When it comes to trout fishing, there can never be too many ways to wet a line. Fly anglers face this kid-in-a-candy-store predicament sizing up the wildly diverse Animas River, Colorado's newest Gold Medal fishery. Pushing 100 feet wide in places, this majestic freestone (no dam) waterway holds a lifetime of opportunity along its 85 miles of deep canyon plunge pools, roily riffles, pocket waters, mammoth flats and deep holes.
The Animas begins its rollicking journey beneath the 13,000-foot-plus spires of the San Juan Mountains that encircle the historic mining town of Silverton. Tainting from old mines has rendered the upper reaches nearly sterile, but as the river tumbles into the boxy Animas Gorge and surrounding San Juan National Forest, a transformation occurs. Countless feeder streams and plentiful forage nurture 18-inch rainbows and browns, plus respectable numbers of feisty brooks and cutthroats concealed among tributaries.
At least 40 miles of the Animas are public waters, but fishing above the Hermosa Creek confluence is a wilderness experience with limited access. A novel solution is to catch the morning train along the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that clings to the river's canyon walls. After one or more day's angling adventures, hop the train's return leg at the Rockwood or Needleton station. Or, if you're up to the hike, drive Route 550 to Durango Mountain Resort and take the seven-mile Cascade Creek foot trail leading to the fish-fertile waters of the Animas River confluence.
Where flies hit the water for most Animas anglers, though, are the 11 deep, slow and wide river miles beginning just north of Durango and continuing downstream to the Purple Cliffs area. This stretch includes the Gold Medal section, which in 1963 offered up a 23-pound brown that held the state record for 34 years. Wading is prevalent here, or you can achieve trout nirvana aboard guided drift boats that ply the entire 26-mile stretch to Bondad. As is always the case with the many manners of the Animas, the choices are yours. ¿Ted A. Stedman
DETAILS The best time to go is after runoff in mid-June, when the caddis hatch blankets the sky. Book guided fishing trips through Durango Mountain Resort (970-247-9000, www.durangomountain.com), Animas Valley Anglers (970-259-0484, www.gottrout.com) or the Duranglers fly shop (970-385-4081, www.duranglers.com).