Fly Fishing the Eagle

Last week I met up with local fly fishing guide Matt Kelsic for an evening photo shoot on the Eagle River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The Eagle’s source begins on the Great Divide near Camp Hale where 10th Mountain Division troops trained for alpine combat during World War II.

Fly Fishing on the Eagle River, Colorado

The Eagle travels 60 miles west through deep canyons explored by John C. Fremont during his expeditions in the early 1840s. It passes by abandoned mines that once produced huge payloads of gold, silver and zinc from 1879 – 1984. And it defines the Eagle River Valley, leaving its mark as it courses through the towns of Redcliff, Gilmam, Minturn, Avon, Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum and finally Dotsero.

Fly Fishing the Eagle

The Eagle River joins forces with the Colorado River in Dotsero at the start of the Ute Trail, a centuries old forest trail created by the First People. A hundred and fifty years ago, this section of the Colorado River was called the Bunkara River and was used for a short period as a hunting ground boundary for the Utes dictated by the October 7, 1863 “Treaty with the Utah – Tabeguache Band” signed by Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre Utes during the dark times of westward expansion.

For millennia, these two powerful landscape and life shaping rivers have come together in Dotsero before moving on to create some of the most spectacular scenery in the natural world including Glenwood Canyon, Glen Canyon and, of course, Grand Canyon. We fished just up river from this confluence in a beautiful spot called Elbow Canyon that’s dominated by bright-red sandstone cliffs.

Elbow Canyon Fly Fishing – Colorado

“In this part of the canyon the red sandstone is so brilliant that the outcrop looks like a flame or a mass of red-hot iron on the hillside”. This is how our fishing spot was described in a 1922 U.S. Geological Survey report for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Well known western pioneering photographer William Henry Jackson aimed his lens in our spot 130 years earlier while on assignment for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to create the photograph below:

“In Elbow Canon, Glenwood Extension, D. & R.G.R.R.” by William H. Jackson Circa 1880 – 1890 Courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Moving to Colorado a decade ago, I’ve never lived more than a few yards from tributaries of the Colorado River and these magnificent waters have been a part of my everyday life ever since. Countless hours have been spent in these waters with my family and friends enjoying life in the Colorado high country, becoming a part of me.

Fly Fishing in Elbow Canyon – Colorado

Throughout the Southwest, tributaries like the Eagle River that have, for thousands of years, fed the powerful waters of the Colorado River face significant threats. Myriad water diversions created to support explosive population growth and its corresponding demand for water paired with climate change have created warmer, shallower, slower rivers. As a result, the Colorado River no longer completes its ancient journey from the mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of California. Here in the dawn of our new century, it’s time we look at water and how we use it in a new way that ensures the countless generations ahead a chance to experience the power these waters possess.

To learn more about the need for water conservation and the new water ethic, check out the Watershed Trailer. Support organizations like Glen Canyon Institute, Save the Colorado River and  Defend the Colorado. And if you’ve always dreamed of that life changing fly fishing trip in Colorado, do it now and be sure to request Matt at Fly Fishing Outfitters as your guide.