Top Colorado Trout Streams

The Animas River

Topos and other maps: USGS Handies Peak, Silverton, Howardsville, Snowdon Peak, Mountain View Crest, Electra Lake, Hermosa, Durango East, Loma Linda, Basin Mountain, Long Mountain, and USFS San Juan National Forest.

Location: Southwestern Colorado near Durango

Description: Freestone with good pocket water, long riffles and runs, and some pools.

Directions: From Farmington, New Mexico, travel north on Highway 550 about 35 minutes. Below town, La Posta (213 RD) takes you alongside the river to Purple Cliffs. Look for signs indicating posted water.

Lodging, camping: Stay in luxury at the historic Strater Hotel (800-247-4431) in downtown Durango or pitch a tent four miles away at the Junction Creek Campground west on 25th Street (970-385-1283). Lightner Creek Bed and Breakfast is located on a pretty little creek of the same name just outside of town (970-247-4982).

Accesses: Roadside access from Highway 550 from Silverton to Durango; also access on Southern Ute Indian land south of Durango. Access is limited from Rockwood to Durango. Throughout the town of Durango, all water is public. The only section most anglers should (and do) concentrate their efforts are the stretches through and below Durango.

Season: The Animas is a year-round river but is best fished early pre-runoff (February, March, and April) and post-runoff (July, August, September, and October). In a heavy snowpack year, the Animas can be swollen from April to July, making fishing virtually impossible.

Tackle: 8=- to 9-foot rod for 5- or 6-weight line. You can get by with a 4-weight if you feel comfortable playing big fish and getting them to hand. In the winter, you'll want neoprene waders with felt-soled wading boots. Lightweight breathable waders or hip waders are the ticket in the summer.

Flies: Elk Hair Caddis (1016), Goddard Caddis (1016), Green Drake (812), Sofa Pillow (610), Irresistible (1216), Royal Wulff (1216), Humpy (1216), Royal Humpy (1216), Adams (1218), House and Lot Variant (1016), Lt. Cahill Comparadun (1620), Stimulator (812), Rio Grande Trude (816), Ant (1420), Foam Yellow Sally (1218), Rusty Spinner (1218), Parachute PMD (1418), Red Quill (1418), Prince Nymph (1218), Hare's Ear (1218), Brown Hackle Peacock (1016), Brown Woolly Bugger, Sculpin, Animal River Special, Wool Head, Muddler Minnow, Dark Stonefly nymph (812), Midge (1822), Caddis emergers (1418), Clouser Minnow.

Regulations: Artificial flies and lures only from Lightner Creek to Purple Cliffs, two fish, 16-inch minimum. Standard regulations apply to other sections.

Species of game fish: Rainbow and brown trout with some brook trout in upper reaches. Rainbows average about 12 inches. Brown trout are the predominant species and anglers will catch occasional cutthroat.

Hazards: Don't fish on private property and watch out when you wade. This is big water and the bottom is slippery in spots.

Highlights: Take the train (Durango and Silverton Railway) north out of town toward Silverton. You can prearrange to be let off about five miles above Hermosa to be picked up later in the day, the next day, or even several days later. Most anglers and hikers who get off the train hike east from the dropoff point into the Weminuche Wilderness.

Scenery: The upper Animas flows through rugged and beautiful and primitive land, the lower through some pretty but developed land.

Navigable: Yes but not easily for angling. Kayakers and rafters float the river, sometimes in numbers, but the Animas is still best fished while wading.

Other: Duranglers (970-385-4081), Durango Fly Goods (970-259-0999), Gardenswartz (970-247-2660), Don Oliver (970-382-0364).


A decade ago, the Animas River was thought to be just another sad story, another great river in decline. And it was.

Formerly one of the top brown trout fisheries in the West, the Animas River is now recovering from years of abuse from mining pollution. This wild, freestone river flows through awe-inspiring southwestern scenery, through wide valleys and steep canyons, past rugged mountains, continuing south from its headwaters on into New Mexico.

There used to be big brown trout caught in the Animas, but now the river is heavily stocked with rainbows, known for their athleticism and heft. The brown trout fishery is on the rise, and occasionally browns are caught that are best measured in pounds rather than inches, even in the city limits of Durango.

A few years ago, I fished here with my ubiquitous brother-in-law Kenny and hippie/geologist Tom Hauge, a neophyte to the sport of fly fishing. We took Tom to the Animas to teach him the nuances of the sport. He nodded a lot, went off to fish by himself, then later hollered at us to come look at this fish. He caught a two-pound brown and he asked us,"Well, how did I do?" We told him he did well and tried to match his fish. We caught two little rainbows and he caught two more two-pound browns. Stupid beginner's luck.

Below Durango, the river flow slows as it meanders through open meadows, coursing through reservation land. Anglers need to have a reservation fishing permit to fish this section. The fishing pressure is diminished but the fishing for big brownies — if you can get flies deep to them or in the undercut banks — can be phenomenal. Indeed, the Animas River has again become a hot-spot western river. I like to fish it for a couple of days when I fish the San Juan River across the border, less than a one-hour drive away.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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