There’s no shortage of fly fishing from Colorado northwest into Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. You could spend a lifetime traversing these areas of the country and not touch a fraction of the waters that hold trout. So, we’ve narrowed it down some to the places we’ve fished the past few months with pretty good success. Even as summer slowly graduates into fall these places will remain consistent. Just remember fishing is fishing and we can’t guarantee you’ll wear out flies in every spot, but the scenery never gets old and the sense of adventure in getting off the beaten path, away from crowds and civilization, is enduring.
Of course, home-state waters are our favorite. And there’s really no shortage of really good fishing right here in southwest Colorado. The two rivers we frequent are the San Juan and the Rio Grande. They’re both close to Pagosa Springs, and in fact, we can walk to sections of the San Juan that flow through town from the office. The Rio Grande around South Fork is reachable on a weekday evening where we’ll fish for a few hours before dark. Saturdays and Sundays naturally permit full days on the water with shots at the multiple hatches, which also allows us to get further up near the headwaters of Rio Grande, some 30 miles west and north of Creede.
From high cold-water streamer fishing in the spring to low warm-water dry-fly fishing all summer and fall, the area around Pagosa Springs is fishing at its finest. – Steve Baird, local fly-fishing guide
San Juan River
If you’re coming to Colorado in the near future, and in particular Pagosa Springs where you might stop in the store and say hello, let us say in- and around-town fishing is excellent. There is no shortage of fish-holding eddies. A dry fly with a dropper has worked exceptionally well. Consider something along the lines of an elk hair caddis fly or Henrys Fork salmon fly with a San Juan worm or pheasant tail nymph dropper.
Steve Baird watches the hatch on the San Juan River in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
East of town there’s the East Fork of the San Juan that is spectacular fishing. There’s a rough road that’ll carry you way back into the National Forest, but if you’re in a rental, the wear and tear is not your burden to carry. This section of the river is pretty narrow and can be hard to cross at places. However, there are a ton of structures – from log jams to giant boulders – where you’ll find fish. Lots of insects in this area too, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble with a stimulator, wooly booger, or stone fly.
Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande is the second longest river in the United States; a fact unknown by some. Probably because it is thought of as the wide and muddy divide between this country and our neighbors to the south, Mexico. But in Colorado, near the river’s headwaters up north and west of Creede at Stony Pass and for many miles to the south, the Rio Grande is epic fishing. Plus, there is plenty of access for those who wish to wade.
Brown trout make up the majority of the fish you’ll catch. What’s important on the Rio when selecting flies is observing the hatch. The bite can get hot for 10 minutes before suddenly turning cold for no reason whatsoever. The high frequency of hatches throughout the day in the summer and early fall months can make the fish fickle. You might start out with some kind of stonefly nymph like the Bitch Creek or a big pattern such as the Elk Hair Caddis. Or tie on a two-foot dropper like a Pheasant Tail nymph to a #10-14 stimulator. Once you figure out what’s making them rise, it’s on. But be prepared to switch your setup and tactics often. If you can do this, you’re likely going to have a good day fishing on the Rio Grande River.
We’ve spent a fair amount of time in Big Sky Country lately (more on why later), which has given us the opportunity to fly fish the Yellowstone River. And an hour or two on the Gallatin. But for the sake of information overload, we’re going to talk a bit about the Yellowstone. They’re both great rivers, the Gallatin right in Bozeman, though the Yellowstone comes not only with great fishing, but also a sense of deep history among the incredible scenery.
David Page of Fluid Peak Collective fishes the Yellowstone on a recent evening.
Montana is an outdoorsman’s mecca. It boasts a lot of really awesome natural resources, one of the most spectacular being the Yellowstone River, the longest free flowing (undammed) river in the Lower 48. Here you can catch rainbows, browns, brooks, and cutthroats. We’d recommend using a drift boat if you can. Wade fishing is good too though you can really cover some water and see the country by floating.
Throughout the summer and into the fall you’ll see a consistent hatch of caddisflies, Baetis, with some mayflies sprinkled in. Terrestrials too. Fish big hoppers (stimulators) while you’re matching the hatch. There is every sort of habitat you can imagine on the Yellowstone, so might as well take several days to fish it.
One final note about the Yellowstone River. Fall is the time of year when really, really big brown trout spawn. Along with this spawn brought on by autumn leaves, there is an uptick in aggression like you won’t see any other time of year.
IDAHO - South Fork of the Snake River
The South Fork of the Snake River is considered the top cutthroat stream in the West. It also has the reputation as one of the best dry-fly fisheries in the world due to its diversity of both aquatic and terrestrial hatches. Really, it’s an all-around, incredible trout stream that averages roughly 5,000 fish per mile with plenty of rainbows and browns mixed in with the prevalent cutthroat.
The South Fork of the Snake River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world.
We’ve fished primarily in the Swan Valley area, using a drift boat. However, there are plenty of pull-ins along the river for easy wading. Summer hatches will be dominated by caddis, pale morning duns (PMDs), and yellow sallies. Regardless, bring an arsenal of flies because once you figure out what it is the fish want to eat, it is on!
The South Fork of the Snake River has seen the return of the prolific mayfly hatches it has been known for and the dry fly fishing has been amazing. – David Page, Fluid Peak Collective