Gold Medal Waters in Colorado

Colorado is blessed with a plentiful offering of trout-filled lakes, streams, and rivers. There are countless gorgeous and promising spots to fish that provide decent opportunities to reel in large trout around the state, but every once in a while there comes a stretch of creek, river, or lake overflowing with so many trout that it demands to be celebrated.

These special spots have been designated as “Gold Medal” waters by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, a board comprised of Governor-appointed citizens that oversees parks and wildlife regulations and policies for the state.

To earn this hallowed title, a body of water, stream, or section of river must meet a hefty set of requirements. Waters must be able to crank out 60 pounds of trout that are at least 12 14-inches or larger per acre.

Fly Fishing at Arkansas River Pueblo ColoradoFly fisherman at the Arkansas River in Pueblo, southwest of Colorado Springs. Photo: PEO ACWA

Like you might imagine, most of the state’s lakes, rivers, and streams don’t make the cut. Of the over 9,000 miles of fishable areas in Colorado that are suitable for trout fishing, a mere 322 of them have met the requirements to earn the Gold Medal standard.

Keeping the large and vibrant trout populations found in Gold Medal waters intact and is no easy task, so expect to adhere to strict local regulations when fishing in these incredible spots. The following is a list of waters in Colorado that have earned the special Gold Medal designation:

Animas River

Most of Colorado’s Gold Medal-designated waters flow through remote forested areas, not busy cities. While rivers flowing through the hearts of Colorado communities is a common occurrence, you’re not likely to find excellent fishing spots when rivers press up against large populations in the state.

The southern Colorado city of Durango is a striking exception. The short stretch of the Animas River in town from Lightner Creek to the Rivera Crossing Bridge at Dallabetta Park has earned the evasive Gold Medal title despite the fact that it runs adjacent to a Wal Mart Supercenter, movie theater, and Harley-Davidson dealership. Nature always finds a way, I guess.

If you want to fish here, you’ll have to stick to artificial flies and lures only and if you want to pull fish out of the river, it’s a minimum of two trout capped at 16 inches. The ease of access from Durango makes it all the better.

Arkansas River

Arkansas River Fly Fishing from Raft into Gold Medal WatersArkansas River fly fishing in Browns Canyon. Photo by: Echo Canyon River Expeditions

By many accounts the lengthy and gorgeous stretch of Gold Medal waters on the Arkansas River is one of the most rewarding and exciting places to fish in the United States. If you’re a Colorado resident and live to fish for Trout, this means that you’re astoundingly lucky––unless you moved to the state specifically to fish, that is.

Designated in 2014, this 204-mile-long section of the river reaches from the community of Parkdale just west of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park all the way to the Lake Fork confluence south of the town of Leadville. With how rewarding the Arkansas River is to fish, it comes with strings attached in the form of strict and often complex regulations.

Depending on what section of the Gold Medal waters you fish in here, it’s often catch-and-release only with nothing but artificial flies and lures permitted as bait. But with the fishing here being so good, it’s well worth the hassle.

Blue River

Blue River Breckenridge Gone Fishin' SculptureGone Fishin’ sculpture in the Blue River, Breckenridge. Photo by: Jim & Robin Kunze

From the Dillon Dam in Silverthorne 34 miles north to the confluence of the Colorado River at Kremmling is where you’ll find the trout-rich Gold Medal waters of this river. Immersed in rugged, mountainous terrain, in addition to the chance to catch some of the state’s most impressive trout, you’ll also be treated to a serene, beautiful setting.

But to fish here legally, you’ll need to stick to artificial flies and lures only through the entire 34-mile-stretch, and most spots are catch-and-release only.

Colorado River

Colorado River Fall Colors Granby COThe Colorado River near Granby, Colorado. Photo by: Simon Morris

Powerful, untamed, and pristine, the Colorado River is famous for carving through the Grand Canyon and being one the American West’s most important waterways. But from the Troublesome Creek east of Kremmling to Fraser River confluence near Granby, it’s most known and celebrated for being flush with plentiful numbers of trout.

Located in Colorado’s pristine and remote Middle Park region, the stretch of the Colorado boasts a quaint bucolic feel with the benefit of vast peeks dotting the view off into the distance. Regulations vary depending on where you fish along these Gold Medal waters, so do your homework.

Fryingpan River

Frying Pan River Basalt ColoradoFryingpan River near Basalt, CO. Photo by: mikeccross

The scenic section of the Fryingpan River from the confluence of the Roaring Fork River to the dam at Ruedi Reservoir has earned the Gold Medal designation. At just under 14 miles long, it’s not a particularly long section of river, but it sure is a rewarding one.

This stretch of river near Basalt flows through thick mountain forests that light up with stunning gold foliage every fall. And the fishing? Well, the fishing is spectacular. Artificial flies and lures only here, and it’s catch-and-release for all trout other than Browns.

Gore Creek

Gore Creek Vail ColoradoTaken from a Bridge overlooking Gore Creek, Vail. Photo: scottmindib

Clocking in at a scant six miles, the Gold Medal designation for Gore Creek spans from the Eagle River confluence to the Red Sandstone Creek in west Vail. This section of the creek runs parallel to 1-70, so fishing here isn’t exactly what you’d call a remote, immersed-in-nature experience. However, the mountain views here are truly stunning, and there are loads of trout to be bested here.

To fish these Gold Medal waters, you’ll need to stick to artificial flies and lures and a limit of two trout that are 16 inches or larger are the only fish you’ll be able to take with you.

Gunnison River

Trout Fishing Gunnison River in Gunnison Gorge NCA ColoradoTrout fishing in Gunnison River, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. Photo by: BLM

Fishing along the Gold Medal waters of the Gunnison River is an unforgettable experience. Yes, the fishing here is amazing, but this section of the river covers some of the most rugged, gorgeous, and captivating landscapes in the nation: the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The only problem with fishing in a stunning place like this is that you’re likely to be distracted by the sheer scale and beauty of the monolithic rock faces that tower over you. But once you settle in, you’ll be treated to some truly remarkable fishing.

The Gold Medal designation here spans from the Crystal Reservoir Dam just outside of the National Park to the North Fork of the Gunnison River east of Delta. But be warned. This is a truly special place to fish that can’t be easily accessed by road, so you’ll probably need to do the hard work of hiking to get to the river. East Portal Road is the only way to drive down.

North Delaney Lake

Located three hours away from the Denver Metro Area in Colorado’s sprawling North Park region, North Delaney Lake is a prime spot for conventional, fly, and ice fishing. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, you’ll have a decent shot here at reeling in Trophy-sized fish that exceed 25 inches and eight pounds.

But be warned: fishing here legally means adhering to strict guidelines like sticking to artificial flies and lures only, throwing back large Brown Trout immediately, and steering clear of the lake’s dam.

North Platte River

The Gold Medal waters of the North Platte River extend from the Routt National Forest Boundary northward to the Wyoming Border in North Park. Set in some of the most remote and scenic landscapes in Colorado, this is where you fish when you want it to be just you and nature.

But if you venture here, just make sure to watch out for the moose. At just five miles long, there are definitely longer stretches of Gold Medal waters to fish in the state, but between the stunning scenery and sizable trout here, it’s absolutely worth a visit.

Rio Grande River

South Fork Rio Grande River ColoradoRio Grande River in South Fork, Colo. Photo by: Jeffrey Beall

Another gorgeous waterway of great historic and environmental significance, the Rio Grande’s origin’s lie deep in the Colorado mountains. The 17-mile Gold Medal section of this hallowed river stretches from the Colorado 149 Bridge in the community of South Fork to the the Rio Grande Canal diversion structure.

This section of the river has proven time and time again to produce solid numbers of Brown and Rainbow Trout, and much of it can be easily accessed by local roads. Artificial flies and lures only, and other restrictions apply.

Roaring Fork River

Confluence of Roaring Fork River and Colorado River in Glenwood Springs CORoaring Fork and Colorado River confluence, Glenwood Springs. Photo by: mikeccross

Spanning the stretch of river from the confluence of the Fryingpan River in Basalt up to Glenwood Springs where it meets the Colorado River is where the Roaring Fork’s coveted Gold Medal waters flow. In addition to some spectacular scenery, this 22-mile stretch of the river is packed with impressive Mountain Whitefish, Brown and Rainbow Trout.

With much of the river running parallel to Colorado 82, most spots on the Roaring Fork aren’t difficult to access. You’ll need to stick to flies and lures when fishing here, and if you want to take home some of the trout you’ll catch, you’re limited to two fish sized 16 inches or larger.

South Platte River

South Platte River Hartsel Colorado Gold Medal WatersSouth Fork of South Platte River before CO-9, Hartsel, Colo. Photo by: Jeffrey Beall

Three separate sections of the South Platte River spanning 37 miles have earned the Gold Medal designation. One section flows into the Spinney Mountain Reservoir and begins about 20 miles away from the Colorado 9 Bridge just west of Hartsel.

Affectionately nicknamed the “Dream Steam,” another section extends from south of the Spinney Mountain Reservoir to the Eleven Miles Reservoir, a distance of roughly 4 miles.

The third section of Gold Medal waters on the South Platte spans from the southern boundary of the Wigwam Club in Deckers northwards to the Scraggy View Picnic Ground. This pristine, sprawling section of the state where the South Platte flows through the western slope of Front Range down into South Park is internationally known for the size, number, and quality of trout that reside in the streams and rivers here.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir

Spinney Mountain Reservoir Fishing ColoradoSandy shores of Spinney Mountain Reservoir.

Located in the heart of South Park in central Colorado, Spinney Mountain Reservoir is just one of three Gold Medal bodies of water in the state. It benefits from being wedged between two sections of the South Platte River that have earned the same designation.

As opposed to other alpine lakes in Colorado, this reservoir looks more like the treeless, windswept reservoirs of the state’s eastern plains more than the forest-covered bodies of water you’d expect to be in the mountains. But there are so many incredible fish to be caught here that you simply won’t care. Trophy Rainbow and Brown Trout abound, and you’re also likely to find impressively sized Northern Pike here as well.

The best time for fishing at Spinney Mountain Reservoir is early morning as that’s when the wind tends to be the calmest. By afternoon, it’s usually pretty breezy in Park County.

Steamboat Lake

Steamboat Lake State Park Fishing from DockFishing from the dock in Steamboat Lake; Ranger holding rod as fisherman snaps photo. Photo by: Cyndi and Dave

Haling from one of the prettiest places in the state, Steamboat Lake boasts excellent fishing, gorgeous mountain views, and a whopping dose of serenity. The 1,000 + surface acre lake has earned the Gold Medal designation for its bountiful offering of native Trout, which includes the Snake River Cutthroat Trout.

At almost four hours away from Denver in Clark, it takes a commitment to access this stellar fishing spot if you live along the Front Range Urban Corridor. However, those who make the journey are handsomely rewarded with the chance to catch some of the largest and most impressive Trout.

It should go without saying, but it’s important to read up on local regulations before you fish any of Colorado’s Gold Medal destinations. Without them, the phenomenal Trout populations that frequent these special waters won’t continue to remain as vibrant and healthy.