Places I like: Black Canyon, Gunnison River, Colorado

Some of the most rewarding places to go are often the most difficult to reach. But like anything, that which is worth having often is gained through effort.

That pretty much sums up my feelings of an amazing stretch of river deep inside a western Colorado canyon.

The Gunnison River is well known among trout anglers for its prime fishing. The best of those waters lie deep within the Black Canyon.

The Gunnison weaves and cuts its way through 48 miles of blackened rock on the western side of the Continental Divide. The canyon is anywhere from 1,800 to 2,800 feet deep, making it one of the deepest chasms in the United States.

What sort of power does it take to slice open eons-old rock into such a large gash? Melt water from the high country’s snow, combined with gravity, do the trick. The Gunnison River loses more elevation in those 48 miles than does the Mississippi River along its entire 1,500-mile length.

This creates a beautiful panorama. Deep inside the canyon, its stony walls rise sheer. Buttresses jut out from the walls, giving the river twists and turns that churn its fast-flowing waters. Occasionally, the canyon will toss a boulder down, further complicating the river’s path. It makes for a pretty wild run.

It’s that wildness that also makes it prime trout habitat. Cold, fast-moving waters flowing over rocks churn it up significantly, raising oxygen levels. Fast-moving stretches mixed in with eddies and pools gather food for trout like a banquet table. Few rivers are more perfect.

But getting to the best fishing spot takes some doing. The easy-to-reach stretches are usually played out. But a short hike down the bank, one river crossing (and yes, even in summer it’s quite cold) and a brief, somewhat exposed climb over a rock rib took me to a seldom-reached stretch of trout paradise.

The reward wasn’t just in the fishing, though it was indeed very good. But to be able to sit down, filter a little water and listen to the river while thinking about life, God or many other things on my mind – that was a rare treat.

If you’ve ever wondered why fly fishing evokes such poetic, even artsy, musings from its practitioners, this is a big part of it. The ambiance of an ancient canyon, and the fast-flowing waters that sliced it open, does much to exercise the mind.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088