Taking its name from the Southern Ute phrase for “Buffalo Pass”, Cochetopa Creek is a lesser known small freestone fishery in the south central region of Colorado.
Lying in the shadow of San Luis Peak and the San Juan Mountains, this stream well south of Gunnison runs for around 40 miles and feeds into the Tomichi Creek.
The vast majority of the land around the Cochetopa between the eponymous pass and its terminus is made up of flat meadow country, most of it belonging to a number of operational multi-generation cattle ranches such as the Coleman and the Snyder families.
Just south of the Cochetopa lies the Rio Grande National Forest, providing an old growth forest backdrop as a counterpoint to the 14’ers of the San Juans.
The chief attraction for anglers visiting Cochetopa is the browns and rainbows that swim wild all along its length. These are true wild trout, and the chances of landing a large rainbow or brown is extremely good since these fish don’t see artificial flies and lures very often.
One caveat for fishing the Cochetopa though: much of the meadowland here is grazing territory for the cattle ranchers, and you need to be respectful of private property boundaries as you make your way along the banks of this freestone creek.
Get a good map of the area with property line markings, and make sure you know where you are at all times to avoid an uncomfortable trespassing incident.
Flow and water conditions are at the mercy of the prevailing weather here too, so make sure you check out the local fishing conditions before setting out.
The publicly accessible ranch land along the Cochetopa definitely offers the most convenient waters to fish along the stream, and it is fast, flat water that doesn’t get particularly wide or deep.
There are some good pockets and riffles to be found along this 8 mile stretch of water too, and if you don’t mind wading you may have better luck midstream.
Some anglers claim the hatches along the Cochetopa aren’t anything to write home about, but this is also largely a matter of where you decide to fish.
Some areas on public land offer plentiful insect life, while others are more sparse in the available trout provender.
If fishing on the ranchers’ land doesn’t seem like a good wild trout prospect, there are quite a few other creeks that feed into the Cochetopa that offer plenty of action as well.
The Chavez, Stewart, and Los Pinos are all close by, and all three offer more public access and somewhat faster flows and potential pocket water and pools depending on the season.
Don’t hesitate to venture off the beaten path onto state and public land along Cochetopa either.
It’s something of a fly fishing truism that the wilder the land around you, the wilder the fish and the easier it is to land them.
Summer time offers the best hatches along Cochetopa Creek, with the predominant species being caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies.
Midges, as with most Colorado freestone streams, are a solid bet pretty much year round.
The fall also offers some excellent fishing conditions, and if the weather is warm enough you can usually find a good day or two to land some trout in the winter time as well.
Runoff season is definitely a challenge, and the clarity and flow of the Cochetopa makes fishing a challenging proposition.
More than likely, you want to plan your expedition to the Cochetopa Creek sometime between midsummer and the end of October for best results.
Much of the Cochetopa you can fish from the bank but some good hip waders help to reach more of the water.
You can wet wade in the summer months, but if you opt for winter fishing you definitely need some good neoprene outer/insulated lining waders for this waterway.
A 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight rod is plenty for the Cochetopa. Match your reel to the line weight, and use at least a 7 foot leader. Some of the calm sections of Cochetopa it helps to have a 9-foot or 12-foot leader though, so it can’t hurt to take those along, too.
Tippets should be anywhere from 4X-6X, and you may want to consider packing a landing net.
There aren't too many fly shops that provide Cochetopa River fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Standard Colorado Parks and Wildlife fishing rules apply on the Cochetopa for segments of public land.
If you decide to fish on the 8 miles of publicly accessible private property provided by the Coleman and Snyder ranches, all fishing is catch-and-release with artificial flies and lures only.
It’s recommend to fly into Denver and hop on a connecting flight to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional airport from there, as that will save you a good 2-3 hours worth of driving time to get to Cochetopa.
The drive to from Gunnison down to Cochetopa is roughly an hour or so, and Gunnison offers a good number of hotels and motels where you can book a stay.
There are also a few good bed and breakfast places you can try if you are looking to save a little on your stay.
Last but not least, check to see what local vacation rentals are available in the area, as you can occasionally get some really good deals on a stay with private homeowners looking to earn a little extra renting out space.
Featured Image by University of New Mexico Press
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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