With thousands of miles of rivers and streams and millions of surface acres of lakes, the Centennial State is angling nirvana for the approximately 340,000 fly-fishermen who, each year, are captivated by the rhythmic action and stunning backdrops associated with the age-old pursuit. But fly-fishing isn’t as easy as putting a worm on a hook and chucking it into a stocked pond. No, fly-fishing takes a little more skill, a lot more patience, and a borderline obsessive need to know what makes a fish bite. So how does one break into this quintessential Colorado pastime? We’ll teach you everything you need to know to start fishing this summer.
Fisherman’s Glossary: Lingo You’ll Need To Know On The Water
Fly-fishermen have a language all their own. Here’s some lingo you’ll need to know before hitting the water.
- Break Off:
- When your line snaps unexpectedly, allowing the fish to get away.
- Catch And Release:
- A conservation practice in which fishermen try to fight fish quickly, land them gently, and rapidly release them back into the water.
- False Cast:
- A type of cast that uses multiple backward and forward casts without letting the line hit the water or ground; the cast is generally used to lengthen the amount of line and/or to change the line’s direction.
- Foam Is Home:
- Foam lines or bubbles in a river or stream show where currents are moving and where food collects; anglers often say these foamy areas are where the fish are.
- The stage in an insect’s life cycle when it matures and leaves the water to mate. This can happen in an intense burst of activity when many insects hatch at once. This attracts predators like trout (which, in turn, attract anglers).
- The upper reaches of rivers—near where the waterways begin—before major tributaries join them; headwaters are usually narrow-er with less flow, which may make fishing more difficult.
- Match The Hatch:
- An angler’s attempt to select the artificial fly that mimics the natural food fish are feeding on. During a hatch, fish often become picky eaters, only wanting to eat what is hatching at that moment.
- A fly-fisherman’s goal is to make an artificial fly imitate a real insect; part of that is making sure the fly rides the current in a natural way. If the fly line is dragging the fly downstream, fishermen rearrange, or mend, the line while it’s drifting to eliminate the unwanted pull.
- A pocket of slower moving, deeper water where fish often reside in an attempt to hide from predators or rest from swimming.
- A shallow, quickly moving section of water where fish can congregate to feed.
- Trout generally feed underwater, but on the rare occasion they decide something on top of the water looks tasty, they may ascend to the surface—fly-fishermen call this “rising,” as in, “the fish are rising.”
- Roll Cast:
- A short cast—created by a quick, forceful flick of the wrist—used to deliver a fly when an angler doesn’t have room for a full overhead cast (see “Casting And Catching,” page 67).
- An area in a river or stream where two currents—one slower, one faster—merge. Fish will hole up in the slower water and dart into the faster current for food.
- Stripping Line:
- This phrase describes the action of retrieving line by pulling it in using your fingers as opposed to using the reel.
- The section of river below a dam; these waters are often ideal trout habitat because water temperatures stay more consistently cool.
Locally Made Gear To Drool Over
Outfit yourself with equipment from these six local companies.
- Reel? You don’t need no stinking reel with this Japanese-inspired—but Boulder-built—Tenkara Rhodo triple-zoom rod, perfect for both tiny mountain streams and more expansive waterways. $215
- Hand-built by fly-fishermen for fly-fishermen in Montrose, Scott Fly Rod Company’s Radian rod is a trout-centric, fast-action tool of the highest order. $795
- Made in Colorado, Topo Designs’ Light Hip Pack (a collaboration with Tenkara) is the perfect carryall for flies, leader and tippet, weights, and anything else you need to have within reach. $69
- For the angler who wants the smoothest retrieval possible, Montrose-based Ross Reels’ F1 model (in eye-catching nickel-silver) is the only way to go. $550 for a five- to seven-weight rod
- Lightweight, durable, buoyant, waterproof, and coated with a sticky grip, Denver-based Fishpond’s Nomad Hand Net is big enough to scoop up whatever you can hook. $125.95
- Don’t know what flies to toss? No problem. Order Louisville-based Umpqua Feather Merchants’ Premium Rockies Trout Selection box with 50 flies preselected for Colorado waters. $159.99; available through Trouts Fly Fishing
Demystifying The Types Of Flies
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of artificial flies (i.e., bait) to choose from, but almost all of them fall under one of these three categories:
Sometimes called “wet flies,” these subsurface lures imitate immature insects that live temporarily underwater. A special kind of nymph called an “emerger” emulates the stage of an insect’s life cycle when a maturing bug moves from the depths toward the surface.
- The lowdown:
- Nymphing is the most successful way to fly-fish since fish mostly feed underwater; however, it’s trickier for newbies because hooks can get caught on below-the-surface debris, and it’s difficult to know when a fish takes the bait. A strike indicator (the fly-fishing equivalent of a bobber) is often used.
This type of lure floats on the surface of the water and mimics a wide array of mature insects (read: food sources), including mayflies, caddis flies, midges, and big ole grasshoppers
- The lowdown:
- Dry-fly fishing can be one of the most exciting ways to fly-fish, but the fish must be rising to the surface for these flies to work, which isn’t always the case—especially midday when the water warms and fish dive deeper to enjoy cooler water.
These larger subsurface lures represent prey such as minnows, leeches, and other small baitfish. The best-known of this breed of lure is the aptly named Woolly Bugger: a large, furry-looking fly that comes in a variety of colors.
- The lowdown:
- Streamer fishing is one of the more challenging ways to fly-fish. Not only is the fly comparatively heavy (making casting more difficult), but the angler must also retrieve—or strip—the line in a way that mimics the natural motion of the bait to entice the fish.
Anatomy Of A Fly Rod
What You’re Catching In Colorado
Catch all of these trout in one day to complete the quintessential (and hypothetical) Colorado stringer.
- Cutthroats are distinguishable from other trout by two prominent red swaths on the lower jaws; light spotting on the backs and sides; heavier spotting on the fins; greenish-brassy coloring; and sometimes orange or red bellies.
- In Colorado, cutthroats rarely grow larger than 12 inches.
- Colorado Habitat:
- Clear, cold headwater lakes, streams, and small rivers with deep pools, big boulders, and undercut banks.
- Rainbows have multihued coloration with blue, green, or yellowish bodies, pinkish bands running from the gills to the tails, and black spots.
- The average size of a rainbow is between 12 and 16 inches, but they can grow to 26 inches in the Centennial State.
- Colorado Habitat:
- Cold headwaters, creeks, cool lakes, and small to large rivers with an array of riffles and pools and aquatic vegetation.
- Browns are brownish-yellow to dark brown with varied spotting patterns; their tail fins are not forked and have few to no dark spots; and there are no white edges to their pelvic or anal fins.
- Brown trout in Colorado are usually 13 to 17 inches long but can grow to 26 inches or more.
- Colorado Habitat:
- Browns are often found at lower elevations in streams and rivers and can sometimes better tolerate warm water.
- Brookies have dark olive green backs covered with squiggly lines; sides speckled with reddish-orange spots surrounded by blue halos; and rust-colored fins with white edges.
- In Colorado, brook trout can reach 12 to 14 inches and weigh about half a pound.
- Colorado Habitat:
- Cold, well-oxygenated waters, preferably with gravel bottoms; their presence is an indicator of pristine water.
How to: Casting And Catching
Our easy-to-follow guide to reeling in the big one.
- Begin with your grip. Grab the rod with your dominant hand as if you’re giving it a handshake, then curl your fingers around the cork handle, keeping your thumb on top. The butt of the rod should rest on your forearm for stability. Keep your wrist locked.
- With your nondominant hand, pull 10 to 15 feet of fly line off the reel, letting it dangle around your feet. Keep a loose hold on the extra line with your nondominant hand.
- Toss your line onto the water in front of you (or upstream on moving water).
- Lift up the tip of your rod, and as the fly line is about to leave the surface, flick your wrist and forearm backward to send the line up and over your shoulder. Abruptly stop the tip of your rod before it goes past the hypothetical 2 o’clock position (if your head is at 12 o’clock and your feet are at 6 o’clock) and allow the line to unfurl fully behind you.
- Once the line has fully extended in the air, flick your wrist and forearm forward, once again abruptly stopping, this time at 10 o’clock. Allow the rod’s power to shoot the line you’re loosely holding in your nondominant hand through the air. Then bring your rod tip down to point out in front of you, which will allow the fly to settle onto the water.
Set The Hook!
- After your forward cast has placed the fly into the water, be ready for a fish to bite.
- As opposed to a spin rod, a fly rod setup often means you will have slack fly line. To set the hook when you see a fish take the fly or feel a bite, pinch the fly line against your cork grip with your casting hand and raise the rod tip straight up. If you don’t pinch the line, it will slip through the guides and no force will be applied.
- Once you’ve set the hook and there’s a fish on, keep your rod tip high and your fly line pinched while reeling in your extra fly line with your nondominant hand. At that point, you can use the reel to help you land the fish.
Tie One On: The 15 Flies That Must Be In Your Colorado Kit
10 Great (Public) Fishing Holes for Beginning Anglers
The Arkansas River
Just above the North K Street Bridge
Near: Downtown Salida
Because: Even though you’d think an in-town spot would be overfished, you can often throw a dry fly and watch trout rise for their dinner.
You’ll need: Polarized sunglasses and not much else; you can cast from the bank.
Near: The summit of Cameron Pass off Highway 14 (the left-hand turnoff is two miles west of the summit; day fee is $5)
At: 8 a.m.
Because: It’s a steep 0.8-mile hike into a gorgeous alpine lake that’s full of fish—but the trout seem to dive deep once the sun gets high.
You’ll need: Hiking boots—the shoreline is rocky—but no waders (unless you’re carrying a float tube in)
The Yampa River
Near: Downtown Steamboat Springs, specifically along the stretch of river between 13th and Fifth streets
At: 4 p.m. until dusk
Because: The Yampa is one of the better trout streams in the state, and the section through town is public, easily accessible, and a perfect end-of-day activity (just remember to yield to tubers)
You’ll need: Waders
The Upper Colorado River
Near: Hot Sulphur Springs (in the Hot Sulphur Springs State Wildlife Area’s Paul Gilbert Fishing Area)
Because: This wide but not-too-swift section of river is great for streamer and nymph fishing, but it can get crowded as the day gets long.
In the Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area
Near: Stagecoach State Park, about 15 miles from Steamboat Springs
Because: This prized trout stream, which feeds into the Yampa River, has multiple deep pools and lots of great riffles, and anglers in the area know the early bird gets the elbow room.
You’ll need: Waders
The Yampa River
In the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area
Near: Downtown Steamboat Springs
At: 3 p.m.
Because: The Trout on this lovely bit of water go nuts for grasshoppers in the late afternoon.
You’ll need: Waders and some leggy terrestrials in your box
The Blue River
Section 7; for a public-access fishing map, visit silverthrone.org
Near: Silvertorne, just off Highway 9 (turn on Bald Eagle Road toward the water; you can park on the other side of the river)
At: 8 a.m.
Because: This section of water was upgraded in 2007 by a Colorado Parks & Wildlife Fishing Is Fun grant, and the refurbished habitat offers nice riffles full of fat trout
You’ll need: Waders
The Cache la Poudre River
Near: Fort Collins
Because: This area has a 14-mile, public-access stretch of water, which can mean lots of river traffic during the day, but find an easy spot (we like the area around the Hewlett Gulch trailhead and the Diamond Rock picnic area) to wade in after dinnertime and enjoy the relative solitude and rising trout.
You’ll need: Waders
The Fryingpan River
At Strawberry Rock, Downey Creek, Folkstead Spring, or Rosie’s Pool (all public-access points)
Near: Downtown Basalt and upstream toward the Ruedi Reservoir
At: 11 a.m.
Because: There are eight miles of public access (out of about 14) on this gold-medal-fishing tailwater in what is one of the most beautiful areas in the state of Colorado.
You’ll need: Waders and a few Mysis shrimp patterns in your box
The South Platte River
In the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area
Because: The five-mile section of the South Platte River below Spinney Mountain Reservoir is often referred to as the “Dream Stream” for its big browns, monster rainbows, and larger-than-normal cuttroats and cuttbows.
You’ll need: Waders
Adventures on the Big Laramie
Last summer, deputy editor Lindsey Koehler trekked up to Big Laramie for the day. She chronicled the trip—getting the gear to the river, casting her lines, and catching a fish—Colorado style: on a GoPro. The stunning videos capture both the natural beauty of Colorado and the nuances of fly fishing. Take a look below.
Carrying the Gear:
Catching a Fish:
Do I need a license?
Yes. Visit cpw.state.co.us to buy a one-day pass ($9), a five-day pass ($21), or an annual permit ($26 for residents, $56 for out-of-staters).
Where can I legally fish?
This is an important question Colorado anglers should ask themselves before letting out their lines. A few basic guidelines:
- Trespassing laws in Colorado favor private landowners; ignorance to those laws is not an excuse.
- Colorado landowners are not required by law to mark their properties as private.
- Landowners own the stream bottoms bordering and/or running through their properties; anglers standing in a river are trespassing.
- Landowners do not own the water; anglers who are floating—on drift boats or tubes—can pass through (if they accessed the water legally), so long as they do not anchor, beach, or leave their vessels.
- If one side of a stream is public and the other bank is private, the private land extends to the middle of the stream. Anglers can cast to the water on the far side but may not step onto the stream bottom.
- Visit the local U.S. Forest Service ranger district office for information and area maps or seek out the well-marked public-access fishing areas on Colorado rivers (also: see our helpful chart above); as you advance and want to try new waters, you’ll become an atlas junkie.
Are there rules of etiquette?
Rookies should be aware of two edicts: Don’t spoil the solitude, and don’t bogart the fish. Many anglers relish the quiet and natural beauty as much as they do the hunt for trout. It’s only good manners to give other fishermen wide berth (read: don’t edge into someone else’s hole) and keep the hooting and hollering to a minimum. As far as fly-fishermen are concerned, catch-and-release practices are the best way to ensure there are fish to hook tomorrow.
Top Lodging: Three Places You Want to Stay
Water Water Everywhere
Rawah Ranch’s favorable location means anglers have access to more fishing holes than they can shake a rod at.
There’s a saying commonly used among those who fly-fish: Trout don’t live in ugly places. It’s a truism that rings even truer at northern Colorado’s Rawah Ranch. Located adjacent to the 78,000-acre Rawah Wilderness Area, the property comprises nine luxury cabins, a rough-hewn-log lodge, working stables, and two glorious miles of the Big Laramie River. In this rarefied setting, managers Tim and Meg Dyer have crafted a guest ranch experience that feels simultaneously high-end and casual. The food is exquisitely prepared, yet meals are served at communal tables. The staff silently notes how you take your morning coffee and has your preferred cup waiting for you at breakfast, yet there exists not a whiff of the pretension or falseness that sometimes accompanies pro-level service. This unique atmosphere of laid-back precision extends to the fishing as well. The private stretch of water on the property is more of a meandering creek than the name Big Laramie River implies, but the fish are there and waiting in aptly named holes such as the Aquarium. The Dyers also have private access to six miles of the Big Laramie at a ranch down the road; it’s a bit of a drive, but A River Runs Through It could easily have been filmed there.
Quick tip: Rates at the ranch include lodging, meals, ranch activities and amenities, and fishing guides and gear—but don’t include alcohol. In fact, Rawah doesn’t stock any hooch at all. If you like a brewski after a day on the river, bring your own.
Details: Book the Angler’s Retreat package, which includes three nights’ lodging and two days of guided fishing for $1,675 per person; rawahranch.com
Short Drive, Big Fish
Shawnee’s North Fork Ranch offers everything a Front Range fly-fisherman could ever want.
Tucked out of sight of motorists humming along U.S. 285, 500-acre North Fork Ranch enjoys an atmosphere of seclusion even though it’s located just 52 miles southwest of Denver. The ranch caters to guests with a wide range of activities—horseback riding, hiking, zip-line touring, white-water rafting—but fly-fishermen will swoon over the short 50-yard walk from the lodge’s rocking chair–strewn back porch to the rainbow-, brown-, and cutthroat-choked waters of the north fork of the South Platte River. Anglers really should take advantage of owners Karen and Dean May’s hospitality and stay a night or two at the Orvis-endorsed ranch, which proffers clean, cozy (but not overly fancy) lodge rooms and cabins and meals cooked by Karen herself. However, à la carte guided daytrips are available for those who want to fish the mile of private water and then head home.
Quick tip: Make reservations for daytrips well in advance: The ranch limits the number of people who can fish on its stretch of water to six each day. If you missed your window, don’t fret: North Fork Ranch has access to adjacent sections of river and can usually work something out for your group.
Details: Guided fishing rates start at $360 for a half-day outing; lodge rooms start at $190 per night; northforkranch.com
Fishing With Extra Frills
At C Lazy U Ranch, fabulous angling isn’t the only treat you’ll enjoy.
There’s only one word that comes to mind when describing the 8,500 acres that comprise the C Lazy U Ranch: stunning. Nestled into the heart of Grand County less than 10 miles from Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park, this century-old ranch is equal parts Old West fantasy, high-end retreat, and fly-fishing paradise. With 40 guest ranch accommodations that vary in size, a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, a streamside spa, various always-roaring fire pits, a herd of 185 horses, and blown-open views of Rocky Mountain majesty, C Lazy U seems like it has everything. And it does, once you realize it also has two miles of private access to babbling Willow Creek—a short stroll from your room—and permits to hunt big-ole browns on private sections of the Fraser and Colorado rivers (these off-property trips are not part of the all-inclusive rates). Rookie fishermen should sign up with Claus Muhlbauer, the ranch’s longtime fly-fishing guide, who gives a great casting lesson on the stocked trout pond before taking his charges onto the creek.
Quick tip: You don’t need a guide to fish Willow Creek. Guests can gear up at the Outfitters Cabin or bring their own kits. The best times to wade? Early morning before breakfast or at dusk, when everyone else is resting up for dinner. You might think this unchecked access would make the creek overfished, but we pulled out trout after trout on a late August evening.
Details: All-inclusive rates range from $325 to $500 per night per person; off-site guided fly-fishing is $200 per half day and $300 per full day per person; clazyu.com
First Person: My Unlikely Love For A Frustrating Pastime
My unlikely love for a frustrating pastime.
The hook pierced my index finger, going deep enough I could actually see the tip of it pressing against the underside of my fingernail. I swore. And then I peered at my husband with a panicked look that said: What do I do now?
“Well, you’re gonna have to rip that outta there,” he said.
I’m sure my eyes grew wide with dread, but I knew he was right—we were in the middle of nowhere in northern Colorado fly-fishing on a so-far-fishless stream. I cursed again. Then, on the count of three, I yanked out the fly.
It’s been more than a decade since that tiny hook bit me on the first day I ever cast with a fly rod. It was a fitting introduction to what may well be the single most exasperating, curse-inducing leisure activity on the planet. (Yes, even more so than golf.) In a way, fly-fishing is akin to telemark skiing; both pursuits are decidedly more difficult ways of doing something for which there exists a simpler method. You can catch a fish from the bank with a spinner rod and live bait; you can also make it down the mountain using fixed-heel bindings. But that would be waaaaay too easy.
Instead, fly-fishermen wiggle into neoprene jumpsuits, wade into rushing rivers, and use nine-foot-long, comparatively weak rods, which they must learn how to wield well enough to create sufficient force to sling a knotted-together combination of line across the water in an adequately pleasing way to entice a fish to eat a fake fly made out of chicken feathers. They have to do all that without catching their hooks in the trees behind them, in the tall grasses in front of them, in their fleece jackets, or in their ears. Also: that long line they use? It tangles—a lot. The knots they have to fashion to put on a fly? Not simple. And then, at the end of the day, they’re still fishing. Which means they might not even see one of the elusive swimmers all day.
And yet…I get it. Which is remarkable since I’m the least patient person I know. For all of its flaws, fly-fishing is undeniably hypnotic. I didn’t think so at first—I threw out a lot of expletives in the beginning. And then, it slowly grew on me. After a while, the casting, which had been difficult to pick up, began to feel more natural, more rhythmic. I learned to settle in and allow the cadence to clear my crowded mind, much like footfalls do for runners. Improving my cast became, for me, a way to compete with myself. I thought it similar to refining a forehand in tennis: Each cast would be different, rarely perfect, but hopefully effective. Selecting a fly had initially been puzzling (What the hell is a midge?!), but after learning a bit about insect life cycles and trout feeding habits, the process of choosing a fly became a more intellectual quest, one that roused a long-dormant primordial urge to best another species. It’s still trial and error, but now with a hint of strategy. And then there’s the surrounding environment: the splashy symphony of a stream, the cool breeze coming off a lake, the high-elevation sun glinting on the water, the corniced peaks above providing snow-melt ideal for trout habitat…experiencing all of these beautiful things makes the all-too-often reality of not catching anything (except your finger) completely OK.
Well, maybe not completely. But mostly. Goddamn sneaky fish.
Learn How To Cast Correctly—From Front Range Experts
If you don’t know a Woolly Bugger from a Copper John—but you’re interested in learning—Orvis’ Cherry Creek retail store has the beginner’s class for you. From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and Sundays (through June 28), wannabe anglers can learn all about rod assembly, knot-tying, fly selection, and casting from fly-fishing gurus. The free class takes place in-store (as well as on the roof of the adjacent, casting-friendly garage) and supplies all the equipment you’ll need to learn. Just bring shades and sunscreen. Plus: Orvis provides a Fly-Fishing 201 course—which takes place on the water and is also free—for those who’ve taken the first installment. To register, visit orvis.com.
Although this event is actually BYOB (the name doesn’t make sense to us either), it’s a great—and totally free—way to get a little casting instruction while also checking out fishing gear. Put on by Trouts Fly Fishing, this monthly (April through September) get-together at the southeast corner of Washington Park allows anglers to mingle with Trouts guides, peruse and try out the wares of rotating featured fly-fishing equipment manufacturers, and drink a few cold ones.
This Summer’s Lineup
June 11, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Scott Fly Rods
July 9, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Orvis
August 6, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Fiberglass manifesto
September 17, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., St. Croix Rods
Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada offers a series of Saturday casting classes ($50 per person, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) beginning in April each year, but the June 6 “Impress Your Guide (And Yourself)” workshop is a great way to learn how to cast from a drift boat. The July 11 “Going Long 1” and July 25 “Going Long 2” clinics are geared toward advanced beginners and intermediate casters looking to improve their distances. The August 22 “When You’re Up Against The Wall” class reviews the basic roll cast, the switch cast, the single spey, and other compact casts perfect for tight quarters. September 12’s “Heavy Lifting” lesson provides anglers instruction on dealing with weighted flies and sinking lines.
The Big Question:
How do you learn which fly to use?
I’m still learning, but doing three easy things has helped me immensely. First, I Googled the life cycle of insects so I could better understand what a fish might be seeing—and looking for. Second, I do a windshield test, meaning I check out what flying bugs are currently in the air (or were, before they hit laminated safety glass) near where I’m going to fish. And finally, I turn over river rocks to see what creepy crawlers and larval stage bugs are living in my chosen fishing hole. Then I try to match what I find with something from my fly box.
Colorado’s Most Famous Hatches: Where Lots Of Bugs Draw Lots Of Fish
Three seasonal hatches—that is, when insects mature and mate—that present some of the state’s most legendary fishing.
If you’ve ever walked along the bank of a lake and been unexpectedly swarmed by a frenetic cloud of bugs, you’ve experienced what anglers call “a hatch.” And as opposed to the get-away-from-me reaction you likely had, fly-fishermen actually seek out these fleeting scenarios in which insects that spend some of their life cycles underwater transform into oxygen-breathing, flying adults that mate in the air above rivers and lakes. The insects’ journeys from water to air make them vulnerable to predators like trout, which often decide the emerging critters are meals too good to pass up—and a feeding frenzy ensues. Small- and medium-size hatches happen all the time, but there are a few rivers that experience somewhat predictable and often epic hatches of certain insects (don’t fret: most of these are nonbiting, nonstinging bugs). It’s on these rivers you’ll find anglers doing their damnedest to “match the hatch,” a phrase that means choosing the correct fly for the precise life stage of the insects present and delivering it in a way that’s most enticing to the trout. It’s an imprecise science, but there’s nothing else like it. Here, a few buggy bonanzas to chase down. ?
Water: The Arkansas River
Insect: Caddis fly
Approximate dates: Traditionally, early April through May (which explains why it was dubbed the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch), but after an ill-timed water release from a local dam in 2009, the bugs haven’t been reproducing as well; the hatch is still active, but it’s less of a buggy blizzard, and emergences are now lasting further into the summer.
Path: Recently, the hatch has been starting near Cañon City, exploding off the river through Coaldale, decreasing near Salida, and then moving on upstream. There’s still a strong caddis emergence in the Hayden Meadows area and toward Leadville into June and even July.
Why it’s famous: “Before the water release changed things, the caddis hatch was an Animal Planet–style phenomenon. It was a snowstorm of trillions of bugs. Today, the fishing is better because your fly doesn’t get lost among the throngs.” —Stuart Andrews, guide, ArkAnglers
Water: Upper Colorado River
Approximate dates: Early June
Path: This is a fickle hatch, sometimes occurring right before or during peak runoff when the river is nigh unfishable. When it does happen, look for these large bugs around the Pumphouse Recreation Area.
Why it’s famous: “This is a magical moment in Colorado fishing. These prehistoric-looking
bugs crawl out of the river to lay eggs; the trout are there to catch them as they head to the bank or, as they’re clumsy fliers, when they fall into the water. It’s the one time anglers can throw these huge dry flies and watch a trout go after them.” —Brian Stevens, manager, Minturn Anglers
Water: Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers
Insect: Green drake mayfly
Approximate dates: On the Roaring Fork, shortly after runoff through July; on the Fryingpan, middle of August through October
Path: The hatch on the Roaring Fork begins near Basalt and moves upstream toward Aspen; the bugs emerge on the Fryingpan River near Basalt and move upriver toward the Ruedi Reservoir.
Why it’s famous: “The green drakes are the largest bugs we get on these rivers, so every fish is hitting the protein hard. You can throw dry flies all day, and they’ll rise to them.” —Rich Hastings, guide, Taylor Creek Fly Shop
Fly-fishing Colorado’s Epic Kokanee Salmon Run
You could call it a poor man’s Alaska, but that might be underselling this Colorado phenomenon: In October and November, kokanee salmon—which are the landlocked version of sockeye salmon—leave Summit County’s Green Mountain Reservoir and swim up the Blue River to spawn. Although kokanee fisheries have thrived in Colorado for more than 60 years in places such as Green Mountain (as well as in Lake Granby, Wolford Reservoir, Blue Mesa Reservoir, and Williams Fork Reservoir), most Coloradans are unaware of this fishing windfall. The salmon aren’t huge (they max out at about 18 inches), and as sterile hatchery stockers, they can’t reproduce. But they still heed nature’s call to spawn, which turns them a brilliant shade of red and creates stunning pockets of color throughout the Blue River. “There’s no mistaking those kokanee,” says Randy Veeneman, a guide with Breckenridge’s Mountain Angler. Some anglers snag salmon with treble hooks; others toss egg patterns (yes, salmon will snack on their own eggs). The salmon are good eats, and anglers can take 10 per day, though Veeneman says he rarely targets them. Instead, he casts for the clever brown trout trailing the salmon to feast on kokanee eggs.
Three New Colorado Lodges
Lay your head at one of these just-born riverside lodges so you can get on the water early.
As evidenced by the whitewashed, sleek yet romantic decor, this 10-month-old boutique hotel isn’t your typical fly-fishing lodge. However, its river-adjacent location and access to a public mile of the famous Arkansas River make it a primo spot for fishermen with slightly more refined tastes. We dig the Cottage Suite rooms with queen beds in the lofts, fridges and microwaves, sitting areas with flat-screens, and courtyard patios. Rates begin at $129 per night; surfchateau.com
Taylor River Lodge
Near Crested Butte
Nestled into a gorgeous canyon next to the trout-blessed Taylor River, the Taylor River Lodge—slated to open in August—is upscale without being at all pretentious. The all-inclusive (and spendy) retreat has a main lodge, six guest cabins, two large guesthouses, and a bathhouse and spa overlooking the river. There’s a lot to love about this Eleven Experience–owned lodge, but its river access and guided fly-fishing outings are really the bee’s knees. Rates begin at $1,100 per person per night; elevenexperience.com
The Broadmoor Fishing Camp
Near St. George
Open for less than a month, this Tarryall River–adjacent fishing lodge is the newest outpost of the Broadmoor’s “Wilderness Experience” expansion plans. With a main lodge and seven rustic but richly decorated cabins, the “camp” allows guests to get lines wet on five miles of private waters with help from professional fly-fishing guides. Rates begin at $640 per night; broadmoor.com/fishing-camp
Rocky Mountain Angling Club Helps You Find Private Water
The driving directions seemed questionable at best. Go down this county road, then that one, and then through a little gate and then another unmarked fence. But, as had happened time and again before today, we easily found the little green sign—“Rocky Mountain Angling Parking”—that marked the spot. The “parking area” was really just a patch of sage brush–dotted dirt at the end of an unpaved country road, and it was empty, save for my husband’s silver Jeep Wrangler. That no one else was around was not a stroke of good luck; as members of Rocky Mountain Angling Club (RMAC), we had paid for the opportunity to fish a privately owned section of South Park’s Tarryall Creek.
We’re not usually “club” kind of people. Golf clubs, country clubs, tennis clubs—paying a ton of cash to be part of an exclusive group has never appealed to us. But RMAC is different. For a $350 one-time initiation fee and a $130 annual fee (per family), plus daily per-person rod fees that range from $40 to $130, we secured access to 47 catch-and-release fly-fishing properties across Colorado and Wyoming—and although we’re certain we’d get along famously with the club’s 1,800 other members, we don’t have to mingle with any of them.
Founded in 1992, RMAC contracts with property owners throughout the Rocky Mountain West to allow its members to access the lakes, creeks, and rivers on private lands. And we’re talking prime waters: the Yampa, the Arkansas, the South Platte, the Big Thompson, the Gunnison, the Conejos, the Fraser, and other well-known rivers. Each member receives a three-ring binder detailing each property—including driving directions—as well as instructions for how to reserve one of the first-come, first-served fishing areas. (Hint: It’s as easy as a phone call and a credit card on file with RMAC.) Members also get access to knowledgeable RMAC staff who, in one quick call, can give you all the insider tips on the spot you’re hoping to fish.
The result is incomparable fly-fishing experiences on underfished, mostly solitary stretches of water. At least, that’s what we found on the five properties we visited last summer, including 10-foot-wide, meandering Tarryall Creek, which was just a five-minute walk through a picturesque high-altitude meadow from the club’s parking lot—no valet necessary.
Join The Colorado Women Flyfishers
There’s no denying fly-fishing has long been a male-dominated pursuit. But that doesn’t mean the ladies can’t join the fun. Since 1997, the nonprofit Colorado Women Flyfishers (CWF) has been supporting females in their angling endeavors. Through monthly meetings, fly-fishing outings (to places like Deckers, the Arkansas River, and the Yampa River), picnics, holiday parties, and clinics, CWF brings together like-minded gals with the intention of making the activity more approachable. And, for only $40 a year, this is one opportunity Colorado women shouldn’t let get away.
A Splashy—And Successful—Float Trip In The Vail Valley
Anyone who says fly-fishing is a mind-numbing activity has never float-fished the Eagle. This Vail Valley freestone river is fast and pushy, with holes and seams appearing in such rapid succession that they start to feel like targets in a carnival shooting gallery. And I was learning to become a quick draw.
My husband and I had joined Minturn Anglers guide Alex “G” Garnier for an early June float down the Eagle River, which is only navigable for a few weeks of the year. No dams meter out its chilly water, so boats ply it during early summer runoff, when flows run between 2,000 and 3,500 cubic feet per second. Several access points between Edwards and Wolcott facilitate wade fishing, but for area anglers, floating this stretch is summer’s tastiest fruit.
The Eagle’s thick caddis hatches and lively dry-fly action are part of the appeal. Mostly, though, it’s the fast pace that’s so alluring. “It’s an adrenaline rush,” promised Minturn Angler guide Bob Streb. Holes are small, like the size of hula-hoops, and they come up quickly. “But if you can hit them,” promised Streb, “you’re guaranteed to get a fish.”
That hasn’t always been the case. This river once ran orange with heavy metals leaching from Eagle Mine, which was declared a Superfund site in 1986. Subsequent cleanups have restored the riverbanks and waters so that today, the Eagle boasts a robust population of vibrant, fierce-fighting wild rainbows that chomp flies without reservation.
The first fish I hooked felt like a 20-inch hog, but he measured all of 14 inches. Soon I’d confirmed Streb’s prediction by landing several more, all in the 12- to 16-inch range. “Leaving nothing but the bone!” G drawled, with a twinge of admiration. Most of the action was subsurface—we were a week or two too early for the Eagle’s lights-out dry-fly fishing—but the bites came as fast as fireworks.
Long stretches of private land between Edwards and Wolcott prevent boats from mooring, so unless you pay the $150 per-person rod fee to drop anchor at the Vail Rod and Gun Club, there’s no break in the play for the entire 5.5-mile float. Our cooler full of water and beer went unopened, so intent were we on fishing. But with all the calorie-burning reeling I’d been doing, I noticed a grumble in my stomach once we came ashore that evening. The pang of hunger made me wish we’d signed up for Minturn Anglers’ Cast and Taste package, which concludes the float with a riverside four-course meal prepared by local chef Anthony Mazza (of Larkspur and Restaurant Kelly Liken fame).
Instead, I grabbed a Clif bar, pulled up a patch of bank, and wished the day weren’t over.
Get Involved: Three Ways To Protect The Fish
Colorado Trout Unlimited, our state’s grassroots arm of the national conservation organization dedicated to protecting watersheds and rivers and the aquatic life therein, gives Coloradans a variety of ways—such as river cleanups and advocacy rallies—to engage with and help defend the Centennial State’s watery environs (visit coloradotu.org for an events calendar). But if your summer weekends are already booked, don’t worry: Colorado TU has teamed up with local businesses and government agencies to make it easy for you to do your part. Here, three ways to do just that.
1. Bottoms Up: Beer and fishing go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s not like anyone needs a reason to crack open a cold one after a day of fish-slaying. But if you’re perusing the liquor store before hitting the water and you see a sixer of Upslope Craft Lager, snag it. The Boulder brewery gives one percent of its Craft Lager sales to Colorado TU’s 1% for Rivers program, which supports conservation, protection, and restoration of streams and rivers in Colorado.
2. Retail Therapy: The brainchild of Colorado natives Garrison and Corinne Doctor, RepYourWater is an apparel company that allows you to “represent” your home waters. When you purchase one of the company’s fishtastic hats, shirts, decals, or koozies, RepYourWater gives a percentage of the sale to a conservation organization dedicated to protecting the water denoted on your merch. In Colorado, that’s TU, but RepYourWater also partners with nonprofits in Florida, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Montana, Utah, California, Oregon, and other states to keep rivers, streams, and lakes healthy across America.
3. Pimp My Ride: You have the choice of dozens of vanity plates to trick out your whip, but in 2014 the “Protect Our Rivers” tag became available. This plate requires a $25 contribution to Colorado TU on top of the typical $50 specialty plate fee. The cool thing is that 100 percent of that $25 goes to river conservation here in the Centennial State.