Fly Fishing Rocky Mountain National Park
The Western United States holds a wide range of opportunities for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. With both the Southern and Central Rockies running through it, Colorado is truly a mountain paradise. For a lot of folks like myself a trip out to this great state would be the absolute highlight of the summer. With Denver's airport and the proximity to most of the Midwest, there are bound to be a lot of visitors. Breckenridge, Aspen, Durango, and Vail are all well known "tourist" destinations. However, Estes Park Colorado is one of the most popular mountain towns in the entire state. This has almost everything to do with it sitting on the doorstep of the world famous Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nestled up and over the Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a natural wonder to behold. We got to see a great deal of the park during our visit, especially the lesser known Wild Basin side. To start the trip we clambered up the alluvial fan at the Lawn Lake trail and fished Roaring River. This stream is mostly intimate pocket water, but is home to the extremely rare Greenback Cutthroat Trout. After that we made the easy hike around Lily Lake, which does not seem to have any fish. The biggest part of this trip will take us all the ways up the Wild Basin Trailhead, following the Thunder Lake Trail. This hike has some of the best waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way you pass both Calypso Cascade and Ouzel Falls. These two massive waterfalls will undoubtedly take your breath away. You will follow the North St. Vrain all the way up to where it flows out of Thunder Lake. Backpacking and camping at Thunder Lake should be on any backcountry explorer's bucket list. With how close the campsites were to Thunder Lake, the entire group had ample opportunity to fish for the trophy Greenback Cutthroat that call this lake home. For adventure and solitude, this might be the best place to fly fish near Estes Park.
It must be said that my love for this place has deep roots spanning far past my first memories. I have been coming to RMNP & Estes Park alike for many years now. For a time I knew these trout waters better than any of my “home” streams back in Missouri. Reflecting on all of this, I was extremely lucky for two main reasons. The first being that my mom and dad both had a deep love for this place. They wanted to be sure to share it with my sister and I. The second reason would be that whenever we did have the money for a vacation, there were no questions asked, Estes Park was the destination. This is one of very few places I have had the privilege to fish all throughout my life, so I would say that I know it well.
-Thunder & Box
To reach Thunder and Box Lake you will start at the Wild Basin Trailhead in the southern portion of the Park. This hike has some of the best waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way you pass both Calypso Cascade and Ouzel Falls. These two massive waterfalls will undoubtedly take your breath away. You will follow the North St. Vrain & the Thunder Lake Trail all the way up to the Lake. Backpacking and camping at Thunder Lake should be on any backcountry explorer's bucket list. With how close the campsites were to Thunder Lake, the entire group had ample opportunity to fish for the trophy Greenback Cutthroat that call this lake home. For adventure and solitude, this might be the best place to fly fish near Estes Park.
This is by no means an easy hike. This long climb starts at the Fern Lake Trailhead and follows the Big Thompson River for most of the way. The eight miles round trip and 1.5k feet of elevation gain are made more than worth it. The outlet is fun to walk by and look at but trust me when I say those fish are NOT interested in your silly flies. I would suggest making you way to the East side of the lake and post up on the boulder field. There is a steep drop off and cruising fish love to skate along looking for tasty morsels.
-Mills & Jewel
I will forever remember this pair as my grandpas favorite destination in the park. This moderate hike can be accessed at the Glacier Gorge Junction or the Bear Lake Trailhead. Get there early... by 7AM you can guarantee the parking lots will be full. Round trip you can expect this hike to be around 5 miles with a total elevation gain of 800ft (no big deal) I have always had great luck fishing the inlet to Jewel and the inlet to Mills. Colorful brookies and speckled up rainbows like to pile up in the moving water looking for anything buggy. The view is certainly better than the fishing. Now that is not to say the fishing is bad, because it is actually quite good. The view is just breath taking. Just go and you'll see what I mean.
Yet another lake stemming from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Dream is an easy hike that only takes you around 2 miles with a mild elevation gain of 450ft. Just because of this fact alone it might see quite a few anglers throughout the day. I have had a lot of fun hiking up here with the family and trying to test my skills against those smart cutties.
I would compare Sprague Lake to a single slice of Kraft American cheese. (Stick with me here folks, I promise I got this) Like American cheese, it is certainly not your first choice. Smells kind of funny. Looks somewhat artificial. But as soon as you get a “taste” the memories flood in. That’s how I feel about this lake. Clambering along the banks trying to headhunt cruising brooks and browns was SO much fun as a kid. This is not the place for solitude. Crowds of curious tourists would pile up in the hopes of getting a glimpse at your pretty prize.
“Is that a large mouth bass?” **Fishy face palm**
-Moraine Valley (Big Thompson)
A six inch brook trout might not seem like much. But if you put yourself in baby Mike's wet tennis shoes you'd understand. This is where I learned to trout fish. This is where I learned to fly fish. This valley will forever hold a spot in my heart. It is one of the most iconic valleys in the park fort both it's wildlife and fishing. This is a classic mountain valley stream. Bend after bend filled with fish and packed with potential. Brook and brown trout are the main trout species swimming throughout this valley. You will notice that the average dry fly sipper is between six and twelve inches. However do not be fooled there are BIG FISH lurking in the undercuts.
Brook trout and mosquitos. It is an honest toss up of which one you will find more of. Like most watersheds in this region, the East Inlet starts at a series of high alpine lakes. As this river flows toward Grand Lake, there are multiple meadow sections along the trail. These are what I think of when I remember fishing the East Inlet. Eager brookies sit thick in each bend and pool of this slow rolling freestone. Knee high grass does a great job of hiding potholes so make sure to mind your step. This might be controversial but I think the East Inlet has some of the best views in Rocky Mountain. It should be noted that this is also one of the best places to see moose in the park. For whatever reason, these big critters really congregate on the Grand Lake side of the park.
-Fall River (in town)
**A lot of this water is considered private**
Just make sure to check your water rights and property lines before you decide to chase these trout.
As this river leaves its headwaters in RMNP, it will flow toward Estes Park. As the elevation drops, condos will begin to line the banks of this very fishy river. A great way to access this river would be by staying in those various condos. I spent many mountain evenings ripping rooster tails and skating caddis on the manicured lawns of these various properties. If anyone asks? Point in a general direction and say “I am staying over at those condos” You will usually be left alone. (even if you are multiple bends away from your actual condo hehe)
To start the trip we clambered up the alluvial fan at the Lawn Lake trail and fished Roaring River. This stream is mostly intimate pocket water, but is home to the extremely rare Greenback Cutthroat Trout.