Friday, May 8, 2009

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River: An Introduction

This is a short story of my love affair with the Black Canyon ... I've lived here in Gunnison for about 13 years now and the Black is only a short hour and twenty minute drive to East Portal. I've done some hiking into the interior sections (very painful, not recommended, but worth every second of it!), but for the most part driving to East Portal, crossing the river in a small raft and hiking downstream is simply AMAZING, BEAUTIFUL AND EPIC.

There's always been something I've loved about the Black, but it wasn't until about three years ago that I started going through my photos and realized that the vast majority of large, beautiful fish that I have photos of are all from the Black Canyon. It really is a magical place.

The water is often greenish, but clear enough to see 6 feet deep. It has so many types of varied water. In a given day, you can find nymphing fish sitting on 2' deep gravel shoals (a sight nymphers dream!), 22" rainbows sitting in pocket water behind a bus-sized boulder, risers, sippers, regular nymphers holding in a classic riffle/run, and monsters willing to chase a streamer.

Oh, and did I mention that the rarity in the Black Canyon is a fish under 14"?

The pressure is also one of the great things about this river. The East Portal section sees a fair amount of fisherman, but if you cross the river you cut the number of fishermen by about 70%. The river is only crossable by raft, unless the CFS are below 600 and even then, it's never an easy one to cross, you have to do it at the right spots. If you stay on the south side of the river (the parking lot and campground side) you only have about 400 yards of fishable water, so you can see why there is not much pressure. That means on average, there is maybe 1 mile of this 8+ mile canyon that is easily accessible ... That leaves a lot of fish that eat all the time and never see a single fisherman. If I were a betting man, I'd say the true "inner canyon" sees about 40 fisherman all summer long.

As for the fish, they are all Browns and Rainbows (or at least I've never caught anything else) and you can expect the average fish to be 14" on up to 19". Jay and I, in our trip last fall, spotted a couple of Rainbows sitting behind a boulder in a near impossible to fish spot that would definitely have pushed the 24" range. I have no doubt that there are some 15 lb. fish in there, though you may never see them. The color is another amazing thing. Every single fish you hook in the Black is guaranteed to be beautiful. Deep, stark colors, contrasted with bright pinks, buttery yellow undersides, big black spots ... these are all good phrases to describe the fish.

I think I have captured the essence of the Black Canyon for now. I hope to do a true river report someday to describe the hatches and techniques for fishing the Black, but for now my advice to you is to fish the Black Canyon sometime in your life. If you check out the "fly fishing pictures from around the US" link on the upper right side of my blog you'll find that a lot of the fish in that album are from the Black.

Good drifts,

1 comment:

  1. Ah, geez...I want to try for those 24 inch subs in the near-impossible location. Dude...I LIVE for those opportunities, which drives the people I fish with absolutely insane. I won't give up regardless of the odds, mainly because I'm slow like that.

    Yup, looks like Eva and I will have to do a few nights in the canyon, spending our days fishing and living a dream - I've seen too many pictures and read too many incredible stories about this place that I just can't sit by and not experience it for myself.

    Prepare to get your brain picked as I do my homework...and even though I tie, I'll trust your advice and pick up some of your flies just for the occasion!