Fishing The Tailwaters at Stagecoach State Park

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Nathan Czapran shows off a rainbow trout from the Stagecoach tailwaters. This area is best known for its population of big rainbows. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Colorado is famous for its world-class fly fishing and variety of amazing tailwaters. Although not as well known as the acclaimed tailwater stretches of the South Platte, Frying Pan or Blue rivers, the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is a hidden gem that offers exceptional trout fishing.

Located just 20 miles from Steamboat Springs, the tailwaters below Stagecoach Reservoir Dam feature prime fly-fishing water. Comprised of short riffle runs, pools and pockets, this 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River provides near perfect trout habitat. The cold water that plunges out of the bottom of Stagecoach Dam also brings a steady, year-round flow of nutrients and aquatic insects that keeps the fish fat and sassy.

Brown and brook trout occupy these waters, with fish averaging around 15 inches. The primary attraction, however, are the bruiser rainbow trout, which are typically measured in pounds, not inches. Just the sight of these behemoths through a pair of polarized glasses is enough to keep you casting even on the coldest of days.

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Snow falls around Nathan Czapran at the Stagecoach tailwaters. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

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Caryn Feil is all smiles as she shows off a rainbow trout at the Stagecoach tailwaters. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

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Photo by Wayne Lewis/CPW.

In late April, I joined Caryn Feil and her boyfriend Nate Cazpran at Stagecoach for some early spring fly fishing (actually, they fished while I photographed). Typical of springtime weather in Colorado, Mother Nature threw everything but the kitchen sink at Caryn and Nate, including heavy snow, rain, drizzle, high winds and freezing temperatures. Fortunately, as true diehards who spend nearly every available weekend fishing together, neither seemed the slightest bit fazed by the blustery conditions. Both landed large rainbows in weather that was more befitting of a duck hunt than a fly-fishing trip.

Although this area features excellent natural trout habitat, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducted a complete restoration of the Stagecoach tailwaters in 2014. The ambitious project, in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, included constructing trails to improve fishing access and replanting vegetation along the river to help prevent erosion. CPW also re-contoured the entire stream to improve fish habitat, making this already productive fishery even better.

If you’re looking for a lesser-known tailwater that offers all the perks of its more famous big brothers, Stagecoach State Park is certainly worth the trip. Plan to stay for a couple days to really explore everything this area has to offer. In addition to its tailwaters, Stagecoach Reservoir offers excellent fishing for trout and large (seriously large) northern pike. Campsites are also available along the reservoir, making this an excellent weekend getaway for anglers and families alike.

If You Go:

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Caryn Feil casts her fly line into a deep pool at the Stagecoach tailwaters. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Temperatures and weather at this high-altitude tailwater can vary dramatically—even during the summer months. Additionally, the water that spills out from the bottom of Stagecoach Dam always runs cold. Therefore, staying warm and dry is critical to have a successful and enjoyable outing. Be sure to dress in layers and wear a good pair of socks under your waders. Comfortable wading boots are also a must-have item to navigate the steep, well-groomed trails that lead from the parking lot to the river. Although not extremely long or difficult, the trip back to the car after a day of fishing is a fairly good workout.

Before wetting a line, pick up a copy of the Colorado Fishing Regulations brochure. The tailwater section below Stagecoach Dam is catch and release only and is restricted to fishing with artificial flies and lures. A Colorado state parks pass and a fishing license are both required to access and fish this area.

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Caryn Feil with a brown trout from Stagecoach Reservoir. In addition to the tailwaters, Stagecoach Reservoir offers excellent fishing. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

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Video capture by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Plan to arrive with a well-stocked fly box. Woolley Buggers, Thin Mints and an assortment of midges and small, bead-head nymphs are all good bets. Typical of Colorado’s other rainbow trout fisheries, this water is center stage for an active spawning run each spring. Glow Bugs and other egg imitations are effective spawn and prespawn patterns. As summer progresses, small Parachute Adams, caddis imitations and hopper-dropper rigs will take fish on the surface. Don’t forget to flatten hook barbs, so you can release fish quickly and easily. Releasing fish unharmed is key to ensure the quality of Colorado’s tailwaters.

Although lesser known than many of Colorado’s other tailwaters, this location often sees considerable fishing pressure, especially in summer. Plan your trip mid-week to enjoy a little more solitude.

For the latest information, stream flows and fishing conditions, contact the Stagecoach State Park office or local fly-fishing shops in Steamboat Springs.


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

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