Top 3 Best Kept Fly Fishing Destinations in Colorado
Avoid the Crowds and Catch Some Great Fish
To those who want to keep their secret location safe and secret, I’m going to make you angry. I believe fly fishing is best when shared and I believe if people hear my top secret locations to fly fish in Colorado, that they will respect those areas with catch and release and proper conservation.
I’m sure there are more than 3 that I can even think of and likely hundreds more out there that could make this list if I knew about them, but I’m here to share 3 locations to go fly fishing that are nearly guaranteed to show you a good time, catch you fish, and stun you with scenery.
Betty Lake – High Mountain Cutthroats
At nearly 11,500 ft., Betty Lake is an excellent high mountain lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Surrounded by skyscraper mountains iconic to the Rocky Mountains, it sits just east of the continental divide. If you were to fly there, it’s just west of Boulder and East of Winterpark near the Moffat Tunnel. Though a permit is required to camp in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, there is camping just outside of the wilderness area that you can use and hike in each day to fish.
As long as the water is open and you can hike in, Betty lake is an excellent cutthroat trout fishery. Middle of June is the earliest you can likely make this trip, though early to mid July is likely the easiest and snow-free time to visit this lake and find plenty of willing cutthroat to eat a wide variety of flies. These are greenback cutthroat trout and when the water is open, they are ALWAYS willing to feed. Throwing any dry, nymph or streamer into the lake will catch you fish.
This lake is only 2 hours from Denver, has stunning scenery, and has enough trout to keep you busy for a day. In addition, it’s only a 45 minute hike in, which allows for most anglers to make the hike in without any difficulty.
Top Fly Patterns for Betty Lake
It’s not hard to catch fish in Betty Lake, which is why it’s one of Colorado’s best kept fly fishing secrets, but we put a list together of flies, sizes and colors you should bring to be safe.
Google Map of Betty Lake
Here is a google map showing the location of Betty lake as well as a few other lakes you can fish nearby that are all good as well.
Please Conserve This Place
100% Catch & Release – These fish are protected and you can not keep any of them. Take care to practice safe catch and release.
If you go fly fishing here, please pinch your barbs, bring a landing net, and handle the fish minimally. This is a small lake and over fishing could occur if people don’t respect this water and do your best not to harm the fish, leave trash or any trace for that matter. I think we all know how to respect a fishery, so please, PLEASE, respect this lake as it is near and dear to our hearts.
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Elk River, Steamboat, Colorado
Often dwarfed by the Yampa river, the Elk river boasts some exciting fishing. Best in late summer, hopper fishing, streamer fishing and other traditional means can catch some excellent fish. Most people don’t realize the size of fish that can be caught in this river. Though a decent part of the river is private, the public sections are not fished too often and provide some opportunities to catch some sizeable brown trout and rainbow trout.
Top Fly Patterns for the Elk River
The best time to fish the Elk River is July – October. Run off goes strong on the river for most of June and into mid July. After that, stoneflies, caddis, mayflies and streamers all seem to produce fish. Egg and worm patterns will also take fish if you want. If you are going to bring 3 patterns up with you however, make sure you have and try these out.
- Prince Nymph – #10 – 14
- Stimulator – #10 – 16
- Muddy Buddy 0r Equivalent Streamer- #4 – 12
Techniques for Fly Fishing the Elk River
On the first public stretches before the town of Clark, there is so much fishable water behind every rock and run and hole. You can’t go wrong fishing any part of the river. During mid day however, throw some streamers under the undercut banks and let them sink and roll under some big rocks. I catch most of my large fish that way.
On the upper stretches up seedhouse road, where the river becomes state land again (watch for private property signs and make sure you fish public land) the water is more rocky and the best techniques is to throw heavy nymphs into the pocket water that you would guess is too fast for trout. With the large boulders in the freestone river, it makes it easy for large trout to sit under what appears to be whitewater, when in reality, it’s great holding water for trout underneath. Most of the time you’ll know when you get a strike, they hit it hard and they are off for a run.
Make sure to use 4x tippet, these fish can get large and in a fast river, they really can give you a run. 2x- 4x helps you land them faster, protecting the fish. On the forks of the Elk, you can hike in and catch a bunch of brook trout and cutthroat trout without much hassle. Try your hoppers and stimulators and droppers for your best success.
Google Map of the Elk River
Here is a google map showing the location of the Elk River and fishable locations.
Please Conserve This Place
If you go fly fishing here, please pinch your barbs, bring a landing net, and handle the fish minimally. This is a delicate river and over fishing could occur if people don’t respect this water and do your best not to harm the fish, leave trash or any trace for that matter. Practice catch and release (unless you wanna try a whitefish, they eat pretty well). This river will not do well with a ton of pressure and fish being taken out, so do your part to conserver. I think we all know how to respect a fishery, so please, PLEASE, respect this lake as it is near and dear to our hearts.
This river is really not a secret as far as the fact people know about it. The secret is how good of fishing it can truly be. Most spend an hour and a half driving up to deckers to fish for 17-18 inch fish, when if you are ok with catching 10 – 15 inch fish all day you can have an uncrowded and productive day fishing.
I can consistently have 50+ fish days where the fish range between 10 – 15 inches. Nothing huge, but great numbers, fiesty fish and a great way to spend a day. Most fish the canyon, but the town stretches are actually my favorite and I believe hold the larger trout. During a fly fishing competition a couple years back through Front Range Anglers, I hunted down and landed a 23” rainbow trout out of the town section. Don’t ask me how it got there, but I won a free fly box for landing it during a tournament. Point is there are some larger fish in the waters that no one expects and you are always good for some numbers.
During the summer, the early morning fishes the best. A massive tube hatch comes off the river and college students in skimpy swimsuits (men included) and more beer than what should be floated down a river make their way over your fishing holes. The fish don’t seem to mind, but it ruins the relaxation of the environment a bit. To avoid the tube hatch, go up into the canyon past the first tunnel. Tubers can’t hatch up there as well :).
The beauty of this excellent fishery is that it’s so close to Denver, you can go fish it during the evening or the morning before or after work. Though tubers seem to dominate during the summers, you won’t see tubers much before 10 am so fishing the morning is the best. The fish don’t mind the tubers, but it does hurt the experience a bit and bothers me :). Overall it’s a great fishery that is often overlooked and that’s why it made our list in this post of Colorado’s best kept fly fishing secrets.
Top Fly Patterns for the Boulder Creek
You can’t go wrong with these 3 patterns below. Most patterns will catch fish in Boulder creek. Mayflies, caddis, smaller stones, hoppers, and small streamers all do fantastic. A Stimulator with a CDC caddis dry behind about 36 inches is a killer set up most of the day, doing exceptionally well in the mornings and evenings.
- Stimulator – #10 – 18
- Elk Hair Caddis – #12-18
- Zebra Midge – #16-20
Techniques for Fly Fishing Boulder Creek
I think the best advice I could give anyone fly fishing Boulder Creek is to be stealthy. Though the fish aren’t overly spooky during the summer, sneaking up on the fish can often land you the larger ones and if you fish upstream, work your way slowly catching as many fish as you can out of each hole. Don’t make the hero cast to the top of the hole on your first cast, you’ll likely only catch 1 fish.
Watch out for trees and foliage. You’ll need your side arm casting technique mastered and short casts are usually the name of the game.
Google Map of the Boulder Creek
Here is a google map showing the location of Boulder Creek and some of the fishable sections.
Please Conserve This Place
If you go fly fishing here, please pinch your barbs, bring a landing net, and handle the fish minimally. This is a small creek and it is CATCH AND RELEASE everywhere in town. I think we all know how to respect a fishery, so please, PLEASE, respect this lake as it is near and dear to our hearts.
Check Out More of Colorado’s Best Rivers
The three places listed above are awesome, but Colorado has so many more great jewels that are worth exploring. Check out the river explorer for FREE. All you do is enter an email and then you get access to filter through all the rivers and sections. You couldn’t explore all this water in a decade, but that’s not going to stop you from learning about it is it?