Tips Of Fishing in Colorado
Colorado is one of the most underrated states in the US. Home to a variety of geological features and terrain, Colorado is known to have some of the best scenery and outdoor adventures in the continental US, as it includes a large portion of the Rocky Mountains, but also stretches across a plateau and into the Great Plains.
Colorado is known for lots of great trout fishing, and the official state fish is the Cutthroat Trout but you can also find lots of rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, and lake trout. Aside from trout, Colorado is also home to tons of walleye and smallmouth (among many other species), so whether you’re fly fishing or spin casting, there’s definitely something fun to go after!
While finding the best fishing spot in Colorado will be up to you (many anglers don’t share secrets), we will provide a brief overview of some of the more popular bodies of water to fish, what species you can expect to find, and we will also try to include a variety of locations so you can at least have a decent starting point.
Best Fishing Spots in Colorado
All of the Colorado fishing locations that we list below are great for various reasons. Therefore, depending on your preferences, you may not agree with all of them, but our aim is to provide an overview on many different types of fishing spots in Colorado. For info about the fishing season and associated licenses in Colorado, please click here.
Located in Summit County, Gore Creek is a tributary of the Eagle River and drains at the South end of the Gore Range. This is a seemingly back-country setting, but lots of sections of Gore Creek are very close to public trails and roads, so you won’t necessarily be getting away from it all.
That being said, Gore Creek offers the unique opportunity to place yourself in a beautiful setting to catch some gorgeous trout, but without the hassle of planning a full trip. Located just off the I-70 and running parallel to much of it, there are lots of access points you can choose from. It’s easy to get to and can be especially convenient for those anglers residing in Denver (just under 100 miles).
Upper Gore Creek and Lower Gore Greek are the two main fisheries, but you can find big trout spanning the length of the creek. You can find the 4 primarily sought-after types of trout: cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and brook. You will mainly see fly fishermen on the creek, but you can spin cast too with the right gear. If it’s possible, you should bring along a pair of waders even if you plan on spin casting from the shore, because you may find it easier to get a little wet and target your casts and retrieval paths more efficiently.
Another thing to note about Gore Creek: there has been an observed decline in marine invertebrates in the area, so the community is now rallying to preserve the marine environment, mainly through education and guidelines surrounding pollutants that people pour down their drains. It’s still completely fine to fish in the area, but just be mindful this is a relatively more sensitive area, so just make sure you take back everything you bring with you.
As for regulations surrounding the fishing itself, you can only fish with artificial flies and lures, which isn’t really a problem. You can keep a maximum of two trout if they measure at least 16 inches, but it is highly recommended to release anything you catch out of respect for the currently sensitive environment.
Blue Mesa Reservoir
The simplest way to describe Blue Mesa Reservoir is a really cool spot. This man-made reservoir is part of the Gunnison River and is considered the largest body of water that is fully contained within the borders of Colorado. It is constantly stocked with tons of fish, many of which grow into beautiful trophy fish.
The Blue Mesa Reservoir has many different fish species, the more popular being Kokanee salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, and lake trout. The most highly sought-after species is probably the Kokanee salmon, but the Lake trout can grow to be huge as well, so there’s more than enough opportunity to land a big one!
The kind of weird part about Blue Mesa Reservoir is the dynamic nature of the marine ecosystem. Given Blue Mesa Reservoir is man-made, fish are constantly being stocked, and it’s now known as one of the most productive fisheries in the US. However, the species of fish that live together don’t necessarily thrive together. For example, the lake trout are predators and are thought to have initiated a decline in the Kokanee salmon numbers, prompting the Game and Fish Department to place a lot of focus on maintaining this species. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to know the National Park Service rules surrounding catch and release, bagging limits, restricted zones, etc, before planning your trip out.
Aside from being aware of the rules and regulations surrounding catch and release or keeping your catch, there isn’t much else to it, other than to explore this vast beautiful area and have some fun! Fly fishing is especially popular here, especially in the smaller streams and creeks feeding the reservoir.
Carbondale isn’t a single identifiable body of water, but instead, is a small town located just downstream from Aspen along the Roaring Fork River. The reason this town holds lots of value for anglers is its proximity to many different rivers that offer some of the best fly fishing in Colorado.
Located where the Roaring Fork River and Crystal River meet, you have the opportunity to select from either, and if that’s not enough, you’re only a short drive away from the Colorado River and Frying Pan River. No one river is “better” than the other, which allows you to select rivers based on your preference of fishing style, targeted species, or even just scenery. The stark changes in elevation along these rivers enhance the latter, providing amazing scenery that can vary from one mile to the next.
Brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout are the most commonly fished species in this area. Roaring Fork River and Frying Pan River are probably the most heavily fished rivers. Specifically, Roaring Fork River has a renowned stretch of water between Carbondale and where it meets the Colorado River. This stretch of water is home to some of the largest catches.
While not the most popular, Crystal River definitely shouldn’t be overlooked, and it’s starting to gain some notoriety as a must-try fishing spot in Colorado. There’s lots of big trout to be landed, and this pattern is maintained through annual stocking of rainbow trout. However, the one thing to keep in mind about Crystal River is that the water can become quite muddy during or soon after heavy rainfall. In this case, it’s recommended to try one of the other rivers.
Vallecito Lake is a really cool spot that offers some unique fishing opportunities. Technically a reservoir, Vallecito Lake is located just a few mile northeast of Durango. It sits at a high altitude of about 8,000 feet and provides easy access to San Juan National Forest, which provides even more recreational opportunities if you really want to make a trip out of it.
The fishing in Vallecito Lake and some of the associated rivers, for example, the Pine River, provide some excellent fishing for many different anglers of all skill levels. Common fish species include Northern Pike, Kokanee Salmon, walleye, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, and yellow perch.
Vallecito Lake itself is big with a water surface of 4.3 miles. There are ample spots for shore fishing, especially on the east side, or you can stick with a boat or a pair of waders as well. There is something for every angler here, as different fish will be easier to catch at different times in the season, and the variety offered by a huge lake and many surrounding rivers deemed to be Gold Medal Winners provides even more options for anglers.
- mid-late June and Fall great times to case for northern pike
- June, July, and August are the great time to cast for Kokanee salmon
- September and October are great times to cast for brown trout
One thing to keep in mind about Vallecito Lake is that you will have to consider fees and permits. This isn’t a big deal and helps ensure that those fishing on the lake are following the guidelines to help maintain a healthy and sustainable ecosystem. These fees are usually pretty small depending on the type of pass you get, and anything you need can be purchased online or at some of the local shops in Durango.
Lake City is a versatile fishing spot that offers good fishing year-round. Located in Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains, Lake City offers many different bodies of water, each with their own characteristics. Some of the more popular waters include Lake San Cristobal, Deer Lake, Big Blue Creek, Cebolla Creek, and Henson Creek.
Lake San Cristobal is really popular in the Spring for lake trout, with 20-30 lb catches not being uncommon. At this time of year, the lake trout will often be swimming around near the shore and in deep pools, and according to lakecity.com, sucker meat has proven to be a successful strategy. In the winter, ice fishing takes over and anglers are challenged to work on their jigging, often with a great reward!
Deer Lake and Big Blue Creek are more popular in the summer and are well known for having tons of trout, but they are usually a bit smaller on average. Therefore, if you’re after a trophy fish, you are probably better off starting in different waters first, but if you want a fun time with a good chance of success, then you got it! Furthermore, these waters and all the smaller lakes and streams in the area can be great for kids and families or those learning the ropes.
In the Fall, Cebolla Creek and Henson Creek provide some excellent fishing for brown trout, providing a great opportunity to land a trophy. Fly fishing is especially popular this time of year, and the Browns are definitely aggressive, so using any type of lure or fly that mimics prey will be a great option. If you really want to have some fun, try a topwater lure for an epic strike!
Overall, Lake City is a great fishing spot for any angler. While fly fishing is more common here, bait casting and spin casting can definitely work as well. There’s really something for everyone, so it’s a place you can bring the family, but also a place you can enjoy if you’re getting away from it all on your own. There’s also excellent hiking and other recreational activities in the area, so you can further add to your trip.