Colorado has a reputation for being home to many of the country’s premier trout fisheries. If you’ve ever wondered where to go fly fishing near Denver along the Front Range, you are not alone. With numerous mountain ranges to choose from in Colorado, there are seemingly unlimited opportunities to get out on the water to fish. In this guide, we will focus on the five best places for fly fishing on the Colorado Front Range. The fisheries that we will cover in this guide are all conveniently located within 2.5 hours from Denver and are easily accessible.
South Platte River
The South Platte River is one of two tributaries of the Platte River. The South Platte runs vertically along the Front Range before snaking northeast into Nebraska and joining with the North Platte River. The South Platte River is astonishingly expansive and provides countless fisheries for anglers to enjoy. However, we will focus on three particular stretches.
The Dream Stream
The Charlie Meyers State Wilderness Area (SWA), commonly known as the “Dream Stream,” is the most famous stretch of trout water along the South Platte River. This Gold Medal stretch of water is nestled between the Spinney and Eleven Mile Reservoirs. Known for its large brown, rainbow, and hybrid trout, the Dream Stream provides ample opportunity to land a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ fish. Due to its ease of access and popularity, the Dream Stream receives its fair share of pressure, making the trout wise beyond their years and hard to fool. With that said, with the right flies in hand and a dialed-in presentation, you will have a good chance to catch a true trophy trout.
The Dream Stream is fishable year-round.
Dream Stream pro tip: fish smaller flies. Small mayflies, midges, hoppers, and streamers will give you a better chance of success than their larger counterparts on this stretch of the South Platte River.
Below Cheeseman Lake lies Cheeseman Canyon. This stretch of the South Platte is highly technical and receives a heavy amount of pressure during the warmer months of the year. If picking apart small tailouts and pocket water surrounding boulders is your thing, look no further than Cheeseman Canyon. This stretch of river is highly conducive to euro-nymphing and dry fly enthusiasts alike, thanks to its abundant subaquatic life.
Cheeseman Canyon is fishable year-round.
Cheeseman Canyon pro tip: The further you hike into the canyon, the less you are likely to encounter other anglers on the water. If you’re looking for solitude, the hike will be worth it.
Just below the Cheeseman Canyon stretch, the South Platte meanders through the community of Deckers. This stretch of the South Platte is colloquially known as “Deckers”. Like the other stretches of the South Platte that we have covered, Deckers is also designated as Gold Medal water. If proximity to Denver is the most important factor to you when deciding where to go fishing, Deckers serves as an excellent option. A mere 1.5 hours from Denver, Deckers contains a high concentration of trout, providing immeasurable opportunities to catch fish via your fishing method of choice.
Deckers is fishable year-round.
Deckers pro tip: always change your weight and depth before you change your flies. Deckers is full of fish, and those fish are not exceptionally picky. If you are struggling to satisfy your desire to feel a tug on the end of your line, the first thing you should consider changing is your weight and depth, rather than your flies.
With over 150 miles of river to fish, you’ll be hard pressed to find a freestone river along the Front Range with a higher concentration of fish. Conveniently accessed in and around the towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, and Salida, the Arkansas River offers plentiful opportunities to catch healthy, feisty fish.
The Arkansas River can be fished via boat or on foot. Note: this river is not suitable for drift boats or other hard-sided watercraft. Whether you choose to float the Arkansas in a raft or via walk and wade, there’s plenty of river to cover regardless of which method you choose.
Because the Arkansas River receives high volumes of snowmelt during runoff, the “Ark” is flushed of debris and sediment yearly. This contributes to the incredible amount of aquatic life that flourishes in this river, ultimately leading to healthy populations of trout. The Arkansas River is especially known for its frequent large dry fly hatches.
While you might find that the average size of fish caught on the Arkansas is not huge, the dense fish population will leave you happy and satisfied with your day on the water, regardless.
The Arkansas River is fishable year-round.
Arkansas River pro tip: bug life is prolific, meaning that if you’re not having luck, it probably isn’t a result of the flies you’re fishing. Before you change flies, make sure you are nailing the presentation and making proper casts and drifts.
Williams Fork River
The Williams Fork River is divided into two distinct stretches. We are going to focus on the more popular of the two, which is a tailwater and tributary of the Colorado River. Located near Parshall, Colorado, the Williams Fork is just a short hike in from the Williams Fork Fishing Division of Wildlife Parking area.
While the tailwater stretch of the Williams Fork is not particularly long, it is well worth exploring. Measuring in at roughly two miles in length, the tailwater stretch of the “Willy’s Fork” is dry fly heaven if you hit it at the right time of the year.
Anglers beware: there are large predatory animals residing within the general proximity of the Williams Fork River. It is best to always be cognizant of your surroundings and to stay alert.
The Willy's Fork is fishable year-round.
Willy’s Fork pro tip: if you are unsure of what is hatching, make sure to start with ‘searcher’ patterns before trying to dial in an exact match to the hatch.
Perhaps one of the most famous rivers in Colorado, and certainly the most popular freestone river, is the Colorado River. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Like its freestone counterpart, the Arkansas River, the Colorado River is incredibly lengthy and littered with access points to fish.
In this article, we’re concentrating on the Upper Colorado, or the stretch from Lake Granby to Kremmling, Colorado. Having earned Gold Medal status long ago, this stretch of the Colorado is well-known for its abundance of medium to large brown and rainbow trout.
As a freestone river, the Colorado is largely dependent on snowfall and precipitation throughout the year to thrive as a viable fishery. In recent years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has issued voluntary fishing closures along the river during the summer months due to low flows and high water temperatures. If you are planning to get out and fish along the Colorado during the summer, make sure that you adhere to best practices to ensure the health and longevity of the infamous trout population in this beautiful river.
The Upper Colorado River is fishable year-round.
“Upper C” pro tip: if you find yourself on the “Upper C” during the warmer months of the year, don’t be afraid to throw ridiculously-sized hopper patterns. The messier, foamier, and uglier the better. If you’re fishing during the winter, midges will always produce.
11 Mile Reservoir
Diverging from the rivers that have been featured in this guide, we are going to discuss 11 Mile Reservoir. Located near the town of Lake George, 11 Mile Reservoir is likely best known as one of the two reservoirs that the “Dream Stream” is nestled between. However, 11 Mile Reservoir is an incredible fishery all on its own.
With chances to catch rainbow trout, Snake River cutthroat trout, cutbows (a hybrid of rainbow and cutthroat), brown trout, northern pike, yellow perch, kokanee salmon, and carp, there are incredible opportunities to target multiple species in the reservoir.
Because 11 Mile reservoir is covered in weed beds, freshwater shrimp known as scuds are plentiful. These scuds comprise a large portion of the diet of the trout in the reservoir, which accounts for its impressive average trout length of 17”. Though, there are certainly much larger monsters lurking in the depths of 11 Mile Reservoir.
11 Mile Reservoir is also open to boats from the end of April through the 1st of November. The time of year you plan on fishing 11 Mile Reservoir will determine which species of fish you are most likely to catch. This dependence on weather and environmental factors will help you decide which species you are going to target.
New to the area and looking to try a new method of fishing? 11 Mile reservoir is an incredibly popular ice fishing destination, and for good reason. Note: weather conditions during the winter are harsh and sometimes unpredictable. Please, dress appropriately and be aware of changing weather conditions.
11 Mile Reservoir is fishable year-round.
11 Mile Reservoir pro tip: whether you are fishing for pike or gigantic trout, always carry a heavy sinking line with you on excursions to this reservoir.
We hope that this guide to the 5 best places for fly fishing on the Colorado Front Range has helped you decide on which location to plan your next fly fishing excursion. This guide is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all fishers in and around the Colorado Front Range. It does contain some of our favorite fly fishing destinations here at Trouts Fly Fishing. Remember, we’re here to help. If you have any questions regarding the locations outlined in this guide or others, please contact either of our conveniently located Trouts Fly Fishing locations.