Where can you find a fly fishing haven that is oddly urban in character yet runs through 3 ghost towns, is a winter home to migratory bald eagles and you have to take a train to get to some of the best water? Well the answer is Durango, Colorado where the Animas River flows right through it. Here it’s possible to successfully cast off a pedestrian bridge in the middle of town, wander down stream on well-marked trails to wade, or take a train through the mountains to fish.
High in the San Juan Mountains, at the ghost town of Animas Forks and the confluence of the North and West forks, this tributary of the San Juan River begins. It continues on past the ghost towns of Eureka and Howardsville and at Silverton, flows into Animas Canyon, a steep walled passageway. After Durango, the river flows south into New Mexico where it joins with the San Juan River at Farmington.
North of Silverton the Animas is more stream than river. It gathers momentum as it nears Hermosa but because of a steep gorge, getting to the waters above Hermosa requires taking a train, a route once used to transport ore from nearby mines. Past Hermosa the river opens up, and at times is more than a 100 feet wide with rifles, long runs and deep pools.
At Purple Cliffs, approximately 3 miles downstream from Durango, the river is regulated but very accessible and the boulders and rifles here provide ideal habitat for trout. In 1997, this section of the river was classified by the State of Colorado as a Gold Medal River, meaning it contains a minimum of 60 pounds of trout and more than 12 trout over 14 inches per acre. Fish ranging from 16-20 inches are not uncommon here.