Colorado Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Lake John in Colorado

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

April 4, 2023

Aerial view of Lake John near Walden Colorado

High up in the North Park region of north-central Colorado lies the tranquil waters of Lake John. 

Not even half a mile from Delaney Butte and its eponymous lakes, Lake John, is one of the best stillwater fly fishing destinations in all of northern Colorado. 

Surrounded by 12,000-foot mountain ranges, the North Park Valley is one of the best places in the country for diverse stillwater fishing and seeing many of the wide variety of climates and environments Colorado has to offer.

About Lake John

Aerial view of Lake John near Walden, Colorado

The popularity of Lake John derives mainly from its massive population of rainbows, cutthroats, browns, and cutbows. It is also on state land with a large private resort and RV camp on one shore, so there is also no shortage of public property to fish from.

Guests staying at the Lake John Resort have plenty of places to launch a boat or float for a day of stillwater fishing. Larger motor boats, pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, rafts, and floats are all welcome at Lake John, as there are more boating restrictions further south on both Delaney Butte lakes.

If you can take a trip out onto the lake during your visit, definitely take advantage of the opportunity. The surrounding mountains of the valley present a breathtaking backdrop against the still lake waters.

Lake John Map, Fishing Access Sites and Boat Launches

map of fishing access spots on Lake John in Colorado

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish Lake John

The banks by the resort see a lot of boat and water sports traffic, as do many sections mid-lake. Bank fishing provides plenty of action for still water flies, and if you want to venture out onto the water as the sun rises higher in the sky, there are plenty of quiet waters away from the resort.

You may have to hike a bit to find a quiet spot during peak season, but there is plenty of room for everyone. Even in peak season, Lake John seems to present plenty of solitude to anglers looking to land that big rainbow or brown. Earlier in the day, the fish are closer to the banks as they search for freshly hatched prey and the occasional terrestrial, but as the day goes on they tend to follow the sun as it starts to move directly overhead in the late morning and early afternoon.

You can still land some big fish from the boat with dry flies, but you may find you have better luck with subsurface patterns if you are headed for deeper waters. 

Another advantage to taking to the water to fish is the ability to find more secluded places along the lakeside to cast your line, saving both time and your feet.

Best Time to Fish Lake John

Summer and fall are the major hatch seasons for Lake John, though you need to plan your trip well in advance due to the popularity of North Park among tourists and other outdoor adventurers and sportsmen.

In winter, Lake John freezes solid, so unless you plan on doing some ice fishing, you will need to visit the nearby North Platte River to do any winter fly fishing. 

The view and fishing conditions on the lake itself are close to ideal nearly all year long though, particularly from the end of runoff season in the spring until the late days of fall.

Fishing Tips

Bring a 9-foot rod with either a 5-weight or a 6-weight depending on whether you are fishing from the bank or a boat. 

Midges dominate the early spring and summer hatches from the banks, with caddis, mayflies, and terrestrials taking over for the summer.

Bring lots of bug spray if you visit in the summer though, as the mosquitoes get pretty thick even out on the water.

In the fall, crayfish patterns are best as the trout start their annual pre-winter feeding frenzy. 

Best Flies for Lake John

Here are some favorite patterns for fishing in Lake John:

  • Al Ritt’s Fighting Crayfish (#4-8)
  • Mohair Leech (#6-10)
  • Hare’s Ear Nymph (#12-16) 

Lake John Fishing Reports

There are a few area fly shops and retailers that publish Lake John fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.

Fishing Regulations

Regarding rules and regulations, you need to be a guest at the Lake John Resort to fish on their land bank-side, but the rest of the lake’s edge is open to the public. Standard Colorado Division of Wildlife Rules apply: four trout of any species and no more than four fish per day of any species. Artificial flies and lures only, as is the standard for the whole state.

Trip Planning Tips

The closest town to Lake John is Walden, CO, and the nearest airport is about two hours drive away at Yampa Valley Regional (HDN).

If you don’t mind the longer 3-4 hour drive, you can always land in Denver and travel the rest of the way to Walden or Steamboat Springs for your stay.

Check out the Lake John Resort and private RV park right at the lake’s edge to see if you can find a time of year to visit that works for your schedule and budget.

If the resort doesn’t work out, there are plenty of campgrounds in and around Delaney Butte, and the North Park area has several ski resorts to choose from that may have off-season pricing if you are visiting during the summer.

As always, don’t forget to look into local vacation rentals for those hidden gem bargains that often become available during the off-season months.

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