Frying Pan Trout

Tailwater Fly Fishing in Central Colorado

Tailwater fly fishing in Colorado is the angler’s answer to high off color water commonly found on rivers during spring. When the snow begins to melt at the end of ski season here in Central Colorado’s Vail Valley, the local waterways turn a chocolate brown, become unsafe to wade and fly fishing conditions during the high water season can be a challenge.

Where do you find consistent clear fly fishing conditions during the spring run-off?  Due to clear water and controlled flows, tailwater fly fishing in Central Colorado during the high water can offer the fly fisherman the opportunity to catch some of the largest trout taken all year on these rivers.  Large trout from downstream or often just below the dam gather on the riffles when the water in these tailwaters rises each spring.Outlined below are a few public tailwater stream options, found near Vail, Colorado that you will most likely find fly fishing well during the high water conditions of late April, May and early June.  Put a few of these dam controlled streams on your fly fishing destination list for this spring and you will find that fly fishing tailwater trout streams is a great option during the high water of runoff.

Blue River

The Blue River will run clear albeit fast some years as it exits Dillon Reservoir and flows past the  outlet stores of Silverthorne, Colorado.  This tailwater fly fishing may not be for everyone because of the proximity of a shopping mall but do not let that stop you from fly fishing this great tailwater.  My personal best shopping mall trout came several springs ago on the Blue River.  It was taped then released quickly, the proportions shocking; 27 inches around the mid-section and only 29 inches in length.   Look for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and some brown trout on the public section below the dam. Access is easy with plenty of fishy public water.

Frying Pan River

A tributary of the Roaring Fork “the Pan” offers up some of the state of Colorado’s biggest tailwater rainbow and brown trout.  During April, a guide who worked with me for years named Jim Williams tagged a state record ten pound brook trout in the bend hole just below the dam several years back. Located below Rudi Reservoir, east of Basalt, Colorado this tailwater provides great spring action.  Midges and BWOs emerge almost every day from the fruitful water below the dam. Mysis shrimp are also abundant. Access is good directly below the dam and there are several public state sections scattered between the dam and the town of Basalt that receive less pressure than the famous “Toilet Bowl” water.

Taylor River

The Taylor sits below the Taylor Reservoir Dam and supports a good population of large trout living in the public water below the dam.  Another guide who worked with me named Brian Byerly, on his day off during mid-May, plucked a 36 inch state record rainbow trout weighing in at almost 24 pounds.  This river is off the beaten path and offers a bit more solitude than the other tailwater rivers mentioned here but no less trout.

Yampa River

Below Stagecoach Reservoir the Yampa River is public, very scenic and holds quantities of good sized rainbows.  Mix in the chance of landing a large brown trout, cutthroat trout or brook trout and you can hit the Colorado Grand Slam. Along with some whitefish, in the same water during the first mile of tailwater below the dam.  Be mindful of special rules and regulations that apply to this particular Colorado Tailwater. Spawning redds are closed to fishing.


Williams Fork

This small water is a tributary to the upper Colorado and is accessed near Parshall, Colorado. A couple miles of public water is reached with a hike through a state wildlife area. A mix of browns and rainbows populate this stream.

In order for the fly fisherman to succeed in these tricky Colorado tailwater streams. It will require the correct leader, tippet and flies to ensure your success.  Visit the Central Colorado fly fishing tailwater experts at Vail Valley Anglers, Edwards Colorado for the best in advice, guided trips or fly selection.

Bill Perry Guide and Content Writer