These 5 top fly fishing flies for Southwest Colorado are a variation of dry and wet flies that match seasonal hatches.
I love a dry fly. I wouldn’t consider myself a pure dry fly fisherman though seeing a rise, especially an aggressive one that takes a sure hand not to set the hook so hard I put it in the tree behind me, is a truly spectacular event to witness in nature. Watching trout rise to bugs, creating slight ripples in an otherwise section of slow-moving water, gets the heart racing. Imagine the eye sight and skill it takes a fish to in an instant determine what flies they want to eat and which they’ll let float on by. Then I wonder if I even have anything in my fly box to match the hatch.
Top Fly Fishing Flies For Southwest Colorado
I think there are five top fly fishing flies for Southwest Colorado that will cover the fishable seasons and different water variations. Like I mentioned, a dry fly would be my preferred choice all year long. But sometimes fish aren’t rising and are instead feeding on caddis, mayflies, and other bugs yet to make it to the surface. That’s where some of the classics like a pheasant tail nymph or a stonefly like the turd come into play, sometimes working in tandem with a big dry like the chubby chernobyl.
This is my go to dry fly for Southwest Colorado. And it happened by accident early in my tenure fishing near Pagosa Springs.
I’d arrived at the river with one small box of flies and by noon strategically placed them in as many trees as possible. I’d lost a couple more in fish, which is even more heartbreaking, until I was down to literally my last three flies. All of which were Irresistible Wulffs.
During the last half of the day I landed two fine fish and lost two more. Something was happening, like an awakening. I was fishing a dry fly on a Colorado river and actually causing a reaction from the trout. The Wulff rides high on the water (with a drop of floatant) and is easy to see thanks to its split hackles, which are usually white. Furthermore, it resembles the Caddis fly, one of the most common bugs you’ll find on rivers in Southwest Colorado.
I didn’t know any of this at the time. All I knew was that it worked. Since then, it has been a constant in my box and on my tippet.
Here’s what is so great about the chubby chernobyl: it’s a durable S.O.B. Thanks to a foam body it’s nearly impossible to sink the chubby. Water running high and fast, drowning all your other dries? Tie on a chubby. Need a strike indicator to fish a subsurface fly? Tie on a chubby.
When water levels are high in the spring, a chubby can ride just about any rapid. It also works well if you’re lucky enough to be fishing when the salmon fly hatch occurs. Come later in the year when grasshoppers are more prevalent, fish the chubby. For one of the best dry dropper combos, you guessed it, make the chubby your dry.
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Caught my first trout on a pheasant tail nymph; way back in the day on a Tennessee river. I figured it’d work well about any time of the year in any river anywhere. So I fished the pheasant tail. And didn’t catch much.
A lot of that had to do with my presentation. But I was also of the impression that like a bed of bream to crickets, the pheasant tail would catch fish anywhere, anytime.
The reason the pheasant tail nymph made the top five is not due to some undying sentiment about that first trout so many years ago. It is in fact a phenomenal fly to have in your box and fish throughout Southwest Colorado.
It’s also a great dropper to the chubby’s dry. A lot of times, when I arrive at a river with no clue as to what the fish are eating, I will start with a chubby-pheasant-tail combo to increase my chances by presenting two bugs common to Southwest Colorado rivers.
Rubber Legs Stonefly (aka the Turd Fly)
The rubber legs stonefly, also called a turd, is a super popular early season fly. The reason? Because it’s so dang effective of course. From thaw through runoff.
As trout come out of their winter dormancy, they are feeding on stoneflies that are making their way to shore. They’re big bugs and easy to see. A purist would watch their line to indicate strikes. Call me what you wish, I like fishing a turd with a strike indicator, drifting it through slower, deeper water when there is still ice on the banks and faster stretches when air temperatures reach the mid 50s.
John Barr worked on his namesake fly for about three years before he considered it “done.” When I need a nymph that sinks quickly and provides more of a visual in faster, murkier rivers, the Copper John is a solid option thanks to the bead head and copper body. Usually working in tandem with the chubby. I like a red body in sizes 14-18.
Expedition Outside’s founder, Christian Barnes, is devoted to his streamers. So I would be remiss not to include them here even though I rarely fish a streamer myself. He’s capable of dragging a streamer behind a rock in a foot of water and pulling out the fish of the day.
The reason these fish are usually of a quality length and weight is because it’s typically bigger, more aggressive fish that eat streamers. Streamers imitate smaller fish. If you’re like Christian, you may be able to pull a fish out of anywhere with a streamer. If you’re like everybody else, stripping a wooly bugger (streamer) through larger deeper riffs can reward you with a lot of fish throughout the year.
I’m sure I missed a few. However, with room for only five top fly fishing flies for Southwest Colorado plus the bonus streamer, I’ve made my choices. Some will argue that the Parachute Adams should without doubt have made the list. Or a prince nymph and elk hair caddis. Perhaps…
But if I’m filling my fly box with flies that have worked well for me, these are my choices and I stand by them. If the shoe fits, right? Maybe another shoe would help me run faster and jump higher, i.e. catch more fish. And maybe my choices will change in the coming years. For now though, I’m content.