Colorado Fishing Regulations & Limits: Everything You Need to Know

Whether you prefer fly fishing for rainbows in cold-water creeks, battling pike in your local reservoir, or pulling crappie and lake trout through a hole in the ice, Colorado offers great fishing opportunities for all types of anglers. But before you start fishing in the Centennial State, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the state’s fishing laws. In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about Colorado fishing regulations, creel limits, and licensing requirements.

Colorado Fishing Licenses

The first Colorado fishing regulation you need to be aware of is that all anglers over 16 years of age need a valid license to fish in Colorado. Children who are 15 or younger are free to fish without one. The state does offer a youth license, but it is available free of charge.

Colorado offers a variety of annual licenses for anglers in different situations:

  • Combination Licenses. Anglers who live in Colorado full-time can obtain an annual resident fishing license or a small game and fishing combination license. Combination licenses are not available for non-residents. Visitors who intend to hunt and fish while visiting the state will need to obtain both types of licenses individually.
  • Short-Term Licenses. Colorado also offers short-term licenses, which are great for casual anglers and visitors who only intend to fish for a few days. Residents can purchase a five-day temporary license, and non-residents can buy a one- or five-day temporary license.
  • Senior Licenses (64+). While many states allow seniors (those who are 64 or older) to fish without a license, Colorado does not provide such exemptions. That said, resident seniors needn’t pay very much to fish, as senior licenses only cost one dollar (plus any applicable transaction fees). Non-resident seniors will have to purchase a standard non-resident license.

Habitat Stamps

In addition to a Colorado fishing license, all anglers between the ages of 18 and 64 must also purchase a habitat stamp. The fees generated by habitat stamps are used to fund the conservation and management of Colorado’s fisheries and wild spaces. Habitat stamps cost ten dollars, and you’ll need to purchase one before you apply for your fishing license.

A habitat stamp is not required for anglers who purchase a single-day license unless you purchase three or more.

Where Can You Purchase Licenses and Habitat Stamps?

Colorado makes it pretty easy for anglers to obtain a fishing license. The simplest way to do so is by simply visiting the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website. You can fill out the application and submit payment online. You’ll then receive your license in the mail a short time later.

Alternatively, you can purchase a license over the phone, or you can visit a Colorado Parks & Wildlife office and obtain one in person. Additionally, fishing licenses and habitat stamps are sold in hundreds of registered retail outlets across the state.

General Colorado Fishing Regulations

In addition to obtaining a fishing license and habitat stamp, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the basic Colorado fishing regulations and rules. You can review the complete rules and regulations in the current Colorado Fishing Brochure, but we’ll discuss a few of the most notable regulations below:

  • A fishing license only entitles you to use one fishing rod in the state of Colorado. If you want to use multiple rods at the same time, you’ll need to purchase additional rod stamps. Note that you can bring as many rods as you like, but you can only have one line in the water at a time without purchasing additional rod stamps.
  • License validity. Unlike some other states, whose fishing licenses are valid for a single calendar year, Colorado fishing licenses are valid from April 1st to March 31st.
  • The state of Colorado places special emphasis on the local trout fisheries. They do so by recognizing highly productive waters that harbor trophy trout as “Gold Medal Waters.” The state also implements a “Wild Trout Program,” which seeks to manage and conserve the state’s native, wild trout populations. Some of these waters are subject to additional rules and regulations, which you’ll want to follow carefully.
  • Colorado takes the threat of non-native aquatic nuisance species very seriously. Accordingly, the state imposes several regulations regarding the use of live bait (especially rusty crayfish) and the use of watercraft within the state’s borders. Be sure that you review all of the relevant guidelines and rules for the area you will be fishing. Do your part to prevent the spread of invasive species.
  • Many of the state’s rivers and reservoirs are subject to site-specific rules and regulations. Be sure to check the Colorado Fishing Brochure (starting on page 11) to familiarize yourself with the laws governing individual bodies of water before you start fishing.

Colorado Fishing Limits

Like most other states, Colorado imposes a number of fishing limits on anglers. This specifies the number of fish that can be legally caught and kept. Some of the most notable limits include the following:

  • The daily limit for trout, char, grayling and salmon is four fish, with a total possession limit of eight. Note that this includes all species of trout found in the state. However, you are allowed to keep 10 additional brook trout per day, provided that they are less than 8 inches in length. Additionally, the daily limit for Kokanee salmon is 10 fish.
  • It is legal to keep five walleye and/or sauger from most rivers and reservoirs, but it is legal to keep as many as 10 in some waters.
  • You can keep up to five largemouth, smallmouth, or spotted bass in most places, although there is no limit on smallmouth bass caught in waters west of the Continental Divide. The limit for white, wiper and striped bass is 10 in most waters, but a few locations allow you to keep twice this many.
  • You can catch and keep up to 10 catfish in total, no matter the species.
  • The limit for most panfish—including crappie, bluegill, perch and others—is 20, but you can catch and keep as many yellow perch as you like west of the Continental Divide.
  • There is no daily limit for anglers catching pike, whitefish or bullhead.

Again, it is important to check the fishing limits for the exact body of water you’re fishing, as there are a few exceptions to the limits noted above.

Closing Thoughts

No matter where your fishing adventures take you, you’ll want to be sure to follow all the laws and regulations in effect. Fortunately for those fishing in Colorado, the state’s fishing rules are pretty easy to follow. So, pick up your license and habitat stamp, familiarize yourself with the location-specific rules, and head on out to the water. We’ll see you there!   

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