Trout fishing in Colorado comes in many forms, from high-altitude sessions in the Rockies to casting your line at the bottom of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. More than 300 miles of Colorado’s rivers are designated by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission as “Gold Medal,” meaning they’re among the best spots in the country to fish for trout. To earn the Gold Medal designation, a river has to produce at least 12 trout more than 14 inches long per acre (which is a heck of a big trout).
Check out this map to the five best rivers for trout fishing in Colorado, mapped for easy road-trip planning.
Let’s get fishin.’
Best practices for fishing Colorado’s Gold Medal waters
Fishing in the high country is as picturesque as it is productive. In order to keep these waters fruitful and healthy for generations to come, many stretches of Gold Medal waters in Colorado are catch-and-release only. If you fish in late spring, be prepared for fast-moving waters — some of the best angling sites on Colorado’s rivers are darn close to the river’s source — and conditions and depths heavily influenced by snowmelt.
Buy a Colorado fishing license from Colorado Parks and Wildlife before heading out. Officers routinely check popular angling sites to make sure everyone is fishing legally, and you don’t want to be part of the problem. Finally, pack a swimsuit. Hot springs, both wild and at resorts, line Colorado’s waterways, and a soak is a perfect post-fishing activity (because a day can never be too relaxing, right?)
Arkansas River: Central Colorado
The 204-mile stretch of Gold Medal water on the Arkansas River is the best place for trout fishing in Colorado. Many dedicated anglers in Colorado have their own special spot on the Arkansas somewhere between the Lake Fork Confluence near Leadville and the town of Parkdale (near the Royal Gorge Bridge) where they cast with success — but good luck getting them to spill the beans on the best spots.
Your best bet is to cruise along Tunnel Drive just outside of Royal Gorge Park until you find a dirt pull-off that speaks to you and try your luck. If the trout aren’t biting at one spot, it won’t be more than a couple of minutes’ drive — or a quick stroll downriver — to the next one.
Animas River: Durango
Durango is home to a stretch of Gold Medal-certified river within the town limits, which is quite rare. It runs from Lightner Creek in northern Durango to the Rivera Crossing Bridge at Dallabetta Park south of town. In that stretch, you can cast a fly into top-notch trout waters with no off-road driving (or even the need to drive at all, if you live or stay in town).
After a session on the water, stop into Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters in Bodo Park for a pint of Pinstripe Red. You’re bound to find a fellow angler at the bar to swap stories with, regardless of whether you caught anything or not.
Blue River: Silverthorne
The Blue River has 34 miles of Gold Medal water running from Silverthorne to the confluence with the mighty Colorado River outside Kremmling. It’s not as long as the Gold Medal stretch of the Arkansas, it’s equally productive for anglers. Plus, you won’t find better views of the Rockies anywhere in Colorado, because the Blue itself cut the incredible valley in which you’ll cast your line. Note that you must use artificial lures on the Gold Medal stretch of the Blue.
Colorado River: Kremmling and further west
If you’re keen to spend more than a few hours fishing, make a weekend of it and hit both the Blue and the Colorado. The Gold Medal waters on the Colorado are just a few miles downstream of where it meets the Blue. One of Colorado’s most well-known stretch of trout water is the stretch from Troublesome Creek to the Fraser River confluence outside Granby.
You’ll find many river access points marked along Highway 40, so just pick one (or two) and give it a go. But before you do, stop by Kirk’s Fly Shop in Granby to check in on regulations and advisories, and to chat up the crew about where the fish are currently biting.
Also along the Colorado in Mesa County are the five different areas that make up James M. Robb Colorado River State Park. They’re near Palisade, Clifton, and Grand Junction, and each offers easy river access and ample opportunities to cast your line. At the Corn Lake section, you can even alternate between fishing the river and the lake.
Gunnison River: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
For the angler who wants to go big or go home, nowhere in Colorado is better than the stretch of the Gunnison River flowing through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. For the best experience, stay near Gunnison and work with a local outfitter like Black Canyon Anglers. Fishing in the canyon is exotic, challenging, and highly rewarding, and going with a guide ensures you’ll hit the best spots based on the given conditions to increase your chances for that catch of a lifetime.