Fly Fishing Near 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.
The most versatile fly rod, reel and line combination for fishing for trout in Colorado is a 9-foot 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-plus 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
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 sturdy 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 that there is 25 percent less protection from the sun's rays at Denver's elevation, and up to 50 percent less protection higher in the mountains. Sunscreen and brim hats are highly 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.
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.
Places to Fish
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.
Approximately 66 miles in length, Clear Creek is a tributary of the South Platte River and can be reached from Denver in less than 40 minutes. Clear Creek flows through Clear Creek Canyon directly west of Golden descending through a long gorge to emerge on the Colorado Eastern Plains where it joins the South Platte. Clear Creek begins near the continental divide near Loveland Pass, northwest of Grays Peak in western Clear Creek County. It descends eastward through Clear Creek Canyon past the towns of Silver Plume, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs - all which have abundant public access that is fairly well marked. Within the canyon that it shares with I-70, it receives numerous smaller tributary creeks that descend from the rugged mountains on either side. Brown trout are the predominant species in Clear Creek but don't be surprised if you hook rainbows, brook, and the occasional cutthroat trout as well. Fall fishing can be a great close fly fishing fix if you are short on time and visiting The Mile High City.
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 feet, 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.
September through November is a unique season for the Blue River. During this time, brown trout push out of the Colorado River into the Lower Blue and from Green Mountain Reservoir into the Upper Blue. Fly anglers get a chance to target large and aggressive brown trout on the move. During this time the Blue River can offer a variety of amazing fishing situations - dries, nymphs and streamers can all be productive throughout the fall.
The Colorado River is an amazing place to experience all the beauty that Colorado has to offer - including great opportunities to target big brown trout in the fall. The river starts high in Rocky Mountain National Park and is Colorado's largest watershed drainage. From deep canyons to panoramic meadows and majestic peaks, the Colorado River is a great river to explore. The Upper Colorado River traverses from Windy Gap Reservoir, just west of the town of Granby, to the confluence of the Blue River near Kremmling. This section is Gold Metal water and closely follows Highway 40 - making it a fairly easy road trip. Major public access points include Hot Sulphur Springs, Buyers Canyon and the small town of Parshall.
In the fall, midges, baetis, egg patterns and scuds can all be effective - but if you are looking to trigger the wrath of a big brown, don't underestimate streamers and mouse patterns, especially at dusk.
About Colorado Brown Trout
The brown trout (Salmo trutta) are an anadromous fish that naturally reproduce in rivers across the state Colorado. They are also one of the pinnacle species for fly fishing enthusiasts. Being an anadromous fish, browns have an instinct to ascend into rivers from the sea to spawn. In land locked states, this drive still exists and browns typically begin a migration from lakes or lower sections of a river to upper sections when the days begin to get shorter.
It is in the beginning of the fall months that this biological switch is triggered - the shortening daylight hours and decreasing water temperature are a signal to brown trout. In addition to reproduction urges that drive their runs into the upper reaches of waterways, they are also bulking up for the coming winter months. This means browns will often charge big dry flies, streamers, and the occasional mouse pattern.
When the browns begin to move in Colorado they get aggressive - it is one of the most beautiful and stimulating seasons to explore the different river systems that our state has to offer. You can fly fish and target browns on walk/wade trips or float trips via raft or hard boat.
How To Knock Out The Colorado Brown Trout Loop
From downtown Denver take 6th Avenue West to the junction with I-70. Go west until you hit the small town of Idaho Springs. Clear Creek can be fished both up and downstream from Idaho Springs.
From here, get back on I-70 until you get to the Empire Exit. Take this exit toward the town of Empire and continue up and over Berthoud Pass. This CR 40 will take you through Winter Park and Granby. You'll first meet up with the Colorado River Near Windy Gap Reservoir. There are a number of public fishing access points between Windy Gap and the Town of Kremmling.
At Kremmling, head south on CR 9 which will follow the Blue River Valley toward the town of Silverthorne. The easiest access fly fishing is between Green Mountain Reservoir and Dillon Reservoir. In Silverthorne, you can access I-70 Eastbound for a 75 minute car ride back to Denver, completing the loop.
It is possible to drive the loop in a single day but a two to three day road trip is recommended to truly experience each unique fishery and the beauty surrounding it.
Photo by Trevor Brown