Anglers in Colorado are some of the luckiest in the western United States; especially over the next couple of months. For some, there is never truly an "off-season," when it comes to fly fishing; for others, multiple days of warm sunshine is the unspoken beginning of their fly fishing season.
This is all a way to say that there is not an angler alive who turns their nose up to the thought of early spring fishing. How could you? With each day, the cold weather starts to wane, and our favorite freestones and tailwaters slowly but surely come back to life.
On Monday, we mentioned the fifth season is here, and since we have already discussed some of our favorite pieces of gear for the fifth season, now it is time to talk about how and where to find success during this time of year.
During this time of year, anglers will see more activity coming from insects, specifically molting stoneflies and a crowd favorite, Blue Winged Olives. Remember that the trout you are targeting have been in their winter holding and feeding patterns over the past couple of months. So, when the water temperature rises, their instinct to gorge themselves on the bugs mentioned above kicks in. While this may sound like I am sounding the Dry Fly alarm, remember that a majority of your success this time of year will still come when fishing subsurface (i.e. nymphs, emergers, and streamers).
During these early springtime warm cycles, the river will still be cold, so your fly presentation should also match. That means maintaining slow drifts and slower streamer retrieves.
An important factor that you should always be aware of is water temperature. We will experience rapid and prolonged warming cycles during this time of year followed by one or two days of freezing temperatures or vice versa. To put it plainly, springtime weather is unstable. One day it may rain, the next could be 75, and the next morning, you could wake up with snow on the ground. And what does this all affect? You guessed it, water temperature. Water temperature is a critical factor when it comes to how you approach your time on the water. Typically, if you find yourself looking at prolonged warming cycles and water temperatures that hover around 50 degrees, you will find trout moving out of their winter holding water. This is when you will find fish move (for the time being) into faster, more oxygenated waters, moving closer to the water's surface, and more willing to eat dry flies or, better yet, BWO emerger patterns. Suppose your water temperatures are consistently hovering in the high 30s to low 40s (which is most likely the case this time of year). In that case, the trout in those river systems will still exhibit wintertime behavior by holding closer to the river bottom and along slower moving sections of water. Your best plan of attack here, if you want consistent success, is to throw a tight line or Euro Nymph rig with a heavily weighted point fly and a smaller midge pattern above.
When the warming cycles mentioned above occur, you will inevitably end up with muddy off-color (and oftentimes super cold) water. And, when you find yourself in this scenario, fish something a little on the obnoxious side and with a bit of flash. Don't be afraid to throw something bright neon pink or orange color. Remember, when the water levels are high and muddy, you are already at a disadvantage, so you might as well bet the house and opt for something with a bit of flash and color. It could mean the difference between never removing your net from your back or grinning cheek to cheek on the drive home.
In the same vein of flashy and obnoxious flies, success on the water can be found when using heavy nymph rigs or jigged leeches. Generally speaking, fishing high/muddy water is no time for dainty unweighted flies. When the water is high and muddy, go with heavier weighted flies. This will ensure your flies get down in the water column quickly and be visible to the fish. Smaller patterns will bring you the most success if the water clarity is gin clear and slow-moving.
Now that you know a bit more about approaching early springtime fishing, it is time to go over some locations and river systems that will be most productive for you this time of year.
Without a doubt, the most productive river systems will be your fishable tailwaters. This refers to any stream or river system that is below a bottom release dam or retaining structure. Even though we may see consecutive days of warm weather, those wintery days still exist the further upstream you go. Hence, tailwaters are a fantastic starting point for success during your early springtime fishing. These river systems will often have more opportunities for dry fly fishing; another bonus.
If you are eager to get out this time of year, it is hard to ignore one of the most productive tailwaters along the Front Range, The South Platte - specifically sections located between Cheeseman Canyon, Deckers, and 11 Mile are hard to beat this time of year. While the presence of other anglers will be felt, I can assure you it is for a good reason. With house-sized boulders in the center of the river, not a road in sight, and bald eagles flying above, it doesn't get much’ "troutier’" and more beautiful than Cheesman Canyon. The prospective angler can find a mixed bag of rainbows and wild brown trout in the 12-20”+ range once you figure out what these picky trout are feeding on. Nymphing is the name of the game here, but on certain days, dry fly fishing and streamer fishing (if you’re willing to take a chance) can be very productive as well.
The Blue River is close to Denver and presents an excellent opportunity to find some very large trout during this time of year. While the Blue isn't known for being particularly warm this time of year, success will be found if you choose to head off the beaten path and away from the crowds. If you make it to the Blue as the days begin to warm, you might find that you will discover open pockets of water a couple of miles from the dam. While the fish in the Blue are not particularly picky, they will stiff a poorly presented fly.
The Williams Fork:
Were you looking to get a bit more off the beaten track? The Williams Fork, or "The Willys," is a perfect springtime option. Full of undercut banks and fallen pine trees, The Williams Fork is everything you read about when it comes to the ideal Colorado Tailwater. As I mentioned earlier in this read, weather in Colorado is unpredictable, and strong opposing weather events can heavily impact the fishing, especially on the Williams Fork. However, keep your eye out for those consecutive warm days as this is in an incredible dry fly fishery with Blue Winged Olives and Midges popping when the conditions are right throughout the Fifth Season. While the entirety of the Williams Fork is not that long (about two miles or so), this is an incredible section of water and is a perfect jump-off point to another productive river system during the spring, The Colorado River.
The Colorado River
If you run out of water to fish on the Williams Fork, take a jump and head out to the Colorado River. During the springtime, freestone rivers, like the Colorado River, are perfect for finding success swinging big streamers. This time of year, fish are looking for calorie-dense meals before runoff season begins, so take advantage of the opportunity. Also, don't feel like you need to float the Colorado to have a successful day. There are plenty of opportunities to walk/wade sections of the Colorado, and you may find sections the boats overlook. It is important to note that not all of the Colorado River will be fishable. Sections above Parshall and the shaded sections of Gore Canyon will most likely be frozen until those warmer days arrive.
The Eagle River:
The Eagle River is a fly fisherman's paradise, from long riffle-runs and deep pools to undercut banks and log jams, the Eagle offers multiple places to find success. Fishing with dry flies, nymphs, and streamers is an effective river option this time of year. There is a time and place for everything, but don't rule any technique out. Most fish you catch will be anywhere from 12-16 inches, but 20-inch fish are not uncommon. Home to prolific caddis, stonefly, mayfly, Trico, and midge hatches, many people flock to this river in hopes of fishing dry flies.
The Middle to Lower Arkansas From Salida to Canon City
The Arkansas River begins its 1500 mile journey towards the Mississippi right here near the town of Leadville, CO. The Upper Ark has an excellent trout population, the majority being Brown Trout. While the upper Ark is a fantastic stretch during the warmer months, the early spring months is where the middle section of this freestone river shine. The sections from Salida to Canon City are somewhat of Colorado’s banana belt and see a more temperate climate year-round. This means, warmer days when compared to other locations in Colorado. As simple as it sounds, your most productive days will be where the sun shines the most. That is where you will see warmer water temps and more productive fishing. While very rare, Tiger and Cutthroat Trout have been caught here. As far as bugs go here, it will depend on the weather. On warmer days above 60 degrees, there is the possibility for prolific midge, baetis, and caddis hatches (as we progress into the more traditional spring months).
While there are inevitably some more cold weather days to be had here in Colorado, they are incrementally getting fewer and farther between. With that in mind, it is time to get out and explore all the opportunities Colorado has to offer this spring. If you are interested in learning more about the Fifth Season, feel free to swing by the shop so we can get you dialed in for the days and weeks ahead. This is truly a fantastic time to fish here in Colorado, and we here at Trouts want to make sure that your time on the water is time well spent.