How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish

Whether you are a seasoned angler or new to the sport, there are a number of things to consider when choosing where to fly fish. In general, fly fishing is most commonly associated with remote rivers. However, if you are willing to get creative, the options are seemingly limitless. Here, we will discuss the various locations anglers can fish, the most productive time to fish each location and how to effectively fish them.

RIVERS

Freestones

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Ease of Access: Moderate
Ideal Season: Early spring, summer & fall

How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish - Freestone
Freestone – Photo by Rob Herrmann Photography

The majority of freshwater rivers and streams are often referred to as “freestones.” A freestone is simply a naturally occurring river or stream that originates high in the mountains and was created by years of erosion from snowmelt and rain. Freestones can come in a variety of forms. However, we generally think of a freestone as a moderate to large body of water flowing at inconsistent rates throughout the year. In the winter, the majority of the river freezes over. In late spring and early summer, air temperatures begin to rise and snowmelt floods the river making for poor, and in some cases, impossible fishing conditions. That said, early spring, late summer and fall fishing can be incredible. During these peak times, you will experience a number of great hatches and incredible dry fly fishing! Otherwise, streamers and nymph rigs can be very productive as well. It certainly doesn’t take an expert to fish a freestone river, but it can come with some challenges. Unpredictable flows can make for dangerous wading/floating conditions. Early summer in particular, will require anglers to be extra cautious when wading as water levels and velocity will be high.

Tailwaters

Difficulty: Moderate/High
Ease of Access: Easy/Moderate
Ideal Season: Year-round

How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish - Tailwater
Tailwater – Photo by Rob Herrmann Photography

A tailwater is a river, or section of river, located immediately downstream of a bottom release dam where flows and water temperatures are regulated year-round. This leads to consistent aquatic bug life, keeping trout happy and well fed. These consistent conditions provide for an ideal trout habitat. Tailwaters, particularly sections closest to the dam, can be fished year round as consistent water temps from the reservoir keep the river from freezing over in the winter and getting too warm in the summer. Fishing tailwaters can be tricky as the trout have grown skittish due to consistent angling pressure and high water clarity. However, if you are looking to land a trophy, you can find them lurking in the depths of the river. Difficulty on tailwaters is generally moderate to high, but persistence will pay off. Presentation is key, making drag free drifts and accurate fly selection imperative. On most rivers, selecting the right pattern is enough, but on tailwaters, size and color can make all the difference. You can take part in a variety of fly fishing styles (nymphing, dry flies and streamers), but by and large, you will see the best results with a heavy nymph rig with smaller flies.

Streams & Creeks

Difficulty: Moderate
Ease of Access: Moderate/High
Ideal Season: Summer & fall

How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish - Creek
Creek – Photo by Rob Herrmann Photography

Streams and creeks fall under the freestone category, but fish differently than the larger freestones. Additionally, if we are getting knit picky, a stream is generally smaller than a creek and there are both freestone and spring-fed streams and creeks. Nonetheless, they all require a similar approach. Streams and creeks originate from snowmelt, rain or groundwater seepage and can be both tricky and rewarding. Streams and creeks are not for the faint of heart as they are smaller in size and usually flow through areas with heavy brush and trees. As such, casting can be a challenge. So if you are prone to tangles and getting hung up in the bushes, your efforts are probably better suited elsewhere. On the plus side, streams and creeks are less pressured by anglers and generally harder to get to. So if you enjoy solitude and hiking to remote areas of the wilderness, this is the place to be. Nutrients are plentiful and the trout, while on the smaller side, are eager and fun to catch. Short casts and dry dropper rigs will do the trick.

STILLWATER

Lakes/Ponds

Difficulty: Easy
Ease of Access: Easy/Hard
Ideal Season: Late spring, summer & fall

How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish
Stillwater Lake – Photo by Rob Herrmann Photography

Lakes and ponds are great for anglers of all skill sets. To the aspiring angler who is new to the sport or looking to gauge their interest, bodies of stillwater offer ideal casting locales and, in most cases, minimal effort. To the experienced angler, there are a number of highly sought-after locations with monster trout that will give you a run for your money. Regardless, fishing stillwater is a waiting game. Trout will circle the body of water where the shore drops off in search of floating/emerging aquatic bug life. Nymph rigs, dry flies and streamers are all fair game, but you will need to change your approach depending on the time of day and year. Depending on location, ice off occurs throughout the spring/early summer and is arguably the best time of year to fish stillwater. During this time, trout are eager to feed on dry flies, nymphs and streamers as they shift away from conservation mode and become more opportunistic. Personally, we like to fish a dry multi-dropper rig as it covers all fronts. While traditional midge, baetis and stonefly nymphs are likely to be present, chironomids (lake flies or midges) are the most abundant food source in spring. These are must-have patterns for every angler looking to fish ice off.

With an abundance of fly fishing destinations at our disposal, it can be difficult to identify new destinations, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. Understanding the pros and cons to each type of water is a great place to start and finding updated and reliable reports are a bonus. If all else fails and you’re looking for new places to fish in Colorado, FlyCast will help you design a fishing itinerary, free of charge, for a big fly fishing trip and even a quick weekend getaway.

For your free custom fly fishing trip visit our travel page.


Written by Taylor Cavey and Travis Coe (FlyCast Co-Founders) & Photos by Rob Herrmann Photography

FlyCast is a dynamic forecasting model that provides up-to-date and forward-looking fly fishing and river conditions for fishermen of all skill sets. While traditional fishing reports give us a sense of how the river fished a week, or even a month ago, FlyCast’s daily fly fishing forecast provides in-depth analyses on Colorado’s hottest fishing holes. Uncertainty torments every fisherman, but with the right tools, we can put more fish in the net. FlyCast equips you with the information you need to be prepared in any situation. Rain, snow, or shine, there’s never a wrong time to fish.

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One thought on “How to Choose the Right Location to Fly Fish

  1. Hi and thanks for the great post! We have all but tailwaters around here and I like fishing them all. Kayak fishing the lakes is becoming a favorite for me, that is until I’m wading on a river, so I suppose as long as I’m fishing, it’s “all good”!

    Thanks for the insight and sharing your knowledge!

    All the best – Freddy

    Liked by 1 person

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