Colorado Fly Fishing

There are hundreds of streams in Colorado. Below are  some of the top blue ribbon or wild trout rivers in the state.

Animas River

animas river colorado
Animas River

Twenty years ago, the Animas River was thought to be just another sad story, another great river in decline. And it was.

Formerly one of the top brown trout fisheries in the West, the Animas River is now recovering from years of abuse from mining pollution. This wild, freestone river flows through awe-inspiring southwestern scenery, through wide valleys and steep canyons, past rugged mountains, continuing south from its headwaters on into New Mexico.

There used to be big brown trout caught in the Animas, but now the river is heavily stocked with rainbows, known for their athleticism and heft. The brown trout fishery is on the rise, and occasionally browns are caught that are best measured in pounds rather than inches, even in the city limits of Durango.

Below Durango, the river flow slows as it meanders through open meadows, coursing through reservation land. Anglers need to have a reservation fishing permit to fish this section. The fishing pressure is diminished but the fishing for big brownies — if you can get flies deep to them or in the undercut banks — can be phenomenal. Indeed, the Animas River has again become a hot-spot western river. I like to fish it for a couple of days when I fish the San Juan River across the border, less than a one-hour drive away.

Location: Southwestern Colorado near Durango

Description: Freestone with good pocket water, long riffles and runs, and some pools.

Directions: From Farmington, New Mexico, travel north on Highway 550 about 35 minutes. Below town, La Posta (213 RD) takes you alongside the river to Purple Cliffs. Look for signs indicating posted water.
Lodging, camping: Stay in luxury at the historic Strater Hotel (800-247-4431) in downtown Durango or pitch a tent four miles away at the Junction Creek Campground west on 25th Street (970-385-1283). Lightner Creek Bed and Breakfast is located on a pretty little creek of the same name just outside of town (970-247-4982).

Accesses: Roadside access from Highway 550 from Silverton to Durango; also access on Southern Ute Indian land south of Durango. Access is limited from Rockwood to Durango. Throughout the town of Durango, all water is public. The only section most anglers should (and do) concentrate their efforts are the stretches through and below Durango.

Season: The Animas is a year-round river but is best fished early pre-runoff (February, March, and April) and post-runoff (July, August, September, and October). In a heavy snowpack year, the Animas can be swollen from April to July, making fishing virtually impossible.

Tackle: 8½- to 9-foot rod for 5- or 6-weight line. You can get by with a 4-weight if you feel comfortable playing big fish and getting them to hand. In the winter, you’ll want neoprene waders with felt-soled wading boots. Lightweight breathable waders or hip waders are the ticket in the summer.

Flies: Elk Hair Caddis (10–16), Goddard Caddis (10–16), Green Drake (8–12), Sofa Pillow (6–10), Irresistible (12–16), Royal Wulff (12–16), Humpy (12–16), Royal Humpy (12–16), Adams (12–18), House and Lot Variant (10–16), Lt. Cahill Comparadun (16–20), Stimulator (8–12), Rio Grande Trude (8–16), Ant (14–20), Foam Yellow Sally (12–18), Rusty Spinner (12–18), Parachute PMD (14–18), Red Quill (14–18), Prince Nymph (12–18), Hare’s Ear (12–18), Brown Hackle Peacock (10–16), Brown Woolly Bugger, Sculpin, Animal River Special, Wool Head, Muddler Minnow, Dark Stonefly nymph (8–12), Midge (18–22), Caddis emergers (14–18), Clouser Minnow.
Regulations: Artificial flies and lures only from Lightner Creek to Purple Cliffs, two fish, 16-inch minimum. Standard regulations apply to other sections.

Species of game fish: Rainbow and brown trout with some brook trout in upper reaches. Rainbows average about 12 inches. Brown trout are the predominant species and anglers will catch occasional cutthroat.

Hazards: Don’t fish on private property and watch out when you wade. This is big water and the bottom is slippery in spots.

Scenery: The upper Animas flows through rugged and beautiful and primitive land, the lower through some pretty but developed land.

Arkansas River

arkansas river colorado
Section of Arkansas River near Cotopaxi

This is a classic western trout stream with 80 miles of challenging and scenic water from its headwaters above Leadville to Pueblo Reservoir. The Arkansas boasts high catches of browns and rainbows to 20 inches. Browns dominate the fishery. Notable stretches include Brown’s Canyon to several miles downstream of Salida and in the Granite area.

The Arkansas River offers fishing opportunities for every type of angler, from the bank or from a boat. There are public fishing areas that are accessible from the highway as well as some requiring more of a hike. If a day of fishing with the family is in your plans, AHRA provides sites with access to some of the best fishing along with picnic tables, grills and views of the river and mountains. You will also notice several pullouts along the river which are popular spots for the mobile angler.

The trout population in the Arkansas is 90% self-reproducing brown trout and 10% Colorado River rainbows, which are introduced as fingerlings. Expect about 2000 fish per mile on the average. The fishing is the best when the flows are lower and the water is clear. The river starts to clear up at around 1200 cubic feet per second, (cfs). Flows will vary during the year with September-April maintaining around 350-450 cfs. Runoff begins in the latter part of May and reaches its peak of around 3000 cfs in mid-June into July. The flows typically start decreasing in late July as the snow pack in the high country diminishes and we are back to 700-1000 cfs for July and into August.

As the river makes its 148 mile journey from the headwaters to the Pueblo Reservoir it assumes many different forms. It can be a placid stream or a raging river crashing through rocky gorges. The better fishing is going to be found where the water is a little calmer, but don’t be mistaken, the river is a powerful force and care must be taken when wading. You may be aware that the Arkansas is also one of the premier whitewater rafting attractions in the country and consequently, you will probably see rafts and kayaks on the river. The most popular time for rafting is when the water is running at higher levels and during the middle of the day. There are also sections of the river with much less whitewater, (translated less boating), where the fishing is better.

There are special fly fishing only regulations on certain sections of the river so be sure to look for posted signs. And finally, please respect the rights of the private landowners along the river by not trespassing and be a good steward of the river.

Blue River

blue river
Blue River

The Blue River has two main sections: the Upper Blue and the Lower Blue. The Upper Blue begins somewhere around 12,000 feet and continues down through the mountains and through Breckenridge, finally emptying into Dillon Reservoir. Just below the town there is a nice long stretch that has a series of riffles and pools that contain a large number of trout.

The Lower Blue begins in the tailwater section below the dam at Dillon Reservoir, flowing along the valley floor until ending up in Green Mountain Reservoir, a distance of 17 miles or so. Along its way, it passes next to the outlet stores in Silverthorne, where there have been many large fish taken. But don’t be fooled, because this area is so heavily fished, the fish here are probably more experienced at identifying fly patterns than many fishermen. This section of water below the dam is unique for the fact that the water that flows from the bottom-release dam contains a large number of Mysis Shrimp. The trout in this area can grow to enormous sizes. And since it’s catch-and-release only in this section, you know they’re still there!

The “Blue” is a medium sized river (100-300 c.f.s. most years) and one of the most scenic Gold Medal fisheries in Colorado. It can be fly fished from Dillon Reservoir dam downstream to the Colorado River, though the section between Dillon and and Green Mountain Reservoirs offers the best chance for success. Much of the other water is private so most anglers use the ten miles of public access between the two lakes.

The section directly below Dillon Reservoir dam in the town of Silverthorne is the most popular year-round tailwater in the area, especially for larger fish. Big trout live here because of the abundance of Mysis shrimp coming from the reservoir. There is excellent winter midge fishing in this section. The river freezes over downstream at about the five mile mark starting in mid to late December. Late March to November the entire river fishes well. Look for runoff conditions downstream mid-May to mid-June.

River access is clearly marked by division of wildlife signs and at parking areas. There are also National Forest easements. Colorado Highway 9 runs parallel to the river.

Part of this river has been designated a Gold Medal Trout Stream by the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

Part of this river has also been set aside as Wild Trout Water.

Cache La Poudre River

Cache La Poudre River in CO
Cache La Poudre River near Bellvue

The river begins its race for the flatlands on the Continental Divide’s backbone in Rocky Mountain National Park. During the course of its rush to join the South Platte River near Greeley, it provides more than 60 miles of public fishing. There are good populations of brown and native trout, as well as some mountain whitefish. Three sections on the river are restricted to fly and lure fishing, and on these sections the bag and possession limit is two fish, 16 inches or longer.

Part of this river has been set aside by the Colorado Division of Wildlife as Wild Trout Water.

Colorado River

colorado river CO
Colorado River

The Colorado River is a magnificent trout fishery that truly deserves its designation as Gold Medal water. Elktrout’s private water on the Colorado contains broad sweeping riffles and deep pools that harbor some of the largest fish found anywhere in the watershed.

The wading is easy, with good footing. Rainbows and browns are the primary targets here, with some Colorado cutthroats as well. Fish in the Colorado average 16-20 inches, but there are plenty of bigger fish up to eight pounds or more.

Fishing season begins with caddis and stoneflies in late May. Stonefly nymphs produce very large fish at this time of year. By June, Pale Morning Dun’s, Blue Wing Olives, Rusty Spinners, Green Drakes and more hatch.

Multiple hatches often result in dry fly action throughout the day. Overcast days can trigger BWO match-the-hatch fishing anytime through the season. From late June to early July adult salmonflies will emerge on the upper Colorado. By August, terrestrials make for the kind of top water action that many anglers live for. Ants, beetles and especially hoppers all find their way into the water. Tricos provide a challenge for those who like to catch big fish on tiny flies. Some years the tricos hatch right into October.

Upper Colorado River

This section of the Colorado is not as big and mighty as stretches farther downstream. One can wade across the river in most areas. This section probably fishes better than the others and there are plenty of State Wildlife access areas and parking. In all, a great example of a large and long Western-type fly fishing stream.

The Kemp and Breeze State Wildlife Areas (below Parshall) have excellent hatches and lots of large fish. Upstream (below Byers Canyon) the Lone Buck and Paul Gilbert’s SWA’s are also very good spots to fish.

The Williams Fork tailwater provides year-round fly fishing, The section below the Williams Fork and Colorado River confluence is open most of the winter but cannot be drifted. Flows: 175-400 c.f.s.

Middle Colorado River

The middle stretches of the legendary Colorado River, west of Kremmling, feature some of Colorado’s finest and most popular fishing. In the beautiful high forest and steep canyons of the Gore Range, just two and one-half hours from Denver, the middle Colorado is fished and floated for nearly 58 miles.

There are numerous access points to this wild trout stream and a strong population of healthy fish. Whether hiking up Gore Canyon from Pumphouse put-in, or floating any of the several good drift sections below, you can always find a hungry trout. If hiking up, be prepared for a strenuous hike, rewarded by pristine water and a lack of crowds. If floating down get a qualified guide to negotiate the CLASS II-III whitewater and be prepared to fish waters only accessible by boat.

The Middle Colorado River is a unique stretch of river unparalleled in the state. It offers great hatches all summer long, with strong fat trout, some of whom have never seen a fly!

Lower Colorado River

The trout in this section of the Colorado receive relatively light pressure, especially considering the fine fly fishing opportunities available. Floating is really the best way to cover this water which may, in part, account for the relatively low numbers of fly fishers.

This section, below the Shoshone power station at Grizzly Creek through Glenwood Springs to the Roaring Fork, is a fairly large river, at least by Colorado standards. Good fly fishing and about six good float trips are available from here all the way to Rifle. There is also adequate access from along Interstate 70 and further downriver along Highway 6.

The Fryingpan River

fryingpan river CO
Fryingpan River near Basalt

The Fryingpan River is among the best known and loved trout steams in the nation. It’s a must for anyone fly fishing in Colorado. The river is managed to maximize recreation and to grow large, wild trout.

The upper Fryingpan, above Ruedi Reservoir, is a small, intimate high-country stream. Along with its major tributaries, it offers fine summer and fall fishing for feisty trout. Their willingness to take a fly and their sheer numbers make up for their lack in size.

The 14 miles between Ruedi and the confluence with the Roaring Fork in Basalt is a Gold Medal Fishery in every sense. Incredible insect hatches and Mysis shrimp (from the outlet of Ruedi Dam) give the trout plenty of food to grow to trophy proportions. Although heavily fished during certain times of the year, this section of “The Pan” remains a favorite for those who seek the challenge of large and selective fish.

This river offers some of the finest fly and lure fishing for trout in the United States. Catch-and-release sections on the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir provide anglers with an opportunity to catch rainbow trout up to 10 pounds! The nearby Roaring Fork River not only provides excellent trout fishing with majestic Mount Sopris in the background, but also offers the best mountain whitefish angling in the state.

simple map of fryingpan river location

East River

east river colorado
East River

The East River begins high in the Elk Mountains at Emerald Lake (elev. 10,700 ft.) and runs through epic scenery near Gothic, continuing on a meandering pace offering fishing opportunities with a backcountry flare. It picks up numerous small streams to become a large river offering a chance at large Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon.

Gore Creek

gore creek CO
Gore Creek near Vail

Gore creek has some wonderful fly fishing, despite its small size. 20″ trout are not unusual, nor is it unusual to catch Browns, Rainbows, Cutthroats, or Brookies.
This creek can be split into two main sections: The Upper Gore Creek, which is considered to be the stretch above the town of Vail, and the Lower Gore Creek, which is the section below town. It begins almost 13,000 feet up in the Gore Range at Gore Lake and flows through some of the most expensive real estate in Colorado before joining the Eagle River at Dowd’s Junction.

Gunnison River

gunnison river CO
Gunnison River near County Road 16

Lower Gunnison

From the Crystal reservoir to the confluence with the North Fork, this river flows through a deep cut gorge offering the best trout habitat possible. High numbers of large fish and beautiful surroundings make the Black Canyon of the Gunnison one of the most incredible fishing experience possible.

Upper Gunnison

The Gunnison river originates in Almont and provides incredible trout habitat. Large trout make home in long riffles, classic pocket water, deep holes, and undercut banks. The upper section offers a very high quality fishing opportunity, with relatively easy access. Floating this section allows access to private water.

The Gunnison River in the Gunnison Gorge provides some of the best trophy brown and rainbow trout fishing in the state. Numerous fish over 16 inches can be caught particularly in the middle stretch between Crystal and the confluence with the North Fork, but only foot access is available to this section.

simple map of gunnison. river location
gunnison river location

Roaring Fork

The Roaring Fork may be the best relatively unknown river in the nation. From Alpine origins high on the slopes near Independence Pass to the confluence with the mighty Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, “The Fork” is a study in delightful contrasts. The 60 river miles change from a meandering high meadow stream to a full-sized, brawling Western freestone river suitable for McKenzie River driftboats (watch for rocks!). It varies in character from small pocket water to large runs and pools that may require several hours to cover properly. The Fork is also among the finest winter fisheries in Colorado. Many visit the area to combine skiing at nearby Aspen with fly fishing.

The Roaring Fork has not achieved the status and ranking it deserves. Perhaps attention goes to its world-famous neighbor, The Fryingpan. In any event the Fork, with 40 miles of Gold-Medal designated water, holds trout, some up to 8 pounds, through its entire length.

This river offers some of the finest fly and lure fishing for trout in the United States. Catch-and-release sections on the nearby Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir provide anglers with an opportunity to catch rainbow trout up to 10 pounds! The Roaring Fork River not only provides excellent trout fishing with majestic Mount Sopris in the background, but also offers the best mountain whitefish angling in the state.

simple map of roaring fork river location
roaring fork location

Piedra River

piedra river colorado
Section of the Piedra River outside of the twon of Piedra

The Piedra River is a canyon river, east of Durango, with fat browns and foot-long stocked rainbows swimming in its 40 miles of pocket water and deep pools. The Piedra flows through isolated granite box canyons in some of the wildest country in the West.

Think rocks (piedra in Spanish means rock). Lots of big rocks. And rocks mean stoneflies. Lots of stoneflies. The Piedra muddies quickly, but if you are on it when it is clear, you should expect some of the best stonefly hatches in the state, including some fantastic salmonfly hatches. But the key to success on the Piedra is to fish every likely lie and to make sure to nymph. Dries will work a lot of the time, but these trout love to take their food under the surface. The trout of the Piedra will hold in all likely holding spots, even in the shallows. But the river’s deep pools and runs mean anglers need to get their flies deep enough to reach the trout lying in wait on the river bottom.

I caught and missed the biggest 14-inch trout I ever hooked on the Piedra, trout as fat as a baked ham. He came up from two or three feet in a small pool surrounded by big rocks and took a Rio Grande King. The sting made his eyes blaze. He leapt in the air, stared me down, and slammed back into the water. I have dreams about him and his eyes.

Anglers are likely to see wildlife along the river such as bears, elk, deer. You’re not likely to encounter other fishermen along the medium-size stream. The Piedra is in wild country, very little of which is accessible by vehicle, so getting there can be tricky. Anglers should expect to hike a bit to get to the Piedra’s deep holes and glassy pockets. This is an incredible place to hike in, camp out, and catch a lot of wild trout.

Location: Southwestern Colorado east of Durango

Description: Canyon (and meadow) freestone river with nice pools, pocket water, and plenty of structure.

Directions: Go west from Pagosa Springs 22 miles on State Highway 160 where the river crosses the road.

Lodging, camping: Anglers will find campgrounds at East and West Fork just north of Highway 160. There are primitive campgrounds along the banks of the middle section of the Piedra, at First Fork Road at Piedra Bridge. There are no motels within 15 miles of the Piedra. Best bet is to stay in either Durango or Pagosa Springs. In Pagosa, Oak Ridge Best Western (970-264-4173), Spring Inn (800-832-5523), and The Spa Motel (800-225-0934). In Durango, the Strater Hotel (800-227-4431), Durango Inn Best Western (970-247-3251), Gable House B & B (970-247-4982), and Siesta Motel (970-247-0741).

Accesses: Largely a hike-in stream, the Piedra has two gravel road accesses from both the east and west sides. The east side road runs upstream for twelve miles. Several trails reach the river from the road.
Season: Fishable year-round but best from summer to late fall. Water can become murky easily. Tackle: 8- 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight outfit. Great place for a multi-piece rod since you’ll likely be hiking a good bit. I wade wet with neoprene socks and felt-soled wading boots. Friends pack in lightweight breathable waders but since you scramble on rocks and hike and such, you’ve got to be careful not to tear them up.

Regulations: From the lower boundary of the Tres Piedra Ranch (1 1/2 miles above U.S. Highway 160) to the Piedra River Bridge on FS 631 (Piedra Road), anglers may only use artificial flies and lures. Bag and possession limit is two trout.
Species of game fish: Wild brown and rainbow trout averaging 12 inches, with many larger fish. Some stocked fish near the campgrounds. In the upper sections, anglers will find some cutts and brookies.
Hazards: Rocks everywhere you look. Walk and wade carefully. You’re a long way from a hospital.

Highlights: Strong wild trout shooting like bottle rockets at dry flies.

Scenery: Wilderness experience with granite box canyons, volcanic peak vistas, and solitude.

Dolores River

dolores river colorado
Dolores River near Highway 145

The Dolores River, below McPhee Reservoir, is one of the best rivers in the southwest part of the state. Rainbows and browns are abundant and the scenery is spectacular. There is road access to the first 11 miles and boat access to the next 20 miles.

The Dolores River is a recent trout fishery, resulting from the 1986 construction of the McPhee Reservoir. The 12-mile fishery promised to become a great trout stream, producing large wild trout in a matter of a few years, but a severe drought in 1988 caused the river great harm, and killed up to 30 percent of the trout. Drought throughout the last ten years has brought more devastation to the Dolores, and only time will tell if it will recover to its pre-1988 form, when trout averaged about 14 to 18 inches.

This freestone tailwater has Snake River cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout in self-reproducing populations, but is supplemented with fingerling plantings. The high desert countryside is rugged and bleak, resembling nothing like a setting for a trout stream– that’s part of the charm. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Deer, turkeys, eagles, even bears.

The river is fishable year-round, but spring runoff makes the river brownish-red and swollen. Upstream sections freeze over in winter, but the feeding lanes on the tailrace close to the dam can be productive. Summertime brings great dry-fly fishing, and fall has excellent fishing for large browns.

The Dolores is a challenging river with solid hatches and tremendous holding water, but too many anglers make the mistake of not taking the fish seriously. The clear water and educated trout mean that you should use long leaders, be cautious, and match the hatch.

In the 1980s, the river was on its way to becoming one of the top tailwater fisheries in the West, but the drought and mismanagement damaged the fishery. The river is good now, not great, but the Dolores is one of the more unique trout waters I have fished. And in the winter, you walk in and have the entire river to yourself.

Location: Southwestern Colorado below McPhee Reservoir west of Durango.

Description: Tailwater below reservoir; freestone above. This 12-mile tailwater has long, wide, still glides and pools, plenty of tricky crosscurrents, some pocket water around boulders and submerged rocks, lots of slack water, and some nice runs.

Directions: Travel west from Durango on Highway 160 about 60 miles to Cortez. Take Highway 666 north past the hamlet of Pleasant View, follow the signs, then turn right to CR 16, then turn north (left). Veer right toward river and cross Bradfield Bridge over the Dolores. Lone Dome Road runs along the north side of the river 11 miles to the dam.

Lodging, camping: In nearby Cortez, Mountain View Bed and Breakfast (970-882-7861) and the Holiday Inn Express (970-565-6000) are pleasant enough. Campgrounds in the area include the McPhee Reservoir Recreation Complex (on the Mistix Reservation system 800-280-CAMP) at the entrance to the lake. House Creek Campground is one mile east of Dolores. A private campground is Priest Gulch Campground and RV Park (970-562-3810) on the East Fork of the Dolores River northeast of Dolores. The upper Dolores forks each have riverside campgrounds. Several are on the Mistix system but there are plenty of campsites along the way for first-come, first-served. For more information, call the San Juan National Forest (970-882-7296).

Accesses: The Dolores has much public access but anglers must be aware of private property above and below the reservoir. Anglers will have no problem accessing the Dolores even in winter when the gate closes. There are campgrounds & picnic areas all along the road. The road follows the river. And the upper forks are also easily accessed since they parallel roads.

Season: Year-round but summer heat puts fishing off. Best in fall and winter.

Tackle: 8 – to 9-foot rod for 4- to 6-weight lines. Neoprene chest waders are preferable most of the year. Felt-soled wading boots are a must. Hip waders are useful when the water is low.

Flies: Brassie, Yellow Sally 14-16, Annelid, Olive Comparadun, Pheasant Tail, Disco Midge, Midge Cluster, Griffiths Gnat, Midge larva and pupa 18-24, WD-40, Chocolate Emerger, Elk Hair Caddis 12-18, Caddis larva 18-24, Caddis pupa 18-24, Golden stoneflies 8-12, Irresistible 14-18, Royal Wulff 12-18, Royal Trude 12-18, Blue Winged Olive 16-22, Pale Morning Duns 16-22, Brown Drake 10-14, Sculpin 2-6, Stonefly nymphs 6-12, Midge Adult 18-26, Hopper 8-10, Stimulator 12-16, Hare’s Ear nymph 10-18, Comparaduns 18-24, Thorax patterns 18-24, Pheasant Tail 16-22, Halfback 6-8, Crawfish 4-8, RS2 Emerger 16-22, Muddler Minnow 4-8, Zonker 4-8, Emergers 16-22, Light Spruce 2-6.

Regulations: From Bradfield Bridge to McPhee Dam for 11 miles, anglers must only use artificial lures and flies, catch and release only.

Species of game fish: Snake River and Colorado River cutthroat, brown, rainbow trout (browns have a self-repopulating population). The river is supplemented with fingerling plantings. The browns and rainbows are now the predominant fish the angler will catch.

Highlights: Additional miles of fishery could be added if a proposed reservoir is impounded on the river. The lower Dolores offers solitary winter angling, abundant wildlife sightings, and challenging angling in near-spring creek conditions. This was once one of the top tailwater fisheries in the West but mismanagement has severely affected the quality of the trout population. Nevertheless, the fishing experience of angling in such extreme surroundings is still top-notch.
Scenery: Spectacular high-desert canyon.

Eagle River

eagle river CO
Eagle River

The Eagle is a beautiful river (especially in the fall) that many locals are proud to call their “home water.” The wild trout are colorful and strong, averaging 15″, with many in the 18-21″ range. For many years the Eagle has been overshadowed by the Colorado, Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers. As a result, one is often fly fishing alone here; a goal of many fly fishers.

If there’s a “meat and potatoes” kind of trout stream in Colorado, it’s the Eagle, and for many reasons. Much of the 70-plus mile river is open to public fishing. One can wade the Eagle during much of its prime season. It contains all the classic types of challenging fly fishing water. The hatches are many, varied, and predictable. And Eagle River trout, while not terribly selective, are not pushovers.

The medium-sized, freestone stream averages 45 to 50 feet across with flows between 275 to 350 c.f.s. Runoff typically begins mid-May, with the river becoming wadable again by mid- to late July.

Floating the Eagle is quite popular during a special period after runoff when the water clears. This is usually from early June to until the river drops so low it can’t be floated. BE CAREFUL: The Eagle is a rocky, technical river with a number of tight, class IV rapids during high water periods. Hire a knowledgeable outfitter if you plan to float. Plus, there is lots of private water, so watch for signs.

The Eagle River begins high in the Rocky Mountains around Tennessee Pass at over 10,000 feet, and is difficult to fish until the town of Minturn at around 8,000 feet. A little further down, it begins to parallel I-70, and follows the interstate until it reaches Dotsero, where it flows into the mighty Colorado before roaring through scenic Glenwood Canyon.

Conejos River

conejos river in CO
Conejos RIver near Antonito

The Conejos River is a tributary to the Rio Grande. The lower section from Aspen Glade Campground upstream to Menkhaven Resort is restricted to fly-fishing only. The upper section from the confluence with the South Fork upstream to the Saddle Creek bridge is restricted to flies and lures only. Fishing is good in both sections for wild brown and rainbow trout.

The Conejos is arguably the best of all the wild rivers in the Southwest. The feeder streams are big and productive enough that it’d be worthwhile to visit them alone. Most require at least a hike, and you’ll need a full-fledged backpacking expedition to get to the best parts of them. But if you want true wilderness angling in pristine forests and wide meadows, hit any one of these tributaries. Some say that if you were ever going to run into a grizzly bear– the last of which was seen in 1979 in the state of Colorado– it will be in the backcountry of the Conejos.

And what about the Conejos? Miles and miles of fishing a 30-foot clear stream with little competition. Abundant insect hatches. Meadows and canyons. The Pinnacles towering overhead.
While the river has fished inconsistently the last few years, historically, it’s not uncommon to pull brown trout as long as your arm. And even if you aren’t that lucky, the scenery is worth the trip.

Location: South-central Colorado near Alamosa, Antonito.

Description: Freestone stream with diverse water: pocket water, riffles, runs, pools, meadows, canyons.

Directions: From Alamosa, drive south on Highway 285 to Antonito. Turn west on Highway 17 south of town where you will pick up the river for 35 miles. Turn right on Forest Road 250, which follows the river to Platoro Reservoir.
Lodging, camping: There are numerous campgrounds along the river including Mogote CG, Aspen Glade CG, Spectacle Lake CG, and Elk Creek CG. In Antonito, you can stay at the Cottonwood Meadows Cabins (970-376-5660) and Narrow Gauge Railroad Inn (970-376-5441).

Accesses: The river has plenty of public access along its 60 miles of fishable water.

Season: Open year-round but fishes best late June and early July through mid-October.

Tackle: 8- to 9-foot rod for 4- to 6-weight line for the main river and lakes. A shorter 2- to 4-weight for the numerous feeder creeks is ideal.

Flies: Irresistible 12-16, Elk Hair Caddis 12-18, PMD Comparadun 16-20, Blue Winged Olive 14-20, Adams 14-20, Humpy 12-18, Royal Wulff 12-18, Hoppers 8-12, Muddler Minnows 2-6, Hare’s Ear 12-18, Pheasant Tail 14-20, Bitch Creek 2-8, Dark Stonefly nymphs 4-8, Brown trout streamers, Prince Nymph 14-18, Brassie 16-18, Midge larva 18-22.

Regulations: The section from Menkhaven Ranch down to Aspen Glade CG is considered Wild Trout water where the bag and possession limit for trout is two fish, 16 inches or longer. Other special regulations sections include Saddle Creek Bridge downstream to the Hamilton property (where South Fork enters) and the Bear Creek subdivision. Check the regulations handbook for the specific restrictions.
Species of game fish: Rainbows and browns, mixture of stocked and wild.

Highlights: The Pinnacles.

Scenery: The forks of the Conejos are worth taking a day or two to visit. If you backpack, the forks are made for you. Catch backcountry browns and brookies in some of the most remote, spectacular scenery on the continent. I love the Conejos Fall view on the Middle Fork. The lakes of the South San Juan Wilderness are excellent destination angling spots.

Rio Grande

Rio Grande in CO
Rio Grande River in the San Luis Valley

The mighty Rio Grande flows through the prettiest scenery in Colorado. It is a freestone river with pools, riffles and lots of pocket water.The water is as clear as air, the air is clean, the mountains majestic, and the trout plentiful. And the river holds some really big trout.

Location: Southwestern Colorado near Creede, South Fork.

Directions: Highway 160 parallels the river before Del Norte to South Fork. From South Fork upstream, Highway 149 follows the river to Creede.

Lodging, camping: Thirty-mile Campground, Rio Grande Campground, Palisade Campground. In South Fork, try the Foothills Lodge (970-873-5969). In Creede, the Creede Hotel (970-658-2608), and on the river, the Wason Ranch (970-658-2413). Others: Rainbow Lodge (970-873-5571), South Fork Lodge (970-873-5303), and 4UR Ranch (970-658-2413).

Accesses: Plenty of well-marked public accesses and pullouts along the river, but there is a mix of private and public water near the 4UR Ranch. Be sure to check the handbook. Anglers may float the entire river but may not get onshore or private land without permission.

Season: Mid-June (during normal runoff) to late September. There is no closed season for angling on the Rio Grande. When the crowds leave, August and September can provide an incredible angling experience.
Tackle: 8– to 9-foot rod with 4- to 6-weight line. In the heat of summer, wet wading is fine. Otherwise wear chest waders.

Flies: Blue-winged Olive 14-18, Elk Hair Caddis 10-16, Midge Cluster 14-18, Green Wulff 10-14, Brown Wulff 10-14, Royal Wulff 10-16, Sofa Pillow 2-8, Rio Grande King 10-14, Humpy 10-16, Green Drake 10-14, Royal Trude 10-16, Lime Trude 10-16, Adams 10-20, Irresistible 10-16, Pale Morning Dun 14-18, Renegade 10-16, Stimulator (yellow, orange, tan) 6-12, Yellow Sally 8-12, H & L Variant (House and Lot) 10-16, Double Hackle Peacock 2-8, Prince Nymph 10-14, Pheasant Tail 10-14, Sparkle Caddis Emerger 12-16, Bitch Creek 4-10, Girdle Bug 4-10, Dark Stonefly Nymph 2-6, Golden Stonefly nymph 4-8, Woolly Bugger 4-10, Spruce Fly 2-8, Zonker 2-6, Muddler Minnow 4-10, Zug Bug 10-14, Hare’s Ear 8-18, Midge Pupa 18-24, Comparadun 10-16.

Regulations: Special regulations exist for several sections of the river. Look closely at the handbook since there are numerous changes along the way including Gold Medal Water regulations.

Species of game fish: Brown, rainbow, and some cutthroat and brook trout. Rainbows average 12-15 inches, browns 12-14 inches.

Hazards: Be careful: Wading during high water and rafting during runoff means knowing if your craft can fit under the bridges.

Highlights: The Green Drake and Caddis hatches in early and midsummer.

Scenery: The beauty of the Rio Grande as it collects in the rugged San Juan Mountains may be unparalleled by any other western river. This is wild country punctuated by dense forests, stunning mountain vistas, and steep, dark canyons.
Navigable: Fishing from a raft is a great choice for anglers. Several outfitters and fly shops in Creede, Durango, Lake City, and Alamosa can help you.

Other: Sportsman Fly Shop in Lake City (970-944-2526), Rio Grande Anglers (719-658-2955), and Ramble House (719-658-2482) in Creede; Duranglers and Durango Fly Goods in Durango.

South Platte

south platte river in CO

Cheesman Canyon

The South Platte River, downstream from Cheesman reservoir, is a world-class fishery offering some of the finest tailwater fly fishing in the state, if not in the country, The river below the dam has crystal clear water and wild rainbow and brown trout. They are eager yet selective.

A short hike into the boulder filled canyon takes one into a wilderness setting rarely found just an hour outside a major metropolitan city like Denver. The geography is postcard perfect, and as many visitors say, “the fishing is indeed a bonus.”

This section of the South Platte usually holds approximately 5,200 trout per mile that average 15″. Due to the clear, cold water and heavy fishing pressure, fly selection and presentation is key. Though at times difficult, this section can also produce days that fly fishers dream about. You definitely need to see and fly fish this very special place in Colorado.

The splendid natural beauty of this river is distracting even to the most seasoned angler. Bighorn sheep frequent the canyon walls and a variety of birds hover over the water. The two prime stretches of water area are as follows:

  • Cheesman Reservoir to Strontia Springs Reservoir: This gold medal river is regarded as one of the best rainbow and brown trout fisheries in the nation. There are many fish over 14 inches, particularly upstream of Scraggy View Picnic Ground.
  • Strontia Springs Reservoir to Chatfield Reservoir: Requires hiking or biking. There are fewer anglers in this stretch of water compared to the Deckers area and the concentrations of fish are impressive. Best bets are rainbow and brown trout.

Below the Wigwam Club to Trumbull

Downstream from Cheesman Canyon fly fishers can enjoy another incredible section of the South Platte River. There are usually some 7,000 rainbow trout per mile in this picturesque setting. Access is easier here than the Cheesman Canyon section.

South Park Area

The oxbow sections of the Platte flow through a high plain area known as South Park. Over 50 miles of public access to this gold medal water are well marked. Dress for wind and watch for lightning.

Brown trout up to 10 lbs. migrate up the Middle Fork in the summer. Strikes are spotty but can be worth the effort. Excellent surface fishing to the many summer hatches on the South Fork above and below Antero Reservoir provides great action. Below Spinney Mt. Reservoir it’s catch and release year round. Flows: 40-200 c.f.s. The South and Middle Forks of the Platte are small to medium sized: South Fork flows on average 15-50 c.f.s. Middle Fork flows at 30-200 c.f.s. Green and white signs mark Middle Fork access and are scattered along Highway 9 from Garo to Hartsel.

The Elevenmile Canyon tailwater of the South Platte, now under Forest Service Control, is a beautiful canyon that should really start producing. Flows 40-200 c.f.s. Drive to the town of Lake George and follow the signs.

One of Colorado’s best for quality-sized rainbows, browns, and cutthroats. Best bets are the Middle Fork between Hartsel and Fairplay and the main river above Spinney Mountain Reservoir. Good access above and below Antero Reservoir, but check regulations for restrictions. Best kept secret: Elevenmile Canyon near Lake George.

simple map of south platte location
south platte location

Taylor River

From the headwaters at the base of the continental divide to its confluence with the East River in Almont, the Taylor River offers a variety of fishing challenges. Fish for trout in a backcountry setting high in the drainage, trophy trout below the reservoir, and fabulous pocket water downstream.

Excellent rainbow and brown trout fishing is available in the tailwater below Taylor Dam and reservoir, where anglers have taken trout 8 pounds and up! In the reservoir, 10- to 14-inch rainbow, brown, Snake River cutthroat, and lake trout along with kokanee salmon.

Troublesome Creek

Troublesome Creek is an intimate water that may remind you of the stream you learned to fish on back home. Its smooth flowing runs and undercut banks hold rainbows, browns, cutts and the occasional brook trout.

But don’t be fooled by its small size. The lower meadow stretches are open forgiving water that harbor 12-20 inch fish. With much of the creek running next to pasture, terrestrial patterns with a beadhead dropper are often just the ticket for non-stop action.

After a day here you’ll see why it’s a perennial favorite with our returning guests. Upper Troublesome Creek runs between willow-lined banks and rewards those anglers who can move stealthily and make accurate casts.

If you like this kind of fishing, you’ll catch 12-16 inch browns and rainbows in a picturesque setting. Guests have caught up to 40 trout in a single visit to this water.

Yampa River

yampa river CO
Yampa River near Steamboat Springs

The Yampa (bear in Native American language) originates high above the northwest Colorado town of Yampa, into which the Bear River flows. Wonderfully varied fly fishing opportunities abound along the 150 miles of river as it flows west to Dinosaur National Monument and Utah’s fabled Green River.

The 15 mile stretch from Stillwater Reservoir to Yampa has tailwaters, pretty meadow sections, and tumbling freestone waters. Fly fishing for the “Rocky Mountain Grand Slam” (brook, rainbow, cutthroat, brown, and mountain whitefish) is quite possible in this section. Fish average 8-16 inches here. The next 10-15 miles of river is private until the section 1/2 to 3/4 miles upstream of the inlet into Stagecoach Reservoir. Below the reservoir are two public sections, small tailwaters with some beautiful rainbows and cutthroats. From the Service Creek Wildlife Area downstream to the town of Steamboat Springs (15 miles) the river flows through private lands.

You’ll be pleased with the river rock and habitat placed along the river through the town of Steamboat Springs. Though the angling here is “urban fishing,” you’ll still have fun.

It’s best to float the river (and the three beautiful canyons) from Craig to the monument boundary (40-50 miles). A two or three day trip is best. Access to most of this river is on BLM land and from various local roads off U.S. Highway 40. Check local maps first.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To top