Explore Colorado and maybe even improve your mental health, catching a fish is only one of the benefits
The lapping of the water against the shoreline has always felt like home. The mere thought of the water’s constant flow energizes a passion for a day at the lake. I live in Denver’s suburbs. It is difficult to break from the stressors of everyday city life, but fishing brings peace in chaos. Fishing helped me reclaim my health and is one of the few activities I have remained invested in since childhood. Your first cast is often unforgettable, but netting your first fish will instill an instant love for the sport that will evolve into a positive force in your life.
Living in Colorado, the outdoors is at the focal point of the state’s attraction to visitors and residents alike, but it can still prove to be difficult making your way out onto the Eastern plains or the mountains for a memorable angling experience. Luckily, there are quite a few options around the North Metro to catch one of the many fish species Colorado has to offer.
Colorado requires all persons 16 or older to have a valid fishing license each year outlined by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Knowing the rules and regulations for each spot you visit is also important. Most of the information is online through government websites, local forums, and brochures. When in doubt, consult the CPW Fishing Brochure, which contains broad definitions and fishing regulations for the state’s bodies of water.
Located in Nederland, Barker Reservoir and Recreation Area is one of the best day trips from Boulder to fish in a high alpine setting without being too far away from home. The winding road up to Nederland is on the easier side for folks unaccustomed to mountain driving.
The reservoir has a big population of larger brown trout, kokanee salmon, tiger trout, and rainbow trout, so your lures need to be big, bright, and flashy. Silver rooster tails and larger, hard-bait lures were my go-to when fishing. Consider bringing heavier tackle to this lake because you will need it to cast out far from the trails that adorn the sides.
Gross Reservoir hit me with all the nostalgia you can think of after stepping out of the car. Memories of crisp, alpine air carried by a cool morning wind over the water came flowing back to me as I approached the lake’s rocky shoreline. Growing up in Colorado, the banks of the reservoir remind me of the quintessential Colorado mountain fishing. The south side of the reservoir was closed due to an expansion project, but there was plenty of shoreline on the north side of the reservoir.
Similar rules apply for bait and tackle as Barker Reservoir. One distinct feature I noticed at the reservoir was the shore’s proximity to deeper water. Kayaks and paddleboards are allowed on the lake and could offer a different opportunity to fish in the depths. Gross reservoir does require more hiking than many others on this list, Gross North Shore Trail takes about an hour to complete and is 1.7 miles long one way. Off the trail, the shoreline is a mixture of boulders, rocks, and sand. Be careful when getting to your spot as you may fall if not careful.
Standley Lake is the closest option to Denver on this list but is one of the more accessible reservoirs in the region if you do not want to take a trip into the mountains. Wipers and crappie are the premiere catches of this lake, but there is one major downside to visiting this reservoir: fishing accessibility.
You can bring a kayak or paddleboard onto the lake, but with access to one shoreline, the park’s many visitors must share this resource accordingly. Even on busy weekends, squeezing between groups is always an option, but it will make it more difficult to fish in certain spots without a watercraft.
I have personally had no luck at Standley Lake despite it being touted as one of the best spots in the area.
Boulder Reservoir and Coot Lake
I, again, did not have any luck here. Fishing Boulder Reservoir was the most difficult of any body of water on this list.
The shoreline is extremely limited to the public, and you must register your paddle-craft with Boulder County before the craft’s launch. The reservoir also has heavy, motorized boat traffic.
Coot Lake is in the same park as Boulder Reservoir. The pond is a decent hike from the reservoir’s parking lots. It can be planned around, but it is another thing to consider when planning your trip. Coot Lake would be my recommended spot to catch something.
Streams and Ponds
Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek
Boulder Creek was the best for stream fishing in Boulder County. With many access points, there is plenty of room to find secluded spots along its edge. The creek is fishable throughout Boulder city limits with the ability to fish into the canyon. South Boulder Creek is a bit further from the city, situated on the other side of Flagstaff Mountain. South Boulder creek is best accessed in the parks of Walker Ranch or El Dorado Canyon State Park.
The early season was rough because of the massive amount of run-off and rain the Front Range saw at the beginning of the summer, but the slightest slowing of the water had a huge payoff. Most of these fish in the creeks are sub-catchable, catch-and-release only. Brown trout and brook trout dominate these waters with smaller populations of tiger trout, cutthroat trout, and cut bow trout. If fly fishing, think about using a three-weight pole or smaller. I was able to use my five-weight, but it was difficult to wield effectively because of its length.
These trout were consistently feisty with a range of flies, nymphs, synthetic mealworms, or spin baits with any color combination of blue, silver, white, pink, and black.
Pella Crossing and Golden Rod Ponds
Pella Crossing and Golden Ponds are located in Longmont with many bodies of water to choose between. The two complexes are located right next to each other with paths between the two. These ponds have plenty of fish. Situated next to a regional airport, you can catch warm water species using swimbaits or minnows while watching a slew of small planes prepare to land.
White, twisty-tail grubs and darker color swim baits offered a consistent angling experience.
Walden Ponds/Sawhill Ponds
The Walden Ponds and Sawhill Ponds were my favorite set of ponds to visit. Both are located just north of Valmont Road on North 75th Street. The parks are separate, containing multiple paths between the two making one accessible from the other.
There are more than 20 fishable ponds between the two areas offering plenty of room and opportunities to try different setups. You will mainly be fishing warm water species: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and carp.
Flies were especially successful from the bank when targeting bluegill and crappie, but any artificial swimbait with a head worked well in these waters. The color of these lures depended on the weather. White, twister-tail grubs worked well throughout the season, but darker greens and blues were more consistent in the later months. The Northland Tackle Mimic Minnow Spin Jig and Tail in the color firetiger was my go-to swim bait as the season progressed.
Fishing is intimidating, but with a wide range of options around the north metro, there are seemingly limitless opportunities to learn. Entire days can be spent indulging in the splendor of nature’s processes, freeing up your mind by taking nature’s invitation to learn and reflect. It has the power to connect you to the land that sustains the Denver metro area providing benefits for your health.
It’s not about flashy poles and lures; it will work all the same. Instead, go out. Test the waters, and find the spot that works for you. Fishing is an underutilized resource to reduce stress while providing an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with the environment around you.