The Top 9 Destinations for Fishing in Colorado

Fishing in Steamboat
A man fishing in Steamboat Springs.

 Getty Images/David Epperson

Fishing is huge in Colorado, which boasts thousands of miles of rivers and more than 2,000 lakes and reservoirs. Whether you fish on ice, with a rod and reel, or with a fly-fishing rod, Colorado is one of the top places in the country for anglers. As evidence? It boasts a dozen Gold Medal waters. That’s basically the Golden Globes, except with gills and fins. It’s awarded to water that consistently has a trout stock of 60 pounds per acre, plus at least 12 trout larger than 14 inches per acre.

Colorado’s got lots of fish, and in particular, trout. The state is known around the world for its trout, from rainbows to browns to cutthroats (the official state fish). Colorado also is home to walleyes, wipers, largemouth bass, mountain whitefish, Northern pike, and more.

If you want to cast out in Colorado, make sure first you get a fishing permit through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. You can buy a day pass, a five-day pass, or an annual.

Then head to an outfitter if you didn’t pack your own pole. Many outfitters, especially those near the top fishing waters, will rent out equipment and gear, sell bait, and even take you directly to the best fishing spots. Tours range from casual to multi-day outdoor angling extravaganzas.

If you want to head out on your own, make sure the water is open for public fishing and isn’t private property. Look for signs that will spell out what kind of fishing is allowed. Some areas only permit artificial lures, for example. Also, beware of super popular fishing spots, like Cherry Creek Reservoir. Although convenient, these kinds of areas may be all fished out. In the fall, the weather’s typically still nice, but the shores aren’t as packed. Not to mention the water is low in the streams, making ideal conditions for fly-fishing.

Here are the nine top places for fishing in Colorado. You might catch something impressive. And even if you don’t, you’re sure to catch some jaw-dropping views.

01 of 09

The Animas River

Animas River

Getty Images/Photo by Matt Payne of Portland, Oregon 

Near Durango is where you can find the best access to the river, and it is wide—as much as 100 feet across in some parts. It winds through the Animas Canyon. Fun fact: The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad tracks this river. There are almost seven miles of public river access in Durango.

This is a scenic, stunning river surrounded by mountains. It’s known as one of the last remaining free-flowing rivers in the state. This is one of Colorado’s newer Gold Medal waters for fishing.

What you can catch: This river is great for trout (rainbows and browns), who like to hang out near the big rocks and in the deep waters. Because this river is big, that means you will find some big fish. In fact, that’s what the Animas is beloved for: big trout. A 20-pounder was caught here in the ‘50s.

Notable outfitter: Duranglers Flies and Supplies offers classes and guided trips.  

02 of 09

The South Platte River

South Platte River

 Getty Images/Mark Lewis

Located at South Park and into downtown Denver, it's easily accessible to people in the city.

A great section of the river called “Dream Stream,” has great trophy spawners in the springtime. This river can get crowded, however. But on a plus side, it’s also appropriate for big groups.

The North Platte is a great spot, too, beginning in North Park and traveling to Wyoming. This is a little harder to access, but it does claim some of the top trout in Colorado.

What you can catch: This is a popular spot to snag trout.

Notable outfitter: South Platte Outfitters has a full-service fly shop, instruction, lodging and is a registered fly-fishing guide service.  

03 of 09

Rio Grande River

Rio Grande River

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Head to this spot in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. Key spots are between South Fork and Del Norte. This is the second-longest river in the nation, and it’s well known. It begins in the mountains between Silverton and Creede.

Enjoy Gold Medal waters on the Rio Grande River, between South Fork and Del Norte. This windy river is ideal to visit in the summer, between June and July.

What you can catch: Trout are the star here.

Notable outfitters: Duranglers Flies and Supplies can tell you the best time of year to go fishing, and it can take you to the best spots.

04 of 09

Gore Creek

Gore Creek

Getty Images/ablokhin 

In Eagle County in central Colorado, from Gore Lake down to the Eagle River, this spot is near Summit County and Vail Pass and all of the many popular ski towns there. It’s generally looked at as Upper Core Creek and Lower Gore Greek.

This is a relatively small creek that packs a big punch. It’s full of great fish all along the creek. Downstream, you can find Golf Metal brown trout spots.

What you can catch: Find browns, rainbow trout, brooks, and cutthroats abounding.  

Notable outfitters: Gore Creek Fly Fisherman is Vail Valley’s oldest fly-fishing shop. It has offered guided fly-fishing trips and products for more than 35 years.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Getty Images/Glenn Ross Images 

This one's about nine miles from Gunnison in the Curecanti National Recreation area and the beautiful Black Canyon National Park. The reservoir here was created by damming the Gunnison River.

Blue Mesa has earned the honor of a Gold Medal and Wild Trout Water. It has the lure of trophy trout fishing. This body of water, with nearly 100 miles of shore, is a fave place for fly-fishers. Go out on boat, too.

What you can catch: Highlights include brook trout near the streams flowing into the reservoir, rainbow trout, and brown trout. You can also find Kokanee salmon and perch.

Notable outfitter: Blue Mesa Fishing offers custom lake and river fishing trips with a guide on the Blue Mesa.  

06 of 09

The Arkansas River

Arkansas River

Getty Images/Samuel Wells 

This river, a Gold Medal fishing spot, boasts 140 miles of fishing near Leadville and winds to Canon City and Salida. The Bighorn Sheep Canyon is a popular place for fly-fishing. Also check out the Upper Arkansas near Leadville with its desert-like hot and dry environment.

You'll find less predictable fish and more of a challenge here. This river is one of the state’s most popular fly-fishing destinations.

What you can catch: All kinds of fish, including brown trout and rainbow trout.

Notable outfitter: The Royal Gorge Anglers offers guided fly-fishing classes (like fly-tying) and different events and classes. This company is the oldest fly shop and guide service and claims to be the only Orvis-endorsed outfitter on the Arkansas River. 

07 of 09

Fryingpan River

Fryingpan River

Getty Images/David Lambroughton 

Also called Frying Pan and Pan River, find it east of Aspen in the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness. Check out the stretch between Ruedi Reservoir and Roaring Fork.

This is well known for both fly-fishing and lure; it’s easily one of the state’s most popular fishing destinations. It’s easily accessible and has Gold Medal Waters.  

What you can catch: Big rainbow trouts, as well as rainbows, cutthroats and (less commonly) brookies.

Notable outfitters: For something unique, Frying Pan Anglers offers weeklong fishing camps.

08 of 09

Roaring Fork River

Roaring Fork River

 Getty Images/Tyler Stableford

The headwaters are on Independence Pass, a scenic mountain pass with great views. It runs through Glenwood Springs. Access to this river is easy from the Rio Grande Trail, via Sunlight Bridge and Veltus Park.

Stretches of this river are classified as Wild Trout Waters and Gold Medal fishing waters.

What you can catch: You can find a wide variety of fish here, but trout are a highlight. Look for wild brookies and mountain whitefish downstream.  

Notable outfitter: Roaring Fork Anglers, which has been named the Best Local Guide Service every year since 2004.  

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Gunnison River

Gunnison River

Getty Images/Tyler Stableford

Located in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, it can be a bit of a trek to get here, with winding canyon roads. This can be ideal, though, if you want a quieter fishing experience. Take an inner canyon route (if you are physically fit enough), and make sure you have a backcountry permit. It’s free but required for deeper access of the canyon.

While the fishing here is top-notch in Gold Metal waters, there are less-busy sections due to the limited access.

What you can catch: World-class brown and rainbow trout.

Notable outfitters: Gunnison River Expeditions claims to be the biggest and most experienced fly-fishing outfitter on the Gunnison River. It was founded in 1985.