Aspen Outfitting Company’s Upper Roaring Fork River Report 3/24/23

Cian McGillicuddyFly FishingLeave a Comment

Flows and Water Clarity

The Roaring Fork is running low and clear. Flows are approximately 65 cfs below Maroon Creek (gauge is ice affected) and 184 cfs at Emma. Water temperature remains in the mid thirties. 


We had some fun in the snow this week! The front that moved in on Monday and Tuesday changed river conditions, but the fishing was great. Colder weather caused the water to clear up and river levels to drop slightly. The fishing early and late in the day slowed down during the transition between high and low pressure systems, but the mid day bite picked up noticeably as the storm settled in. Fish are feeding aggressively right now, but colder days and clearer water mean a return to the winter staples. 

Midges and baetis proved to be more productive this past week than some of the larger patterns that were working well in warmer weather. With the cold front lingering over the weekend, downsize lead flies to a size 16 or 18 (two bit hookers, perdigons, rainbow warriors) and continue to trail midges and baetis (size 18-22).

Time of day will play more of a factor this weekend than last weekend, so concentrate your efforts on the warmest part of the day (from 11 am- 3 pm). Fish will also likely concentrate in deeper, slower water in colder conditions. And, as always, focus on getting a good, drag free drift and stealthy presentation!

Also, remember to renew your fishing licenses! All annual fishing licenses expire on 3/31, so make sure you go online to renew here.

The Spring Spawn

Spring isn’t in full swing yet, but it’s time to start thinking about the Rainbow Trout Spawn. We know that for the most part the fly fishing community is educated and thoughtful about responsible use of the resource and protecting future generations of fish, but we think that it is still worth reminding everyone to be mindful of spawning fish as we move into spring.

Trout create spawning beds or “Redds,” which are generally found in shallow, moving water. Identifying these redds is an important skill as an angler and helps us fish ethically. Redds are generally composed of smaller rocks and gravel that are lighter in color than the rest of the river bottom due to spawning fish brushing the rocks as they mate and clearing them of algae and other organic material. These beds provide safety for the eggs and alveins (fry) that are a result of the spawn and the next generation of fish!

Stay away from redds, fish deeper water where trout are actively feeding, and use good fish handling practices. If you are hitting the water with someone who is new to the sport, please use this time of year as an opportunity to share how to fish ethically and be a steward of the resource. To learn more about fishing during the spring spawn, click here and share!

Common Hatches and Food Sources 

Midges, Baetis, and Stoneflies.

Midge Larvae and Baetis nymphs are the standard sources of food present in the upper fork during the winter and late spring, but as the weather warms we are seeing larger patterns produce well. Try the Element Flies Pat’s Stone Runt (size 16, black) or a Two Bit Hooker (size 16, black).

We’re still seeing some fish rise intermittently to eat hatching midges, so make sure you have some size 18-22 midge imitations in your box!

We haven’t really been seeing them yet, but the caddis should start moving around soon. We’re having some success on generalist patterns (like size 16 Hare’s Ear) that imitate caddis well, so fish might be starting to key in on caddis larva. 

Hot flies & Techniques


Midges and Baetis 

Hot Flies: Foamback RS2 (gray, size 20), Chocolate Thunder (black, size 22), Mayhem Midge (black, size 22)

Zebra Midge (black, gray, size 18-22), WD40 (black, gray, size 18-22), Miracle Midge (gray, brown, size 18-22) RS2’s (cdc, crystal wing, black, gray, size 18-22), crystal midge (gray, olive, size 20-22), Juju Baetis (red, olive, black size 18-22), Pheasant Tail (natural 18-20).

Point Flies

Hot Flies: Pat’s Stone Runt (black, size 16), Two bit Hooker (black, size 16-18), CDC Copper John (red size 18), Perdigon (pearl, size 16), 20 incher (size 14, natural).

Tungsten jigs with hot collars (yellow, brown, pink, size 14-18), Bead Head Rainbow Warrior (classic, purple, red, size 16-20), Eggs (chartreuse, peach, white). Perdigons (olive, black, 16-18).


Hot Flies: Griffith’s gnat (classic or hi-vis, 18-22)

Element Hi-Vis Midge (black, size 20) Parachute Adams (18-20), BWO Hackle Stacker (18-20)


Motor Oil (black, size 6), Slumpbuster (natural, size 8-12), Thin Mint (size 6-10). 


Nymphing is the most productive technique during this time of year. Finding deep holding water and using weight to get your flies down will be crucial to success. Longer leaders and heavy split shot will help you get your flies in front of more fish. Leading with larger jig style or tungsten patterns has been a very productive technique for helping smaller flies get down deeper. 

Small midges and baetis are the staples when fishing this time of year, but don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary. Small stoneflies are working surprisingly well right now! If you’re not finding success, get creative with your point flies– larger bugs have been producing occasionally too!

Dry fly hatches are intermittent, but always keep an eye out for pods of rising fish. Winter dry fly hatches can be few and far between, but are incredibly fun and rewarding to fish. Midges are the predominant hatch right now, so switching to small dry flies and fine tippet is your best chance at fooling fish. 

As we move into spring, streamers will become important in your rotation! Small streamers tend to be best during early spring, and be sure to focus your efforts on deep pools and structure. 

Information About The Roaring Fork

The Roaring Fork River is a freestone river that runs 70 miles from Independence Pass through Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale until it reaches its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. The cold, clean waters of this famous river support an incredible array of aquatic life including brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. The Roaring Fork is designated as a “Gold Medal” fishery, meaning it offers some of the best trout fishing in the nation to beginners and seasoned anglers alike.

Written by Cian McGillicuddy, Photo by Jake Wheeler

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