The state of Colorado offers 6,000 total miles of streams and more than 1,300 lakes and reservoirs. Right here in Northern Colorado, we get to claim some of the best—from the wild and scenic waters of the Poudre to the 1,700 surface acres of Boyd Lake. Needless to say, you’ve chosen a good place to fish.
In this guide, we’re covering the basics, from the licenses and materials you need before you go to the best places to cast and even the best local guides and outfitters to help you learn. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, keep reading to discover some of the region’s best resources and destinations for fishing.
Did you know everyone can fish in Colorado without a license on the first full weekend of June every year? But if it’s not the first weekend of June and you’re over the age of 16, you’ll need a license. Luckily, Colorado Parks & Wildlife makes getting yours easy. Both residents and non-residents can purchase annual and daily licenses online here. And they even host special fishing events throughout the year; you can see their event calendar here.
If you want to talk to the local experts, we recommend heading to Elkhorn Fly Shop in Loveland or St. Peter’s Fly Shop in Fort Collins. Elkhorn is a full-service fly shop, a manufacturer of their own fly rods and reels, and an educational facility where you can learn both how to make materials and how to use them.
With two locations in Fort Collins, St. Peter’s Fly Shop is a landmark of Fort Collins fishing culture. In addition to tools, expertise and the best fly selection in town, they offer frequent classes, events and free demos which take place both on the water and off.
Here in Northern Colorado, our landscape is spotted with huge lakes, scenic rivers and community ponds. In addition to the grand fishing destinations listed below, we recommend heading to Sheldon Lake in Fort Collins’ City Park, Lake Loveland in North Lake Park, and Windsor Lake for in-city spots. The City of Fort Collins even maintains 15 natural areas that permit fishing! To see their guide to those areas, click here. And to learn about some of the biggest and best areas for fishing, keep reading.
Whether you’re fishing from a boat, along the shoreline or even atop the ice during winter, Boyd Lake State Park is a popular choice for anglers of all ages and all experience levels. And when you cast a line, you have the chance to catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, catfish, crappie, perch, rainbow trout and walleye! If you don’t have your own boat, you can even rent one through Boyd Lake Marina located on site.
One of the most popular choices for fly fishing in the region, the Poudre winds from the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park through Fort Collins and on through Timnath to Greeley. The only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, the waters are best known for their caches of rainbow trout, brown trout, greenback cutthroat and cutbow. The shores are spotted with trailheads, campgrounds and picnic areas and offer plenty of access points for anglers.
The headwaters of the Big Thompson River are in Rocky Mountain National Park and the river travels through Estes Park down into Loveland and beyond until it reaches the South Platte. The most accessible areas for fishing The Big T can be found inside the National Park and in the canyon just below Lake Estes. Though unstocked, the wild trout in this river are thriving, and anglers can catch plenty of rainbows and browns.
The outdoor recreation haven of Fort Collins, Horsetooth Reservoir is the center of Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, which offers 1,900 acres of public land for rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking and more. The water covers 6.5 miles open to swimmers on the public beach, boaters, scuba divers and fishers. Whether fishing from shore or from a boat, anglers have the opportunity to catch walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass, all species of trout, white bass and striped bass, panfish and more. To learn more and view daily limits, click here.
Known for outstanding hikes, jaw-dropping views, wildlife sightings and the famous drive along Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park protects 415 square miles of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Both the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson River have headwaters in the park and the area is spotted with lakes and ponds of all sizes. The National Park Service’s list of open waters consists of more than 20 lakes and their catch and release list is even longer. To learn all you need to know about fishing in the park, click here.
If you’re a beginner when it comes to casting, tying your own flies or just fishing in general, a local shop or guided trip is a great way to kick off your education. Many even offer dedicated classes for beginners and advanced students!
Both a full-service fly shop and a manufacturer of their own fly rods and reels, the team at Elkhorn is packed with experts. Their calendar of classes and clinics is available to share that expertise through courses like Introduction to Fly Tying and Fly Casting Instruction. They also offer half- and full-day guided trips on the Poudre, on the Big Thompson River and in Rocky Mountain National Park. To book yours, click here.
In addition to being one of the best places to purchase all your gear, St. Peter’s Fly Shop offers a full lineup of classes, events and free demos from two Fort Collins locations. Class topics include Intro to Fly Fishing and Anglers Entomology, events cover deals on gear and special presentations, and the St. Peter’s Fly Shop Fly Fishing Guide School offers a six-day intensive course that teaches all aspects of being a fly fishing guide. Their team can also guide trips on the Cache la Poudre, on the Big Thompson River, in Rocky Mountain National Park, atop local stillwaters and more. To learn more about all of the above, check out their website here.
An expert team in guided trips and fishing classes, Liarflies is one of the state’s best and they’re headquartered right here in Fort Collins. Suitable for anyone looking to get out and enjoy fly fishing, their classes include an outstanding Colorado Beginner Fly Casting Class, the Beginner Angler’s Two-Day Fast Track Class and even a Colorado Women’s Only Fly-Fishing Class led by their team of female fly fishing guides. Guided trips are even more intensive and include options along the Poudre in Fort Collins, atop the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, and inside Rocky Mountain National Park.
Led by Colorado local and expert fisherman Jed Thompson, Northern Colorado Fishing Outfitters operates Learn 2 Fish Colorado for educational courses and Fish Colorado for guided trips. With Fish Colorado, the team can guide both beginners and advanced fishers for boat fishing trips, river fishing on the Poudre, ice fishing during the winter, night fishing on a Northern Colorado lake, and shore fishing from the shore of a local pond or lake. For more details on these trips, click here.
If you love fishing in Northern Colorado, share your local tips in the comments below!