Fly Fish in Colorado

Key Takeaways:

  • Colorado offers a diverse and rewarding fly fishing experience with its numerous rivers, streams, and lakes. It provides ample opportunities to catch various trout species, including rainbow, brown, cutthroat, curt bow, and brook trout.
  • The state is home to several renowned fly fishing destinations, such as the South Platte River, Frying Pan River, and Gunnison River, known for their gold medal waters, abundant hatches, and opportunities to catch trophy-sized trout.
  • The best times for fly fishing in Colorado are during late spring, summer, and early fall when hatches like green drakes, pale morning duns, caddis, and blue-winged olives offer excellent dry fly fishing opportunities.
  • Anglers must know and adhere to Colorado’s fly fishing regulations, including fishing license requirements, bag, and possession limits, and specific rules for certain fishing methods and locations.

List of the 14 Best Places to Fly Fish in Colorado

Colorado boasts some of the best fly fishing spots in the United States. The opportunities for fly fishermen in Colorado are endless, from the South Platte River to the beautiful waters of the Rio Grande River. Here are the 14 best spots to fly fish in Colorado:

  • South Platte River
  • Frying Pan River
  • North Delaney Butte Lake
  • Animas River
  • Colorado River
  • Spinney Mountain Reservoir
  • North Platte River
  • Blue River
  • Gunnison River
  • Roaring Fork River
  • Yampa River and Steamboat Lake
  • Arkansas River
  • Gore Creek
  • Rio Grande River

So let’s discuss these places in more detail:

1. South Platte River

  • Flows through Colorado and Nebraska, a major river of the American Midwest and the American Southwest/Mountain West.
  • Renowned for providing diverse fishing opportunities. You can try your hand at catching rainbow, cutthroat, cutbow, and brown trout, along with kokanee salmon.
  • Boasts several remarkable fishing spots. Elevenmile Canyon offers quantity fishing, while Cheesman Canyon is perfect for those seeking remote hike-in fishing.

2. Frying Pan River

  • A tributary of the Roaring Fork River, approximately 42 miles long, in Eagle and Pitkin counties in Colorado.
  • An excellent small mountain trout stream that becomes even better when it enters Ruedi Reservoir. The tailwater below the reservoir provides some of the best trout fishing in the country.
  • While the tailwater below Ruedi Reservoir is the primary fishing area, you can still fish above the lake or below the reservoir for different fishing experiences.

3. North Delaney Butte Lake

  • About 12 miles west of Walden, Jackson County, Colorado.
  • A gold medal stillwater fishery famed for producing huge rainbow, brown, and cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout. The best time to catch large trout is during the early and late seasons.
  • Offers anglers one of the best opportunities to catch large trout in Colorado, and it’s best to fish early and late in the season.

4. Animas River

  • 126-mile-long river in the western United States, a tributary of the San Juan River, part of the Colorado River System.
  • This river is one of Colorado’s few true freestone fisheries known for its gold-medal fishing. You can catch rainbow and brown trout, some of which can get quite large, making it a must-visit for all anglers.
  • The best fishing spots on the Animas River are located in Durango, and the tailwater stretch below Green Mountain Reservoir offers excellent fishing for large brown trout during the fall.

5. Colorado River

  • Starts in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado and flows southwest across the Colorado Plateau, through the Grand Canyon, before reaching Lake Mead.
  • One of the best fisheries in Colorado, spanning from Rocky Mountain National Park downstream. It’s home to rainbow, cutthroat, brook, and brown trout, making it an excellent destination for a fly fishing trip.
  • Gore Canyon and the upper river near Parshall are good areas for wading. The tailwater stretch near Parshall is located close to shopping areas, making it convenient for anglers.

6. Spinney Mountain Reservoir

  • Located in Park County, south of Fairplay, on the Middle Fork of the South Platte River.
  • A still-water fishery that is well-known for producing large rainbow and cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout and some brown trout. The reservoir is stocked frequently and boasts amazing opportunities for catching big fish.
  • For early-season fishing, you’ll want to use midge patterns. During the summer, damselfly nymphs are effective, and during the summer months, when trout go deep, crawdad patterns are your best choice.

7. North Platte River

  • Flows through North Park and near Walden in northern Colorado.
  • Offers amazing high-country fishing, with brown trout being the primary target, but rainbow and cutthroat trout can also be found.
  • The best time to fish the North Platte River is during the summer when abundant hatches provide great dry fly opportunities. To increase your chances of success, try nymphs with caddis pupa or stonefly nymphs.

8. Blue River

  • Located in Summit County, Colorado, United States.
  • An excellent trout fishing destination, especially famous for its tailwaters below Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs, where you can find some of the best fishing for trophy-sized trout.
  • The best fishing seasons for the Blue River are the spring and fall seasons, when prolific hatches make dry fly fishing highly rewarding. The access points below Dillon Reservoir, near Green Mountain Reservoir, and in the stretch between Basalt and Aspen are particularly popular.

9. Gunnison River

  • Located in western Colorado, United States, one of the largest tributaries of the Colorado River.
  • Offers excellent fly fishing opportunities for trout enthusiasts, with various species present, including brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout. Great caddis and green drake hatch in the upper section.
  • Prime fishing seasons are late spring to early summer and into the fall. Late spring and early summer offer excellent hatches, while late summer and fall are ideal for streamer fishing as brown trout migrate upriver for spawning.

10. Roaring Fork River

  • A tributary of the Colorado River, approximately 70 miles long, in west-central Colorado, United States.
  • Known for its green drake hatch, which is the main draw for anglers. Plenty of other hatches bring up rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout, making it a diverse and rewarding fly fishing destination.
  • Prime fishing times during the hatches, with green drake hatch in late spring and early summer, but hatches can vary depending on weather conditions.

11. Yampa River and Steamboat Lake

  • Begins near the town of Yampa and flows through Phippsburg and Stagecoach State Park into Lake Catamount.
  • A haven for fishing enthusiasts looking for amazing fishing experiences. It is known for yielding hefty rainbow and brown trout and a few cutthroat and brook trout.
  • Steamboat Springs’ tailwater and Steamboat Lake’s fishing opportunities above the dam are worth exploring. The spring, summer, and fall are prime fishing times.

12. Arkansas River

  • Begins in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colorado, travels to Pueblo, Wichita, Tulsa, Fort Smith, and Little Rock, and ends in Napoleon.
  • Famous for its big Mothers’ Day caddis hatch and large population of brown trout. Excellent for streamer fishing with sculpin patterns.
  • Prime fishing times during the big Mothers’ Day caddis hatch in the spring and again in the fall. Blue-winged olive hatches provide further chances for successful fishing.

13. Gore Creek

  • A tributary of the  Eagle River, approximately 18.5 miles long, in Eagle County, Colorado.
  • Gore Creek is a gold medal stream with excellent fishing opportunities for quality trout, including brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout.
  • Excellent dry fly fishing opportunities. Accessible from the town of Vail and surrounding areas.

14. Rio Grande River

  • Begins in the San Juan Mountains near Alamosa, Colorado.
  • Renowned for its distinctive strain of cutthroat trout in the higher reaches. Excellent for brown trout in the impounded section.
  • Prime fishing times during warmer months, from late spring through summer and into the fall. Summer hopper fishing can be great.

What is the best time to fly fish in Colorado?

The best seasons to fish there are late spring, summer, and early fall. Late spring is the time for tricos hatch, providing an excellent opportunity for dry fly fishing in the mornings.

Hatches are abundant in the early and late seasons (spring and fall). Watch for the green drake and pale morning dun hatches in late spring and early summer. The tailwater below Ruedi Reservoir is the prime spot.

The Animas River is best fished during the summer, with caddis patterns being the most effective. But if you plan on fishing the Colorado River, the best time is throughout the season.

Also, look for blue-winged olive hatches in the early season and fall, and try streamer fishing in the section below Green Mountain Reservoir during the fall. The Gore Canyon is the best area for wading.

Late spring to early fall is the best season to fish the North Platte River. Summer is the peak time for hatches, providing great dry fly opportunities. Head to Northgate Canyon and the surrounding areas of North Park and Walden for the best areas.

Which fish species can be caught in Colorado using fly fishing?

Fly fishing scene in Colorado is teeming with a wide variety of fish species. Anglers can delight in reeling in rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, cutbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon, and carp in the South Platte River.

The Frying Pan River offers a delicious bounty of rainbow and brown trout, while North Delaney Butte Lake boasts cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. The Animas River has rainbow and brown trout aplenty, and the Colorado River is home to cutthroat, rainbow, brook, and brown trout.

Those fishing in Spinney Mountain Reservoir expect to catch rainbow trout, cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout, brown trout, and pike. The North Platte River is the perfect spot for anglers looking to reel in brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, while the Blue River teems with rainbow and brown trout.

The Gunnison River’s rich waters are full of brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, and the Roaring Fork River offers rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout. Be sure to check out Yampa River and Steamboat Lake for brown and rainbow trout and the Arkansas River for a brown and rainbow trout mix.

What are the fly fishing rules & regulations in Colorado?

What are the fly fishing rules & regulations in Colorado
  • Fishing License Requirement: Adults aged 16 and older must buy and carry a fishing license to fish or take fish, amphibians, and other aquatic wildlife.
  • Bag and Possession Limits: Bag and possession limits restrict the number of fish a person can catch and keep in a single day or possess at any given time.
  • Second-Rod Stamp: Anglers can use a spare rod, hand line, or tipup by obtaining a second-rod license. There is a limit of one stamp per season and is not transferrable.
  • Gold Medal Waters: Gold Medal Waters are defined as rivers or lakes that produce a standing stock of at least 60 pounds per acre and have at least 12 trout that are 14 inches or bigger per acre on a continuous basis.
  • State Records Programs: Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) recognizes licensed anglers who catch exceptionally large fish through three separate programs.
  • Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Stamp: ANS stamps are required for motorboats and sailboats to help CPW detect, prevent, and manage aquatic invasive species in Colorado’s waters.
  • Restrictions on Fishing Methods: Specific regulations exist on underwater spearfishing, archery fishing, sling bows, and gigs for certain fish species.
  • Rules on Bait and Commercial Use: Certain fish species are allowed for commercial use, but others are protected. Only specific species can be used for personal use as bait, and statewide bag limits apply to certain fish species.
  • Ice Fishing Shelters: Permanent ice-fishing shelters must display the owner’s or user’s name and CID number outside.
  • Tagging Fish and Contests: It is illegal to tag or mark a fish before releasing it, and it is also illegal to release tagged or marked fish into public waters, except for approved contests.

#Note: Regulations may change, so anglers must check with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) for the most up-to-date rules and guidelines.