River Sense: The Thrill It is a valley. It is a town.
It is a river. It is our Gunnison. And like many before me, I came to Gunnison for the fishing.
For someone who grew up back east, fishing brook trout streams you could literally step over, the majestic mountains and rivers of the west can be intimidating. At first, you are simply awestruck by the vast open spaces surrounded by mountains that disappear into clouds at 13,000 or 14,000 feet. As you try to get your mind around that, you see the river winding down through the valley. Pristine. Beautiful. Inviting. As you exhale, you look for a place to park and put your waders on. I am definitely here for the fishing.
Some say the Gunnison River begins in Almont, Colorado, where the Taylor River and the East River merge. But I say it begins with melting snow high in the Rocky Mountains. This trickle becomes the river which has defined this valley for centuries. Whether you view the river as a commercial necessity, an agricultural requirement, a recreational resource, or a piece of history, it is the central nervous system of the valley. It has impacted the local culture and shaped the lives of residents since the area was first settled. Since there are so many different perspectives when it comes to our river, and water in general in Colorado, there exist many challenges related to how we can experience and share in all that the Gunnison River has to offer. There is a long history of this delicate balancing act, and many before us have worked diligently to address the needs of all interested parties. The people come and go. Time marches on. The work continues. And thanks to a lot of hard work and common sense, the river still flows. And the fishing...well, the fishing is truly special. It is why so many return year after year.
I find a place to park my truck. It's a nice spot close to the river, all public access but no one in sight: Another shock for an Easterner. It's early spring with snow on the ground and ice on the river bank. The water is low and clear, crystal clear. I gear up, rig up my fly rod, and head to the river.
When I stand on the bank of the Gunnison River for the first time, I am overwhelmed. But then I see a riffle just off the near bank, and beyond that, a large pool with a tail-out and another riffle. Approaching a big river is like trying to solve a big problem. It's easier to tackle if you break it down into smaller pieces. I now see many small streams. I can fish a small stream. I haven't even taken my first cast and I feel that chill. Not a chill from the cold. (And we know how cold it can get in the Gunnison Valley!) This is that special feeling, just like the rush you got when that girl in high school smiled back at you for the first time. This is love at first sight.
I wade out and begin to cast and work my fly through all the usual spots. This time of year, I look for the deeper and slower water. I look for seams and eddies, and all the typical places where trout hold and feed. At first, it's hard to concentrate on the fishing in the midst of such pristine beauty. I am already thinking this is the place. This is where I stay. I have arrived. Then my line tightens. My rod bends and sweeps out to my right in an instant. And then my line goes slack. I am reminded of what it feels like to lose a fish. A nice fish. I check my flies and get back into a rhythm of casting and mending my line, and working my fly through the zones of opportunity in anticipation of another magic moment.
I live here now and I also contribute when I can to the efforts to keep our rivers flowing. There are many of us. We have arrived. And we are here for the fishing.
John Bocchino arrived in Gunnison in March, 2006. He fishes year round and is a professional fly fishing guide. He can be contacted via his website at
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.blog comments powered by Disqus