Backpacking and fly fishing—they go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Fly gear is light and easy enough to stuff in your pack (especially if you have a collapsible rod or minimalist tenkara gear) and Colorado’s high alpine lakes, streams and beaver ponds are chock full of trout of many species. In some places, agencies have even begun returning native species like the greenback cutthroat trout to the waters where they belong. There are multiple joys when it comes to catching wild fish in big, lonesome spaces, but the best reason is simply to undertake the adventure of getting out there. Below are our favorite spots to combine backpacking and casting (and we hope, catching):
Rocky Mountain National Park
Close to the Front Range and boasting 156 lakes tucked into rocky cirques and sleepy forest, the park is the premier spot in Colorado for backpacking and hiking in to catch some trout. Rainbows, browns, brookies, Yellowstone cutthroat and native greenback and Colorado River cutthroat (which the park has been reintroducing since 1975) all make their home here. Now, only 48 of those lakes have reproducing populations—meaning they thrive without being stocked—but that still makes for a vibrant fishery. The chains of lakes that dot Wild Basin in the southern end of the park may be your best bet for epic backpacking and scrambling for trout. Remember not just to fish the deep waters of the lakes themselves but also the outlet streams (a good place for a smaller 3-weight rod). You will need a permit to camp in the park. nps.gov/romo
Easy to access from I-70, yet stunningly isolated once you begin to hike, the jagged peaks of the Gore Range harbor some outstanding spots to fish. One spot that does not require humping in but is well worth your time as either a base camp for big hikes or a destination itself is Piney Lake. The rustic resort of Piney River Ranch (pineyriverranch.com) is famed for hosting weddings and also rents canoes that you can paddle out onto its lake to hook into rainbows and brookies.
Lost Creek Wilderness
One of the most underrated wilderness areas in Colorado, Lost Creek harbors numerous odd rock formations (climb to the top of the Tarryalls if you want to check them out) and some fantastic fishing. The Colorado Trail passes through here and its close to Denver so you won’t necessarily be alone, but the real fun lies in fishing the waters of Lost Creek itself (park at Kenosha Pass to access it from its headwaters). Make your way down the watercourse to to stalk brookies. Goose Creek and Wigwam Creek are also full of small fish (think 3 weight).
Mount Zirkel Wilderness
If you want to get out of the Front Range head to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness north of Steamboat Springs. The place gets a bit overlooked since the mountains here are lower than the rest of Colorado (there are no 14ers) but that means fewer people and a better shot at the cutthroats here. Mica Lake is one spot that’s full of fish and ideal for day trips or the start of a long backpacking loop.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon National Park
You don’t always have to gain elevation to find fish in Colorado wilderness areas—the sheer depths of Black Canyon and the Gunnison River may be some of the best backcountry fishing in the state. Here, you can lay into fat rainbows and browns. Catch the salmon fly hatch right in late June and it may be the best day of fishing in your life. nps.gov/blca