Best Colorado Tailwaters and How to Fish ThemJean-Marie Bousquet
Colorado grants many anglers with the opportunity to fly fish year-round, despite the long winters and heavy snowfalls. The abundance of tailwater fisheries located all over the state provides incredible fly-fishing opportunities, especially during runoff season and for anglers seeking trout through the winter months.
Tailwaters are classified as water located directly downstream from a dam. Due to the constant release of water flow provided by reservoirs, along with the generally silt-free nature of the outflow, creates ideal water conditions and a stable environment for robust populations of trout that otherwise would not be possible.
Choosing which tailwater to fish can be an exciting but daunting task. Each offers their own beautiful scenery and unique challenges. Before fishing any tailwater, it’s important to understand a few simple tactics in order to be successful and catch more fish! Here are three helpful tactics to keep in mind before heading out for any tailwater adventure. Go light! While the abundance of visible fish might actually instill confidence, don’t be fooled. These fish can practically hear your car door slam as you head for the river. They will become weary before your first cast, so choose light tippet.
I’m talking 6x here. Don’t bother with a bulky indicator, go small or even better, use yarn instead. Micro spilt shot also advised. Bigger isn’t always better! Tailwater trout are equipped with a consistent abundance of food, which means they are picky eaters. Due to the healthy environment provided by tailwaters, insect life is nothing short of prolific. However, their life cycles are in fact short, which makes for an abundance of small insects in the water. Try to use sizes between 18-22. Switch it up! The selective nature of trout becomes ever more prevalent in tailwaters. If you can see fish, but they seem uninterested in your fly then it’s time to try something different. First, if nymphing, adjust your indicator to either fish closer to the bottom of the river bed or set it so that the flies drift through the middle of water. Next, if you take the above step and still haven’t had a bite it’s time to change up the color of your fly pattern. And finally, if you still aren’t getting any hits switch up that fly pattern until you do! As a spoiled Colorado native, I’ve had the opportunity to fish many of the states tailwaters. Below are only three of many tailwater fisheries to be found in Colorado. Each offers something different for all kinds of anglers.
Urban Angler: The South Platte, Denver, Colorado The South Platte corridor is a chain of exceptional tailwaters and provides a variety of fishing for all ability levels. Located in the backyard of anglers living on the Front range, local favorite stretches are Deckers, Cheeseman Canyon, and the Dream Stream. With its close proximity to the Denver metro area, this area can sometimes become crowded but it is possible to find open water and the fish are plentiful. Each of these sections of the South Platte provides miles upon miles of excellent trout fishing, one could easily spend an entire week fishing here. For the winter angler, you cannot go wrong with a trip to the South Platte. Dry Fly hatches in February anyone? Hidden Gem: The Yampa River, Steamboat Springs, Colorado The tailwater section of the Yampa River, below Stagecoach Reservoir, is a best-kept secret. Not nearly as well-known compared to other tailwaters around the state, it offers above average trout fishing year-round. Just a short 20-minute drive from the town a Steamboat, this hilly mountainside has campsites along the reservoir making it an excellent trip for a weekend getaway. Both browns and brook trout are found in this stretch, but put on your polarized sunglasses for a real viewing pleasure that comes in the form of 18” plus rainbows actively feeding. This sight alone will keep you casting in even the coldest conditions. For the Hog Hunters: The Frying Pan River, Basalt Colorado Nicknamed “The Pan,” this river is the perfect choice for stunning scenery and the chance to land the trout of a lifetime! Red sandstone forms this canyon, along with tall beautiful evergreens. With over 8 miles of public access in the gold medal stretch alone, the opportunity for a trophy brown, rainbow, cutthroat and even the occasional brook trout are high. The pan is one of the few rivers that holds Mysis shrimp.
Make sure to bring your own or pick some up at the local fly shop before heading to the river. A favorite river for many in Colorado, don’t be surprised if you are standing within a few feet of other anglers on the river, especially in the famed section just below the toilet bowl. If crowds aren’t your thing, move downstream. Solitude can be found on the lower stretches. Around each bend of Colorado tailwaters, you will find awe-inspiring views and pools full of opportunity.
The resident trout in each of these waters will prove to be extra selective and call for the utmost accuracy of presentation form anglers, but I can guarantee you it’s worth the effort. *Other tail water mentions in Colorado include- The Taylor, Williams Fork, The Blue, and The Arkansas. Must have Flies for Colorado Tail Waters: