It's no secret that fly-fishers from around the country flock to Colorado each and every year. There's good reason for it, the state features lakes, streams, and rivers that are just filled with opportunities.
Typically if you fishing in Colorado you'll be fishing for trout and by trout we mean all different kinds. You'll find brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout.
Colorado boasts over 9,000 miles of trout streams from world-class tailwaters to mountain freestones. Add in over 2,000 lakes and reservoirs and you have more water than you can fish in a lifetime!
Colorado Gold Medal Waters
Colorado's Gold Medal Waters are well worth checking out. For those who aren't familiar with the designation, Gold Medal Waters are streams and lakes that are able to offer up to 60 pounds worth of trout per one acre. Not only that, but there needs to be at least a dozen trout per acre that are at least 14 inches. So, what does this mean to you? It means there are plenty of fish – and big ones at that. There are three different lakes in the state that are deemed Gold Medal Waters, and 322 miles worth of streams. These waters gets their designation from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Click the links provided below for a map and information about each Colorado Gold Medal Trout Stream and Lake.
In addition to the Gold Medal Waters there are hundreds of other high quality rivers and lakes in Colorado that offer excellent fly fishing opportunities. A few more to check out are listed below.
Click the links provided for maps and information about fishing each location.
Colorado Fly Fishing Map
Because Colorado is such a diverse state where fishing is concerned, it is usually divided into different regions, which contain a selection of Gold Medal waters. Here’s a look at some of the top regions.
In the northwest of Colorado, you have lakes, rivers, and reservoirs to choose from. This region is home to five different Gold Medal water winners. One of the most popular rivers is the Colorado River, which flows through Rocky Mountain National Park. This river is especially incredible as you’ll be able to take in breathtaking scenery while fishing.
Visit our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on trout fishing in the park including a map of all lakes and streams that contain trout.
The Colorado river is actually divided into a few different sections, each providing their own experience and types of trout. It's important to note that some areas are catch and release only and you must uses lures and flies. Typically you'll be able to catch browns, brookies, and rainbows.
As far as lakes in Northwest Colorado, Steamboat Lake gets a shout out and is a Gold Medal water. Steamboat Lake is relatively large at 1,053 acres but because it is a well-known spot, you will find more anglers here. Getting into Steamboat Lake requires a park pass priced at $5. This is because it is a Colorado State Park.
Fly Fishing Near Aspen, Colorado
Aspen is well known for its skiing, but that’s not all the area offers to tourists. It offers a few different rivers ideal for fishing, with two of them being Gold Medal waters. If you're after big trout, then you need to check out the Fryingpan River. This Gold Medal water is 14 miles in length and eventually meets up with the Roaring Fork, which can be found in Basalt.
It's important to mention that this area gets quite crowded, but that shouldn't steer you away as you'll still have no problem finding fish. The trout you'll find here are cutthroats, browns, rainbows, and brookies.
The Fryingpan isn't far from a variety of lodging options such as condos, motels, hotels, campgrounds, and bed and breakfast establishments.
In this region, you've got reservoirs, lakes, and rivers to choose from. The Rio Grande River is a Gold Medal water and well-known. If you like wading in the water, you're in luck here because much of it is perfect for wading. There is a nice variety of trout to be found and it is pretty well visited.
Because of the fact that it is so well-known, there are many campgrounds right on the actual river that you can choose from. The hatches are at their peak during the summer, and this is when there is an influx in anglers. The entire area is easily accessible and you can easily spend a day or a whole week here.
In the Gunnison region, you have reservoirs and rivers to choose from. The Gunnison River can be found just below the Blue Mesa Reservoir and offers anglers a Gold Medal location. Despite the fact there are excellent opportunities reaching it is tricky. Don't count on driving to the river, instead it is recommended that you enter Black Canyon and float to Gunnison.
Your other option is to visit Gunnison River from above the Blue Mesa. This area is known for its Kokanee salmon, which run in the fall. You'll also find various trout such as rainbow and brown. In this area there are a lot of rules to be followed, as you can only use lures and artificial flies from East and Taylor all the way downstream until you hit the bridge at Hwy 50.
Accommodations are plentiful and you can choose from campgrounds, motels, and cabins. If you’re traveling with a group of anglers a cabin is a great way to go.
Summit County is another "not to be missed" area of the state. Again, there are lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. The area offers three different Gold Medal waters.
Gore Creek is especially intriguing for anglers and can be reached from I-70. This is a stream that is running fast and is quite narrow. It's a wise idea to wear waders if you plan to fish here. Keep in mind that there is a limit of two trout with a 16 inch minimum size. As well, you are only allowed to use lures and artificial flies.
What's really great is that this area is very close to Vail, so you can tie it in with a vacation to this popular destination. It also means that there are tons of accommodation options.
45 Best Trout Streams and Lakes to Fly Fish in Colorado
Colorado is a fantastic location for anyone who wants to do a little fly fishing. There are three major regions in the state, including Northern, Central, and Southern Colorado. Each has its own charm and a different experience for someone who wants to get involved in fly fishing in the state. Fishing enthusiasts can head down south to the windy Rio Grande River, enjoy fishing in the mountains at Spinney Mountain Reservoir, or try out popular destinations in the north of the state. This article will delve into what each region offers so you can choose the perfect location for your next big catch!
9 Best Places to Fly Fish in Northern Colorado
Northern Colorado is an outstanding location for fly fishing in the state. Some of the best waters in the state are in the northern region, whether you want to hang out on the 1,700 surface acres of Boyd Lake or spend time in the wilder waters of the Poudre. For those who live and work in Windsor, Fort Collins, and Loveland, you can head out to fish without going far. You'll find plenty of urban and suburban fishing spots, as well as a few that are a bit more remote. Some of the top fisheries in the area include Elk River, Steamboat Lake, Cache La Poudre River, and Lake John.
1. Cache La Poudre River
Anyone who has done fly fishing in Colorado has heard about the Cache La Poudre River. It's designated as the only "Wild and Scenic River" in the state from the US National Park Service.
Fishing is available year-round but tends to be best at the end of spring through the beginning of summer.
The area can be accessed from Trail Ridge Road or Highway 14, and you'll find many sites to boat or hike along the river. Make sure you get to the headwaters for the best fishing. You'll find shady areas, quick riffles, pools, and pockets for fishing from the banks.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Cache La Poudre River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
2. Yampa River
The Yampa River runs from the Green River to the Flattops for a massive stretch of fishing fun. It goes through canyons and across rangeland and mountains with various fishing conditions for any angler.
Some of the best spots for fly fishing are in the headwaters of White River National Forest. The coldest waters offer lots of pocket water and riffles and other trout hunting areas across the ponds, lakes, and streams that feed into the Yampa River.
Stagecoach State Park, Steamboat Springs, and Cross Mountain are also excellent locations. The best time to fish in the river is in the fall in mid-morning or after.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Yampa River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
3. Elk River
Elk River is a tributary of the Yampa River that offers a wide variety of fish. It's more isolated than some locations due to its location near Yampa and the long driving distance from Denver.
The main access point is from pull-offs and public parking areas in Routt National Forest and the Christina Wildlife Refuge Area. Ranch county has the best fishing but avoid doing so on private property.
The best time to fish is usually throughout mid and late summer and into early fall. This is a freestone stream so the weather will heavily impact the fishing conditions.For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Elk River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
4. White River
White River has its headwaters in the Flat Tops Regions, the North Fork at Trapper Lake, and South Fork. It's a great spot to catch browns, rainbows, cutthroats, and cutbow hybrids. Several whitefish are also in this area but make sure you watch out for bears.
There are many access points for the river, depending on how far you want to go into the wilderness. The best time of year to fish here is in the spring or fall. If you choose the mayfly hatching season, please book accommodations early to be sure you have lodging since the river gets very popular.For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the White River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
Enter your text here...
5. Steamboat Lake
Steamboat Lake has the designation of being a Gold Medal Water fishing area even though it was created by man in the 1960s. It offers over 1,000 acres of stillwater fishing alongside various other activities.
The best spot to fish is by the dam near Sage Flats, but you can also walk a few minutes to get away from the crowd. If you don't mind wading and hiking, you can bring in tons of fish at this location.
Fishing is available all year, but campgrounds are closed as winter gets closer. To avoid crowds, head down in fall or winter, but the best catches tend to be in spring and summer.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Steamboat Lake in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
6. North Platte River
If you want to fish in a legendary location, you can't beat the North Platte River. It's known as one of the best wading rivers for fly fishing in the western United States.
It has a Gold Medal area of water as well as being named a Wild Trout river. Anglers head to the location to fish for brown trout and do well even when runoff season is in session.
There are several ways to access the river, including off of Highway 125. Those who want to experience the Gold Medal area will want to head to 6-Mile Gap. The prime fishing season is from April through the middle of November.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the North Platte River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
7. Michigan River
The Michigan River is a tributary of the North Platte River and is considered a top trout fishing stream. It's commonly used for catching brown trout that are often 14 inches and larger. A few cutthroat and rainbow will also be seen in the downstream, but most catches will be medium and large brown trout in most cases.
Public access to the river is available from Highway 125, but it requires a moderate hike through vegetation and brush.
The best time for fishing at the river is from June through autumn, the latter being the spawning season. Winter fishing can be difficult due to the need to hike and the potential for snowbanks.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Michigan River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
8. Lake John
Located in northcentral Colorado, you can head to North Park to fish at Lake John. It's one of the top stillwater fly fishing locations in the northern area. You'll be surrounded by mountains and have the chance to experience some of the most diverse environments in the state.
The banks and mid-lake often experience many boats, so hiking farther away to quiet waters is the best option. The fish are close to the banks early in the day but move out later on.
The hatch seasons are in summer and fall, but the location gets remarkably busy, so your trip needs to be planned. In winter, the only option is ice fishing since the lake freezes over.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Lake John in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
9. North Delany Lake
The North Delany Lake is in North Park, Colorado, in Jackson County. It is one of the Gold Medal Lakes in the state and is managed as a wild brown trout egg source that brings in more than a million eggs every year.
The lake is best known for brown and rainbow trout and offers cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout for those who want to add a catch to their collection. Fish off the shoreline where the fish grow huge thanks to all the insects or go out on the lake for a beautiful view. Mid and late summer are the best times to fish, preferably early or late in the day when the bugs are out.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing North Delaney Lake in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
20 Best Places to Fly Fish in Central Colorado
Central Colorado is best known for offering outstanding cutthroat, lake, brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Not only is the fishing fantastic, but you can also take in beautiful views of the Rockies.
Anglers can enjoy Gold Medal rivers and streams with bright blue waters in open grasslands and gorges filled with boulders while 14,000-foot peaks make up the background.
You don't have to stop fishing in winter since many tailwaters offer year-round fishing for the brave. On the other hand, many rivers offer huge trophy trout that you can catch during the traditional season.
Check out the best fisheries in Central Colorado below.
1. Arkansas River
The Arkansas River has headwaters near Leadville, which take the river south through Arkansas River Valley, Buena Vista, and Salida before going east to hit Royal Gorge. Huge brown trout can be found underneath shady brush that hands off the banks, especially in the area from Brown's Canyon to Royal Gorge.
If you enjoy float fishing, Royal Gorge has a deep canyon with amazing views. From Leadville, you can reach the river from Highway 24 going south. There are several areas to start your expedition, with Buena Vista and Salida both being popular.
The Mother's Day Caddis fly hatch is the best time for fishing, but winter also offers midge fishing.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Arkansas River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
2. Colorado River
The Colorado River spans from Colorado to the northern part of Mexico with a span of more than 1,400 miles. The headwaters start at Rocky Mountain National Park before moving southwest to the Grand Canyon and hitting the Gulf of California at the Sonoran Desert.
This is an excellent place for big catches of cutthroat and rainbow catch, but you'll also see browns, brook, and hybrids along the waters in Colorado. As large as the river is, the access points are nearly limitless. You can reach Gold Medal waters when leaving Kremmling and following Highway 40.
The river is open all year, but seasonal hatches play a part in when to fish. Consider midges in winter, caddis in spring, and stoneflies and BWOs in summer but check with a good fly shop to be sure.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Colorado River (includes a map of fishing access points)
3. Blue River
As a tributary for the Colorado River, the Blue River is highly accessible and easy to reach from Denver. It can be highly active in summer when rafters, canoeing enthusiasts, fly anglers, and kayakers all head to the water.
For those who want to catch trout, the brook population is always great, and you may even catch a huge rainbow trout in the tailwaters below the Dillon Dam. This is the same area where you can fish Gold Medal waters, and it's accessible from Kremmling driving on I-790 west to Highway 9.
The best time to fish here is mid-June through November, with the best hatches in summer and fall.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Blue River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
4. Crystal River
Aspen is known for the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan, while Crystal River is overlooked, but it shouldn't be that way. It runs about 35 miles through gorgeous alpine vistas you will see nowhere else in Colorado. Browns and rainbows are typical, but you'll also run into many whitefish while on the water.
The top place to fish is near where it meets the Roaring Fork River. The water is calm and the freestone and boulders on the riverbed create many riffles and pools for fish to hide.
Summer and fall are the best fishing seasons, particularly from August through October. Winter should typically be avoided unless you don't mind low temperature and bitter cold.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Crystal River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
5. Eagle River
The Eagle River is known for its considerable number of creeks, streams, tributaries, and branches, with headwaters originating close to the Continental Divide. The waters offer all sorts of browns, rainbows, cutthroats, and brook trout. It's not unheard of to fish up browns and rainbows that are 20 inches or larger at Lower or Upper Eagle.
The headwaters are accessible from Highway 24, leaving Leadville, while tributaries are typically found on forest roads off the highway.
Fishing can be done all year, but most agree the best hatches are in summer and early fall. Hatches are standard with species like stoneflies, midges, mayflies, tricos, and caddis around, available at varying times of the year. During peak season, the river can get busy, especially on Lower Eagle near the Colorado River.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Eagle River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
6. Fraser River
The Fraser River is often unnoticed by anglers heading to other locations, such as Rocky Mountain National Park or the Colorado River. However, this river offers a challenge and lets you test your fly fishing skills. It also has gorgeous vistas to enjoy while appreciating small and medium-sized stream fishing.
Several miles of the river are on National Forest land and publicly accessible. The river is shallow and narrow but still great for fishing. You can also visit Granby and pay a rod fee to access the Fraser there.
The top time to fish is from spring runoff through the late fall when stoneflies, caddis, BWO, and mayflies are around.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Fraser River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
7. Fryingpan River
If you want to experience Gold Medal fly fishing year-round, the Fryingpan River is an excellent choice. It's located near Basalt in the White River National Forest and offers brook, brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout.
There are tons of different fishing access points, including the 14 mile Gold Medal stretch that starts at the Basalt Dam. Fryingpan River tends to be busy in summer when the green drake mayfly is around. You can fly fish dry from the afternoon through the evening.
The autumn months are also great for fishing and offer some of the best views. Winter can also provide huge catches with smaller crowds for those who prefer a bit of solitude.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Frying Pan River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
8. Gore Creek
Are you interested in a fly fishing secret? Gore Creek is where you want to go and it's located right outside of Vail. This area is more known for its slopes and expensive houses, but it can also give you some fantastic trout if you time things right.
The creek runs through Vail and the Gold Medal area is where Gore meets Red Sandstone Creek west of town. Most access areas are on frontage roads, but there are also pull-offs and public parks that you can make use of.
Avoid spring since the runoff is too cold, but fall and summer have excellent conditions.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Gore Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
9. Roaring Fork River
The Roaring Fork River moves from high country down to morph from a running stream to a mighty river. This area is currently in development, but you can find excellent water and Gold Medal fishing if you take the time to look.
The Wild Trout Waters on the river are from Hallum Lake to the Upper Woody Creek Bridge, where you can find brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout in droves.
Two different Gold Medal areas are on Roaring Fork and both can be accessed easily. You'll discover whitefish, rainbow trout, and brown trout outside Carbondale or brook and rainbows near the Rio Grande Trail.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Roaring Fork River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
10. Williams Fork River
When you want somewhere calm and quiet with rolling hills and beautiful waters, Williams Fork River is the answer. The nearest parking access requires a 30-minute hike, but it's an easy one, and you can also head down on a bike to cut down on transportation time.
It's accessible from Highway 40 near Parshall and offers browns and rainbows fighting for dry flies. For scenic fishing, visit the banks near Parshall or head to the reservoir for huge trout.
This area is perfect for year-round fishing with slightly more catches possible in late fall and winter. Conditions are excellent from mid-morning through the afternoon, so you can fish whenever you like.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Williams Fork River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
11. South Platte River
Another legend among lovers of fly fishing is the South Platte River. Many people consider it the best location for Gold Medal trout out of anywhere else you could go.
It's a gorgeous spot with formidable boulders and massive granite formations along with a variety of fish. You can expect to see around 7,000 fish swimming the river as it moves from Deckers to the Waterton Canyon.
No matter where you fish on the river, you can expect to see rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Fishing is possible year-round, but it does get cold in the winter so remember to bundle up.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the South Platte River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
12. Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir is host to hundreds of anglers starting in April when it opens for the season. The fishing times run from sunrise to sunset, but there are tons of beautiful fish to catch in that time. It's home to extra-large brown trout, massive rainbow trout, and several hybrid varieties that come out after the reservoir's winter closure.
You can choose to hang out on the shore or hop on a boat, with veterans recommending the latter for huge rainbows.
Keep in mind that it's only open from spring through early autumn and every angler wants to be there. You want to make plans in advance if you're going to make an extended trip.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Spinney Mountain Reservoir in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
13. Eleven Mile Reservoir
Eleven Mile Reservoir is located on the South Platte River near Eleven Mile Canyon. It offers 3,400 acres where you can catch cutbows, cutthroats, rainbows, and browns of huge sizes that hang out with northern pike, kokanee, and carp.
Float fishing is popular as is fishing from the shore fishing. There are lots of parking options nearby for accessible fishing, but you will want to distance yourself from other anglers for best results.
The best time to fish here tends to be from midsummer until the end of October.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Eleven Mile Reservoir in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
14. Bear Creek
At Mount Evans Wilderness, you'll find the headwaters of Bear Creek. It goes through Evergreen, Idledale, and Morrison before emptying into the South Platte River and Bear Ponds. Saw Mill Gulch, Kerr Gulch, and Cold Spring Gulch each feed into the creek to create exceptional fishing conditions throughout the year.
This location is a canyon fishery with fish runs, pocket water, and deep holes that is most known for their brown trout. However, it also offers rainbow and cutthroat hybrids as well as pure rainbows.
For the best fishing, head down to Bear Creek in summer for vast numbers of wild brown trout. Just make sure to check the weather because rain can cause the water to get murky.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Bear Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
15. Big Thompson River
The Big Thompson River, or "The Big T," makes its headwaters in Forrest Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park. Those who want to fish the headwaters will wish to do so in midsummer.
It's best if you are already an experienced hiker or backpacker since it's quite a trip. The trails can be dangerous, but even downstream, you can expect to see cutthroats, browns, and rainbows. The trout are primarily wild and come in at around 10 to 12 inches.
The safest access area is Moraine Park, where you can fish the streams that feed the river along the park. As long as you are downstream, fishing is possible all year round.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Big Thompson River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
16. South Boulder Creek
South Boulder Creek is found among the Colorado Front Range foothills and offers an excellent experience for those who don't mind hiking or driving from one spot to the next.
The headwaters start near Rollinsville and then run along the railroad tracks from the Moffat Tunnel to the Gross Reservoir. Brown trout are the creek's main draw, but you'll also see rainbows and an occasional brook or cutthroat trout.
Summer and fall are the best times to fish the creek as large baetis fly hatches are common. Fishing in winter is possible, but the river can freeze and cold can be an issue.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing South Boulder Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
17. Clear Creek
While It's called Clear Creek, this fishery is more of a river, and many people pass it by without even known. It flows more than 60 miles from its headwaters at the Continental Divide to the South Platte River.
Brown trout are most common, but you will also see large cutthroat and rainbows between the headwaters and Idaho Springs. Brown trout can be found near the I-70 run, while other trout are near the Continental Divide.
Waders are helpful for midstream action and a 9-foot, 4-weight rod should be sufficient. It's a famous creek near Denver, so there are many hotels and other accommodations for extended trips.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Clear Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
18. St. Vrain Creek
For those in Denver, St. Vrain Creek is an excellent location for fly fishing. You can get there fast and start pulling up trout, although they might not be as large as the river trout you are used to.
It can get a bit crowded in peak seasons of summer and fall, but a short hike will give you space and let you enjoy both the fishing and the excellent views.
The best way to reach the creek is through a walk from the Wild Basin ranger station. For accessibility, visit the creek from the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.
The best hatches are during spring and fall, but you can find excellent fish any time of year. It's best to fish during the afternoon since the sun brings out the fish to feed.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing St. Vrain Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
19. Tarryall Creek / Reservoir
Tarryall Creek feeds Tarryall Reservoir and is an extremely popular location for anglers and fishing lovers. Anglers come to bring home browns, rainbows, and pikes, all of which are abundant in reasonably large sizes.
Boats are allowed and the shoreline is easily accessible, along with the inlet from the creek. There are several riffles and pools in the creek where you can fly fish when you want a break from the reservoir.
One of the areas to access the reservoir is from Highway 285 south of Jefferson. You can park in public areas and hikes to the banks to start catching trout.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Tarryall Reservoir in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
20. Grand Mesa Lakes
The Grand Mesa Lakes are located in the west and south areas of the Grand Mesa National Forest and consist of about 300 finger lakes that are full of trout and popular with tourists.
Those who prefer solitude can head down back roads to remote areas where you can fish for browns, rainbows, and cutthroats.
The easiest method of access is by Highway 65 South from 70 West outside of DeBeque. You'll also end up near campgrounds, parking areas, RV parks, and resorts.
The best fishing season is from the end of April through November when there are active caddis, midge, and mayfly hatches. Winter fishing is possible but consists of only ice fishing and you can expect severe cold.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Grand Mesa Lakes in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
16 Best Places to Fly Fish in Southern Colorado
Filled with huge trout, Gold Medal waters, and gorgeous vistas, Southern Colorado is an excellent place to enjoy fly fishing. It offers freestone fisheries, canyon river fishing, deep pool locations, and more.
Most of the best fly fishing waters are remote and require some driving, but others are closer to civilization when you want to spend an afternoon with the local trout. Many of the fisheries span acres and offer a variety of fish so you can build your collection and have something to brag about with friends. Read on to learn about the top fly fishing areas in southern Colorado.
1. Gunnison River
If you want to fly fish in southern Colorado, nowhere beats Gunnison River. It's a year-round location filled with giant rainbow and brown trout and considered one of the best fisheries in the country.
The upper part of the river is designated as both Gold Medal and Wild Trout water. It has created many record catches, including a 40.5-inch rainbow trout and a 28-inch tiger trout.
There are many public access points for wading, but using a boat is recommended when waters are high. The best hatches and catches tend to occur in summer, but autumn is also an excellent time to hit the river. Winter is not recommended due to the extremely low temperatures.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Gunnison River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
2. Cimarron River
Another great river in the south part of the state is the Cimarron River. It's a bit far from places like East Rivers, Gunnison, and Taylor, making it less popular for many anglers. However, those who visit can expect to find tons of cutthroat and rainbow waiting to take a bite.
The best area on the river is close to the headwaters at Gunnison River Basin, but you can do well on other sections. The location is diverse with shallow freestone and deep pools for all kinds of fishing.
Both the upper and lower forks can be accessed from Highway 50, but you will need to make a short hike.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Cimarron River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
3. East River
The East River flows across the middle of the high country and then moves south from Emerald Lake to the Taylor River. It offers some of the best freestone fishing along its banks and is Wild Trout designated with an abundance of quick cutthroats, browns, and rainbows.
You'll want to visit the river near the Roaring Judy Hatchery off of 135 North from Gunnison for wild trout. Head to the downstream waters of Gunnison near Taylor if you're going to fish up some Kokanee salmon.
Fall is the best season for this location, but summer is also excellent for fly fishing.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the East River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
4. San Miguel River
Making its headwaters from the mountains above Telluride, the San Miguel River offers excellent cold-water trout fishing before moving about 45 miles to the northwest to become a bit warmer.
It's a freestone river with various riffles and plenty of pocket water to keep even the most experienced angler busy. The most common trout in the river are cutthroat/rainbow and full rainbow, but you'll also find brook and brown trout in the waters.
The best fishing conditions are found from June through October since stoneflies hatch all along the river. Keep in mind that fishing gets better the warmer the temperatures are.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the San Miguel River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
5. Taylor River
When it comes to high-mountain, high-altitude fishing in Colorado, Taylor River is heavy competition. It has headwaters in the Rockies that descent almost 9,500k feet before reaching the Taylor Reservoir. The water then moves through Taylor Canyon to reach the East River and make the Gunnison River right by Almont.
At the headwaters, you'll find beaver ponds, feeder creeks, and many brook trout. Below the dam, there are tons of boulders where cutthroats and rainbows hide in the eddies and currents. This area can be crowded during peak season, but there's plenty of river to explore.
Fishing is excellent year-round, but the best time is from June through October.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Taylor River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
6. Uncompahgre River
The Uncompahgre River might not be as well-known as other fisheries, but that doesn't mean you should count it out. It's located about four miles from Ridgway in the Ridgway State Park.
Snowmelt comes from the San Juan Mountains into Lake Como, where the river's headwaters are located at over 12,000 feet of elevation. The melt runs from the first autumn snows through the middle of July to create excellent cold fly fishing conditions.
For cutthroats and rainbows, visit the area below the Ridgway Reservoir. You'll also see gigantic browns that might make a new record for you.
The fishing conditions are best from the middle of summer through the beginning of fall.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Uncompahgre River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
7. Lake Fork Gunnison River
Lake Fork Gunnison River is a hidden treasure near Upper Gunnison that enjoys lots of drainage from the heavy rains and runoff from the North East San Juan Mountains.
It's a gorgeous area to spend time in while also offering some of the best Gold Medal waters in the western United States. The waters contain so many trout that the CDOW states it has more than double the amount of 14 inch or larger trout needed to qualify.
When spring runoff starts through fall, you'll find excellent fishing along the entirety of Lake Fork Gunnison River. Fishing is available all year, but winters can be challenging for most anglers.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lake Fork Gunnison River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
8. Rio Grande River
The San Juan Mountains in the southern area of Colorado are where the headwaters lie for the Rio Grande River. It's one of the largest rivers in the state and happens to be one of the most popular to visit.
It offers a variety of trout from brown to rainbow but is well known for giant brown trout. It also has a fantastic backdrop that makes any fishing expedition more exciting.
Wading and fishing are excellent in the upper sections, while public access points are easier to find downstream. The best months to fish the Rio Grande are from June through October.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Rio Grande River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
9. Conejos River
The Conejos River is tucked away in the eastern part of the San Juan Mountains and is a tributary of the Rio Grande River that runs about 92 miles. It has several easements and fishing access points to make it easy to enjoy fly fishing for trout in any season.
There are many great areas to fish the river, from the Platoro Reservoir to Lake Fork and Saddle Creek. The latter is a fly fishing only area that is perfect for getting extra practice.
When it comes to season, summer is the best time to head to the Conejos River due to the large amounts of insects. Spring fishing can also work well and fall offers big catches as winter gets closer.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Conejos River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
10. Los Pinos River
If you're looking for a rural location for fishing, consider the Los Pinos River. It has a flatland frontier feel that will make it stand out from other fisheries.
A reservoir cuts the river into two parts with the southern river offering a chance to fish on tribal land if you have permission. The north of the river is mainly private land for a few miles, but you can drive a few miles to enjoy great backcountry fishing options.
When you reach Weminuche Wilderness, you'll find browns, rainbows, and cutthroats waiting for you. Keep in mind that special regulations are present with a two-fish possession limit and the requirement to use only artificial lures and flies.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Los Pinos River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
11. San Juan River
The San Juan River makes its headwaters near Wolf Creek Pass and journeys over land from Utah to New Mexico. In Colorado, it passes through Pagosa Springs to offer access to excellent trout fishing conditions and the local hot springs.
The headwaters can be accessed from National Forest Land off Highway 160 near Wolf Creek Pass or you can visit the river in Pagosa Springs where it goes through the town. South of that, you will need a special license and tribal permission to fish the waters. It's worth it since many of the fish in this area are absolute monsters.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper San Juan River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
12. Animas River
Southwestern Colorado might seem imposing with steep canyons and tall hills, but it is an excellent location for fly fishers. This is primarily due to the Animas River, which runs 126 miles and is a Colorado Gold Medal Water destination.
The river is home to many types of trout, but the most common are brown and rainbow.
It's an accessible spot with places like Silverton and Durango nearby, so you don't have to camp out or do a lot of hiking to fish for an afternoon. Fishing is excellent most of the year except for the spring runoff from April through May.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Animas River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
13. Dolores River
When you do some fly fishing on the Dolores River, you get to enjoy a backdrop composed of the San Juan Mountain Range. The headwaters are located on the western slopes of the mountain range as well as its many tributaries.
The area is best known for brown trout and has plenty of rainbow, cutthroat, and cutbows to fish for. This is a truly rural experience that lets you enjoy peace and relaxation away from the modern world.
The most popular area to fish is at the McPhee Reservoir, but upper Dolores is more remote if you don't mind a nine-mile hike to get there.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Dolores River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
14. Florida River
If you're ready for challenging fly fishing, the Florida River is precisely where you need to be. It is a 62 mile long tributary of the Animas River located in the southern area of the state.
The Lemon Reservoir breaks it up with the upper river going all the way up to Weminuche Wilderness. Fishing is excellent south of the reservoir, but you need permission to be on the private land. For the best browns and rainbows, you'll want to head to the upper part of the river.
Top fishing occurs from the end of runoff through late fall, particularly throughout the summer months.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Florida River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
15. Piedra River
The Piedra River is a short distance from Pagosa Springs while also offering some of the most unique and beautiful canyon fishing in the state. It also provides a better than typical shot of pulling up a colossal cutthroat, rainbow, or brown trout.
The headwaters start in Weminuche Wilderness and turn into three rivers that merge into the Piedra River in the Piedra Wilderness. Keep in mind that the best fishing requires you to be on foot for ten miles, but it's well worth the effort.
Erosion at the lake has created plunge pools, deep pools, flat meadow pools, and bend pools that make it exceptional for anyone who loves fly fishing.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Piedra River in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
16. Cochetopa Creek
Cochetopa Creek is an excellent freestone fishery in the south-central part of the state that runs around 40 miles. The main reason anglers visit is for the enormous number of rainbows and browns throughout. The wild trout aren't used to artificial lures and flies, so you'll likely catch a big one if you head to this location.
A large part of the creek lies on private land, so you'll need a good map to avoid fishing on someone else's land.
The best time to fish the creek is during the summer months, when mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are abundant.
For more information check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Cochetopa Creek in Colorado (includes a map of fishing access points)
When is the Best Time to Fly Fish in Colorado?
Colorado offers fishing year round. With that said, there are some times of year that will have better catch rates than other times. Some of the waters will freeze over in the winter, but ice fishing may still be offered. Obviously in the winter months it is quite cold to be out there fishing, so you’ll need to dress appropriately.
Basing your fishing on the hatches is always a great idea so here are some tips to keep in mind. If you're heading to the Upper Colorado River you'll want to go in early June when for the Salmonfly hatch. If the Fryingpan is your destination then aim for mid-August all the way until October when the Green Drake mayfly hatch. If it's the Arkansas River that you are going to check out April through to May is ideal as that's when there are some serious Caddis hatches.
Although not everyone enjoys winter fishing, there are still opportunities to enjoy it in Colorado and the fish are still hungry. Advantages include off-season pricing and much less crowds.
Colorado offers ample opportunities for the wade fisherman, bring your waders, or you can opt to fish from a boat.
As far as your gear goes, you'll want wading boots, waders that are chest high, rods that are 8.5 feet to 10 feet, and weights of four through six. If you are visiting during the summer, you can always use wading sandals with a closed toe.
Best Flies for Trout Fishing in Colorado
There is a selection of flies that you can pack that will help to improve your catch rate. You'll want dry flies and nymphs. Dry flies can include the stimulator, parachute adams, and Dave's hopper. For nymphs consider the juju emerger, San Juan worm, prince, and gold-ribbed hare's ear. If you’d prefer you can buy your flies in Colorado so you can buy ones that are ideal for the conditions and specific waters you plan to fish.
Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere. Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
Colorado Fishing Regulations
In the state of Colorado you are required to have a fishing license before you do any fishing. Any person who is 16 years of age or older can purchase it through Colorado Parks & Wildlife. It is an annual license until you turn 64 years old, then it becomes a senior annual if you live in the state. You can also opt to purchase just a one day or five day license. This is great if you are visiting from another state.
Colorado Fly Fishing Trip Planning
Colorado is filled with fly fishing opportunities for individuals, families, or groups. Accommodations are quite easy to find, and many of the rivers and lakes are easily accessible. You may opt to plan your fishing trip during the off season so you’ll be the only one out there, or if you don’t mind the crowds then you’ve got a chance to fish for some real large trout during high-season. Plan to spend a couple of days or better yet a full week traveling around and trying out the various locations.