October 04, 2010
If your rod's sitting in the garage waiting for summer, you'll miss out on some excellent Colorado trout fishing -- right now! (March 2007)
The Blue River flows out of Dillon Reservoir and offers fantastic rainbow and brown trout fishing. It's just one of 42 excellent trout waters around the state.
Photo by Brian Strickland
If you're a Colorado angler, spring is time to get ready to do some serious trout fishing. Anglers from all over the world make it a point to fish the great rivers and lakes that hold good populations of rainbows, browns, cutthroats, brook and lake trout.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) lists 42 quality trout-fishing waters, at least 12 of them awarded Gold Medal status. These 168 miles of Gold Medal streams are managed to ensure populations of big fish and provide outstanding opportunities for large trout.
There are also lakes and streams that haven't made the list of notable trout waters. Yet these spots produce great results that only local anglers and guides know and talk about.
One such location is pristine Hermosa Creek by Durango Creek, where Andrew Todd of Colorado Trout Unlimited fishes. It shows trout diversity, but is also a very good spot for Colorado cutthroats.
Let's try to catalog some of the Colorado hotspots, and how to fish a few with flies, lures or baits.
Beaver Creek and Clear Creek Reservoirs
Beaver Creek in the South Fork area provides good action on rainbows for shore-anglers using PowerBait, salmon eggs and lures. Trolling produces browns and 'bows. Fly-anglers prefer the "dead chicken" wet fly. Ice-fishing is popular during the winter.
Clear Creek, best known for its ice-fishery, produces excellent year-round catches of nice-sized browns, rainbows and cutthroats. Guide Don Alan, of Your Colorado Fishing Partner, lists Clear Creek as one of his favorite streams. He said the Creek is not a large mountain stream, but is bigger than most. He recommends fishing the stretches of pocket water created when Interstate 70 was built.
"They put in stair steps, and there are some pretty decent pools in some of the sections," he said.
Clear Creek fishes well up to about the end of April and mid-May when snowmelt begins. Then you might as well wait until the end of July before you get good fishing again.
When fishing flies, he recommends either a 4- or 5-weight rod. Depending on the type of pocket you're fishing, you might let the fly drift through or strip it back. Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulffs and Parachute Adams are recommend dry flies. If you fish a dropper fly below the dry fly, use a Copper John.
Pikes Peak, North Slope Reservoirs
Just outside Colorado Springs, three picturesque reservoirs along the Pikes Peak Highway boast good populations of rainbows and cutthroats, and an occasional brookie. Large lake trout can be caught from Crystal Creek and North Catmount. The waters are generally ice-free and fishable from May to October.
The Arkansas River, a freestone East Slope river, begins above 10,000 feet and runs through the city of Pueblo. It's a great river for attractor-style fishing with nymphs. July is premier fishing time. The busiest time occurs in late April and early May when a caddis-fly hatch is in full swing. But hatches throughout the year make this a consistent fishery.
Angling with lures and bait also produces very well, particularly during higher water flows. The river gives up high catches of browns and rainbows to 20 inches. Browns dominate, but large 'bows are also common.
Tom Trowbridge guides in the Roaring Fork Valley. He lists the Arkansas River by Salida as one of his spring favorites. Come July and August, he spends his time on central Colorado's high mountain streams above 10,000 feet, fishing with small dry-fly-style attractor flies for cutthroats, most around 12 inches.
"If you get a 13-inch fish up in the higher elevations, it is going to be a trophy," he said.
Below 10,000 feet, Trowbridge begins to catch browns and brook trout. His favorite attractor dry flies are the Elk Hair Caddis, the Rio Grande Trude, and the Adams, all in sizes 12 to 16.
"In an attractor, you are not matching a hatch. You are not seeing a size 16 Blue Wing Olive and throwing a size 16 Blue Wing Olive. These fish are pretty opportunistic," he said.
Instead, Trowbridge throws flies resembling different bugs that these fish can't usually afford to pass up. Their growing season is short, so they have to take what they can get, whether it matches the hatch or not.
"If a bug comes over their head, they usually have to eat it because they only get two and a half months of good weather to put on weight."
Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico high in the San Juan Mountains. Look for good browns and rainbows from Rio Grande Reservoir downstream to Del Norte. Fly-fishing is best from June through July, when stonefly and mayfly hatches dominate fish diets. The Gold Medal section from South Fork to Del Norte provides trophy browns.
Aurora and Spinney Mountain Reservoirs, Lake John
Aurora Reservoir provides 820 acres of prime fishing water, with plenty of good-sized rainbow and brown trout. At Eleven Mile, anglers can bank-fish or troll for large rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout.
Lake John, known as a past producer of large trout, was treated in 1993 to remove white suckers, then re-stocked with rainbows and Snake River cutthroat. Bait works well in early spring and summer. Many fish are caught on flies, especially large streamers, from midsummer into fall.
Spinney Mountain Reservoir -- a big shallow, fertile, high-altitude reservoir -- offers consistent catches of 16-inch-plus rainbows, browns and Snake River cutthroats. The best fishing is right after April ice-out.
Spinney is Trowbridge's favorite trout-fishing location during the late-spring runoff when most other places are high and muddy. It boasts excellent Belly Boat or shore fishing. Trophy northern pike are taken in June.
Trowbridge said that during the runoff, there is a large
hatch of midges about size 14. In late May or early June, if it is quiet, you can hear them. "It's kind of like the noise a mosquito makes when flying," he said.
It's best fished out of a boat or float tube. Use a strike indicator and midge larva hanging about 6 to 7 feet down below your strike indicator.
"It's bobber fishing," said Trowbridge. "You just literally let it sit there. There are a lot of fish 20 inches or larger, rainbows and browns mostly. They will take you into your backing pretty quickly if you hook a good one."
North Delaney Butte Lake is stocked with brown trout fingerlings exclusively. The lake habitat lets trout grow 18 to 20 inches in a short time. South Delaney Butte Lake is also a productive trout lake containing rainbows and Snake River cutthroats. Seventeen to 20-inch 'bows have been caught from East Delaney Lake.
Bear Creek, Big Thompson
Located between Evergreen and Bear Creek Reservoir, Bear Creek produces good catches of 10- to 12-inch rainbows, with an occasional larger trout taken. Big Thompson is favored by residents and non-residents alike. Stocked rainbows and a natural brown trout population provide good fishing from May through September. Salmon eggs, various lures and worms work best during the spring runoff. Throw flies in late July, August and September.
Cache la Poudre River begins its race for the flatlands from the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. In its course to join the South Platte River near Greeley, it provides more than 60 miles of public fishing. There are good populations of brown trout, as well as some mountain whitefish and a limited rainbow fishery.
North, South Platte Rivers
These slow, meandering waters flowing across the valley floor offer some of northern Colorado's best fly-fishing for browns, brooks and rainbows. The state has leased public fishing easements on a number of these waters. Leases include portions of the North Platte River, Norris and Roaring creeks, Grizzly Creek, the North Fork of the North Platte and the Michigan and Illinois rivers.
A prime stretch is from Cheesman Reservoir to Strontia Springs Reservoir: This Gold Medal river is regarded as one of the best rainbow and brown trout fisheries in the nation. Many fish are over 14 inches, particularly upstream of Scraggy View Picnic Ground. Best bets are rainbow and brown trout.
Blue Mesa, Stagecoach Reservoirs
The DOW rates Blue Mesa Reservoir as the state's best water for catching kokanee salmon, and excellent for 16-inch rainbows through much of the year. Ice-fishing is good in January and February. Trophy lake trout fishing picks up in the spring immediately after the ice melts.
Rifle Gap supports a large population of rainbows. Big ones, 2 pounds and up, are the rule at Stagecoach Reservoir. Trappers Lake holds the world's largest population of native Colorado River cutts, and Wolford Mountain Reservoir has a reputation for giving up 16-inch rainbows.
Animas, Taylor Rivers
The Animas River, the state's newest Gold Medal water, boasts many browns and rainbows 14 to 18 inches. Best time to fish is after snowmelt, from mid-April to June. Blue River, flowing out of Dillon Reservoir, has fantastic rainbow and brown trout fishing -- with flies and lures only.
The Gunnison River provides some of the best fishing for trophy browns and rainbows. Numerous fish over 16 inches are caught, particularly in the middle stretch between Crystal Creek and the confluence with North Fork. Only foot access is available in this section.
The Frying Pan, Crystal, and Roaring Fork rivers offer some of the nation's best fly- and lure-fishing. The Frying Pan River flows and drops into the Roaring Fork River, which starts above Aspen and runs north to Glenwood Springs. Catch-and-release sections on the Frying Pan below Ruedi Reservoir provide an opportunity to catch rainbows up to 10 pounds. The Roaring Fork offers the best mountain whitefish angling in the state.
Greg Channing, of Adventure Fly Fishing, said that the Taylor is one of his favorite Colorado rivers. That's where he caught his state-record rainbow, a 24 1/2-pounder, in 2002. The big fish succumbed to a little No. 24 red midge. Since then, he has caught fish weighing up to 18 pounds in the Frying Pan River.
Why do the fish grow so big in these reservoir tailwater streams? Channing said the water from the reservoirs comes from the bottom of the lakes where the very small mysis shrimp live. Fish wait below the dam and gorge on the shrimp. "The iodine in the mysis shrimp makes the colors on the rainbow just extremely red, really brilliant," he said.
Small egg patterns work in the spring when the rainbows lay eggs. The brown trout and other fish fall behind the spawning fish and eat the eggs. Other good fly patterns include mysis shrimp imitations and the RS2.
"If it is overcast, the RS2 will work in almost every river in Colorado," adds Channing. "During the spring, during the runoff, you need to have some type of attractor pattern."
Channing adds weight differently than what most fly-anglers use on their attractor and drop-fly arrangements. Add a small spilt shot to where you tie on the tippet. Next, tie on your attractor pattern, a San Juan Worm or egg -- something with sparkle and color to attract the fish. Below the attractor, Channing adds an emerger. The lure looks like it is just starting to emerge off the bottom, which triggers the action.
"The way most people tie up is put the weight at the knot. I put a weight at the knot, and I put another weight in between the first and second fly. The additional weight keeps all the flies down in the strike zone."
When the weight is only at the knot, there is probably still 4 feet of tippet, which can float up 4 feet. The strike zone is going to be 6 to 8 inches off the bottom. You can see how an angler could completely miss the strike zone.
In March, most Colorado trout streams are still unaffected by runoff. Snowmelt, for the most part, does not affect the lakes and reservoirs. It's time to replace flies or baits if you haven't already. Knowing where to fish this year is as important as knowing what flies or baits are hot.
The Arkansas River provides some of the best trout fishing in Colorado. Brown trout reproduce naturally in its upper reaches. The Blue River and the Frying Pan are two major tailwaters where mysis shrimp thrive, growing trout to 10 pounds or more.
Catch spring fever -- get out and try your luck on Colorado trout fishing in 2007.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Need more information about where to fish this spring? Visit Wildlife.State.CO.US/Fishing/WhereToGo/Hotspots, the
Colorado Division of Wildlife's Web site.