Summer is approaching Colorado! This means that the snow is melting, wildlife is on the move, trees are budding, and the river is rising. Most importantly for the trout, bugs are hatching. The trout have survived the winter living on midges. With spring, the bounty and diversity of options increase for the fish, and also for the fisher. Stoneflies, Mayflies, Caddis, and other terrestrial options become more readily available to the trout, which they take full advantage of before foraging becomes difficult at higher river flows. Fishing for trout this time of year is quite a treat and several different techniques can be successful.
Fly fishing enthusiasts can use dry flies in hopes of drawing a curious fish to the surface, or use subsurface nymphs to present food options right in front of hungry trout.
A combination of the two using a large dry fly as a strike indicator for a subsurface wet fly is a very popular option. This is often called a ‘dry-dropper’ or ‘hopper-dropper’ if a grasshopper pattern is used, and if you can prevent tangles, it can be a great way to catch fish on rivers in Colorado.
Spin fishing is a great accessible way to get out and enjoy the beauty of landing a trout in the Rocky Mountains. Rooster tails are a common choice as they evoke a predatory response from fish. The spinners attract trout with their size, color, flash, and vibration while they mimic juvenile fish. Oftentimes, spin fishers can cast into parts of the river with little effort compared to fly casters. We crimp barbs on the treble hooks for ease of catch and release on our fishing trips.
A rainbow trout caught on a dry fly in early May along the Arkansas River
No matter what method you use, the results of fishing in Colorado waters have never been better. Our home river, the Arkansas, was recently designated the longest stretch of Gold Medal Trout Water in the State. It is easily the state’s longest, and brings the statewide total of Gold Medal river miles to 322.
Spin fishing in early May at Clear Creek Reservoir between Buena Vista and Leadville, CO.
Clean up efforts on the Arkansas River in the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s has positively impacted the fishery. The percentage of rainbow trout has grown close to 25% due to stocking of a whirling disease free Hofer/Colorado genetic mix.
The headwaters, near Leadville, were polluted and fish could not survive more than a few short years.
“It was acutely toxic,” said Greg Policky, CPW aquatic biologist for the area since 1992. “It affected the food resources as well, so it wasn’t just a survival thing. It was a growth and fitness thing.”
Today, the fishery is remarkably healthy, and the size and amount of catch is thrilling for anglers.
Tips for a successful Colorado fishing experience:
1) The trout are wild and spook easily, so approach the water slowly and wear muted colors.
2) Walk and work upstream if wade fishing since trout are usually looking upstream for food sources.
3) Don’t be too focused on finding the perfect spot, it is surprising sometimes how shallow, fast, or close to shore the water is that hold feeding trout.
4) Lastly, try float fishing from a raft. This allows anglers to see new ‘spook-free’ spots while enjoying a day spent floating down the river.