Winter Fly Fishing on the Crystal River

Crystal River Winter Fishing in Colorado

Colorado is one of the most popular fly fishing destinations in the U.S. Thanks to a fantastic conservation ethos and the State actively managing and promoting rivers to “Gold Medal” status.

The Crystal River is a perfect example of a watershed that is ripe for tossing a fly. Filled with browns, rainbows, and cutthroats you have an amazing chance to hook a trophy. The Crystal River is open to the public all year round, so you can even fish in winter, but make sure you have the right gear.

Like most rivers and lakes in Colorado, the Crystal River is a popular fly fishing destination, but a great way to escape the madness of shoulder-to-shoulder fishing is to experience the river in winter. With several reservoirs and dams that release water in winter, ensuring a constant flow without completely icing over.

There is nothing more peaceful than winter fishing; after all, the river will be less crowded, and you have more than enough time to yourself. But for you to succeed at the Crystal River, you need to know the right place to fish. So, in this article, we’ll show you why you should fish in the Colorado River in winter.

Guide Pro Tip: If you found this article, I’ve got a complete Colorado fish recourse. Rivers, Flies, Lakes, Hatch Charts….So much fishy stuff. Find it all 👉 Fly Fishing Colorado Page

Winter Fly Fishing for Brown Trout
Winter Fly Fishing for Brown Trout

Fly Fishing the Crystal River in Winter

Generally, the Crystal River is a branch of the Roaring Fork River situated in western Colorado. It drains the Coal Basin in the southern parts of Carbondale and flows through Marble to Pitkin County before merging with the Roaring Fork near Carbondale. (source)

And with the fish population in the Crystal River, this water body is one of the best fishing destinations in the United States.

You can fish in the Crystal River all year round, and this includes winter when you want to relax in a less crowded place. Remember, winter becomes exceptional when the water is released from the base of the dam or reservoir, resulting in the other part of the river being slightly warmer.

Why is it More Fun to Fish in Winter?

Whenever you spot rising temperatures think about getting out. Crazy things start happening on those quiet winter days and will make fishing for trout fun since they will become more active.

The increase in temperature means that the enormous fishes will swim to the upper water columns in search of food, which provides you with a better fly fishing experience. But it would be best if you had the right bait to attract the fish, and knowing the right place to fish in winter matters.

Fortunately, several reservoirs constructed along the Crystal River can guarantee an exceptional winter fly fishing experience. So here are a few tips that can improve your winter fishing experience at the Crystal River:

Where Can You Fish in Crystal River in Winter?

The Crystal River is home to some giant trout species. With stocked and naturally reproducing trout this region is sure to provide a great fly fishing experience.  But winter fishing comes with its challenges, and without proper preparation, you may never catch anything; therefore, the first thing you need to do is find out where to fish. After all, the cold means the fishes have moved deeper into the river.

A Favorite Access is Redstone Access Point

If the road has been plowed this area can be incredible.  Pack for deep snow and warmth.

Cruising along 133 you’re going to find a bunch of roadside pull-offs.  A particular favorite of mine is about 9 miles south of Carbondale

Thompson Creek – a feeder creek to the Crystal River

Other fishing opportunities for winter fishing are available on Thompson Creek.   This tributary has good access along 108 and is often plowed in the winter.  This can be a tough creek to fish, but sometimes the pay-offs are fantastic.

Guide Tip: Colorado Parks and Wildlife has an incredible website for understanding where to fish throughout the State.  Here’s a link Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing Atlas

What Fish Species Can You Get in Crystal River in Winter?

Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat Trout

Generally, the Crystal River rates the best place for fly fishing brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout. It’s considered one of the best places to find average-sized trout in Colorado, and on a good day, you can even catch a 15 inches long trout. You can find massive trout in the lower parts of the river. (source)

With a wide variety of trout in the Crystal River. Study the spawning and movement patterns for higher success. Here and a couple articles on spawning Brook, Rainbow and Brown trout.

The Crystal River also supports a good population of whitefish.  “Whities” aren’t the most aggressive fighters, but if the trout aren’t biting they can save a day.

Pick the Right Time and Day to Go

The weather is one of the critical factors you must consider when planning your next winter fishing trip in Crystal River. Therefore, you should monitor the weather forecast and plan your trip around it. Remember, you don’t want to find yourself fishing when it starts snowing. Tracking the weather has more to do with your comfort and improving your success levels.

The weather fronts will play a key role in how active the fish will be. After all, the different fish species are more active right before the cold front passes. Generally, Colorado experiences winter between mid-November and March, so you should listen to the weather focus and visit the Crystal River before the Cold Front gives.

I highly recommend fishing between 10 AM and 4 PM, when the water is slightly warmer and fish are actively swimming in search of food.

Winter Fly Fishing
Winter Fly Fishing

When and Why You Shouldn’t Worry?

Luckily, Colorado isn’t the coldest American state; it is not among the top ten coldest places in the country. And in winter, at times, it experiences more sunny days than most states; however, the sun hours tend to reduce in winter with day-saving. And since the temperature is usually very low in the evening and at night, you should visit the river when it’s a bit warm.

Prepare Your Gear for Winter Fishing

Fishing in winter can strain your expensive fishing gear, so after picking the fishing spot and day, your next step is ensuring your equipment are ready for the task ahead. Therefore, you should start by winterizing your fishing equipment.

Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got a free PDF that is my “checklist” for every trip. Get it 👉 Fly Fishing Checklist

Start by examining the reels and then lubricate and clean the bearings as the cold weather can make them stiff and almost impossible to use. After all, no one wants to be unable to reel in their catch after spending hours in the cold and hooked on something. 

If you have never done it before, then this may be the best time to consult a professional who can help you service your reel at a price. Doing this can save you some cash in the long run.

Conditioning Fly Lines

Next, condition the lines using a line conditioner to keep them supple and prevent twisting. The line conditioner can also help prevent water from freezing on the rod’s guide. Conditioning the line will also help if your rod guides start freezing.

Proper preparation of your gear will increase its lifeline and make it possible for you to have fun while fishing with your pals and family members. After all, not every piece of equipment is for winter fishing, but winterizing your gear can make it possible for you to fish in the Crystal River in winter.

Recommended Fly Line Conditioner – Rio AgentX

For years I’ve been using Rio AgentX. In the winter it conditions and helps reduce rod guides from freezing up. Maintaining your fly line will help it last longer, cast farther and float better.

Check out the link to Amazon below

Pick the Right Flies

Thanks to the cold weather, the fishes tend to move very slowly in winter, even after slightly improving the temperature. All the species in the water will be moving slowly, including the insects they feed. Therefore, you should look for a slow-moving dry fly; in fact, the right artificial bait that can easily mimic the sluggish movements of the water species will do the trick.

Luckily, many unique fly patterns can sluggishly move when sinking in the water, like the parachute Adams and many egg patterns available. Remember, the different creatures in the water are not too active, so a fast-moving dry fly may not be effective.

Favorite Flies for the Crystal River

Winter flies = small sizes. If some dries pop, think about size 18 to 22. Nymphing means tiny midge patterns in size 18 to 24. I’ve had good luck with size 22 zebra midge with a small tungsten beadhead.

Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Blue Wing Olive Fly Pattern
Blue Wing Olive Fly Pattern

If you’d rather buy your flies – Ventures Fly Company

Ventures Fly Co 40 fly assortment - a perfect gift for dad
Here’s an Amazon shortcut link 👉 Ventures Fly Co Assortment

Ventures Fly Co. 40 Fly Assortment Has a Great Selection of Flies

This assortment has most of the flies needed lay the foundation for an effective fly box. the most common dries, nymphs and streamers. Check out the on water video review on YouTube – HERE

Favorite Guides and Fly Shops for the Crystal River

My friends at Taylor Creek Fly Shop can provide the guidance and flies needed to make you trip to this area special. Years of experience and trusted guides can improve the odds of success and comfort.

One More Cast

Crystal River is an exceptional fly fishing destination that must be on your bucket list. But if you think summer and fall fishing in the river is fun, you should try winter fishing; remember, the river will be less populated, giving you a great experience. But the best place to fly fish in winter is right below the reservoirs, which helps increase the water temperature. Plus, your choice of gear also matters a lot. 

I’ve got a complete Colorado Fishing Resource that provides the places, flies and gear needed to fly fish in Colorado. Find all the information 👉 Fly Fishing Colorado

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish


  1. Wikipedia contributors, Crystal River (Colorado), Accessed June 04, 2022
  2. Kris Thoemke, Crystal River and Bay, Accessed June 04, 2022
  3. United States, Congress, Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, Accessed June 04, 2022
  4. Jim Maccracken, Aspen & Pitkin County Colorado Fishing & Floating Guide Book, Accessed June 04, 2022
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