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One bright spot in southwestern Colorado is the Uncompahgre River, a wonderfully weird and amazingly productive trout fishery that correspondent Mark D. Williams stumbled upon last month. He writes, "The section of the Uncompahgre that I was most excited about is a year-round coldwater tailrace fishery known as Pa-co-chu-puk, located within Ridgway State Park below 1,000-acre Ridgway Reservoir. Although the tailrace is short – 1.2 miles – it holds big, streambred Gunnison River rainbow trout and plenty of them. It also seems to be something of a local secret.
"In two days of fishing Pa-co-chu-puk, I was stunned to witness several anglers catch and release trout measuring over 20 inches, many weighing over five pounds. The tailrace is only 30 feet wide, and is barely hip-deep even in the pools created by the rock weirs and submerged logs, so it was surprising to see anglers catching these jaw-dropping monsters in such small water.
"I finally cornered a fly fisherman after watching him land a trout that measured about 26 inches and weighed around eight pounds. The man’s name was Jerry Classi (*) and he said this monster trout was nowhere close to the largest he had caught in this water, nor was it anywhere near as large as those he had seen others land. Classi not only fishes Pa-co-chu-puk three or four times a week, but he is also owner of the Conoco Station on Highway 140 at its junction with Highway 62 in Ridgway, where he sells tackle and maps. I visited the station and store – he is the best tackle supplier in Ridgway – and saw photos of rainbow and brown trout from the tailwater as large as 32 inches. As if to confirm the size and numbers of the big trout swimming in Pa-co-chu-puk, my wife later landed a 22-inch rainbow, the biggest trout of her life.
"Classi admitted that the big trout he and others were catching were brood fish, stocked by various agencies including the Colorado Division of Wildlife. I confirmed this with Bob Miller, Senior Park Ranger at Ridgway State Park (*), who told me the stocked fish are indeed brood fish that have grown too large to feed or are no longer reproducing effectively. Miller said they have stocked almost 2,000 broods in the river since last fall. They also supplement the river with smaller trout. Native browns lived in the Uncompahgre before the reservoir was built in 1989, and according to Miller, many browns make their way out of the lake. Of all these available fish, he says the average size of the trout caught in the Pa-co-chu-puk tailwater is five pounds, and I heard anecdotal information of catches weighing up to 18 pounds.
"With fish the size of these, you can understand the most common comment from Pa-co-chu-puk anglers is that they ‘caught the biggest fish of their life’ here. Locals refer to this section as ‘Jurassic Park,’ a reference to the large dinosaurs inhabiting this artificial setting. Fishing the Pa-co-chu-puk is not for everybody. In fact, I would suggest fishing Ridgway State Park as an adjunct to fishing the San Miguel or Gunnison rivers, both an easy drive from the Pa-co-chu-puk.
"To get to the state park, take Highway 550 north out of Durango for about 2 1/2 hours, or south out of Montrose for about 20 miles. Highway 550 follows the Uncompahgre River downstream from the reservoir to its confluence with the Gunnison River near Delta. The Uncompahgre also fishes well for a few miles downstream of the tailwater to a feeder stream called Billy Creek, but mineralization has damaged the fishery as it courses northward from there. For a change of pace, you might want to check out Dallas Creek, which feeds into the Uncompahgre about two miles upstream of Ridgway Reservoir. Dallas Creek is reported to hold good numbers of brown trout. For more information on river conditions for all these waters, contact DeGrey Phillips at Telluride Anglers (*); or ask for the Adventure Desk at Telluride Flyfishers (*).
"Anglers in the state park are restricted to artificial flies and lures and must immediately return all fish to the river. All vehicles entering the park require a Colorado State Parks Pass; a day-use fee costs $3. Ridgway State Park is an award-winning park, one of the best and most innovative in the country. It includes nearly 200 campsites (*), and all are as clean as a whistle.
"If you are looking for lodging in Ridgway, your best bet is the Super 8 Lodge. They charge about $70 per room. Telluride is only 37 miles away and there are plenty of nice accommodations there. My wife and I enjoyed the Alpine Inn Bed and Breakfast, located in the heart of the Telluride Historic District. They charge from $60 to $125 per night, depending on the room."