Region Report: Colorado Rockies in Spring

Region Report: Colorado Rockies in Spring

Regardless of what the calendar says, spring time has arrived in Colorado. Warm temperatures have melted riverbanks and the water is warming up. Fish are taking notice to the shift and productive days are becoming more common once again. For anyone willing to take the trip, the Colorado Rockies have a lot to offer!

Fly fishing river shoreline

While fishing conditions are highly variable from valley to valley, there are some flies that are must-haves during this transitional season. First on the list is the Zebra Midge in 18-22. Zebra midges are one of the first hatching flies in the southern Rockies. These tiny flies emerge on sunny days when the conditions are right. From February-May, the Zebra Midge is a great fly to use on slow-moving water. I typically tie them in tandem and use a small thingamabobber to visualize any strikes. The midges can be found all throughout the water column, so try some variations and see what works best for you.

The second fly you must keep handy is a Blue-Wing Olive, or BWO. The Baetis family of flies are also indicative of spring and hatch through the end of fall. These flies can be used in smaller sizes in spring time, like 16, to produce some great fishing on sunny days. These flies don’t typically work well in windy or cloudy conditions, so keep some bead-head nymphs and soft hackle nymphs for those days. On a sunny day, hatches can explode in minutes and fish will scoop these flies like popcorn. The best way to judge if a BWO is the right choice is to watch the water. If you see fish rising, a BWO can never fail.

Flies on cork

The water has been clearing itself of ice for a while. Most banks are ice-free now, although some spots will still have some buildup. Waders are your best friend this time of year. If you don’t have a pair, check out some options at the Fishwest store. Most waders work decently, and it’s true that you get what you pay for when it comes to waders. The best part of wader fishing is looking like a total goon!

While most active fish are younger, the lunkers are starting to emerge. The larger fish are still moving slow, and don’t typically rise during a hatch. To find some larger fish in a Colorado spring, use nymphs or streamers for best results. If you’re nymphing, a larger attractor pattern followed by smaller nymphs (like the Zebra Midge) will help you the most. Streamers are also popular this time of year. I’ve caught on Woolly Buggers and Sculpins the most, but admittedly I don’t use streamers as much as most others.

Partially snow-covered river for fly fishing.

In terms of species, brown trout seem to be the most active in the spring. While rainbows and brookies are still out there, they seem to hold on to the lethargy of winter longer than browns. Brown trout are omnivorous and will go after most anything they can spot in the water. A typical brown trout is 8-12″, but some serious tanks can be found at 20+”. A well-rounded rod should be used to feel smaller fish and hold their own against any larger fish. Personally, my rod of choice in spring is a 9′ 5 weight carbon graphite rod. They offer great stiffness when the wind picks up but have enough play to feel smaller fish strikes.

If you decide to head to the hills for some bends, bring appropriate attire. Spring can be a controversial month with weather reporters. It may snow in the morning and be Chaco weather by noon. To best prepare yourself, bring an all-weather jacket with you. Headwear is also essential, whether it protects you from a blizzard or keeps you free of sunburn. A beanie hat and band can make or break your day. Flyfishing gloves also help when you’ve spent the entire morning pulling hooks from the mouths of hungry trout. Finally, don’t forget water! It may be cold, but dehydration is never fun when fun is the intent of your trip.

Two fly fishermen on the bank of a snowy river.

Spring in Colorado can be a very productive time of year to find some great fish. You’ll be set if you follow some of these tips and spend some time on Google Earth. So, dust off your setup, toss on a jacket, get your feet wet and have fun!

Fish on, my friends.