Upper Colorado River

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Colorado River

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.

Colorado River Map, Fishing Access Sites and Boat Launches

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Colorado River (Lower): 39.551510, -107.334106
Colorado River (Middle): 40.062569, -106.198654
Colorado River (Upper): 40.248455, -105.869606
COLORADO RIVER AT WINDY GAP, NEAR GRANBY, CO.: 40.108319, -106.004185
COLORADO RIVER BELOW BAKER GULCH NR GRAND LAKE, CO: 40.325818, -105.856679
COLORADO RIVER BELOW GLENWOOD SPRINGS, CO: 39.554982, -107.337554
COLORADO RIVER BL SHADOW MOUNTAIN RESERVOIR, CO.: 40.206652, -105.838901
COLORADO RIVER NEAR CAMEO, CO.: 39.239146, -108.266195
COLORADO RIVER NEAR COLORADO-UTAH STATE LINE: 39.132760, -109.027055
COLORADO RIVER NEAR DOTSERO, CO: 39.644611, -107.078014
COLORADO RIVER NEAR GRANBY, CO: 40.120819, -105.900569
COLORADO RIVER NEAR KREMMLING, CO: 40.036652, -106.440032
Colorado River (RMNP): 40.451127, -105.847735
Colorado River (Headwaters): 40.474440, -105.825119
Colorado River (River Access): 40.328142, -105.856863
Colorado River (Small Access): 40.110448, -105.997006
Colorado River (Hot Sulphur Access): 40.074287, -106.109047
Colorado River (Byers Canyon Access): 40.053012, -106.133552
Colorado River (Hot Sulphur Springs Access): 40.050499, -106.141099
Colorado River (Starbreeze Access): 40.064131, -106.190677
Colorado River (Fishing Access): 40.065596, -106.206250
Colorado River (Lower Access): 40.063741, -106.214410
Colorado River (Bond Access): 40.065900, -106.231785
Colorado River (Confluence Access): 40.044668, -106.371099
Colorado River (Pumphouse Ramp Access): 39.989427, -106.508653
Colorado River (Radium SWA): 39.951584, -106.557223
Colorado River (State Bridge Access): 39.857495, -106.648493
Colorado River (Bond Ramp Access): 39.891083, -106.703408
Colorado River (Catamount Ramp Access): 39.890814, -106.833109
Colorado River (Derby Junction Ramp Access): 39.869405, -106.904683
Colorado River (Wade Access - No Ramp): 39.841977, -106.941023
Colorado River (Pinball Point Ramp Access): 39.833113, -106.947404
Colorado River (Cottonwood Ramp Access): 39.712465, -107.044762
Colorado River (Dotsero Ramp Access): 39.650653, -107.062170
Colorado River (Whitewater Park Ramp and Access): 39.559428, -107.360045
Colorado River (Fishing Access): 39.559788, -107.291193
Colorado River (Fishing Access): 39.560462, -107.250233
Colorado River: 39.864360, -106.909161
Williams Fork Reservoir: 40.019596, -106.202002
Hot Sulpher Springs: 39.560212, -105.085322
Williams Fork Reservoir (West Boat Ramp): 40.008556, -106.222343
Williams Fork Reservoir (McQueary Bay): 40.009078, -106.231656
Williams Fork Reservoir (Johnson Bay): 40.006958, -106.223910
Colorado River (BLM Access): 39.565148, -107.416233
Colorado River (Connected Lakes): 39.082530, -108.612913
Colorado River (Corn Lake): 39.055663, -108.460214
Colorado River (Fruita): 39.148704, -108.744320
Colorado River (Hot Sulphur Springs SWA): 40.049362, -106.132417
Colorado River (Island Acres): 39.168591, -108.299694
Colorado River (Loma SWA): 39.174545, -108.808221
Colorado River (Palisade River Bend Park): 39.100866, -108.359358
Colorado River (Parachute Ponds SWA): 39.442071, -108.048269
Colorado River (Pioneer Park): 40.078693, -106.103611
Colorado River (Wheeler SWA): 39.541692, -107.677202
Colorado River: 39.541200, -107.644300
Colorado River: 39.573600, -107.451000
Colo: 40.065970, -106.231645
Winter Park: 40.335025, -75.997290

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Best Places to Fish the Colorado River

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.

Colorado River Flow and Current Conditions

COLORADO RIVER BELOW GLENWOOD SPRINGS, CO

  • Flow: 1250 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 3.68 ft
.
USGS

Best Time to Fish the Colorado River

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.

Colorado River Fly Box

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)

Colorado River Fishing Tips

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.

Colorado River Fishing Reports

Colorado River Fishing Regulations

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.

Colorado River Trip Planning Tips

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.

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Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado.


About the Author Ken Sperry

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.