To the unknowing eye, Southwestern Colorado might look harsh and imposing. Tall hills and steep canyon make for a daunting yet beautiful landscape. And yet, to the avid fly fisherman, Southwestern Colorado should be somewhere high on your bucket list.
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Starting in the San Juan Mountains, this river flows through the town of Silverton, into the Animas Canyon, past the city of Durango, and into New Mexico where it finally merges with the San Juan River near the town of Aztec. Along the way, the river plays host to some excellent fishing spots.
Fly Fishing the Animas River with Lost Soul Anglers
If you decide to test these waters for yourself, you should have no problem finding great spots along the way. The river plays host to multiple varieties of trout, with rainbow and brown being the most common.
In some places, the Animas river is big -- over 100 ft. wide -- and this size lets the trout stretch and grow. State records have been caught here, with at least one brown weighing in at over 20 pounds! Brown can be tricky, though, but the rainbow are plentiful and bite often. You can also find brook trout and Colorado cutthroat in these waters.
The Animas River offers an easy fishing destination in some of the most beautiful scenery the west has to offer. This is added to the fact that many stretches of the river are easily accessible, which means you can spend more time fishing and less time worrying about how to get in and out safely. Large towns like Durango and Silverton are close by, which means you don’t have to worry about roughing it. All in all, it’s a fly fisherman’s best-case scenario.
While many areas of the river are relatively accessible, without a doubt the most convenient (and most popular) area is in the town of Durango itself. A seven-mile stretch of open, public access, from the 32nd Street Bridge down to the Rivera Bridge, makes it easy to drive up and wade right in. Of course, there’s boat access, too.
Much of the river is wide but shallow, so there are plenty of opportunities to space yourself apart from others and find those nooks and crannies the fish like to hide in. At times, the big water can be rough or come with a lot of push behind it, and the bottom of the river can be slippery, so always be careful when you’re out
Away from Durango, access can be trickier. Near its head, above the town of Hermosa, access becomes trickier, and many areas are not accessible by car. Reaching the river in the canyon can be tricky for anyone not willing to boat in. South of Durango, the river flows through the Ute Reservation, which will not allow you to fish without a permit. There is good fishing here, so getting a permit might be worth it.
Another great thing about the Animas is that the fishing is good here all year around, with the exception of the spring runoff around late April through May. The river never freezes or gets slushy in the winter, so you have year-round access.
Spring runoff tends to bring a lot of muddy water with it, so the water is deeper and more churned up. The fish are a lot harder to coax out at that time. Other than that, there is plenty of access and good fishing regardless of when you go. The water, like the rest of the area, ranges from quite cold in the winter to fairly warm in the summer, so make sure to prepare accordingly.
There’s plenty of life along the river all year round, so anytime you go there’s something to cast. In the winter, the fish settle into the deeper pockets along the water, but can be lured out with long nymph rigs or midge hatches.
In fact, Midges are common in the Animas all year long, and are always a good choice. In the summer, caddisflies are dominant. Spotted Sedges are common in early summer, but are replaced by Green Sedges and Pale Morning Duns as the season winds along. In the fall, terrestrials such as grasshoppers and beetles are a good choice.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the ABC River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Animas River fishing reports. A few to check out include:
Fishing regulations vary depending on which section of the Animas River you are fishing.
You'll need a Colorado fishing license to fish the Animas River which you can get on-line from the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.
The city of Durango is easily accessible by car or plane, so getting here really is no trouble. With a population of over 16,000 this is a large enough area that you can expect all the amenities, including plenty of lodging and food.
The entirety of the river is only a couple of hours’ drive maximum, and there are plenty of smaller towns up and down you can stay in as well. As this is a popular tourist area you might want to shop around for the best deals, but once here you should be able to expect all the comforts of home awaiting you as you return from a day spent exploring the river.
Looking for more places to fish in Colorado? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and is on a quest to map the best places for fly fishing in America. He created the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish.
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