• Home
  • -
  • Blog - Small Waters, Small Fly Rods, Big Places | Anglers All
Category: Anglers All Travel

Small Waters, Small Fly Rods, Big Places

Colorado is home to more than 40 designated wilderness areas, and scores of other alpine destinations that are scattered with lakes and lined with beautiful little trout streams. When mid summer temperatures take hold at lower elevations, there’s no better place to be than in the high country.

As you get ready to explore some alpine waters this summer, here are a few pointers to help you along the way…


High Country Locations

Where to find great high country fly fishing? Without naming specific locations and to avoid hot-spotting someone else’s favorite area, it’s safe to say that nearly all designated wilderness areas in Colorado offer great fishing opportunities. Grab a map of these areas and start highlighting blue lines and lakes.

While designated wilderness areas are limited to foot and horseback travel only, there are also a wide variety of opportunities on public lands that are accessible by vehicle.

No matter which part of the state you decide to explore, a topographical map is a great place to start. Topo maps like USGS or Trails Illustrated not only show you where creeks are. By way of contour lines, they’ll also show you the gradient of those creeks – and sometimes even the location of beaver ponds.

On the topo map, look for places where the contour lines are spread out. Places where a small high country stream takes a meandering stroll through a relatively flat, open meadow can provide excellent holding water for trout and a buffet of the foods they most like to eat.

Alpine lakes are also easy to spot on a topo map. However, the map may not tell you much about them. To get a better look, download Google Earth. Here, you can see alpine lakes in remarkable detail. The color of the water can often give you an indication of depth. You can usually see drop-offs and other structural features where cruising fish are likely to be.

Finding great high country fishing often takes trial and error. I’ve visited alpine lakes that I thought would be great – only to find them completely devoid of fish. On the other side of that coin, I’ve stumbled across lakes so small they didn’t have a name on the map, that are home to beautiful wild fish. Be willing to take some strikes along the way. Discovering new places is a good part of the fun.


High Alpine Tactics

Fishing in small high country waters can alternate between insanely easy and insanely frustrating. In some situations, aggressive trout seem to eat anything you put in front of them. In other situations, they can be unbelievably picky.

All that to say – be ready for both. In high country creeks, fish seem to be a little less picky than they do on lakes. Make sure your fly boxes cover the basics – blue winged olives and caddis will hatch throughout the summer at higher elevations. Small stoneflies, green drakes and PMDs may also be present. And don’t forget your terrestrials – hoppers, beetles and ants are must-haves on these waters.

Dry fly fishing is often the main attraction on waters like these. But be ready to employ dry-dropper tandem rigs to make the most out of a situation. For more ideas on dry fly tactics, take a look at last week’s blog post.

When fishing these creeks, use as long a leader as is practical to avoid spooking fish in the clear and often shallow waters. Fish the inside cut banks along bends and don’t ignore the really small pockets – you might be surprised where you can turn up fish!

In alpine lakes, focus on shelves and drop-offs where shallow feeding zones are adjacent to deeper water safety zones for trout. Inlets can provide cold, highly oxygenated water. And the outlets of these lakes are often stacked with downed trees, providing great structure. Again, take a look at Google Earth before you hit the trail. Some things that are difficult to see from the waters edge may be obvious from the aerial view.

On lakes, be ready to fish with dry flies, streamers and nymph rigs. A variety of staples like mayfly, caddis and basic attractor patterns will cover most situations. Additionally, a variety of hoppers and a handful of flying ants can be extremely helpful. When fish aren’t willing to rise, small to medium sized streamers will usually turn up fish.


When trout won’t look to the surface and when they’re not eating streamers, nymphs fished deep under and indicator can be the ticket. Depending on the food sources available in the lake, I’ll often bring a fly box loaded with scuds and caddis larvae, plus a variety of small mayfly nymphs and general attractor nymphs. Try an extremely slow, hand-twist retrieve to catch the attention of cruising fish.

Fly Rods for the Journey

Fishing these small waters is the perfect opportunity to pack a short, light line fly rod. This is ideal territory for rods 4-weight and under.

Here are a handful of our favorite fly rods for fishing small wilderness waters:

Scott F Series – These fiberglass rods from Scott allow anglers to cast beautiful, accurate loops under 20 feet, perfect for fishing along little alpine rivers. But they aren’t your grandpa’s glass rods. The F-Series boasts some serious advancements in technology, making versatile and incredibly fun to cast.

Sage Trout LL – The medium-action Trout LL from Sage is designed for dry fly fishing. These rods have a delicate touch, which can make casts at close-distance with impeccable presentation over clear water and spooky fish.

Sage Dart – The Dart is a fast-action version of the close-range dry fly rod. This rod can drive tight little loops with zipping speed, allowing anglers to reach under overhanging brush with accuracy.

Winston Pure – The Pure brings Winson’s classic touch to a light line rod that’s ideal for sailing dry flies into small pocket water. It’s a moderate-action rod that’s versatile enough to cast open loops for great dry fly presentations, yet with the backbone to generate faster line speeds.

Call or Visit Us With Questions

If you have questions as you get started exploring the high country, please visit us at the fly shop in Littleton or give us a call at 303-794-1104. We’d be happy to help get you moving in the right direction. We continue to offer free shipping on all orders from AnglersAll.com and free curbside pickup as an option.