Some towns are famous for their fishing. Ennis, for example, is synonymous with Montana’s legendary Madison River, and Saratoga, on the North Platte River in Wyoming, bills itself as the town “where the fish jump in Main Street.” Such spots are lucky to offer access to one great river—but here in Aspen, we claim four.
The Roaring Fork, the Fryingpan, the Crystal, and the Colorado rivers all hold staggering numbers of trout, including many supersized specimens that have grown fat as footballs on the rivers’ abundant aquatic insects. “From the Catherine Store, you can reach two different Gold Medal streams, plus the Colorado River, all within a 20-minute drive,” explains Hutch Hutchinson, a Basalt angler and Southwest business manager for Orvis fishing gear. “We are blessed—I mean really, truly blessed—when it comes to angling.”
And it’s only improving, says Tim Heng, who founded Roaring Fork Anglers (Glenwood Springs’s first fly shop) in 1981. Great fishing lured the former Denverite to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1978, when residual pollution from area mines had obliterated fish populations in the Crystal River and periodically fouled the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers as well. Now, thanks to cleanups and conservation efforts, “the fishing is much better today than it was back then,” says Heng.
The valley’s rivers are impressively healthy, supporting thriving populations of fish and other wildlife. On the Roaring Fork below Carbondale one evening, Heng heard a strange commotion, then rounded a riverbend to see a herd of about 30 elk crossing the water. “It just goes to show you that even with all the development that’s going on in the valley, you can still find wildness right on the river,” he says.
In fact, the blend of untamed nature and civilized comfort is one of Aspen’s most appealing qualities. Visitors can bookend their fishing exploits with fine dining, supremely comfortable beds, and spa treatments. And the fishing is fine year-round, too. In winter, dedicated anglers spend mornings logging vertical at the ski areas before migrating to the Fryingpan (a revered tailwater that enjoys relatively constant water temperatures below Ruedi Dam) in the afternoon.
If fishing were the only attraction, people would still flock here from around the world for bucket-list angling that rivals any other river in the Rockies. Yet it’s just one facet to the gem that is Aspen—making this quite possibly the most fun fishing spot in the US.