Colorado is spoiled for choice when it comes to lake fishing. Did you know that Colorado has over 2,000 stunning lakes and reservoirs to choose from – many regularly stocked with fish!
Special awards for the Best Fishing Lakes in Colorado are even given out by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Agency who designates only the highest quality fishing spots in the state as Gold Medal Waters.
Gold Medal Waters need to show that they can regularly produce at least 60 pounds of Trout per acre with an average of at least 12 “Quality Trout” plucked from the waters per acre.
“Quality Trout” here means big ones – they need to be greater than 14 inches to count!
Currently just 11 rivers and 3 lakes have made the cut to be named as Gold Medal Waters.
We’ll review these 3 Gold Medal Lakes plus 2 more that make the cut to be named as the best fishing lakes in Colorado.
Best Fishing Lakes in Colorado
1. Steamboat Lake
Steamboat Lake in the far North of the state is our top pick of the more than 2,000 lakes in Colorado, and not without good reason! Steamboat is located only a short distance from Steamboat Springs yet somehow remains one of Colorado’s best kept secrets.
Steamboat Lake is one of the 3 Gold Medal Waters in Colorado and given the high standards needed to be awarded this prestigious honor, you know there are plenty of trout just waiting to be caught!
Besides the phenomenal volume of trout that Steamboat Lake is home to, you will find plenty of different species of trout too including the Snake River Cutthroat Trout.
The other thing I love about Steamboat is that you can bait fish here, unlike most other Gold Medal Waters which restrict you to using artificial baits only.
The Lake is 1,053 acres large so you’ve got plenty of room to move around and find a secluded spot away from other anglers. No shoulder to shoulder fishing here! The State Park even offers a winter bounty for ice fishers so Steamboat Lake is a fishing spot for all seasons.
The gorgeous views of Hahn Peak surround you while you cast and that is something that is hard to ignore. I always enjoy fishing that much more when nature puts on a show for you in both the water and the land.
Steamboat Lake Fishing Regulations
Typically Steamboat Lake is free of any regulations but the CPW keeps the latest information on Steamboat Lake Fishing Regulations updated online so check it out before you go.
Map of Steamboat Lake
2. North Delaney Lake
North Delaney Lake is another one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, also hidden away in the far north of the state. In the shadow of Delaney Butte and with South Delaney Lake and East Delaney Lake nearby, North Delaney may be the smallest of Colorado’s three Gold Medal Lakes but it is not to be overlooked.
Clocking in at just 160 acres North Delaney Lake plays the important role of hosting the Brown Trout brood stock for the Colorado State Hatchery system. Besides Browns, North Delaney is also packed to the gills with Snake River Cutthroats, Rainbow Trout and Cutbows.
And because North Delaney is one of the three Colorado Lakes to be awarded the Gold Medal Water honor, you just know those fish are fin-to-fin waiting for you to drop a line next to them.
The regular North Delaney Butte Lake Fish Survey shows just how many and how regularly fish are stocked. Included in the report are photos of some of the trophy sized trout that have been pulled from the waters just to show you what you’ve been missing out on!
The closest township to the lake is Walden, but if you’re a licensed angler you are eligible for free camping. The Delaney Butte State Wildlife Area also provides pit toilets and a boat ramp so you can get out in the deep.
The Delaney Lakes are in quite an isolated spot but that is part of what makes North Delaney one of the best fishing lakes in Colorado. You’ll not only avoid the crowds but be almost guaranteed a catch – and possibly a trophy sized one!
North Delaney Lake Fishing Regulations
At the time of writing there are 6 restrictions in place for North Delaney Lake.
- Artificial flies and lures only. Scented flies or lures must be 1.5 inches or longer
- The bag and possession limit for trout is 2
- Brown trout that are 14–20 inches long must be returned to the water immediately
- Cutthroat, cutbow and rainbow trout that are 18–22 inches long must be returned to the water immediately
- Fishing is prohibited in the inlet upstream of the standing water line
- Fishing is prohibited from the dam and within 100 feet of dam from September 15 to November 15
Check out the full list of North Delaney Lake Fishing Regulations in the CPW Fishing Brochure.
Map of North Delaney Lake
3. Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir is the third and final lake that holds the coveted Gold Medal Waters award given out by Colorado Parks & Wildlife Agency.
A full 2,500 acres in size, this good sized lake is located directly West of Colorado Springs out along Route 24. Hartsel is the nearest township if you could call it that, otherwise you are looking at Buena Vista to the west or Woodland Park to the east for a reasonable sized service town.
The reservoir is between two rivers that have been awarded the Gold Medal Waters honor, so you know these are prime fishing waters that are packed to the brim. Spinney Mountain Reservoir is renowned for its trophy sized rainbow trout. If you’re still chasing a fish worthy of mounting then this is the place to go!
The Spinney Mountain Reservoir Fish Survey is worth a read and it may surprise you to know that Northern Pike are the most commonly found fish in this Alpine lake. Of course there are still plenty of good-sized rainbow trout and other lake trout species to chase too.
Nature lovers won’t find the lovely mountain forests you might expect in this part of the Rocky Mountains, the landscape is quite windswept and generally vegetation free. Spinney Reservoir has that Colorado backcountry fishing feel to it without needing to actually hike for hours to get there.
For those of you looking for fishing near Denver this is going to be your pick of the lakes. Spinney Mountain Reservoir is just over 2 hours drive from Denver along route 285, so why not make a weekend out of it.
Spinney Mountain Reservoir Fishing Regulations
Currently there are 5 regulations in place at Spinney Mountain Reservoir:
- Only flies & lures can be used, no bait fishing
- Restricted to 1 trout over 20 inches
- No fishing from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise
- Ice fishing is prohibited
- There are no bag or possession limits for yellow perch – fill your boots!
A full description of all Spinney Mountain Reservoir Fishing Regulations is kept online on the CPW website. Make sure you have a read before setting off to this isolated spot.
Map of Spinney Mountain Reservoir
4. Vallecito Lake
The first lake on our list not to be part of Colorado’s Gold Medal Water scheme, Vallecito Lake is nestled in the San Juan National Forest at an altitude of over 8,000 feet. Vallecito offers some of the best high mountain lake fishing in Colorado.
The reservoir tops out at 2,718 acres and has a wide variety of fish swimming in its waters. Anglers regularly catch Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout, with trophy sized Brown Trout and Northern Pike on offer too. Even Walleye and Smallmouth Bass are occasionally reeled in at Vallecito Lake.
The Smallmouth Bass live in around the rip-rap of the dam wall and if you have any crayfish imitation jigs then take these with you as I’ve had good success with these.
The islands towards the Eastern side of the lake are where you will find larger Walleye, and the Northern Pike are prolific right after the ice melts if you fish with a Rainbow Trout imitation lure.
Being inside the national forest you will find boating, horseback riding, Jeeping and hiking readily available to your family entertained while you stick to some of the best backcountry fishing in Colorado. In the winter, ice fishing (for you) and snowmobiling (for them) will keep everyone active and interested throughout the shorter days.
Vallecito Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes you will find in Colorado and it is worth the trip if you find yourself in the South West of the state near the four corners area or Durango. Nearby accommodation options are listed on the Vallecito Chamber of Commerce website.
Vallecito Reservoir Fishing Regulations
There are 6 regulations in place at Vallecito Reservoir right now:
- The daily bag limit for Trout is 4
- The daily bag limit for Walleye is 5
- The daily bag limit for Kokanee is 10
- There is unlimited fishing for Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass and Yellow Perch
- Snagging is permitted for Kokanee in Vallecito and Grimes creek only from November 15 to December 31
- No fishing is allowed from the standing water line of the reservoir to the BOR boundary in Grimes Creek and CR 501 Bridge in Vallecito Creek from September 1 to November 14
The CPW sets out all the relevant Vallecito Reservoir Fishing Regulations on their website so you can see if anything changes between now and when you get there.
Map of Vallecito Lake
5. Blue Mesa Reservoir
The state’s largest body of water Blue Mesa Reservoir can’t be missed from our list of the best fishing lakes in Colorado.
Running over 29 miles long, the fishing at Blue Mesa is legendary. Millions of fish are stocked here each year and the largest Kokanee Salmon fishery in the USA is found in its waters. If you leave here without landing a catch, well.. you can’t blame the lake!
Highway 50 runs straight through it and the town of Gunnison will be your base being located just a few minutes east of Blue Mesa.
There are over 96 miles of shoreline to the reservoir and there is no shortage of shady spots to fish. You will easily find yourself alone if that’s how you want to be, with nothing but gorgeous views of the rock formations to keep you company.
Fishing is available all year round and ice fishing is common through the winter months.
The Blue Mesa Reservoir Fishing Survey runs through the latest fish data, and besides the Kokanee you will find Rainbow Trout as the most commonly caught fish.
Take your boat, take your car, take your family. Blue Mesa is an accessible gem in the heart of Colorado.
Blue Mesa Reservoir Fishing Regulations
The following six Blue Mesa Reservoir restrictions are in place at the time of writing:
- Ice fishing shelters must be portable
- No bag or possession limits exist for lake trout
- But only 1 lake trout per day is permitted over 32 inches
- Snagging Kokanee Salmon is permitted from November 1 to December 31
- The bag limit for Kokanee is 5
- The possession limit for Kokanee is 10
You can get the latest information on Blue Mesa Reservoir Fishing Regulations from the CPW Fact Sheet.
Map of Blue Mesa Reservoir
Colorado Fishing Licenses
You must have an annual license to fish legally in Colorado and the license period runs from April 1st through March 31st each year.
Fishing licenses can be collected at hundreds of retailers, bought online before you go or picked up in person at Colorado Parks & Wildlife locations.
You can purchase a license by phone on 1-800-244-5613
Colorado fishing license fees are updated each year so check the CPW website for the latest prices and fishing season information.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife issues a Fishing Brochure each year that has the most up-to-date information on any and all fishing rules & regulations. It should be the first thing you read before planning your next fishing trip to the Colorado Lakes.
The Last Cast
There are some absolute top fishing spots to choose from in Colorado and here we’ve shown you five of the best.
In winter or in summer and in every season in between, Colorado’s lakes offer exceptional fishing among some of the most gorgeous scenery you will find anywhere in the world. Few places truly offer you the chance to drop a line in sparkling waters that are not only fully stocked with fish, but have new fish released each and every year!
The Colorado Parks & Wildlife agency does an excellent job as custodians of the Colorado Lakes so that us fisherman can keep doing what we do year after year.
Next time you’re in the area make time to visit at least one of the best fishing lakes in Colorado so you know what you’ve been missing out on!
Do you have a favorite lake that you think should make the cut? Drop me a comment and I’ll let you know what I think.