You’re knee deep in a cold, crisp river with a big fat smile on your face. In your net is the third 14-inch rainbow you’ve caught over the last two hours, and you feel like a gold medal Olympian. And why shouldn’t you? You’re fishing on one of the thirteen Gold Medal waters in Colorado, known for being full of big, hungry trout. In order to get this distinction, a stretch of water must have 60 pounds of trout per acre and at least twelve 14” or larger trout per acre. And to give you an idea of just how special these waters are, out of the 9,000 or so miles of fishable water in Colorado, only 322 miles are Gold Medal water.
1. Animas River
Flowing through the rustic town of Durango, the Animas River is a angler’s dream. Having twice made a comeback from mining runoff, this river is kicking once again and begging for people to fish it. The seven miles south of Durango, starting from the 32nd Street Bridge, are the best bet for public access areas on this river. Between the long riffles and deep pools holding hungry brown trout, the Animas will leave any fly fisher grinning ear to ear.
Pro Tip: Watch your footing. The Animas is known for very slick rocks, so be sure to tread carefully otherwise you might be taking a dip!
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2. Arkansas River
The 102-mile stretch of water on the Arkansas River from Leadville to the US 50 bridge crossing above the Royal Gorge can only be described in one word: epic. When you’re not lost in the jaw-dropping canyons, mountains and prairies of Colorado, there’s a river full of brown trout waiting for you. Famous for its Mother’s Day caddis hatch, where swarms of these bugs bring rising trout, the Arkansas River is sure to bag an angler a fish or ten. One suggestion: parts of the Arkansas River are known for having large rapids, so either book a guide service or go with a friend who’s got some rowing experience. So grab your waders, grab your pole, grab your buddies, and get out on this river.
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Pro Tip: Bring your bugs. The Arkansas River has quite the insect diversity, so what might work in the morning might not be in the afternoon.
3. Colorado River
The 22 miles of water on the Colorado River between the Pumphouse BLM recreation area and Rock Creek are home to some hardy trout. With brown trout and rainbow averaging 14-18 inches, and huge browns (30in+) being pulled out, this river is perfect for the diehard fishermen as well as the recreationalist. Your best bet is to float this river, but make sure you’ve got someone with a little rowing experience as there can be some big rapids.
Pro Tip: Check out the salmonfly hatch starting in June. As the big ole’ bugs begin to hatch, big ole’ hungry trout come to the surface. It’s a win-win for everyone.
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4. Fryingpan River
Extending from the Ruedi Dam to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, this 13-mile stretch of river holds some absolute lunkers. With mysis shrimp flowing out of the Ruedi Dam, the fish here happily gorge themselves all day, which means big trout for you. The lower sections of the Fryingpan River are no joke either. If big hatches and dry fly fishing are your dream, then look no further than the lower Fryingpan in the summertime.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to land a trophy trout, be sure to check out the “Toilet Bowl”. This deep pool right after the Ruedi Dam is a perfect feeding ground for huge trout but be prepared for crowds.
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5. Gore Creek
Spending the weekend in Vail? Gore Creek is calling your name. Running right through Vail, the Gold Medal section starts where the Red Sandstone Creek enters the Gore and ends when it meets up with the Eagle River. This river is no slouch though. The trout can be spooky so be sure to use light lines and good technique. Sighting the fish and then casting just a little upstream will be your best bet to hook one of the Gore’s gorgeous trout.
Pro Tip: Parking isn’t always easy near Vail, but Donovan Park or Stevens Park are always a safe bet.
6. Gunnison River
The Gunnison River is a Colorado favorite for killer brown and rainbow trout fishing. The Gold Medal Waters start about 200 yards downstream from Crystal Dam and flow all the way until the North Fork of the Gunnison River. In the summertime, this river becomes bug heaven! Between the caddis, stoneflies, green drakes, and many others, there’s never a shortage of bugs to choose. So if you ever find yourself in southern Colorado, be sure to check out this river. You won’t regret it!
Pro Tip: If you find yourself cruising through parts of the Black Canyon of Gunnison, go with an experienced guide. The rapids can get pretty gnarly.
7. North Delaney Lake
If you’d like to try your hand at water that is a bit more still, but still want incredible trout fishing, look no further than North Delaney Lake. Fish big ole’ streamers in the morning as you try to snag a hungry brown. Do a little nymphing in the middle of the day. Finally, end your day with some dry fly fishing as those bugs hatch. All in all, North Delaney Lake offers a nice change of pace if you’re typically a river fisherman.
Pro Tip: Put on that insect repellant. Word on the street is the mosquitoes here can grow quite large and are hungry suckers.
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