Many visitors to Colorado often pass the Fraser River on their way somewhere else.
Smart anglers visiting Colorado to test their fly fishing skills definitely should take a detour and visit the Fraser River Valley.
Not only does the scenery offer some of the most beautiful vistas in this part of the state, but it is also one of the best small to medium sized stream fishing.
A section of the Fraser River in the Fraser Flats is now open for public fishing in Grand County, Colorado.
As a tributary of the Colorado, the Fraser makes its headwaters near Berthoud Pass, then flows northward 32 miles to the Colorado just outside the town of Granby. Riverbed along the Fraser is mostly freestone, and the water tends to stay relatively flat on the straighter flows. Riffles, runs, and tailouts are common where the river bends, as are deeper pools where the river turns more sharply.
Most anglers who visit can expect to find decent sized rainbows, browns, brooks, and cutthroats here and there. Best of all, the fish here are completely wild, so those looking for a real backcountry fishing experience without the hike or the drive will enjoy fishing along the Frasier. Since it is primarily overlooked even in peak season, you are likely to find less company and more fish all along the banks of the Fraser and throughout the valley.
As the Frasier runs north for its first 8 miles, it is on National Forest land and is publicly accessible. The river is narrow and shallow here, but worthy of fishing. From Winter Park to Fraser, the river can be accessed by the Fraser River Trail (hiking or mountain bikes), from USFS campgrounds, or road turnouts. Between Winter Park and Fraser, the trail and river go through the Cozens' Ranch Open Space.
Most anglers head to Granby, north of the town of Fraser off of Highway 40. This tends to attract more tourists and casual fishers, and there are multiple fishing areas on Granby Ranch (a ski and golf resort). You will have to pay a rod fee, but the cost is nominal given that you don't have to hike long distances to get access to the Fraser.
The absolute best stretch of river along the Fraser for trout lies in Tabernash Canyon and the waters downstream from there. Accessing that section of river can be tricky though, as privately held land and railroad property restrict access to the right of way through the woods from Highway 40.
To access this area, take Road 84 to the northeast from Hwy 40 (the turnoff is south of Tabernash). Turn west after about 1/2 mile onto Strawberry Road. Follow this for about 1.4 miles to a parking area. Walk downhill to the Fraser and canyon. It will take about 15 minutes to get to the river.
The best time of year to visit is definitely after spring runoff through to the late fall. That's when the big caddis, mayfly, BWO, and stoneflies come off.
Given that the Fraser River Valley is one of the coldest places in all of Colorado, winter fishing is not advisable except for the hardiest of anglers. If you do go, midges and baetis flies are your best bet during the colder months.
Recommended fly patterns for the Fraser River include:
- parachute adams
- purple haze
- film critic BWO
- clownshoe caddis
- elk hair caddis
- chubby chernobyl
- parachute hopper
- fat albert
- barrs bwo emerger
- juju baetis
- freestone emerger
- chocolate thunder
- rainbow warrior
- pats rubberlegs
- iron sally
- san juan worm
- two bit hooker
- prince nymph
- sparkle minnow
- conehead bugger
- slump buster
- autumn splendor
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and nymphs on the Fraser River. For streamers a 9-foot 6-wt 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 state agencies that publish Fraser River fly fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Despite being one of the lesser known fisheries in the area, some special regulations govern specific sections of the Fraser River. Rainbows are catch and release only from the headwaters up to the St. Louis Creek confluence, and only artificial flies and lures are permitted. Possession limit from St. Louis Creek to the Colorado is also limited to 2 trout of any species.
A Colorado fishing license is required to fish the Fraser River in Grand County and the following regulations apply:
From the headwaters downstream to the confluence with St. Louis Creek:
From the confluence with St. Louis Creek downstream to the Colorado River:
The closest airport is in Granby, but DIA isn't too far of a drive if you don't mind a couple of hours in the car.
Amtrak runs a route from Denver up to Granby as well, and the scenery is well worth the price of a train ticket and any delays you might encounter.
Granby and Fraser aren't too far from Avon and Vail either, so if you visit outside of ski season, you may be able to score a bargain on a place to stay during your trip.
Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests south of Granby also offer campgrounds and cabins for rent, and there are several bed and breakfast places and traditional motels/hotels in town too.
Don't forget to look into local vacation rentals as well, since these are a lesser known method for saving money on your stay depending on the time of year you visit the Fraser.
Feature Image by Jeffrey Beall
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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