High Country Summertime Fly Fishing

By Dennis Smith

Some anglers I know will tell you the best fly fishing in Colorado doesn’t really start until late June or early July. That’s about the earliest you can backpack into a cutthroat lake at 9,000 or 10,000 feet and be reasonably sure you won’t have to drill a hole in it to catch a trout. And you might have to wade through a snowbank to get to them, but the streams up there will be in pretty good shape, too. They might be running a bit high, but they’ll be clear and cold, and the fish in them will be hungry. Trout in the high country are always hungry. 

They’re usually wild, too, if not authentic natives. Depending on the watershed you fish, you’ll find beautifully colored, stream-born browns, rainbows, and scattered pockets of cutthroats. And for sure, you’ll hook brook trout. In fact, the brookies will probably outnumber all the other species by at least three to one. Release the cutts, browns, and rainbows, but take a limit of the invading brookies when you leave. They’re delicious, and you’ll be doing the other fish a favor. 

Fly selection varies from one fisherman to the next, but you can bet the beer money every high-country angler carries at least one Wulff pattern — probably two or three of them — in sizes 12 to 16. The Royal Wulff is a local favorite, and so is the H&L Variant. The Western version of the Ausable Wulff — tied with moose hair tails and a cream-colored rabbit-fur — is popular with the Estes Park guides I know. I like the traditional Eastern version; it has woodchuck tails and a dyed, rusty-orange Australian ’possum body. 

Add a few humpies, light and dark elk hair caddis, a couple of soft hackles, a few midges for the lakes, and you’ll have most of the bases covered. You should also carry a few Adamses. The standard dry fly is fine, but the parachute version with the white calf-tail wing is a lot easier to see. 

A few years back I discovered a small partridge and yellow soft hackle was a pretty effective match for the little yellow stone flies that hatch on my favorite headwater creek this time of year. Now, for obvious reasons, I never leave home without it. The same goes for a lightweight rain jacket. It’s not a fly pattern, I know, but it is indispensable for fly fishing the high country. 

Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.