Fishing in Colorado: 10 Awesome Locations For Your Next Fishing Trip

When you’re planning a fishing vacation, the State of Colorado has something to please everyone, from seasoned anglers to kids who are just learning the art.

No matter what time of the year you visit, Colorado’s 6,000-miles of fishable streams and rivers 2,000 reservoirs and lakes are teeming with fish.

There are rich Gold Medal waters here too, all of which are designated as the very best spots to land the most and the largest fish.

If you enjoy fishing species-rich habitats surrounded by towering mountains, dense pine forests, and miles of sparkling waterways, Colorado won’t disappoint.


Fishing Licenses

To fish legally in Colorado, you must have an annual license, which runs from April 1 through March 31.

For non-residents and vacationers, you can also buy daily licenses. Licenses can be obtained from license agents, online, from Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices, or by phoning 800-244-5613.

When it comes to choosing suitable places to fish, look out for signs indicating whether the property you’re entering is private or not. Public fishing areas generally have rules posted, indicating what type of fishing is permitted. Some locations only allow fly-fishing or specify that only live bait or artificial lures may be used.

Colorado Fishing 101

Colorado is world famous for its trout fishing, and fly-fishers come here for the hard-fighting trout that inhabit the waterways and lakes. With this in mind, it’s of little surprise that the official state fish of Colorado is the elusive greenback cutthroat trout.

The trout species that you can expect to land in Colorado include cutthroats, rainbows, brooks, lakes, and browns. Also, Kokanee salmon can be found in a few West Coast areas, and wiper fish, mountain whitefish, largemouth bass, and northern pike can be caught here too.

Ice fishing in Colorado is extremely popular with the hardy fisherman who doesn’t mind the dry cold of winter in this State. The primary ice fishing season runs from December through late February. For advice on what locations, bait, equipment and tackle will yield the best results, ask at one of the many local tackle shops.

On all lakes, you must beware of ice conditions, especially if you’re fishing in a location below 8,000-feet in elevation. Before you step out onto the ice, check that conditions are suitable and stay safe.

Our 10 Favorite Fishing Locations

There are probably over 200 different fishing locations in Colorado, so narrowing it down is no easy task.  With that being said, you also need to be able to maximize your efficiency while still enjoying your time outdoors.

So, here are ten of our favorite fishing spots in the State of Colorado. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to fill your quota and enjoy your time in the great outdoors!

1. Gore Creek


Gore Creek (located here) is little more than a stream, but it’s still one of the most popular and best fishing spots in Colorado. GC runs right through busy Vail. Access points to this location are via public parks, and it’s not the quietest spot you’ll fish in Colorado.

Having said that, if you want to land some large trout, it’s worth heading for the Gold Medal section where Red Sandstone Creek enters the Gore, just west of Vail, and continues to Eagle River in the west at the Leadville exit off 1-70.

You’re only permitted to fish with artificial lures and flies here, and the minimum size for trout is 16-inches. The catch-and-keep limit is two, although anglers are encouraged to put all fish back to preserve stocks.

Species you can expect to find here include:

  • Cutthroat trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Brook trout
  • Brown trout

In the winter, Vail is a popular ski resort so you’ll find plenty of hotel accommodation, restaurants, and bars.

2. Vrain State Park, Longmont

Vrain State Park Colorado

If you’re vacationing with your family, St. Vrain State Park, Longmont (located here) is well-worth a visit. The park is close to both Denver and Fort Collins for those who prefer hotel accommodation, but you can camp in the park for more of an outdoor experience.

The park has no fewer than seven fishing ponds. The ponds at Mallard and Sandpiper are the best spots for families, thanks to their proximity to amenities and ample parking space. The Park’s ponds are very well-stocked with a variety of species including:

  • Rainbow trout
  • Channel catfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • Yellow perch
  • Bluegill
  • Sauger
  • Black crappie
  • Redear sunfish
  • Water Wolves aka Northern pike

Trout fishing is especially productive during the fall. Experienced anglers might want to check out Great Blue Heron Reservoir and Bald Eagle Pond (trophy bass ponds), although both these ponds operate a catch-and-release for all bass caught.

Bowfishing for suckers, pike, and common carp is allowed, provided you have a valid fishing license.

When the kids get bored with fishing, there are lots of easy hiking and biking trails, and kayak fishing is permitted on all the lakes. In winter, you can watch bald eagles, and all year round you’ll see blue herons, egrets, and many other feathered species.

The Park is open all year round, and you can come ice fishing here too during the winter season.

3. Chipeta Lake State Wildlife Area

Uncompahgre River

Chipeta Lake, which is located here, sits in the shadow of the spectacular San Juan Mountains in Montrose County. The location is ideal for families as you can drive right up to the Lake, the banks are shallow, and there’s plenty of casting room.

Also, the Lake is so well-stocked with fish that it’s almost impossible not to catch something here!  It’s not very deep at all, so you can leave your fish tracking equipment at home.

Species that you can expect to catch here include:

  • Smallies aka Smallmouth Bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Rainbow trout

Note that there’s no camping allowed in the park, but the town of Montrose is located nearby for overnight accommodation if required.

4. Chambers Lake

Chambers Lake

Chambers Lake is located close to the towns of Walden and Rustic. The lake is a 250-acre man-made body of water, situated about seven miles to the east of the top of Cameron Pass on Highway 14. There’s a boat ramp, water, restrooms, and a campground.

The most commonly landed species of fish are rainbow and cutthroat trout. However, other species include lake trout and the hard-fighting Kokanee salmon. Some lake trout can measure a rod-bending 16 to 18-inches. Fish the deeper areas of the lake for these monsters with the right reel and rod setup.

When fishing for lake trout, try jigging near steep drop-offs. Steep slopes on the east side of the lake are a good spot to try, especially early or late in the day when cruising fish make likely targets.

If you’re after rainbow trout, try the inlet bay. Kokanee salmon can be landed with medium sized spinners and spoons and by using small jigs when ice fishing. During the summer months, trolling from a boat is the most effective method. Note that snagging is not allowed.

For more information on ice conditions during ice fishing season and current fishing reports, contact the Fort Collins Department of Wildlife on 970-472-4300. For good bait shops where you’ll also get good fishing spot recommendations, take a trip to Walden.

5. Eleven Mile Reservoir

Eleven Mile Reservoir

Eleven Mile Reservoir is located close to the towns of Lake George, Hartsel, and Fairplay, where you’ll find some good bait shops and overnight accommodation if required.

The 3,400-acre reservoir is popular with anglers in search of large rainbow trout, which regularly reach the 14 to 20-inch range. Other species that you could catch here include:

  • Cutthroat trout
  • Brown trout
  • Northern pike
  • Kokanee salmon

If you’re in search of Kokanee salmon, focus your efforts in the area to the north side of the reservoir in the river current, known locally by anglers as the “Dream Stream.”

There are some fishing restrictions in place at this location. Only lure and fly-fishing are permitted, and a catch-and-release policy is in place within 100-feet of the mouth of the inlet. All areas within the reservoir where fishing is prohibited or restricted are marked with buoys. Also, fishing is prohibited from any dock or island.

Fish quotas

To preserve stocks in this popular location, the following bag limits are imposed:

  • If you fish for trout, you may catch up to four fish, of which only two can be longer than 16-inches.
  • There’s no bag or possession limit on Northern pike.
  • You may catch 10 Kokanee salmon daily, all year around.

Full fishing reports and ice conditions can be obtained from Eleven Mile State Park on 719-748-3401.

Note that although boating is allowed on the reservoir, no diesel, propane, gasoline, or electric motors are permitted. To preserve the water quality of the reservoir, swimming and other water-body contact activities are not allowed.

6. Upper Arkansas River

Arkansas River in Colorado

For over 102 miles from its confluence with the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River near Leadville to Canon City (located here), the Arkansas River falls almost 5,000-feet, passing through beautiful sub-alpine meadows, boulder-strewn canyons, and cultivated hayfields before dropping into Bighorn Sheep Canyon below Salida.

Here, the river meanders through the high-desert country where it is home to healthy populations of introduced rainbow trout and native browns. Bighorn Sheep Canyon enjoys a warm, dry climate all year round and almost 40-miles of access for public fishing. That makes this location the prime fly-fishing destination in the State. Try wade-fishing with floats or work the shoreline pockets where brown trout lurk.

Access to the best fishing spots on the river is good, but to get the most from your visit to the Arkansas River, it’s well worth hiring a local guide. An experienced guide will be able to give you advice on bait, tackle, and technique, as well as showing you the best spots for a truly memorable fishing experience.

7. Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir was created in 1965 by the damming of the Gunnison River and is the State’s second largest body of water. Fishing is available all year round, including ice fishing in the winter months.

Located just nine miles west of Gunnison, Blue Mesa has over 96 miles of shoreline and is a fly fisherman’s dream! Find a shady spot to cast a line, or take to the water in a boat if you prefer to explore the reservoir that way. Fish species that abound here include lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout. Kokanee salmon and perch can be caught here too.

Fish the deeper water areas for brown and lake trout, and concentrate on the river and stream inlets for brook trout. The most abundant fish here are rainbows, which can be found anywhere in the reservoir.

There are plenty of accommodation options nearby, including camping, motels, lodges, and hotels.

8. North Delaney Lake

Delaney Lake Colorado

If you want to go fishing in Colorado, North Delaney Lake is one of the three high mountain lakes that can be found near Walden in the Buttes State Wildlife Area. The lake is pristine and is surrounded by breathtaking views in every direction.

The cold-water impoundment boasts a healthy trout population, making it popular with anglers. Fish species you can catch in this Gold Medal Lake include:

  • Brown trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Cutthroat trout
  • Cutthroat/rainbow hybrid trout
  • Common Carp

What Should You Do For Fishing?

The big, fat trout in North Delaney Lake feed on the abundance of damselflies, callibaetis, and midges that hatch here throughout the spring and summer months. Note that when the wind dies down, the mosquitoes can become a pain, so go equipped with plenty of repellants.

Fish for brown or cutthroat trout from the shoreline on the windward side of the lake, the late afternoon or early in the morning when the insect buffet is thickest on the water, and you can see mudlines developing. If you want to fish all day, try taking to the water in a no-wake boat during the middle of the day.

The most productive time to fish for trout at this location is from mid to late summer when the insect population peaks. Following egg laying patterns by fishing in the fall is almost as good, as many of the brown trout are gorging themselves before the cold winter weather arrives.

The best flies to use for North Delaney Lake are olive, blood red, and brown woolly buggers. Olive dragonfly larva an also be very useful. Mini-leeches in gray, black, olive, brown, and wine are also effective.

To be sure of a full creel, it’s worth checking out some of the local fly shops that publish fishing reports for North Delaney Lake.

Note that your bag limit is two trout per angler. There’s a catch-and-release policy in place for browns measuring 14-inches to 20-inches in length and 18-inches to 22-inches for rainbows and cutthroats.

9. Frying Pan River

Frying Pan River Colorado

The Frying Pan River (located here) has an impressive international reputation for lure and fly-fishing. In this State managed location, rainbows of 10-pounds are regularly caught.

The best spot to fish this Gold Medal status river is between the confluence of Roaring Fork and Ruedi Reservoir. Here you’ll find clear water, plenty of fish, and spectacular views of the glorious mountain vistas that surround this part of the river.

The tailwaters down below the dam are a well-known hunting ground for anglers in search of giants. For this reason, this location can get crowded, with fishermen standing just a few feet from one another. Try fishing here using mysis shrimp flies that are loved by the very biggest fish.

For a more peaceful day’s sport, move downstream to the quieter areas or upstream for smaller stream fishing and fewer people.

Fish species that you’ll find here include:

  • Rainbow trout
  • Brown trout
  • Brook trout
  • Cutthroat trout

Access to the river is pretty good. The 14-miles between the dam and Basalt have 8.5-miles of public access for fisherman. However, much of the land around here is privately owned, and access is prohibited. To be sure that you don’t accidentally trespass, get yourself an online map, detailing permitted access areas.

The year-round hatches here mean that you can also fish during the winter, maybe breaking off for a day’s skiing in nearby Aspen!

10. McPhee Reservoir

McPhee Reservoir Colorado

When fishing in Colorado, bass fishing devotees can find a great day’s sport at McPhee Reservoir which is located here. Located on the Dolores River, close to the town of Dolores, the reservoir has a surface area of around 4,470-acres and is home to some huge smallmouth bass. You can spend a day fishing here surrounded by stunning forests and gorgeous mountain scenery.


The man-made lake has more than 50-miles of shoreline and features several narrow, tree-lined canyons. The McPhee is one of the largest bodies of water in the State of Colorado and has a maximum water depth of close to 270-feet near the dam.

Due to its river canyon location, steep rocky banks and vegetation, McPhee’s best fishing locations are only accessible by boat. You’ll find wakeless boating zones in many of the side canyons to accommodate still-water fishing. There’s boat rental available, and note that if you bring your own craft, the hull must be inspected at the main boat ramp for invasive aquatic species, before launching.

Species you’ll find here include:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Black crappie
  • Rainbow trout
  • Kokanee salmon
  • Yellow perch
  • Walleye
  • Northern pike

Fish the rocky shorelines up Plateau Creek, Beaver, and House for smallmouth bass in the late spring and early summer using crayfish imitations. Trout fishing is good all year round, and you’ll be successful with traditional baits or by trolling near the shoreline.

Walleye can be found near the rip-rap along the Great Cut-Dike Dam, and the best fishing time is probably in April. These fish were introduced illegally, so there’s no bag limit on them.

Fishing regulations

Note that McPhee operates an immediate catch-and-release policy for bass from 10-inches to 15-inches in length. Your bag limit for bass outside these limits is five. The bag limit for trout is four. The daily limit for Kokanee is 10, and no snagging is permitted until November 15.

The location has campgrounds, RV hookups, lodgings, bait and tackle shop, and there’s a nearby restaurant too.

Fishing in Colorado: Final Thoughts

The Centennial State of Colorado boasts an irresistible combination of fantastic scenery and year-round fishing opportunities.

If you’re a dedicated trout or bass fisherman, you must seriously consider taking a vacation here. There are opportunities for kids too, with bird and wildlife watching, hiking, and biking as alternatives to fishing.

The Out sider

See Also

Related Reads

Recent Posts