The Colorado River extends from the state of Colorado all the way to Northern Mexico, spanning over 1400 miles.
The headwaters of this mighty river begin high up Rocky Mountain National Park, where it flows south and west towards the Colorado Plateau before making its way through the Grand Canyon, eventually emptying into the Gulf of California between the Baja Peninsula and the Sonoran Desert.
Entire books have been written about fishing this mighty river. This guide will concern itself solely to the stretch of river that lies within the borders of the state of Colorado.
The Upper Colorado forms near La Poudre Pass Lake, high up in the mountains before drifting past some of the most breathtaking vistas in the entire state. From here, it flows southwest to Dotsero, where it joins its waters with the Eagle River, and marking the beginning of the Middle Colorado River region.
The middle section of the river passes through Grand Valley, where much of the river is diverted to support irrigation of nearly 40,000 acres of farmland. Flowing more slowly now, the Middle Colorado runs all the way to the Gunnison River just past the San Juan Mountains, where it begins to flow west towards the Utah Border and the tailwaters of the Lower Colorado.
No matter where on the Colorado River you choose to fish, you are going to land trout. Browns, brook trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and even rainbow/cutthroat hybrids can be found along the waters of the Colorado from La Poudre Pass Lake all the way to Ruby Canyon and Fruita.
The waters of the Colorado River have become legend all across the Lower 48 States in terms of potential big catches for rainbow and cutthroat trout, and thousands of anglers from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the Colorado every year. Not to worry, though—there’s plenty of river for everybody.
With such an expansive distance to cover, it can be somewhat intimidating to try and narrow down your options to just one or two locations along the Colorado River that yield the best fishing, but there are several places that offer the potential for trophy fishing.
First among these is near the headwaters in the Upper Colorado, and can be found between the Fraser River all the way west to Troublesome creek.This particular section of the Colorado is officially designated as Gold Medal waters where there are plenty of trophy-sized fish. The town of Kremmling is west of this stretch of water, and you can easily access the entire length of the Gold Medal section by following Highway 40.
The Colorado is open for fishing all year long, but you want to pay close attention to the seasonal hatches for each section. Midges in the winter, Caddis in the spring, BWOs and Stoneflies in the summer, is a good guiding principle, but checking local conditions at a reputable fly shop for the section you want to fish is best upon arrival. There’s always a section that’s fishing well all year long, and many stretches of the Colorado offer excellent fishing conditions from sunup to sunset.
Depending on the season, midges, caddis, stoneflies, and BWOs are going to be thick along the banks and over the water, so you will want to pack your flies accordingly, or just pick up the recommended patterns when you arrive.
Here are the most popular and successful patterns along the Colorado:
- Prince Nymph (prince #16-18)
- Blue Winged Olive (olive #18-22)
- Bead Head Prince (prince #16-20)
- Adams Parachute Dry Fly (adams gray #18-22)
- Bead Head Brassie™ (yellow #18-22)
- Pheasant Tail Nymph (natural #18-22)
- PMX (yellow, royal #10-16)
- Elk Hair Caddis (tan#14-16)
- Crystal Stimi (yellow#10-14)
- Royal Wulff (#12-16)
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Colorado 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 Colorado River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Make sure you have a reliable map of the area detailing any stretches of private property though, as well as a list of sections designated Catch and Release Only by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
While fines and penalties for violating state regulations are not particularly steep, they exist to help preserve the trout populations within the state and ensure that every visiting angler has a chance to land and photograph their trophy fish.
Additionally, it is considered extremely poor manners (not to mention carrying a charge of trespassing) to fish on private land without permission from the landowner. Be sure you are representing the fly fishing community well during your visit.
Eagle County Regional Airport is the best flight in or out of the area, and it also makes for a short drive to any and all campgrounds, small towns, and other accommodations in the area if you are starting at the headwaters and fishing your way down the river.
There are also 11 national parks along the Colorado River, so finding inexpensive or free camping areas isn’t all that difficult even in peak season if you don’t mind “roughing it” during your trip. Be sure to check out local vacation rentals in the area too, as many offer discounted rates during the off season for skiing and other adventure sports.
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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