Trout Fishing Showdown: Wyoming vs. Colorado

Which state is best for trout fishing, Wyoming or Colorado? This is not easy to answer, but we might gain some hints from the fishing habits of the locals. When Wyomingite’s head out for an extended trout fishing trip, their destination more often than not is in Wyoming. When Coloradans head on a trout fishing vacation, chances are their destination is in Wyoming. The locals know where the best fishing is after all.

Trout fishing in Wyoming is summed up by remote mountainous wilderness, pristine trout streams, and some of the healthiest wild trout populations in the country. The low population density does wonders for the quality of the fishing. Wyoming has iconic fisheries such as The North Platte River, Snake River, and Yellowstone National Park, all of which offer outstanding fishing experiences, but lets me honest for a second. They are not the places to go for solitude.

On the other hand, Colorado offers plethora of renowned trout fishing destinations. With its diverse landscapes, high-altitude lakes, and alpine creeks, the state truly caters to anglers’ desires. The Colorado River, South Platte River, and Gunnison River are just a few examples of the incredible fishing spots you’ll find there. Colorado’s abundant trout populations and picturesque surroundings create a delightful angling atmosphere. Although in recent years, the brown trout fishery which really put Colorado on the map has been in somewhat of a decline, luckily Rainbows and Cutthroat have replaced them in many of the fisheries so there is still something to catch.

Ultimately, the “best” state for trout fishing comes down to personal preferences. If you seek solitude and a connection with nature, Wyoming’s vast wilderness is hard to beat. It is the less populated state in the country after all. On the other hand, if you crave diverse fishing opportunities, with better infrastructure to support it Colorado could be the perfect fit for you.

A Note on Spot Burning

Now, let’s address the downside of sharing popular spots. As a responsible angler, it’s important to avoid spot burning, which can harm the fragile ecosystems and spoil the fishing experience. For this reason, I will only provide well-known spots, remember that exploring lesser-known areas can lead to hidden gems and more solitude on the water. Even in popular destinations solitude can still be found.

Wyoming: Pristine Streams and Remote Wilderness

Wyoming boasts an abundance of pristine mountain streams and remote wilderness areas that provide an exceptional trout fishing experience. Here are three popular rivers that despite the crowds are worth a visit:

  1. North Platte River: The North Platte River is a fly fisherman’s dream. It’s divided into three sections: the Upper North Platte, the Miracle Mile, and the Gray Reef. The Upper North Platte offers scenic beauty and the chance to catch healthy brown and rainbow trout. The Miracle Mile is famous for its trophy trout. The Gray Reef section is known for its year-round fishing and excellent fly hatches.
  2. Snake River: Cutting through the mountains like a knife, the Snake River flows through the majestic peaks of the Grand Teton National Park, the Snake River is a picturesque destination for trout fishing. You’ll find native cutthroat trout in its waters, as well as brown and rainbow trout. The canyon section is particularly popular, offering breathtaking scenery and a chance to catch some feisty trout.
  3. Green River: The Green River in Wyoming is a remarkable fishing destination, offering both thrilling angling adventures and stunning scenery. The section below Fontenelle Reservoir is particularly renowned for its productive trout fishing. The river flows through beautiful canyons, and its clear waters are home to a variety of trout species, including brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout.
Colorado cutthroat trout

Colorado: Diverse Waters and Alpine Beauty

Colorado is known for its diverse waters and stunning alpine landscapes, attracting anglers from far and wide. Here are three well-known rivers that promise exciting trout fishing adventures:

  1. Colorado River: The Colorado River stretches across multiple states, but its Colorado section is a prime trout fishing destination. The river offers various sections with different characteristics. My favorite is the headwaters which flows through Rocky Mountain National Park. There the river is easily wadable and provides excellent fly fishing.
  2. South Platte River: Targeting wild trout, on the South Platte River is a bucket list item for many trout anglers. Despite the crowds, its renowned “Dream Stream” section near Spinney Mountain Reservoir is certainly worth fishing at least once.
  3. Gunnison River: The Gunnison River, located in southwestern Colorado, is known for its scenic beauty and exceptional trout fishing. Despite the technical nature of the fishing, the wild beauty of the black canyon sheer cliffs, deep pools and overall awe-inspiring beauty is certainly worth a visit.

Trout Fishing Lakes: Wyoming and Colorado’s Finest

When it comes to trout fishing, the rivers are the stars, but the lakes actually hold more fish and are often less pressured. Let’s explore three notable lakes from each state, along with the best time of year to fish them.

Wyoming Lakes: Tranquil Waters and Great Catches

  1. Lake Jackson
    • Best Time to Fish: Late spring and early summer (May to June)
    • Lake Jackson is nestled in the scenic Teton Range near Grand Teton National Park. This pristine lake is known for its stunning mountain backdrop and offers excellent fishing opportunities for cutthroat trout and lake trout (mackinaw). Fishing from a boat or float tube can yield impressive catches, especially during the spring when trout are active.
  2. Fremont Lake
    • Best Time to Fish: Summer (June to August)
    • Located in the Wind River Range near Pinedale, Fremont Lake is Wyoming’s second-largest natural lake. Its crystal-clear waters are home to a variety of trout species, including rainbow, brown, and lake trout. During the summer months, anglers can enjoy trolling or casting from the shore, targeting trout that are actively feeding near drop-offs and underwater structures.
  3. Fontenelle Reservoir
    • Best Time to Fish: Fall (September to October)
    • Fontenelle Reservoir, situated along the Green River in southwestern Wyoming, provides ample opportunities for trout fishing. This reservoir offers good populations of rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. As autumn sets in, trout become more active, feeding voraciously to prepare for winter. Anglers can try their luck with various techniques, such as trolling with spoons or casting with streamer flies.

Colorado Lakes: Scenic Beauty and Abundant Trout

  1. Blue Mesa Reservoir
    • Best Time to Fish: Spring and fall (April to May, September to October)
    • Blue Mesa Reservoir, located in Curecanti National Recreation Area, is Colorado’s largest body of water and a renowned trout fishing destination. This sprawling lake is teeming with rainbow, brown, kokanee salmon, and lake trout. Spring and fall offer prime fishing conditions, as trout move closer to the shorelines and feed more actively.
  2. Spinney Mountain Reservoir
    • Best Time to Fish: Summer and early fall (June to September)
    • Situated near Hartsel, Spinney Mountain Reservoir is a popular choice for trout anglers. This productive fishery is known for its trophy-sized trout, including rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. During summer, when insect activity is high, anglers can target rising trout with dry flies or employ nymphing techniques for consistent action.
  3. Trinidad Lake
    • Best Time to Fish: Spring and fall (April to May, September to October)
    • Trinidad Lake, located in southern Colorado near the town of Trinidad, offers a tranquil setting and excellent trout fishing opportunities. This reservoir is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, providing ample catches for anglers. In the spring, trout are more active and can be found in shallower areas, while fall offers cooler temperatures and hungry trout preparing for winter.

Seasonal Highlights: What Each Season Offers

Trout fishing in both Wyoming and Colorado offers seasonal highlights that are worth considering. Let’s break it down:

  1. Spring: Spring brings increased insect activity, making it an excellent time for dry fly fishing. Look for hatches of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. The water is often clearer, and trout become more active after winter.
  2. Summer: Summer offers longer days and warmer temperatures, making early mornings and evenings ideal for fishing. Trout seek shelter in cooler, deeper waters during the heat of the day. Terrestrial insects, such as grasshoppers, become prevalent during this season.
  3. Fall: Fall is a favorite among many anglers, as trout become more active in preparation for winter. As temperatures drop, fish start feeding aggressively, making streamer fishing an effective technique. Fall colors create a picturesque backdrop for your fishing adventures.
  4. Winter: Winter fishing can be rewarding, especially in tailwater sections where water temperatures remain consistent. Nymphing techniques often yield the best results during this season. However, be prepared for icy conditions and limited access to certain areas.

Trout Fishing Delights: Parks to Explore in Wyoming and Colorado

When it comes to trout fishing, exploring less well-known regional parks can lead to better angling opportunities and a chance to escape the crowds which can overhwhelm the more famous waters.

If you walk far enough you might even come across an ‘undiscovered’ gem. Here are five provincial, regional, or national parks worth visiting for trout fishing in both Wyoming and Colorado.

Wyoming Parks: Pristine Settings and Abundant Trout

  1. Yellowstone National Park
    • Description: Yellowstone National Park is a trout angler’s paradise. With its vast wilderness, iconic rivers like the Yellowstone River, Madison River, and Lamar River, and an abundance of trout species including Yellowstone cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and brook trout, this park offers endless fishing adventures. The park’s remote backcountry waters provide opportunities for solitude and the chance to catch trophy-sized trout.
  2. Grand Teton National Park
    • Description: Grand Teton National Park, located in northwestern Wyoming, offers scenic beauty and exceptional trout fishing opportunities. The Snake River meanders through the park, providing opportunities to catch native cutthroat trout, as well as brown and rainbow trout. Anglers can enjoy wading the river’s riffles or floating its calm sections while taking in the breathtaking views of the Teton Range.
  3. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
    • Description: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, situated in northern Wyoming, is a hidden gem for trout fishing. The Bighorn River flows through the park and is known for its robust populations of brown and rainbow trout. Anglers can experience outstanding dry fly fishing during hatches or nymphing techniques throughout the year.
  4. Shoshone National Forest
    • Description: Shoshone National Forest, located in northwestern Wyoming, offers pristine mountain streams and lakes perfect for trout fishing. The North Fork Shoshone River, among other waterways in the forest, is a popular choice. Anglers can target various trout species, including cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout.
  5. Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
    • Description: Spanning Wyoming and Colorado, the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is a treasure trove for trout fishing enthusiasts. This expansive forest offers numerous lakes and streams teeming with trout, including the North Platte River’s headwaters. From alpine lakes like Lake Marie to picturesque streams such as the Encampment River.

Colorado Parks: Diverse Waters and Stunning Scenery

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park
    • Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven for trout anglers. The park’s high alpine lakes, such as Dream Lake and Mills Lake, provide opportunities to catch Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout and other species like rainbow and brook trout. Additionally, the park’s rivers, including the Big Thompson River and Fall River, offer exceptional fly fishing experiences amidst breathtaking mountain landscapes.
  2. Curecanti National Recreation Area
    • Curecanti National Recreation Area, located in western Colorado, is home to the stunning Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water. This reservoir offers excellent trout fishing opportunities, including rainbow, brown, kokanee salmon, and lake trout.
  3. San Juan National Forest
    • San Juan National Forest, nestled in southwestern Colorado, boasts numerous rivers, creeks, and alpine lakes for trout fishing. The Animas River and its tributaries are particularly popular, with healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout. The forest’s tranquil surroundings, including the iconic Durango-Silverton area, offer opportunities for both adventurous backcountry fishing and accessible angling near towns.
  4. Gunnison National Forest
    • Gunnison National Forest is a trout fishing paradise with its pristine waters and majestic landscapes. The Gunnison River, including the famed “Gunnison Gorge,” is a must-visit destination for anglers seeking trophy-sized brown and rainbow trout. The forest’s lakes, such as Lake Irwin and Lake City Sloughs, also provide excellent opportunities to catch trout while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
  5. Rio Grande National Forest
    • Rio Grande National Forest, located in southern Colorado, offers a diverse range of trout fishing experiences. The headwaters of the Rio Grande River provide ample opportunities to catch brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout. The forest’s high alpine lakes, including Rio Grande Reservoir, hold trout waiting to be tempted by anglers. With its scenic landscapes and serene fishing spots, this forest is a hidden gem for trout fishing enthusiasts.

Drift Fishing Delights: Exploring Top Destinations in Colorado and Wyoming”

When it comes to drift fishing, both Colorado and Wyoming offer incredible opportunities to reel in some impressive catches. Here are three examples of the best drift fishing destinations in each state:


  1. Gunnison River: Known as the “Black Canyon Jewel,” the Gunnison River provides a thrilling drift fishing experience. The sheer granite walls of the Black Canyon create a stunning backdrop as you navigate the deep pools and swift currents. This stretch is renowned for its trophy-sized brown and rainbow trout, making it a favorite among drift anglers.
  2. Colorado River (Pumphouse to State Bridge): This section of the Colorado River, located between Pumphouse Recreation Area and State Bridge, offers fantastic drift fishing prospects. The river winds through scenic canyons and offers excellent opportunities to target rainbow and brown trout. The diverse water conditions, including riffles, runs, and deep holes, provide an exciting challenge for drift fishing enthusiasts.
  3. South Platte River (Deckers): Deckers, a popular stretch on the South Platte River, is revered for its productive drift fishing opportunities. This section boasts a healthy population of trout, including browns, rainbows, and cutthroats. With its picturesque surroundings and ample hatches, Deckers is a go-to destination for anglers seeking an exhilarating drift fishing experience.


  1. North Platte River (Miracle Mile): The Miracle Mile section of the North Platte River is a drift fishing haven in Wyoming. As you float through this stretch, you’ll encounter deep runs, undercut banks, and pools that hold sizable brown and rainbow trout. The long riffles provide ideal conditions for drift fishing techniques, making it an exciting and rewarding location for anglers.
  2. Bighorn River: The Bighorn River is renowned for its outstanding drift fishing opportunities. This iconic Wyoming river features a classic tailwater section, offering consistent flows and a robust trout population. Drifting along the Bighorn River allows you to access prime fishing spots where you can target rainbow and brown trout amidst breathtaking scenery.
  3. Snake River (Jackson Hole): The Snake River, particularly in the Jackson Hole area, offers a memorable drift fishing experience. Drifting through the majestic Teton Range, you’ll encounter riffles, runs, and deep pools that house native cutthroat trout. The combination of thrilling drifts and stunning vistas makes the Snake River a must-visit destination for any drift angler.

Whether you’re seeking the challenging rapids of the Gunnison River, or the tranquil beauty of the Bighorn River, Colorado and Wyoming provide remarkable drift fishing adventures.

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