Winter is one of the most highly underrated seasons to fly fish in Colorado. While many of the state’s best fisheries are covered in ice this time of year, there are a number of great freestone and tailwater options that provide some of the best winter fly fishing in the country. In this blog, we will explore some of the many great winter fly fishing destinations in Colorado as well as few added benefits to hitting the water this time of year.
Why You Will Love Winter Fly Fishing
If you can endure numb fingers and toes as well as frozen guides and line, fly fishing in the winter comes with a number of perks.
Fewer Crowds: When it comes to Colorado fly fishing and outdoor recreation in general, the crowds can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating at times. In the winter, the fair weather angler has hung up their waders until spring leaving the river to the few of us willing to endure the harsh elements.
Hit the Snooze: In the warmer months, if you’re not on the water shortly after sunrise, most of the good holes are taken and the fish have already seen tremendous pressure. In the winter, however, fishing doesn’t pick up until after 10 am when air and water temps have risen enough to encourage hatch activity. Therefore, you can enjoy the benefits of a couple hours of extra sleep and minimal angler pressure when you arrive to the water.
No Stranger to Warm Winter Days: If you’ve lived in Colorado long enough, you know that Mother Nature is prone to drastic mood swings. One day, you’ll find yourself in the middle of a blizzard and the next you’ll enjoy bluebird skies and 40 to 50 degree air temperatures. Believe it or not, it is not uncommon to witness this phenomenon intra-day as well.
Where to Fly Fish During the Winter in Colorado: For our detailed reports and forecasts, click any of the following river section titles in blue.
South Platte River Basin: There are several tailwater options along the South Platte River within close proximity to the Denver Metro Area. Namely, Deckers, Cheesman Canyon, Eleven Mile Canyon and the Dream Stream. All of which can be fished year round. However, not all tailwaters are created equal.
Deckers & Cheesman Canyon: These two sections of the South Platte share a lot of the same characteristics and generally fish in tandem during the winter months. Here, you’ll find pristine pocket water, low flows and decent water clarity. Additionally, consistent dam releases help promote an abundance of bug life and as a result actively feeding trout, regardless of the time of year. That being said, these trout are particularly finicky, especially in the winter, and can be difficult to fool. You’re going to need to practice caution when moving about the water so as to not spook holding trout and do your best not to slap the water with sloppy casts. Despite these sections being tailwaters and having relatively consistent water temps during the winter, they are prone to ice accumulation on particularly cold days. As such, you’re going to want to time your trips accordingly. It is safe to assume that if we’ve had several days of single digit air temps, there will be ice along the banks and productivity will decline as a result.
Eleven Mile Canyon: This section of the South Platte shares a lot of the same characteristics as Deckers and Cheesman, in that it is a pocket water paradise. It receives consistent dam releases leading to an abundance of aquatic bug life and actively feeding trout. On the downside, the river is tucked into a canyon and sees minimal sunlight throughout the day. As a result, the vast majority of this stretch is covered in ice starting in January leaving only the upper third, nearest the dam, available to fish during the winter months. While the crowds here are hit or miss, you’re going to want error on the side of caution and arrive to the water around 8 am, especially on warmer days.
Dream Stream: The Dream Stream is one of the more heavily pressured rivers in Colorado. While it certainly owns up to its name, it calls anglers from across the country like a siren temptress to get a piece of the action. While the crowds die off to some extent in the winter, rarely will you find yourself alone on the water. That said, the winter is about the only time you’ll come close to any form of solitude on the Dream. We suggest parking at either the middle or upper parking lots and fishing upstream as the trout tend migrate towards the warmer water near the dam in the winter. Here, you’ll find slow meandering water filled with deep runs and shallow riffles that hold some of the state’s most sought after brown and rainbow trout. In general, the smaller the better when it comes to flies, but this is even more important on the Dream Stream. While streamers, stoneflies and leech patterns can be productive, nymphing with size #24 – 26 flies is generally the most productive.
Colorado River Basin: The Colorado Basin offers both tailwater and freestone options for winter fly fishing. While the middle and upper sections of the Colorado River can often be fished year round, they are more prone to ice accumulation making for more difficult fly fishing conditions. The Williams Fork and Blue River, however, are two great tailwater options that are less susceptible to frozen banks and are productive despite winter conditions.
Upper & Middle Colorado River: These two sections of the Colorado River are great freestone options in the wintertime. However, barring an unseasonably warm winter, you can usually expect to encounter sections with frozen water. As such, you’ll need to be extra careful wading and walking along the banks. Trout here will spread out allowing you to cover a lot of water, but be warned, on cold and sunny days they will hold relatively idle beneath the ice to conserve energy and stay out of harm’s way. On warm and cloudy days, you can intrigue the occasional trout hanging out beneath the ice with a streamer, but by and large you’re going to want to stick to the double and triple nymph rigs using plenty of weight. San Juan worms, eggs, small stoneflies and leeches make for great lead flies, but make sure to trail with smaller and messy nymph patterns.
Williams Fork: The Fork is one of the more beautiful Colorado tailwaters. If you haven’t fished here in the fall, move it to the top of your priority list as the colors are incredible. The winter, as well, is gorgeous and offers arguably the most solitude of the rivers covered in this blog. Depending on where you access the river, whether it be at the confluence of the Colorado or further upstream, you’re looking at about a half mile hike, which, in the winter will deter most anglers. As a result, these trout are not pressured as hard in the winter.
Blue River: There are a couple a great winter options on the Blue. The first being below Dillon Reservoir at the outlets in Silverthorne. The trout here are very finicky and can be frustratingly selective. However, they are fairly predictable in the winter. Low flows give even the most inexperienced sight fisherman the upper hand and minimal aquatic bug life makes matching the hatch easier. Typically, you’re going to want to focus on small and simple midge and baetis as well as mysis shrimp patterns. The other option is below Green Mountain Reservoir. In the wintertime, this stretch can be quite the challenge to get to as you’ll trek through treacherous terrain and if you’re not careful you can easily get cliffed out and have to back track. That said, if you make it to the water, you’re in for some eager trout as they generally see less pressure in the winter months.
Arkansas River Basin:
Pueblo Tailwater: Comparatively mild air temperatures during the winter months make this tailwater a great winter fly fishing option. While the structure of the water differs from your traditional Colorado tailwater and fishes more like a freestone, it can produce some beefy trout. Proximity to Denver has led to a fair amount of traffic, but there is plenty of water to be had. Do your best to find some open water and cover a lot of ground. Trout are stacked up in the deeper runs and near the shelves, but on warmer days, trout are more prone to spread out. While nymphing will undoubtedly be the most productive mode of fishing there will be a number of opportunities for dry fly and streamer fishing on warmer days.
Additional Winter Fly Fishing Options in Colorado
The Frying Pan - Below Reudi Reservoir
The Taylor River – Below Taylor Reservoir
Yampa Tailwater – Below Stagecoach reservoir
Fly fishing in the winter is undoubtedly a challenge and will require both mental and physical strength to endure the harsh elements. However, with sub-freezing temperatures and snow comes a fair amount of solitude and less pressured trout. If you haven’t already, it is time you put your worries aside and take part in one of our favorite seasons to fly fish in Colorado.