Fish On! Angling options abound in Western Colorado

Get a Guide

As with hunting, hiring a trusted, local guide is well worth the price of admission. Not only can they provide access to trophy-filled private waters, but they’ll also help you with your technique and decide what’s best to use.

Expect to pay several hundred dollars for the privilege, depending on where you go. Also, don’t hesitate to ask local fly shop experts for advice.

A sampling of guided options include:

Steamboat Springs:

Straightline Sports (970-879-7568)

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters (970-879-8747)

Steamboat Flyfisher (970-879-6552)

Walden: North Park Anglers, (970-723-4215)

Rifle: High Flies Angler (970-274-2669)

Grand Junction:

Western Anglers (970-244-8658)

Rifle or rod, it doesn’t matter in western Colorado — world-class options abound for both pastimes.

Whether you’ve filled your tag or simply want a break from hitting the trail, Western Colorado offers hot spots for trout as well as trophy bulls.

From the boundless lakes atop Grand Mesa and the Colorado and Gunnison rivers near Grand Junction, to the White River and lakes of the Flat Tops near Meeker, to the Yampa and Elk rivers near Craig and Steamboat Springs, to the upper Colorado and William’s Fork outside Kremmling, the region has enough world-class angling options to keep you casting for years. And wetting a line can be the perfect tonic to complement time chasing deer and elk.

“It’s the perfect companion activity to hunting,” maintains Brett Lee, a veteran hunter, fly-fisherman and co-owner of Straightline Sporting Goods in Steamboat Springs. “The whole region here offers some great options, from high alpine lakes to cool, clear rivers. The Yampa has great public fishing access, the White by Meeker fishes well, and the high mountain lakes where people hunt are fantastic.”

The heart of hunting season also is when fishing in area lakes and rivers is best, with aquatic and insect life teeming. And the trout sense the onset of Old Man Winter, meaning your flies and lures don’t go unnoticed. “Fall is a great time to fish here,” Lee says. “Fish know winter’s coming and start feeding.”

Following is a primer on where to cast your rod.



Coursing its way from the Flat Tops Wilderness Area west to its confluence with the Green River, the Yampa River offers more than 100 miles of prime fishing, especially during the cooler hunting months of autumn when trouts’ metabolisms come alive.

Prime public areas include the Stagecoach tailwaters just below Stagecoach Lake, the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area three miles south of Steamboat Springs on County Road 14 (including a pond teeming with northern pike), and the six-mile town stretch, which carries as many as 2,000 trout per mile. For flies, try elk hair caddis, bright green caddis emergers or weighted streamers.

The Elk River offers public access upstream of Hinman Park Bridge along Seedhouse Road, or at the Christina Wildlife Area along its lower portion on Routt County Road 129 northwest of town.

In Jackson County, try the blue ribbon trout waters of the North Platt River, or the countless meandering streams near the county seat and hunting hotbed of Walden. Farther south in Grand County near Kremmling, the upper Colorado lures anglers the world over, as does the hidden treasure William’s Fork.

Those hunting near Craig can fish for smallmouth bass and northern pike in Elkhead Reservoir and the Yampa (try white/chartreuse streamers and lures for “smallies”), and also troll these spots for trout. Another world-class, Moffat County option is to head west to the Green River in Browns Park, offering blue-ribbon trout fishing on three great sections of water (A, B and C). The area is known for its large brown trout and clear, cold water released from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

The White River, which flows through Meeker and Rangely, drains the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and teems with trout in the fall. Head upstream from Meeker on Moffat County Road 8 toward Buford, where you can branch up the south or north fork, or try the Meeker town stretch, the section between Meeker and Rangley, or the the Rangely reach.

Near Grand Junction, river fishing doesn’t get any better than the blue-ribbon water of the Gunnison River Gorge below Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which attracts anglers every season of the year. While you can wade fish in the stretch near the take-out at Gunnison Forks at the confluence of the river’s north fork, for the best action book a float trip through the gorge.

Lakes and ReservoirsLakes and Reservoirs

Lakes and Reservoirs

For big lake fishing, hit any number of reservoirs near Craig and Steamboat (Stagecoach Reservoir, Steamboat Lake and Elkhead Reservoir). Recent expansions have increased the sizes of Stagecoach and Elkhead. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been stocking them with bigger fish than normal to give them a chance to survive the northern pike,” says Straightline’s Lee.

October is when the fish charge out of the depths to feed before winter sets in. Cooler temperatures also bring rainbows back into shallower water. Go early and be prepared to get your fly down 10 to 11 feet. Boat rentals are available at the marinas of Stagecoach and Steamboat Lake. For fly patterns, try woolly buggers in olive, black and brown to imitate minnows. As water temperatures drop, slow your reeling motion. “Autumn’s cold water dictates a slower retrieve,” said Lee, adding that crayfish patterns are also a good bet.

There also are countless smaller lakes to dip a line. On the other side of the Park Range from Steamboat, in Jackson County, are the Delaney Buttes lakes, all of which offer free camping, as well as Big Creek Lake and Lake John. In the Flat Tops Wilderness Area are Trapper’s Lake, where you can rent canoes, rowboats and rustic accommodations, as well as Chapman, Sheriff and Stillwater reservoirs, and the smaller fish hideouts of Rainbow and Mosquito lakes.

North of Steamboat are Hahn’s Peak and Pearl lakes, and farther off the beaten track are the alpine lakes of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, including Gilpin, Three Mile and Mica.

Atop Grand Mesa, a 10,000-foot-high plateau near Grand Junction, are more than 200 stocked lakes teeming with rainbows, brooks and cutthroat. Favorites include the Gold Medal waters of Mesa Lakes, as well as Cottonwood Lakes and Vega Reservoir. There also are several fishing lodges on Grand Mesa that stay open well into fall.