CMC's Denver Fly Fishing Section
Fly Fishing the Colorado Backcountry

Page Two - Planning


Colorado Department of Wildlife (CDOW): The division of wildlife can provide stocking reports which are critical to measuring lake life cycles. The majority of high mountain lakes do not hold reproductive fish due to water topologies & oxygen levels. Sizes and numbers of trout will predictably peak & ebb in such waters.

Contact a CDOW biologist for the area to be visited. The ideal lake is one that has light fishing pressure, lots of scuds (crustaceans) and was stocked four-to-six years ago. Fat, adult trout are the fruit of these factors.

In recent years, CDOW has planted only native trout in backcountry, alpine lakes. Two strains of greenback cutthroats plus local strains of Colorado River cutthroats are being restored. As a result, rainbows and browns have either disappeared from these waters or interbred with the natives.

indispensable tools are USGS topological maps and their offspring, such as Trails Illustrated and Gazetteer map series. PC mapping software such as Topo! enable one to record, pinpoint and print just what you need.

Colorado LakeFinder
is an online searchable database of CDOW data on hundreds of lakes. You can search by name, elevation, depth, fish species and more. The only drawbacks are that the fish information is dated and many alpine lakes are listed as "unknown." Colorado LakeFinder may be accessed through "Backcountry Fishing" on this website's navigation menu.

The Internet
has various bulletin boards, blogs (web logs) and personal websites with useful information. Keyword look-ups on search engines like Yahoo! and Google are excellent tools. Online maps such as those offered on are useful in quickly searching for keywords such as mountain and lake names.

The Colorado Mountain Club:
CMC trip leaders and members visit many backcountry destinations year-round. Whether fly fishers or not, they can often tell you when a particular spot is snow-free and the best way to get there.


Hypothermia and Altitude Sickness: Hypothermia, the lowering of the body's core temperature to under 95 degrees Fahrenheit, is a year-round high country danger. The thin atmosphere of high elevations not only makes breathing more difficult, but also magnifies the sun's power. Exposed skin burns far more quickly at altitude.

Visitors to Colorado
should acclimatize themselves before going above 9,000 feet in elevation. Oxygen at this level is only half that at a sea port. Altitude sickness, signified by headache, nausea and lack of appetite, can only be successfully treated by retreating to lower altitude. Be alert to serious symptoms.

Lightning and Sudden Weather Changes
July and August are the most intense lightning period in Colorado. Many high-country lakes lie at or above timberline (11,000'). Plan to be off of ridges, peaks and open areas by 1 PM. The best action is to travel below timberline or crouch in a boulder field. Stay away from the base and edges of cliffs.

Avalanches, water
and insect borne diseases must be considered
. Giardia is the most common waterborne threat. Always treat water derived from backcountry sources before consuming. Ticks and mosquitoes spread several diseases. Apply insect repellant liberally and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.


Backpacking/Camping Gear: Travel as light as possible and take advantage of the latest designs and materials. If your gear was made in the last century, there is considerable weight savings in a new tent, pad, sleeping bag and backpack. Older equipment can be relegated to car camping or donated.

If costs and amount of use are factors, consider renting your gear from a reputable mountaineering shop. This enables one to try out new designs without a major investment. Some shops allow you to apply rental fees toward gear purchases.

The most important equipment you'll wear are your boots, layered clothing and pack, in that order. Boots and backpacks must be chosen carefully for fit, weight, capacity and durability. Make sure clothing work together in layers to keep you warm, dry and comfortable.

For a tent, the author prefers a free-standing model to one that requires staking to remain erect. Alpine soils are often too thin to secure tent stakes. Consider a model that won't induce claustrophobia in bad weather.

Snow and freezing weather occur year-round in Colorado's high country. Obtain a sleeping bag that keeps you warm in sub-freezing weather. An ideal bag is lightweight, warm, comfortable, easily compressed and vented. Beware of bags that are too spacious as extra body warmth is required to maintain temperature.

The CMC Ten Essentials
The Colorado Mountain Club recommends the following items be carried at all times in the backcountry, in addition to normal supplies of food, water and clothing:
      • Map
      • Compass
      • Sunglasses and sunscreen
      • Extra food including ready-to-eat items
      • Extra layers of clothing including rain/wind jacket and pants
      • Headlamp/flashlight
      • First aid supplies
      • Fire starter & matches
      • At least 2 quarts of water
      • Knife
In addition, the Colorado Mountain Club's Denver Group offers schools and clinics to enhance alpine skills. Wilderness Trekking, Wilderness Survival and Backpacking Schools are three of the programs held each year. Consult the CMC Main Office for classes, dates and times.

Fly Fishing Gear: It's best to bring two rods and reels along. High country lakes and river canyons often require long casts against the wind. For a primary rod, a 9' six weight is recommended. The extra punch directs large dries, nymphs and streamers more effectively. For smaller waters and delicate presentations, use an 8 1/2 foot four weight.

If buying new rods, purchase those that break down into 4 or more pieces. Pack the rods in hard-sided tubes sufficient to take a beating. Some backcountry fishermen use 2-3 piece rods packed in aluminum tubes as hiking staffs.

Ideally, the two reels should have weight-forward floating fly lines with a back-up spool each of weight-forward sink-tip lines. For deep alpine lakes, a type III full-sinking line is worth considering. Check for loose reel screws before trips. Bring an extra leader; more if you plan to fish streamers or a sinking line.

Consider a chest pack or fishing shirt in lieu of a vest. Both these choices will comfortably accommodate most backpacks and day packs. Cargo pants and fanny packs are good alternatives.

Waders and nets are often not needed in Colorado's backcountry. Pack a lightweight pair of chest or hip waders if need be. Bring a pair of sandals or neoprene booties to wear as wading boots. Most high-mountain lakes are too cold even in the summer to wet-wade for more than a few minutes.

"Colorado Flies" listed on this website will cover almost any backcountry situation. In addition, scud patterns and Griffith's Gnats come in handy. Scuds should be carried in gray and orange colors, sized 20-14. Griffith's Gnats, sized 24-18, imitate midge clusters common to alpine waters.

High mountain winds deposit great numbers of terrestrials in summer and early fall. Carry ant, beetle and hopper patterns. Damselfly and dragonfly patterns are effective on some lakes. Three patterns can substitute for most of the above. They are the Parachute Adams, Orange Stimulator and Gold Ribbed Hares Ear.

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