The Delaney Butte lakes, near Walden, Colorado offer anglers fantastic spring fly fishing. Fly fisherman who visit the three Delaney Butte Lakes can fish a chironomid midge hatch that is so thick you can hear them buzzing as they swarm on shore. The best time to fish these three north park gems is just after they ice out in April and through May.
The construction of the three Delaney Butte impoundments make them perfect for growing large fish. Cold clear highly oxygenated water flows from high in the Colorado Mountains into the lakes throughout the year. The natural high alkalinity combined with fairly shallow lakes means the high altitude sun stimulates weed growth. The weeds hide the rich food sources; minnows, crayfish, leeches, water boatmen, scuds, snails, midges, callibeatis, damsel flys and dragon fly larva.
Early season terrestrials in the form of ants, crickets and grass hoppers are also present. I have caught fish on mice patterns and locals have told me the big browns on the north Delaney Butte Lake eat prairie dogs occasionally. Amazing! Bring a fully loaded fly box to cover any possibility.
One of my favorite aspects of visiting the “Buttes” in the spring is the variety of fly fishing you can do; fish streamers early, fish midges below the surface as the hatch is on mid-morning, switch to scuds in weed channels and drop-offs when no hatch is present, after the wind comes up (and it will) try a terrestrial on the surface with a dropper, in the evening cast dry midges or close out your day with a few pulls on a streamer. Quite a variety. Fishing all three lakes in one day makes it easier to find willing fish.
South Delaney Butte Lake
The South Delaney Butte Lake is the first to fish well each spring, most likely because of the large amount of rainbow trout, snake river cutthroat trout and hybrid cuttbows that are active as sson as the ice melts. It is the easiest to access for wade fishermen with gradual, sandy shores. Target areas where the wind hits the sandy shoals and look for some large trout lurking. Fish average around 16 inches, are extremely robust fighters and eagerly attack flies. Midge larva in black and blood red, orange scuds, olive or brown wooly buggers are some of my favorite flies to use on the south lake.
East Delaney Butte Lake
Brook trout, snake river cutthroat and rainbows predominate this fishery and grow an estimated 12 inches a season. They were placed here because they are easier to catch according to the CDOW, but you will still need to fool them. Better chances exist on this lake for fishing dry flies as it has some wind breaks on the banks.
North Delaney Butte Lake
The North Delaney Butte Lake is the most challenging of the three lakes to catch trout in but can be the most rewarding. The Lake is managed by the CDOW as a brown trout fishery and 1,000,000 eggs are removed every October from the feisty browns that haunt the lake. Every year 30,000 brown trout fingerlings are stocked in North Delaney Butte Lake.
The saying “football” applies to the anatomy of the brown trout found in North Delaney Butte Lake. When you crack the code and find out what they are eating, action can be fast, otherwise this place reminds me of surf casting – not a lot of action sometimes but a chance at a huge brown over two feet long.
A painfully slow retrieve on your nymphs and streamers is often what it takes to catch a trophy brown trout here at North Delaney Butte Lake, as well as some persistence. Fish the windward side of the lake and look for mud lines to develop then cast in and out of the tainted water. Remember my favorite lake advice; Heave it and Leave it. Let the wind work your flies for you. Delaney browns are big because they do not often get caught, they are smart, approach fish with caution. Fish over three pounds are common and the CDOW net double digit trout every season. Blood red, brown and olive wooly buggers often produce for me on this lake, olive dragon fly larva and remember to try a baby crayfish in the spring, these are meat eating browns after all.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) uses slot limits to help manage the fishery. Regulations change regularly so read the rules marked in green signage at the lake or read your fishing regulations for Delaney Butte State Wildlife Area. You may keep certain size fish and species but they tend to taste like the muddy bottom they spent their lives swimming in, please try one before you bring any home.
Camping is allowed on all the lakes. Restrooms and boat launches are available at each lake. The view from the Delaney Butte Lakes is special and can be breathtaking. When the wind finally stops blowing at the end of the day have a plan for the mosquitoes, they can be troublesome.
From Vail Valley Anglers, Edwards, Colorado take I -70 west to Hwy 131 North to Statebridge; follow Trough road to Kremmling and Hwy 40 west to Hwy 14 north. You will see a green sign just before Walden directing you about 10 miles west to Delaney Buttes State Wildlife Area. If you went to town you missed the sign. Lodging, food and gas are available in Walden. You should make it in less than 2 hours from the Vail Valley.
Bill Perry, Guide and Content writer