I don’t believe one can really know a river without getting in it, so it should not have been surprising that the Roaring Fork River as it flows through Aspen is full of surprises. I’ve looked at various in-town stretches for more than 20 years, but hadn’t set foot in any of them before this summer.
Armed with some intel on public water, thanks to the PitkinOutside Trailfinder, which offers info on recreational opportunities of all sorts in Pitkin County, I set out to give urban fishing a try. For city fishing, it was pretty wild.
I started below the Jenny Adair pond and began working my way upstream. More than two hours later, I literally crawled out of the river, scaling a near-vertical rock wall that was covered in prickly vegetation. I grunted through a fence and plopped onto the Rio Grande Trail where it enters Rio Grande Park next to the recycling center. Clearly, this adventure would require more than one trip to the river.
My initial foray had me fishing in highly public, observable spots. I reeled in a couple of seven- inchers below the Rio Grande Trail near the post office. Brown trout bent my rod tip with a ferocity that belied their size. In the crystal water, iridescent black and orange spots wriggled at the end of my line.
I watched a half-dozen similarly-sized, wily fish rise from the depths but refuse my fly in the stretch just above the old iron bridge that crosses between Rio Grande Park and the former art museum. I caught none of them. Unimpressed observers paused on the bridge to watch, but not for long. I picked my way around another bend in the river and was alone, fishing for trout that felt as wild as the setting. I fished one last deep hole before clamboring out, netting my largest fish of the day at maybe 9 inches.
I returned early the following Saturday, intending to drop in at Newbury Park and continue working my way upstream. A young bear was parked in the middle of the Rio Grande Trail, devouring berries from a bush on the river side of the park. I skirted around it, skipping that entire stretch, then did some bushwacking to position myself at a promising hole just downstream from the bridge that spans the river between Newbury and Heron parks. I missed a nice strike but caught a couple of other browns of about 9 inches.
I’ve never seen much of the river at Heron Park aside from the shallow side channel where children play at the water’s edge. Most of the river is tucked away on the far side of a willow-choked island that creates the channel. I fished the entire stretch, often below someone’s balcony on the opposite bank, but I never saw a soul. The green lawns, the whine of a lawnmower somewhere, shouting children and emergency sirens blaring in the city provided the urban touches to an otherwise serene environment. In some spots, it was easy to forget I was in the city, especially since I had more strikes than I could count. Some fish were small – maybe 5 or 6 inches – or so small they couldn’t actually hook themselves on the fly, but I had fun. I caught just one pale rainbow trout, but I also netted one brown that was shockingly large for that location. I missed three fish beneath No Problem Joe Bridge and caught a fourth. By then the bugs on the water had tapered off and I called it a day before noon.
Walking the city streets and trails in fishing waders to get back to my car attracted a few odd looks and, invariably, inquiries about the fishing. I haven’t even made it south of Hopkins Avenue yet, but I can honestly say, the fishing is fine.
If you go, know the rules – artificial flies and lures only, and all trout must be returned to the water immediately. Barbless hooks, I might add, ease in the quick release of fish. If you’re age 16 or older, a Colorado fishing license is required.
By Janet Urquhart, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails