In a state known for excellent angling opportunities, these Colorado trout streams offer some of the best action this time of year.
Colorado, with its over 9,000 miles of trout streams, offers outstanding fishing, particularly in its sparingly designated Gold Medal waters.
The Gold Medal waters have been selected for the highest-quality aquatic habitat in the state. Those destinations and others are what keeps the Centennial State at the top of many anglers’ lists of favorite trout fishing locations.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the waters you should keep in mind when planning a Colorado angling excursion.
A TROUT GUIDE’S TOP PICKS
Alex Bolla, of the tiny town of Como, Colo., was bit by the trout fishing bug some years ago. Already a guide at Tarryall Outfitters in South Park, Colo., for big game, Bolla became so addicted that he found a way to feed his trout addiction and make what was his recreation his vocation. Today, he manages and guides at Tarryall Outfitters Fly Shop in Fairplay, Colo.
When asked to name his favorite trout waters to fish, Bolla says, “I believe that late winter and early spring are the best times of year to catch and release the most trout and some of the biggest trout. I like to fish Gold Medal waters that are single hook artificial lures and catch and release only.” At this time of year, tailwater streams stay open and provide some of the best trout fishing in the state, he advised.
“When I review my pictures of big trout and my friends with big trout, I always see snow in the backgrounds. Late winter and early spring are some of the very best times to trout fish in Colorado, partly because fewer people are fishing then,” he continued. “The fish seem hungrier and more aggressive. I typically don’t fish for trout when the air temperature is 28 degrees or below, because the eyelets on my rods tend to freeze. But 28 degrees or above, I’m fly-fishing.”
The Dream Stream
The Middle Fork of the South Platte River is often called the Dream Stream, because it’s known worldwide as one of the best trout and salmon streams found anywhere in the continental United States and is a Gold Medal stream. The state generally maintains 5,000 trout greater than 14 inches per mile there.
“The Dream Stream with its monster-sized browns, rainbows and cutbow trout (a cutthroat trout that’s bred with a rainbow trout) is only 20 minutes from our fly-fishing shop,” Bolla reported. “It’s one of the few Colorado fisheries with kokanee salmon. They’re reluctant to eat dry flies, but like nymphs. At this time of the year, I fish subsurface lures, due to the weather’s being too cold to fish dry flies,” he noted.
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“One of my favorite nymphs to fish is the purple Psycho Prince Nymph. Because of this water’s extreme clearness, I fish a 5X fluorocarbon tippet or a 6X tippet,” the guide noted. “I’ve been standing next to my son before while fishing a 5X tippet, and he’ll be catching all the trout with the same fly I’m fishing but using a 6X tippet.”
The bug life on Middle Fork is very good, with mayflies and caddisflies and even a salmon fly hatch once a year. The Bollas fish their purple Psycho Prince Nymphs either as an attractant pattern or behind an attractant pattern like a Stonefly Nymph in front of it. They also use bobbers and catch salmon.
“These salmon are very explosive when they take the flies and are a lot of fun to catch, running straight upriver into the current,” Bolla reported.
Bolla fishes a 5-weight Winston Boron IIIX fly rod, a Hatch Finatic fly reel and RIO Gold fly line. At this time of the year, Bolla primarily fishes nymphs, Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears and the Two Bit Hooker with its two tungsten beads that cause it to sink fast.
“Many anglers often are one weight away from being a good fly- fisherman,” Bolla explains. “They don’t get their flies and nymphs down deep enough to catch the fish in late winter and early spring. That’s why I like the Two Bit Hooker when I’m nymph fishing.”
The Dream Stream runs for 3 miles, from the Spinney Mountain Reservoir to Eleven Mile Canyon. You can use spinning tackle there rather than fly tackle, but must fish spinners with single hooks. Bolla names lures like Panther Martins and Mepps spinners as favorites of anglers who prefer spinning tackle.
The Taylor River
Some of the biggest trout in Colorado come from the tailrace of the Taylor River out of the Taylor Reservoir, a catch and release area, commonly called the C and R section, and designated as a Gold Medal stream.
“When I fish this stream in the late winter and early spring, I see some of the biggest trout ever caught in Colorado,” Bolla advised.
This section of the Taylor River is very remote, and access is a problem. If snow’s falling on the day you plan to fish, Bolla recommends driving a 4-WD vehicle — even during the late winter and early spring.
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“The road is really curvy but is, ‘maintained,’ which can have several definitions,” Bolla mentions. “The road may be snow packed. If you understand the words, ‘winter driving in the mountains,’ that’s what you can expect when you fish the Taylor River at this time of the year.”
When snow’s falling and on the ground, not many trout fishermen are on the Taylor. However, Bolla emphasizes that you can catch a trout of a lifetime then. “You also can catch white fish, also known as the sucker fish, which are native to Colorado. Anglers consider them fun to catch and release.”
The Taylor River and the East River meet at the Gunnison River, about 10 miles downriver of the dam. The state salmon hatchery is located at the top of the East River. The salmon will make their run all the way down to the Blue Mesa Reservoir. When the salmon are ready to spawn, they swim back up the Gunnison River, travel up the East River where they’ve been released, and spawn there. But the salmon rarely if ever go up the Taylor River.
Three Rivers for One Day
of Excellent Trout Fishing
“I can fish three rivers on the western side of the state — the Eagle, the Colorado and the Fryingpan rivers — in the same day,” Bolla says. “The Fryingpan River, just east of Aspen, flows downstream to Glenwood Springs where it merges with the Colorado River. All three rivers produce great late winter and early spring trout fishing. But if I had to pick one to fish, my favorite is the Colorado River. The Colorado is easier to access, and I’ve been fishing it so long that I’ve found good spots to catch trout. But on a pretty day, I’ll fish the Eagle River.”
The Eagle River is known as a freestone river, fresh, cold and free flowing.
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“My favorite areas to fish are in the Wolcott area down to the town of Eagle where the river is warmer and often called the Banana Belt,” Bolla explains. “Although Vail may have snow, this area’s weather may be sunny and warm. Several years ago, I lived on the Eagle River. Back then, we seldom caught rainbow trout but primarily took brown trout there. Now you tend to catch more rainbows on the Eagle than browns.”
When asked about what was a good day of trout fishing on these three streams, Bolla replied: “Any day I’m not working. Sometimes, I can catch and release 20 trout in a day or perhaps even 50 fish. Even when I have a 10-fish day, I’m still having a great time on these three rivers.”
The Cheesman Canyon of the South Platte
“This canyon, a wild trout and Gold Medal stretch of water, is considered one of the most technically difficult Colorado tailwater fisheries and is quite a way down the South Platte from the Dream Stream,” Bolla explains. “One section near Deckers, a tiny town, is probably the closest true mountain trout stream to the Denver metro area (about one hour away) and is a great place to fish. In the summer months, this region receives quite a bit of fishing pressure but gets very little in late winter. Big, beautiful rainbow trout, good sized brown trout and big white fish are there in late winter and early spring.”
The Lower Gunnison River Float
“I enjoy float fishing the lower Gunnison River below the Black Canyon area,” Bolla reports.
Bolla’s wife enjoys the float trip, too. It doesn’t have much white water, but homes several kinds of trout. Bolla starts his trip near Ridgway and floats down toward Montrose. The Uncompahgre River is a sleeper area near Telluride.
“The trout here are brightly-colored and beautiful,” Bolla advised. “Although several outfitters do these float trips, we always go with RIGS in Ridgway, and our guide generally is Matt McCannel. RIGS offers three-day trips, too, since it has a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to make that extended float trip during the salmon fly hatch. That three-day float is one of my bucket list trips that I want to take.”
Rigs also provides float trips and walk-in trips to the Uncompahgre, the San Miguel and the Cimarron rivers.
“Our float trips primarily are on the Gunnison River from March through November,” Tim Patterson, owner of RIGS, says. “For our walk-in anglers, we offer diversity, with high-country access, usually available after the runoff has ended. We primarily do tailrace fishing below dams in March, with the exception of the Cimarron, since three of the rivers are resistant to off-color water.”
The subsurface flies the guides fish at this time of the year will vary from river to river. “Our guides like a size 22 and 24 midge and baetis patterns,” Patterson reports. “These rivers home rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout, with the browns and rainbows the most prevalent caught. The Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers’ tailrace regions hold trout well over 20 inches, with the San Miguel producing smaller trout.”
RIGS primarily focuses on one-day float trips for trout in March, with a two-day float trip on the lower Gunnison River available then, too. The outfitter provides the meals and the camping equipment for any overnight trips. Patterson also mentions that these rivers’ off-color waters from runoff in May and June make them unfishable, but that they are once more fishable by the end of June, with clear water for the rest of the season.