Trouts Journal

TROUTS TIPS // Runoff Road Trip Ideas

Tanner Smith / May 21, 2023

We all asked for the snow and this year we certainly got it. While we will never complain about snowpack, this year's runoff will play a major role in making some of our favorite freestones unfishable during the process. With that said, there are still plenty of options to fish both locally and further away. This blog is going to focus on a few options that will require a little more effort but will provide great fishing through the mud season. I am a huge fan of a fly fishing road trip and I encourage you all to be as well! Here are a few options that hopefully inspire some of you to get out of the comfort zone of the Front Range.

The North Platte Tailwaters

The tailwaters I am referring to include - Fremont Canyon, the Grey Reef, and the Miracle Mile. While these tailwaters aren't a secret, they offer some great high-water options. Whether you are looking to float or walk wade, stay in a cabin or tent camp, this area provides plenty of options for both. Cowboy Drifters and the Ugly Bug are both great resources for the area if you are looking for a guide trip or cabin to stay.

If you are DIYing it look for great camping options at the Miracle Mile and the Grey Reef. Fishing conditions should be pretty similar throughout the three options. If flows are normal, Fremont Canyon is probably the most walk-wade-friendly. However, battling the bigger flows walk wading the Mile or Reef offers you a chance to use big ugly flies and the opportunity of running into a plethora of nice fish. From a floating perspective, I'd say pick your poison on what stretch to fish. The Mile takes a little more effort from a driving standpoint, but being in a boat there or on the Reef this time of year can produce amazing results.

Drive time // About 4-5 hours from Denver to Casper

The Bighorn River in Fort Smith

This stretch of the Bighorn is one of my favorite late spring/early summer destinations. Crowds at the Horn can be heavy at any given time but, don't let that deter you. Even if it is busy this stretch of river will still produce. Fish counts are really bouncing back after a few years of unexplained flows. With that being said, the numbers some of us are used to at the Bighorn might be down a little bit but there are a lot more really nice fish hanging around.

My go-to spot for lodging, guides, boat rentals, or intel up there is the Bighorn Angler. If you have your own boat or plan to walk wade there are plenty of other lodging options outside Bighorn Angler. There are AirBNBs and other shops that provide great packages for the area. The Bighorn is better from a boat as it allows you to taxi your way down the river. While, the hope on the Bighorn is to run into one of the classic hatches, nymphing scuds, sowbugs, worms, and other classics will always save the day.

Drive time from Denver // 7-8 Hours

North Park Stillwaters

If you are still in the stillwater mindset and want to get away from our Front Range favorites Spinney and Antero look to North Park for some great options. With the extended winter, these stillwaters will be running a bit behind our home lakes so this time of the year can be a prime time to be there. North Delaney is the main attraction as it has a history of producing world-class trout.

However, South Delaney and a few other lakes in the area can also provide good opportunities. Camping is going to be the best option for a weekend stay. If you are looking for lodging use North Park Anglers for cabin rentals in the area. Also, count on North Park Anglers and St. Pete's to be great resources on current conditions and intel for the area.

Drive time from Denver // 3-4 Hours

The San Juan Below Navajo Dam

Another world-class fishery that is worth a road trip this time of year. One thing to keep in mind here as well as with the other tailwaters mentioned is flows can fluctuate pretty drastically this time of year. The best thing about these flow changes below dams is how quickly they regulate and in my opinion, if you can get to these places when flows are a little higher it can be a huge benefit to you.

If you make the trip down below Navajo before a jump in flows count on a pretty technical nymph game. Bugs will be very similar to what we all fish at our technical South Platte Tailwaters. If you do see a bump in flows give it a couple of days to regulate and then enjoy being able to size up your bugs and tippet! There are solid camping and lodging options here as well. While Abe's used to be the go-to down there it is in the process of being sold so for lodging look at Las Verandas Lodge. For other intel, give Duranglers a call.

Drive time from Denver // 6-7 hours

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