Happy New Years everyone! I hope you all have ‘fish more’ on your list of New Year’s Resolutions. If so, we at Minturn Anglers are here to make sure you don’t break that resolution and it starts with this Colorado Winter Fly Fishing Guide to help you have more success through the Winter!
Successful Colorado winter fly fishing can be measured in more ways than how many fish you catch. Just getting out on the water when there is snow on the ground and no else is fishing has to leave anyone with a sense of accomplishment. I love the feeling of walking to a prime winter spot after a snow storm and seeing that I am the only set of tracks going to that spot. Cooler temps also allow for excellent trout fishing in urban river areas such as the Ark through Pueblo and the South Platte through Denver!
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Winter Fly Fishing Clothing
The key to winter fishing is staying comfortable. I’ve always believed there is not such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. For that reason, I will elaborate more on what I have found over the years to help keep me on the water longer and help you eliminate some gear hassles.
- Wading Boots: If you are still using felt sole boots in the winter, stop torturing yourself! The new rubber soled wading boots don’t accumulate ice & snow like felt.
- Outwerwear: Simms Windstopper Softshell Jackets, Bulkley River Wading Jacket or Rogue Fleece Hoody (put it in a pack or around your waist for the walk in)
- Baselayer: Simms Merino Wool Zip Top & Simms Coldweather Pants
- Gloves: Simms Fold-Over mittens, Half Finger Gloves, or Simms Windstopper Gloves: We have been using the full fingered Windstoper gloves and have found these to be the only full finger gloves that allow for warm but also thin enough to handle the rod & tie a fly on.
- Headwear: Simms Windstopper Beanies Polar Buffs
- Hydration Systems: The Fishpond Vest/Pack Systems are perfect for a trip like this. Gear storage and the option for the camel back. One thing I should point out is that you need to keep the tube from the bladder up against your body. If you leave it exposed, water inside it will freeze.
- Eyewear: Whatever you are wearing, make sure you have some type of lens cleaning cloth readily available for when the sweat from your face fogs up your glasses.
Winter Fly Fishing Gear Considerations
- Winter Tailwater Fly Rods: Medium action 4-5wt rods are best for light tippet and short casts on winter tailwaters. My tried and true winter rod has been the 8’8″ 4wt Scott G2 but I’m growing fond of the New Sage Circa in the 4 and 5wt. Like the G2, the Circa is great just at short range/hand-to-hand combat light tippet fishing but probably more accurate than the G2. The other thing I noticed is that this rod get less ice in the guides than any other rod I’ve used. I think the smaller guides don’t allow for as much water to drip and freeze as other rods.
- Reels: If you are already a Lamson Reels convert, rest assured that you have a fully sealed drag. If it is any other reel, don’t let the reel get wet! I had one rod with a Ross Evo LT on it, and in trying to pull line out once it froze I destroyed the gears and broke my fly line in one tug!
- Fly Line Caution: The above brings me to my next point. When fishing in near zero degree temps, all fly line gets brittle. On more than a few occasions I’ve had fly line wrap around a branch, given it a tug and the line breaks in the winter. I also like to use heavier line in the winter if I know I will be doing a lot of nymphing. If it is a 4wt rod, I will put a 6wt line on it. The heavier front end will help load the rod a lot easier when there is only 3 feet of line out of the tip. I also find that the heavier line helps pull through ice on the guide. My favorite line for winter nymphing is the Rio indicator Fly Line.
- Forceps & Hook Removing Tools: One thing I always triple check in the winter is that my barbs are smashed! The less you have to handle the fish, the warmer your hands stay. If you are wearing mittens, get the ones that you can still squeeze with your mittens on. The other little tool I make sure to have with me is the Ketchum Release Hook Removing Tool. Simply slide the end down the line and knock the hook out without ever touching the fish or having to take your gloves off.
Winter Fly Fishing Tips & Tricks
Tip #1: Rig Up Before You head to the River. Chances are in the winter you will have a pretty good idea of what you should be fishing with since midges are about the only thing hatching.
Tip #2: Keep Your Hands Warm and in the Game. When I generally find myself calling it quits in the winter is when I can’t feel my hands enough to tie on another fly.
Tip #3: Smash Your barbs before you get to the river.
With 6x tippet, getting a barbed fly stuck in your gloves, vest, etc. usually means either bending the hook or breaking the fly off. When you do hook fish, a barbed fly takes longer to remove and means handling the fish longer than you need to. Fish slime freezes quickly and will leave your hands extremely cold in no time which brings me to my next point
Tip #4 Handle Less Fish
Be selective about the fish you fish for. Look for the fish you want to catch, and ignore the little guys. Little fish love to tangle rigs, and handling a bunch of small fish will get your hands colder much sooner. For the fish you do catch, I would highly recommend carrying a Catch’m release tool in the winter. Simply slide the curved end of the tool down the leader and pop the fly out without getting your hands wet. Check out the Cath’m Release Tool
Tip #5: Best Ways to Keep Ice out of the Guides
Getting the guides iced up has to be one of the most frustrating parts of winter fishing. The best way I have found to keep my guides ice free is to strip out a set amount of line and then don’t strip the line. On most tailwaters in Colorado, you are making short casts in the winter month. By high sticking and fishing a fixed amount of line it is not necessary in most cases to strip line in through the drift. By not stripping line in you are keeping water droplets off the guides. Beyond that, I have found the Stanley’s Ice Off from Loon Outdoors to work exceptionally well in the winter.
Favorite Winter Fisheries in Colorado
In colorado We have a lot of tailwaters. Since they are dam released, you will always find some open water below the dams where you can fish 365 days a year. Here are some of our Favorites. Before discussing each river, here are a few standard winter fly fishing Rules of Thumb
- Fish the slower water
- Fish in the warmer parts of the day
- Small flies, less weight, longer leaders & lighter tippet
- Streamers are always an option if you’re the first through a run
Arkansas River through Pueblo
The Arkansas below Pueblo Reservoir has become an extremely popular winter fishery and for good reason. There are lots of quality fish 18″ and up and plenty of stockers to keep the rod bent. Temps in Pueblo also tend to be a bit warmer which keeps this tailwater that much more enticing. See detailed information, fly recommendation & tactics for Arkansas River Winter fly fishing through Pueblo >>
Big Thompson Through Estes Park
The Big Thompson through Estes Park will stay Ice free below olympus Dam short of extremely cold temps and flows below 30 CFS. For those in Northern, Colorado the Big T is your closest winter fishery. Learn more about Big Thompson Winter fly fishing in Estes Park, CO >>
Blue River Through Silverthorne
The Blue in Silverthorne is a Winter favorite and an opportunity at truly sizable fish on this mysis Shrimp tailwater. More on Blue River winter fly fishing through Silverthorne >>
Blue River Below Green Mountain Reservoir “Jurassic Park”
25 Miles North of Silverthorne on Highway 9 is the Canyon section of the Blue River tailwater below Green Mountain Reservoir. The walk in can be a little slippery, but well worth it once you reach the river. If you’re planning to hit the Blue in any section, I would highly recommend going during the week and not on the weekends where you are sure to sit in 1-70 ski traffic. Learn more about the Fly Fishing the Blue River Below Green Mountain Reservoir >>
The Colorado will stay ice free in sections through the winter months. The surest bet for open water is around the Williams Fork Confluence at Parshall between Kremmling and Hot Sulphur Springs. The Colorado at Pumphouse can also be good if temps stay warm enough. Further downstream, you can usually find open water below Glenwood Springs. More on Colorado River Winter Fly Fishing >>
Frying Pan River
Consistently awesome 365, what more can I say. Winter on the Pan is a great option in the entire section from Reudi Reservoir all the Way to the Confluence with the Roaring Fork. More on Frying Pan Winter Fly Fishing >>
North Platte River: Grey Reef, Miracle Mile & Fremont Canyon
If I could fish one place everyday and never get sick of it, the North Platte in central WY is that place. These are big powerful fish that like to eat and winter is notoriously good for streamer bites when there aren’t a lot of other bugs moving around. More information, tip, tricks & fly selection for Winter Fly Fishing on the North Platte River >>
South Platte Deckers & Cheesman Canyon
The South Platte in the Deckers & Cheesman canyon area is the closest sure thing for successful winter fly fishing.
South Platte Winter Streamer Fishing Tips & Tricks >>
Winter Nymphing on the South Platte in Cheesman Canyon & Deckers >>
South Platte 11 Mile Canyon & Dream Stream
11 Mile Canyon can get a little cold because the sun doesn’t hit the water as much, but the fishing is great. There are a lot of fish in this section, and they tend to really pile up in the deep holes through the winter months. Detailed information & tips on Winter Fly Fishing in 11 Mile Canyon on the Dream Stream>>
South Platte Waterton Canyon
Historically, Waterton Canyon below Strontias Springs Reservoir has always been a great winter fishery. Over the last few years, it has been spotty at best unfortunately. If flows are below 50 and the temps have been dipping well below freezing, expect a long bike ride or hike before you find open water. More on winter fly fishing in Waterton Canyon >>
South Platte Through Denver
This is one of my favorite winter fisheries. The carp fishing can be pretty awesome in the winter, but chances are you might find yourself nymphing for them on days where the fish simply aren’t out on the flats tailing. The real sleeper through town is the trout fishing. While there aren’t a ton of trout, the ones you do find are all quality. I can honestly say I have caught more fish over 16″ than under 16″ on the South Platte through Denver. Find out more about winter trout fishing on the South Platte through Denver >>
It would be hard to name a river that has produced more photos of people holding legitimate 10 pound fish than the Taylor. In more than half of these pictures, there is a lot of snow on the ground. More on Taylor River Winter Fly Fishing >>
Yampa River Below Stagecoach Reservoir
The Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is a great winter option for those willing to do a bit of walking to access the tailwater section. Find out everything you need to about Yampa River Winter Fly Fishing Below Stagecoach Reservoir >>