Spring fishing is here! That means seasonal fisherman, crowded rivers and complex hatches. If you're curious about skipping all the above, and a guide to year-round fishing, keep reading...
Colorado is the home of Tailwater - water located immediately downstream from a dam. While a key part in this state's fishing scene, there is a whole lot more to explore. Tailwater means big trout, but it also means massive crowds, tiny bugs and technical fishing. It's not the place for a beginner to start.
We love Tailwater. Especially in the Winter months when flows are low and so are the crowds. Tiny midges and small tippet keep you sharp. But when it comes to exploring Colorado, there is much more.
As soon as the Freestrone Rivers and High Alpine Lakes thaw, we shy away from Tailwater. Why? The fish are less pressured, there are less crowds and the exciting Summer hatches start more quickly than they typically do on Tailwater.
Here is our seasonal guide to having an incredible fly fishing experience in Colorado. We aren't going to follow a typical fiscal calendar here, more of a bug and crowd calendar.
Winter (December - February):
This is the time to fish Tailwater. The South Platte, Taylor and Blue River are all good options. The Summer fisherman are gone, the bugs are small and the fishing is technical. But the rewards can be plentiful.
Key Bugs/ Flies - Midges and nymph rigs. Midges can hatch under almost any condition and are the only bugs that hatch between 32 - 40 degrees. Small flies and small tippet is what this season is about. You're going to work for every fish you catch with low flies and high water clarity. While you may have some occasional rising fish for midge hatches, the variety of your time will be spent nymphing.
Spring (March - May):
Still a great time to fish Tailwater. The crowds will start coming out, but you can find your space on the right rivers. If there is a warm Spring, hit those Freestone Rivers! The trout are hungry after a long Winter.
Key Bugs/ Flies - Midges and Baetis/ BWO/ Blue Wing Olives. Trout will continue keying on midges, but once the Blue Wing Olive hatch begins, it gets real fun. This Mayfly species will hatch once the water hits 38 degrees. 45 - 55 degrees is prime temperatures for Spring Olive's.
The Baetis flies in the Spring are 1-2x larger in the Spring than the Fall. Think size 18-22 vs. 22-24 in the Fall. Same flies, just smaller. Our top Baetis patterns are a Mercury Sparkle Wing RS2, Two Bit Hooker, Juju Baetis, Stalcup Baetis and Foam Wing Emerger. You can never go wrong leading your rig with a classic Midge pattern like a Mercury Midge, JujuBee or Pale Olive Midge Larvae.
Summer (June- August):
This is the time to avoid Tailwater. Crowds from all over the country come to test their skills on Colorado's most challenging rivers.
Freestones and High Alpine Lakes are the way to go this time of year. You can skip the crowds, see a much larger variety of bugs and find fish ready to feed. Not to mention, you'll be fishing in some of the most beautiful land in this country.
Freestones: Runoff will start to subside in mid-June (give or take based on the snow-pack). The week runoff dies down is the week to hit it. While most fisherman believe they should wait 2-3 weeks, these trout are starving. They haven't been able to see food in weeks, despite tons of food sources flowing through the river.
You're going to find more hatches, larger bugs and hungrier/ less pressured fish on these rivers. Examples include the Roaring Fork, Eagle River and Colorado River. You'll see bigger bugs much sooner than the cold, bottom released Tailwater fisheries. Caddis and Stonefiles typically hatch around a month before most Tailwaters, due to water temperatures.
Fall (September - November):
Arguably the best time to fish in the state of Colorado. The freestones haven't frozen over and the crowds are starting to dwindle. Great variety of bugs.
Tailwater: The most fun time of year to fish this state's tailwater. The crowds have headed home, the Blue Wing Olive's are starting to hatch again and the fish are eating before Winter.
Trout know this is their last chance to eat anything of size before Spring. The Caddis/ Stoneflies/ Drakes have all stopped hatching. It is going to be midges for the next 3-4 months.
Olive's in the Fall are smaller than the Spring. Think 22-24. Landing trophy trout during this season is a massive challenge. 6x tippet and small bugs will win the day. You can't go wrong with a size 26 foam wing emerger. And yes, we said size 26.
Let's not forget about the Brown Trout Spawn. You have to fish ethically and be mindful. At the same time, you can land some massive trophy trout during this period. Streamers are king here.
If they have not frozen over, fish until it does.
Midge, BWO, Caddis, Salmon Flies, Golden Stones, Green Drakes, Yellow Sallies, PMD, Rusty Duns, Tricos, BWO, sporadic mayflies (Red quill), midges.
Midges- Can hatch as low as freezing, but 42 is when they get consistent. All temps. Favorite and most consistent food source. Tailwater.
Salmon Flies: Mid 50's, sustained temp
Golden Stones: 56-60
Trico: 56 (with morning air temp around 68)