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Fly fishing just a short drive from Denver
Fly fishing just a short drive from Denver
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Fly Fishing in Denver

Some of the best trout fishing in Colorado is just a short drive from Denver. Here are five things you should know before you set out on your fly-fishing daytrip. 

1. Equipment

The most versatile fly rod, reel and line combination for fishing for trout in Colorado is a 9 ft rod and 5-weight line. This combination of equipment will work for wet wading in rivers, fishing from a drift boat or raft, or fishing still water ponds or high alpine lakes from the bank. Most fish can be hooked and landed with 4X or 5X tippet but you might have to go larger depending on where you are casting because some trout specimens in Colorado can reach 10+ pounds.

2. Natural Insects and Fly Patterns

Weather conditions in Colorado can change rapidly. And as a result, so can the bugs that are hatching in a river or on a lake. For the most up-to-date fishing report, consult a local fly shop. Here are a few of the more common bug hatches that you will find in Colorado throughout the year and fly patterns that match the hatch:

Caddis - Elk Hair Caddis, Foam Caddis

Blue-winged Olives - Parachute Adams

Baetis - RS2s

Midges - Rojo Midge, WD-40s, Disco Midge

Stoneflies and Salmonflies - Sofa Pillow, Chubby Chernobyl

Pale Morning Duns - Hairwing Dun PMD

Drakes - Hairwing Drake

Terrestrials - Morrish's Hoppers, High Vis Foam Beetle, Parahopper

Nymphs - Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tail Nymph

3. Clothing 

Colorado weather can undergo extreme changes in a short time, so you must always be prepared in the outdoors.

If you are fishing in rivers or wading in lakes, it also important to have a high quality pair of waders and wading boots - and a wading belt. You should start with a solid base layer of clothing, especially in the spring, fall or winter. This includes polypropylene tops and bottoms.

Using a "layered" approach is always a good idea in Colorado because you can add or remove clothing as the weather dictates. 

Because of afternoon storms, you should always be prepared with a dependable rain jacket or Goretex shell. 

In addition to clothing, bring a pair of quality-polarized sunglasses. Many times, you will have the opportunity to see fish as they swim and feed in the water and polarized sunglasses makes seeing fish through the glare much more effective. 

Don't forget there is 25% less protection from the sun's rays at Denver's elevation, and up to 50% less protection higher in the mountains. Sunscreen and brim hats are recommended. 

Be aware of lightning. Colorado has frequent afternoon lighting storms. If you can see or hear lightning, it's time to consider seeking safer ground. When the time between flashes and thunder is less than 30 seconds, get off the water immediately and seek shelter.

4. Do-it-yourself Fishing and Guided Trips

There are two basic ways you can fish Colorado:

THE DIY APPROACH: Fishing on your own is great way to experience Colorado's rivers and lakes - especially if you have time. When thinking about a DIY trip, make sure to research river access, stream flows, and try to visit a local shop to get up-to-date information and fly patterns that are effective for those specific rivers at the specific time you are visiting. There can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you put all of the pieces to the puzzle together and the result is a beautiful Colorado fish hammering a dry fly that you presented just right.

GUIDED TRIPS: If you don't have the time to research and plan, the other option is to hire a guide. This is probably the most effective way to fish on your first trip to Colorado or if you are new to fly fishing. Fly fishing guides are experienced and specialize in the water they fish and offer fishing on both public sections of water as well as private settings. Make sure to talk to your guide ahead of time to make sure they understand what equipment you have and what equipment you will need to borrow or rent. Also, be very up front about your level of experience. If you haven't fished before, don't be bashful about it. Most guides offer both half and full days. If you are visiting Denver, there are great options - both guided and unguided - within 90 minutes of downtown.

The South Platte River starts high in the mountains surrounding South Park as numerous creeks and springs drain eastward. The river cuts through Eleven Mile, Cheesman, and Waterton Canyons before it enters Denver. The best quality trout water can be found in the tail waters below Spinney (Dream Stream, or Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area), Eleven Mile, and Cheesman Reservoirs. The fish in these sections are as smart as they come. One of the closest sections of the river to fish that is easily accessible by car is the small town of Deckers located less than 60 miles from Downtown Denver. There is plenty of publicly accessible river bank here as well as camping and picnicking areas. Waterton Canyon is easily accessible by foot or bike from a large free parking lot just south of Chatfield Reservoir.

Clear Creek is a tributary of the South Platte River, approximately 66 miles long, in north central Colorado. The creek flows through spectacular Clear Creek Canyon directly west of Denver, descending through a long gorge to emerge at the town of Golden, where it continues east (lined by a bike path) until it joins the South Platte near downtown Denver. Beautiful sections of Clear Creek can be reached within a 30 minute drive of Downtown Denver.

The Blue River runs north from the dam at Dillon Reservoir near Silverthorne to its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling. When you visit the Blue you are in "fourteener country." Colorado has 54 peaks that soar to 14,000 feet and above. Quandary Peak, 14,265 ft., is the highest point in Colorado's Tenmile Range, where the headwaters of the Blue River begin. The Gold Metal water section runs from the dam in Silverthorne to the Town of Kremmling. The river acts like a typical tailwater through Silverthorne and more like a free stone river below town. As you drive from the Dillon Dam toward Green Mountain Reservoir, there are numerous turnouts and fishing access points along the road. Camping and picnicking areas are also available. Below Green Mountain, the access is very limited. From Denver, the Blue River can be reached in the town of Silverthorne, 66 miles west of Denver on I-70.

5. Fishing License

If you are visiting from out of the state or out of the country, you must purchase a fishing license and in some cases, a habitat stamp. Here is a cursory summary of the regulations from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

ADULTS: People 16 and older are required to buy and carry with them a fishing license

YOUTH: Those under 16 can fish without a license

SENIORS: Colorado residents 64 and older can obtain an annual fishing license from a Wildlife Service Center or license agent for $1

FREE FISHING DAYS: You can fish in Colorado without a license only on the first full weekend of June, each year. All other rules and regulations apply.

HABITAT STAMP: If you are going to be fishing for three (3) days or more you are required to purchase a habitat stamp which costs $10. If you are only fishing for one or two days, you are not required to purchase a habitat stamp. 

You can purchase your license at a local fishing retail outlet when you arrive in Denver or you can purchase one in advance online.

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