Get Outside: Ten Lucky Fishing Destinations in Colorado

Few fishing destinations rival the scenery in Colorado.
Few fishing destinations rival the scenery in Colorado. Unsplash / Mark Rogers
Leaf peeping is a favorite autumn activity among Coloradans. Some visit eateries along scenic drives; others strap on boots for colorful fall-time hikes. And then there are the wise fishers — ones who waited for crowds to wane, temperatures to drop and fish to flourish. Angling opportunities are found statewide, but this season, cast your line at these ten lucky fishing destinations:

Upper Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is the longest river in Colorado, boasting a 102-mile section that ranks as Gold Medal waters. Such places produce sixty pounds of trout per acre, and at least a dozen of these fish must be fourteen inches or larger. If you want to get lucky with a catch, the odds here are in your favor. Find this fly-fishing destination in Leadville and down south into Colorado’s “banana belt,” encompassing the towns of Buena Vista and Salida. Warmer temperatures in this area allow for fishing late into the fall season.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir, the key feature at this Colorado State Park, is also home to Gold Medal waters. Here, anglers cast from the shore, fly-fish from belly boats, and test their skills at trolling techniques. Boats are available for rent at the 11 Mile Marina, found at the edge of the nearby Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir. Between the two bodies of water, don’t miss the Dream Stream, a section of the South Platte River that’s famed for trophy trout.

North Platte River
Found near the Wyoming border, the North Platte River experiences chillier temperatures in the fall. But when the sun is shining and the wind is calm, a trip to Walden is well worth the drive. Throughout grassy valleys, shallow tributaries serve as home to massive brown trout. Walk the shore, wade or even kayak to navigate the eighteen-mile stretch of Gold Medal waters.

Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is not only one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it's a great fishing area, as well. Given its easy access along Bear Lake Road, it’s by no means remote, and at times, quite crowded. But the breathtaking scenery and surrounding wildlife make for a magical experience. Arrive early to share the water’s edge with moose and elk, and cast a line for a good chance at brook, brown and rainbow trout.

Cherry Creek Reservoir
Cherry Creek Reservoir is one of the best fishing destinations near Denver. Although the reservoir is highly popular, a plentiful variety of fish keeps anglers hopeful. Bait rainbow trout and walleye from shore or out on a boat, and stay late to catch catfish at night. The 4,000-acre state park offers many other forms of outdoor recreation, too, including hiking, horseback riding and camping close to Denver.
Autumn fishing along the Gunnison River.
Unsplash / Jarrett Mills
Gunnison River
Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water, is one the state’s prime fishing and boating destinations. Set along the shore, Elk Creek Marina services beginners looking to book guided fishing trips on Blue Mesa and nearby Morrow Point. Those more experienced explore these and other areas of the Gunnison River solo. Solitude is easy to find, especially in the fall season. Gold Medal waters are located between Crystal Dam and North Fork, and this time of year brings about the largest Kokanee salmon run in the country.

Steamboat Lake
More Gold Medal waters are found at Steamboat Lake State Park, as are golden aspens. It’s one of the state's best leaf-peeping destinations, made even more scenic by the shimmering lake. From the sandy mountain beaches and less-visited shores, fishers cast lines and haul in large cutthroat and rainbow trout. For a better chance at a catch, bring your waders or a belly boat. The quiet, grassy area near the dam and Sage Flats is a promising spot, too.

Fryingpan River
For more ideal fall-time fishing, head to Fryingpan River near Basalt. Gold Medal waters lie between the nearby Ruedi Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River confluence. Although Forest Road 105 follows the waterway and provides easy access, this area is definitely remote. Enjoy peaceful seclusion, stunning mountain views and stellar fishing opportunities. Brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout are plentiful in the area.

Cottonwood Lake
Cottonwood Lake may not be the most celebrated Colorado fishing destination on this list, but it’s one of the best places to go leaf-peeping this weekend. The season’s yellow aspens and dramatic Collegiate Peaks make it an incredibly scenic spot for spinning, bait casting and fly fishing. After reeling in the day’s trout and northern pike, soak at Cottonwood Hot Springs, found just five miles down the road. This peaceful retreat ranks as one of the most relaxing hot springs in Colorado.

Roaring Fork River
From the Fryingpan River confluence to where the Roaring Fork meets the Colorado River, Gold Medal waters flow. In other words, the segment between Glenwood Springs and Basalt is a fly fisher’s paradise. This powerful, fast-moving river segment attracts only the strongest and largest of cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout — meaning a lucky catch may be yours for the taking.
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