Hot Winter Fisheries

Dolores River, Colorado

Location: Southwestern Colorado below McPhee Reservoir west of Durango.

Species: Snake River and Colorado River cutthroat, brown, rainbow trout (browns have a self-sustaining population). The river is supplemented with fingerling plantings, and browns and rainbows now the prevail.

Equipment: 8½- to 9-foot rod for 4- to 6-weight lines. Neoprene chest waders are preferable most of the year. Felt-soled wading boots are a must. Hip waders are useful when the water is low.

Notes: Tailwater below reservoir; freestone above. This 12-mile tailwater has long, wide, still glides and pools, plenty of tricky crosscurrents, some pocket water around boulders and submerged rocks, lots of slack water, and some nice runs. The Dolores has a lot of public access, but anglers must be aware of private property above and below the reservoir. Anglers will have no problem accessing the Dolores even in winter when the gate closes. All trout must be immediately returned to the water. Stay in Durango and enjoy the quaint 19th-century atmosphere of the ski town. It's about a 90-minute drive to the Dolores and you can fish the Animas through and below town all year.


Despite the rumors of its early death, the Dolores River is still a solid fishery, worth a trip both for the fishing and the incredible scenery. In the 1980s, the high-desert tailwater was well on its way to becoming one of the top trout streams in the country.

The lower Dolores offers solitary winter angling, abundant wildlife sightings, and challenging angling in near-spring-creek conditions. This was once one of the top tailwater fisheries in the West, but mismanagement and drought have severely affected the quality of the trout population.

Nevertheless, the angling experience in such extreme surroundings is still top-notch.

The Dolores River has twelve miles of fishable water, all sorts of lies, and finicky fish. Anglers will need to use long leaders, stalk the trout, and employ cautious approaches. Don't be fooled by the freestone nature of the stream. The Dolores fishes best by downsizing the fly patterns and fishing under the surface with nymphs.

The high canyon walls cast long shadows over longer pools on this secluded stream. In the winter, few anglers visit, so you can have entire stretches to yourself. The river is remote, in the middle of nowhere — and that's its chief appeal.

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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