Fishing in Colorado

Whether you’re casting to cutthroat trout in a mountain lake or walleyes in a high-plains reservoir, Colorado’s fishing is some of the best in the West.
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About Colorado

When most people think of Colorado, they think of mountains, and rightly so. The state encompasses most of the southern Rocky Mountains within its borders, and it is the only U.S. state that lies entirely above 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) elevation. Its highest point, Mt. Elbert in Lake County, stands 14,440 feet tall, and more than 50 other peaks around the state top out over 14,000 feet. However, Colorado’s geography also includes the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains, so in addition to alpine topography it has a diverse mix of high plains, deserts, and canyons. Some 35 species of fish can be found in the Centennial State’s 6,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 1,300 lakes and reservoirs. You can catch a cutthroat trout from a high-mountain lake, spend a quiet day drift-boating through a scenic canyon full of rainbow trout, or troll for walleyes and smallmouths on a reservoir on the high plains.

Targeted Fish Species

Large man-made reservoirs in the state offer outstanding lake fishing. Horsetooth Reservoir, Chatfield Reservoir, and Lake Pueblo are three of the largest warmwater reservoirs and are home to bass and walleyes. Beautiful high-elevation Blue Mesa Reservoir holds huge brown trout and a fall run of Kokanee salmon. Rivers large and small drain the western and eastern slopes of the Rockies, including the fabled South Platte and the Arkansas River. Both of these rivers have tailwater sections that offer year-round fishing. The so-called “Dream Stream,” a gold-medal section of the Platte River between Spinney Mountain and Eleven Mile Reservoirs, is a phenomenal trout fishery. Smaller rivers, including the Yampa near Steamboat Springs and the Frying Pan near Basalt, offer great trout fishing opportunities for the wading angler. The mountains also have many small high-country lakes and streams where anglers can drive or hike to catch both stocked and wild trout. Rocky Mountain National Park alone has some 150 lakes and streams that contain fish, many of them well off the beaten path, and most of them surrounded by superb mountain scenery.

Fishing Techniques

Fly fishing is certainly the classic Colorado fishing technique, especially in the high-elevation lakes and streams, and it is very effective, especially for trout, but many anglers do very well with light spinning tackle as well. On the larger rivers, especially those too deep to wade and those that traverse deep canyons with difficult access, drift boats are a popular way to fish. In the lakes and reservoirs, big bass boats are often seen on the open water while anglers in kayaks and stand-up paddleboards ply the shorelines and bays. Colorado’s long, cold winters give plenty of opportunities for ice fishing.