Fishing in
Rocky Mountain National Park
Big Thompson River with Trout in Rocky Mountain National Park
April -- As spring pushes it way up the Rockies, ice melts in the rivers and for a few days before the snow starts to melt in the high country, trout can be found in the few pools that exist in Moraine Park. By June, the snowmelt in the high country causes the water at this pool to be 6 to 8 feet deep and to flow very fast. A polarizing filter gives the camera the same view the fisherman has with Polaroid sunglasses. The distortion in the bottom left of the picture is the last of the winter ice.

  License Fees 
  Possession Limit 
  Closed Waters 
  Open Lakes 
  Catch-and-Release Waters 
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  Your Fly Box 
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Fishing was popular with early settlers in the Rocky Mountains. It remains so for visitors today. Prior to 1968 non-native species of trout, including brown, brook and rainbow, were stocked in many streams and lakes. In addition, non-native strains of cutthroat were also stocked. The indigenous Greenback Cutthroat was though extinct until a pure strain was discovered in Como Creek in 1973. Since 1975, many non-native fish have been removed so native greenback cutthroat (eastern slope) and Colorado River cutthroat trout (western slope) may be restored to the park waters. The Greenback Cutthroat can now be pursued within Rocky Mountain National Park.

Four species of trout exist in the park -- brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat. Some suckers also inhabit the streams and lakes. Only 48 of the 156 lakes in the park have reproducing populations of fish. Cold water, a short growing season and a lack of spawning habitat often prevent reproduction in high altitude lakes. Supplemental stocking of native species is done to restore altered waters.

This is not a comprehensive list of Colorado sport fishing regulations or a complete or current recital of Rocky Mountain National Park fishing regulations. You should obtain a copy of the Colorado sport fishing regulations when you purchase a Colorado fishing license and Park fishing regulations from Park officials when you enter the Park.

A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary, however, special regulations exist.

It is your responsibility to know and obey them.

Resident Licenses: Fee:
Annual $20.25
Senior (64 years old) $10.25

Nonresident Licenses: Fee:
Annual $40.25

Resident & Nonresident Licenses: Fee:
Five-Day $18.25
One-Day $5.25

This is general information only. Obtain a complete listing of Colorado State Fishing regulations when you obtain your Colorado State Fishing License. In addition, there are special regulations that apply to fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park. A complete listing of special regulations is available at park visitor centers and ranger stations. NOTE: The last version of Park Fishing that I obtained was dated 3/98 and may not be current! Possession limit means the number, size or species of fish, fresh or preserved, a person may have. These provisions have parkwide/statewide application and are detailed below.

Maximum Daily Possession Limit:
Species Possession Limit
(Daily Bag Limit)
West Slope Streams and Rivers:
Rainbow, Brown, Brook, Colorado River Cutthroat, Non-native cutthroat
West Slope Lakes, Ponds and Reservoirs:
Rainbow, Brown, Non-native Cutthroat
On West Slope water, the total number of these species you can have in possession is 6, provided that 2 came from streams and 4 came from lakes.  
Greenback Cutthroat Trout 0
(Catch-and-Release ONLY)
East Slope Streams and Rivers:
Rainbow, Brown, Brook and Non-native cutthroat
Brook Trout (statewide) 10
(All must be Under 8")

Name Additional Information
Bear Lake Inlet and outlet streams as posted
Bench Lake and Ptarmigan Creek Ptarmigan Creek above War Dance Falls
Columbine Creek Above 9,000 feet
Hidden Valley Beaver Ponds Closed April 1 -- July 31
Hidden Valley Creek East of the Beaver Ponds (Closed April 1 -- July 31
Hunter Creek Above Wild Basin Ranger Station, as posted
Lake Nanita Outlet Downstream 100 yards
South Fork Poudre River Above Pingree Park
West Creek Above West Creek Falls

(Known to contain fishing populations)
Arrowhead Lake Lake of Glass Poudre Lake
Black Lake Lake Verna Rock Lake
Box Lake Little Rock Lake Sky Pond
Caddis Lake Loch Vale Solitude Lake
Fourth Lake Lone Pine Lake Spirit Lake
Haynach Lake Mills Lake Spraque Lake
Jewel Lake Mirror Lake Ten Lakes Park Lakes
Lake Haiyaha Peacock Pool Thunder Lake
Lake Nanita (outlet closed) Pettingell Lake Ypsilon Lake

Certain waters in the park with restored native fish populations are open year round during daylight hours, except as indicated. Use barbless hooks only. Any and all fish species taken must be immediately returned to the water unharmed. The only exceptions are in Hidden Valley Creek/Beaver Ponds and Ouzel Creek where the regular limit of brook trout may be kept. No bait is permitted by anyone angler in catch-and-release areas.

No Bait is allowed in catch-and-release waters regardless of age.
The following waters are open for catch-and-release fishing:
Adams Lake ** Lower Hutcheson Lake *
Big Crystal Lake * Mid-Hutcheson Lake *
Cony Creek* North Fork of the Big Thompson above Lost Falls *
Dream Lake * (Recently opened!) Odessa Lake *
Fern Lake and Creek * Ouzel Lake and Creek *
Fifth Lake * Paradise Creek drainage *
Hidden Valley Beaver Ponds and Hidden Valley Creek (open 8/1 to 3/31) * Pear Lake and Creek *
Lake Husted * Roaring River *
Lake Louise * Sandbeach Lake and Creek *
Lawn Lake * Spruce Lake *
Lily Lake * Timber Lake and Creek * *
Loomis Lake * Upper Hutchenson Lake *
Lost Lake *  
* Greenback Cutthroat Trout
** Colorado River Cutthroat Trout

We love Rocky Mountain National Park. If fly fishing is a great Rocky Mountain Experience - and we believe it is - then the Park is one of the finest examples of the experience available.

The Park is high in elevation, so the fishing season is relatively short. The ice does not go off some of the high lakes until well into July while streams are often fishable from April through most of October. In both cases - on lakes or streams - weather conditions dictate when one may be able to fish. How the fish survive is a miracle!

While the streams in the park are generally small and shallow, undercut banks and plunge pools create good depth where wild trout thrive. Within Park boundaries, an angler may hook rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout, including Greenback Cutthroats. The story of the Greenback is pretty well documented now. For my personal story, please read about it by clicking on Greenback Cutthroats. The once thought-to-be-extinct fish is actually thriving in several areas around Colorado, including Rocky. If you want to see the Colorado State Fish, go to Lilly Lake off route 7, just south of Estes Park. Walk the edges of the lake after ice-out, and you will see beautiful specimens of this lovely fish.

While many of the trout in the Park are on the small size, there are spots where large fish of every species may be hooked. We like fishing the Park with attractor dry flies, soft hackles and small streamer patterns. There are good hatches of a variety of insects, but they are usually not particularly concentrated. I can recall a number of times when I've been humbled by a rising trout in a beaver pond. Standing on the edge, watching the water to see what the little rascals are eating, it dawns on me that every insect that floats by is different than the one before, yet the fish will not eat what I am offering. Other times, confidently casting an Elk Caddis or Royal Wulff will bring immediate success. Such are the joys of the fly fishing experience!

Hiking along many streams in the Park to their high lake source is fun. Find a map, select a blue line that ends in a blue circle and discover your own secret spot. Walk until most of the signs of human impact are past, and then begin fishing upstream with a dry fly. Pick pockets, fish riffles and runs and observe where the fish are holding. When you arrive at the lake, sit for a moment and observe the stunning beauty. As you listen to the symphony of sounds observe the surface of the lake for rising trout. After a cool drink of water, tie on 5- or 6X tippet and a small flying ant pattern. While you walk the edges, watch for cruising or rising trout and cast the ant in front of them. Here, you will usually find hungry trout that somehow know the feeding season is short, and therefore become greedy and opportunistic. They can also be downright snobbish, as any trout is wont to be from time to time.

Keep your eyes peeled for feeding elk, playful chipmunks - don't feed them, though - and a variety of birds and lovely wild flowers. Also, be prepared for an afternoon thunderstorm. (Please read Park brochures for warnings and how to handle inclement weather.)
One of the questions we often hear has to do with where to go fishing within Park boundaries. Our answer is always friendly, but may seem a bit uppity, unfortunately, because we will not tell anyone exactly where to go. The reason? While the Park's fishery is strong, individual spots are very small. The delicacy of these areas will not stand lots of pressure, so we do our best to spread the fishing out by inviting folks to follow the blue lines to blue dots (see above). A big part of fly fishing satisfaction, at least in our opinion, is finding one's own spot. Discovery is part of fly fishing delight. Also, if we sent folks to one spot day in and day out, when a person arrived to fish, they would likely find other anglers already there. Another part of fly fishing delight is the solitude one finds: solitude without loneliness. Many anglers, at one time or another, bemoan the crowded conditions found in popular spots. We've done all that we can during our years of business at the Estes Angler to keep from "hot spotting" the Park, and that will continue to be our course.

Please come to Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoy the treasure this area truly is. We'll do all we can to help you enjoy your time fishing there by helping with gear, flies, techniques and so on, but we won't tell you exactly where to go. Fair enough? We hope so.

Trying to "Match the Hatch" is the objective of all fly fishermen and on any given day, you may not have the proper match in your fly box. It is recommended that you check with the local fly shops in Estes Park before fly fishing in the park to insure you have the current lunch (hatch) in your fly box and know where the trout are active. In addition, be sure to get a valid Colorado State fishing license for the times you will be fishing. No one fishing the Rocky Mountain National Park should be without the following flies:
  • 16 - 18 Elk Hair Caddis for Lakes and Streams
  • 16 - 18 Adams (both parachute and regular)
  • 14 - 18 Griffeth's Gnat for Lakes
  • 16 - 18 Orange Asher
  • 18 - 18 Mosquito
  • 16 - 18 Yellow Humpy
  • 10 - 12 Damselfly (spent wing for Lilly Lake)
  • 16 Hair's ear for the Big Thompson (nymph pattern)
  • 12 Stonefly for the Big Thompson
  • 12 Green Damselfly for Lily Lake (nymph pattern)
  • 14 - 16 Olive Scud for lakes.

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