The Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers in Colorado and Why to Go | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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The Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers in Colorado and Why to Go

Colorado's rivers are a cornerstone of the American fly fishing experience, renowned for their gold-medal waters and diverse angling opportunities. The rivers here have seen the footsteps of Ute and Arapaho tribes, fur trappers, and gold miners, and today they are treasured by conservationists and anglers alike.

The following table outlines the top rivers for Colorado fly fishing, their historical significance, fishable miles, the types of trout present, and estimates of fish counts per mile. These numbers are intended to be a guide; actual conditions can vary due to a host of environmental factors.

Colorado, with its iconic Rocky Mountain backdrop, is a haven for fly fishers looking for both exceptional fishing and stunning natural beauty. The state combines accessibility with remote wilderness, creating a diverse fly fishing experience that appeals to a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts. Here's a deeper look at what makes Colorado fly fishing a fantastic destination:

Fishing Quality:

  1. Famous Rivers and Streams: Colorado fly fishing is rich with famous rivers, including the South Platte, the Gunnison, the Arkansas, and the Colorado River itself. Many of these waters have "Gold Medal" status, a designation given by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to locations with high-quality trout habitats capable of producing a good quantity of large trout.
  1. Diverse Fishing Opportunities: Anglers in Colorado can pursue a wide variety of trout including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. Beyond trout, the state also offers opportunities to catch pike, bass, carp, and even Kokanee salmon in certain waters.

Listen to these episodes about Colorado fly fishing opportunities.

Brian Herbert - How to Have Versatility in Any New Water

  1. Abundant Access Points: The state is known for its numerous public access points along rivers and streams, often accompanied by well-maintained facilities and clear signage, making it a user-friendly destination for anglers. A lot of anglers keep these access points as tick-list tracking mechanisms. It is certainly a challenge to get through all of them.

Nature Observation Quality:

  1. Vast Wilderness Areas: Colorado's extensive public lands, including national parks like Rocky Mountain National Park and wilderness areas like the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, offer remote and serene settings for anglers seeking a tranquil experience. I recall climbing in Estes Park and I have yet to return to sample some of the Colorado fly fishing in the park. It’s picturesque views and ample wilderness has to have exceedingly good blue-lining opportunities. 
  1. Wildlife: The state's diverse ecosystems are home to a variety of wildlife including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional bear or moose, making for exciting nature observation opportunities. 
  1. Spectacular Scenery: From the alpine tundra to the red rock canyons, Colorado's varying landscapes provide a scenic backdrop for any outdoor activity, especially fly fishing.

Statewide Support:

  1. Conservation Efforts: Colorado fly fishing has a strong tradition of fishery and habitat conservation, ensuring sustainable fishing opportunities through a balance of habitat improvement projects, stocking programs, and strict fishing regulations.
  1. Education and Resources: Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and various local fly shops and guiding services offer extensive educational resources, workshops, and guided trips to help anglers of all levels improve their craft and knowledge of local waters.
  1. Fishing Community: The state has an active and vibrant fishing community with numerous fly fishing clubs and organizations that promote the sport and conservation of aquatic habitats.

Statistics on Anglers Visiting Colorado:

Colorado's fly fishing draws in a substantial number of visiting anglers each year. While specific numbers fluctuate annually, Colorado Parks and Wildlife typically sells several hundred thousand fishing licenses annually, with non-residents accounting for a significant portion of sales. The revenue from these sales contributes to the state's economy and helps fund fishery conservation efforts.

Fishing tourism is important for many rural communities in Colorado, and the state is proactive in promoting its outdoor recreation opportunities, including fly fishing. The diverse range of fishing environments from high-mountain streams to broad valley rivers ensures that anglers can find the perfect spot to cast their lines, regardless of their preferred fishing style or experience level.

In conclusion, Colorado's extensive fly fishing offerings, set against the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, combined with strong statewide support for the sport and conservation, make it a destination worthy of any fly fisher's bucket list. Whether looking for the challenge of technical waters or the peace of a secluded mountain stream, anglers in Colorado will find a well-rounded experience that can be both exhilarating and serene.

As always, these estimates are subject to change based on water conditions, hatch activity, and management practices. The fish counts are variable and can be influenced by water flows, food sources, and seasonal movements of the fish. Access to some sections may be on private lands, requiring permission or guide services to fish. Anglers should check current conditions, regulations, and property rights before planning their fishing trips.

Great Western Rivers/Lakes in Excel

Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada
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    Waders - We wading can happen in certain months but waders are a must have because of the weather fluctuation. Simms and Patagonia are my go to waders selections.

    Socks - Get good thin wool socks that will keep you warm and comfortable. I recommend Minus33

    Bottom Layer - A nice thin layer keeps you warm and your bulk down during the day. Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.

    Top Layer - Thin layers give you a good base to stay cool and add to. Again, Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.

    Puff Jacket - During the morning and evening these are clutch.  Then when a cold spell hits you are prepared and comfortable. I love this puff by Patagonia, the Hooded Nanon Puff.

    Flies - Have a good assortment of basics and you'll be fine.  Here are some recommendations. Fly Crate has a wide assortment of flies to choose from but there are great Flypack assortments that are exceellent for rounding out a box for a trip. 

    Rod and Reel - Bring your rod and reel or pick up one of these great entry sets. Here is a list of great rod and reel packs and how to select.

    Net - Netting by hand is fun and all but if you have one it will take the stress off. Since you are travelling a hand net like Orvis offers may be the ticket. It's short and fits in a bag very easily. 

    Wading Boots - Don't mess around and pick up some Korkers with additional soles. This way you can wade or toss on a felt and get into a boat without damaging it. 

    Fishing Pack - a small pack is nice to toss in a few extra layers based on weather. I also like it for a good DSLR camera. This is such a preferential thing and I've yet to find one that is perfect for all occasions.  

    Colorado Fly Fishing River Data

     Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

    By Christian Bacasa
    Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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