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Colorado River, Colorado

Fly Fishing The Colorado River in Colorado

The Colorado River, in its entirety, spans five US states before heading to Mexico and meeting the Pacific Ocean. That’s 1,450 river miles. We lucky Coloradans have the pleasure to fish it for it’s first  1/3 (approximately). Starting at 9000ft in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado River fishes well, for trout at least, from it’s beginning to Rifle, CO approximately. As the river continues west, the river features change; temperature, ph, structure and habitat and different types of fish call the Colorado River home. That includes catfish, sunfish, bass, pike crappie and walleye. Let’s focus on the trout water! Based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, Hill’s Discount Flies’ staff and the guides it provides for put’s it primary focus below Gore Canyon down to Silt. Starting at the tip top of the “Upper C” provides ample opportunity of trophy brown trout as well as sizeable rainbows. The occasional cutthroat is caught every year as well as the rare brook trout or tiger trout. These trout have a varied diet comprised of the main four: stoneflies, mayflies, caddis and midges but also never miss an opportunity to sip or smash a hopper, ant or beetle from the surface. There’s also plenty of forage fish and smaller trout and whitefish for the aggressively growing fish to snack on too when the conditions are right. The Colorado River is accessible by boat/raft or by foot but given it’s vast size, the boat is preferred by most anglers; making hard to reach areas a lot more accessible. Though the top section below Gore Canyon is mostly Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, there is private land along the Upper C making the boat the only way to fish certain runs and riffles. You can always get out of the boat on public land and wade fish if you’d like as well. If wade fishing is your only option, fear not. The trout population on the Upper Colorado River is strong and healthy and the river can be dissected tactically from the bank. Always use extreme caution while wading the mighty Colorado! As you follow the river from Kremmling to Silt, the numbers of trout decrease however the average size of trout increases. Though you might catch fish in numbers from Pumphouse to State Bridge, chances are you won’t see as many fish from Two Rivers Park to New Castle but the ones you do will need to be lifted with two hands. Don’t forget your net! The Colorado River is a 4 season river and can be fished whenever you are looking to get out and each season has it’s highlights. Winter is for low pressure, solitude and technical midge fishing. Spring is known for high water bank fishing and the popular Salmon Fly hatch. Summer entails endless dry fly activity and Fall is for the streamer bite and shouldn’t be missed.   If you are new to the area or just coming to town for a short visit and looking to fish the Colorado River, give us a call. We are out there often. We are happy to provide the best fly selection for the Colorado River as well as hook you up with the latest intel on the river and up to date fishing reports.

Fall Fly Fishing on the Upper Colorado River

The Upper Colorado River is the gem of the Rocky Mountains. Knowing this beautiful river, on good years, can make its way to Mexico is simply fascinating. Knowing that we get to fish it at the very beginning, with healthy populations of bug life and large concentrations of brown and rainbow trout makes it that much more special. You can check 100 different websites recommending 100 different places to see Colorado in the Fall. As beautiful as these places may be, nothing holds a candle to the Upper Colorado River in the Fall especially from a boat, especially with a large trout putting a bend in your fly rod.

The Colorado River fishes it’s best when the kids go back to school, the nights get colder and Colorado is in an “off-season” from it’s stampede of tourists. Besides the major holidays, most of the anglers on the river, especially on weekdays will be guides doing what they do when they aren’t guiding; fishing. For good reason too, Fall is known for great dry fly and streamer fishing. Ask those fishermen/guides, they’ll tell you how great it is not to follow a bobber for a month or two!

Though you might not see the epic hatches like the Spring Salmon Fly or Summer Pale Morning Duns, the fish are still looking up and they are looking for that high calorie meal; hoppers, beetles and other terrestrials. Not only are the eats exciting and the bugs fun to throw on shorter leaders and heavier tippet, they also double as an edible indicator. Certain terrestrials like ants fish well subsurface as well. The major Fall hatch on the Colorado River is the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) so you can trail those behind your terrestrial or drop a nymph or an emerger below your hopper. Vary the depth to see where the fish are eating in the column. Many other bugs will get eaten as droppers too. A stonefly pattern of your choice is always good for a few eats as are other subsurface bugs; big or small. Fishing for trophies? Bring out the 6 or 7wt and 6ft 0x leader and chuck some streamers. Big articulated flies in Olive, White, Brown or Black all fish well. Don’t be afraid to throw double streamers too. Ironically, a small streamer off the back can garnish a lot of attention!

Like all rivers in Colorado this year, the Upper C is just as subject to inclimate weather. Maybe even more so. Check the weather for “Bond, CO” or “Dotsero, CO”, depending on where you are fishing before you head to the river. Average temperatures range from the 30’s to the 60’s so make sure to bring layers on the boat or to the bank. Anytime you are going to the Colorado River you should check the wind index also. It probably won’t deter you from going, but it’s nice to know what to expect in advance. You don’t want to head to the river with the sole intention of throwing dry flies and realize it’s a better streamer day with 15mph winds.  

Though fishing is great from Dotsero to Pumphouse, the Upper Colorado from Pumphouse to Two Bridges (and everything in between) is where you want to fish this time of year. The largest concentration of brown trout live below Gore Canyon and the Pumphouse stretch also holds the best bug life and spawning grounds. Though we don’t condone fishing to actively spawning fish, targeting these fish before they do their business can be a heck of a great time, especially with streamers. The variety of river from Pumphouse to Two Bridges allows for all fishing techniques – Dry, Nymph and Streamer. Fast runs, high gradient pockets, slow pools and long riffles hold hungry fish ready to fatten up for the Winter. They certainly have a choice of meals as the rocky bottom holds a variety of bug life and doesn’t have as much of a sandy substrate as the lower Upper C. 

With bigger water, bigger fish, longer casts and a strong chance of afternoon winds, the gear you select for fly fishing the Colorado River will be a deciding factor in your success. Here is what we at Element Flies recommend for fly fishing the Upper C in the Fall – 

Dry fly – 9’0” 5 or 6 weight fly rod with reel to match. Short head tapered fly line for turning over bigger dries and punching through the wind.

Nymph – 9’0” – 9’6” 5-6 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over indicator rigs. 

Streamer 9’0” – 9’6” 6 or 7 weight fly rod with large arbor reel to match. Aggressive front taper fly lines to turn over sinking lines and heavy articulated streamers.

Best All Around – 9’0” 6 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw sizeable dries and turn over multiple streamer rigs.

Let’s not beat around the bush; you’re reading this to know what bugs we like! Hill’s Discount Flies has a great array of flies for Fall fishing in the Vail Valley, specifically the Colorado. Things can change day to day so make sure you have the full arsenal every time you hit the water. Change streamer color and size if it’s slow, swap dries if you aren’t getting looks. These fish do get specific and when they do, you want to have the right bugs as it can make or ruin your day of fly fishing. Recommended flies for the Colorado River for Fall – 

TerrestrialsPearl Hippie Stomper #10-14, Army Ant #10-14, Brown/Olive Chubby Chernobyl #12-16, Parachute Black Ant #12-16

Visible high floating terrestrials are a great place to start. They hold weighted flies below them, ride high in the column and are easy to spot when they land on the water 

Blue Winged Olives (BWOs)BWO Split Case #18-20, BWO Parachute #18-24, BWO Emerger #18-22, BWO Dun #18-22, Tungsten Da Bomb #18-20    

Our small, realistic patterns help your chance of getting an eat when fish have a choice and aren’t strangers from being caught once in a while. Use the nymphs below the terrestrials recommended above. Fish the BWO dries solo or in tandem in the slower stretches of the Upper Colorado where the fish are sippin’ and picky. 

Dropper FliesPat’s Stone #8-12, Hare’s Ear Flashback CDC Tungsten Jig #12-16, Hot Mess Jig #12-16, Rainbow Warrior Jig #14-16, Perdigon Patterns #14-18

These dropper flies sink like a rock and get in the zone quick. Perfect for fishing below a foam body dry, especially in faster water. They also help get your air-resistant terrestrial where you want it to land by adding a little extra weight on your cast.

StreamersArticulated Motor Oil #4, Sculpzilla #4,8, White Rusty Trombone, Kelly’s Sculpin, Slump Buster #10-14

Fish these streamers solo or in tandem. The smaller Slump Busters fish great behind a #4 Sculpzilla, just make sure you are using a stout rod. Vary your retrieve to let the fish know how they want to eat your bugs.

As awesome as the fishing in Fall can be, we recommend taking your eyes off the water every now and again and soak in your surroundings. Keep your eyes out for the bald eagles. Watch for the elk coming down from elevation for the Winter. Enjoy the Fall foliage as well.


Colorado River Winter Fly Fishing 

If you read our article on Fall Fly Fishing the Colorado River, you know we think it’s the most beautiful place in Colorado. Add some snow to the mix and take away the crowds of people and you are in a fly fishing winter wonderland and you’ll have a lot of it to yourself. You could even make a day of snowshoeing and fly fishing! Leave the bruises and crowds to the skiers and go fly fishing on the Colorado River this Winter.

Colorado winters can be unpredictable and if it’s a low snow year, lot’s of water can be open. If there’s lots of snow, well… you won’t see a lot of angling pressure! Just like the Eagle River in the winter, if you avoid the areas with tall southern peaks/canyons where the river will be iced over you should have open water with ample opportunity for long drifts. If you plan on fishing the top-most stretches of the Upper Colorado, plan on doing it with waders and boots, not with oars and a boat. The good thing is, the upper river stays open thanks to the reservoirs feeding the Colorado River near Granby and Parshall. 

Colorado River trout love looking up and on nice days, plenty of risers can be found. Bug activity is limited to midges and blue winged olives (BWOs) but you’ll have it dialed in quick and the fish should react accordingly, especially with little Winter pressure. The “Upper C” is home to some really large rainbow and brown trout. They are a little easier to land when the water’s chilly, even with light tippet and small bugs. It also never hurts to have small egg patterns in your confidence color to imitate the chub and brown trout spawn. Streamers are always an option too, just run them deep and slow. 

If you are going to fish the Colorado River in the Winter, always check the weather in advance and make sure to tell someone where you plan to be for the day. Some of the upper stretches (Pumphouse to Dotsero) have limited to no cellphone reception and if you run out of gas, you’ll want to make sure someone knows where you will be. Always have an emergency kit in the car! Picking the warmest day of the week will behoove you as you could catch dry fly action plus your extremities will stay a little warmer.  

The best places to fish the Upper C in the Winter is near the top or near the bottom. Shoot to fish the upper tailwater stretches in Granby and Kremmling or take a cruise west down towards Glenwood Springs. It’s a tale of two rivers; the Upper stretch is smaller, more intimate and fishes like a tailwater. The lower end is wide and wild but the bank access is plenty, hot springs help keep water open and bigger fish call this area home. Worst case, you could drive 15 minutes and fish the Roaring Fork or Frying Pan rivers if the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs isn’t as fruitful as you’d like. If you are up for an adventure, snowshoe into Pumphouse when the road is closed and covered in snow. The Pumphouse stretch has the highest concentration of brown trout as well as Salmonflies. Though you’ll be hard pressed to find any active adult Salmonflies in the winter, using a big stonefly nymph pattern in front of your midge or BWO will certainly garnish some attention. Great bug life mixed with zero pressure on the most highly fished stretch of the Upper Colorado means you’ll be in for some serious fun!  

Whether you are headed to the uppermost stretches or headed lower down river, here’s what we recommend using when fly fishing the Colorado River in Winter…

Granby/Kremmling  – 8’6” – 9’0” 4 weight fly rod with reel to match. Elongated front taper fly line for delicate presentation and longer casts to turn over small flies.

Glenwood Springs and West – 9’0” – 9’6” 5-6 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over indicator rigs, mending at longer distances and throwing streamers. 

Best All Around – 9’0” 5 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw delicate dries, turn over indicator rigs and chuck streamers.

Besides a good rod reel and net, you need to dress for the conditions! Waders are a must this time of year, as is proper clothing for underneath. Layer up based on if you run hot or cold. Fingerless or fold-over mitts are essential as is a good winter hat. A buff to cover your neck can work and a fleece one is even better to retain body warmth. Warm wicking socks are great for this time of year. A thin sock liner helps keep warmth in and moisture away from your toes. Don’t forget your polarized sunglasses!

Now let’s talk bugs! We know the diet is narrow as far as active bugs but there’s tons of bug life  subsurface to grab a trout’s attention.  

Midges – B’s Flashback Tungsten Midge – #20-22, Chocolate Thunder #20-22, Mayhem Midge #20-22, WD40 #20-24, B’s Midge Dry #18-20, Midge Dry #20-24

Blue Winged Olives (BWOs) – RS2 #18-22, Mini Mayfly Emerger #18, BWO Emerger #18-22, JuJu Baetis #20-24, Top Secret #20-22 

Other great Winter bugs – Black Pats Stone #8-12, Element Hot Stone #10-14, B’s Hot Stone Jig #14-16, Flashback CDC Tungsten Jig Hare’s Ear #12-16, Tungsten Squirmy Worm

These trout don’t fly south for the winter so enjoy the Winter wonderland of the Colorado River.

Make the most of your fishing while the fish don’t see boat after boat drifting nymphs to them. Stay safe and as always, call the shop for up to date fishing reports and fly recommendations!


Fly Fishing the Colorado River During Spring

Spring fly fishing on the Colorado River can be some of the best fishing of the year. As the days get longer, water temps increase and run-off begins; the fishing on the Colorado only gets better. Whether you are fishing lower down or further up, the Colorado can be a great place to fish in the mountains in the Spring months. With most folks still skiing and only year-round guide staff still in the Vail Valley, the crowds are thin until the Denver crowds catch wind of the Salmon Flies. More on that later!

Just like in our Winter Colorado River article, “The Collie” can be fished from top to bottom depending on snow. Whether you are launching a boat or looking to park closer to the river, snow (and ice) still plays its part, especially in the upper canyon stretches. Luckily, you have safe bets closer to the dams by Parshall and Granby or further down towards Dotsero and Glenwood Springs where lower elevation means less snow and warmer days and nights. 

The best known hatch for the Colorado River in this time frame has to be the Salmon Fly. These big prehistoric trout meals take place at the tail end of the season and mark the true beginning of dry fly season on the Colorado River, not including the microscopic mayflies and midges leading up to this. Salmon Flies can be fished on top or underneath though most love slapping a large #6 bug on the water after a winter of throwing #18-24 flies. Before this, you are relegated to midges and blue winged olives but larger bugs should always be in the mix as there’s ample bug life in the Colorado River. One of everyone’s favorite approaches to the Colorado River is with a big nasty streamer. Don’t ever fish the Collie without at least one streamer rig on the boat or on the bank.


Mother Nature can be a finicky gal in the Spring as it’s not uncommon for a late Colorado snow. Sometimes measured in inches or feet. If you are going to wade the upper or float the lower, make sure you know what nature is going to throw at you before you go out. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the release gages over at the USGS’s Water Data site here. Many dams feed the Colorado River in different stretches of the river and they release at different times. Whether you are wading or getting behind the sticks, you don’t want to show up to a blown out river that you aren’t comfortable wading or rafting. Don’t be intimidated by the mud in June, the trout and the Salmon Flies both still need to do their natural things – eat and be eaten.

Fishing the Granby or Parshall stretches of the Colorado River in early Spring is your best chance of stable flows, good midge and BWO activity and solid fishing. The same can be said about the stretches below Glenwood Canyon by New Castle and Silt. This lower stretch floats well in the Spring also. The best known area from Pumphouse to Two Bridges can be hit or miss because of snow and shelf ice. Check with us to see if it’s open or not. If it is, go fish it. There are always areas to wade it if the roads are clean and not covered in snow or mud. As the Salmon Flies start making their presence or if you want to fish the active nymphs before the adults are thick, the Pumphouse to Radium stretch is hands down the place to be. That stretch is home to the largest population of Salmon Flies and will certainly provide the most action in June but be prepared for plenty of boat traffic.

You can fish all three ways (dry, nymph and streamer) on the Colorado River in Spring and some rod/reel combos can accomplish most if not all. Here is what we suggest – 

Early Spring (Pre Run-Off) – 9’0” 5 or 6 weight fly rod with reel to match. All-around or short heavy front taper fly line for longer dry fly casts, turning over and mending heavy nymph setups or punching streamers from the boat.

Glenwood Springs and West – 9’0” – 9’6” 5-6 weight fly rod with reel to match. Shorter heavier headed fly line for turning over indicator rigs, mending at longer distances and throwing streamers. 

Best All Around – 9’0” 5 weight fly rod with an all-around line able to throw delicate dries, turn over indicator rigs and chuck streamers.

The flies certainly change throughout the Spring and Hill’s Discount Flies is here to keep you hooked up on trout through the season. Low or high water, early or late Spring.

Upper Colorado (Granby/Parshall) – Flashback WD40 Black/Grey/Olive #18-24, Mayhem Midge #18-22, Tungsten Miracle Midge #18-22, RF Quill Body BWO #18-20, Pheasant Tail #18-22 Natural/Olive, Flashback BWO Emerger #18-22, Parachute Adams #18-22, Egg Roe #16-18, Squirmy Worm

Pumphouse to Two Bridges – Hare’s Ear Flashback Jig #12-18, Red Butt Midge Jig #16-18, Black Pheasant Tail Hot Spot Jig #14-18, Patt’s Pickle #4-10, Salmon Fly w/ Legs #4, Orange Chubby #4-8, Jig 20 Incher #8-10, Double Bead Stonefly #6-10

Dotsero to Silt – Articulated Bugs Bunny, Circus Peanut #4, 8, White Rusty Trombone, Kelly’s Sculpin #2, Egg Roe #16-18, Jig Copper John #12-16, Biotic Nymph #16-20, Tungsten Jig Caddis #14-16

Spring on the Colorado River has many different faces and you have so much water to fish throughout the Spring. From top to bottom, you’ll be busy for a few months.