Cooking up a Good Time on the Fryingpan

by Karen Christopherson

The Fryingpan - a favorite fishing river of so many. Why? Combine a beautiful Colorado river, with good access and gold medal status and this is the result. The river was named, according to legend, for a fryingpan left in a tree to mark the spot of a fallen comrade in a fight with Indians. This area hosts legends of mining and the frontier of early Colorado, and current legends of growth and wealth. But this river seems to have escaped most of the recent insanity near Aspen, and hopefully much of it will be preserved forever.

fryingpan river colorado
Red rock and green trees

Gold Medal Waters

The Fryingpan, or "Pan" as nicknamed, originates east of Aspen in the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness. Its journey flows northwest to Ruedi Reservoir, which dammed the river in 1968. Below the reservoir, the river travels another 14 miles before converging with the Roaring Fork at Basalt. The portion of the river from the dam to its confluence with the Roaring Fork has been designated as Gold Medal.

The river travels through a gorgeous canyon, having carved its way through the Maroon Formation - a red sandstone that is on the order of 250 million years old. The contrast of the red sandstones and evergreen pines and firs makes for a tranquil setting.

The tailwaters below the dam are famous for the big boys, pigs, hogs, giants, monsters - whatever you want to call them, there are some BIG trout in here. Bring your mysis shrimp flies and be prepared for crowds. Anglers stand within feet of each other to tempt the huge fish. If this isn't your idea of a fun day fishing, move downstream. You don't have to go too far to find some nice areas to fish. And, don't forget the fishing upstream of the reservoir - smaller stream fishing and less crowds.

fly fishing fryingpan river Colorado
Looking for the big boys

Surprisingly good access

Fortunately, there is quite a bit of public access along this river which is located in a part of the state renown for wealth and privacy (i.e. Aspen). Portions of the river are on forest land, some on state land and others have access rights through the Division of Wildlife. Along the 14 miles from the dam to Basalt, some 8.5 miles provide public access to fisherman.

But, figuring out the access isn't that easy. Some is signed by DOW, and some is posted as "no trespassing". Some easy access to find - you can fish in the town of Basalt, at Strawberry Rock (2.6 miles upstream to the DOW sign), and 2.1 miles downstream from Ruedi Dam. There are other access points. One of the easiest ways to determine access is to get the map "Fishing Map and Guide, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers" which will show you the public access on both the Pan and the Fork. NOTE You can buy this map online - see below. Plan your strategy ahead of time!

Four types of fish

Although the dominant fish in the Pan is Brown Trout, there are also Rainbows, Cutthroats, and an occasional Brookie. Year-round hatches mean you can fish in winter while your friends go skiing. A warm day in winter can be the same as a cold day in summer. The fish might be acting a bit different, but don't dismiss winter fishing.

fishing for Colorado brown trout
A nice Brown (photo courtesy Bill Hadley)
fishing on the Fryinpan river
Fun with pumpkins in the fall (photo courtesy Bill Hadley)

Other rivers

One of the best things about this area is that you can also fish several other rivers. You'll probably drive along the Roaring Fork on your way to the Fryingpan, and there's also the Colorado and Crystal Rivers, not to mention all of the area small mountain lakes and streams. You can keep yourself busy with a variety of fishing while your friends or family go hiking, biking, shopping, touring, 4WD'ing, or soaking (in the hot springs).

Resources/Other Info:

  • Colorado fishing bookBuy an ebook on : Fifty Colorado Tailwaters: A Fly Fisher's Guide Click here for info or to purchase. Includes the Fryingpan River
  • Colorado fishing book Click here to buy an ebook on CD Fly Fishing the Colorado River: An Angler's Guide by Al Marlowe and Karen Christopherson which includes maps and info on the Fryingpan
  • colorado fishing maps Click here to buy topo maps for this area. You need map 126 which will cover Ruedi and the immediate tailwater. You need map 143 which will cover a portion of the tailwaters further downstream towards the Roaring Fork. Maps are produced by National Geographic Maps
  • A list of stores and guides can be found on the regional page for Aspen. The page for northwest Colorado lists stores and Guides in Glenwood Springs
  • After a day of fishing, why not relax in the hot springs at Glenwood. For more info see their website
  • See the website for White River National Forest

Rules for the Fryingpan

  • Catch and release for the section from the Ruedi Dam downstream to the Roaring Fork for all fish except Browns. Maximum size for Browns is 14", limit=2. Artificial flies and lures only. All Brown Trout over 14" must be returned to the water immediately
  • State regs on the river above the reservoir.

Where to stay?

  • There are forest service campgrounds near the reservoir and private campgrounds along Hwy 82. There are numerous motels, B&B's and condos in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Aspen. In Basalt try the Taylor Creek Cabins

How to get there?

  • Take Hwy 82 to Basalt (from Aspen or Glenwood Springs) and then follow Rd 105 to the east. There are signs for Ruedi Reservoir.
  • In the summer, you can access the Fryingpan over Hagerman Pass from the east. Take Road 105 from Leadville past Turquoise Lake and follow to Ruedi Reservoir. This is not an easy trip. Alternatively, you can take Hwy 82 over Independence Pass (south of Leadville) which will take you to Aspen. The road is paved and offers some spectacular scenery.


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