1. The 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. If you want to skip the summertime crowds, consider planning your adventure in the winter.
Below Cheesman Lake lies Cheesman 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 Cheesman Canyon. This stretch of river is highly conducive to euro-nymphing and dry fly enthusiasts alike, thanks to its abundant subaquatic life.
Cheesman Canyon is fishable year-round.
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.
2. The Arkansas River
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.
3. The Eagle River
The Eagle River flows from just south of Red Cliff to its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero. The Eagle River is known for its prolific dry fly hatches, as well as for its wild brown and rainbow trout. Caddis hatches are particularly spectacular in the spring and early summer. There is a short float fishing season that usually occurs between April-July. There is also ample public access on the Eagle River below Wolcott and above Edwards.
The Eagle River is fishable year-round.
4. The 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.
5. The Blue River
The Blue River is a particularly popular choice for anglers in Colorado and for good reason. There are four main sections of the Blue River: the upper, tailwater, middle, and lower sections.
The upper section flows through the town of Breckenridge and offers plentiful opportunities to pick apart water, as there are lots of pockets and divots for trout to hide in. If you plan on fishing the upper section, expect a healthy mix of rainbow and brown trout.
The tailwater section flows from Lake Dillon, making its way north through the town of Silverthorne. This is probably the most popular stretch of the Blue River, as it was designated as Gold Medal water in 2017. As a tailwater, the bugs on the tailwater stretch are typically much smaller. Additionally, Lake Dillion holds a healthy population of mysis shrimp. If you plan on targeting the tailwater stretch, make sure you have appropriately sized flies, as well as mysis patterns, which make up a majority of the trout population’s diet on this stretch of river.
North of the town of Silverthorne, the middle stretch of the Blue River continues to provide plenty of opportunities to catch a trophy fish. Meandering in and out of public land, there are many points of access on the middle stretch. Private landowners are known for stocking fish, and the chances that a large trout swims into a publicly accessible stretch are high.
Below Green Mountain Reservoir is known as the lower stretch. The first 3 miles of the river are public access and your chances of catching a trophy-sized trout are particularly good in this stretch. This stretch also provides the best bug life on any of the stretches of the Blue River.
The Blue River is fishable year-round.
6. The Colorado River
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.
7. The Frying Pan River
Above the confluence of the Roaring Fork River, the Frying Pan River provides 14 miles of accessible water. The Frying Pan River holds a healthy population of large brown and rainbow trout. The Frying Pan holds a Gold Medal designation and for good reason. If you’re trying to determine the location of your next fly fishing excursion, don’t overlook the Frying Pan River.
The Frying Pan River is fishable year-round.
8. The Roaring Fork River
The confluence of the Frying Pan River and Roaring Fork River occurs in the town of Basalt. From this confluence to the Roaring Fork’s confluence with the Colorado River, this stretch of water also holds Gold Medal designation. This stretch of river is nearly 22 miles long, providing shots at world class brown trout. However, wading on the Roaring Fork can be tough, and a majority of this stretch of river is best accessed via boat.
The Roaring Fork River is fishable year-round.
9. High Country Lakes
During the warmest months of the year, high alpine lakes make for an extraordinary opportunity to catch aggressive, eager trout. If cutthroat trout are what you’re looking for, high country lakes and streams are the name-of-the-game. While most lakes will not produce trophy-sized trout, catching hungry cutthroat in the high country is a growing in popularity. If you’re looking for exact directions to high alpine lakes, you won’t find them here. What we will say is that using a topographical map (or even Google Maps) will be your best friend when trying to determine where to fish in the high country. If it looks like fish could thrive in your selected location, they probably do. However, part of the joy in high country lakes and streams is the journey and experience to get there. Get out and explore. Fish or no fish, the experience will still be worth it.
High Country Lakes usually have a brief season during the warmest months of the year.
10. Eleven 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.