[DIY] Guide to Best Fly Fishing in Colorado

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

map of Colorado fly fishing destinations and access points

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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.

Northwest Colorado

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.

Southwest Colorado

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.

Gunnison Region

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

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.

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 Fly Fishing Trip Planning

Colorado offers ample opportunities for the wade fisherman, bring your waders, or you can opt to fish from a boat. If you have a preference for one type, then you can build your vacation based around that.

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.

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.

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 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.

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