Fly Fishing in Colorado – How to be a Responsible Angler

It’s no secret that Colorado has good trout fishing, anglers from across the world travel here to experience a trout fishing trip of a lifetime. Colorado has the highest concentration of quality trout rivers and streams in the United States, an international airport, and a variety of different towns and services spread throughout to fit the needs of many different anglers. Not to mention, the trout populations have been thriving, in part due to well-regulated resource management including catch and release regulations in many of the rivers. But, in the past decade, the rivers in Colorado have been getting more crowded. It may be due to a rise in the popularity of fly fishing, a result of the COVID pandemic, or just overpopulation. The increase in angling pressure can make it challenging to navigate a river system, hard to find public water to fish, and hard to find public land to camp at. So how do you navigate these challenges to plan a successful fly fishing trip in Colorado?

If you are planning a DIY fly fishing trip in Colorado or planning on using a fly fishing guide in Colorado there are a few things to keep in mind, including what fly fishing gear to bring, the best time of year to visit, how to be a responsible angler/how to recreate responsibly, as well as understanding the Colorado fishing regulations. Read on below to learn more about these items to make your fly fishing trip to Colorado is a trip to remember.

What does it mean to be a responsible angler?

A responsible angler can be defined as someone who minimizes their impact on the water, to provide a healthy fishery for generations of anglers to come. A responsible angler also respects other anglers, recreationists, and landowners who are also enjoying the resource. So what are some tips to become a responsible angler?

Tips to being a responsible angler in Colorado:

1) Leave No Trace – Pack it in and pack it out. Be sure to pack out any trash that you bring onto the river. This also means the small pieces of tippet and leaders that may fly onto the ground when rigging up your fly rod. If you see trash when you are out fishing, be an example of good stewardship and pack it out. Try filling up your fly fishing net.
2) Understand the Fishing Regulations – When fishing in a new state, a new fishing license is mandatory. When you are getting this license be sure to check on the specific local fishing regulations of the area that you plan to fish. In Colorado, there are many catch and release areas, seasonal closures due to spawning, barbless fly regulations, and other specific regulations that need to be followed. Be sure to do your due diligence to check the local fishing regulations.
3) Don’t Trespass – The water laws in Colorado differ from other states, in that landowners often own the river bed. In many other states, the landowner does not own the river bed and you can access the water from the high watermark. But this is not the case in Colorado. Anglers cannot hike into a river that has private property. As well, you cannot anchor your boat on private land. Be sure to purchase proper maps or download a GPS app like OnX maps to ensure you are fishing public water.
4) Respect other anglers and recreationists on the water – Anglers are not the only ones that enjoy the rivers and streams in Colorado. The natural resources are managed for all recreationists including hikers, bikers, rafters, kayakers, etc. It is important to keep this in mind when out on the water and be respectful to everyone you encounter on the water. Communication is key, say hi, and be friendly to other people using the resource!
5) Follow good fishing handling and etiquette – Trout are fragile creatures, given that most of the fly fishing you may be doing is catch and release it is important to keep in mind proper fish handling and etiquette. Some basics to keep in mind are, debarb your flies, use a rubber net, keep the trout wet, wet your hands before touching the fish, keep fingers out of the gills, use the least amount of our hand to hold the fish, (stay away from the death grip or whole hand hold), don’t overplay the trout, and do your best to get the trout landed quickly and back in the water to be caught another day.

Backcountry Tenkara fishing

How to #recreatereponsibly – What does camping and traveling responsibly mean?

Being a responsible angler doesn’t stop when you’re off the water, in the past year a coalition of nonprofits, recreation businesses and agencies have come together with a campaign called #recreateresponsibly In short, it was introduced due to the spike in recreationists across the U.S. and a movement to educate people about being responsible recreationists. The Ridgway Chamber of Commerce has a great resource their plan your trip/responsible travel page. It states, “We invite travelers to visit Ouray County while considering ways to minimize visitor impacts and maximize local benefits. Traveling responsibly means educating yourself on outdoor recreation best practices, local ethics, and community expectations.” Some of the Chamber’s suggestions include know before you go, stick to the trail, trash the trash, leave it as you find it, be careful with fire, keep wildlife wild, share our parks and trails, do your research, hire a guide, and take a course. All of these are great points to understand to help minimize conflict and enhance your fly fishing trip to Colorado.

Due to the rise in popularity of camping in the past year it is very important to keep these points in mind when camping. Hatch Mag recently published a helpful article, “The dispersed camper’s guide to etiquette – A primer on good camping behavior.” The article outlines specific “Rules” that can be applied to campers everywhere.

Hire a fly fishing guide or visit a local fly shop:

When planning your fly fishing trip to Colorado or to a new area of Colorado, hiring a fly fishing guide or visiting a local fly shop can be of significant value in finding out important information regarding the fly fishing. The fly fishing guides at RIGS offer a variety of different guided fly fishing trips including float fishing, wade fishing, sight fishing, and even more remote hiking and fishing trips. The local retail store and fly shop staff is a wealth of resources, from fly selections to maps and gear tips, the shop staff can prepare you for success on the water as well as some local knowledge as to where to camp, eat, and sleep.

Understanding Colorado Fishing Regulations:

Anyone fishing in Colorado should be aware of all the fishing regulations and have a current license. You can purchase a fishing license online or visit one of the license dealers. The fly shop at RIGS is a State of Colorado fishing license dealer. The fishing regulations in Colorado change every year, be sure to follow the current year’s regulations. Most trout fishing rivers are open for year-round fishing, some rivers do have seasonal closures on certain parts of the river due to trout spawning.

Best time to visit Colorado for fly fishing:

What makes Colorado’s trout fishery unique from many other states across the west is that you can fish year-round, 365 days a year. The more or less winter season spans from November-February, where temperatures across the state are typically below freezing. The fly fishing is concentrated on many tailwater (dam-controlled rivers) systems across the state including the Uncompahgre, Blue, Taylor, South Platte, Yampa, Frying Pan Rivers. The fishing can be productive especially when fishing below the surface. This time of year is not for the fair-weather angler, but the adventurous one.

From March to April is considered spring or pre-runoff fly fishing conditions in Colorado. This time of year can be very underrated as the trout are hungry, active and the rivers are typically quieter. Depending on the snowpack, many of the rivers across Colorado experience a period of runoff, typically starting in May and sometimes lasting until late June. The water levels in the rivers rise due to the snowpack melting, making it at times challenging to fish. But, all the river systems are different and while some may be high and muddy others can be fishable. There are also numerous lakes and reservoirs that will be iced off and have productive fishing opportunities.

Once the river levels come down, the summer or peak season for fly fishing kicks off. This is typically from mid-June-September. This time of year can be considered the most productive time to fly fish in Colorado as all the bodies of water are at a fishable level, the bugs are hatching and the trout are extremely active. It is however the busiest time of year to be on the water.

Fall temperatures set in in late September and the rivers begin to become quieter and the fishing can be productive especially using nymphing and streamer fishing techniques. There is not a day out of the year in Colorado that you won’t be able to catch a trout on a fly rod. When in doubt seek out a fishing report!

SW Colorado's Full Service Fly Shop

Fly fishing gear to bring on your fly fishing trip to Colorado:

Bringing the correct fly fishing gear on your fly fishing trip to Colorado can make the world of a difference. Here are the basics we recommend. For a fly rod, the standard 9 foot 5 weight rod will best suit your needs. A 3 or 4 weight fly rod can be great for summer dry fly fishing. While a 6 or 7 weight can be great for streamer fishing or nymphing. A basic fly reel, with 100 yards of backing. A floating trout fly line to match the line weight of your fly rod is necessary. Tapered knotless leaders are preferred in a 9 foot, 5X size or something similar. For tippet, it is important to have a selection of 2X-6X tippet in both monofilament (for dry flies) and fluorocarbon (for nymphing and streamer fishing). Fly selection can vary based on the river systems you are fishing. The basic beadhead nymphs, dry flies, and streamers are essentials to have in your box. Be sure to stop into a local fly shop in Colorado to pick up the local fly patterns.

Waders and wading boots are essential in the colder months, in the summer you can get away with wet wading sandals or wading boots with a neoprene wading sock. The weather in Colorado can be very variable, so it is important to dress and pack different layers of clothing. Make sure to have a rain jacket packed as rainstorms can periodically happen, especially in late summer.

Hopefully, the details outlined above can better prepare you for a fly fishing trip to Colorado. Be sure to give us a call or stop in our retail shop located in Ridgway, Colorado. We are located near 6 quality trout streams providing anglers with a variety of different fly fishing options all within an hour or less. Ridgway, Ouray, or Telluride are all great fly fishing towns in Colorado to stay and experience a true Colorado fly fishing getaway.