River of Lost Souls: North of Durango

Don Oliver | Special to the Drum

The River of Lost Souls, also known as the Animas River, downstream from Durango has always been a fun and challenging fishery. From the 32nd Street Bridge south to Bondad, the Animas is known for big browns and rainbows. It is also known for fish that have very discriminating appetites similar to a two-year-old child. In addition, you are fishing amongst the rubber hatch, rafters, and lots of other people. Flyfishing in this area can be very frustrating.

To avoid the crowds and frustration I suggest you go north and fly-fish the Animas around Silverton and Howardsville. This area is better known for mining, and what the mines put into the water. Despite the damage to the river from the mines, the fly-fishing is very good. I have heard rumors of trout with two heads and brains as the result of the chemicals from the mines. I have to say those are false stories. I have caught trout in this area, and a trout with one brain the size of a pinhead is always challenging for me. If the trout had two heads and brains I would never catch a fish. Therefore, my scientific study proves the trout in the Silverton and Howardsville area have only one brain.

The river between Silverton and Howardsville is somewhat similar to the Animas around Durango. The river can be wide, deep, and fast during spring runoff. Once the runoff subsides fishing gets good. The river is wide enough to make an easy back cast, and shallow enough to warm up quickly. The wading, while now inviting, can be extremely difficult. The same person that polishes the river rocks in the Animas around Durango is also employed between Silverton and Howardsville. Be sure and use a wading staff.

In this area you can expect to catch brook and rainbow trout. I have caught some good- sized fish in this area, however they are not as big as those caught around Durango. For me, what makes this really a fun day is the total absence of other fishermen. I fished it a couple of weeks and was all-alone. It was great.

North of Howardsville, the Animas takes on a completely different characteristic. The river becomes shallower, and is much easier to wade. Even though the streambed is small gravel instead of big polished rocks, I still recommend a wading staff. This part of the Animas is strictly brook trout. I have no scientific evidence for this, just my experience. There are a large number of deep pools with a gentle flow, making this a good place to learn how to fly-fish with nymphs. If you’re not into nymphing, welcome to a world of very aggressive trout just looking for dry flies. The shallow water having lots of riffles is the perfect place to fly-fish with a two-or three-weight rod.

While on this part of the river, don’t overlook the beaver ponds. I love to fish these ponds when the spring runoff makes everything else un-fishable, and the ponds are overflowing with very, hungry, and smallish trout. This is also a great place to take someone who is just learning to fly-fish. It is the perfect spot to build confidence. It’s where “Grumps” plans to watch the world’s cutest and smartest grandchildren laugh and have fun when they get big enough.

So, if the Animas around Durango gets too frustrating or overcrowded for you, don’t give up. I suggest you head north. It is worth an hours drive.

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