Riding The Canyon in Search of Piedra River Access
From the best I can tell, there are two main ways to access the Piedra River above HWY 160. First, there’s Piedra Road, which will take you farther up towards the headwaters and to some great wilderness fishing. The other option is USFS Road 622, which branches off from HWY 160 and crosses the river at a place called First Fork. The river is much larger here.
These two points of access to the Piedra are connected by the Piedra River Trail, an 11-mile jaunt that offers spectacular access to some pristine backcountry trout water.
When I fished the river earlier this May, spring runoff had just begun to start. Not to the point where the river was raging and unfishable, but it was certainly discolored and fast. I had only 3/4 of a day to explore - I was on vacation with my girlfriend at the time, sacrifices had to be made…
Anyways, from looking at the maps it appeared as those the HWY 160 to USFS 622 was the quickest option. The road sort of parallels the river, so I figured I’d be able to pull off and fish in a few places on my way to the First Fork bridge. Another 3-4 tributaries cut under the road as well, so I assumed these could potentially be places to target cutthroat or brook trout.
Per the usual, things did not go as planned. While the unpaved Forest Service road did parallel the Piedra, the river was all the way at the bottom of a canyon. At some places along the road, it seemed like it was almost a mile down! No way in hell are you walking down in there - it could easily take a day to get in and out, and that’s with no fishing.
The tributaries were a bust as well. Nothing more than a couple rainfall creeks and a tiny freestone trickle not even an ankle deep.
Of the entire 10-mile drive from HWY 160 to the First Fork Bridge, there’s maybe 3/4 of a mile of easily accessible water. The access is at the boater take-out and Lower Piedra River Campground, which can be a nice place to set up basecamp. The drive can be a little tedious, but once you make it to the bridge and the river, you’ll feel better
In the area, there’s wide open places to camp and, finally, decent access to the Piedra. This is also the lower end of the Piedra River Trail, which is the ticket 11 miles of prime backcountry river access.
From looking at the angler survey data posted at the trailhead, it appears as though brown trout make up the majority of the local population. I had heard the lower Piedra receives hatchery fish to supplement the wild population, but did not know what to expect when rigging up.
The data proved to be correct. All I found were browns. It was odd - they had the colors of hatchery fish, but none of the fin clippings or deformities. Perhaps the particular trout I found had been beaten up in runoff, or maybe there was something in the water that made them look like that. Regardless, the few Piedra River brown trout I was able to find looked like products of a hatchery compared to some of the buttery wild browns I have seen on the front range.
Chubby Chernobyl (purple) - size 12
Golden Stone - size 14
Rainbow Warrior - size 18