August 9, 2011
Done dressing your elk?
With the Yampa River flowing through the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig, the Elk and White rivers nearby, and countless smaller streams, lakes and reservoirs in the surrounding hillsides, Routt and Moffat counties are the perfect place to complement your hunt with trout fishing.
"Fishing is the perfect companion activity to hunting," says Brett Lee, a veteran hunter and co-owner of Straightline Sporting Goods in Steamboat Springs. "And Northwest Colorado offers some great options."
Lee adds that this year the fishing should remain especially good well into fall. "With the amount of water we've had this year, in the form of both snow and rain, the fishing will be awesome all hunting season," he says. "Some years the rivers get too low and warm, but this fall should be great."
He adds that, like the area's hunting options, hot spots are strewn throughout Northwest Colorado. "The Yampa through Steamboat has great fishing with a lot of public access, the White down by Meeker is great, and the high mountain lakes where people hunt are fantastic also," he says. "Come fall, those fish know winter's coming and start feeding like crazy. It's pretty easy fishing."
So if time allows, swap your rifle for a rod and pursue another prized quarry in Northwest Colorado.
Wending its way from the Flat Tops Wilderness Area west to its confluence with the Green River near Dinosaur National Monument, the Yampa River offers more than 100 miles of prime fishing, especially during the cooler hunting months of autumn when trouts' metabolisms come alive.
Prime public areas include the Stagecoach tailwaters just below Stagecoach Lake, the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area three miles south of town on County Road 14 (note: you can also take a footbridge to a pond teeming with northern pike), and the six-mile Steamboat "town stretch," which extends to the west side of town and carries as many as 2,000 trout per mile. Favorite locations include the tall grass meanders of Rotary Park, and the fast water along the Core Trail (note: catch and release, with flies and lures only). For flies, try elk hair caddis, bright green caddis emergers or weighted streamers.
The Elk River offers public access upstream of Hinman Park Bridge along Seedhouse Road, or at the Christina Wildlife Area along the lower portion of the river on Routt County Road 129 northwest of town.
Those hunting in game units west of Craig can also fish for smallmouth bass and northern pike in Elkhead Reservor and the Yampa (hint: try white/chartreuse streamers and lures for the hard-fighting "smallies"). While wildlife officials are removing the unwanted bass from the Moffat County stretch to protect endangered native species, local fishermen are still reporting success.
Another autumn option in Moffat County is to drive west of Craig to Maybell and turn northwest on Colorado Highway 318 to the Green River in Browns Park, where 19th century outlaws once hid out and wild horses still roam. With three world-class stretches of water (Sections A, B and C), the area is known for its large brown trout and clear, cold water released from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Stop at any sporting goods shop in Craig for directions.
Finally, the White River, which flows through Meeker and Rangely, drains the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and teems with trout in the fall. Head upstream from Meeker on Cty. Rd. 8 toward Buford, where you can branch up the south or north fork, or try the Meeker town stretch, the section between Meeker and Rangley, or the the Rangely reach.
Lakes and Reservoirs
For lake fishing, hit any number of reservoirs throughout Routt and Moffat counties (i.e. Stagecoach Lake, Steamboat Lake and Elkhead Reservoir). "The Colorado Division of Wildlife has been stocking them with bigger fish than normal to give them a chance to survive the giant northern pike cruising the lake," says Straightline's Lee.
The strategy is succeeding, and October is the month the fish charge out of the depths to feed before winter sets in. Cooler temperatures also bring rainbow trout back into shallower water in large impoundments.
Anglers can also take advantage of more surface area to fish, with recent expansions increasing the sizes of both Stagecoach and Elkhead reservoirs. Located 13 miles south of Steamboat Springs via Colorado Highway 131 and Routt County Road 14 just outside of Oak Creek, Stagecoach Lake State Park recently benefitted from a construction project adding 4 feet of concrete to the top of the dam. An expansion project also recently nearly doubled the size of Elkhead Reservoir.
Wherever you go, hit it first thing in the morning for the best luck and be prepared to get your fly down 10-11 feet. Boat rentals are available at the marinas of both state parks (Stagecoach and Steamboat Lake), which can be a big help for novices who don't have their fly-casting technique down pat.
For fly patterns, try woolly buggers in olive, black and brown to imitate minnows. Remember, as water temperatures drop, retrieval rates on streamers and lures should drop with them. "The cold water of autumn dictates a slower retrieve than fishermen are accustomed to in summer," says Lee, adding that at Steamboat Lake trout are often looking for crayfish, an easy food source to imitate with lures.
Aside from these big three, there are also countless smaller lakes where you can dip a line after your hunt. On the other side of the Park Range from Steamboat, in Jackson County, anglers will find their best opportunity for a trophy brown out of North Delaney Lake. All three Delaney Buttes lakes offer free camping. Other lakes in the area include Big Creek and Lake John.
Lakes abound in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area as well, from popular Trapper's Lake, where you can rent canoes, rowboats and rustic accommodations, to Chapman and Sheriff reservoirs, Stillwater Reservoir at the headwaters of the Yampa River, and smaller fish hideouts like Rainbow and Mosquito lakes.
If you want to get farther off the beaten track, try the countless small alpine lakes in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, including Gilpin, Three Mile and Mica lakes.
–For information on local fishing reports, fly patterns, licenses and guided trips on public or private water contact Straightline Sports (970-879-7568), Bucking Rainbow Outfitters (970-879-8747), or Steamboat Flyfisher (970-879-6552).
Get a Guide
There's nothing like hiring a guide to get your fly over feeding fish and to teach you how to make a realistic presentation. As with hiring a guide to hunt on private land, it can also get you out on trophy-filled private waters. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a guided outing depending upon your preferred piece of water.
If a guide isn't in your budget, don't hesitate to ask the fishing experts in the fly shop for advice (and when the next free casting clinic takes place in Lincoln Park). For guided options, try Straightline Sports (970-879-7568), Bucking Rainbow Outfitters (970-879-8747), or Steamboat Flyfisher (970-879-6552).
Essential Fly Patterns
Trout flies are tied of animal furs and bird feathers to mimic the different life stages of aquatic insects, minnows and crustaceans.
Recommended nymphs (fished below the water):
•Beadhead prince nymph (universal prospecting pattern)
•Gold-ribbed hare's ear (good in mountain lakes)
•Copper John (in several colors, size tiny)
•Pablo's Cripple (invented by local guide Paul Russell)
•Black Depth Charger (hot pattern for 2011)
Dry flies (fished on the surface):
•Deer hair caddis
•Parachute Adams (Universal mayfly in several sizes)
•Yellow Humpy (for cutthroat in mountain lakes)
•Goddard caddis (for mountain lakes)
•Rubber legged renegade
• Pale morning dun
• Grasshoppers (ask the fly shop for the pattern of the week, must-have on the Elk River when the ranchers are cutting hay)
• Ants (good for high mountain lakes)
•Woolly boogers tied with flashabou
Rules and Regulations
A Colorado fishing license is required for anyone 16 and older. Nonresident fees: Annual, $56; five-day, $21; one-day, $9. Colorado residents can get an annual license for $26 ($1 for seniors 64 and older). License holders must also purchase a Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp for $10. 2011 Colorado fishing regulations for trout: Daily bag limit: Four fish in aggregate. Possession limit: eight fish in aggregate. The town stretch of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has special regulations: flies and lures only and catch-and-release keep this fishery rewarding with large fish right in town. Find more information at http://www.wildlife.state.co.us, 800-244-5613