You might not recognize the mighty Colorado at its headwaters in the Kawuneeche Valley. Up here, the river is small enough to jump across in many places, and flows through marshy meadows and beaver ponds before collecting its strength in three major reservoirs: Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby.
Below these lakes, the Colorado continues to grow as it adds water from well-known streams including the Williams Fork, the Blue, Eagle and Roaring Fork rivers. What starts as a river with a flow of under 100 CFS, collects enough water before entering into Utah to grow to over 21,000 CFS!
Brook trout and Colorado River Cutthroat trout dominate this upper section of the Colorado. The stream can be waded throughout the Kawuneeche Valley except during high water, typically in late May through mid-June. This upper portion of the Colorado River inside Rocky Mountain National Park cannot be floated.
Best Places to Fly Fish on the Colorado
Windy Gap Reservoir
East of Hot Sulphur Springs is the type of water I love. A boulder strewn and braided section perfect for wading and hiking for an afternoon. Recommended to pack a lunch and pick away at the pockets in front of and behind every boulder.
Just outside of Kremmling, Blue River and Muddy Creek join the Colorado. Whenever a confluence like this happens odds are food and structure will concentrate. The is called Confluence River Access with parking and some trails heading up Blue River and the Colorado. It’s best to fish with a boat, but a short hike up stream provides some nice structure and riffles to congregate fish.
Be aware that private property surrounds this spot. Don’t be that guy that ruins a good thing be trespassing.
Guide Pro Tip: The Blue River is the perfect wading river with gravel bottoms and class 2 fly fishing. I probably shouldn’t show you where to park, but down river from Green Mountain Power Plant is a section of water perfect for the wading fly fisher. Look HERE
Pumphouse Campground – Rafting and Fishing Collide
This area attracts water lovers for recreation and fishing. In the warm months you’ll see a mix of rafters and fisher folk.
Headwaters of Sheephorn Creek – Our Secret
If you want to really experience fishing the Colorado River basin you’ve got to check out some of the feeder streams. Sheephorn Creek offers pretty good access via vehicle and still provides the “get away” experience. This is small stream water containing cutthroat (must be released), with some meadows and woods. If you like camping, I highly recommend this area.
From Bond to Dotsero – Best by Boat
North west of Bond is a popular launch for tubers and fly fishers, called Two Bridges. Good parking, launch and some restrooms. and a great launch. The popular float is to the takeout at Catamount if you’re looking for a longer float look at Burns Take Out
Guide Tip: Try to float this during the week. You’ll be frustrated with the tubers enjoying this section. Want the map link? TWO BRIDGES ACCESS
Weekdays are best if you can schedule it. Don’t spend too much time casting to what I call “dead water” drift by and keep an eye out for the fishy water around structure and transitions.
Favorite Flies for the Colorado
Midges continue to be a key food source, but we begin to see baetis hatches, and occasional Stone and Caddis hatches. Surprisingly, although this upper river is a “freestone”, scuds are common and can be found in orange, olive and tan.
The source of these scuds is the alpine lakes, high above this valley. There are rumors that brook trout exceeding 5 pounds can be found gorging on scuds in these high alpine lakes, but it takes a fly fishing expedition to reach them.
What make the Colorado River Special for Fly Fishing?
If you’re willing to explore just a little, you can find more access and what I think makes the Colorado basin so special. The Colorado River has been influenced by people for over 100 years at this point, but the feeder rivers and streams capture the heart of the river.
Brown, Rainbow, Brook and Cutthroat trout are available with a little work. With a bit more work and planning you could net all four in a single day. Another suggestion is to explore the Vail/Minturn area. With the Gold Medal Water. Check out this link – https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Maps/MiddleColoradoAndEagleRiver_FishingRegulations_GeoPDF.pdf
Hatch Chart for the Colorado River
If you hate tossing small midge patterns, I’m sorry. Midges in size 18 to 22 are a staple, along with scud patterns in 16 to 20. I’m a big fan of Hi-Vis Griffith’s Gnats. (My eyes are getting older, so a bright contrasting color helps see the “take”.
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Baetis||18||April 15||October 1|
|Caddis||16||April 1||September 1|
|Stonefly||12-14||April 1||September 1|
|Golden Stone||8||June 1||August 1|
|Trico||20||July 1||October 1|
|PMD||16-18||June 15||August 1|
|Red Quill||14||June 1||August 1|
|Terrestrials (Hopper and Beetle)||6 – 12||July||August|
Trout here, like most other places, still take 80% of their food below the surface so a dry-dropper is your best bet for success.
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
When to Fly Fish the Colorado River
April and May bring warmer days and the snow and ice melting away. The flows are usually low for the through late May, increasing to flood stage as the snowmelt increases flows in all the feeder streams (Timber Creek, Onahu, East Inlet, North Inlet).
June is usually a month where the river purges its system. The flows push the water to the top of the banks, and flow like chocolate milk for much of the month. Some feeder streams run virtually clear, and where they dump into the Colorado the fish will feed in the seam between the two.
Late June through September is when this stream comes alive. The flows have slowed down and the river runs clear, only becoming cloudy after heavy rains. Virtually every type of feed is in the water during this period of time:
October is when the Park starts to put on her blanket of snow, and lie down for winter. The weather can be warm or frigid, often in the same day, but the fish can be voracious. Pulling streamers through deep holes can bring explosive strikes, and terrific runs, but as the month draws to a close, we return to midges, baetis and scuds in sizes so small you can’t thread the fly if your hands are cold.
From November through March, the primary food source is midges, and hatches occur throughout the winter. Sizes range from 14-26, and any olive, red or black midge nymph or Griffith’s Gnat in these sizes may lure these trout out of their winter doldrums. Play them quick and keep them in the water!
Colorado River Flows
To give you an idea of what the water flows can be like below is a screen copy of the annual flow with the median annual flow from the Kremmling Area.
Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Colorado River
If you’ve got a 5 to 7 weight 9-foot fly rod you’ve got what you need. A matching weight forward floating line is perfect.
So often folks skimp out on the quality of reel to focus on the fly rod. I’m not advocating spending $500 on a reel, but saying get a reel with a reliable disc drag. The Sage Spectrum C is perfect. Check out the prices on Amazon with this link. SAGE SPECTRUM C FLY REEL, even better is the Sage Foundation Outfit which includes an awesome fly rod and the Spectrum reel.
I’d recommend a dry fly with small dropper to use as a searching pattern until you get a feel for what the fish are targeting. Start with a lead fly like a stonefly or caddis, add a tag off the bend and tie on a scud.
Colorado River Guides and Fly Shops
- AVA Rafting and Zipline offers wading and float trips throughout this area. Get everything setup for you with a team of folks that know the area. https://www.flyfishingcolorado.net/
- Colorado Angling Co guides on the Colorado and Eagle Rivers. Located in Wolcott, CO.
- Vail Valley Anglers is probably the best fly shop in the area. A full service shop with equipment, flies and guides.
One More Cast for the Colorado River
The Colorado River can be fickle, but most great fly fishing rivers are channeling. Heck, I think for most folks the chase is as important as the catching.
What make this are so special is the feeder rivers and streams. The Blue, Eagle and Roaring Fork are amazing waters that feed the Colorado. If you’re looking for more places to toss a fly, I’ve got a complete guide. Check out The Best Places to Fly Fish in Colorado.
More Colorado Hot Spots to Toss a Fly
- Get a complete guide to the best places to fly fish in Colorado in this article: Best Place to Fly Fish in Colorado
- Colorado Springs is a fly fishers paradise. Want to know where to go? Read Where to Fly Fish Near Colorado Springs
- Wondering where to toss a fly in the Denver Area? I’ve got the answer – Where to Fly Fish in the Denver Area
- Have you heard about the “Dream Stream” that’s just a little area on the South Platte River – Find more spots in Where to Fly Fish on the South Platte River
- The hidden gem is the Animas…….Don’t say anything, but read THIS