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Top 5 Winter Fisheries for 2011

January 26, 2011
Author: Trouts Staff

It always amazes me how little recognition Colorado gets for it’s Winter fly fishing possibilities.  When you mention the phrase “winter fishing” to most people, and image of sitting in a shanty on a frozen lakes is most peoples initial thought.  The reality is that there are so many world class trout fisheries right out our back door, most of which fish phenomenally during the winter months.  So in hope of encouraging some of you to get out, and at least providing some useful information to the rest of you, I am pleased to offer the TOP 5 WINTER TAILWATERS for 2011, enjoy!

1.  Cheesman Canyon – South Platte River


River Basin: South Platte River

Ideal Flow: anything over 100 cfs is great

Suggested Flies: eggs, worms, scuds, Barrs BWO Emerger, Miracle Nymph, Rojo Midges

Pros Tricks & Tips: It’s simple, MOVE.  Don’t get stuck sitting in one hole all day.  Move until you find feeding fish, catch a few, & move until you find more feeding fish.  Those who are willing to move will be the ones catching fish.

Detailed River Information:  The famed waters of the Cheesman Canyon section of the South Platte River has always acted as a proving ground for Colorado anglers.  If you can catch a fish in Cheesman Canyon, you can catch a fish anywhere!  And while Cheesman will test the skills and wits of any angler during the summer months, Winter time can prove to be an equal challenge on most days.  But when the fish are hungry, the bugs are out, and the flows are ideal, the fishing can be absolutely phenomenal.  In the end, through years and years of fishing this famed Colorado Tailwater, I have come to one simple conclusion about Cheesman Canyon; you have to put your time in, plain and simple.  If you’re only willing to visit this fishery once and a while, you’ll probably always have a poor perception of it.  But if you put in the time, and accept that some days will be better then others, you’ll be lucky enough to experience Cheesman on one of those days when everything just seems to go your way.

2.  Frying Pan River

Frying Pan

River BasinColorado River

Ideal Flowanything over 50 cfs

Suggested Fliesmysis shrimp, BWO emergers, frying pan emerger, biot emerger

Pros Tricks & Tips6X and 7X fluorocarbon is a must!  Although you may break off a few more fish, the amount of added hookups you’ll get by downsizing your tippet makes this move well worth it.

Detailed River InformationThe Frying Pan is the epitome of Colorado Tailwaters, and winter can be one of the best times to visit.  The unmanageable crowds of summer are gone, there is an amazing amount of bug life in and around the water, and you can almost always count on fish feeding on the surface.  While catching fish still requires small leaders and tippet, well presented flies, as well as a stealth approach, most anglers will find more success during the winter months then one may think.  Be prepared for cold conditions, as the Frying Pan in the winter is an arctic environment that sees little sunlight on most days.  But for those willing to brave cold finger and iced eyelets, a world-class winter fishery will await you.


3.  Yampa River – below Stagecoach Reservoir

Yampa-1River Basin: Yampa/White River

Ideal Flow: anything over 40 cfs

Suggested Flies: scuds, parachute adams, mercury black beauty, WD-40

Pros Tricks & Tips: consider riding your bike from the State Park entrance to the river.  Walking takes about 1 hour, riding a bike takes about 20 minutes, you do the math.


Detailed River Information: The Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is a tailwater fishery that you typically wouldn’t want to go near during the summer months, but once winter rolls in it could become your new best friend.  During the spring/summer/fall, there is an access road that allows cars to drive around the reservoir to below the dam.  During the winter though, from around mid-December through March, this access road is closed off to all vehicles leaving anglers with a long walk to get to the river.  As usual, this fact will keep a large majority of anglers away during this time of year, leaving this tailwater to those who are willing to earn their day on the water.  Add in some amazing midge and BWO hatches and you have a recipe for a perfect day on the water.

4.  11 Mile Canyon – South Platte River

11-Mile-Canyon River Basin: South Platte

Ideal Flow: over 75 cfs

Suggested Flies: scuds, pheasant tail slim, johnny flash, miracle nymph

Pros Tricks & Tips: fish the upper canyon in the winter.  The water temps are much higher which will lead to increased bug and fish activity.  The lower canyon can fish, but is typically much slower and less productive.

Detailed River Information: Of all the South Platte River tailwaters (Waterton Canyon, Cheesman Canyon, 11 Mile Canyon, Dream Stream), 11 Mile Canyon has always seemed to produce more consistent conditions than any other.  Why this is I am not quite sure, but I have had enough success on this tailwater that it has become a staple in my winter fishing arsenal.  Plan on seeing some fish on the surface, as there is always a good BWO or midge hatch during the early afternoon.  Otherwise, come prepared to put your sight fishing skills to work, as this will always prove to be the most effective way to catch fish on this section of river.


5.  Williams Fork River – below Williams Fork Reservoir

williams-fork-(2)River Basin: Colorado River

Ideal Flow: over 50 cfs

Suggested Flies:  scuds, bead wing midges, top secret midge, special emerger

Pros Tricks & Tips: don’t forget about the riffles and shallow runs, as even in winter this is prime holding water for the resident fish.  These areas provide great cover, and allow the fish to feed heavily.

Detailed River Information: The Williams Fork is another river that can fish at its best during the winter months.  Although the flows are down and the fish are a bit spookier, they will still actively feed on an assortment of BWO’s, Baetis, midges, eggs and scuds to help them get through the lean winter months.  The best part of this particular tailwater is it’s distance from any road.  Fishing the Williams Fork requires a 30 minute walk to the river, discouraging a majority of anglers to venture here in the cold Rocky Mountain winter temperatures.

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