Colorado is one of the best fly fishing destinations in the country. With the seemingly endless mountains of the Rocky’s that provide waterflow to the productive waters on either side of the continental divide, the fishing is both beautiful, and plentiful.

This article aims to point out each of the best fly fishing rivers in the state, and also tips to land fish in those waters. Below we will break down these rivers by area of Colorado, to help you better find the rivers nearest to you or your destination. But beyond this list, there is much more. Also, don’t forget the endless high country native trout opportunities. Find just about any stream in the rockies, and you’ll be able to land smaller and beautiful native trout.

Northeastern Colorado

Southeastern

Northwestern

Southwestern

Northeastern Colorado

Upper Colorado River

Nothing like a float on the Colorado River

The Colorado River is pretty much a legendary river known everywhere. In this case, we are talking about the upper stretch that starts in Rocky Mountain National Park and extends to the Fraser River. Much of this is designated Gold Metal water, where anglers can not only catch ample fish, but big fish.

Gore Canyon is a great location to test out. With native fish abundant, and the canyon walls around setting a beautiful scenery, this a must fish destination. This 3 ish mile section of river is great for wading when water levels are low enough. Pretty much all of the Colorado River is an outstanding fishery.

Season: Year Round

Tip for the Upper Colorado: During high water, bring the sink tip line for fishing streamers a little deeper. Midges will produce year round.

Blue River

@jahspriggs showing off a healthy brown on his home river the Blue.

Another designated Gold Water river, this tributary of the Colorado River is both accessible, and highly productive. If you are into small stream fishing, this river is for you. The designated Gold Water stretch is located downstream of the Dillon Reservoir. Here you will find large rainbows, and lots of fish.

If you are looking for native fish, and a smaller stream, north of the Dillon Reservoir, the water is shallow, and contains lots of brook trout.

Season: Year Round

Tip for the Blue River: This river is one of the few Colorado rivers with Mysis shrimp. The rainbow trout gorge on these…take advantage.

North Platte River

Hard Fighting Rainbow’s of the North

This wild trout river, and Gold Medal water is renown for some of the best wading fishing in all of the country. The headwaters are locate in North Park, where various creeks flow into the North Platte.

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 if willing to hike a bit.

We also highly recommend heading over the border into Wyoming and checking out the highly productive waters there.

Season: Year Round

Tip for the North Platte River: Spring and early summer often brings high water. THe most success during these high water times is from a float trip rather than wading.

Southeastern Colorado

Animas River

126 miles of water, yet again designated as Gold Metal Fishing. This river begins in the San Juan Mountains, flows through Silverton, past Durango, into into New Mexico where it merges with the San Juan River.

There is a lot of river to fish, but the most popular areas are surrounding Durango, 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 midges as a backup in summer months.

Northwestern Colorado

Yampa River

Beautiful scenery and low pressure from anglers

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.

The Fryingpan River

The Frying pan river is Gold Medal water that is productive year round. Located in White River National Forest, you’ll find lots of wild trout, and beautiful scenery.

The most productive section (the gold medal water) flows from the Ruedi Reservoir to the Roaring Fork in Basalt. There is around 9 miles of public access waters here in the White River National Forest. In winter, midge hatches lead to extremely productive fishing, including a lot of the larger catches.

Fryingpan River Fishing Tip: Summer = Green Drakes, Spring = Winged Olives, Winter = Midges

Southwestern Colorado

Gunnison River

The Gunnison River (The Gunny) is one of the top fisheries in the United States. Year round, anglers can land very large brown trout and rainbow trout. Anglers can also even land Kokanee salmon.

The Gunnison River is Colorado’s second largest river. The upper sections of the Gunnison River are designated as Gold Medal Water, and a native trout water. It also happens to be some of the most beautiful land and water in the world. The section going through Gunnison National Park features 2,000 foot cliffs towering over the river, beautiful water, and loads of mule deer and elk.

At 78 miles long (including lakes) this river has a ton of water to fish. We recommend doing additional research on the Gunnison depending upon the area you will be fishing in. A drift boat is recommended for this river due to the size, however wading can perform extremely well.

Season: Year Round

Gunnison River Fishing Tip: After the Kokanee fry release, streamers tend to work really well. Also, as most rivers, when nymphing, it is extremely important to get deep on the Gunnison.

South Platte River

South Platte River Colorado Rainbow Trout
South Platte River Rainbow Trout

This river is densly 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 Cheeseman 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 Cheeseman 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 Cheeseman 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.

Season: Year Round (With some regulations near dams)

South Platte River Fishing Tip: This river gets busy…because it is amazing. Want to avoid the crowds? Hit the river in the winter. Ice build up can make things difficult, but you can find a lot of awesome water without a soul in sight.

Arkansas River

Fishing the Arkansas River - Colorado
Fishing the Arkansas River in March

The Arkansas River is loaded with fish, and flows over 150 miles from the headwaters in Leadville, through the towns of Buena Vista & Salida, and all the way to the Colorado plains.

The upper stretches feature fantastic wading opportunities, but many choose to float down the river, where it becomes far easier to have a productive day. The river flows through Royal Gorge, one of the deepest canyons in Colorado, which provides stunning scenery. While this river doesn’t tend to produce the state record sized fish, the populations are plentiful.

In the spring, the Arkansas is most productive. Due to the unique environment, and high elevation snowpack, the flows stay really nice for a couple of months in spring, making the fishery really productive.

Season: Year Round

Arkansas River Fishing Tip: The most productive way to fish this river is via boat. Wading can be successful, but you’ll likely see a lot more success floating down hitting a larger portion of the river.

Roaring Fork River

Photo: Nolan Dahlberg

The Roaring Fork begins flowing just southeast of Aspen in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Much of the river has public access, making it easily fishable. In even better news, the Roaring Fork features two sections deemed as Gold Medal waters (that means there is a lot of fish here).

One Gold Medal section is between Aspen and Basalt, Colorado. The Rio Grande trail runs along the river, providing great access to these waters. 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: If you are looking to wade, we recommend the stretch of river accessed from the Rio Grande Trail.

Rio Grande River

Photo: Ben Kraushaar

The Rio Grande is yet another famous river in Southwestern, Colorado. The upper sections feature ample wading opportunities year round. Lots of fish, and lots of big fish are available.

More southern sections are fished more heavily due to the easy public access, but still very productive. This section of river is close to highways, making the area less scenic, and even noisy in places. This section is along I-60.

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: Taking advantage of the caddis fly hatches can yield some really awesome days on the water.

The article was written by Fly Lords team member Max DesMarais of hikingandfishing.com.

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