Wilderness Watershed: Vallecito, Pine and Florida Rivers
Fly fishing the Vallecito, Pine, and Florida
Vallecito Creek and the Pine and Florida Rivers flow through the western portion of the Weminuche Wilderness and offer fly fisherman endless possibilities for hike-in angling for wild trout. Trails follow the Vallecito and the Pine, but if that's too tame for you, the trail-less Florida is just the ticket. Whichever you choose, you'll find days of backcountry angling that is never dull and always enticing.
The three streams drain the Continental Divide and are strikingly different from each other. The Vallecito is a swift-flowing creek up to 20 feet wide tumbling down a narrow glacial valley. With a bed of pastel cobbles, the stream is among the loveliest in the West. A couple miles to the east, the Pine alternates between meadows and canyon, frequently flowing peacefully on the flat valley floor. Quiet water makes the lower Pine a great place for beginners. In contrast, the rough-and-tumble waters of the smaller Florida are interrupted only by the meadows below City Reservoir, a long hike away from the road. It's best fished by experienced anglers who love wild places.
These small rivers call for short rods, 8.5 feet or less, 8-foot leaders, and 4X-5X tippets. A four-piece rod will cut down on w
hat you have to carry on your hike into these streams. The fish are generally unselective feeders so you can stuff a box with general attractors-Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, Renegade-and be well prepared. Black and brown ants, hoppers, and beetles are good to have along, particularly in the meadows of Willow Park on the Pine.
Brown and brook trout are found in the lower Pine and the Florida, and rainbows, cutthroats and brookies swim the upper rivers and the Vallecito. You'll find many small brookies throughout the streams and fine rainbows and cutthroats up to 16 inches in the prime spots on all rivers.
All three wilderness creeks are entirely hike-in water. The Pine offers the easiest hike, with the Vallecito a moderate walk
and the Florida requiring a long hike or bushwhacking. To reach the trailheads from Bayfield, go north from US 160 on Vallecito Road, County Road 501. In about 8 miles bear right, then continue straight at the junction with County Road 240. (This point can be reached from Durango by taking Florida Road (County Road 240) about 17 miles from the north part of town.) Reach Vallecito Dam in another 9 miles and continue on County Road 501 along the west bank of the reservoir. At the Forest Service Vallecito Work Center, bear right onto Forest Road 602 and continue around the lake and up the Pine River about 7.5 miles to the trailhead at Pine River Campground. If you bear left onto Forest Road 600 near the Work Center, you'll reach the Vallecito Trailhead in 3 miles.
For the upper Florida, take County Road 243 by driving about 8.5 miles north on Vallecito Road from Bayfield to the intersection with County Road 240. Turn left and continue about 3 miles to County Road 243. Turn north toward Lemon Dam and continue to the intersection with Forest Road 597. Hiking to the river from the end of Forest Road 597 presents the angler a challenge. Trail 667 begins at Transfer Park Campground, and heads north into the wilderness, but never comes close to the river. No trail parallels the river from Transfer Park to City Reservoir.
The Pine River Trail #523 receives heavy use, mostly due to the most gentle climb in the wilderness. Begin the hike into the scenic granite canyon of the Pine and the public water above Granite Peak Ranch by following the Pine River Trail as it heads east parallel to a fence. Off to the right of the trail the river looks tantalizing: however, do not trespass. Stay on the trail until reaching the wilderness boundary 3 miles from the start. Once in the wilderness, fine fly fishing is found everywhere on the river. The lower Pine flows quietly through riparian vegetation to its confluence with Lake Creek. The next two miles are a rugged canyon filled with excellent pocket water. About 8 miles from the trailhead you'll find Willow Park, two miles of meandering meadow water with undercuts that make for fun fly fishing. Above Willow Park and Flint Creek, the Pine is a small stream reaching back to the Divide, wilderness fishing at its finest.
The canyon section of the Florida above Transfer Park offers demanding fishing. The high gradient of the stream makes angling difficult. The stream is narrow and brushy, classic tight quarters fishing. Cast dry flies into the head of plunge pools or around boulders, and seek out pockets of slack water or use weighted attractor nymphs. In contrast to the canyon section, below City Reservoir the Florida flows through a long meadow. The stream is 20 feet wide with a rocky bottom as it meanders through the open. Wading and casting are easy in this stretch. Water flowing from the reservoir can be cold, even in mid-summer, and lightweight hip waders are recommended. The fish are spookier in the meadow than below, and 9-foot leaders and 5X or 6X tippet are in order. Access to the upper third of the Florida River is easiest from Forest Road 597 and t
he Endlich Mesa Trail. The trailhead is at the end of Forest Road 597, a long and rough road. The Endlich Mesa Trail leads in 6 miles to City Reservoir and the wide meadows of the Florida below the dam. Only experienced backcountry travelers should attempt this trip as the trail is often difficult to follow. For detailed descriptions of the Endlich Mesa Trail, consult the trail guides for the Weminuche Wilderness or contact Forest Service Office in Durango.
Excerpt from "Fly Fishing Southwest Colorado" available at Duranglers in Downtown Durango.