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 Final River, we headed North to Steamboat, Colorado to visit a popular landing spot for anglers around the country, The Yampa River.
History of the Yampa River
The Yampa River flows 250 miles through Northwestern Colorado. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, it is a tributary of the Green River and a major part of the Colorado River system. The Yampa is one of the few free-flowing rivers in the western United States, with only a few small dams and diversions.
The name is derived from the Snake Native American’s word for the Perideridia plant, which has an edible root. John C. Frémont, a Californian senator in the 1800’s, was among the first to record the name ‘Yampah’ in entries of his journal from 1843, as he found the plant was particularly abundant in the watershed.
The Stagecoach Reservoir, which feeds into the Tailwater section of the Yampa, serves for irrigation, municipal water supply, and flood control, and it also supports a hydroelectric power station. It was first proposed in 1983, and was completed on August 12, 1989, after just 37 days of construction. The dam and reservoir are owned and operated by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District
Today, the Yampa serves as a diverse fishery, attracting a plethora of anglers looking to float, wade, and otherwise observe the beautiful scenery that surrounds the waters.
Fishing the Yampa River
Fly Shops on the Yampa River:
If you’re looking for a place to stop in and pick up a few bugs, you don’t have to look much further than downtown Steamboat Springs. If you head down Lincoln ave, you’ll find The Bucking Rainbow, stocked with shirts, hats, and a diverse collection of custom made knives. Walk just a few more minutes down the street and you’ll also find Straightline Outdoor Sports, which has any hunting or fishing equipment you may need. However, if you bop over to 5th street, you’ll find your way to Steamboat Fly Fisher, an all-encompassing fly-fishing outfitter only steps away from the Yampa Headwaters.
On our trip, we masked up and headed into Steamboat Fly Fisher, to meet with our guide, Robbie Tesar. Robbie, along with his wife Alice Tesar, is a local guide, as well as a teacher at the Steamboat Mountain School. They have been guiding for Steamboat Fly Fisher for around 5 years now, and have developed a natural love for the river, and all the unique aspects that it offers outdoor enthusuists.
Flies to use on the Yampa River
Much like most of the tailwaters we’ve explored, the fly variation tends to be skewed towards small nymphs and shrimp. Anything from freshwater scuds to baetis and caddis larva can be found populating the rocks and weeds of the river.
For the best success, we recommend green, black, or red midge patterns; as well as PMD’s, BWO’s, or baetis imitations. Scuds are also an incredibly effective pattern and can be fished in many different colors. some specific patterns we recommend are: pheasant tails, garbage scuds, zebra midges, rs2’s, or flashback baetis nymphs.
If you’re dying to toss something a little bigger, or are just sick of staring at bobbers as they lackadaisically float down the current, small streamers such as sculpin and leach patterns can also be effective. In the summertime, small pockets hidden behind protective natural structures can hold large fish that more than likely to strike at a well presented dry fly. Caddis, Tricos, Mayflies, and the occasional drake imitations can be extremely effective in these areas, especially in the warmer months of late spring and early summer.
Fishing the Yampa River
The Yampa Tailwater is one of the more beautiful tailwaters that we’ve covered on this trip. Surrounded by a canyonous landscape, immaculate views, and curated trout habitat, this section of the river is coveted by anglers from around the country. However, it is because of these views that this section sees a high amount of foot traffic and fishing pressure year-round. Be sure to keep reading on how you can be a respectful visitor to the river, and best enjoy your time there.
The Yampa Tailwater is home to a varying species of trout. The waters are mainly populated by resident browns and rainbows, but the occasional cutthroat and cutbow can be found within the mix. These fish can vary in size, with some of them growing to impressive sizes. It’s because of the strict catch and release regulations, as well as an abundance of food, that these fish are able to maintain their healthy size and numbers.
As you move downstream of the dam, the river offers a diverse array of fishing opportunities. Due to the river’s curated nature, an angler can pick and choose which style of fishing they’d like to employ (depending on the crowds). In faster deeper pockets, dead drifting leeches and small streamers can prove to be an effective way to entice a large predatory trout. Along those same guidelines, nymphing with heavy flies and split-shot can prove to be equally, if not more advantageous in larger to medium flows.
The river offers a plethora of drops, riffles, and pockets to be fished with any style of rig. However, a general rule of thumb is that as you get further from the heavy discharge of the dam, changing to smaller and smaller flies is a good call. Also, remember that as you change your flies, it’s equally as important to change tippet. These fish see lots of pressure on a daily basis, so throwing flies on the end of heavy tippet is a sure-fire way to turn off the fish from eating. Generally, especially in the colder months of the year, 5-6x tippet should be your go-to.
The best times of year to fish the Yampa are obviously going to be the warmer months from late spring to summer. However, because of the regulated flows, the fishing is on at all times of the year. To plan around the optimal flows, you can check out the hydrometrics HERE.
As mentioned before, and put in the simplest terms: The Yampa is a crowded river. So. let’s take a second to talk about river etiquette. As much as we want to think so, the river belongs to no-one: it’s public land. That being said, we all need to do our part to take care of it as if it was our own back yard, because for many people: it is. The two main factors to take into consideration when fishing the river, is co-angler cooperation, and environmental respect.
There is rarely, if ever, a scenario where you can fish this section without running into someone. So, have a conversation. Discuss where they are going to be fishing, and make a plan to avoid each other in order to achieve the best results on the day. It’s important to remember: If you see traffic, you are traffic.
Next, pay respect to the land. The tailwater of the Yampa is very curated in an effort to mitigate bank erosion and restore plant health, and in return, river health. You’ll notice there are very clearly marked trails. By sticking to those trails, you can avoid leaving any sort of an unnecessary footprint behind, and in-turn, leave the river in the same shape you found it for the next angler to come along.
Things to do Around the Yampa River
Check out the Local Conservation groups: Freinds of the Yampa – A key aspect of our guides to these tailwaters is to take the time to highlight local conservation efforts. As eco-tourism and angling pressure increases in areas such as the Yampa watershed, it’s more important now than ever to seek out ways to give back to the fisheries that we love and enjoy. Whether you’re a local looking to get involved in your community, or someone passing through and looking for an opportunity to leave behind a positive impact, there are always ways you can become a part of the movement to make a difference.
The Friends of the Yampa is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness around conservation issues facing the watershed. Through educational programs (such as the YARP effort), fundraising efforts, and cleanup + restoration efforts, Friends of the Yampa has a long list of programs that anyone can get involved with. Check out their current projects HERE.
- Strawberry Park Hotsprings – Sit back and soak in the enriching healing energy of these naturally formed geothermal Hotsprings. Get out of the cold and into these mineral springs with a year-round average temperature of 104 degrees. You can also enjoy a massage in one of the beautiful private massage huts or a watsu therapy in a private pool.
- Hike Fish Creek Falls Trail – Fish Creek Falls Trail is a 4.7 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Steamboat Springs, Colorado that features a waterfall and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. (Alltrails)
- Tread of Pioneers Museum – The Tread of Pioneers Museum features a 1908 Queen Anne-style Victorian home with turn-of-the-century furnishings. On display are various ranching, mining and pioneer life artifacts from Routt County, a comprehensive History of Skiing exhibit, as well as a Native American arts display.
- Hike Thunderhead Trail – Thunderhead Hiking Trail is a 6.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Steamboat Springs, Colorado that features a great forest setting and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is best used from June until October. During summer the Steamboat Ski Resort is open to hiking. Thunderhead Trail is a popular route that takes hikers up to Thunderhead Lodge. There are more trails on the mountain if you wish to extend your hike. (Alltrails)
- Check out the Jace Romick Art Gallery – A creative eye for the West; Jace Romick Gallery is a true western art gallery located in the heart of Steamboat Springs, CO.
- Skiing – For more information on the iconic skiing in Steamboat, CLICK HERE.
Food By The Yampa River
Yampa Sandwich Co. – After a fruitful day on the river, we headed into Steamboat to gorge ourselves on some eloquently crafted sandwiches. In a flurry of turkey and cranberry sauce, our thanksgiving inspired sub had somehow vanished before our eyes. All were left with was a full belly and a few crumbs to reassure that this decadent creation had in fact existed at some point. If it’s not clear, our review for Yampa sandwich co. is an easy two thumbs up. In conclusion, from the outside, it may not look like much, but it’s the perfect spot to stop and refill the tank after a great day spent with friends and fish alike.
Salt & Lime – While in Steamboat, we also had the chance to pop into a modern-mexican style restaurant, Salt & Lime. There, we enjoyed some a roller coaster of flavors and spices all wrapped in between some corn tortillas. If you’re a tequila fan, this is a must-stop destination, as their extensive marg menu is sure to kick off the night with a bang.
Freshies Restaurant – Freshies offers all the traditional favorites, specialty options, and more. We proudly partner with local farms from Colorado and the Yampa Valley to bring you the best produce, poultry, dairy, meats, and breads.
Table 79 – If a classy night for top-notch food and drinks is what you’re looking for, look no further than Table 79 Foodbar. With an extensive beer, wine, and cocktail menu, it’s the perfect place to celebrate a day well spent.
Laundry Restaurant – Laundry fills a popular dining niche in Steamboat Springs. Specializing in smoking and curing of natural foods, diners enjoy Laundry’s shared plate concept with a refreshingly creative menu that utilizes seasonally and locally grown products
Places to Stay by the Yampa River
Whether you’re spending a night or a week in Steamboat, here are some great places to recharge in preparation for a day on the water.
Rabbit Ears Motel – Upon entry of the town, it’ll be hard to miss the Iconic Rabbit Ears Motel located in downtown Steamboat Springs. This is a perfect choice for comfortable, affordable, friendly lodging right in the center of downtown. This place offers incredible proximity to all that Steamboat Springs has to offer. We are right in the center of it all. From the moment you come down Rabbit Ears Pass into the Yampa Valley and see our famous historic neon sign with the lit-up Rabbit Ears, your getaway begins. Just look for the neon bunny.
- Steamboat Mountain Lodge – Winter, summer, spring, or fall, Steamboat Springs, Colorado is your year-round destination spot. Gather your fly-rod, skis/ snowboards, bikes, cameras, and your spirit of adventure! It’s time to start planning your getaway. The warm, friendly atmosphere of the Steamboat Mountain Lodge is sure to fit in with your vacation to Steamboat Springs.
- The Steamboat Grand – Surround yourself in casual elegance and enjoy all of the amenities that The Steamboat Grand has to offer. Featuring 328 beautifully appointed hotel rooms, condominiums, penthouses, and other lodging located at the base of the Steamboat Ski area, the Grand has everything you need for an amazing vacation.
- Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas – Create an unforgettable adventure at Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas. This premium vacation ownership resort welcomes you with refined rental accommodations, elevated dining options, and a prime location in the heart of the Steamboat Base Area right next to the Christie Peak Express. From ski-in ski-out access during the winter to golf, hiking and biking in the summer, this resort puts some of the best attractions and activities that Steamboat Springs has to offer at your doorstep.
- Camping: Dry Lake Campground – Dry Lake Campground is located 8 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs, Colorado on the Buffalo Pass Road. This small campground is surrounded by Aspen, Spruce, and Fir trees and is in a good location to access some great hiking and biking, one the roadway and the Spring Creek Trail.
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. Thank you for following along with Tailwater Tails, and tips on exploring Colorado’s famous Tailwaters. This has been an incredible opportunity to explore some incredible bodies of water, and learn about and share what we can do to keep them great. Also, thank you to Steamboat Fly Fisher, and our guide Robbie Tesar for helping us navigate and learn more about your home waters.