Where to Fish the Upper Colorado River

Where to Fish the Upper Colorado River

Another great day on the upper Colorado from Pumphouse to Rancho Del Rio with Mike Connerley of San Diego, CA.  Fishing was a little slower near pump but fished lights out as usual from the canyon mouth below pumphouse to Rancho.

For the Wade Fishers
The Colorado is often thought of as this giant river, that is very difficult to wade anywhere below Parshall.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  1,800 sounds like a lot of water but on the Colorado it really spreads out and is quite manageable on foot.  Although the river from Pumphouse to state bridge received a high amount of raft and other recreational use, very few wade fish the Colorado.  Below are 5 wade access areas where you can expect to have success.

Directions from Denver
I-70 West to Silverthorne exit 205.  North on highway 9 to Trough Road.  Make a left on trough road to access access points between Pumphouse and State  Bridge (approx. 2  1/2 hours drive time)

1. Gore Canyon
Park at pumphouse, and from boat ramp one follow the trail head up river.  Into Gore Canyon.  You can expect to have this section almost entirely to yourself.

2 Pumphouse
This is a busy area for boat use, but if you are wade fishing you can expect that most people will be buzzing by pretty quickly and are generally good at staying out of your way. There is a very good wade spot directly below boat ramp 3.

3. Radium
Drive 5 miles south of pumphouse on Trough Road and make a left to Radium BLM access area.  There are a series of islands above the bridge that hold an outrageous amount of fish.  The big shelf river left side downstream of the bridge is holding an outrageous amount of hefty browns and rainbows at the moment.

4. Down Stream of Ranch Del Rio
Below Ranch (6 miles south of Radium) is Rancho Del Rio.  Drive just past Rancho until you come to the bridge.  Either side of the bridge fishes well, and there is plenty of good water from there down.  If you continue downstream about 4 miles you will see a cable going over the river. This is known as cable rapids.  Don’t be alarmed by the word “rapid” as there is a ton of soft water on the edges and out towards the main channel.  This is one of my favorite wade spots on the upper C.  Park on the pull offs along trough, cross the tracks, and fish up or down until your hearts content.

5. State Bridge
Four miles below Rancho is State Bridge. Park at State Bridge landing (5 dollar access fee) and walk up stream.  there is great water on the river left side before the Piney river dumps in approx. 1/4 a mile above State Bridge.  You may also want to walk up the Piney and fish terrestrials.  This is a great little tributary of the Colorado.  You can cross the Piney here and continue to find good Wade Access near the Island above the piney/Colorado confluence.

Float Fishing the Colorado
The Colorado from now until November is a great float for those with rafts or driftboats.  It’s relatively mild water, and fairly easy to read.  If you are new to floating the Colorado I would recommend that you do shorter floats, but really work the water hard.  Get out and wade fish and backrow good looking water.  In doing so, you will discover a lot of little spots that you can always count on to hold fish.  If you are consistently doing the long floats, your concern then becomes just covering water as opposed to learning the water intimately.  Once you get a feel for  the shorter floats than you can start tagging together longer floats because you know your spots and will have developed an eye for the type of water these fish hold in.   Here are 3 short floats I would recommend and where to fish.

Pumphouse to Radium
The top section before you enter the Canyon holds a lot of fish and gets a lot of pressure.  Try and look beyond the obvious spots. Tuck left at the islands and spend sometime in the side channels.  Just before you you get to the canyon, spend some time in that slow water.  there are a lot of fish in this section that are often overlooked.  Get on a seam and make a long drift. Once you’ve entered the canyon, fish the soft insides against rapids. Once you get to the hot springs, look for shelves, cuts, and structure in the center of the river and on inside corners.  As you approach Radium, work all the islands thoroughly.  River right bank before the takeout is great streamer and hopper water.

Radium to Rancho
before you enter red canyon, spend time working the main channel in this upper section.  In the hard to read water, look for shallow water and then decide where it becomes deeper.  Those transition areas are the key to this section.  Once you enter the canyon section, fish the inside of rapids and tight against the banks with good structure.  At Yarmony rapid fish the river right side just below the rapid…lots of fish.  After Yarmony,  start thinking shelves again.  Look for clues along the banks such as points and corners that might indicate a submerged hump or shelf.  Once the water slows, find the fastest water in the lake sections and make long drifts. This is where you will find some large rainbows.

Rancho to State Bridge
Until you reach the bridge, there is marginal structure and the fish often wonder in this water.  I generally focus on the banks with good current moving against them.  Once you reach the bridge, take note of my suggestions above in the wade fishing portion and do the same until you reach State Bridge.

If you are wading or floating, your fly selection will be much of the same.  Pat’s rubberlegs, prince nymphs, soft hackle pt’s, or whatever you feel like tossing.  These fish love to eat and catching fish has a lot more to do with where and less to do with what.  In the boat you will fish shorter and lighter rigs because you have more drift time to get your flies down.  On foot, I would suggest running a bit longer with more weight.  6-7 weight rods are preferable, but your 5 weight will do if it’s all you have. 3x-5x tippet is the standard depending on fly size.

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or give me a call at the shop. 720-851-4665

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About the Author

Justin Nolan

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