Fishing Close to Home: Northern Front Range Rivers, Lakes and Ponds

There is no denying northern Colorado is an incredible place to call home.

The golden triangle of Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor has routinely been recognized among the top five best places to live in the United States. The area is the largest producer of beer in a state considered the “Napa Valley” of craft brewing. The elaborate biking system, with 310 miles of trails, recently placed Fort Collins at No. 11 among the nation’s most biker-friendly cities. Finally, two local restaurants — Jay’s Bistro in Fort Collins and Chimney Park Bistro in Windsor — were recognized among the nation’s top 100 restaurants.

That is quite an impressive list, but there is an additional award of which the golden triangle is just as deserving.

The World Fishing Network recently announced a competition to crown a number of U.S. cities as America’s Ultimate Fishing Towns. It is a pretty easy argument as to why the local communities in northern Colorado within the Big Thompson and Poudre drainages should once again top the ranks. I present exhibits 1 through 5 as evidence of the area’s superior position as Fishing Town USA:

1. Big Thompson River

A Big Thompson rainbow caught on a dry fly. Photo by Iolanthe Culjak.

A Big Thompson rainbow caught on a dry fly. Photo by Iolanthe Culjak.

The upper section of the river between Idlewilde and Olympus dams has largely not been impacted by whirling disease, a parasite that decimated the rainbow trout population in the Poudre River during the mid-1990s. The Big T remains among Colorado’s finest wild-rainbow-fishing destinations with sections of river boasting up to 2,000 adult rainbow trout per mile.


2. Horsetooth Reservoir

Hikers overlook Horsetooth Reservoir at Lory State Park. CPW file photo.

Hikers view Horsetooth Reservoir at Lory State Park. Photo by Matthew Kaune.

At full pool, Horsetooth Reservoir offers boat and shore anglers 25 miles of shoreline. Furthermore, a 1990s walleye spawning operation netted a female walleye weighing more than 19 pounds—a fish that would have smashed Colorado’s state record and ranked as the fifth-largest walleye ever recorded from waters within the lower 48 states. At present, Horsetooth Reservoir annually hosts The Full Moon Open, an all-night smallmouth bass tournament that attracts some of Colorado’s finest anglers. Lory State Park also offers fishing access, camping and scenic overlooks along the reservoir.


3. Poudre River

A brown trout. Video capture by Jerry Neal/CPW.

A brown trout. Video capture by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Colorado’s only National Wild and Scenic River is recognized among America’s best streams to catch wild brown trout in good numbers. In fact, Fort Collins and the Poudre hosted North America’s National Fly Fishing Championship in 2007. Stretches of the Poudre, as far east as Windsor, maintain trout populations combined with exceptional public access.


4. Rocky Mountain National Park

A fly fisherman awaits a strike on a foam hopper at Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Iolanthe Culjak awaits a strike on a foam hopper at Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.


Along with Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park is considered among the top two national park destinations for trout fishing. Four trout populations — brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat — each inhabit a variety of lakes and streams within the park’s boundaries. They offer anglers the most legitimate opportunity to complete a “trout slam” during a single visit. Despite the fact nearly 3 million people visit the park annually, less than 3 percent of visitors actually wet a line. For most anglers, this equates to a relatively solitary day with hundreds of waters from which to choose.


5. Suburban Ponds and Lakes

The author's kids enjoy a day of fishing at Severance Town Pond. Photo by Swigle/CPW.

The author’s kids enjoy a day of fishing at Severance Town Pond. Photo by Ben Swigle/CPW.

Virtually every community within a 15-mile radius of Fort Collins has a fishing hole that already contains sunfish or has been stocked with catchable-size rainbow trout. In addition, bass, catfish and carp often thrive in these suburban waters, providing anglers with enormous variety. Because of easy access, these local waters also offer prime locations to introduce kids to fishing. The following ponds and lakes are a just a few excellent choices:

City Park Pond (Sheldon Lake) in Fort Collins
Troutman Park Pond in Fort Collins
North Lake Park Pond in Loveland
Severance Town Pond in Severance
Watson Lake in LaPorte
Windsor Reservoir in Windsor
Smith Lake

The opportunity to land a variety of trout during the morning fly hatch on a river, grab a microbrew at lunch and finish the day by hooking a bass or catfish in a suburban pond is a combination that cannot be easily duplicated anywhere else in the state. At times, it’s easy for even the most seasoned angler to take such an opportunity for granted. Hopefully, if you live in northern Colorado, this post will inspire you to get out and enjoy the fantastic fishing in your own backyard.

 ______________________________
This story written by Ben Swigle. Swigle is a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish biologist stationed at the Fort Collins service center.

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