THE FRYING PAN
The Frying Pan is a world-class fishing destination and, for good cause, is probably the busiest winter fishery in Colorado. The tailwater flows out of Ruedi Reservoir. Rainbows, browns, brooks and cutts all grow to massive proportions on a diet rich with mysis shrimp. There are huge fish feeding in the “toilet bowl” where the reservoir dumps directly into the river.
Winter hangs on here at the 7,700-foot elevation, but the trout continue to feed periodically. Art Powell, from the Frying Pan Anglers shop, says the BWOs can show up as early as February on “the Pan.” There is plenty of public access to the Pan. Take Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs (or Aspen) to Basalt, then take Road 105 to the east, toward Ruedi Reservoir.
For more information, contact Frying Pan Anglers at (970) 927-3441 or Taylor Creek Fly Shop at (970) 927-4374.
THE SOUTH PLATTE
It would be hard to find a better cold-weather fishery than the incomparable South Platte River. There are two major tailwater sections on the Platte that deliver trophy trout regularly. Occasional double-digit fish are taken in the “Dream Stream” section just below the Spinney Mountain Reservoir dam. Large trout also reside in the world-renown South Platte segment below Cheesman Dam. South Platte trout are extra-spooky, demanding precise presentations, teeny flies and long, 6X or smaller leaders.
To learn more, call Blue Quill Angler at (303) 674-4700 or Colorado Trouthunters at (303) 325-5515.
THE DREAM STREAM
This section attracts a crowd year-round despite the ever-present winds in South Park. By March, the annual rainbow spawn begins luring huge rainbows and an accompanying entourage of browns up from 11 Mile Reservoir. Expert guide Pat Dorsey has written that he finds the larger fish typically spawning down nearer the reservoir. Midges remain the principal menu item in March until the BWOs begin to arrive after mid-March. Some amazing midge hatches occur throughout March. Just west of Wilkerson Pass, on Highway 24, turn south on CR 23, then left on CR 592 and, finally, right on CR 59 to reach the river.
By March, midge hatches can provide superb dry fly-fishing in the canyon. As usual, midges dominate the menu until BWOs show up in late March — the same time that rainbow spawners move into the lower part of the canyon. Cheesman trout can be the most finicky, selective trout in the world. The 3-mile Gill Trail walk-in access can be tricky, especially when snow and ice abound, so take care. Take CO 67 from Sedalia or Woodland Park to Deckers. At Deckers, turn west on CO 126 for 2.5 miles to the Gill Trail parking area.
This great northwestern Colorado tailwater, below Stagecoach Reservoir, can yield excellent fishing in March, but you will have to breach the short, snow-packed trails to get from the parking area to the river. Some very large trout await the fishermen who make the effort. Midges will be the main fare in March, and some dense hatches do occur. The BWOs normally don’t show here before April. Take Highway 40 south from Steamboat and turn right on 131. Turn left on 14 Road to the reservoir.
Additional information is available from Steamboat Flyfisher at (970) 879-6552 or Bucking Rainbow Outfitters at (888) 810-8740.
On one of the good early spring freestone rivers, the Arkansas, BWOs arrive in late March and fishing explodes. Royal Gorge Anglers’ Bill Edrington considers this his favorite hatch of the year. They provide exceptional fishing right up to the renowned late-April Mothers’ Day caddis extravaganza. Highway 50 follows the river from Canon City to Salida and Highway 285 follows the river from Salida to Buena Vista. The Arkansas is one of the most accessible fishing waters in Colorado.
To learn more, call Royal Gorge Anglers at (719) 269-FISH or ARK Anglers at (719) 539-4223.
A large southwestern Colorado freestone, the Animas may fish best right through the center of Durango. John Flick, from Duranglers, anticipates the BWOs to show up as early as mid-February. Fishing emerger and pupal BWO and midge patterns will work here. Be sure to be on the water around noon when the fish seem to feed best here.
For more information, reach Duranglers at (888) 347-4346.
Other good winter/spring destinations include the Eagle River, the Arkansas River tailwater below Pueblo Reservoir, the South Platte tailwater just below 11 Mile Reservoir, and the Uncomphagre River. All of these waters will normally have open water, and some large fish as well.
Lure fishermen should use small, gold lures retrieved slowly. A 9-foot, soft-action, 5-weight with a floating line is a good combination for potentially larger fish using tiny flies on light leaders. Early spring weather is fickle, changing rapidly. Wear layered clothing and warm headgear. Using fishing gloves is a good idea and neoprene waders with wool socks and fleece underneath are required. Don’t forget polarized sunglasses and use sunscreen on exposed skin. Sun reflected off the snow will burn quickly and even overcast days can lead to bad burns. Don’t forget a thermos of hot soup or coffee.
March and April bring the heaviest and wettest snows of the year, although they tend to melt quickly. At altitude, though, these storms can create serious problems. Cold spells (sub-zero temperatures) can strike quickly, so be prepared with clothing and supplies in case of emergency. I always carry extra clothes in case of a dunking and warm gear/food in case I get stranded for a couple days. Make sure someone knows where you will be and when you will return. River edges and rocks are very slippery and an accidental fall or dunking could become a survival situation.