Yeah, you read that right. Someone named a river the Frying Pan River, and it stuck. Before I get to the fishing I feel we need a quick History lesson because the origin of this river’s name is just too good not to share. Apparently a group of fur trappers were in the area long ago and were attacked by a group of Ute Indians. As the story goes only two trappers were left alive and one was badly injured. The uninjured trapper stashed his wounded friend in a cave near the river and went to get help. Before he left, he hung a frying pan in a tree to mark the entrance to the cave. Somehow, that convinced people to call the river the Frying Pan from then on. OK, History lesson over, on to the fishing!
Rod: Redington Pursuit 8’6” 5wt
Setup: I tried it all and they just laughed at me
The Frying Pan flows for approximately 42 miles from its headwaters at the base of Deer and Oklahoma Mountains to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, Colorado. The last 14 miles of the river below Ruedi Reservoir to its confluence with the Roaring Fork is designated as Gold Medal water. That’s a good stretch of gold medal water, but if you go every fisherman you see will be within a mile or two of the dam. This seems strange until you see the fish lurking below the dam. They are hogs!
The reservoir is apparently full of fresh water shrimp or scuds. These flow through the dam and into the river below where the fish gorge themselves on them. It’s like having this outside your front door. The biggest, fattest fish hang out in the Toilet Bowl. Again I’m not making these names up. The Toilet Bowl is right below the dam where the water and the scuds come pouring out. Regardless of how early you arrive in the morning there will always be someone parked at the Toilet Bowl trying pull a trout from this spot.
My advice to you is to head just a little bit further down the river to the Bend Pool. Every section of the river for about 2 miles downstream from the dam has a name, and you can learn them all here. The Bend pool is maybe 30 yards long and is jam packed with trout. I counted at least 30 fish stacked up in a 20 foot section including three 20”+ hogs. These fish are VERY used to people and won’t startle when you approach the river. However, they’ve seen every fly ever created so flawless presentations and 6x or 7x tippet are a must. I threw just about every fly I could think of at these fish and combined Crystal and I got two bites in 4 hours and didn’t land either fish. However, the challenge of this section of river is worth the payoff, because if you can land one of these fish you’ll have a photo worth bragging about for life.
If you’re looking for less of a challenge and perhaps some space (the area around the dam is typically packed by 10am) you can drive down the river a little ways. As I mentioned earlier, the Gold Medal section is about 13 miles long so there are big fish in other places. However, there is an ungodly amount of private land along this stretch and “No Trespassing” signs are everywhere. When there is public access there is always a turnout, so keep your eyes peeled for the turnouts and enjoy a more peaceful section of the river like this:
In addition to the world class fishing there is also an abundance of wildlife. On the drive up to the dam Crystal and I passed a herd of mule deer, a bald eagle fishing, and a herd of big horn sheep. So keep your eyes on the road so you don’t turn the nature into road kill. On top of the wildlife, the scenery isn’t too bad either.
In conclusion, the fishing near the dam is very technical and although not as tricky as Cheesman Canyon, catching fish here can be hard. However, if you land one it’s likely to be trophy sized. I will definitely be back again to try my luck on the Frying Pan and maybe even give the Toilet Bowl a try. Just remember that there are 14 miles of Gold Medal water so you can enjoy world class fishing without fighting the crowd at the dam. Until next time, happy fishing!
– A. Egli