Rio Grande River Colorado

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Rio Grande River in Colorado

Among the mighty volcanic peaks of the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado lay the headwaters of the mighty Rio Grande River.

Primarily settled by the Spanish as early as the 16th century thanks to land grants provided by the Spanish governors of Mexico, this area was Spanish territory up until about 1848 when it was ceded to the westward expanding United States.

The threads of Spanish history can still be found amongst the tapestry of culture in southern Colorado, particularly in the place names, towns, and the fast flowing waters of the rivers themselves.

Carl Ochnio embraces the DIY fly fishing spirit on his annual Colorado fly fishing adventure including some time spent on the Rio Grande River.  Way to go Carl!

Besides to the Colorado River itself, the Rio Grande is one of the largest and most famous rivers flowing through southern Colorado. It offers not only great fly fishing action for anglers, but also exceptional ease of access and some of the largest trout to be had in the southern reaches of the state.

Starting at 12,000 feet elevation high in the San Juan Mountains, the Rio Grande’s initial 25 miles run through thickly forested terrain, and much of the river is wading depth until it reaches Box Canyon.

All kinds of trout from rainbows to browns can be found in these waters, but the Rio Grande is best known for its gigantic brown trout. Better still, the high altitude scenery and backdrop make every trip to the Rio Grande a memorable one.

Further down the river towards South Fork the banks of the river fall on a general mixture of private and public land, so smart anglers who don’t want to end up charged with trespassing should definitely stick to US Forest and Colorado State Wildlife Areas that compose the public sections of the river.

The nearby town of Creede also caters to the fishing tourism trade, and makes a great base of operations for your fly fishing excursions along the Rio Grande in any season.

Rio Grande River Map and Fishing Access Sites

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Rio Grand River (Colorado): 37.685170, -106.350902
Rio Grande River (Headwaters): 37.797781, -107.538321
Rio Grande River (South Fork Headwaters): 37.517487, -106.881673
Rio Grande River (Del Norte Section): 37.674446, -106.637278
Rio Grande River (Alamosa Section): 37.684092, -106.347513
Rio Grande River (Lower Section): 37.468591, -105.858622
Rio Grande River (Gold Medal Waters): 37.685315, -106.350775
Rio Grande River (Gold Medal Waters): 37.674310, -106.639166
Rio Grande River (Coller SWA): 37.708313, -106.691352
Rio Grande River (Coller SWA): 37.728070, -106.716551
Rio Grande River (Upper Section Access): 37.759621, -107.344365
Rio Grande River (South Fork Confluence): 37.674021, -106.635017
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.635790, -106.674011
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.622322, -106.684284
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.592531, -106.729302
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.599548, -106.726846
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.572423, -106.756760
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.569607, -106.759304
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.565684, -106.764737
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.562159, -106.769621
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.553235, -106.777711
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.546953, -106.787965
Rio Grande River (Fishing Access): 37.538671, -106.798815
Hanna public access: 37.688900, -106.459700
PA Hannah: 37.688800, -106.459600
Hullabaloo House: 37.681884, -106.572828
Hullabaloo House: 37.681905, -106.572779
Rio Grande River (Creede Fishhing Access): 37.817104, -106.915043
Rio Grande River (Deer Park Fishing Access): 37.677044, -106.653758
Rio Grande River (Del Norte City Park): 37.684356, -106.351687
Rio Grande River (Masonic Park Fishing Easement): 37.700223, -106.686448
Rio Grande River (Rio Grande SWA): 37.691581, -106.485712
Rio Grande River SWA (Del Norte Fishing Easements): 37.688290, -106.459720
Rio Grande River SWA (Del Norte Fishing Easements): 37.688727, -106.459723
Rio Grande SWA: 37.575484, -106.087716
Rio Grande SWA: 37.575484, -106.087716
Rio Grande SWA: 37.580990, -106.093767
Rio Grande SWA: 37.582282, -106.094557
Rio Grande SWA: 37.567632, -106.064476
Rio Grande SWA: 37.576180, -106.048640
Rio Grande SWA: 37.570847, -106.039449
Rio Grande SWA: 37.563351, -106.039674

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Best Places to Fish the Rio Grande River

For those that prefer to wade and fish, the upper sections of the Rio Grande are going to be your best bet. The dry fly fishing in high summer is top notch, and there are numerous pockets and riffles in the late spring and early summer when the water level is higher right after runoff. The town of Creede is definitely worth checking out for local expertise on where the best fly fishing spots are, as well as stocking up on supplies, flies, and lures.

Further downstream is the town of South Fork, where the Rio Grande meets its South Fork at Wolf Creek Pass. You can take Highway 160 here to follow the river, and there are numerous public access points that are distributed all along the way that make for some decent fishing. Be aware that you will need to deal with traffic noise, and the easier the public access is the more anglers you will find yourself competing with in peak season, too.

If you keep following the river towards Del Norte though, you will find the Rio Grande’s prime float fishing waters. Floating is not as popular here as it is in some parts of Colorado, and you can bag some very sizeable catches with minimal effort if you are willing to float the river instead of wading. This is also a Gold Medal stretch of water for big browns, so it is definitely well worth the visit to try your luck at landing that trophy fish.

Best Time to Fish the Rio Grande River

The best time of year to get on the Rio Grande is mid-June to October. The salmon fly hatch typically occurs mid- to late June. Although the hatch may occur during runoff, the water is clear enough to permit dry-fly fishing.

During the summer months you can more easily take advantage of the massive caddis fly hatches that allow the local trout to grow to such a large size. As with all rivers in Colorado you can fish year round, but the best season for fly fishing is definitely that mid-June to October window.

Mid morning to late afternoon offers the best wade fishing, and if you decide to float the lower reaches near South Fork you can fish all day and still land some excellent catches.

Rio Grande River Flow and Current Conditions

Stream gauges maintained by the Colorado Water Resources division provide real-time stream flow for the Rio Grande River. Links to gauges of interest are provided below.

Rio Grande River Fly Box

The caddis hatch is the the one you don’t want to miss, especially downstream from Creede, so pack your flies accordingly.

Here are some patterns that have proven most successful for anglers on the Rio Grande River:

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    TH 20 Incher (tan, #14)
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    Bead Head Wooly Bugger Streamers (tan #8)
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    Real McCoy’s AP Drake Parachute (#12)
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    Gee’s Supafly Stone Dry (olive #10)
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    Elk Wing Caddis (olive, #14)

Rio Grande River Fishing Tips

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Rio Grande River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Rio Grande River Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Rio Grande River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.

Planning Your Trip to the Rio Grande

The nearest regional airport is the San Luis Valley airport in Alamosa, CO, and it is roughly an hour’s drive from Creede. You could fly into Denver or Colorado Springs, but they are over 4 hours drive away. Creede is really the best spot for accommodations, but South Fork and Del Norte also have numerous places to stay that are both budget friendly and locally run. If you prefer to rough it there are dozens of public camping areas all along Highway 160 following the river for much of its flow from Creede to Del Norte.


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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.