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The Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Colorado

Colorado’s Rivers: An Angler’s Paradise

Colorado’s rivers are a haven for fly fishing enthusiasts. Fed by snow from the continental divide, these rivers transform into some of the best trout streams in the country. As the water makes its way east towards the Atlantic Ocean, it crosses arid slopes and short grass prairies. On the other hand, the water flowing west meanders through the lush terrain of the western slope before hopefully reaching the Pacific Ocean. Each winding path of Rocky Mountain water offers a unique and outstanding fly fishing experience.

The Impossible Task of Narrowing Down

Narrowing down Colorado’s fly fishing rivers to just ten is an impossible task. However, we have managed to compile a list of ten rivers that are guaranteed to provide some of the best fly fishing experiences of your life. Most of these rivers even include gold medal stream sections, as designated by the state of Colorado.

South Platte River: A Local Favorite

The South Platte River is easily one of the most popular fly fishing rivers in Colorado. With its gold medal status and proximity to Denver, it’s no wonder anglers flock to this river. Located just a little over an hour’s drive from Denver International Airport, you can be casting your line to rising rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout on the North Fork of the South Platte. The dream stream section, which spans 3.8 miles below Spinney Reservoir and above Elevenmile Reservoir, is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. While it may get crowded, the experience is well worth it.

Gunnison River: A Steep and Pristine Paradise

The Gunnison River flows west from its tributaries along the continental divide, joining the Colorado River in Grand Junction. The gold medal section of the Gunnison, stretching from Crystal Dam to the confluence of the north fork, offers a fly fishing experience like no other. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, with its thousand-foot walls, crags, spires, and fast-moving water, provides a challenging but rewarding fishing experience. Fishing in the black canyon section is best done with an experienced guide or outfitter due to the difficult access. However, the pristine water and low fishing pressure result in trophy browns and rainbows.

Blue River: A Tale of Contrasts

The Blue River, located on the western side of the divide, offers outstanding tailwater fishing. While it lost its gold medal designation in 2016, the silverthorne section of the Blue was redesignated as a gold medal stream in 2017. The section below Lake Dillon flows through the city of Silverthorne, where you can enjoy a contrast of trophy trout fishing and tourist-packed outlet malls. Due to easy access, this section can get crowded, but it doesn’t diminish the potential for a productive day on the river.

Animas River: Recovering and Thriving

Following the 2015 mining waste spill, many anglers worried about the future of the Animas River. However, the fishing remains strong even after the disaster. The section from Lightner Creek to Rivera Crossing Bridge, immediately downstream of downtown Durango, continues to produce world-class trout fishing. Despite the mining waste spill, the river’s plentiful invertebrates support the growth of large trout. The Animas River is a testament to the resilience of nature.

Arkansas River: A Majestic Stretch

The Arkansas River is a big river that deserves its gold medal stream designation. Stretching 1,469 miles from Leadville, Colorado, to the Mississippi River, it drops over 9,000 feet in elevation. Around a third of its miles flow through Colorado, with 102 miles designated as gold medal water from Leadville to above the Royal Gorge. Through this section, the Arkansas cascades and tumbles, providing deep pockets and crystal-clear runs that hold trout. While popular with whitewater rafters and kayakers, the Arkansas remains a prime spot for fly fishing. Adjust your fishing techniques based on the water conditions and enjoy a world-class experience.

Upper Colorado River: A Recently Recognized Gem

The Upper Colorado River has recently been recognized as one of Colorado’s gold medal rivers. This section, located between Canyon Creek and Rock Creek, offers some of the best trout fishing on the west slope of Colorado. With its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park, anglers can combine world-class trout fishing with sightseeing or hiking trips. Easily accessible from Granby, the Upper Colorado River provides ample opportunities to catch trout in picturesque surroundings.

Fryingpan River: Trophy Trout Await

The Fryingpan River, running below the Ruedi Reservoir dam to the confluence of the Roaring Fork River, holds trophy brown and rainbow trout. It has earned its gold medal stream status due to the deep pools along its 14-mile stretch. These pools provide cover for trout waiting to strike at emerging insects. For a unique experience, venture above the reservoir for small pocket water fishing.

Roaring Fork River: A Mecca for Trout Anglers

The Roaring Fork River, joining the Fryingpan River in Basalt, offers over 30 miles of continuous gold medal fishing. Wade fishing is possible, but the best way to explore this river is through a guided float trip. From a boat, you can access difficult-to-reach waters and target big browns that hide against the riverbank. Catch the late summer green drake hatch on the Roaring Fork, and you’ll feel like you’re in fly fishing heaven.

Rio Grande: A River of Abundance

The Rio Grande starts its cascading journey from the mountains of Rio Grande National Forest and achieves gold medal status as it reaches the town of South Fork. For the next 17 miles, this section provides aggressive populations of quality brown and rainbow trout. While the gold medal section attracts most anglers, it’s worth exploring the headwaters in the national forest. There, you’ll find the Rio Grande cutthroat, a native species thriving in its natural habitat.

High Country Pocket Water: A Hidden Treasure

The high country of Colorado is home to countless sparkling clear, cold-water streams teeming with small wild trout. Although not ideal for trophy hunters, these high-elevation streams offer an adventure full of solitude. To discover the highest populations of trout in these mountain streams, guidance from an experienced friend or guide may be required. But for those seeking the unique experience of catching wild native fish in breathtaking landscapes, a journey to the boulder-strewn pocket water of the Rockies is a must. As an avid fly fishing enthusiast, Colorado’s rivers offer an abundance of opportunities and memorable experiences. Whether you’re a local angler or a visitor from afar, these rivers will undoubtedly leave you with unforgettable fly fishing memories.

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