With nearly two million acres of wilderness and the Colorado Rockies as the backdrop, the Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley is a dream destination for hunting and fishing enthusiasts.

Seven annual fishing events, hundreds of miles of scenic waterways, and thousands of new fish released each year from the state’s Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery make Gunnison County a mecca for anglers.  In fact, the county holds state records for brown, rainbow and lake trout and kokanee salmon and proudly held the world record for the largest elk hunted for many years.  The plentiful deer and elk populations, knowledgeable outfitters and hunter-friendly lodging properties and camping options translates into a hunting paradise.

Hunting

The months of August through December are prime times in the Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley for hunters pursuing game of all sizes but is perhaps best known as a prime spot for elk and deer. Whether the weapon of choice is a bow, rifle or muzzle-loader, there is a season determined by Colorado Parks and Wildlife that is outlined on www.wildlife.state.co.us.  It’s best to plan hunting trips early as applications for big game limited draw licenses for 2014 are due on April 1.  Over-the-counter licenses and leftover limited licenses go on sale starting Aug. 5.  To find out details such as these and to connect with local outfitters, go to the hunting section on www.GunnisonCrestedButte.com.

It’s estimated that there are about 280,000 elk in Colorado—the most of any state—with approximately 15,000 in the Gunnison Basin, which includes game management unites (GMUs) 54, 55, 66, 67 and 551. The deer population also is estimated at 15,000. Public land in the Gunnison Basin is abundant and varied, ranging from hills dotted with sagebrush to alpine tundra and forests.  Find out more by calling Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Gunnison Service Center at (970) 641-7060.

The former world record elk was killed in Dark Canyon, located 12 miles west of Crested Butte, by local miner John Plute in 1899. The record wasn’t certified until 1961, when the antlers from the huge bull elk were scored at an astonishing 442 3/8.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that a set of horns from Arizona surpassed the Crested Butte elk by only .25 points. The rack is on display at the local visitor center, located in the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce.

Fishing

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Taylor Reservoir and the Gunnison, East and Taylor Rivers are among the many exceptional habitats for reeling in kokanee salmon, northern pike, and rainbow, brown, brook, cutthroat and Mackinaw (lake) trout and are easy for anglers to access.  A list of fishing outfitters and shops in Gunnison, Almont and Crested Butte along with various fishing packages are posted on www.GunnisonCrestedButte.com for planning getaways that are sure to keep the youngest to oldest fishermen telling tall tales when arriving home. Plus, the following seven fishing events happen from May to September.

The Gunnison Kiwanis Club Blue Mesa Lake Fishing Tournament on May 3 – 4 offers 120 teams of two the chance to see who can brag about early-season success.  All species of fish taken from Blue Mesa Lake and are at least 12 inches in size may be entered into the competition (four fish per day) except suckers, lake trout (Mackinaw), perch and northern pike.  Teams also can enter a separate contest for catching the heaviest Mackinaw.  The format is very similar for the Weekend Warrior Outdoors & Gunnison Chamber Fishing Tournament on May 17 – 18.  For registration information and details about both, go to www.gunnisonchamber.com.

On May 31, the City of Gunnison is hosting a Kids Fishing Derby and Outdoor Sports Expo from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., at Jorgensen Park.  Kids up to middle school age are eligible to fish Pac Man Pond for the derby with their own equipment or the poles, lures, hooks and bait provided.  There also will be an archery range, 22 shooting trailer, educational booths and lunch available for all ages, all for free!  For information call the Parks and Recreation Department at (970) 641-8060 and visit www.gunnisonrec.com.

At the 14th Annual Taylor Park Marina Fishing Derby on June 21, cash prizes will be presented for longest northern pike, largest pike by weight, most pike caught and largest trout caught in the Taylor Park Reservoir.  The kids’ division (under age 15) is free with non-cash prizes awarded.  Call (970) 641-2922 (in season) or (719) 395-6484 (off-season) or visit www.taylorparkmarina.com.

Gene Taylor’s Bridge to Bridge Fly Fishing Tournament on June 22 features teams of two launching boats into the Gunnison River at North Bridge by Garlic Mike’s in Gunnison and catch and release fishing between there and Gunnison Whitewater Park.  The total length of all fish caught and released will decide and crown the winners of the tournament.  The Gunnison River Festival and Gunnison Trout Unlimited are managing the tournament, with proceeds benefitting Rebuild Our Park fund-raising efforts.  For more information call (970) 209-0976 or visit www.gunnisonriverfestival.com.

Fish the fabled riffles of Rocky Mountain rivers for the largest brown trout, largest rainbow trout and most aggregate inches at the 13th Annual Caddis Cup Fly Fishing Tournament benefiting Crested Butte Land Trust on July 11 – 12.  Registration includes a kick-off dinner and auction, a full day of guided fishing, lunch, awards party and more.  Visit www.cblandtrust.org or call (970) 349-1206.

Gunnison Angling Society, the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, is hosting its 24th Annual Superfly Fishing Tournament on Sept. 5 – 6.  The tournament will be a classic two-fly contest, meaning each two-person team has to choose the two flies they will be fishing with for the duration of the tournament to catch as many inches of trout as possible.  All ages and skill levels are encouraged to participate.  Registration includes several meals, awards, guides and more. Visit www.gunnisontu.org.

Travel Deals

Scenic River Tours is offering a discounted Half-day Walk/Wade Fishing Trip for two people on the Gunnison River, Lake Fork of the Gunnison River or Taylor River, including the famed tail waters below Taylor Reservoir, for only $250 from May 1 – June 31, 2014.  In addition, Full-Day Guided Power Boat Fishing for two on Taylor Reservoir costs $450 or a half day for up to three people is $400.  This deal is available May 15 – Sept. 15, 2014.  For more information and reservations, call (970) 641-3131 or visit www.scenicrivertours.com.

Hook winter-weary, hungry fish with Three Rivers Resort & Outfitting’s Spring Nymph Fishing Package that includes two night’s lodging in a mountain chalet by the Taylor River and a full day of guided walk/wade fishing with the on-site Willowfly Anglers.  Packages start from just $294 per person, based on double occupancy, and are available March 9 – May 4, 2014. Located in Almont, Three Rivers Resort also is offering an Angler’s Paradise Package starting at $255 per day, per person.  The deal includes two night’s lodging in a one-room cabin (price based on double occupancy) and an all-day walk/wade fly fishing trip for two.  Accommodations and trips may be customized based on other lodging types, length of stay and number of people.  Call (888) 761-3474.

Weekend Warrior Outdoors is offering 10% Off Multiple Day Fishing & Hunting Packages from now through Dec. 31, 2014.  The days do not have to be consecutive but must be in the same calendar day and booked at the same time by June 15, 2014. Another Weekend Warrior Outdoors deal is Book Two Days Fishing & Receive a Free Night’s Lodging at Blue Mesa Recreation Ranch (cabin or park model). This deal must be booked by March 31, 2014, and is good for use through Aug. 31, 2014.  Call (970) 209-6495.

Kids 12 & Under Fish Free with a paying adult when booking a fishing trip with Gunnison Sports Outfitters from now through Oct. 31, 2014.  Call (719) 850-9789.

Image courtesy of Three Rivers Resort & Outfitters

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