Note: This report is a part of the FlyCast Lite reporting program and is updated seasonally or in the event of substantial changes that alter fly fishing tactics. FlyCast Lite reports are intended to give anglers a high level overview on seasonal conditions and general fishing tactics.
Conditions on the Crystal River are rapidly changing due to recent warm weather triggering pre-runoff. Flows are currently above the historical average and water clarity is poor on the lower half of the river. Flows and water clarity will be volatile and highly dependent on weather patterns as we move deeper into spring. Streaks of colder weather will stall runoff and provide for productive fishing conditions. On the other hand, an unseasonably warm spring will lead to early runoff and minimize the window of productive fishing. With this in mind, keep a close eye on the weather forecast if you have plans to fish the Crystal and react accordingly. The upper half of the river near Redstone still contains considerable ice buildup but if you fish closer to Carbondale, you’ll find more open water. Midges are the dominant hatch right now but we should see more BWO activity over the coming weeks and caddis closer to May. Strong hatches will bring trout to the surface, so don’t rule out dry and dry dropper setups. Griffiths Gnat’s, Cluster Midges, Parachute Adams, Parachute BWOs and Elk Hair Caddis are all good patterns to have on hand over the next couple of months. Sub-surface, trout aren’t overly selective, so we tend to go with a combination of searcher/attractor patterns and midge/baetis emergers. Pat’s Rubber Legs, Copper Johns, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Pheasant Tails, Rainbow Warriors, Frenchies and Red Tag Jigs are solid lead patterns. For your trailer, you can’t go wrong with red/black Zebra Midges, Black Beauties, Mercury Midges, Blue Poison Tungs, RS2s, Barr’s Emergers and Foam Back Emergers.
Located near world renowned ski areas and nationally recognized rivers (Frying Pan and Roaring Fork), the Crystal River is a hidden gem. The Crystal River originates above the town of Marble, situated in the Elk Mountain Range. From Marble, the river flows 35 miles north where it meets the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale. Situated below some of Colorado’s most iconic peaks, the Crystal provides anglers with incredible views. Located near some of the state’s most highly pressured rivers, Crystal River is a great option for anglers looking for solitude. The Crystal is a small freestone river that provides anglers with a variety of slow runs, deep pools, riffles and tight pocket water. Considering the small size of the river and high elevation, the best fishing is during late spring (pre-runoff), summer (post-runoff) and fall. During the winter, the river freezes over and as snow begins to melt in May, runoff will prevent anglers from fishing until water levels drop. While these trout may be a bit smaller than those found in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan, there is a healthy population of rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish that are eager to eat your fly.
Due to receiving considerably less angling pressure than the other rivers in the area, the Crystal is a great option for anglers of all skill levels. In general, these trout aren’t terribly selective and actively feed above and below the surface during the warmer months. As a smaller river, a dry dropper setup is a consistent tactic but if you find yourself fishing a deep pool or run, a nymph rig will be a good way to go. Anglers looking for flatter and slower sections will gravitate towards the section of river closest to the town of Carbondale. Further upstream, anglers will find faster moving pocket water, riffles and plunge pools. The Crystal experiences healthy bug activity spring through fall, consisting of midges, BWOs, PMDs, caddis, stoneflies and terrestrials. When trout are actively feeding on the surface, do your best to match the hatch and fish a single or double dry fly setup. If trout are sporadically feeding on the surface or in the upper half of the water column, a dry dropper led with an Amy’s Ant, Chubby Chernobyl, Elk Hair Caddis or stimulator is a great way to go. Sub-surface, trout will key on imitative midge, baetis, caddis and stonefly patterns, but we’ve found that starting with searcher and attractor patterns is a great way to go. Examples include, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, Guide’s Choice Hare's Ears and Rainbow Warriors.
Crystal River parallels Highway 133, providing anglers the opportunity to scout and access the river easily. To get to the river, take I-25 to Glenwood Springs and travel south on Highway 82. Once you hit the town of Carbondale, turn right on Highway 133. Along Highway 133 there are a number of dirt pull-offs and designated parking lots. View the map below for some of the most popular access points.