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Where to Fly Fish in Colorado
Fly Fishing Location
With 150 miles of fishable water, much of it accessible to the public, and “wild” brown trout reproducing naturally in its upper reaches, the Arkansas River provides some of the best fly fishing in Colorado. This is a freestone river from Leadville all the way to Pueblo but the best stretch to fish right now is from Salida to Canon City . It is flowing low and clear and brown trout are feeding aggressively before their fall spawn.
The river contains mostly browns averaging 12 to 14 inches, with trophy fish up to 22 inches. Rainbows are a rare treat with average sizes from 14 to 18 inches. There’s lots of pocket water, which is where most of the active fish will be at this time of year. Best advice on the Ark is always......”Don't wade where you should Fly fish and don't spend a lot of time in one spot.”
Rod Patch of the Arkansas River Fly Shop in Salida says dry fly fishing continues to be very productive with terrestrials and attractor dries bringing fish to the surface. Most of the action now is on Para Hoppers, Royal Wulffs, Royal and Orange Stimulators and Royal PMXs. The mornings seem to be the best time to be on the river.
Evenings are productive using caddis dries in sizes 14 and 16. Dry/dropper rigs are the guides' most popular choice. Use a 30-inch dropper with a Beadhead Prince, Pheasant Tail, Copper John in sizes 16 and 18.
Location: Best fishing is near the town of Salida. The section below Brown’s Canyon to Cotopaxi is Fly fishing very well.
For more information contact the Arkansas River Fly Shop at (719) 539-3474.
Because it is only a little over an hour’s drive on I-70 west of Denver, the Blue gets a lot of fly fishing pressure. But seven to eight miles of riverbank are open to the public and easily accessible from nine parking areas along Highway 9. Also, this is one of only three major tailwaters loaded with mysis shrimp, which grow monster trout. But further downstream it changes from a tailwater to a classic freestone river with runs, riffles, deep bends and undercut banks.
With flows of 110 cfs, clear water and plenty of anglers, the fly fishing can be challenging but those who know what they’re doing always have the chance of hooking a 7 to 10-pound rainbow. Small flies, sizes 20-24, long leaders and 6x to 7x fluorocarbon tippets are a must.
In the tailwater below Dillon Reservoir, successful anglers will be nymphing most of the time with a two-fly rig featuring a Mysis Shrimp followed by a small dark midge nymph. Further downstream there will be dry fly action with midges and Blue Wing Olives. Also look for lingering Caddis, hoppers and PMDs.
Even further downstream, kokanee salmon will be starting their upstream spawning run from Green Mountain Reservoir, providing great angling opportunities for egg-hungry rainbows. Fish with egg patterns, Egg-sucking Leeches and other bright salmon flies. And there is some excellent fly fishing below Green Mountain Reservoir, at the confluence of the Blue and Colorado Rivers.
There is public access in the town of Silverthorne (if you don’t mind spectators), the Blue River Campground, the Sutton Unit of the Blue River State Wildlife Area and the Eaglesnest Unit. Walk or wade some distance away from campgrounds and picnic areas and you’ll find fewer fly fishing anglers.
Location: The river generally follows Highway 9 from Silverthorne to Kremmling.
For more information call Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne at (970) 262-2878 or the Fishing Hole in Kremmling at (970) 724-9407
The river that this state is named after has many faces. Its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park are loaded with beaver ponds and brook trout. Further downstream, where it picks up water from the Western Slope, it becomes a full-blown river full of brawny browns and rainbows. And in the Glenwood Canyon, it’s a rafter’s dream and a fly fishing nightmare.
Right now the lower river is blown out by tremendously high flows and muddy water, so don’t even try fly fishing downstream from the town of Dotsero. But the Midde Park stretch from Granby through Kremmling to the Pumphouse below Gore Canyon is running slower and clear except after heavy rains.
When it is clear, anglers do best at this time of year with Caddis #14-16, Adams #18-20, RS-2s and WD40s. But the first of a big fall Blue Wing Olive hatch should be showing up any day now and any angler who regularly fly fishes the Colorado will tell you that that you should always carry a box of BWO patterns #16-24. Hoppers, ants and beetles are an important addition at this time of year – several types of these bugs are always crawling in the willows along the river banks.
Most of the trout you will catch fly fishing here are 12 to 14-inch browns. But browns up to 18 inches are not uncommon and there’s always the possibility of catching a big old lunker rainbow in the 5 to 6-pound class.
Location: The Colorado River parallels Highway 40 from Granby to Kremmling.
For more information contact Fletcher’s Sporting Goods in Granby at (970) 887-3747 or the Fishing Hole in Kremmling at (970) 724-9407.
Although the Fryingpan River is only 14 miles long from Reudi Reservoir to where it joins the Roaring Fork at Basalt, fly casters from around the world come to match wits with its monster rainbows fattened on mysis shrimp flushed out of the reservoir. The fish here run big – 10 pounds or more – and the winter weather is so mild in this part of Colorado they feed all year. Truly a great place for fly fishing.
Currently, the river is flowing at 225 cfs. Fishing has been very consistent with major hatches between noon and 4 p.m. -- Green Drakes, Pale Morning Duns, Caddis, Blue Winged Olives – and an evening Rusty Spinner fall from 7:30 p.m. til dark.
Drakes and PMDs are out in good numbers on the upper river, BWOs are the main hatch midriver and are becoming more and more important weekly throughout. A few sporadic caddis at dusk on the lower ‘Pan. Nymph fly fishing the upper river with PMDs, Drakes and BWOs before and after the hatch is exceptionally productive. The tailwater section immediately beneath Ruedi has been fishing well with Mysis Shrimp and a variety of midge patterns.
Favorite dries: TC Drake Sparkle Dun #12, Pink PMD Sparkle Dun #14-16, No Hackle PMDs #14-16, CDC BWO Comparadun #20-22. Favorite nymphs: Poxyback Drake #12 and PMD #16, Halfback PMD #16, CDC Loop Winged BWO emerger #20-22 , Barr's BWO #20 & PMD emerger #16, Tim's Mysis, Will's Epoxy Mysis, Barr Pure Midge, JuJuBee's, RS-2s black and gray.
Location: The river runs through the town of Basalt. There are several stretches of public water between Basalt and Ruedi Dam to fly fish.
For more information call the Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, (970) 927-4374
The Roaring Fork River, which originates above Aspen near Independence Pass and flows into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs, offers “smaller” fish in the 8-pound class but a greater variety of water. The Fork drops more in elevation over 70 miles than the Mississippi River does in its entire length, changing from a meandering high meadow stream to a brawling Western freestone river the best fly fishing is from rafts or drift boats.
Current flow is 625 cfs. Not too many hatches right now except a few evening caddis but Blue Winged Olives are just around the corner and overcast days can produce unexpected hatches, so be prepared. For now, nymph fly fishing with a variety of Baetis\BWO patterns has been the ticket. Mainly a general nymph pattern like a Prince or Copper John #14-18 followed by a smaller baetis pattern will take fish consistently all day at this point in the season.
Hopper/dropper/dropper combinations are effective from a dory or on slightly more overcast days. Bright sunny conditions will require nymphing deep runs and pools.
Favorite nymph's: BLMs, Angel Case BWO, PT, Micro Mayfly, Prince, Copper John. Favorite dries (just in case): X-Caddis #14-16, E-Z Caddis #14-16 Parachute BWO #18-20, Sparkle Dun BWO #20 , CDC Comparadun BWO #20. Attractors: Big Foam Hoppers or Stimulators to suspend a couple droppers.
Location: South of Glenwood Springs
For more information call the Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, (970) 927-4374
(Between Spinney and Elevenmile Reservoirs)
The one mile of Gold-Medal Water on the South Platte River that runs east out of Spinney Reservoir to Elevenmile Reservoir is a bit of angling heaven. Often referred to as the “Dream Stream,” it is one of the few great stretches of river in the state for rainbows, browns, Snake River cutthroats and hybrid cutbows. Some fly fishers say it is the best mile of river in Colorado for fly fishing.
Current flow is 158 cfs and the water temperature is a balmy 50 degrees. Caddis, Tricos, Midges and BWOs are all hatching. Recommended flies include #16 Caddis Pupa, Olive Scud or Elk Hair Caddis, #22 Black Ice, Barr’s Emerger, Sparkle Wing RS2 or Trico Spinner.
For the most part, this flat, meadow stream is fly fished with small flies but you can go bigger with terrestrials, hoppers, beetles and ants at this time of year. And a Woolly Bugger always attracts fish when nothing is hatching. They key to success here is moving quietly upstream without spooking the trout. And sight-casting to fish is very popular in this water.
Location: Southeast of the town of Hartsel,
For more information call Elevenmile State Park at (970) 927-4374.
The Gunnison River is the second largest river in the State of Colorado and, according to the Division of Wildlife, has more fish per mile than any other river in the state. It is estimated that there are 650 fish over 16 inches per river mile in the Gold Medal Waters below the Black Canyon National Monument, from the Chukar Trail to the confluence of the North Fork. Obviously offers a lot of fly fishing oppurtuinities.
This section through the gorge is best floated and there are a number of outfitters offering such trips. Try Leroy Jagodinsky at the Gunnison River Pleasure Park. He has fished the river for 30 years and is a colorful character to boot.
Current flow is 629 cfs and the river may be slightly off-color due to recent rains. Hatches: Caddis, Tricos and Blue Wing Olives. Dries: Tricos, BWOs, Adams, attractors, Caddis, hoppers. Nymphs: #12-16 GB Prince, #10 Befus Stone, Halfback, GB Poxyback Biot Stone, 20-Incher, Flashback Hare's Ear, caddis larva and pupa patterns. Tricos work best early afternoon and, because the lower section of the Gunnison is slower and fish get a longer look at flies, most locals use 4x to 6x tippets.
As long as you’re in the area, also fly fish the upper Gunnison above Blue Mesa Reservoir. There the flow is around 500 cfs and brown trout are feeding more aggressively as the water cools. Spawning kokanee salmon are also making their run from the reservoir up the Gunnison and East Rivers, but none may be kept. The brown trout in the upper river average 10-14 inches, but many bigger fish up to 25 inches can be caught at this time of year as they try to put on a few pounds before their October spawn.
Locations: The lower Gunnison is north of the town of Montrose, the upper river runs through the town of Gunnison. For more information about the lower river, contact the Gunnison Pleasure Park at (970) 872-2525, for the upper river contact Almont Anglers at (970) 641-7404
The Poudre, in the opinion of Giles Alkire, “is one of the most misunderstood and under fly fished rivers in Colorado.” But those who know it – and the owner of Alkire’s Sporting Goods in Greeley knows it very well -- routinely catch trout of 3 to 5 pounds. Now is the best time to catch them because flows are stable, the water is clear and the fish are feeding on a profusion of bugs ranging from midges to grasshoppers.
The river frustrates many anglers because flies that work well in the lower levels are only marginal in the middle stretch and almost worthless in the upper reaches. That’s because it drops 5,000 feet in just 55 miles from its headwaters on the Continental Divide to the mouth of Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins. And while fish counts indicate that 75 percent of the fish in the river are German browns, creel counts indicate that 90 percent of those caught are rainbows – i.e. fly fishing anglers aren’t catching many of the bigger and more numerous but smarter browns.
Alkire recommends fly fishing the middle and upper sections from the Watrous Campground to Indian Meadows and on up to the headwaters. In the mid-section, use nymphs, streamers and other wet flies such as gold-ribbed Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs, Zug Bugs, Hornbergs, Matukas and Hoppers. In the upper section, switch to small nymphs and dries such as Elk Hair Caddis, Mosquito, Royal Wulff, Irresistible and Float-n-Fool.
Location: The river parallels Highway 14 west of Loveland. There is plenty of public access.
For more information, call Alkire’s Sporting Goods in Greeley at (970) 352-9501
The White provides some of the best trout fly fishing in northwest Colorado and while other more famous streams are prone to overcrowding, this one definitely is not. Resort towns are sparse in that part of the state, fishing pressure is low and there’s plenty of public access.
Brown trout, rainbows and whitefish inhabit the lower river from Meeker roughly to the boundary of the White River National Forest, which is where cutthroats join the mix. The fish average 10 to 14 inches but 16-inchers caught fly fishing are not uncommon and fish over 20 inches are not unheard of. Right now they’re feeding on Pale Morning Duns in the morning, grasshoppers during the day and Caddis in the evenings.
Stan Wyatt of Wyatt’s Sporting Goods in Meeker calls it the “Big Ugly Season – when the morning hatch is over, fly fish anything that’s big and ugly such as Woolly Buggers or Muddler Minnows.” He recommends starting off the day with a #14-16 PMD, then switching to #10-12 hopper patterns (Parachute Adams or Parachute Hopper) and, as evening approaches, switching again to a #16 Elk Hair Caddis or Colorado Caddis.
The White has nine public access points for fly fishing between Meeker and Trappers Lake, starting with a downtown stretch of riverfront from City Park to the 10th Street Bridge. Moving upriver along County Road 8, other accesses by name and mile marker are Nelson Prather (2.2), Wakara Ranches (4.6), Sleepy Cat (17), Lake Avery Unit (19), Bel-Aire Unit (21) and three in the White River Forest at mile markers 30.5, 36.3 and 43.
Location: The river generally follows County Road 8 east of Meeker.
For more information contact Wyatt’s Sporting Goods in Meeker at 970-878-4428
The Uncompahgre River at the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk area of Ridgway State Park is a fly fishing and lures only, catch and release stretch of water below Ridgway dam favored by locals and out-of-town visitors. Being a tailwater fishery, it stays clear and accessible year-round and fall flows are low enough to allow good access to where the fish are holding.
Before the area opened to the public in 1994, the Bureau of Reclamation did extensive stream enhancement by building rock check dams and pools for the fish to rest and feed. It now the fly fishing is like a well-groomed park. Sidewalks follow the river, the pools follow one after the other are they are loaded with hefty, willing trout. Some deride it as the Disneyland of fly fishing but others call it Jurassic Park due to the big trout that inhabit the water – rainbows 18 to 22 inches long.
The fly fishing is best here using a variety of nymphs, notably Prince Nymphs, Hare's Ears, Brassies and Woolly Buggers. And there are fall days when natural or chartreuse colored egg patterns bring in the fish. Recommended dries: Elk Hair Caddis and Pale Blue Dun.
Location: Northwest of Ridgway and south of Montrose.
For more information call Ridgway State Park at (970) 626-5822 or the Cimarron Creek fly shop in Montrose at (970) 249-0408
BIG CREEK LAKES
Yes, yes, we know fly fishing anglers prefer running water, but Big Creek Lakes in Jackson County are worth a visit. Why? Because both lakes hold a nice mix of rainbow, brown and brook trout along with mackinaw, tiger muskies and grayling. Yes, grayling – well-known in Alaska but confined to only a few Colorado waters. They may not be big but they’re prized for their beauty and eagerness to take a fly.
The lakes are on the eastern edge of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area about 30 miles northwest of Walden and four miles from the hamlet of Pearl. Lest anyone think it’s not worth the drive, it should be pointed out that the state record grayling was caught in Lower Big Creek Lake last year.
Grayling can be caught while fly fishing tiny midge patterns and spinner flies such as #20-22 Para Baetis, Halo Spinner, Trico Spinner and Flashabou. Fish the surface film with a greased line and greased leader and dress the fly very well. As for rainbows, browns and brookies, anglers should stick to nymphs and streamers such as the Prince Nymph, Olive Matuka, Badger Matuka and Spruce Fly.
The South Fork of Big Creek, which runs between the two lakes, also has good fly fishing for browns and brookies. Try a Black Halfback or Black Stonefly nymph or go dry with a Float-n-Fool.
Location: About 30 miles northwest of Walden and four miles from the hamlet of Pearl.
For more information, call Alkire’s Sporting Goods in Greeley at (970) 352-9501
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