Colorado has big rivers, small streams, lakes, and everything in between. With stunning scenery and trophy sized native fish, it is one of the best fly fishing destinations in the country.
In this article – will give you tips, rules, regulations, the best fly fishing areas, and everything you need to know about fly fishing in Colorado.
Colorado Fishing Rules & Regulations
Colorado has tons of fishable waters year round, fly fishing only sections, catch and release only sections, and various rules across seasons and river systems. Be sure to look up the rules and regulations for any river system you plan on heading towards.
The best place to view the regulations is here: https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Fishing.aspx
The provided brochure on this page will enable you to look up sections of river to ensure you understand the specific rules and regulations for that section of river. You can also find fishing license information within this link.
What Types Of Fish Are In Colorado?
Colorado has an extremely diverse set of fish targeted on the fly. Nearly all rivers house brown trout and rainbow trout. You’ll also find native greenback cutthroat trout, and brook trout in various streams. Some other sought after species include arctic grayling, tiger trout, golden trout, mountain whitefish, carp, bass, and other warm water species.
In the Gunnison River, and other areas, you can also find yourself targeting Kokanee salmon.
Best Fly Fishing Rivers In Colorado
The Big Thompson River – Northeastern Colorado
The Big Thompson River (The Big T) begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows all the way along Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon to Loveland, CO. This river is stunningly gorgeous with massive cliff walls and rock formations, and incredible mountain views near the headwaters. Anglers can expect to catch rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, and Rocky Mountain National Park’s famous Greenback Cutthroat trout.
You should check out our complete fishing guide to the Big Thompson River.
Upper Colorado River – North & Western Colorado
The Colorado River is one of the most well known rivers in the world. The Colorado River begins in RMNP and heads southwest. Many stretches of the river in Colorado are designated as Gold Metal water. Lots of fish, and lots of big fish can be found here.
We recommend you check out Gore Canyon, a 3 mile long section of river filled with large canyon walls and native fish. The rest of this fishery is also outstanding.
Season: Year Round
Tip for the Upper Colorado: Sink tip line, nymphing year round, and get deep during high waters.
Cache La Poudre River – Northeastern Colorado
The Poudre River begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows eastward until it empties into the South Platte River. The headwaters have incredible views, head through the gorgeous Poudre Canyon where wildlife is abundant, and then even flows into the town of Fort Collins, where anglers can still catch tons of fish in town.
You should check out our complete guide to fishing the Poudre River
Tip for the Poudre: Thin tippet when nymphing and when water is low. These fish are highly pressured, and can get a little picky. This river is almost always productive which is outstanding.
Blue River – Northeastern Colorado
This is a tributary of the Colorado river with a Gold Water designation. This river is filled with a lot of smaller water, yet still big fish. From Dillon Reservoir downstream is Gold Medal waters.
Even smaller water, and lots of native fish can be found on the Blue River north of Dillon Reservoir.
Season: Year Round
Tip for the Blue River: Take advantage of mysis shrimp patterns as this is only one of the few rivers in Colorado with this aquatic life.
Yampa River – Northwestern Colorado
The Yampa is not only extremely gorgeous, but also houses an incredible fishery. There is tons of public access near the town of Yampa, and this fishery has become a destination for trophy sized rainbow trout.
The headwaters in White River National Forest, Stagecoach State Park, Cross Mountain, and even in the town of Steamboat Springs are all extremely productive areas. Basically, you are good fishing any stretch of this river year round.
Season: Year Round
Tip for the Yampa River: Tricos and midges work best early season, and golden stonefly patterns tend to perform really well.
North Platte River – Northeastern Colorado
Another Gold Medal water, this river has incredible wading opportunities. This is a wild trout river with various tributaries near the headwaters that fish very well.
From Routt National Forest to the Wyoming border the water is designated as Gold Medal waters. Parking at Northgate Canyon will give anglers great access to lots of water. This is a great place to park and hike to the river.
We also highly recommend heading over the border into Wyoming and checking out the highly productive waters there.
Tip for the North Platte River: Spring and early summer often brings high water due to snowmelt. The most success during these high water times is from a float trip rather than wading.
Animas River – Southeastern Colorado
This 126 mile river is filled with Gold Medal waters. Beginning in the San Juan Mountains, it flows through Silverton, past Durango, into into New Mexico where it merges with the San Juan River.
The most popular sections of this river surroundDurango, where there is a 7 mile stretch of river easily accessible to the public. There are plenty of wading spots, as well as a boat launch.
Outside of Durango, accessing the river without a boat can be difficult. Much of the river isn’t accessible by car, making hiking in essential. In addition, south of Durango, the river flows through the Ute Reservation. The fishing is fantastic here, but anglers need to obtain a special permit.
All in all, this is a highly productive year round river that holds really big browns. Easy access in Durango.
Season: Year Round
Tip for Animas River: Winter months, the midges are by far the most successful. During the summer, caddis tend to do well, but be sure to bring midges as a backup in summer months.
The Fryingpan River – Northwestern Colorado
The Frying Pan River is located in White River National Forest. This river is another Gold Medal water with wild trout.
The section of river from Ruedi Resrvoir to the Roaring Fork in Basalt is the Gold Medal stretch. There is nearly 10 miles of public access near White River National forest. Some say, the winter months bring the best fish here.
Fryingpan River Fishing Tip: If you want to go big in winter, think small midges with small tippet.
Gunnison River – Southwestern Colorado
The Gunnison River is one of the well known rivers in the United States. It houses very large brown trout and rainbow trout that can be caught year round.. Anglers can also even land the famous Colorado Kokanee salmon.
The upper sections of the Gunnison River are designated as Gold Medal Water, and a native trout water. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The section going through Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park features 2,000 foot cliffs towering over the river. Anglers in here will not only find fish, but abundant wildlife.
This is a big river with a lot of water. Do some research on the best sections of this river before making the trek. All types of water can be found here. This is a float trip dream.
Season: Year Round
Gunnison River Fishing Tip: The Kokanee Salmon fry release sparks a lot of activity from other species, making streamers extremely effective at the right times.
South Platte River – Southwestern Colorado
This river is densely populated with fish estimated at 3,000 fish per mile of river. With ample sight fishing opportunities, the upper South Platte is heavily fished. The Cheesman canyon area holds a lot of larger fish, but it can be pretty difficult due to the heavy pressure they get from other anglers.
The most popular stretch of river is the upper 3 miles or so in Cheesman Canyon, but the next 15 miles or so before the river connects with the North Fork still contain tons of fish, that are quite a bit less picky. The below map is showing the upper (most popular) stretch into Cheesman Canyon. If you are looking for a full map of the South Platte, we recommend this Nat Geo Map.
Pretty much any stretch of the South Platte is filled with fish, you should hit all of it.
Check out our full guide to fishing the South Platte.
You should definitely check out the most famous section of the South Platte: Cheesman Canyon Fishing Guide
Season: Year Round (With some regulations near dams)
South Platte River Fishing Tip: This is a heavily fished river. Hit it on weekdays, or winter to avoid crowds. Tons of fisherman also tends to mean picky fish. Get good presentations, accurate fly choices, and small tippet.
Arkansas River – Southwestern Colorado
The Arkansas River flows over 150 miles from Leadville, through the towns of Buena Vista & Salida, and eastward before leaving Colorado.
This river features incredible float fishing, but still ample wading opportunities. The scenery in Buena Vista and Salida is absolutely breathtaking.
Outside of the valey, the river flows through Royal Gorge, one of the deepest canyons in Colorado. Anglers will experience unique scenery here. This river is known for heavy populations of fish, but often lacks the big boys.
Season: Year Round
Arkansas River Fishing Tip: Spring fishing on the Arkansas tends to be the most productive when water flows are at their optimal levels.
Roaring Fork River – Central & Southwestern Colorado
The Roaring Fork is another one of those famous fly fishing rivers. It begins just southeast of Aspen in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Here there is tons of public access to Gold Medal waters.
Between Aspen and Basalt, Colorado lies Golden Medal waters and views. Anglers can get easy access to the river via the Rio Grande Trail, which runs along the river. The other Gold Medal section is located where the Roaring fork meets the Crystal River near Carbondale, and continues to the confluence of where the Roaring Fork flows into the Colorado River (near Glenwood Springs). Here the water is deeper and larger, making float fishing the most productive method.
Season: Year Round
Roaring Fork Fishing Tip: The easiest access (and still great fishing) is via the Rio Grande Trail.
Rio Grande River – Southwestern Colorado
This may be one of the less scenic Colorado rivers on this list, but it sure produces a lot of fish, and big ones. With easy access to the river from I-60, it is heavily fished. There are lots of good wading opportunities here. Further south, towards Del Norte, the river is a bit larger, and you’ll see more float fishing opportunities. This souther section is Gold Medal water with big fish.
Heading even further south, towards Del Norte, the river gets larger, and float fishing becomes the best way to catch trout. This area is considered Gold Medal water and holds trophy sized fish.
Season: Year Round
Rio Grande Fishing Tip: If you are looking to avoid people, and get on bigger fish, do a float trip on the southern sections.
Types of Water
Colorado has larger extremely well known rivers like the Colorado, Gunnison, South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande and others. These represent awesome float trip opportunities, as well as wading. Many of the smaller rivers are also amazing for float trips.
Mountain Streams & Smaller Rivers
This is probably what Colorado is most well known for. Whether you want to be at high elevations catching native but gorgeous fish, or down lower seeking big browns, and rainbows, the entire state is filled with thousands of streams and rivers that can be fished year round. Higher elevation streams and rivers often are not fishable in winter months due to ice and snow.
High elevation lakes hold cutthroat that are incredibly beautiful. The options for hiking and fishing to these alpine gems are yet again nearly endless. Streamer action, dry fly action, and nymph action are all abundant.
If you are into warm water species, Colorado is filled with reservoirs and ponds with bass, carp and other warm water species.
Colorado Fishing Guides
This is by no means a full list. Be sure to check out our directory of Colorado Fishing Guides
Northeastern Colorado Fishing Guides:
Eastern Colorado Fishing Guides
Northwestern Colorado Fishing Guides
Southern Colorado Fishing Guides
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about