I mentioned in my post about the San Miguel River (read it HERE) that I learned to fly fish on that river for my 30th birthday. What I didn’t mention was that my ½ day guided trip left me with a grand total of zero fish caught. Crystal and I asked our guide (secured through Telluride Angler) where we could go to try and catch a fish that day with our minimal fly fishing knowledge. His suggestion was Priest Lake.
We headed to Priest Lake which is just a short drive from Telluride (find directions HERE). When we arrived, there were brook trout rising everywhere. However, since we had just learned how to fly fish and had a grand total of 4 hours of experience, we were unable to cast far enough to reach these hungry fish. Our solution was to steal, borrow a small boat that was sitting on the lake’s edge and row ourselves closer to the fish. The trick worked and Crystal caught her first fish on a fly rod. I, however, was left skunked for the day. So when we found ourselves back in Telluride for Labor Day weekend, we decided to revisit Priest Lake so I could avenge my skunking!
Flow: 0, um it’s a lake
Priest Lake is a lovely little spot just off Colorado state highway 145 adjacent to a much bigger body of water; Trout Lake. This area is absolutely gorgeous and is surrounded by pine and aspen forests and 13,000’ peaks. There is also a small campground next to Priest Lake, appropriately named Priest Lake Campground. The campsite is free to use and is dispersed camping without designated spots. So, if you’re just passing through and looking for a quiet, beautiful place to set up camp and fish a little bit, Priest Lake is just what you’re looking for.
The fishing is pretty good as well. The lake contains a healthy population of brook trout that can be seen rising pretty much all day long. They can get a little picky and see a fair amount of fishing pressure, so they aren’t easily fooled. But a delicate presentation with a small (size 18-24) dry fly will get you some good action. Attaching an equally small midge dropper will help you land a few additional fish as well.
There is quite a bit of weed growth in the lake, so I wouldn’t recommend leader or tippet smaller that 6x, as the trout will dash into those weeds in an attempt to spit your hook. The brookies in Priest Lake aren’t trophies, most tend to fall in the 4” – 8” range, but there are a few 10”ers swimming around in there. On clear days with little surface glare or wind, you can easily sight fish the cruising trout. However, they can be a little skittish and will scatter if you land your fly hard. But if your fly lands softly near a cruising trout, your odds of a hookup are pretty good.
Our return visit to Priest Lake successfully avenged my skunking 4 years prior. I landed a few nice, colorful brookies and so did Crystal. However, Crystal managed to land one more fish than I did during our brief visit. She has now beaten me twice on this body of water! Not to brag but I’ve beaten her on every other body of water we’ve ever fished together, but Priest Lake seems to be my personal Waterloo.
In conclusion, Priest Lake is beautiful and relatively secluded. It boasts a healthy population of brook trout that can be caught fairly easily if you present your flies delicately. The nearby campsite offers people the opportunity to camp and fish in one convenient place, all for free (minus the cost of a fishing license). The trout aren’t monsters but they’re still fun to catch and you can drive right up to the lake so accessibility is not an issue. Priest Lake is a great little spot if you only have a few hours and just want to wet a line, or if you want to fish a high altitude lake (9,600’) but don’t want to hike to it. It’s not gold medal water, or a roaring river, but some days all you want is an easily accessible body of water with plenty of fish. So, if you’re in the Telluride area and are having one of those days, Priest Lake is just what you’re looking for. Until next time, happy fishing!
- A. Egli