Vail Valley Fly Fishing Guides and Outfitter Information
This is a difficult subject to discuss objectively. Having previously guided in the area, I have friends in the business and know a number of the shop owners. This article will try to assist you in choosing an outfitter for your Vail Valley fishing experience and will rate the local services based on my personal knowledge and preferences - biased as they may be.
Fly fishing guiding is a major industry in this and all other Colorado stream blessed valleys.
If you've never cast a fly before, don't have high expectations regarding success in terms of numbers of fish landed. As a beginner, unless you're being taken to stocked ponds with very private access, the probability of your catching fish is modest at best and slim at worst. So accept that fact, enjoy the learning experience, and have a great time anyway. If you're an experienced caster and can follow instructions regarding local procedures, you should always catch fish. As guides are want to say, "There's never a bad day on the river". It's a true statement.
Your best chance to hook fish will happen if you do a float trip. These outings are more costly than wade trips, but the guide can better control how you present the fly to fish, and there are fewer obstructions to your casting. If you do choose to wade fish and have limited or no casting skills, be prepared to have fun, but accept the probability of moderate success at best.
How do you find a service and what questions do you ask? The local yellow pages and the internet can provide a variety of information on most outfitters. Referrals from friends who have had positive experiences are invaluable. Some outfitters operate year around, and I can personally vouch for the fact that trout can be caught every month of the year up here.
Here are a few possible questions to raise:
1. How long have you been in business? Do you operate year round? Do you have your own retail operation year round? Do you offer private water? What's the experience level of the guide you plan to assign to me? What are my costs for the day - half day, etc.? Give me the total costs - rental equipment included. Are flies, leaders, tippet, split shot extra?
2. Where will we be fishing? What will I need to bring? Do you provide a pick up service? What about licenses? Is lunch (dinner) included? If it's lousy weather, can we get a rain check?
3. How many guides will be provided for our group of (2, 3, 5, 8) people? No guide can easily service more than two people at any given time - regardless of what they tell you.
4. What's the reservation policy? What's the cancellation policy? How much deposit is required?
The above is pretty basic stuff. Keep in mind that during the height of the summer season, all the better guides will be booked continually, so if you haven't made a reservation well in advance, don't expect to get the "best of the best" - and because of the explosive growth of fly fishing in this valley, there are a lot of beginning guides here. Not all are inept, but some definitely are. Such is life. If you have a positive experience, regardless of the number of fish caught, TIP THE GUIDE. His/her hours are long - wages are modest - the tip is appreciated and needed if that person is to remain actively working in this sports field.
Some suggestions once you begin your guided experience. Lose your egos. Although many of our fishing visitors here are intelligent and affluent business persons in their home environment, remember that you're now operating in "our" outdoor world. Be open to suggestions and criticism. Because of the male ego issues, many guides prefer to deal with women beginners rather than men. Women tend to listen better to instructions. Strength has it's place in fishing but without some sense of "touch", the aggressive effort we males tend to bring to the sport can be sometimes be pretty ineffective.
OK, here are some comments on local outfitters.
Let's face it. Nobody's perfect, nor are any of the following operations - nor am I. Many of the guides working for these outfitters are good to excellent. Some are very young but enthusiastic. Some are experienced and egotistical. It's pretty much a cross section of humanity.
Some seasonal guides are good fishermen in their home state but may be relatively inexperienced in this part of Colorado. Check out the license plate of the vehicle that picks you up for your trip. If it's out of state, as many can be, you might be justified having some concerns - or you may have a great experience.
Keep in mind that these rankings and opinions reflect my own biases, but I have lived and fished in the valley for over 30 years. In all honesty most of our valley operations are owned and/or managed by people who were originally very successful guides themselves, but when they're faced with conducting fairly complex business operations and particularly supervising other guides, they often come up short where those management skills are concerned.
The rankings are shown in order of better to worse from my perspective.
Fly Fishing Outfitters - Avon, CO. (970)845-8090. This local Orvis shop has an excellent retail operation and was the Orvis Outfitter of the year in 2007. They probably have the most experienced and largest stable of guides in the area. Clarify prices and options before booking. Probably the best choice for off season trips and a push with Gore Creek as the top choice in the valley. Some issues with a web site that's poorly designed and executed. Out of date information. Not good practice in the digital age.
Gore Creek Fly Fisherman - Vail Fishing Guides.- Vail, CO (970)476-3296. Also under fairly new ownership and rebuilding a long tarnished reputation. For many years this operation was at the bottom of the pile in the valley. It was the original seasonal outfitter in Vail, but inept management and the company's inability to retain quality employees (guides) made dealing with them a losing proposition.
In June, 2002, the business finally reopened in Vail Village. The shop changed locations in 2005. Now in Lionshead. No tying materials are available, and while the inventory of equipment is certainly adequate for guided trips, without any fly tying supplies, in my opinion, it's not really what I'd regard as a full service fly shop. They have branch operations in Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch, and Avon.
Alpine River Outfitters (Formerly Gorsuch Outfitters) - Edwards, CO (970)926-0900. Apparently new ownership in 2007. They have a full service retail shop in Edwards. The original owner/operators (of Gorsuch) came from the old Gore Creek Fly Fisherman noted above, and some of that former culture may have pervaded the prior operation. It will be interesting to see how the new ownership's reputation develops.
Minturn Anglers LLC - 102 Main St. Minturn, CO 970.827.9500. A newer outfit situated in this small town between Vail and Beaver Creek. They offer both wade and float trips, but we've not had any feedback about the quality of this operation. They are aggressively marketing their services through local weekend "Farmer's Markets" and now have a summer presence in the Solaris building - (this may have changed for the 2016-17 season. Stay tuned.)
These ratings and comments will change from year to year, so if you plan on visiting our valley during the year 2005 or later, please check back for any changes or updates. And always feel free to e-mail us with any questions you might have or corrections that need to be made.
We've all heard of a "Wall of Fame" for outstanding athletes, achievements, etc. It's time to resurrect our Outfitter's "Wall of Shame" as a means to report incidents by guiding operations and individuals whose actions reflect negatively on the sport.
This year (2005)I've personally suffered twice having a drift boat rowed by a Taylor Creek guide deliberately have their clients cast into a small eddy I was already working and we all barely avoided our lines being tangled. That's an unforgivable breach of river etiquette. I'll never patronize Taylor Creek again.
A similarly bad experience was at Alpine Angling in Carbondale where I did some shopping, but when I went to the counter to check out, was completely ignored by the clerk who continued to have a heavy conversation with his buddy of the moment. No one else was even in the building. After standing and waiting for help at the cash register for a good minute or so, I simply left my items on the counter and walked out.
The original impetus for this "Wall" started back in the 2002 drought year when we reported that one and/or more guides from Gore Creek, Fly Fishing Outfitters, and Gorsuch were all guilty of slamming various stretches of the valley's streams to the detriment of trout because of low and unusually warm water conditions.
While I'm at it, let's sling a bit of mud at the Town of Vail. For many years I constructed and annually maintained a few holding pools on Middle Creek in town where they've served as resting areas for young trout moving downstream towards Gore Creek.
Recently (2006) the Town chain sawed most of the cottonwood near these pools and de-limbed the remaining trees and bushes. The upshot is that trout can no longer use this water since they have no more cover from bank side trees, and the riparian habitat that has basically been destroyed. Nice job Town of Vail.
Much later................ It's now 2016. The town apparently has hired someone to protect the riparian environment and that person or group is doing their best to prevent riparian landowners from impacting the creek. Would like to say nice job, but I've seen too much of the opposite in the recent past from the town.
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