders and past undercut banks. It is said that trout live in beautiful places
and I have fished many of them over the years. But this place?well, this place
Just arriving in
the Cimarron Valley in western Colorado is a treat. Driving up the dirt road
(heading south) into the valley, you will spot the towering jagged peaks of the
Big Blue Wilderness in the distance. As you near the peaks, ranch land gives
way to National Forest. At the end of the road, nestled between the peaks, is
Silver Jack Reservoir. (38.24500 - 107.54396)
The reservoir is filled by the three forks of the
Cimarron River; East, Middle, and West. As you pass the reservoir you are
engulfed in the beauty of the place. Sheer tan walls tower to the east and
west. Ahead the jagged peaks take on a myriad of shapes, each changing as you
move further into the valley. Aspen and pine trees add a green and gold base to
the bluffs. This valley really deserves to be a National Park. But don't come
here just for the scenery, magnificent as it is. There are trout in those
forks, lots of them.
Once past the reservoir, the road bends to the west. At
the bend a smaller road, the East Fork access road, heads straight south toward
the peaks. After turning to the west, the road goes over the East Fork, then
the smaller Middle Fork. Passing the
Middle Fork, the road bends north up a hill, then turns to the south in a big
bend before heading west again. It then crosses the West Fork, before winding
up a ridge and over the spectacular Owl Creek Pass on its way west to Ridgeway.
Amazing vistas greet you at every turn.
Each branch has its own characteristics. The West Fork
is fairly small and is dotted with pocket water. It can be easily accessed at
the bridge. The flow is swift, bouncing off boulders into moderately deep
pools. The banks are steep and tree lined, making fishing and wading a
challenge but worth the effort. Wild rainbows of 8 to 12 inches abound in the
pools. They take mostly beadhead droppers like a pheasanttail. I fish this fly
below an attractor fly like a royal coachman for the added bonus of an
occasional surface strike. These fish are seldom fished over so the exact fly
usually is not important. Short casts and short rods are the ticket.
The Middle Fork is the smallest of the three. I have
not fished most of it but there is a rough road following it upstream (south)
to a trailhead that opens into a wider part of the middle valley. Hiking up
from there, the Middle Fork is small and open with some deeper pools and
spectacular views. There are some unexpectedly large rainbows in pools that do
not look deep enough to hold anything. The Middle Fork could be my favorite fork to
fish because of the scenery alone but it is not. The scenery and the fishing
are surpassed by the East Fork.
The lower part of the East Fork can be accessed by the
Middle Fork road or by the East Fork road. The stream is open and dotted with
the occasional willow in the lower portion, passing over a wide river bed of
loose water worn rocks. This part of the East Fork is subject to significant
restructuring each spring during runoff. That nice hole that held several fish
last year may be dry this year. Each year I have to relearn this area. It is
not hard to figure out as the pools are evident. But be careful not to bypass
subtle pools under small trees, willows, or deadfall branches. I have found
some of the best fish in these less obvious places.
Approach each pool cautiously. One or two fish will be at the very bottom of
the pool in very shallow water. You won't see them, but they are there.
Catching them requires a careful approach and a delicate cast. Even then, more
often than not you will spook them. Work up into the pool slowly as trout will
be in water so clear you can see the bottom distinctly yet they will be
invisible. Your flies will be floating along in what looks like barren water
when suddenly a fish will dart from nowhere to take your offering. Work all the
water carefully as fish hold in what seem to be impossibly shallow places. Because
of the clearness of the water these spots are deeper than they look. After some
experience, you will figure out where to look for fish.
Driving up the East Fork road toward the trailhead,
there are several places to park and access the East Fork. Open meadow and
towering bluffs make this area a great place to camp. Glimpses of the stream to
the west entice you. Access is easy. Rainbows
and a few cutthroats in the 6 to 12 inch range can be caught in this stretch of
the East Fork. The water is so tempting that I often have to stop here. Not a
bad choice but you may want to consider going on to the trail head.
I have saved the best for last. From the East Fork
trail head, hike upstream on the trail. As you head upstream, the trout
population transforms from mostly wild rainbows to mostly native Colorado River
cutthroat trout. These native cuts are as pretty as the scenery. Orange brown
sides dotted with large black spots meld into a reddish belly. They have the
typical red cuts under the throat.
Getting to the
best of the cutthroat fishing requires a modest hike up the valley. As you
follow the valley it will narrow and the stream will become steeper and faster.
At every corner you will spot a wonderfully tempting pool or run. Pocket water
dots the stretches between the pools
Passing these pools, I frequently find the temptation
too great. The trout seem to call me as I hike past. I never seem to get as far
up stream as I had planned. My advice, resist this temptation as long as you
can, for the further upstream you travel, the better will be the fishing and the
more and bigger will be the cutthroats.
Colorado River cutthroats are suckers for large
attractor dry flies. A #16 royal coachman will usually do the trick whether or
not there is a hatch. Add a beadhead dropper for extra action. I love the take
of these fish. They rocket from cover to smash the fly with an abandon that
puts a permanent smile on your face. Often, in the wild abandon of the take,
they will miss. But not to worry, these fish have only a few short months to
feed and grow. They are always feeding on anything they find. So, when they
miss the fly, they frequently will come back on the next cast. Admire the
beauty of these cuts as you release them. They are a treasure as great as the
valley they live in.
July through September are the best months to visit the
Cimarron Valley. In the summer the valley is fairly popular, more for hiking
and sightseeing than for fishing. At that time it is best to hike a bit to get
away from the people. There is always a quiet place to fish. My favorite time,
however, is September. Most of the campers are gone. The aspens are in a
multitude of vibrant colors. Sharpness fills the air. The fish are on their
last feeding spree. Frequently there are no fishers on the stream. What could
As the water cools, the trout start to move downstream
toward the reservoir. At this time of year I find lots of fish in the area
between the road and the inlet to the reservoir. This area is mostly loose rock
which gets restructured each spring so it looks a bit barren. Take a short hike
downstream where you will find pools and runs full of fish. In the fall the
rainbows and cuts are actively feeding, taking both dries and droppers. The
numbers of trout that take your fly will astonish you.
The informal camp areas scattered over the
valley are dotted with visitors in summer but there is always room to camp
along the stream branches. There are more formal yet still primitive camp
grounds at several locations around and below the lake. A motel and restaurants
are found in Ridgeway, an hour or more west over the pass on the slow scenic
dirt road. Alternatively, head back north on Cimarron Road (Rd 858) to Hwy 50
then west to Montrose where you will find a good choice of motels and
The trout in the Cimarron aren't big but they
are beautiful, plentiful, and hungry.
The scenery is world class. What more could a fly fisher ask for?
Size of Fishery:
Each fork is about 10 miles long above Silver Jack Reservoir although you could follow the east or middle forks up to their headwaters many miles into the Wilderness. Overall, the River length is 22.5 miles so the distance from Silver Jack Reservoir back to Hwy 50 is about 11 miles.
Usually pleasantly warm with cool mornings in the summer. Fall air is crisp but still pleasant. Rain is always a possibility. Spring is the warming trend but still chilly. Winter brings snow and cold winds.
There is no closed season for trout. The best fishing is in August through September.