The streams below hydro dams and reservoirs are particularly fertile for insects and bait fish, so the rainbows, cutthroats and browns tend to thrive
Colorado is known far and wide for its excellent trout fishing, and with more than 6,000 miles of streams and 2,000 lakes and reservoirs throughout the cool mountains and the sunny plains, it's no wonder. While fishing experts say that the trout angling is excellent all year round, late summer, they add, is a particularly great time to hit the tailwaters - streams below hydro dams and reservoirs - because the conditions are excellent for big trout. Indeed, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reports that the largest trout ever taken in the state come from tailwaters.
Tailwaters are sometimes a contentious issue with anglers, as a presence of a dam means that the natural flow of the stream has been changed. However, Colorado is replete with such dams and tailwaters, some which have been in place for decades, so taking advantage of the unique nature of the environment is a well-practiced art.
Tailwaters are subject to the man-made release of water from the reservoir, and at certain times of the year may experience high flow rates and dangerous conditions for wading. On the other hand, they are often very fertile waters, as the cooler, rushing water from the reservoir in summer is perfect habitat for trout to thrive late into the summer heat. Moreover, since the water is also released in winter and is then warm, these tailwaters are excellent breeding ground for the insects that constitute the natural food supply for trout. Because of this ample food-source, there is also an elevated number of smaller bait fish, so the trout in tailwaters have an abundant menu year round and tend to grow large.
There are many tailwaters locations throughout the state, but there are several known by the experienced fishermen as particularly excellent for the rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout Colorado is famous for. Experienced anglers cite the South Platte River below the Cheeseman Canyon, the Blue River in Silverthorne below the Dillon Reservoir, and the Frying Pan River below Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt, as premier locations.
A few other tailwaters spots to consider include, according to the Division of Wildlife:
SOUTH PLATTE RIVER IN SOUTH PARK: One of Colorado's best for quality-sized rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. Best areas are between Spinney Mountain and Elevenmile reservoirs, upstream from Spinney, the Middle Fork from the confluence with the South Fork upstream to Fairplay and the South Fork above Antero Reservoir to Highway 285. Best kept secret: Elevenmile Canyon. Location: West of Colorado Springs on Highway 24.
TAYLOR RIVER AND RESERVOIR: Excellent rainbow and brown trout fishing is available in the tailwater below Taylor Park Dam where some of the largest rainbows in the state can be found. Rainbows 10-14 inches are common. Location: Northeast of Almont on Highway 742.
RIO GRANDE: The mighty Rio Grande begins its long journey to the Gulf of Mexico high in the San Juan. Look for good brown and rainbow trout fishing from Rio Grande Reservoir downstream to Del Norte. Fly-fishing is best June through July when stonefly and mayfly hatches dominate fish diets. The Gold Medal section from South Fork to Del Norte provides trophy brown trout. Location: West of Del Norte and north of South Fork to Creede. There is easy access to the river via highways 160 and 149. Much of the river is privately owned, but public access is excellent through numerous state leases.
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