The San Miguel River outside of Telluride, Colorado holds a special place in my heart. It was here on my 30th birthday that I finally learned how to fly fish. My sisters got me a guided trip with Crystal for my birthday and I have been hooked on fly fishing ever since. In fact that wonderful photo of me you see at the top of all my posts is cropped out of this photo which is me with the first trout I ever landed on a fly rod, and it was taken on the San Miguel.
I’ve wanted to write about the San Miguel for quite some time. However, it has been over 4 years since my last visit and I pretty much had no idea what I was doing that time, so I figured it best to wait until I visited again. Well, the wait is over! I just spent Labor Day weekend in Telluride and got to spend several hours on the San Miguel retracing my first steps into the wonderful world of fly fishing!
Rod: Redington Pursuit 8’6” 5wt
The San Miguel starts in the mountains East of Telluride and flows West through the town and into a canyon. Colorado state highway 145 follows the river for the first 30+ miles of its length, and despite some private property here and there, access to the river is abundant. The sections in town and just West of town have some pretty calm water but as the river hits the canyon, the gradient steepens and the water gets rougher and harder to fish. However, even in these raging sections you can find some deep pools that will hold some very nice fish.
The river primarily holds rainbows and browns, but you might bump into a brook trout if you fish near the confluence of a smaller tributary. I’m told that there are cutthroats in the early section of the river East of Telluride where Bridal Vail Creek, Ingram Creek, and Marshall Creek come together to form the river, but I have not seen proof of this myself.
When the river is presenting lower flows and clear water, a dry dropper rig can be quite effective, especially during the summer months (June – August). This was the case during my first visit several years ago. During that trip I used a PMX (the river has a healthy population of stone-flies) with a pheasant tail dropper to great success. If the flow is up and the water is stained, like it was during my most recent visit, nymphing is the way to go. And don’t forget your San Juan Worms. I landed about 15 trout during my time on the water and all but 2 of them hit the worm.
I primarily fished a section, about 18 miles downriver from Telluride. Click HERE for directions to the parking pullout for this section. There are several bends in the river here as well as many large boulders which create nice pools and eddies that hold some very nice fish. If you meticulously nymph these pools and eddies you should have a very good day on the water.
The lower sections of the river where I fished are also home to an abundant population of striped whipsnakes. They are non-venomous, and pose no threat to humans. However, since they are abundant around the river’s edge and even swim around in the river I thought it prudent to warn you so you’re not startled out on the water.
The scenery isn’t so bad either! Closer to Telluride you’ll be surrounded by pine forests and 13,000’+ peaks. In the lower sections you’ll be flanked by beautiful red canyon walls. So even on a slow day you’ll have plenty to take in.
In conclusion, the San Miguel is a wonderful freestone river. It’s not a gold medal river but there are some nice fish lurking in the deeper pools. I’ve landed some 12-16” fish on this river and I’m sure there are a few 20”+ fish hiding along the river’s length. Nymphing seems to work best on the San Miguel but the trout will rise to well presented dry flies when the conditions are right. If your travels take you to the Telluride area, don’t forget your fly rod and pay the San Miguel a visit, you won’t regret it. Until next time, happy fishing!
- A. Egli