With the first week of December past us, we are seeing winter conditions in the high country. The past few days have been quite nice, but we will see full blown winter make its way back to the Colorado high country with snow and colder temperatures across most locations.
This means we have most likely seen the last of the big blue-winged olive hatches and we are in full on winter fishing mode. Now is the time for small bugs, midge larvae and midge hatches. Dry fly fishing is a possibility with these midge hatches, but be ready to nymph the deeper holding water with light tippet, small flies, split shot and longer leaders.
Some of my standout locations for the next couple of weeks are as follows.
The Arkansas from Buena Vista to Canyon City:
This is one of my favorite winter fisheries. Day time temperatures can be quite nice and the river typically stays free of ice, with occasional ice flows during cold snaps. The fish tend to be stacked up in the deeper holding water, with sometimes ten to twenty fish in one deep hole. Throw in spectacular views and this is a great winter escape with warmer temps and some fish to the net.
The Blue River:
The Blue River made the list again for a few reasons. First of all, it’s nice and close for most of us, so this is an easy day trip. Whether coming from Denver or living in the high country you should start to learn some of the ins-and-outs of this section of stream.
Another great reason the Blue River made the list again, is the section of the Blue River in the Breckenridge area that goes relatively unfished in the winter months. There is considerable access along highway 9, locally known as the “Stair Steps” and this section offers great holding water for trout. This section of the stream stays open and flowing due to some springs with water bubbling up from underground and a water treatment plant outlet. These factors deliver warmer nutrient-rich water to the river system, keeping the river unfrozen and full of life. Throw in some midge hatches and hungry trout and this is definitely worth checking out.
The Colorado below the Williams Fork confluence:
This is a longtime favorite to fish in the winter time. Usually, right around Thanksgiving I start getting the itch to get out and check it out. This is a tailwater and fishes great year around, but I find myself fishing it more in the winter months. There could be a few more blue-wings hatching and I have definitely had some good midge hatch dry fly fishing here. This section is really a winter nymphing stream with some large fish to be caught. Look for fish in the deep holes and runs and with the amount of meandering this stream does, there are a lot of deep benders to be found.
The Roaring Fork
The Roaring Fork stays free of ice, for the most part, all winter. There can be some ice flows, so look at the weather reports before you head this way. If the low temps have been in the teens you may want to steer clear. The river has been running low and this has kept the boat pressure down, making for some great float and wade fishing. Nymphing and streamer fishing have been the go-to techniques, but also look for midge hatches with a potential for a last Blue Wing Olive hatch.
The South Platte below Spinney Mountain Reservoir (The Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area):
The Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area, AKA “The Dream Stream”, is a great winter fishery and a must to check out on a winter day. Bend after bend offers deep holding water and with a steady supply of food from the dam release, the fish can get quite large. Nymphing small flies, light tippets and a little split shot on the deep benders will usually do the trick. Also look for mid-day midge hatches, fish moving up in the riffles, and maybe even throw a streamer, looking for a big lurking brown trout.
An egg pattern is a staple pattern to throw through the winter months. Eggs are in river systems consistently for the next few months and offer a good source of protein that trout will inhale in most situations. That said, if you’re not getting eats, you may want to take the egg off, as I sometimes feel it gives us away as anglers.
The Charlie's mysis is my favorite commercially tied mysis. With the wispy tail and sparse body, this is a favorite mysis pattern to throw to those picky mysis tail water fish.
The Darth Baetis while technically a baetis pattern also can look like a small midge or midge emerger. Tied sparse and small in olive, purple, gray or redhead. This fly is a great option to have in your fly box in the smaller sizes through the winter. My favorite colors are the gray and redhead for the months to come.
Another classic that I make sure and always have in my fly box. This cream-colored midge pattern with the segmented wrap, just looks natural to the fish. This fly has caught fish on many rivers and would be a great light-colored midge pattern to round out your small fly box.
The classic midge dry fly and quite possibly the original midge dry fly. This midge dry fly looks like and represents a midge adult or midge cluster. Such a basic pattern but it catches fish and if you’re going to fish Colorado’s rivers in the winter, have a few of these in your dry fly box.
Arkansas at Salida- 324 CFS
Blue River below Dillon- 59.3 CFS
Colorado at Kremmling- 429 CFS
Williams Fork below Williams Fork Reservoir- 75.2 CFS
Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs- 366 CFS
South Platte above Elevenmile Reservoir- 123 CFS
The ten-day forecast looks to be cooling from last week’s temperatures as we had a good warmup for an extended period of time. We will start to see a storm trend for the next ten days and cooler temps. While the storms don’t look to be large, they will be consistent and keep us cold and wintery for the near future. We will see highs in the 20’s and 30’s in the mountains with chances of snow on most days. Some lower altitude destinations could see temperatures in the high 30’s and lower 40’s but also a good chance for storm precipitation.