Winter Fly Fishing on the Colorado River

The Colorado River offers fly fishermen a lot of options for great winter fly fishing. Some of my favorite winter fishing destinations lie between the towns of Glenwood Springs and Rifle. These stretches of the Colorado usually stay warmer than the rest of the river and give float fishermen the opportunity to fish ice-free water from December through March. The warmer water in the lower Colorado River sees winter midge hatches and eager fish, which is something that doesn’t happen on the icy upper stretches of the river in winter.




Most anglers choose to nymph while fishing the lower Colorado, but there are some  days when dry fly fishing and streamer fishing produce good numbers of quality fish. Midges, eggs, beadhead attractors, stoneflies and small blue winged olive emergers are all good fly choices for subsurface fishing from October through April. My favorite nymph patterns include Disco Midges, Crystal Flash Midges, Flashtail Mini Eggs, Zebra Midges, and Barr’s Emergers in sizes 16 through 24. When I see fish rising, my go-to patterns are usually small blue winged olive dry flies like the para wulff BWO and Trina’s X-body Parachute BWO, or even smaller adult midge patterns like the Griffith’s Gnat, the Renegade, and the Pop-Up Midge in sizes 18 through 24.


Where to Go


If you are fishing from a boat, there are five good full and half day stretches of river to choose from between the Grizzly Creek put-in and the town of Rifle, Colorado. Popular boat ramps are located at Grizzly Creek, Two Rivers Park, South Canyon, New Castle, Silt, and Rifle and river stretches between them range between three and eight miles. For more information on these stretches of river, read “Float Fishing the Lower Colorado River” by Brody Henderson. Wade fishermen on the lower Colorado have fewer options simply because of private property and the size of the river, but they can still enjoy great fishing in a few isolated spots. Some of my favorite places to wade the lower Colorado are right above and below the boat ramps. These places are public property and many of them feature big, slow eddies and shallow riffles where fish feed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.


Time of Day


In the winter months, the warmest part of the day usually offers up the best fishing and the only chance for dry fly fishing. This tends to happen between ten or eleven in the morning and about three in the afternoon. Always check the forecast before a winter fishing outing so that you can make sure to show up at prime time and gear up accordingly.




It is no secret that winter float fishing can be cold. Without the right warm weather equipment, it is nearly impossible to stay warm for a full day on the water. I recommend dressing in wool or synthetic layers and covering up with a good pair of waders to stay warm and dry all day long. Some helpful winter fishing extras include the Patagonia Shelled Insulator Gloves, the Buff Thermal Neckwarmer Pro, the Simms Wool Scotch Cap, and the Patagonia Fitzroy Trout Nano Puff Jacket. I also keep a few hand warmers in my pockets so that I can quickly regain feeling and mobility in my frozen fingers after handling a fish.


Check our fishing reports before you go and keep in mind the best way to experience a day of winter float fishing on the lower Colorado River is with one of Vail Valley Anglers’ professional float guides. When you book a winter float trip with Vail Valley Anglers, your guide will be ready with plenty of hand warmers packets and a warm streamside lunch, and you will be outfitted in clean, dry Simms waders so that you can stay warm and focus on getting that perfect drift.

Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer