The Animas River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the entire western United States. The route along the Animas, which begins high in the San Juan Mountains and ends in a confluence with the San Juan River in New Mexico, boasts some of Colorado's most striking canyon scenery, exciting boating, and world-class fishing.
The Animas is an enchanting river whose character changes swiftly and dramatically depending upon runoff and location. The Upper Animas provides extreme waters and challenging rapids for the expert boater, and the Lower Animas is the perfect adventure for all ages and abilities. Throughout the season, the river will rise from around 400 c.f.s (cubic feet per second) in April, to over 6,000 c.f.s at peak snowmelt runoff in June, and will mellow out again through the end of rafting season in September.
The Animas is also known for a two-mile stretch of Gold Medal Waters that run through town, with the highest quality of fishing for large trout. Lures and flies only on this stretch of water. populated with rainbows and browns and a few cutthroat and brook trout. The Animas can be found just north of the New Mexico border following Route 550 for much of its journey. The town of Durango is located at about the midway point between the rivers headwaters and the San Juan River where the Animas empties its flow. Durango is the major town along the river that provides an excellent starting point for a day of fishing or a week vacation.
North of Silverton the Animas is a small stream which gathers volume from several streams as it approaches Hermosa. The mileage above Hermosa can only be accessed via train since the river travels through a steep canyon. Most anglers who want to fish the river above Hermosa will catch a morning train ride from Durango or Rockwood (a small town north of Hermosa along Route 550) and ride back during the afternoon. If you start from Durango the ride will cut into fishing time since it is a long ride into the Animus River Gorge. Take a car to Rockwood then catch the train to shorten your travel time. This is a different and wonderful experience that provides some diverse opportunities. Besides fishing the main river there are many feeder streams that are also quality fisheries. Check the weather and train's schedule before making the venture.
Below Hermosa the Animas becomes a wide powerful river with excellent diversity. Long riffles, charming runs and deep pools hold many quality trout. The river is big here averaging over a hundred feet wide. Its flow is strong in many areas especially during and after the snowmelt, which greatly affects this river. The Animas is known for being a "water trap" since it is surrounded by several huge mountains and is encased for much of its journey in a gorge. These characteristics create a river easily affected from snowmelt and rainstorms.
Durango is most popular area along the river and rightfully so. The access near Durango is easy and the fishing is superb. From the Route 160 Bridge in Durango to an area located three miles downstream known as Purple Cliffs, the river is protected with special regulations. It is also easily accessed for the entire length of this section. Large boulders, deeps runs and pools and highly oxygenated riffles provide excellent habitat for the trout that reside in the river. Studded rock cliffs gloom over the river providing beautiful scenery while trout averaging from 13-15 inches and a good share of them much larger await anglers. The fishing pressure is also much lighter then on many other Colorado rivers.
After passing through the special regulations area, the Animas flows for approximately 50 more miles across the New Mexico state line before entering the San Juan River near Farmington. The water inside Colorado and downstream from the regulations area flows through reservation land and all anglers must have a reservation fishing permit to fish this section.
The best time to fish the Animas is during periods of lower water flows. Snowmelt usually brings high water starting in mid May and running through early July. Snow pack, temperatures and rain can effect high water periods. If the water is high, fish close to the banks as the trout will migrate closer to the banks to seek refuge. Look for good seams created by bends in the river or large boulders.
The hatches and dry fly fishing on the Animas can be very good. The intense caddis hatch, after the high water recedes during the summer, is an experience that matches that of the Arkansas's. Blinding numbers of caddis can be found along the river at this time. Blue-wing olives (spring and fall) and pale morning duns (summer) make up the majority of mayflies on the river. Midges are best during the lower water periods of late summer, fall, winter and early spring. Terrestrials work well during late summer and early fall while large golden stones can be found along the river during the later part of June through mid August.
Don't leave your nymphs and streamers at home. They are a big part of every local anglers fly box. Fish large nymphs behind boulders and in likely seams and swing streamers (woolly buggers, matukas, bunny strips, etc.) through promising runs and pools. A sink tip line will help keep your streamers "in the zone".