High Mountain Lakes Fly Fishing

Summer is a fantastic time to fish rivers and creeks but it also is the perfect time to strap on a backpack and explore some high mountain lakes. Colorado has a vast number of high alpine lakes loaded with trout.

I was lucky enough to have a few days off last week so fellow guide Reid Eakins and myself hit the road in search of high mountain cutthroats. What we have found is that the more remote you get, the better the fishing will be;  with this in mind, we ventured South down to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The plan was to spend 3 days in the backcountry fishing. With our packs loaded with fishing gear and the backpacking essentials (whiskey, of course), we hit the trails.

The first day we hiked 4.5 miles to our first destination. We set up camp in the early evening and fished well into the evening hours. Fish were rising but it was a challenge to figure out what they were eating. Finally, after switching several flies, Reid started picking fish up on a thin mint fly; they took the fly on a very slow retrieve. The next day, we hiked up to another lake looking for bigger cutthroats. We found fish to be eating scuds just below the surface on a very fast retrieve. After a long day of fishing and hiking we relaxed at our campsite sipping whiskey and sharing fish stories.

Backpacking and fishing go great together; it is a great opportunity to get away from the hustle of city life and explore what the Colorado mountains have to offer.

Give your local creeks or rivers a break and explore some high mountain lakes!




5 QuickTips for Fly Fishing Highly Pressured Waters

Colorado has many thousands of miles of streams and rivers that are great for trout fly fishing, but there are certain stretches—mainly our fantastic tailwaters—that receive the majority of the angling pressure. Do not let a highly pressured river, and its “educated” trout, intimidate you as there are many different tactics you can take to stack the odds in your favor. Here are a handful.

Be Patient: Before you think about wetting your line, take a step back and observe the water. Too often we rush into fishy looking water and spook large trout that were along the bank or we rigged up at the car and have the wrong setup on. 5 quick tips 1When you arrive at the river look for insects hatching, or whether the fish are feeding in tailouts or the head of riffles. Observe the surrounding weather so you’ll know which fly patterns will work best with cloud coverage. A simple two minutes of observation before you make your first cast may tip you to a flash in the tailout that turns into a 22 inch rainbow!

Adaptation is Crucial: The river is a living, moving organism that can change day-by-day and certainly hour-by-hour. As anglers we must be prepared to make the necessary adjustments throughout the day, especially on a highly pressured river. This could be as simple as switching from a dry fly setup to a subsurface nymph rig, but it can also be more complex than that. Adjusting your weight on a nymph rig, changing the size of your fly patterns (smaller is usually better), and noting when trout are moving from deep water into riffles should have you playing a mental game of chess. And in this game of adjustment there is nothing more useful than good old fashioned observation.

Use Fluorocarbon: There are many occasions in which you’ll want to have the Nylon v Fluorocarbon leader and tippet debate. But when fishing a highly pressured river, such as The Taylor River where the fish can get extremely large and extremely skittish, you’ll want every advantage you can get. 5 quick tips 2The light refractive index of Fluorocarbon tippet is very similar to that of fresh water so when it’s submerged in a river it is almost near invisible to a trout’s eye. This element of Fluorocarbon makes it essential to fishing highly pressured river and its trout.

Be a River Ninja: You’re going to want to be as stealthy as possible when fly fishing water that receives an excessive amount of angling pressure. This starts with your approach into any given run or riffle. Trout have a blind spot, and it’s directly behind them, so begin your presentation at the tailout of the riffle and make upstream presentations, so as to keep out of their periphery. Also, wear colors that blend in with your surroundings. During winter I like to wear gray jackets, during spring I’ll wear more green colored shirts. Match your environment!

Sunglasses Matter: Using polarized sunglasses will allow you as an angler to cut through the glare of river and will help you identify what the heck is going on down there! In a highly pressured river, fishing “fishy” water will occasionally get you the lucky trout, but to be a truly effective angler on these waters requires you to be able to sight fish to feeding trout. You need to be able to spot feeding trout and their movements so you know exactly where your cast, mend, and presentation should be. Point being, I’d rather leave my waders at home than my polarized shades.

Ice Fishing Eleven Mile Reservoir

Ice fishing is by no means unique to Coloradans, but in a state full of outdoor enthusiasts, Old Man Winter and his blustery chills certainly has not hampered our desire to go rip lips. Over the last 15 years the sport has grown exponentially, to the point now that if you’re planning on hitting the hard-top on a weekend its best to be prepared to share the lake with a few dozen, if not hundreds, of your closest friends. With that in mind we’ll be discussing Eleven Mile Reservoir, which offers the chance to land a trout (or pike!) of a lifetime, but also is one of the most pressured ice fisheries in the state.

Ice fishing for many shore anglers represents the only opportunity to have an entire lake/reservoir at your disposal—unless you’re lucky enough to own a boat for the summer months. From mid-December until Easter (in some years), you are no longer confined to the skinny water between you and a long cast. This is why the sport has grown so much. Well, that and the fact that winter’s cold water in no way deters trout from playing the game!

ice fishing trout 1

Regardless of the year, the ice at Eleven Mile always has three distinct stages:

First Ice—This is the best time to take advantage of what ice fishing has to offer. In the week to two weeks leading up to Christmas is when we find trout to be in one of their most aggressive feeding moods, as well as the fact that this is the least amount of pressure they’ll see until spring.  Fishing this stage requires a certain amount of caution and it is imperative that anglers have a good understanding of where the ice originates. Ice always forms first over the shallowest water and continually progresses to the deepest parts of the lake until it is all capped.  The best advice for fishing during this time is that if you are not comfortable with it, stay off.  As a general rule of thumb, if you have 2 inches of solid hard ice it can support your body weight.

Mid-Winter—Think of this as the dog-days of ice fishing. Fish have now seen nearly every lure the sporting goods store has to offer, and as such the pure amount of pressure can make the actual catching very slow. They are still there to be had but this time of year on Eleven Mile is going to take a bit more time and energy.

Late Ice—Spring is coming and the fish know it. This is the most overlooked period of ice fishing for both trout and pike at Eleven Mile. This system holds a large population of Cutties and Rainbow trout, which both spawn in spring time, so with ice still on the lake you’ll begin to see them stage in the back bays and inlet of the reservoir. Pike are also in spawning mode this time of year and in many cases are staging near the inlet area as well. Best advice is to park at Sucker Cove and hole up near the inlet during this period. With that said, caution is in order. Spring brings warmer temperatures so err on the side of caution if the ice is starting to melt or you just have a bad feeling. If that’s the case, no worries, just bring the long rod along because the Dream Stream should be heating up around this time anyway!

Other advice to think about while conquering the giant reservoir:

As previously mentioned the inlet is the most fertile part of the lake and where you’ll find the most actively feeding fish, but this is no secret to the many competing anglers you’ll find out there. The best advice here is if the inlet area is too crowded pack up and leave for the far eastern section of the lake. You’ll still find a good amount of fish and a quarter of the crowds.

ice fishing trout 2

There are, and always will be, huge fish in this system but as we all know big fish did not get big by being dumb. This is especially true at Eleven Mile where the large trout are loners and can literally be anywhere at any given time. There is no golden rule to finding one of these piggies but based on their reclusive nature from too many jigs in the water, its best to leave the crowds behind and get the heck away from everyone else on the lake. Find a deep section of the lake, 25 feet and below, and fish the abyss!

Lowlight hours are key to ice fishing for trout. Your first 30 minutes on the ice in the morning can often be your most productive of the whole day. During this lowlight period its best to fish your jig anywhere between the 6-15 foot depth for actively feeding fish and as the day progresses, you’ll find they slip into deeper and deeper water.

Also, do not be afraid to move if you have not caught or spotted any trout in your hole.  Ice trolling can be extremely effective if you pack light gear and have a good partner willing to move around. By drilling 10-20 holes within a given area, granted the crowds have to be at a minimum, you’ll be able to fish a hole for 10 minutes and if you’re not getting any action can move on to the next hole. This process gives you fresh water to fish as well as the chance at finding untouched trout.

Of course all of this is a moot point unless you get out there and crack a hole in the ice! Get out there, stay warm, have fun and put a bend in that rod!


Swinging Wet Flies For Colorado Trout: How To Set Up

Watching trout eat emergers can be very frustrating. They are not quite eating dry flies but showing enough of their backs that you switch out your nymph rig for dry flies. Again you are fish-less and wondering what the hell are these fish eating. Well chances are they are chowing on emergers and since trout are professional bug eaters if you are not in the zone then you are out of it. Lose the bobber, weight and heavy nymphs and try swinging for a change.

colorado rainbow trout Swinging flies is not a new technique in fact it is very old and is getting more attention each passing year. Quotes like “if it aint on the swing it aint no thing” or “the tug is the drug” have emerged from swinging flies to fish. These quote also tend to end with “Brah” which is slang for bro. I personally think those sayings are dumb and tend not to use them. But, I do like to swing flies and have been doing so before it became the “cool” thing to do. A lot of anglers tend to associate swinging flies for Anadromous fish like Steelhead, Salmon and Sea Run Brown Trout. What is often over looked is swinging flies for pesky mountain trout. I learned how to swing flies for trout quite a few years ago on the Yakima River in WA. Of course the bobber fishing was crushing as it tends to do but our guide turned me on to swinging wet flies. If this is old news to you please chime in and let us know how you like to set up your program. If you are new this is how I like to set up a swinging rig for trout.

Take a 7-9 foot leader and tie on an additional 12-18″ of tippet. Leave about 4-5 inches of tag end at your leader/tippet connection. That tag end is where you will tie your first fly. Your second fly will be attached at the end of your tippet. your rig should look like the picture below.

Sorry For The Bad Illustration
Sorry For The Bad Illustration


Try to use flies that are not overly heavy. This will reduce your tangles. I like to use soft hackles that displace water when moving through the water column. Keep in mind that you will be fishing the top 1-3 feet of the water column. If you want to go real deep go back to the bobber or add a sink tip.

Cast down and across the river and let your bugs swing across the current at a 45 degree angle. It is best to leave a little loop behind your trigger finger. Keep the line somewhat tight and follow your fly line with your rod tip as it moves down river. When you feel the tap tap either drop your loop or keep swinging. Often time the fish will hang itself on the bug and the fight begins. It is difficult not to set the hook when you feel the “tug brah” but you will be more successful if you either drop your loop and keep your rod low.


Trout Eating Emergers
Trout Eating Emergers

Swinging flies works well in all types of water. In the winter it works great in long slow runs. In the summer months try swinging bigger flies in fast riffles at the head of a run. You’ll be surprised what you’ll pull out. Get rid of the bobber for a day and let us know how you do.

Fly Fishing Colorado: Go To Winter Fly Patterns

When I think of my winter fly box I get depressed. A bunch of tiny flies my eyes can barely. Midges, Midges and Midges. Then of course there are the eggs. The standard setup you will see on a guides rod this time of year is a bobber, a weight and egg trailed by a midge. This setup works very well and I am sure I have a rod rigged with that setup right now. But if you are looking for something a little different look for these few patterns next time you’re in the shop.

The Decisions
The Decisions

Number one the Micro May. This little guy rocks on those warmer winter days when the water temps warm up. If you fish over on the Roaring Fork River you know exactly what I am talking about. The micro may is an excellent lead fly. Trail a Midge Emerger behind it and watch your bobber dance.


Number two Roy Palms Special Emerger. Fish it wet or fish it dry. This goofy looking little fella with an orange shuck has put dollar bills in my pocket. Originally designed for the Frying Pan River but works everywhere.


Number Three RS2. If you don’t have any of these in your box stop reading now and go buy them. Black, Grey or Olive this is a fly I buy or tie by the dozens. A simple bug but very very effective on tailwater and freestone rivers alike.



These flies are not in specific order just how they came to mind. They are all good flies and ones that I always have in my box. Next time you are shopping for Colorado Winter Flies throw some of the above in your fly box. You will not be disappointed.

Colorado Tailwater Tactics: Winter Fly Fishing For Picky Trout

Fly Fishing during the winter months in Colorado can be a great time to be on the water. Although many of our freestone rivers tend to freeze, an angler can find open water on one of our many Tailwater Rivers like the Frying Pan, Yampa, Blue or Southplatte.

Frying Pan River Rainbow Trout
Frying Pan River Rainbow Trout

Although we are blessed with these waters they are not always the closest stretches to reach. Often times these rivers can be a couple hours or more away. And since they are open and boast large numbers of fish they also attract a lot of anglers. There is nothing worse than making a long drive to find the river extremely crowded. If a tailwater is on your winter fishing list I would recommend leaving early and staking your claim. Bundle up too. A lot of these tailwater rivers are in shaded areas and only get so much sun (if any) a day.

Mid Frying Pan River
Mid Frying Pan River

Be sure to check the reports before heading to the river. Although the flows of a tailwater tend to stay steady during the winter the hatches can vary and fishing can slow down during a damn release or shut down. These cold clean rivers can be very rewarding to a hearty angler who can bear the cold during the long winter. Tailwater fisheries have an abundances of insect life and keep the resident trout fat and happy, even during the coldest winter months. With all the aquatic insect life to choose from these fish can be very picky as well. Having a box full of midges in a many different colors can make the difference between a banner day and a mediocre one. Like above mentioned the water is also very very clear so having tippet in the 5x-7x range is a must. Sometimes using a lighter rod is beneficial when using lighter tippet, but that is another discussion. A lot of these tailwater fisheries have trout in the 8-10 lb range with even bigger trout being caught each year.

Frying Pan Brown Trout - Colorado
Frying Pan Brown Trout – Colorado

The Frying Pan and Taylor River are both famous for it’s large Mysis fed trout. Nymphing is a great technique employed during the cold of winter, but midge hatches can be prolific giving the fly angler the opportunity to catch fish on small dry flies during the winter. If the snow brings you to Colorado for the skiing don’t over look the fly fishing. It is a good way to skip the lift lines and ice down your tired legs after hitting the hill. You might even get lucky and land the trophy trout you see in magazines.

Swinging For Trout

I stumbled upon this video earlier today and thought it was worth a share. As many of you know swinging flies is becoming very popular and it is not just for Steelhead and Salmon. Lighter weight spey rods and switch rods can be an excellent tool for swinging leaches on larger western rivers. There are some great slow motion shots of spey casting in this short video from scum line media.

Switch it Up from scumliner media on Vimeo.

Mouse Eating Trout: Colorado

Last week I was able to watch Shawn Ash from The Flyfisher Guide Service throw some obnoxiously large mice patterns at trout in a small creek. Of course we spooked more than a few and some chased the fly a good distance but wouldn’t commit. We got some great takes and were even able to land a few. The mouse pattern that Shawn was throwing was a tube fly pattern that kind of resembled a Morrish mouse, but to be honest I had never seen anything like it. The foam back on the body of the fly held it just above the surface while the tail had great movement through the water. It was fun watching these fish inspect and take the fly. You might think that they would crash it but instead they trail behind the mouse pattern and sip it in like they would a dry fly. With the amount of large fish we saw in this tiny creek it certainly looks like these trout are occasionally dining on land roaming mammals. If you have never tried fishing mice patterns it is a hoot and should be high on your fly fishing to do list. This is a short video shot by Lateral Line Media about the carnage that happened last week. The takes and refusals shots are great.

Rainbow Trout Eating Mice Patterns: Colorado from Joey Macomber on Vimeo.