Downtown Steamboat Springs offers guilt-free trout fishing trips. An angler can take off in the morning to catch the early mayfly hatch and still make the promised lunch date with his or her spouse.
Seriously, the best opportunity to catch a large trout from public water in Northwest Colorado is within Steamboat's city limits.
The 430 inches of snow that fell on Steamboat last winter shifted prime time fishing on the Yampa River a little later into the season than it has been for several years. It's good news for vacationing anglers who will arrive in the Yampa Valley in mid- to late July, when streamflows will be deeper and cooler, encouraging good hatches and feeding fish in the heat of summer.
The fishing in the heart of downtown is so reliable that guides take clients out on the town stretch when flows are ample and angling pressure isn't too high.
Thanks to a catch-and-release policy on downtown section of the Yampa River and an ambitious stream habitat improvement program, the Yampa is fishing better than ever. The trout are surviving long enough to get big and smart, and there is ample public access along the Yampa River Core Trail.
Stop by one of several local fly shops and ask to see fly patterns created by local tiers.
Special regulations on the Yampa River prevail for the 4.8-mile stretch of river in downtown Steamboat Springs. The fishing regulations limit fishing techniques to flies and lures only. All trout must be returned to the water immediately upon catch. Anglers are allowed to keep toothy northern pike.
Significant hatches and fly patterns include pale morning dun mayflies in June. Look for caddis flies and grasshoppers in July.
For families that want to dunk a worm or salmon eggs so the kiddies can catch a trout and take it home for dinner, Fetcher Pond, which is a city park, can't be beat. From U.S. Highway 40 near Safeway, turn west at the light on Pine Grove Road and cross the railroad tracks. The pond is well-stocked with pan-sized trout.
When you're ready to ease up on the hard core angling and take the kids on a mild adventure, stop at the U.S. Forest Service office on the way to Rabbit Ears Pass. Pick up a brochure to learn about parking areas, and buy a forest map to locate the many little streams. Most of them aren't too brush and contain eager little brook trout that provide the fast-paced action kids with short attention spans need. Bushy flies such as renegades are a sure bet.
Other fishing hotspots within a day's drive of Steamboat include:
-- Yampa River State Park west of Hayden boasts a fine campground, but the park really comprises 13 access points on the river stretching all the way into Moffat County. There is trout fishing in the upper stretches, some great stream fishing for smallmouth bass in Moffat County and pike fishing throughout. Call 276-2061.
-- Delaney Buttes Lakes in Jackson County (on the east side of the Park Range from Steamboat) offers spectacular scenery and promising fishing when the wind isn't blowing too hard. The fish in these three lakes grow at a rapid rate. North Delaney has some of the best lake fishing for brown trout in the state, but they are tough to catch from shore in summer. The best bet for a high catch rate is South Delaney, with its population of Snake River Cutthroats. East Delaney has rainbows. From Steamboat, drive about 60 miles to Walden via U.S. 40 and Colorado Highway 14. From a half-mile east of Walden, take County Road 18 4.5 miles to County Road 5, then 1 mile north to the lake. Check signs at the lakes for slot limits -- only fish of certain sizes may be kept. Others must be returned to the water.
-- Wolford Mountain Reservoir, between Steamboat Springs and Kremmling on U.S. 40, has gained a reputation for producing 16-inch trout. We recommend you return home over Gore Pass via Colorado 134, and enjoy driving down the Yampa River to Stagecoach Reservoir on the way back to Steamboat. Stagecoach has been blessed with stockings of mature trout the last two autumns and is producing two-pounders.
-- Steamboat Lake is the undisputed king of fishing destinations in the area. It's a beautiful 30-mile drive northwest of Steamboat springs on County Road 129. Visitors to state parks will be required to pay a $5 daily admission. Through the Fourth of July holiday, bank fishing is a great option either with bait or flies. From June into early July, fly fishers will do well with woolly buggers, which imitate both minnows and crawdads, or with damselfly nymphs. Later in July and in August, the trout will seek deeper, cooler waters. Renting a boat and rigging fishing tackle to fish deep is the best option.
Late summer is also a great time to study a trail map and plan a hike into the Zirkel Wilderness.