In collaboration with Colorado Tourism and their “Care for Colorado” initiative, we set out to explore some of the most well known and widely admired tailwaters of the great state of Colorado. While on this adventure, we met with local fly shops and guides to have them show us exactly what makes their home waters so special, and more importantly, why they’re worth exploring and protecting. Along the way, we explored local restaurants, activities, and places to rest and relax to create a complete guide for exploring these iconic tailwaters.
For our third destination, we headed to a truly unique tailwater that’s made quite a name for itself in the town it flows through. Join us as we explore The Blue River.
History of the Blue River
The Blue River is a tributary of the Colorado River and is approximately 65 miles long. It rises in southern Summit County, on the western side of the continental divide in the Ten Mile Range, near Quandary Peak. It flows north past Blue River and Breckenridge, then through the Dillon Reservoir near Dillon. The west portal for the “Roberts Tunnel” is at the base of Dillon Reservoir. The Roberts Tunnel is a trans-basin diversion, built by Denver Water in 1962, that diverts water under the Continental Divide from the Colorado River basin into the South Platte River Basin. The east portal is approximately one mile upstream of Grants, Colorado.
North of Dillon the river flows north-northwest along the eastern slope of the Gore Range and joins the Colorado River at Kremmling. The Green Mountain Dam, which finished construction in 1942, is 13 miles upstream from Kremmling, and forms the Green Mountain Reservoir, providing hydroelectric power and diversionary water for irrigation, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
The tailwater we’ll be focusing on today is the stretch between the Dillon Reservoir, and the Green Mountain Reservoir, which is also referred to as the middle Blue.
Fishing the Blue River
Fly Shops on the Blue River
For grabbing gear and bugs, the fly-shops you’ll find a few shops to check out. If you’re around the town of Frisco, you can make your way into Trouts fly-shop. Then, if you make your way North, you’ll find The Colorado angler, and Cutthroat Anglers, which are located almost directly on the River.
For our trip, we stopped into Cutthroat Anglers and met with Shop Owner, Ben Mccormick, as well as local guides Matt Weiler, and Harlan Kimball. There, we loaded up on flies and headed out to explore what the Blue River had to offer.
Flies to use on the Blue River
When you’re thinking flies: think small. Much like the other tailwaters we’ve explored, the cold water released from the dam limits the growth of the resident insect population. A general rule of thumb is, the closer you are to the dam, the smaller you want your flies to be.
For your smaller bugs, the usual RS2’s, Pheasant tails, and Mysis shrimp are never a bad way to go. For the best success, look to carry around a few variations of each, all around size .22’s -.20’s. As you head north, you can start to break out somewhat larger flies. Zebra midges, BWO’s, and other Baetis patterns are never a bad call, but feel free to get creative and toss a rainbow warrior every now and then. These flies can range around size .20 – .16’s.
The Blue River also possesses some fast and deep water. If the clouds are out and the flows are up, tossing a streamer is also a viable option. Something imitating a minnow, leach, or even a small trout is a great way to hook into one of those legendary Blue River monsters.
Fishing the Blue River
Before you fish the Blue, make sure to thoroughly read through the rules and regulations of the river, to make sure you’re doing everything possible to keep the river healthy, and yourself out of trouble. The Blue River Regulations can be found HERE (page: 13).
The Blue River is known as a river that makes you work for fish, however, once you get into them, their size and beauty make every fruitless drift worth it. The types of fish you’ll be looking for in the Blue River are mostly Rainbow Trout and some Brown Trout. There are also some Brook trout that are fed into the Blue by feeder streams, their presence is more abundant the further north you go. The river is comprised of about a 70:30 ratio of Rainbow to Brown trout, but many of the browns that live in these waters possess a notoriously beautiful red tail that will quickly identify them as Blue River trout.
The river is made up of a mix of stocked and wild trout. With an abundance of private properties on the river, the stocked trout presence holds strong against the resident trout population. Most stocking occurs on private water, and in the town of Silverthorne. Because of this, as you move away from town, your chances of encountering wild fish increases.
Again, much like most tailwaters, the Blue River is fishable year-round. However, the best fishing can oftentimes be found around the early summer months when the dam releases water. The reason for this is due to an increase in discharge, which not only blows insect life off of the banks and down the river, but the water temperature rises, providing a more stable environment for insects to reproduce and populate the waterways. For discharge data and gauge height, reference the charts found HERE.
Fishing accessibility on the Blue River is abundant and varies as you move up and down the tailwater. Most of the time, you can park within 100 yards of the river and walk down from the designated pull-offs to fish. However, there are also opportunities to walk for fish, depending on how far away from town and the road you care to get. If you choose to hike in, make sure to take note of any posted regulations or private property lines, as residents keep a watchful eye out for trespassers.
The Blue offers a diverse array of water to fish. Along small riffles you can find trout hanging out eating small nymphs that are swept down into their feeding lanes. However, you will also find an abundance of deep runs where big fish can stay hunkered down waiting for a snack to come their way. In these big runs, persistence is key as these trout (the wild ones especially), are fished to on the daily, and are on the lookout for any suspicious behavior. It’s recommended that you stick with 6x to 4x tippet (at the very largest), especially when fishing big holes that are close to the road.
One of the most important things to remember about fishing on the Blue River, is the fishing etiquette. The Blue River is an extremely popular spot amongst anglers, and while we’re all entitled to enjoy a day on the water, it’s important to remember that it’s just as much our job to respect each other, as it is to respect the water. When fishing the Blue, avoid crowds. If someone is fishing a hole, the best practice is to just stay clear of that spot.
A helpful tip is that if you run into someone on the river, have a conversation and make a plan. Ask if they’re moving up or down, and coordinate so that you can stay out of each other’s ways. Not only will both parties be happier in the end, but you’re much more likely to land a more fish.
On our time on the River, our guides worked up the river, traveling to a few different spots to find unpopulated water. We floated tiny baetis patterns in tandem underneath bobbers. While the day started off a bit slow, as we continued to work away from the road, our fishing heated up as well; yielding some truly stunning fish, and some incredible views.
Things to do Around the Blue River
If you’re looking to spend some time off the water, there are plenty of things to do and check out in the towns of Silverthorne, Frisco, and Breckenridge.
Check-in with the Local Conservation Efforts – As ecotourism increases and the number of anglers on the water grows, it’s important to remember that we’re as responsible for the areas we visit, as we are for the areas we call home. While it’s not exactly what many would consider a vacation day activity, finding out about local conservation and restoration initiatives is one of the most enriching activities you can engage in when visiting a new place. With the practice of leaving a place better than you found it, you can feel great knowing that you’ve left a positive impact on an environment so that it will be accessible for many generations to come.
During our visit in Silverthorne, we had the chance to sit down with local Trout Unlimited chapter-representative Tanner Banks, as well as the Executive Director of the Blue River WaterShed Group, Erika Donaghy. Tanner and Erika are both working towards finding solutions in order to protect and preserve the Blue River watershed, so that not only will it continue to support a thriving trout population, but because it is an integral piece of the local ecosystem, and is the lifeblood of the surrounding area as a whole.
During this time, they explained to us the issues facing the health of the river such as mine runoff, improper handling of hydropower, single-use plastic pollution, and unfortunately, unethical angling. However, they also walked us through the many conservation actions being taken to fight these issues such as river clean-ups, and mine-waste-management initiatives. To learn more about how you can do your part, check out any of these initiatives below:
- The Blue River Watershed Group
- Trout Unlimited Colorado
- The Blue River Enhancement Workgroup
- High Country Conservation Center (or HC3).
- Friends of the Dillon Ranger District
- Friends of the Lower Blue River
Hike the Sallie Barber Mine Trail – The Sallie Barber Mine Trail is a 2.8 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Breckenridge, Colorado that features beautiful wildflowers and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from February until October. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail. (AllTrails).
Check out the Blue River Trail – Blue River Trail is a 3.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Silverthorne, Colorado that features a river and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for walking, trail running, and road biking and is best used from July until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. (Alltrails)
Hike the Buffalo Mountain Trail – Buffalo Mountain Trail is a 7.4 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Silverthorne, Colorado that offers the chance to see wildlife and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. (AllTrails)
Snowmobile or ATV Mountain Tour – For breathtaking views, terrain from mild to wild, and some of the best views of Colorado’s majestic mountains, contact High Country Tours for an experience you won’t soon forget.
Breckenridge Ghost Tours – Skip the typical walking tours for a ghostly exploration of Breckenridge and—unlike most travelers—see a stranger side to this historic mining town. During this interactive tour, explore haunted buildings you might otherwise have overlooked, hunt down spirit energies with the tools conveniently provided, and listen to your private guide tell spooky stories you wouldn’t otherwise hear.
Food By the Blue River
Whether you’re looking to grab a drink, or enjoy a culinary adventure, there is no shortage of stops to treat your pallet.
Angry James Brewing Co. – On our visit, we had the chance to stop by Angry James Brewery, and try some of their incredible in-house creations. With a mouthwatering variety of IPA’s, and a stout that ruins the reputation of all other stouts, this place is sure to quench your thirst. Not in the mood for a brew? That’s fine, because Angry James’ in house kitchen also has a delicious variety of creative takes on classic bar favorites. We recommend the Jalapeno pretzels, although be warned, once you’ve had a taste, there’s no going back.
Crepes A La Carte – For those who aren’t looking to stay in one spot long, Crepes A La Carte is a popular spot for various sweet, savory & build-your-own crepes with a small outdoor seating area.
Aurum Food and Wine – For a good and propper wining and dining experience, Aurum Food and Wine offers a luxury culinary experience without the rediculous price tag and is a great spot to shake off the dirt of a day well spent.
Mountain Flying Fish – Who said you can’t find good sushi in the mountains? With chefs with Japanese Master chef Tetsuo-san behind the blade, enjoy the pursuit of better living over locally harvested short grain rice. If you’re fixing to eat some fish, ignore the river and head to the mountains.
The Argentos Empanadas & More – The Argentos Empanadas & More is a casual restaurant in Silverthorne offering customers breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Come in and experience our comfort food or sample our signature confections in a cozy atmosphere. Call us to learn about catering options, takeout, or our vegetarian choices.
Places to Stay by the Blue River
Hampton Inn & Suites – While traveling, we spent the night in this Hampton Inn & Sweets, which was only a 3 minute drive from the fly-shop. This hotel provided clean and comfortably sized rooms, frinedly staff, and a satisfying breakfast. Sometimes: basic is best.
The Dillon Inn – The Dillon Inn is centrally located in Summit County, and is located right at the mouth of the Blue River Tailwater. You can ride the free shuttle that is offered by Summit County to Keystone, Frisco, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain to explore the outdoors with fishing, rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, tubing and much more.
Ramada Frisco – Located in Frisco, Ramada Frisco is in the mountains and convenient to Frisco Historic Park and Museum and Frisco Nordic Center. This hotel is within close proximity of Frisco Adventure Park and Lily Pad Lake Trailhead.
Lodge by the Blue – Alpine skiing was introduced to Breckenridge, Colorado in 1960. A few insightful sportsman recognized an unprecedented opportunity to develop three acres of pristine land, where the Blue River teamed with trout and flowed right through it, into the perfect paradise for fly fishermen and skiers alike. Today, their vision is being restored at the base of the magnificent Mount Quandary, as Lodge by The Blue delivers an impeccable lodge experience for the adventurer in you, where hints of the nostalgic 60s blend seamlessly with the modern comforts of condominium vacations.
Apres Chalet – This charming three-bedroom home on French Street, Breckenridge sits in the heart of Breckenridge’s historic district. Located just two blocks from Main Street, you can feel like you are a part of the community by staying close to all that Breckenridge has to offer – including shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs.
We would like to take the time to remind you to practice proper social distancing regulations and to always wear a mask in public places. As we enjoy what this beautiful state has to offer, it’s crucial to remember that we’re all just visiting, and as visitors, it’s our job to work to preserve and respect these incredible places. To find out more on conservation initiatives, and ways you can make your time in the area more meaningful, feel free to check out ways to get involved HERE.
If you’re looking for additional info, or just want to learn more about exploring the state and the opportunities it has to offer, check out the official Colorado Tourism Page HERE.
Thank you to Colorado Tourism for this incredible opportunity to explore our backyard. Stay Tuned for more installments of Tailwater Tails, and tips on exploring on Colorado’s famous Tailwaters. Also, thank you to Cutthroat Anglers, and our guides Ben Mccormick, Matt Weiler, and Harlan Kimball for helping us navigate, and learn more about your home waters.