Uncompahgre River: Colorado’s Diamond in the Rough

Uncompahgre River forking through the mountains near Montrose, Colorado
Uncompahgre River: Colorado’s Diamond in the Rough

When I relocated from Colorado’s Front Range to the Western Slope, my excitement reached its peak. I was going to reside by the picturesque Uncompahgre River, one of the state’s top trout fisheries!

As soon as I arrived at my new house, my first instinct was to grab my fishing pole from the car and head straight to the river. This, much to the chagrin of my wife and children.

Unfortunately, my initial impression of the Uncompahgre River was rather bleak. The water level was low, and all the vegetation appeared dead. Considering it was January 31st, my expectations of catching anything were already low.

But guess what happened on my first cast? I’m not even joking—bam! I hooked a fish.

The surprise was so great that I nearly dropped my pole into the river. But sure enough, I successfully landed a healthy-looking 17″ Brown Trout.

That moment turned out to be a sign of great things to come. Over the next year, I experienced the most successful fishing of my life. The fish kept getting bigger and better – I even caught fish weighing over five pounds on multiple occasions. I’m writing this post to share the immense joy I’ve found on the Uncompahgre River with others.

So let’s delve into its history, explore fly fishing/spin fishing locations, and allow me to share some of my knowledge. I’ll also provide gear recommendations to ensure you’re well-prepared to fish or explore the year-round hidden gem that is Colorado.

The Uncompahgre River: “The Unc”

The Uncompahgre River completes its 75-mile journey when it meets the Gunnison River in Delta, Colorado. Locals affectionately call it “The Unc,” as it meanders through some of the Western Slope’s most stunning landscapes.

From Lake Como in the San Juan Mountains, at an elevation of 12,215 ft, it winds its way upstream through Montrose, Ridgway, and Ouray.

Unfortunately, due to nearly a century of mining operations, the Uncompahgre River was heavily polluted until about 30 years ago. Its name, Uncompahgre, actually derives from a Ute Indian word meaning “Dirty Water.”

In 1993, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, initiated restoration work on the river. Today, it’s home to Native Cutthroat, Rainbows, Cuttbows, and of course, massive Brown Trout. There are sections of gold-medal waters, as well as numerous public and private land spots that consistently produce big fish.

Beyond fishing, the Uncompahgre River offers a range of activities to enjoy, including hot springs, hiking trails, state parks, wildlife viewing areas, farmers markets, and festivals. In my opinion, this river encapsulates the true essence of Colorado.

Spending time in its natural, winding curves evokes childhood memories of fishing the Colorado and Blue Rivers. It’s a serene opportunity to escape the world and rejuvenate.

My Favorite Spots on the Uncompahgre River

Bridge going over the Uncompahgre River in Ridgway, Colorado at dusk
The Unc flowing through the small mountain town of Ridgway

Pa-Co-Chu-Pak

This is the epitome of Gold Medal fishing. Every year, massive trout are released here, growing to monstrous sizes. My personal best was a 28″ Brown Trout. Before visiting, make sure to review the current regulations—it’s strictly artificial flies and lures only in the river, with catch-and-release rules in effect. However, there are several fishing ponds nearby.

The fishing spots at Pa-co-chu-pak are easily accessible, with ADA-compliant paths. It’s also an excellent place to camp with children, as the facilities are top-notch.

Rollans Park

Since I live close to this spot, I may be a bit biased, but I’ve caught many fish here. It’s usually calm, making it a perfect spot to take a dip on a hot day. You can catch smaller rainbows here, as well as the occasional brown and cutthroat.

There are a few other places near Ridgway where you can fish the Uncompahgre River, but Rollans Park is a great place to start your angling adventure.

Montrose River Bottom Park and Water Sports Park

Located in the heart of Montrose, this hidden gem offers something for everyone. The park boasts 1000 ft of engineered waves for water sports like river paddling, surfing, and tubing—and, of course, fishing. It’s a fantastic destination for the whole family, with playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails.

The park is mostly ADA accessible. Personally, I enjoy fishing the pools here and have had great success catching large browns and rainbows that migrate from Ridgway State Park.

Fishing Gear for the Uncompahgre River

Young boy smiling and holding a trout
My son, Nolan, is no stranger to slaying trout on the Unc

If you’re planning to fish the Uncompahgre River, here’s some highly recommended gear. Ross Reels, one of the leading names in fly reels, is made right on the banks of The Unc. I can’t emphasize enough how satisfied I’ve been with their products—they’ve brought me tremendous success on this river.

Oakley Split Shot Polarized Sunglasses

Spotting fish is crucial to your success on the Uncompahgre River. These sunglasses are my top pick—they block 99% of reflected light, allowing you to see big browns lurking in deep pools and along shorelines. Once you spot them, you want to present your fly or lure right in front of their faces. These Oakleys get the job done.

Mouse Flies

If you haven’t heard of mouse patterns, you’re in for a game-changer when it comes to catching colossal brown trout. These flies are best used at night when the moon illuminates the river. The largest fish in the river feed during nighttime and require significant protein intake to maintain their body weight.

That’s why brown trout have been known to prey on small birds and, yes, even mice. Try using a mouse pattern on a moonlit night, and you’ll understand the impact. Thank me later.

Ross Reels Gunnison 5/6

Without a doubt, this is the best reel I’ve ever used. I purchased it last year, and it has been extremely reliable. Ross Reels is a local company in Montrose, Colorado, known for investing in the Uncompahgre River. I wholeheartedly recommend their products and encourage supporting their business. You won’t be disappointed.

Orvis Helios 3D 6wt Fly Rod

This fly fishing rod embodies everything you’d desire in a high-quality rod. This versatile 9′ fly rod is perfect for the conditions you’ll encounter on the Uncompahgre River. It’s a bit of an investment, but if you’re seeking a lifetime rod capable of landing numerous fish, this is the one for you. You won’t regret it.

Uncompahgre River Events in 2023 & Beyond

Stand up paddle board surfers on a river in Colorado
Func Fest – Fun on the Unc

Func Fest – Fun on the Unc

Every August, the Town of Montrose celebrates the mighty Uncompahgre River with a two-day event. Func Fest includes camping, river races, giveaways, live music, and more. My personal favorite is the hilariously entertaining inflatable raft race — a fun experience for the whole family and an opportunity to meet the wonderful people of the Western Slope while enjoying the water sports park.

Ridgway River Fest

Once again, I’m biased since I’m a resident of Ridgway, CO, but this festival truly embodies the lighthearted spirit of mountain communities. Held in Rollans Park, it guarantees a fantastic time.

I’m a hunting and fishing guide in Colorado and I am available for private trips. Just shoot me a message! Sign up for my email list if you like what you see, and I will continue to share my insight from the great outdoors and its bounty with you.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2023

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