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.
Fly Fishing the Salmonfly Hatch on the Colorado River
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
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
- Streamflow: 5180 ft³/s
- Gage height: 5.78 ft
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.
Best Flies for Colorado River
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)
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 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.
Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.
Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.
High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.
Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet. 3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.
Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable. If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.
Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market. Excellent foot and ankle support. Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.
Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!
Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats. Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish. Simply the best nets on the market.
Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam. If you need more storage - you have too many flies!
Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.
Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.
The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes. Game changer.
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Colorado River Fishing Reports
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.
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.