Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Elk River Colorado
The Elk River is a beautiful Colorado trout stream that
is a major tributary of the Yampa River. It has one
problem - the lack of public access but even so, it is
rarely fished because of the nearby Yampa. For that
reason, the public access that is available seems to
The Christina State Wildlife Area in the lower section
of the river is one area you can fish. The other areas
are all in the uppermost part or the headwaters on the
National Forest Land where the North and South
Forks of the Elk River merge.
Most of the river flows through private ranch property.
I feel certain one could obtain permission to fish from
some of the ranchers but it would require asking.
The headwaters consist of small streams with smaller
trout ranging from eight to twelve inches. Rainbows,
browns and brook trout exist there.
There are several campgrounds in the area and the
fishing is usually very good. The lower river has
rainbows, browns and Mountain Whitefish that
average much larger. Fly fishing the Elk River varies
a great deal depending on where you fish.
Most all of the river is visible from state road 129 and
FR 400 which parallels the river the entire distance
from its headwaters to its termination with the Yampa
River. It is a typical freestone stream with plenty of
prime pocket water, pools, riffles and runs of all
lengths and sizes.
The Elk River does have a limited amount of public
access but it is well worth fishing if your in the area. It
may turn out to be a sleeper and better than you think
because it isn't considered a top fly fishing destination.
Elk River Colorado
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Recommended Tackle & Gear
4, 5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 &12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing:
71/2 ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rod:
Perfect Fly Supreme Four, Superb Five
or Ultimate Six
For 4/5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Loon Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
Although the season is open
year-round, most of the better fishing
takes place during the warmer months
of the year.
The lower section of the river provides
some opportunity on warm winter days.
The river fishes best past the spring
Elk River Fly Fishing Guide:
The Elk River forms in majestic mountains with giant
spruce and fir trees, box canyons, granite gorges and
begins to level out in its middle and lower sections.
Unless you gain permission from a local property
owner along the river you are going to be limited to
fishing the headwaters of the South and North
Branches in the Routt National Forest or the lower
section inside the Christina Wildlife Refuge Area.
These two areas require different fishing methods
because of the size of the stream and the trout. This is
not a lot of water considering the river is thirty-one
miles long. I will mention that there are some guest
ranches and retreats along the river that can be
rented. It is possible some of these offer fly fishing
opportunities from their property.
The headwaters has plenty of small rainbows, browns
and brook trout but a trout over twelve inches is rare.
They exist to sizes much larger than that but they are
very few of them.
Some of the upper headwaters lies in
meadow areas and some in canyon like
settings with fast water. There is an area
called the box canyon that has a very steep
decline with rapids in some areas. The upper
river is a popular white water destination.
This is a true freestone stream which means
its flows are entirely controlled by mother
nature. The snowpack and rainfall amounts
determine the flows. It is always a good idea
to check the USGS stream flow data before
traveling any appreciable distance to fish the
The water can get low in the late summer and
early fall months if the year is a dry one and
the snow pack is low. The water usually stays
cool enough to provide good fishing even
when it is low.
While the water is at a fairly high level in
the pictures shown, it is not usually that
level during the summer. Most of the water
can be waded easily even in the lower
section in Christina Wildlife Refuge. Dry fly
fishing can be great during a prime hatch
but otherwise nymphs are usually required
to catch trout.
The lower river usually has some very nice
sized brown trout that can be taken on
streamers during the fall spawning season.
Rainbows up to eighteen inches are not
exactly an everyday catch but they are
commonly caught in the lower section of
the Elk River. They do average a very
good size of around fourteen inches or
Elk River Hatches and Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods at
the particular time you are fishing. Unlike the
generic fly shop trout flies, we have specific
imitations of all the insects in the Elk River
and in all stages of life that are applicable to
fishing. If you want to fish better, more
realistic trout flies, have a much higher
degree of success, give us a call. We not
only will help you with selections, you will
learn why, after trying Perfect Flies, 92% of
the thousands of our customers will use
nothing else. 1-800-594-4726.
As you probably expect, the Blue-winged
Olive is the most consistent and one of the
better hatches on the Elk River. There is two
periods of time that these little mayflies hatch
that are important. One hatch takes place
from near the first of April until the end of
May and the other hatch occurs from about
the middle of August until mid October.
Weather conditions can vary these dates a
couple of weeks or more but they will occur
and they will provide some excellent dry fly
fishing. Catching a big rainbow trout on a
small, hook size 18 BWO dry fly is a thrill to
say the least.
Midges hatch throughout the year and are
always a good backup when other aquatic
insects are not hatching. During the winter,
they may be your only choice if you want to
Normally the Little Black Caddis or
Branchcentrus species hatch around the end
of April up until about the first week in May.
The water should be around fifty degrees or
slightly higher for this hatch to occur. It can
provide some excellent dry fly action.
From about the first of June to the middle
of August you can expect some stonefly
hatches to occur. The Little Yellow
Stoneflies are the most consistent.
Golden Stoneflies hatch but not in any
Red Quill mayflies start hatching about
the middle of June and last into the first
week or two of July. This is one of the
most reliable hatches that occurs. The
Pale Morning Duns start hatching about
the same time as the Red Quill but last
much longer. It can last until the end of
August. You should be aware that
hatches in the higher elevations in the
headwaters can be delayed a full month
from these dates. The Pale Morning Duns
and the Blue-winged Olives are the two
most important mayfly hatches.
There are several caddisfly species that
hatch on the Elk River. The most common
one is the Spotted Sedge but there are
also some Little Short-horned Sedges and
Green Sedges which are very plentiful.
The larva of the Green Sedges, called
Rock Worms, are quite effective on this
Starting near the end of June and up until
the middle of September, terrestrial
insects become important. Ants, beetles
and grasshoppers are all effective during
this time period. Don't forget the
streamers. They produce some large
rainbow trout at times and work great
anytime the water is slightly off color from
heavy rain and snow.
Don't forget to check out our "Perfect
Flies". We have specific imitations of all
the insects mentioned above.
The best hatches and dry fly fishing
occurs during the summer.
Autumn is a great time for fly fishing the
Elk River Fly Fishing Report:
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
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descriptions of the
streams, species of fish,
a fly fishing guide, a fly
fishing report, hatches
and recommended gear
and equipment, USGS