Fishing in the San Juans
Creeks and streams that offer an abundance of Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout plus an abundance of spectacular scenery are within easy drives of towns along the San Juan Skyway. Likewise places to find Native Colorado River Cutthroat. For novices as well as accomplished fly anglers, it just takes a bit of work to find them. Many streams with excellent fishing can be reached by road but, for people who like to hike a little or a lot, fishing opportunities are almost limitless. Some lake fishing destinations in the San Juans require excellent albeit long hiking trails to reach good fly and spin-casting fishing but also provide discovery of marvelous scenery. A good example is Crater Lake reached by a long day hike within the Weminuche Wilderness. Nestled in a basin at the base of Twilight Peak, the lake opens spectacular views of the Needles and Grenadiers. (Step one, get a fishing license from Colorado Parks and Wildlife that has made it painless.)
Where to fish? Make your base in a San Juan Skyway town that has the most appealing kinds of lake, stream or river fishing options. Ridgway and the Ridgway Reservoir provide angling opportunities for Kokanee, splake, rainbow, brown trout, yellow perch and smallmouth bass (illegally introduced but no limit). Located in Ridgway State Park, it is open year- round for angling, has a marina and numerous points of access. This is a beautiful fishing destination for the whole family!
Exploring the fishing opportunities near Ridgway and any town along the San Juan Skyway also opens up welcome discoveries of various local efforts to provide access to and enhance nature’s fantastic bounty. Ridgway’s southern portion of the Uncompahgre Riverway Trail is a perfect example. The Trail will eventually link Delta with Ouray creating a 65-mile route along the Uncompahgre River open to bikers, hikers, walkers, and fishing enthusiasts. One of the three segments already completed is the 7.8-mile Uncompahgre Riverwalk that connects Ridgway to Ridgway State Park via the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park. Portions of the trail use a former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad line corridor.
This is where fly-fishermen will find a tailwater fishery (i.e., created by a dam) in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk (“Paco”) area that features two ponds stocked with Rainbow trout. Pa-Co-Chu-Puk provides a fantastic one-mile section of catch-and-release only fishing for Brown, Rainbow and Cutthroat trout in the Uncompahgre River below the dam (FYI: only artificial flies and lures are allowed). The Uncompahgre River, one of the least known tailwater fisheries in Colorado, comes out of Lake Como high in the windswept San Juan Mountains, makes its way northward through Ouray, Ridgway, and Montrose, and completes its 75-mile flow in a rendezvous with the Gunnison River in Delta. The tailwater section of the Uncompahgre in Ridgway State Park adjacent to Paco is the result of continual stocking of both rainbows and cutthroats, but brown trout are what make this section of the Uncompahgre so special. They reach impressive sizes with many browns north of 10 pounds caught every year. Ridgway State Park’s Dallas Creek entrance provides access to another 1.5 miles of excellent fly water above the reservoir. In this fall it comes alive with a Kokanee salmon run out of Ridgway Reservoir.
North toward Montrose, Billy Creek State Wildlife Area (SWA) along Highway 550 offers fly fishers a half mile of quality fly fishing, especially in March or early April and again during September and October. At Billy Creek SWA, you will find plenty of brown trout and some rainbows. Montrose also offers some excellent fly fishing along the river flowing through various parts of town, for example near the edges of the Montrose Water Sports Park. Southward to the Durango area, options for all kinds of fishing are available. has them all. For fishing in smaller streams, Pine River (with a special permit) and Piedra River are really good choices. For lake fishing, two lakes near Durango are both great spots: Vallecito Lake fishing and Electra Lake.
A great many visiting anglers are attracted to the Animas River in and near Durango that boasts of many brown and rainbow trout 14-18 inches. This river is best fished after snowmelt, from mid-April to June. Take Hwy 160 to Hwy 550 to find a stretch of the Animas River near Durango. Draining from high alpine terrain in the Needle Mountains, the Animus has become a large river by the time it reaches Durango. Foot and bike trails parallel the river through much of the town making access to fishing easy in combination with other outdoor activities. Trout are doing really well in the Animus, home to rainbows and browns. Rainbow fishing in the river is plentiful for dry-fly fishermen, Fly fishing is excellent through early November. In beautiful autumn days, with yellow aspens on the mountain slopes, it feels like there’s no better time to be fishing on the Animus. To avoid crowds, many experienced fly fishermen suggest going north to the Animus around Silverton and Howardsville.
The waters of the Gunnison River offer record size brown and rainbow trout and even Kokanee salmon. The upper section of Gunnison Valley is known for some of the finest fishing in the San Juans and Colorado. Fish for brook trout, cutbow, cutthroat trout, mackinaw, rainbow trout and tiger trout. The upper section of the river above Blue Mesa Reservoir is a renowned Kokanee salmon fishery. The lower section, below the reservoir in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, trophy rainbow trout measuring over 20 inches can be found. Downstream of Black Canyon, within the steep walls of Gunnison Gorge, is one of Colorado’s top fly fishing destinations.