Fly Fishing For Beginners In Colorado

It’s no secret. Colorado is a haven for fly-fishing fanatics. With rivers and streams that stretch for thousands of miles, there’s plenty of opportunities to land lunkers all across the state. As a newbie, it can be intimidating. We’re here to help you get started with a guide to fly fishing for beginners in Colorado. Learn everything you need to get out there!

What You’ll Learn

Thanks to the surge in popularity fly fishing has enjoyed over the last few years, many anglers have begun swapping their spinning rods and fish finders for fly rods and waders. But if you want to have a good chance of catching fish and making the most of your time on the water, you’ll need to start by learning the basics.

This means familiarizing yourself with the trout species swimming through Colorado’s waters and learning about the flies and gear you’ll need to catch them. You’ll also need to know a few good places to catch these fish, as well as the laws you’ll need to follow while doing so.  We’ll cover all of these things and more below to help prepare you for your first Colorado fly-fishing adventure.

Best Places To Fly Fish In Colorado

There’s no shortage of productive fishing locations within the Centennial State, but some rivers and streams undoubtedly provide better fly-fishing action than others. A few of the most productive locations include:

  • South Platte River. The South Platte River is likely the most popular river among Colorado fly fishers, partly due to its proximity to Denver, but also because it has plenty of rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout. There are a number of places to fish this Gold Medal river, but novices will likely have the best results by fishing the 4-mile-long stretch between Spinney and Elevenmile Reservoirs.
  • Gunnison River. The Gunnison River is not only a productive trout fishery, it also provides some of the best vistas and views in the state. The most productive portion of the Gunnison is the Gold Medal section, which stretches between Crystal Dam and the North Fork confluence. One particularly productive portion of the river snakes through Black Canyon. But because of the strong currents present, anglers are encouraged to enlist the services of a competent guide when fishing this stretch of water.
  • Upper Colorado River. The Upper Colorado River also provides excellent fly-fishing opportunities, including the segment between Canyon and Rock Creeks, which was recently awarded Gold Medal status. Much of the river is lined with grassy banks, which make the river easy to access. Plus, the entire area offers excellent hiking, camping and sight-seeing opportunities.

These rivers are great for beginner fly fishing enthusiasts. If you’re looking for even more action, Orvis has put together a great guide on the top fly fishing rivers in Colorado.

Colorado Trout Species

There are a number of fish species found in Colorado’s waters, but most fly fishers focus their efforts on four of the trout that call the state home. Here are the top Colorado trout species:

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are likely the most common species caught by Colorado anglers, as they are stocked in the greatest numbers.

  • Characteristics. Rainbow trout are highly variable, but they can usually be identified by noting a pale reddish stripe along the lateral line.
  • Where To Find. Rainbows love cold headwaters, creeks and lakes. You can also find them in small to mid-size rivers. To track them down, look for riffles, pools and vegetation.
  • Notes. Rainbow trout also tend to be more aggressive than brooks, browns and cutthroats, which makes them easier for beginners to catch.

Cutthroat Trout

There are a number of different cutthroat trout subspecies found in the Rocky Mountain region, but the greenback cutthroat is the only one native to Colorado.

  • Characteristics. Easily identified by the red marking beneath the jaw, the greenback cutthroat struggles to compete with the introduced brown and rainbow trout, so most individuals caught are relatively small.
  • Where To Find. Cutthroat like clear, cold lakes and streams. They also frequent smaller rivers. Look for them in deep pools, boulders and undercuts.
  • Notes. Note that the greenback cutthroat receives special protection in some rivers, and you’ll need to release any you catch immediately. Be sure you’re up to date on the regulations for where you’re fishing.

Brown Trout

The fall-spawning brown trout is the largest of the four Colorado trout species most fly fishers target.

  • Characteristics. You can recognize brown trout by noting their gold to brown skin color and the abundance of small spots, which are primarily located above the fish’s lateral line. Many brown trout also feature red spots, which are surrounded by pale blue circles.
  • Where To Find. Brown trout frequent lower elevations in streams and rivers. They can also be found in warmer waters than the other species on this list.

Brook Trout

Brook trout often reach high population densities in Colorado waters, as they typically reproduce more explosively than the other trout in the state.

  • Characteristics. Handsome fish, these fall-spawning trout are typically darker in color than the other species in Colorado. Most are easy to recognize by noting the wavy lines on their dorsal fins.
  • Where To Find. Brooks like cold, oxygenated waters. Look for gravel bottoms, as this is their ideal habitat.

Other Target Species

Just because most fly fishers in Colorado target trout doesn’t mean you can’t try your luck with a few other species. Colorado is also home to several panfish, and yellow perch also populate many local waters. In fact, because these fish are often bolder than trout, they are are often ideal targets for novices and beginners!

Panfish are often caught on small dry flies, but you’ll likely have better luck catching perch with minnow-imitating flies. Mountain whitefish are also found in many area rivers, but their small size (and small mouths) makes them challenging quarry for beginners.

Beginner Fly Fishing Gear & Tackle

Unsure what gear you need? Here’s a quick guide to beginner fly fishing gear and tackle:

  • Rod. Most anglers will find a 4 to 6-weight rod ideal for trout fishing in Colorado’s rivers and streams. However, if you are targeting smaller fish or fishing in small creeks, you may find a 0- or 2-weight rod more appropriate.
  • Flies. You’ll want a variety of flies on hand, as it is often necessary to experiment with different presentations, colors and sizes to arrive at a winning combination. This means you’ll want to carry a few nymphs, such as Pheasant Tails and Copper Johns, as well as a few dry flies, like the Parachute Adams, Thunder Thigh Hopper and Stimulator. You may even want to bring along a Woolly Bugger or two, for those times when the fish want something a bit bigger.
  • Net. You’ll also want to bring along a good dip net to lift your catch out of the water, and an insulated pair of waders to keep your lower half warm and dry.
  • Hat. A quality fishing hat can help protect you from the sun. Combine with a pair of sunglasses to keep the glare out of your eyes so you can see the fish. Check out the wide selection of hats available from Bone On Sportswear.
  • Fishing Shirt. Fishing can be a dirty job. And you’re bound to get wet. Make sure your clothes are up to the task. You can easily find the perfect shirts by browsing our Performance Fishing Shirt collection.
  • Waders. You need room for your backcast, which means that hanging on the bank isn’t always an option. For times when you need to get in the water, a quality pair of waders and waterproof boots are just what you need.

Casting Technique

Make sure to practice your casting technique before hitting the water. Get it down, and you’ll be ready to put your fly right in front of that trophy trout’s face. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The “Handshake”. Grip your rod in your dominant hand as if you are going in for a handshake. Wrap your fingers around the handle, with your thumb on top. Keep your wrist straight and firm.
  • Get Some Slack. Draw 15-20 ft of line, and let it hang around your feet, keeping hold of the slack with your non-dominant hand. Toss the line into the water in front of you, upstream.
  • The Cast. An overhead cast is usually more comfortable for beginners, and it is the primary cast you’ll do most of the time.

Performing The Cast

  • Start a back cast with your rod tip low, swinging it up and back in one motion.
  • Then stop the swing as the rod becomes perpendicular to the ground.
  • The line will unroll and rise behind you. Now’s the time to swing the rod again, with a forward cast.
  • Stop the cast again with the rod tip high, so the line has room to move forward. Lower your rod as the line unrolls.
  • Done correctly, you’ll create a loop with the line that looks like a sideways U.

For a closer look, here’s a great guide from FIX that includes beginner to advanced fly-fishing casting techniques.

Colorado Fishing Laws and Regulations

No matter where your angling adventures take you, you’ll want to be sure you follow the laws and regulations for the location. In the state of Colorado, this means obtaining a fishing license and a habitat stamp. You can purchase a Colorado fishing license from the state’s Department of Wildlife or from a local license agent.

Note that a fishing license only allows you to bring one rod to the water. If you wish to bring additional rods, you’ll need to purchase an extra rod stamp.

Dress For Adventure

We hope this guide to fly fishing for beginners in Colorado has been helpful. Colorado offers some of the best fly-fishing opportunities in the world, and it is a perfect place for beginners to learn the basics.

As you prepare for your trip, make sure you have the clothes that can handle the adventure. Browse the collections here at Bone On Sportswear so you can fish and comfort and style: