Colorado River – Shadow Mountain Lake Drainage


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By Andre Egli

Ah yes, the Colorado River.  It might not be as famous as the Mississippi, Nile, or Amazon, but it’s still an amazing river.  It begins at La Poudre Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park at an elevation of 10,184ft and flows for 1,450 miles all the way to the Gulf of California.  Along the way it carved the Grand Canyon, and half of Canyonlands National Park, and now thanks to dams and irrigation it supplies water to seven US states as well as Mexico.  Oh, and it also provides a plethora of fishing opportunities.

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Colorado River – Granby, CO

I have now fished a whopping 0.069% of this river, but hey you have to start somewhere.  That somewhere for me was about 2 miles below Shadow Mountain Dam (click HERE for directions), the first of 15 dams along the length of the Colorado.  Shadow Mountain Dam creates; you guessed it, Shadow Mountain Lake.  Below the dam the Colorado flows freely for maybe 3 miles before it hits Granby Lake, which is created by the second dam along the Colorado, Granby Dam.  These lakes offer prime habitat for trout to grow very large and offer the angler the opportunity to catch five different trout species (brown, rainbow, lake, cutthroat, and brook) as well as Kokanee salmon (landlocked Sockeye).

Date: 6/4/2016

Flow: 1,490cfs

Rod: Redington Pursuit 8’6” 5wt

Setup: 3 Nymph rig with Copper John, Scud, and a red Zebra Midge

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Colorado River – Rocky Mountain National Park

Ninety percent of the water in the Colorado comes from snowmelt. So this time of year the river is always raging.  The vast majority of the 3 or so miles between Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby were unfishable due to the high flows but there was some fishable water down stream and some pocket water along the banks.  Access to this area of the Colorado is only possible on foot and there is a small $5 fee to park near the trailhead.  Crystal will be highlighting the trail in her own post but here is the gist of how to get to the fishing.  Park by this gate:

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Hike down the road:

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Cross this bridge:

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Bridge Across Colorado River

Once on the other side you are officially in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Continue down the trail, when you get to this point go left.

This is very important.  The trail to the right skirts the edge of the river and allows fishing access right away, however this time of year the river is overflowing its banks and that trail is a flooded mess, do yourself a favor and go to the left.  This trail will hook up with a section of The Continental Divide Trail and will take you all the way to Lake Granby with lots of river access along the way.

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The trail if you go right.

After about a mile, mile and a half hike, you’ll come to two bends in the river which slow the water flow down enough for fishing.  In late summer and fall the whole section is likely fishable but this time of year you will be limited due to high flows.  The fish were sitting in some fairly deep water and although we saw many fish rising, nymphing was the most effective technique to induce strikes.

The river was full of scuds (freshwater shrimp) but I didn’t have any luck with scud patterns, instead the trout were keying on midges.  Sadly, it took me half the day to figure this out but once I did the fishing was quite good.  I hooked up with several very nice fish, some spit my hook and others snapped my line.  In the end I only managed to get two fish to my net, but I hooked up with at least seven more.

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I will definitely be heading back to this area later in the year when the flows go down and more of the river is accessible.  The scenery is great and the river is full of big trout, plus this section gives you an excellent shot at a grand slam (catching 4 different trout species in a single day, on one body of water).  If you decide to check it out yourself, keep an eye out for wildlife.  We saw tons of moose tracks, and even saw some bear scat, we didn’t see either species in the flesh but we did bump into this guy on the way out.

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In conclusion, this section of the Colorado is amazing.  It does take a little effort to get to (1 ½ mile hike) and access can be difficult when the river is high but the fishing is excellent.  I will definitely be back to this section again, and perhaps I’ll see you there as well.  Until next time, happy fishing!

–          A. Egli

Categories: Fly Fishing, Places to GoTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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