While it is actually a manmade reservoir that was created during the late 1960s, Steamboat Lake is actually one of only three lakes in Colorado to bear the honor of a Gold Medal Water fishing designation.
Steamboat Lake isn’t just 1050 acres of fantastic stillwater fishing either: there is plenty to see and do regardless of the time of year.
Steamboat Lake’s greatest asset is its inherent quality of scenic mountain vistas against evergreen forest and rolling foothills. It gets a little crowded at times throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean a good angler can’t find a quiet spot to cast and land a day’s catch undisturbed.
There is an admission fee since it’s a Colorado State Park, but the lake is covered under any State Park Pass. If you do visit Steamboat Lake, definitely make a stop off to see Hahn’s Peak northeast of the lake itself. There are still remnants of the old gold mining town around the base that are well worth exploring.
Anglers visiting Steamboat Lake are welcome to fish from the shallows or take to the water on a boat or float. There are three boat launch locations around the lake (see map below), but you will want to make sure you keep clear of them when you are fishing if you’d like to take any fish.
Download the DIY Fly Fishing App to get turn-by-turn directions to access points shown on the map above.
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Smart anglers wade or use a float tube to get the jump on rainbows and cutthroats that lurk in these waters, and it is a good idea to put as much distance between you and the children and shore casters that flock to Steamboat Lake. Probably the best spot to fish though is near the dam. You will need to access it via the Sage Flats entrance, which is a little ways south of the visitor’s center.
A ten minute walk from the parking lot will have you in prime fishing territory. A lot of anglers like to cross the dam and setup for the day on the opposite shore. It seems like the brief stroll from the parking lot is enough to keep the crowds away most of the time.
It seems the further you are willing to go from the parking lots along walking trails and away from launches, the better the fishing gets all around the lake. If you don’t mind short hikes and wading out a little ways, you can find some real hidden gems along the shoreline.
You can fish year round at Steamboat Lake, including ice fishing in the dead of winter. Campgrounds close for the year once winter sets in, but there are RV hookups for electricity and water that are available year round near the park.
Fall and winter are good times to go if you are looking to avoid the crowds, but you may also find it harder to find and land a fish during these times of year. Thanks to the landscape and general prevailing weather though, there is decent fishing conditions all day nearly every day in the spring and summer.
Flies for Steamboat Lake imitate the life stages of the numerous flies (predominately midges), minnows, and crustaceans that populate the lake. The lake is known to have a healthy population of crayfish which trout love.
June - Small midge patterns in sizes 18-20 to Chironomid midges in the 10-12 size range are effective.
July and August see a variety of mayfly hatches and damselflies are on the menu.
September and October, go deep with brown and olive Woolly Buggers, size 2 through 10, to imitate crawfish that are a preferred food source of big rainbows putting on weight before winter.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing smaller flies on Steamboat Lake. For streamers, and the larger fish you may catch with them, 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.
Steamboat Lake is classified as a Colorado Gold Medal Waters.
State regulations for trout fishing apply at the lake:
- Trout fishing is year round
- There is no minimum length governing what you keep
- State limit is 4 fish, all 1 species or a combination of species equal to 4.
- Cutthroat trout are catch and release
Be certain to abide by any and all state mandated rules while fishing at Steamboat Lake, and the fishing experience will be well worth the journey.
Anglers keen on fishing Steamboat Lake can fly into the Denver Airport and drive the 3 hours to Steamboat Springs, or they can get flights from various major cities to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, which is only 30 minutes drive from Steamboat Springs.
There are campgrounds and RV parks all around Steamboat Springs, not to mention hunting and fishing cabins available for rental.
Don’t forget to check on vacation rentals in the area too, as that is one of the best ways to score a great deal on a stay nearby for less than you would pay for a similar stay in a hotel.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help encourage and assist the average angler to get out and find new places to fish.
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