Getting Hooked on Fly Fishing Around Aspen: A Beginner's Guide

An eager fly fisherman tests the waters near Jaffe Park.
An eager fly fisherman tests the waters near Jaffe Park. Jordan Curet
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Just steps away from Aspen are the Roaring Fork and the Frying Pan rivers, both world-renowned as an anglers' paradise. But as a beginner, the prospect of fly fishing around Aspen (or anywhere, really) can seem daunting, with a lot of technical gear, include those confusing ties, that coveted casting technique, and not to mention fly fishing etiquette to learn.

But, with some of the best fishing in the country floating right through town, starting with the basics and dropping a few lines in the water is well worth it. All you really need are some flies, a rod, and lots of practice to wade into this age-old sport.

But they don’t call it “catching” for a reason.  Here, a few tips and tricks on getting hooked on fly fishing around Aspen.

Get Schooled at the Source

Guide Conor Uris, with Elk Mountain Anglers, reels in a large rainbow trout.
Guide Conor Uris, with Elk Mountain Anglers, reels in a large rainbow trout. Jordan Curet

Many people are intimidated to go into a fly-fishing shop. But the secret is that the people who work there are more passionate about fishing than anyone else in the world—and they love helping beginners discover that passion for themselves. They know the best spots to go, what the flies are biting on, and just about everything else you need to know to get started with fly fishing.

Guides will get you sorted on the proper gear and fill up your fly box, and you can even hire them to take you to the secret spots—a great idea for newbies to the sport. For knowledgeable and friendly advice, look no further than Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Basalt, which sits at the confluence of the Fork and the Frying Pan rivers. They will set you up, tie on some flies, and point you in the direction of some great fishing holes.

In addition to a five-weight rod and flies, hip waders, and some polarized sunglasses will make your fishing experience one to remember.

Explore the Shore

A pair of anglers wade across the gold medal waters of the Frying Pan River.
A pair of anglers wade across the gold medal waters of the Frying Pan River. Jordan Curet

Learning how to read the water is a crucial step to catching trout. Downstream from Aspen, the Roaring Fork becomes a more of a meandering stream, with lots of rifles and some pools. Polarized sunglasses will help you see past the glare as you walk the water looking for a few clues to fish lurking under the surface.Bubbles will point you in the direction of where fish feed. You will often find fish in drop-offs, where rifles drop into deeper water. Fish hide from predators, so keep an eye out under rocks, trees and overgrown banks. And the best spot is a seam, as fish swim in the area between the fast current and slower water. And what about those cool-looking but confusing flies? Keep in mind that there are four main types: dry, nymphs, emergers, and streamers. But a good strategy for choosing which to use is to scour the shoreline for what's on the menu: That's the best way to know what the fish are eating. So while you are on the river's edge, pick up rocks to look at which bugs are underneath, and choose your fly accordingly.

Walk the Water

The rivers are all catch and release, and this Brooke Trout poses for a photo before being returned to its natural habitat.
The rivers are all catch and release, and this Brooke Trout poses for a photo before being returned to its natural habitat. Jordan Curet

The best way to learn is by doing, so once you are suited up and flies tied on, you are ready to head to the water. There are some tried and true spots along the river, stretching from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, and Basalt to Ruedi Reservoir. Seven miles west of Aspen, on Smith Way, is Jaffe Park, the angler's ideal classroom. The river widens and is less rapids and more rifles. It is easy to wade across the current; look for small pools behind rocks, and you are sure to hook a fish. Another good spot is Basalt, 18 miles down Highway 82 from Aspen. Just before the river crosses under the highway, keep an eye out for some deep pools and slower currents: These are great places to drop a line. As you drive up Frying Pan Road, there are countless places to fish along the 19 mile road; just be aware of private property signs and don't trespass. But at the top of the road is the "Toilet Bowl," a deep pool immediately below the dam. This pool seems to hold some of the largest trout local anglers have ever seen, so bring big flies and have your camera ready to capture the bounty.

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