Best Fly Fishing Colorado Tips (2021)
Colorado is home to some wicked awesome fly fishing if you are targeting trout. There are thousands of miles of waterbodies in the state to choose from. From larger rivers, to small mountain streams, and everything in between, the state has something for every angler.
I first started my fly fishing adventures in Colorado back in the early 2000’s. Every year my friends and I make one or two trips out to Colorado as it’s by far one of the best states for fly fishing. This blog will cover what fish can be found in Colorado waters, what flies to use, some different fly fishing gear that will help land the fish, the best waters to fish, and why you need to get your line wet with Colorado water sooner rather than later!
Let’s dive into it!
Colorado’s Gold Medal Designation
If you live in Colorado or have done any research on fly fishing Colorado waters, then you may have heard about their gold medal designation. What exactly is it? The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife has placed this designation on the best waters for quality fishing for wild trout. The gold medal waters are able to produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, and twelve or more trout over 14 inches long per acre.
Out of the 9000+ miles of trout waters, only 322 miles of them are deemed gold medal waters. There are 3 lakes with this designation as well. There are special regulations that limit what anglers can keep and the sizes of the fish that are required. This is done to keep these gold medal waters rich with plentiful trout.
Fish Species in Colorado Waters
Like everywhere else, there are a wide variety of fish species. However, trout are going to be the most common fish species found in Colorado waters, which is ideal for most fly fishing anglers.
Rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, brook trout, lake trout, kokanee salmon, mountain whitefish, walleye, perch, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and bluegill are some of the fish you can expect to catch.
My personal favorites are brown trout and brook trout which are plentiful in this gorgeous state! Colorado has cold waters, which trout thrive in, so wear your waders and reel in some beauties!
Great Places to Fish in Colorado
South Platte River
The South Platte River is one of the most common rivers in Colorado. Fly fishing anglers come from everywhere to fish this river, especially since it has the gold medal status. People also like the river for its close proximity to Denver. One of the best parts on this river is the Dream Stream section as it receives massive trout during the spring and fall.
The Animas River is another gold medal river, home to amazing rainbow and brown trout. You will want to fish from Durango to the New Mexico border as it is the stretch with the most trout. Nymphs, dries, streamers, and hoppers all work when targeting these trout, so make sure you are fully stocked with different flies.
Let’s just say that you will want to take a larger landing net if you are fishing the Gunnison River. Trophy trout are pulled out of it on a regular basis, mainly in the stretch of river between Crystal Dam and its confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Rainbows and browns are what you will want to target in this gold medal river. If you are heading out in late summer, you could try your hand at landing some kokanee salmon too. There are parts of this river that are extremely difficult to access, but this keeps the trout populations high and large.
Upper Arkansas River
The Arkansas River drops 5,000 feet in elevation making it a wicked cool river to fly fish. Bighorn Sheep Canyon is by far the best place to get your hooks wet. Whether you are wading or floating in the drift boat, the Arkansas River is the perfect adventure. You can fish this gold medal river all year, pulling out nice rainbows and browns. Most of the river is catch and release, keeping the fish populations high.
Best Flies to Use for Fly Fishing in Colorado
Trout from coast to coast normally eat the same insects. Different hatches do occur in different parts of the country, but for the most part, your standard fly patterns should work just fine in Colorado waters.
- Caddis, all different colors
- Blue Quills
- Royal Coachman’s
- Woolly Buggers
- Schultzy’s Red Eye Leech’s
- Clouser Minnow’s
- Tandem Hook Olive Streamers
- Hare’s Ear
- Pheasant Tails
- Copper John’s
- Prince Nymph’s
- Blackie Midge
- Green Midges
- Brassie Midge
- Zebra Midge, all different colors
- Logan Lake Olive Midge
- Elk Hair Hopper
- Orange is the New Black
- Baile’s Panther Creek Hopper
- Yellow Foam Hopper
- White Grasshopper
Zinger Fishing offers a wide variety of fly patterns that trout strike repeatedly. If you are looking for a value kit of common fly patterns, check out the following:
What Fly Fishing Equipment to Use in Colorado Waters
When it comes to trout fishing, you can’t go wrong with a standard 5 or 6 weight rod and reel. I personally like a reel with a mid to large size arbor as I have hooked up on some trophy trout that have run. My extra fly line backing came in handy. I always opt for a smooth disc drag system in my fly reel as well.
When it comes to leaders and tippet, if I am nymphing, I go with a 9-foot 3x leader. If I am using dry flies, then I find a 15-foot 3x is perfect. If you are targeting smaller fish, you can use a 4-6x leader or tippet, but I find that if I am river fishing, 3x or 2x is best. I end up losing my flies too often if I use too thin of leaders and tippet.
The Colorado waters can by nippy, so dress appropriately, especially if you are heading out during the winter months. Waders would be ideal for sure and fly fishing gloves to keep the hands as warm as possible.
How to Fly Fish for Trout in Colorado
It depends what water body you are fishing in, but the rule of thumb is if there is a hatch on, try to match it.
If fishing in rivers, streamers are normally best for the large fish. Nymphing usually yields the highest amount of fish. Dries are terribly difficult if there is no hatch on, and hoppers are great if it is mid to late fall.
Deep pockets of water, seams of the water, near logs and boulders, back eddies, in shaded areas, are all great places to cast your flies. The more often you can present your flies to where the fish are most likely to be, the higher chance you will have of catching more fish.
I have fly fished in most of the states, all across Canada, and even into Mexico, but Colorado is home to some of the most amazing waters, and they are full of beautiful trout. A fishing trip to Colorado is a must for all fly fishing anglers. The rivers are long, so make sure to do your research and talk to local fly shops before heading out. They might be able to point you in the right direction and they may even know what the fish are currently biting.
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.