Running its course from the Flattops to the Green River, the Yampa River itself is quite an extensive waterway.
Winding its way through the high mountains across the high and dry rangeland and down through canyons, the fishing conditions for anglers vary nearly as much as the land surround the Yampa across its 250 miles of free-running water.
The Yampa River provides a breathtaking backdrop to your fly fishing expedition as should definitely be on your bucket list of places to fish.
Following highway 131 from the town of Steamboat the the titular town of Yampa allows you fairly unfettered access to the river itself, as well as the Bear River tributary and a good number of lakes and streams. Both White River National Forest and the Stagecoach State Park have loads of camping and public access to the banks for anglers of every stripe and preference.
Why fish on the Yampa? One word answer: rainbows. Over the past decade or so, the Yampa has been developing into some of the best water for landing trophy-sized rainbow trout. There are browns and cutthroats to be had as well, but the big rainbows are what have been drawing anglers to the area in recent years.
The best spots along the Yampa for trophy fly fishing are definitely the headwaters up in the White River National Forest. The colder waters nearest the Flattops provide plenty of riffles, pocket water, and other ideal trout hiding and hunting places all along the headwaters and among the lakes, ponds, and streams that feed into the Yampa River and the tributary Bear River. Access is easy since Highway 131 follows the river here, and all of the land is public property.
Stagecoach State Park is another excellent location for hauling in rainbows, especially below the dam. Fishing here tends to be excellent year round thanks to the plentiful hatches and muddy banks that are an ideal breeding ground for the local fly population feeding the trout.
You can also fish right inside the town of Steamboat Springs, though you will want to look out for the local kayakers and rafters who like to set out on their own adventures from town as well.
For the angler who loves the wild, you can also make your way south to Cross Mountain in the wilderness study area. There are few better places to really get away from it all and enjoy some truly wild Colorado fly fishing.
Some of best hatches of the year are in the fall, which is to most anglers benefit since the summer adventure season is already winding down to a close and river is less crowded at this time of year.
The water runs deep and slow along most of the Yampa in the fall, and even if you prefer to wade rather than float the water conditions are clear to 30 inches if it hasn’t been raining. Definitely plan to start your fishing around mid-morning though, as the fish aren’t really striking at much before then.
Hatches on the Yampa include tricos and midges earlier in the year, and on gray days you can count on a large number of blue wings olives. Caddis and tricos are most active in the afternoons, and golden stoneflies are a good all day fly. Terrestrials patterns are effective on days where the water clarity is poor or the weather is cloudy.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Yampa River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
Recommended fly patterns for the Yampa River include:
- Indicator Parachute - Trico (natural #20)
- BWO (tan #18)
- RS2 (black #18-22)
- Zonker (natural white)
- Senyo’s Iced Out Sculpin (sculpin #6)
- Flashback Baetis Nymph (black #18-20)
- Tricos (black #18-24)
- FB Pheasant Tail (natty #14-18)
- Leeches (black/brown/olive #8-10)
- Chubby Chernobyl (peach, tan #12-14)
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Yampa River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Standard Colorado Parks & Wildlife fishing regulations apply to most of the Yampa, though there are some stretches of private property to be aware of as you ply the banks. Private property along the Yampa River tends to be well marked both at the edges of said property and on local maps. If you are looking for a big rainbow trophy with plenty of elbow room even during peak fishing season, the Yampa is definitely an excellent place to start.
Flying into the Hayden airport is the best way to access the Yampa and surrounding towns. There are numerous accommodations to be had both near the airport and in Yampa, Steamboat Springs, and Stagecoach.
Campers and outdoorsman can find plenty of public campgrounds for roughing it in a tent or for parking up the RV for the week or the weekend. Don’t forget to check local listings for vacation rentals in the area too, as private rental properties often yield excellent bargains on a place to stay in the off season such as the fall or winter.
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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