An Insiders’ Perspective to Winter Fly Fishing in Colorado

By Tad Howard, Owner of Colorado Trout Hunters

Winter fly fishing in Colorado:
One of this sport’s largest misconceptions is that fly fishing is solely a spring-fall activity.  Sure, there are inherent perks to fishing on a comfortable 70-degree day, but winter fly fishing in Colorado offers anglers unbeatable solitude and a great way to break up the monotony of winter.  When most people think of winter in Colorado, skiing is the first thing that comes to mind.  What they don’t realize is that there are many outstanding tailwater fisheries that give dedicated anglers a chance to test their skills, even in the heart of ski season.

Tailwater fishing consists of fishing below man-made reservoirs.  Winter fishing is best where water is released from the bottom of reservoirs, keeping the water slightly warmer.  These offer some of the best opportunities for the winter trout fisherman.  Some river systems, like the South Platte, have several different tailwater sections that are available to fish through the winter.  The tailwater below Spinney Reservoir is the first of such tailwaters.  The water close to the dam will normally be fishable straight through the winter.  When the winds are down, water flows are up, and the temperature is warmer, anglers find an unbeatable fishing combination for winter trout.

Three miles downstream, the South Fork of the South Platte hits Eleven Mile Reservoir.  Below this large reservoir is a winter fly fisherman’s paradise, known as Eleven Mile Canyon.  Although the lower portions of the canyon may be iced through the winter, the top mile tends to remain open and rarely disappoints.  Due to its proximity to Colorado Springs and Denver, you’re bound to see other anglers here, even in the dead of winter.  Eleven Mile Canyon has great winter midge hatch around mid day, thrilling dry fly fisherman even when there is a foot of snow on the ground!!  Throughout the day, nymph fishing is usually the most effective, though small BWO nymphs and midge larva fished behind small attractors is often deadly.

The famed Cheeseman Canyon is the next great winter tailwater fishery on the South Fork of the Platte.  This canyon is fishable straight
through most winters.  Treat yourself to a day of solitude on a random workday and test these beautiful browns and bows.  Also when in the Cheeseman Canyon area, especially if the weather has been warm and the flows are up, don’t overlook fishing around the town of Deckers, below Cheeseman Canyon.  This stretch can be iced up during long, cold stretches, but also offers winter fisherman a relaxing environment with cooperative trout.

Anglers who double as mountain bikers will enjoy the last major winter trout fishery on the Platte before it hits Denver.  Waterton Canyon is a hit, especially toward the top where it comes out of the reservoir.  Don’t be surprised to find fish eating dry flies around mid-day here.  As a tip, it’s recommended to park just off of Wadsworth Boulevard and enjoy a bike ride up the canyon. It’s a great way to start a winter fishing excursion close to Denver.

The North Fork of the South Platte is what I call a pseudo tailwater.  The water is pumped 26 miles thought the mountains from Lake Dillon on the west slope, comes out of the Roberts Tunnel and meets with the North Fork of The South Platte River and Geneva Creek before continuing on to Denver.  Most of the fly fishing access along this stretch of river is private property.  As long as the flows are good and the weather is not too cold for extended periods, the fly fishing remains very good.  Several private ranches offer reduced winter rates and the fly fishing can be very productive for big trout, especially mid-day.  Give Colorado Trout Hunters a call at 303-325-5515 to gain access to some of these great winter fly fishing properties.

Winter fisheries range in location from large rivers like the Roaring Fork, lower Colorado, or the Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir, to very small tailwaters like Bear Creek below Evergreen Lake.  Other recommended winter fisheries include The Blue River in Silverthorne, The Williams Fork River, The Frying Pan, The Taylor River, The Yampa below Stagecoach Reservoir, and last but not least, The Big Thompson below Lake Estes.

What’s In Your Colorado Winter Fly Fishing Arsenal?
Fish diets in the winter are made up primarily of midges and an assortment of small BWO nymphs and are occasionally supplemented by larger mayflies, annelids, trout eggs, stoneflies, and even caddis larva.  Winter fishing typically consists of a lot of nymph fishing since the trout are not overly active due to the cold water temperatures.  The closer to the trout’s mouth the better, the less energy the fish has to expend for its meal the more likely it is to feed in the cold winter temperatures.

Small attractors including small eggs, micro San Juan worms, or small stoneflies with midge larva or BWO nymphs are usually a deadly winter combo.  Red midges are often especially deadly for winter fly fishing.  Watch for midge hatches toward mid-day and if you are lucky you might see a few BWO’s as well as midges.  Catching fish on dry flies in winter usually requires a delicate presentation, consisting of 6x and even 7x tippet. It’s hard to beat the rush you experience when watching a nice bow take a size 22 sprout midge in the middle of ski season.

Looking Forward to Seeing You This Winter!
Colorado’s unique climate presents many opportunities to get out and fish all year long.   Don’t be intimidated by a little snow, as you can be assured our guides are out fishing to keep the trout well exercised for you. Feel free to give us a call and enjoy a day away from the slopes chasing Colorado winter rainbow and brown trout!!

Colorado winter fly fishing-photo from Waterton Canyon.

Winter fly fishing on the South Platte river in Colorado.

Winter fly fishing Colorado for tail-water trout

Late winter fly fishing on a small stream in Colorado.

South Platte River winter rainbow trout fishing.

Colorful late winter trout in Colorado.