Hunting and Fishing in Marble, Colorado
Unit 43 Hunting Opportunities for Elk, Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep, and Mountain Goat
Fishing the upper Crystal River and high-mountain lakes
Written by Gary Hubbell, ranch real estate broker associate, United Country Colorado Brokers, Crawford, Colorado. Colorado big game hunting is an exciting sport that offers a chance to venture into the wilderness, interact with wildlife, and hopefully take home some high-quality meat and maybe even a trophy. Colorado trout fishing is a dream vacation for thousands of dedicated anglers. Marble, Colorado is a great destination for those looking for fishing and hunting properties to use as a home base to venture out into the wilds. The town of Marble is set 5 miles off of Colorado Highway 133 on the upper Crystal River. It’s gorgeous terrain. The valley floor is about 8,000 feet right through town, though it climbs fairly rapidly to the east of town. Marble itself has only about 100 full-time residents, though there are quite a few summer homes and cabins that swell the population to about 200 in the summer. From the highway turnoff to the last few cabins above town, the whole valley is home to only about 400 people. It’s quiet. The Crystal River begins in the high mountains to the east. Through town, it flows probably 40-50 cubic feet per second on a day of low flows in late fall or early winter. When there’s a lot of snow melting in the high country in late spring, it might be up to 1,500 cubic feet per second—that’s a lot of water. Mountains surround the town on all sides. There are many hiking and horseback trails, and one or two agood mountain biking and four-wheeling roads that begin in town. The Raggeds Wilderness begins to the south of town, where Treasury Mountain, Whitehouse Peak, Marble Peak, Milton Creek, and Chair Mountain dominate the skyline. To the north and east, the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness is close to town, and trails go from Marble all the way to Aspen through this wilderness. Of course, there are many mountains in between. Several peaks just to the north and east of Marble are over 14,000 feet.
In contrast to many other mountain regions in Colorado, there is not that much private land surrounding Marble, so hunters have good access into the mountains, and the animals don’t flood into private property as soon as the first hunters head into the woods in late August. Consequently, a person can buy a cabin, small home, or upscale hunting lodge property without having to own several hundred acres, and still hunt right out of the house. I’ve hunted and guided many days right from our lodge in Marble and have had very good success. There are properties available that literally have good elk hunting right out the back door. Call me if you’d like to know more about hunting properties.
ELK HUNTING Elk hunting in the Marble area can be very good. There are large numbers of elk. On the southern edge of Colorado game management unit 43, licenses are fairly easy to come by. First and fourth rifle seasons and muzzleloader elk season licenses are obtained by drawing, and applications must be sent prior to April 1 each year. Chances are better than 80% of drawing a tag for first and fourth rifle season with no preference points. Muzzleloader licenses are a statewide unit, and it usually takes 2 preference points to draw a muzzleloader elk tag. Archery and the second and third rifle seasons are over the counter units, which means you can buy a statewide elk tag at any license vendor (sporting goods store, Wal-Mart, grocery store) up to the night before the hunt begins. All you need is money and a hunter’s safety card. Because of this scenario of liberal license allocations, there are not that many big bulls in the Marble area. I guided elk hunting in Marble for many years, and we packed out a few nice 6×6 bulls, but not many. Most hunters should either be happy with a smaller branch-antlered bull, such as a 5×5 or 4×4, or go somewhere else. However, as you may know, it’s difficult to find an area that has both liberal licenses available and big bulls. Also, wildlife officials encourage hunters to take a cow when they have a chance, and licenses for the first and fourth rifle seasons are usually either-sex tags. MULE DEER HUNTING It’s possible to connect with trophy mule deer on a Marble, Colorado hunting trip, but these bucks are hard to hunt. We find these deer at very high elevations, and you’d better be in great shape to hunt them, even if you have horses. However, we guided quite a few hunters to the type of bucks that guys are looking for—over 28” wide and scoring 180 and above. Marble is in Unit 43. The Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness has a hunt that is held in mid-September, and that is a great chance to connect with a trophy deer. However, it usually takes 7-8 preference points to draw that early rifle season tag. Another option is the September muzzleloader hunt, which usually takes only one year to draw a tag, but it’s much more difficult to stalk on these deer within reasonable muzzleloader range. Of course, it’s even tougher to sneak up on one with a bow, but it is possible, and archery licenses are easy to get. Hunters applying for the second rifle season deer tags usually have 90% success with no preference points in Unit 43. Third rifle season and fourth rifle season tags are coveted, but I wouldn’t suggest hunting near Marble for those seasons. If we get much over a foot of snow in the high country, which is usually the case by early November, the big bucks start to migrate out of the country and chances are not that good of finding a big deer during the third or fourth rifle season. BIGHORN SHEEP It takes up to 8 preference points to draw a bighorn sheep tag for the Marble area. The mountains to the north of Marble are the southern edge of the bighorn sheep range. Most of the sheep are concentrated to the north in the Avalanche Creek and Gift Creek drainages, though we do see some sheep on the mountains above Carbonate Creek and on Elk Mountain, just to the north of town. There is still one sheepherder that brings domestic sheep into the mountains above Marble, and it generally is a bad deal to mix domestic sheep with bighorns, because of the diseases that domestic sheep transmit to the wild sheep. That’s the biggest reason why there are not more bighorn sheep in the mountains around Marble. Marble is bounded by bighorn sheep game management units S25 to the north, S13 to the northeast, and S26 to the southeast. MOUNTAIN GOATS Mountain goats are not very numerous no matter where you go in Colorado, but there are good populations to the south of Marble. Often there will be several goats visible from the road as you’re driving up the valley, either on the shoulder of Chair Mountain or Prospect Mountain, on the south side of the road at about the 3 mile marker. You have to look very closely, but they are there! Otherwise, goats can be found in the Yule Creek area and at the top of North Anthracite basin. Goat game management unit G12 goes to the top of the ridge to the south of Marble, and unit G11 starts there are the top of the ridge and goes down into North Anthracite basin and over to Dark Canyon and Kebler Pass. It takes several years to draw a tag.
FISHING Fly-fishing for trout on the upper Crystal and in the high-mountain lakes can be a lot of fun. The Crystal River isn’t a very productive trout stream as far as the numbers of trout-feeding insects are concerned. If you lift a rock from the bottom of the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale, it will be covered with all manner of nymphs—immature forms of aquatic insects. These mayfly, caddis, stonefly, and midge larvae are serious trout chow. Often you can pick up a similar-sized rock in the Crystal and find no bugs at all. There are a couple of theories as to why this is true. I spoke with Del Canty, a famous old Colorado fly-fisherman, and he said he had done a water study on the upper Crystal by the old Schofield townsite, and found high concentrations of copper in the water. Del said that too much copper is hard on the insect populations. Others say that shale formations leach arsenic into the water, and the Gallo Hill formation just to the north of town is a huge shale formation. This formation also burps huge concentrations of fine sediments into the river when there is a big rainstorm, and fine sediments also choke off insect life. So, to make a long story short, the river isn’t as productive as one might think. However, fishing can still be good, particularly when folks release their fish.
Of course, there are many other famous trout streams within a 45-minute drive of Marble. The Roaring Fork near Carbondale, half an hour away, has some outstanding fishing for big browns and rainbows, and the Frying Pan joins the Roaring Fork in Basalt, just 45 minutes away. The Colorado in Glenwood Springs can be fantastic fishing, and it is only 45 minutes away as well.
For many years, people were in the habit of killing their limit of 8 fish on the Crystal, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t take long to deplete the fishery if even 8 or 10 fishermen kill that many fish for three or four days in a row. The bag limit has been reduced to 4 fish, fortunately, and many anglers have taken to fishing catch-and-release. I guided on the Crystal for several years, and I’ve had some great days there. The Roaring Fork from Aspen on down to Glenwood might be a more productive fishery, but it also gets a lot more pressure. Personally, I don’t like saying, “Excuse me, pardon me” to a half-dozen other fishermen to get into a stretch of good fishing water. Most often, I’ve been able to get a couple of rookie flyfishermen into four or five trout apiece in a half-day trip, and that’s not bad. Good fishermen, of course, can do much better. I guided one fellow who could cast and set the hook, and he landed 25 rainbows in a day.
I’ve also guided clients who landed the “Colorado Slam”—a German brown, rainbow, brookie, and cutthroat all in the same day.
There is good public access in the Marble area. The Millsite Park right through town has excellent fishing access, and fishing is fairly good. It’s pretty interesting to stand on old pieces of marble rubble left over from the historic milling operations. You might stand on a huge chunk with a circle cut out of it. The round part may have become a column at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. A word to the wise, however—those pieces of marble are VERY slick!
There’s also a couple of miles of good access from the Bogan Flats campground up to the bridge at the Prospect Mountain Ranch along County Road 3. The Placita region, just before the turnoff to Marble on Colorado 133, has some great access, and the views are astounding. Up above town, there’s good fishing along Yule Creek and on the upper Crystal clear up into Lead King Basin. However, I’ve begun to notice more and more people killing fish, and the last time I fished some of these waters I didn’t get a strike—and it wasn’t because I was using poor technique. Somebody had cleaned the river out of fish. For those seeking a fishing retreat, cabin, or riverfront property, there are some good properties available. Cabins and custom built homes with river frontage are becoming very pricey in the nearby Roaring Fork Valley. Comparatively speaking, fishing retreats along the Crystal River are quite a bit more affordable. Quite often I would guide folks who liked the area and wondered if they could buy a building lot along the river for $50,000 or so—“back home” real estate prices. The answer is no. You might find a really nice custom mountain fishing retreat, 2,000 square feet or so on an acre or two, in the neighborhood of $500,000-$600,000. Prices are escalating rapidly as I write this copy in February 2008. Larger acreages are hard to find. My father has an astounding 56-acre parcel for sale that will easily yield 3 homesites. It has 1,000 feet of Crystal River frontage, stunning views, horse pasture, live springs, and adjoins the Raggeds Wilderness for great elk and deer hunting. It’s priced at $1,950,000. When you consider four-bedroom homes are selling for $1,500,000 on a one-acre lot in suburban Basalt, 40 miles away, that seems like a pretty darned good value. If you’re interested in locating a mountain cabin, vacant land, horse property, or a Colorado vacation retreat, give me a call and let’s look over the options. Chance are that I can find you exactly the parcel you’re looking for.