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Fly Fishing The Upper Colorado River – (Colorado)

The upper Colorado River is a wonderful place to fly fish. Starting up in Grand County, the Colorado meanders through many good fishing sections.

The upper Colorado River is very popular among fly fishers, for both wading and floating. With its closer proximity to the front range, it does draw quite a few people. If you are willing to deal with some crowds, you can expect to find great trout water and plenty of healthy fish.

This article will cover the main access points between Lake Granby and State Bridge. This is a large stretch of river, with many public access points. In future articles, we will cover the middle Colorado River and the lower Colorado River.

Access On The Upper Colorado River

Below, we’ll cover the most popular sections of the upper Colorado River. There are many more access points than those listed, but these are the easiest, most frequented ones.

Granby Tailwater

This is a short tailwater section with some large fish. It is less than a mile long, and then it turns private. The hike in is short, but very steep down a rocky hill. There are only a few holes to fish, but it holds some surprisingly large trout. These fish are often spooky and picky, but they can be caught if you are up to the challenge.

From Granby, follow highway 34 until you reach Route 6. Take a right onto Route 6 and then follow this to the Granby Dam. There is a small parking lot with room for a few cars. From here, follow the trail down into the tailwater.

Parshall Access

The main access in Parshall is the Sunset Bridge Section. This is a short section that is only about 1/4 mile long. Although it is a small section, it is still considered gold medal water, and it does hold some nice trout.

Just west of Parshall on highway 40, take a left onto Route 394. From here, there is a little dirt road which will lead you to the Sunset Bridge lot. From this lot, follow the trail down to the Colorado River.

There are also a few pulloffs lower down around Kremmling. However, this water is pretty slow and doesn’t offer the best fishing in my opinion.

Pumphouse

After Gore Canyon, the Colorado flows down to the Pumphouse section. This is the first main boat put-in on the upper Colorado, and it probably sees more rafts and drift boats than any other section. In addition to the boat ramp, there are also campsites available, but they fill up quickly during peak season.

For wade fishers, you can walk down from Pumphouse for a long ways. This is a very long section that you can spend an entire day wade fishing. You will get walled out above the rapid called “Eye Of The Needle”. In order to pass through this section, you must be floating.

To get to Pumphouse from Kremmling, jump on Highway 9 and then follow Trough Road for about 12 miles. You will then reach the Pumphouse turn, and you’ll take a quick right.

Radium

Radium is the next ramp below Pumphouse. Floating Pumphouse to Radium is very popular, as it offers a shorter, half day float. You can also wade fish around Radium, and it has some pretty good holes.

From Pumphouse, follow Trough Road downstream until you reach Route 11. Take a quick right and follow this down to Radium. The drive from Pumphouse to Radium is about 8 miles, but the river float is only about 4 miles. The Eye Of The Needle is the main rapid on this section, so make sure to scout it or go with someone who is experienced.

Rancho Del Rio

Rancho is a private resort and boat ramp. They also offer river shuttles in the area, and most people use them for these services. They are by far the most popular shuttle service in the area. You can use their boat ramp for a fee, but most people just float on through.

They also offer cabins and lodging options, as well as guided fishing trips.

It is about an 8 mile drive to get to Rancho from Radium. Simply follow Trough Road downstream until you see Rancho on the right. As far as floating from Radium to Rancho, it is only 5 miles. On this stretch, you will encounter the Yarmony rapid, which can be pretty dangerous at higher flows.

State Bridge

In most peoples opinion, State Bridge is the last stop on the Upper Colorado. After State Bridge, we consider these sections to be the “Middle Colorado.”

State Bridge is a larger boat ramp with a bigger parking lot. It is also its own little town, with some houses and cabins.

From Rancho Del Rio, follow Trough Road downstream until you reach Highway 131. Then, take a quick left and then another quick left onto Piney River Road. This leads right into the State Bridge parking lot. From Rancho Del Rio, this a 4.5 mile drive. In terms of floating this section, it is only 4 miles.

Wading Vs Floating

There is no doubt that floating the upper Colorado is more productive than wade fishing it. You will cover a lot more water and get more shots at fish. When possible, I always prefer to float the upper section from Pumphouse down to State Bridge.

However, the Granby tailwater and the Parshall/ Kremmling access offers wonderful wade fishing opportunities. These sections don’t carry enough water to even be “floatable”.

You can also wade fish from Pumphouse down to State Bridge, as there is plenty of access. You just have to cover more water and really “work for it.”

Flies To Use On The Colorado River

The upper Colorado is known for its abundant insect life. It holds just about every hatch that you would expect it to.

Winter Insects

Winter on the upper C consists mostly of Midges and Stoneflies. However, the river often gets lots of ice in the winter, and can become unfishable. From December through March, these sections can be very tough to fish.

Spring Insects

In the spring, you can expect to see larger Midges, as well as Blue Winged Olives. You will also see a few caddis flying around later in the spring.

Summer Insects

In early summer, the Salmon Fly hatch attracts fly fishers from all over. These large Stoneflies hatch in great numbers, and you can fish the adult (dry fly) imitations of these. The featured image in this article is a photo of an adult Salmon Fly during the hatch.

Throughout the rest of the summer, you can expect to see Caddis, PMD’s, Yellow Sallies, Stoneflies and some Drakes. There are plenty of hatches all throughout the summer, which is also the prime float fishing season.

Fall Insects

During the fall, you will see some stray Caddis, as well as Blue Winged Olives. The Hoppers also start to come out, which can mean great hopper-dropper fishing. Later into the fall, the river switches back to primarily Midge hatches.

Conclusion

All in all, the upper Colorado is a wonderful fishery. It offers nice sized trout, and great insect hatches. However, due to its proximity to the Denver front range – it receives quite a bit of fishing pressure. As far as float fishing goes, it is the most crowded section in the whole state of Colorado.