Colorado is blessed with an abundance of public land and water and is home to some of the best fly fishing in the West. While there are countless great places to fish in the state, some stand out as the best.
As a whole the best rivers and lakes to fly fish in Colorado include:
- Animas River
- Arkansas River (Lower)
- Arkansas River (Upper)
- Blue River
- Colorado River (Middle)
- Colorado River (Upper)
- Crystal Rivers
- Eagle River
- Blue Mesa Reservoir
- North Delaney Butte Lake
- Grand Mesa Lakes
- Spinney Mountain Reservoir
These are just a few great places to fly fish in Colorado. Each one offers its own unique fishing experience. So, whether you’re looking for a river to float on or a lake to troll, you’re sure to find the perfect spot in Colorado. This article will cover a full list of the best 26 places for fly fishing in Colorado.
Best Rivers To Fly Fish in Colorado
Rivers provide some of the best fly fishing in Colorado. They offer a variety of habitats and can be fished year-round. The following are some of the best rivers to fly fish in Colorado.
1. Animas River
The Animas River is one of Colorado's most popular fly fishing destinations. It is a 126-mile-long river that is part of the Colorado River system and flows through Durango, Colorado. The river is home to various fish, including rainbow trout and brown trout.
The best time to fish the Animas River is from late May to early July. The Animas River has several excellent bug hatches in the spring, although midges and blue-winged olives are most frequent.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Animas River:
2. Arkansas River (Lower)
The Arkansas River is considered a major tributary of the Mississippi River, flowing east and southeast through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The source basin of the river is located in western Colorado in the Arkansas River Valley.
The Lower Arkansas River is the section of the river that flows from Canon City, Colorado, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is home to a variety of fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout, and smallmouth bass. The tail-waters out of Pueblo Reservoir are ideal waters for trout fly fishing.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Arkansas River near Pueblo:
3. Arkansas River (Upper)
The source basin of the Arkansas River is located in western Colorado in the Arkansas River Valley. The Upper Arkansas River is the section of the river that flows from Leadville, Colorado, to Canon City, Colorado.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Arkansas River near Salida CO:
- RS2 - Black or Olive #20-22
- Half Chernobyl Brown/Orange - Size #10-14
- Flashback Pheasant Tail, Beadhead in Gold or Green - Size #18-20
4. Blue River
The Blue River is a tributary of the Colorado River and flows through central Colorado. This 65-mile-long River rises in southern Summit County, Colorado, on the western side of the continental divide. It flows north past Blue River and Breckenridge before emptying into the Dillon Reservoir.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Blue River:
5. Colorado River (Middle)
The Middle Colorado River begins in Gore Canyon near Kremmling and continues southwest to Dotsero. This stretch has several diverse bodies of water to fish and some float fishing alternatives. The Middle Colorado River is easily accessible and provides anglers with a great opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish.
For all skill levels, fishing in the area of the Colorado Middle between Glenwood Springs and Rifle is an ideal spot. Anglers can find any Colorado trout along the river and in the streams, creeks, or lakes and reservoirs near this stretch of river.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Middle Colorado:
6. Colorado River (Upper)
The upper section of the Colorado River is born high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Upper Colorado River is about 25 miles north of Vail and south of Kremmling, Colorado. It's a great option for all of Summit County and the I-70 corridor Ski Areas, including Keystone, Breckenridge, and Vail.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Upper Colorado:
7. Crystal River
The Crystal River is a 40-mile-long tributary of the Roaring Fork River in Gunnison and Pitkin counties, Colorado. From northern Gunnison County, Colorado, and climbing in the Elk Mountains on the north side of Schofield Pass, it passes through Crystal City.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Upper Colorado:
8. Eagle River
The Eagle River is a minor tributary of the Colorado River, with a length of approximately 60.5 miles in west-central Colorado. It rises near the continental divide in southern Eagle County and flows northwest through Gilman, Minturn, and Avon.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Eagle River:
- RS2 - Black, Grey or Olive -Size #18-22
- Formerly Known as Prince - Size #14-16
- Zebra Midge Black or Red - Size #18-22
9. Frying Pan River
The Frying Pan or Fryingpan River is a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, which has a length of approximately 42 miles in Eagle and Pitkin counties in west-central Colorado.
The west-flowing Fryingpan River, which has an elevation of about 6,500 feet, begins near Mount Massive and flows west through the White River National Forest before emptying into Basalt at its mouth, where it joins the Roaring Fork River.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Frying Pan River:
10. Gore Creek
Right near Vail, Colorado, Gore Creek is a minor 18.5-mile river that provides opportunities for outdoor activity enthusiasts. The stream, which flows through Gore Valley and drains part of the Rocky Mountains at the southern end of the Gore Range, is a tributary of Eagle River.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Gore Creek:
11. Gunnison River
In eastern Gunnison County, the Taylor and East rivers combine to form the Gunnison River. The river flows 180 miles through southwestern Colorado before joining the Colorado River. Primarily above the city of Gunnison, Colorado, the Gunnison River is a freestone river with a large variety of fish.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Gunnison River:
- RS2 - Grey - Size #18-22
- Flashback Pheasant Tail, Beadhead in Gold or Green - Size #18-20
- Lighting Bug Pearl or Red - Size #14-16
12. North Platte River
The North Platte River, which flows 716 miles through northern Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, is a major tributary of the Platte River. It's the main drainage route for much of northern Colorado and a significant contributor to the Platte River system.
The North Platte River rises in the Medicine Bow and Park mountains, flows north into Wyoming, bends east-southeast at Casper, and continues to Nebraska.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the North Platte River:
- 20 Incher - Black - Size #18-22
- Bead Head Barr Emerger - BWO - Size #16-20
- Spotlight Caddis Emerger - Size #14-18
13. Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River begins in Colorado, where it is fed by two main source points:
- San Juan Mountains, and
- The Continental Divide.
It flows south through the San Luis Valley of Southwestern Colorado, then on to Albuquerque and Las Cruces in New Mexico. The Rio Grande is considered one of the longest rivers in the US, at 1,896 miles long. World class fly fishing can be found starting at Creed Colorado down through Del Norte Colorado.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Rio Grande River:
14. Roaring Fork River
The Roaring Fork River originates from Independence Lake in Pitkin County and meanders west through Aspen, Woody Creek, Basalt, and Carbondale. The river's mouth is located in Glenwood Springs.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Roaring Fork River:
15. South Platte River - (Above Spinney Reservoir)
The South Platte River, which starts in the Mosquito Range west of South Park and runs across Colorado's northeastern plains, flows approximately 380.3 miles through the state. From downtown Fairplay to Julesburg, its route goes across Colorado.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the South Platte River above Spinney Reservoir:
- Trico Dun - Size #16-18
- CDC Midge Pupa - Red & Olive - Size #18-22
- Last Chance Cripple - BWO - Size #18-22
16. South Platte River - Dream Stream (Below Spinney Mountain Reservoir)
This three-mile long Colorado tailwater section of the South Platte River is located in the windswept high mountain plain of South Park and is known as The Dream Stream, and it is by far one of Colorado's most coveted waterways.
This 3.8-mile section of the South Platte River lies between two reservoirs and is constant throughout all seasons, with big fish and a lot of insect life.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the South Platte River Below Spinney Reservoir:
17. South Platte River Cheesman Canyon
Cheesman Canyon is a section of the South Platte River system. It begins near the Cheesman Reservoir and meanders east outside of the canyon, eventually reaching Deckers, Colorado. The reservoir's elevation is 6,800 feet. The canyon is home to three miles of some of Colorado's greatest brown and rainbow trout fishing.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the South Platte River in Cheesman Canyon:
18. Taylor River
The Taylor River is located mostly within the Gunnison National Forest and is nearly 48.2 miles long. It is in close proximity to the Continental Divide and is a local favorite for fly fishing and rafting.
The Taylor River rises in Colorado's Elk Mountains near the Continental Divide and flows southeast, passing through Taylor Park Reservoir, constructed by the Taylor Park Dam. It then flows southwest down toward Gunnison. The Taylor River joins the East River to form the Gunnison River at Almont.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Taylor River:
- Zebra Midge - Red or Black - Size #18-22
- Rainbow Warrior - Size #18
- Prince Nymph Hot Wire - Size #12-14
19. Yampa River
Yampa River runs 250 miles through northwestern Colorado and is a tributary of the Green River, an important component of the Colorado River system. The Yampa is one of only a few free-flowing rivers in the West, with only a few minor dams and diversions.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Yampa River:
Best Stillwater, Lakes, and Reservoirs to Fly Fish in Colorado
Colorado lakes, rivers, and reservoirs offer different challenges and settings for fly fishing. Here are some of the top places to fish in each category:
1. Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir is located on the Gunnison River in Gunnison County, Colorado. This reservoir is the largest lake in Colorado and the state's largest body of water. The 29-mile-long reservoir has a surface elevation of 7,519 feet and a total surface area of 14.34 square miles.
2. North Delaney Butte Lake
North Delaney Lake is a big year-round fishing hole in Jackson County, Colorado, approximately 12 miles west of Walden. Also known as North Delaney Butte Lake, it is a popular destination for anglers in the winter and summer.
3. Grand Mesa Lakes
Within the Grand Mesa National Forest, there are 300 lakes and reservoirs, a network of shores, and waterside retreats that cater to anglers, boaters, hikers, and campers. Anglers interested in fish tales can try their luck on the Grand Mesa's seven trout species, which are particularly plentiful in this region.
The 10,000-foot elevation of the mesa means that in the summer, temperatures are cooler. Because it is below the timberline, there are many trees and green vistas near its bodies of water.
4. Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir is located in Park County, south of Fairplay, on the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. It serves as the main storage reservoir for the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers.
5. Wolford Mountain Reservoir
The Wolford Mountain Reservoir is a reservoir in Grand County, Colorado. The Wolford Mountain Recreation Area, maintained by the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, includes the reservoir and its associated dam. The reservoir's dams are Muddy Creek and part of the Colorado River's watershed.
6. Steamboat Lake State Park
Steamboat Lake State Park is in Routt County, 27 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and adjacent to the Hahns Peak Village community. In 1967, the 2,820-acre park was built west of Hahns Peak and included a 1,101-acre reservoir.
7. Tarryall Reservoir
The Tarryall Reservoir is located between the Park County towns of Jefferson and Lake George. The Tarryall Reservoir State Wildlife Area (SWA) in Colorado, which protects 711 acres of beautiful Park County, is located southeast of Fairplay. The reservoir is a popular destination for boating, camping, fishing, and picnicking.
Colorado Fly Fishing Frequently Asked Questions
Fly fishing in Colorado is a popular activity among locals and visitors alike. Whether you're an experienced angler or just getting started, there are plenty of great places to fish in the state. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about fly fishing in Colorado.
What is the Fly Fishing Season in Colorado?
Fishing seasons vary around the United States and even within states. The best time to fly fish in Colorado is typically from late August to October. With typically cooler temperatures, lower water levels, and smaller crowds, you'll have a better chance of finding the perfect spot to cast your line.
The Colorado fishing season is year-round from April 1 to March 31 every year. Colorado residents who are over the age of 15 must have a fishing license. They may be purchased for a year or a day at most sporting goods stores and marinas.
Where Is the Best Fly Fishing in Northern Colorado?
Northern Colorado, consisting of the Front Range and neighboring plains, is home to some of the state's best fly fishing. With numerous rivers, lakes, and reservoirs to choose from, you'll be sure to find a great spot to fish.
The best spots for fly fishing in Northern Colorado include:
- The Blue River
- Frying Pan River
- South Platte River
- The Dream Stream (South Platte)
- Big Thompson River
- South Boulder Creek, and
- Clear Creek, to name a few.
Where Is the Best Fly Fishing Near Denver?
Denver is centrally located within Colorado, making it a great base camp for fly fishing trips around the state. With so many options nearby, it can be hard to decide where to fish.
Some of the best spots for fly fishing near Denver include:
- The South Platte River, specifically the 26-mile portion known as the Denver South Platte
- Clear Creek
- Bear Creek, and
- Blue River.
Where is the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado Springs?
Colorado Springs is another great city to use as a base camp for fly fishing trips. With its close proximity to many of Colorado's best fly fishing spots, you'll have plenty of options to choose from.
The best spots for fly fishing near Colorado Springs include:
- The Arkansas River
- Fountain Creek,
- South Platte River near the town of Deckers
- Lake Pueblo
- Cheesman Canyon, and
- Spinney Reservoir
Colorado is a great state for fly fishing, with numerous rivers, lakes, and reservoirs to choose from. With so many great options, you're sure to find the perfect spot for the ultimate fly fishing adventure. So get out there and enjoy the best that Colorado has to offer!