The Animas River in Colorado is one of the last freestone rivers in the entire state. It’s beautiful, unique and access is fairly impressive compared to many other Colorado Rivers. You even have a chance at finding state record brown trout swimming throughout the two miles of Gold Medal water! Fly fishing the Animas River is going to give you memories to last a lifetime.
Guide Tip: I’ve listed some great spots in this guide, BUT if you truly want to experience the Animas in its true glory checkout Expedition Outside. The team at EX OUT has reserved private waters to a select few people. Toss a fly to eager trout without the crowds – find your water HERE
1. Two-Mile-Long Gold Metal Stretch- Heart of Durango
The most well-known part of the Animas River is the two-mile stretch of designated Gold Medal trout water in the heart of Durango.
The section begins at the intersection of HWY 550 and 160 near the train museum. From there, it flows two miles through town down towards River Road. The end of the Gold Medal designated water is right behind the Home Depot and Escalante Middle School.
You can enter at a variety of entry points, but the one below is a local park that offers an easy park and fish. You can fish the banks, but wading is fairly easy throughout the Animas. Parts of this river are upwards of 100 feet wide.
The fish have quite a bit of room to grow, and you have great access to all sorts of riffles and seams. There aren’t a ton of large pools to fish, but the banks and any deep water is going to hold fish. Bring the nymphs, streamers and dry flies! These fish are not strangers to artificial flies, so you have to make sure you’re presenting them well.
Bring your 9’ 5-weight rod with you!
2. Animas River Trail- More Privacy!
If you’re hoping for more privacy, head north out of Durango towards Purgatory Ski Resort. Across from the resort is a trailhead for the Animas River Trail. It’s a bit of a hike down to the river, but it’s well worth it.
Most anglers spend their time in Durango and completely ignore some of the higher elevation waters in search of Brook Trout as well as nice populations of Rainbow and Brown Trout
These sections of the river are a bit harder to access and they’re skinnier waters. You can use a 4-weight 8’6” inch with floating line for these portions of the river. Streamers, nymphs and dries are all going to work.
3. North of Downtown Durango
Technically, there are 7 miles of the Animas River that flow through Durango. North of the Gold Medal Portion of the river is great. Memorial Park has easy access and this area of the river is a bit less pressured. You can easily wet wade here in the summer! The water isn’t overly deep, and it’s quite productive.
You’ll find both Brown and Rainbow Trout here. Floating line with a light leader and tippet is necessary for dry fly fishing. You can use a 4x leader with 5x or 6x tippet! If you’re fishing streamers, use 1 or 2x leader.
Why the Animas River is Perfect for Fly Fishing
The Animas is one of the last freestone rivers in Colorado. It relies entirely on natural water supply, so you never quite know what you’re going to get in terms of flows and CFU’s.
This means that the trout are going to take the opportunity to eat a good-looking fly when they see one. Depending on precipitation levels and weather, the trout may not have eaten a decent meal for a few days.
As long as you pay close attention to the weather, you can time some prime feeding hours! All year round provides anglers with a great opportunity to land large fish.
Guide Tip: Oh My Gosh! Colorado is awesome for fly fishing. I have a complete guide for entire state. Check out -> Where to Fly Fish in Colorado
Also, the seven miles of great water through the town of Durango make access extremely easy! Plus, the Gold Medal waters are found right in town, so you don’t have to work overly hard to get access to these waters. Bring some wading sandals in the summer and cover the entire seven miles through town in one day.
The naturally reproducing trout as well as the yearly stocking numbers make for a healthy fish population and great chance to make some memories in the Southwest portion of the state.
What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the Animas River?
In the upper portion of these waters near the town of Silverton, a little way north of Durango, you’ll find healthy populations of Brook Trout.
Brook Trout are some of the most beautiful fish that you can find, and they fight incredibly well for their size. These fish are naturally reproducing, but you’re going to need to work hard to find them. Some long hikes and high elevation waters are home to the Brookies.
The Rainbow and Brown Trout are found throughout the majority of the 126 miles. The healthiest populations are found in the town of Durango. The Colorado Game and Fish Department stocks these fish every single year to keep the populations thriving. It’s an entirely cold-water stream that is ideal for trout to grow.
Favorite Flies for the Animas River
Come summer, there are all sorts of bug hatches, but some of the most important are Caddis and Mayfly. These hatches in mid-summer are common later in the evening, so be prepared to throw them once the sun begins to set. Also, Sculpin are the best form of streamer to throw. These are going to lead to fish all year long.
- Elk Hair Caddis, size 14- Elk Hair Caddis are the ideal dry fly to throw on those beautiful summer evenings. As the sun is setting and the hatches begin, Elk Hair Caddis should be one of the first patterns you throw. The fish will eat them from runoff season until late summer.
- Blue Winged Olive, size 16- BWO dries and nymphs are going to work great. Pheasant Tails before the hatches and BWO dries seem to work great from spring all the way through the summer. Find the riffles and shallow pools and see what strikes. It won’t take long for you to find fish.
- Sculpin, Size 4- The ideal streamer for the Animas is the Sculpin. These are all over the bottom of the river and the trout can’t get enough of them. You can throw them all day long and catch fish!
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
Hatch Chart for the Animas River
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Blue Winged Olive||18||March 1||October 31|
|Caddis||14||June 15||September 15|
|Golden Stonefly||8||June 15||August 15|
|Pale Morning Dun||18||July 1||September 15|
|Terrestrial||10||July 15||September 30|
|Midge||12||January 1||December 31|
|Yellow Stonefly||14||June 15||August 1|
|Salmonfly||8||May 15||July 15|
|Sculpin||4||January 1||December 31|
|Damsels||8||April 15||August 31|
Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Animas River
A 9’, 5-weight moderate fast or fast action rod is ideal for the Animas. The added power and length is going to be able to throw dries, nymphs as well as streamers. Since you have the possibility of landing a 16 to 20 inch trout, the added power is nice to have. You don’t want to lose a chance to land one of the trophies swimming around in these waters.
The Perfect Fly Rod Combo for the Animas
Orvis originated in the fly fishing business. The Orvis Clearwater Combo is perfectly balanced and comes with everything except flies. It’s so easy to cobble together an outfit that just doesn’t cast right. No worries with that using the Clearwater Fly Rod Combo.
Also, make sure you have a matching reel as well as floating line. The Animas isn’t an overly deep river, so your leader will be able to get you to the necessary depths.
Guides and Fly Shops
- Expedition Outside – If you really want to experience the Animas River, you’ve got to contact Expedition Outside (link) You’ll get access to the best water, heck you won’t even need a guide because you’ll be fishing private waters only available to a SELECT few. This is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED way to hook up with eager fish in the best water. Check out the private water list HERE
- Duranglers– Duranglers is a wonderful fly shop in Durango! It has all of the information and gear you need to be successful on the Animas River. They also have a full guide service if you’re interested in learning more!
- San Juan Anglers– San Juan Anglers is another full service fly shop in the town of Durango. All information needed to fish the Animas can be found here!
The Animas River represents everything that’s great about fly fishing. Large fish, a dependence on the environment and different types of water are all available on the Animas. You can get privacy or walk right out of the door of your hotel and land fish. It’s a beautiful river that’s going to give you everything you would want in a day of fly fishing! If you want more information on fly fishing in Colorado, be sure to read our blog here.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels