Just 10 years ago, the monster trout of Aspen's Roaring Fork Valley were still a secret. But word got out, and today piscatorial pursuits help power the economy of Basalt, which sits at the confluence of the Gold Medal-rated Frying Pan and Roaring Fork rivers. The Frying Pan is the more popular stream for anglers. Narrow and heartbreakingly scenic as it winds through red-rock walls, the Pan's only downside is that it can be crowded. About half of the river is now reserved by landowners and fishing clubs, but 7 miles still remain public, and almost all of that stretch is easily accessible from Frying Pan Road. The long pools at the base of Ruedi Dam are famous for their "footballs"-rainbow trout up to 26 inches long that can weigh 15 pounds.
July and August offer some of the best fishing on the Roaring Fork, an undammed river that courses 63 miles from the Continental Divide, past Aspen's four ski resorts to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. High water in June makes fishing hard, and fish eat little during runoff. By July, the river's waters typically have dropped, and one of the summer's great fishing phenomena-the green drake hatch-is underway. Each evening these fluttering insects dimple the water's surface, creating prime dry-fly fishing conditions.
Browns and rainbows are the standard in the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork. Below Basalt, anglers may tangle with whitefish in the Fork. Here fishermen get the best access via boat, because much of this river runs through private ranchland and can't be reached on foot. Fish in the Fork typically run in the 14-inch range. The real monsters live in the Colorado, also best fished by boat; local guides say if a state-record trout is waiting to be caught, it's probably living in the 26 miles of Colorado River between Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
The best fishing on the Roaring Fork is the 43-mile stretch from Aspen to Glenwood and on the Pan from Ruedi Reservoir to Basalt (13 miles). Guide services and fly-fishing shops abound in the valley; some of the best include Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs (970-945-0180); Alpine Angling in Carbondale (970-963-9245); Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt (970-927-3441); and Pomeroy Sports in Aspen (970-925-7875). Contact the Basalt Chamber of Commerce (970-927-4031; www.basaltonline.com) or Aspen Chamber Resort Association (970-925-1940; www.aspeninfo.net)