Thinking of a new destination to fish this season? Well, a less-fished spot that's worth the 5-hour drive west from Denver alone is the East Portal on the Gunnison. Located in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, you'll feel like a mountain goat driving the road to the base of the canyon, but the white-knuckle decent is well worth the effort.
Loaded with quality rainbows and browns, the East Portal is not only beautiful, but a great fishery. Most think of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison as a place to hike down with mules and float for multiple days with an outfitter. Sure this kind of trip is sensational, but a drive to the East Portal for a little rod and reel might just give you a taste of what the remote canyon could be like.
I recently got to sample the fishing around the Montrose area with Tim Keeney of Toads Fly and Guide Shop. We fished multiple spots including the Uncompahre River, Gunnison River as well as his private ranch featuring three private lakes and about 1/2-mile of private creeks. It was a blast, catching cutbows to 18 inches on his property, rainbows to 15 inches on the Umcompahre and finally browns to 20 inches at the East Portal. You'll have to wait until summer to read about the Umcompahre in High Country Angler, but as for the East Portal, it was amazing.
"We'll I've introduced you to the Umcompahre and you've nailed them on the ranch water, so now I want to take you to the East Portal," said Tim. "I don't guide in the national park so do you mind if I fish with you?"
I insisted we just have fun and see what we could connect with. We suited up for the East Portal, grabbed a bucket of chicken and a few bottled waters and began our decent. Tim says this road is the steepest decent in the state, so low gear and standing on the brake was a given.
We arrived and parked below the national park campground---by the way, great place set up a base camp to access the river. Flows were already summer-like and we were easily able to wade to the far bank below the manmade falls.
We instantly connected with a 15-inch browns as we began to figure out what the choice flies were. A couple 18-inch-plus rainbows were seen, but the browns seemed to be more willing this late morning.
We fished down along the bank to more productive water. We found a black midge paired with a couple mayfly patterns to be the top pick. We managed about six rainbows running 16 to 19 inches in the next hour.
By this time we had covered so ground when we started to see 20-inch fish feeding about four feet below the surface out in about 7 to 10 feet of water. I cast an egg imitation paired with my miracle midge out in front of a 20 inch rainbow. The thing looked like a steelhead, bright red band, but before the offering got near him, my small yard indicator disappeared and I set the hook on an equally impressive fighter that took 40 yards of line out instantly.
"You've got something a little better than average here, you might be fighting this fish for awhile, but I haven't seen an color yet," said Tim.
Just then the leader shortened and the fish came to the surface for a huge jump showing us all 20 inches of his brown and yellow body. It was a quality brown and it had gotten the egg in the bottom of its chin. Did he miss the lead fly or just fan on the egg badly. He came to the net after a few minutes and was quickly photographed and released. it was the first quality fish I had caught and released on my TL Johnson Project Healing Waters Fly Rod from FlyFishingCrazy.
After the release, a few 17-inch rainbows began surfacing near the area. Instead of re-rigging my whole outfit, I cut my bottom fly off and fished a medallion midge pupa and dry black midge tandem. I also removed my indicator and shot and fished the two flies on top. On the third cast, the fish I was targeting grew tired of my flies, but not his buddy who was slightly deeper and out of sight. He hit the dry in two feet of water and but up a great fight until he too found my net.
Nymphing worked for another dozen fish between Tim and I. He showed my that the East Portal is just one of the many reasons to fish the Montrose area. Break out a map and plan a trip to the area soon. Maybe if you are lucky enough, you can ask for a tour of the Scott rod factory. Look for my next story on SCott rods soon. Until then go fish, the East Portal and stop by Toad's for Tim fish report or e-mail him at Tim@ToadsGuideShop.com.