Colorado’s Top Springtime Fishing Destinations

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Early spring is a great time of year to catch lake trout (Mackinaw). Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

If you’re a fisherman, there’s no better time to fish Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs than early spring. Not only is it a great time of year to shake off your cabin fever, but many trophy sized rainbow, cutthroat, cutbow and brown trout are caught in those first days and weeks after ice-out. If those weren’t enough reasons to make you want to grab your fishing rod and tackle box, spring is also prime-time to catch lake trout (aka Mackinaw) — a species that can reach upwards of 50 pounds.

Although many of Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs offer excellent fishing, the following waters provide exceptional fishing opportunities this spring:

NOTE: Some of these locations have slot limits and catch-and-release restrictions. Be sure to read the Colorado Fishing Regulations brochure before fishing any of these waters. Depending on weather conditions, ice-melt varies at high-altitude lakes and reservoirs. Call Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s area offices for the latest conditions. Always play it safe and never venture out on late-season ice.

Delaney Buttes Lakes

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Caryn Feil displays a Delaney Buttes brown trout. 

Nestled in the sagebrush flats of North Park, 10 miles west of Walden, the Delaney Buttes State Wildlife Area is a sure bet for ice-out trout. The area consists of three separate lakes—North Delaney, South Delaney and East Delaney. The south and east lakes boast large rainbows, Snake River cutthroat and hybrid cutbows. North Delaney, the largest of the three lakes, is managed as a trophy brown trout fishery. It’s the most challenging of the three lakes to fish and can humble even the most skilled anglers. However, the rewards can be great for those willing to put in the time and dedication. Bruiser browns in the double-digit weight class roam this Gold Medal Water. All three Delaney Buttes Lakes are restricted to fishing with flies and lures only. Woolly Buggers, olive scuds and chironomids are excellent fly choices here. Kastmasters and Rapalas  (in various colors) and crayfish imitation jigs/lures are always good bets to tempt North Delaney’s browns.

 

Lake John

A Lake John cutbow. Photo credit: Lake John Resort

A Lake John cutbow. Photo credit: Lake John Resort

Located just north of the Delaney Buttes, Lake John has a long history of producing exceptionally large fish. In the 1960s, Lake John was arguably the state’s premier fishery for trophy-sized trout. For the better part of a decade, the lake yielded specimens that monopolized the weekly “Big Fish” contests hosted by Dave Cook Sporting Goods and The Denver Post. Since then, the lake’s productivity has fluctuated over the years, primarily because of occasional winter-kills and an overabundance of white suckers that have impacted trout populations. As part of an ongoing reclamation effort, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologists performed a complete fish-kill at Lake John in 2011. In the last four years, the lake has been heavily restocked with rainbows and Snake River cutthroats, including large broodfish to help kick-start the rebuilding process. The lake has a rich forage base and fish grow rapidly (upwards of an inch per month). With the recent stockings, Lake John is a great option for anglers who are looking to target large trout this spring.

Taylor Park Reservoir

A Taylor Park lake trout. Photo by CPW.

A Taylor Park lake trout. Photo by CPW.

Taylor Park Reservoir is located 35 miles northeast of Gunnison at the foot of Cottonwood Pass. At 2,000 surface acres, the large reservoir provides good opportunities for catching big rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. At ice-out, Taylor’s resident lake trout leave the depths of the lake and begin cruising the shorelines, creating a prime opportunity for bank fisherman to score big. Mackinaw surpassing the 20-pound mark have been taken here. Trolling with lures and spoons or casting Rapalas and Kastmasters are effective. Gitzit jigs tipped with sucker meat or bait fishing from shore are also productive methods to catch early season fish.

Lake Granby

A Lake Granby Mackinaw. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

This trophy Lake Granby Mackinaw was safely released and entered into CPW’s “Catch and Release” Master Angler program. Lake trout are a slow-growing species and can take decades to reach trophy size. Big “Macks” are a resource worth protecting. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Located 6 miles northeast of the town of Granby, Lake Granby is the second largest cold-water reservoir in the state (7,000 surface acres when full). It offers excellent fishing for rainbow, cutbow and large brown trout. Lake Granby also is one of the top Mackinaw fisheries in the entire country, producing fish in the 20- to 40-pound range. In recent years, however, Granby’s lake trout have fared a little too well, and the predatory macks have impacted the lake’s Kokanee salmon population. In order to maintain a better balance between the two species, CPW has encouraged anglers to harvest smaller-sized lake trout (fish under 19 inches). Anglers can expect fast action for the abundant smaller lakers and also have a good chance of catching the fish of a lifetime. Trolling with lures or casting Rapalas and Kastmasters from shore, using Gitzit jigs tipped with sucker meat and bait fishing with night crawlers and sucker meat, are all good methods to take fish at ice out. Check out this blog piece for more information about fishing Lake Granby in early spring.

Spinney Mountain State Park

Arguably Colorado’s most famous trout fishery, Spinney Mountain Reservoir is located in South Park east of Hartsel. The 2,450-acre reservoir offers fishing for large rainbow, cutbow and the occasional brown trout. Each spring, the reservoir’s annual opening is one of the most highly anticipated events among Colorado anglers. The fishing faithful line up at the park’s entrance before dawn on opening morning, hoping to be the first to cast a lure or fly to fish that have not seen a line nor hook since the previous fall (ice fishing is not permitted here). In the mid-80s and early 90s, Spinney was one of the premier trout fisheries in the western U.S., producing enormous rainbow trout and Snake River cutthroats. Today, the reservoir’s trout population is recovering after being impacted by predation from northern pike. Nevertheless, trout in excess of 10 pounds are still caught regularly here, making Spinney a top destination for springtime fishing. Spinney Mountain is restricted to flies and lures only and is a Gold Medal Water. Trolling with lures or fly fishing with Woolly Buggers, scuds, egg patterns and large streamers are all excellent methods in early spring. Anglers are encouraged to harvest all pike caught at Spinney Mountain.

Eleven Mile State Park

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A young angler poses proudly with an Eleven Mile Reservoir rainbow trout. Photo by CPW.

Located in South Park, Eleven Mile Reservoir provides quality fishing for rainbow, brown, cutbows and Snake River cutthroat trout. The 3,400-surface-acre reservoir is noted for producing big fish and has become the go-to spot for many South Park anglers. Each spring, fisherman routinely catch browns, rainbows and cutthroats in the 5- to 12-pound class. Eleven Mile is a prominent fixture in CPW’s Master Angler program, where Colorado anglers are recognized for catching trophy sized fish. The north shore, Cross Creek and Lazy Boy areas typically offer the most consistent action for fishing early season.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Colorado's state-record Mackinaw caught at Blue Mesa in 2011

Colorado’s state-record Mackinaw caught at Blue Mesa in 2007 by Don Walker. Photo by CPW.

Located 5 miles west of Gunnison, Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest reservoir (9,000 surface acres). The huge impoundment offers good fishing for rainbow and large brown trout. But, “Big Blue” is most famous for its trophy lake trout fishing. The reservoir’s seemingly bottomless underwater canyons (exceeding depths of 300 feet in places), abundant forage and cold, pristine water provide the ultimate ecosystem for lake trout to grow to enormous sizes. The state record lake trout, caught at Blue Mesa in 2007, tipped the scale at a whopping 50.35 pounds (Mackinaw in the 20- to 40-pound range are common here). Blue Mesa’s Macks typically inhabit depths of between 60 and 200 feet for most of the year. But, at ice-out, the fish briefly abandon their deep water haunts and move into the shallows to feed, bringing them within casting range of shore fisherman. Similar to Lake Granby, Blue Mesa’s lake trout populations have boomed in recent years. Therefore, CPW encourages anglers to harvest small to mid-sized fish. Trolling with lures (Rapalas, Flatfish) and vertical jigging with sucker meat are productive methods to catch big Blue’s big Macks. Anglers need to be aware that CPW implemented new regulations for lake trout at Blue Mesa in 2016.

Twin Lakes Reservoirs

A CPW biologist with a Twin Lakes Mackinaw. Photo by CPW.

A CPW biologist with a Twin Lake Mackinaw. Photo by CPW.

Nestled at the base of Mt. Elbert and the Collegiate Peaks, Twin Lakes Reservoirs (2,700 combined surface acres) has a tradition of offering excellent fishing for brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. In recent years, however, Twin Lakes has developed a reputation as a trophy lake trout fishery, producing Mackinaw in the 40-inch class fairly regularly. Although not as well known as its bigger brothers Granby and Blue Mesa, Twin Lakes is a sleeper location that may yield some giant Mackinaw this spring. Similar to other locations, trolling with lures (Rapalas, Flatfish), vertical jigging with sucker meat and bait fishing should produce good results for Twin’s lake trout.

Stagecoach Reservoir

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Stagecoach Reservoir is home to large trout and northern pike. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Located just 20 miles south of Steamboat Springs, Stagecoach Reservoir offers excellent fishing for trout and large (seriously large) northern pike. The 800-acre reservoir also offers fishing for walleye, which tends to improve once water temperatures increase in late spring and early summer. Kastmasters, Rapalas, vertical jigging and bait fishing are all effective for catching trout. Campsites are also available along the reservoir, making this an excellent weekend getaway for anglers and families alike. Plan to stay for a couple days to really explore everything this area has to offer. In addition to the reservoir, the tailwaters below the dam provide superb fly fishing for large rainbow trout. A parks pass is required to access Stagecoach State Park.

Boyd Lake

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A Colorado walleye. Photo by Chad LaChance.

Boyd Lake State Park is located just west of Loveland in Larimer County. The 1700-acre reservoir is home to walleye, white bass, catfish and trout. Anglers may also catch the occasional smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and perch. Trout fishing is best in early spring, while fishing for warm-water species is best in late spring and early summer. Shad imitations like silver-colored kastmasters and Blue Fox Vibrax spinners are good choices for bass. Lindy rigs, tube jigs, Rogue crank baits and triple ripples are effective for walleye.  A parks pass is required to access this area.

Ridgway Reservoir

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Ridgway Reservoir boasts excellent fishing and post-card scenery. CPW file photo.

Located 20 miles south of Montrose, Ridgway Reservoir is a popular fishery that provides angling opportunities for rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon and yellow perch.   The inlet, west shore and dam area offer good fishing for brown trout. The cove near the boat ramp and inlet areas are good locations to fish for rainbows. Black Woolly Buggers, spinners, jigs and worms are all good choices. Large streamers, minnow imitations, crankbaits and jigs are effective for brown trout. In addition to fishing, the 1,030-acre reservoir also boasts exceptional scenery and camping.

Honorable Mentions
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One of the great things about Colorado is there is no shortage of places to fish. The following locations also offer excellent early season fishing opportunities: Vallecito Reservoir, Mt. Elbert ForebayMiramonte Reservoir , Road Canyon Reservoir, North Sterling Reservoir and Crawford Reservoir . Check out the Colorado Fishery Surveys for more information.

Buy Your 2017 Fishing License

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Did you know that Colorado fishing licenses are valid from April 1 through March 31? Now is a great time to purchase your 2017 license. Also, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2017 Colorado Fishing Regulations brochure. The brochure is now available at statewide license agents and CPW offices, or may be viewed online.

Practice Catch and Release with Replica Fish Mounts

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A reproduction cutthroat trout created by Colorado taxidermist Jeff Mourning. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Are you a conservation-minded angler who likes to practice catch and release? Be sure to check out this great article about replica fish mounts here on Colorado Outdoors Online. Now you can release that trophy fish and still have a beautiful wall-mounted trophy to hang in your office or den.


Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is a multimedia specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is editor of Colorado Outdoors Online.

12 comments

  • The Fisher King

    Excellent. I’ve fished most of these waters but a few are new to me. I’m looking forward to getting out there soon.

  • Good locations and summary for springtime fishing. However, it would be great if this article promoted catch and release of all big fish.

    • Charles, Thanks for your comments. Practicing catch and release is a good ethic to follow for trophy sized fish. This is why we have slot limits (size restrictions) and catch-and-release restrictions at many of our reservoirs that are managed as trophy trout fisheries. However, we also have reservoirs where people are allowed to keep the occasional large-sized trout or lake trout. As long as people are complying with the regulations, it ensures the sustainability of our fisheries. In our lake trout (Mackinaw) fisheries, it takes decades for lake trout to reach trophy sizes. Therefore, it’s a great idea to preserve this resource by releasing big lakers back into the water so that they may be enjoyed by other anglers. These days, synthetic fish mounts can be made from photographs taken of landed and released fish. This is a great way to preserve the memory of the catch, while still conserving the resource by safely returning the fish back to the water. Please see our fishing regulations brochure for details specific to individual waters regarding bag/possession limits, slot limits and catch and release restrictions.

  • Not to mention the fact that typically the smaller fish are going to be better eating that those big ole lunkers.

    • Don, Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right. The bigger fish usually don’t taste as good, particularly the big lake trout, which are very oily and fatty. Smaller fish make for much better table fare. Good luck this spring!

  • How has Antero..been fishing…fished there in 2010 and landed some brutes?

    • Tobin, Thanks for your question. Antero is always an excellent choice and produces many large fish. However, I did not include it as part of this summary because Denver Water will be draining Antero this spring/summer. Therefore, we have implemented increased bag limits there, encouraging anglers to keep fish before the salvage takes place. The reservoir will not be open to fishing for very long after ice out. Check our main website (cpw.state.co.us) for the latest information and updates.

  • Ernest Bortfeld

    Any reports on fishing from shore at Vallecito, Miramonte, or McPhee/House Creek?

    • Ernest, We have not received any reports on those locations as of yet. I would call our Durango service center. They should be able to provide you with the latest information. You can find phone numbers for all of our offices on Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s main webpage at. cpw.state.co.us Thanks, and good luck fishing this spring.

  • Any suggestions for a good fishing class?

    • Scott, Thanks for your comment. Are you looking to fly fish or spinfish? Bass Pro usually offers quite a few fishing “how-to” clinics. In addition, check Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s main website. You will find a calendar of upcoming clinics and events.

  • It’s a great time for fishing!

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