Article and Photos by URGGuide Field Editor Ryan Michelle Scavo
Interested in getting on the water during the cold months? Well, the Rio Grande is sure to please fishing enthusiasts willing to take on chilly (and down-right freezing) fall and winter temperatures! Surprisingly, while air temperatures can drop to the single and sub-zero double-digits across the area, fish are still hungry beneath the icy waters of the might Rio Grande.
Where To Go: Anglers seeking winter rainbow and brown trout can access the Rio Grande at several points above South Fork, along Highway 149 to Creede. This stretch of highway offers several river access points within Colorado’s Coller State Wildlife Area (SWA).
How To Fish It: Winter fly fishing is for all skill level anglers. Waders and thermal base layers are a must, and once at the river, set up your rod by tying on one of the flies mentioned below or a double nymph rig with an indicator 12-14 inches above the fly/top fly. When accessing the river, stay low and aim for deeper pools and runs. A smooth drift will be most effective for filling your net, while a hot cup of coffee or cocoa will be most effective in keeping you warm during the wait.
What To Use: During the winter months, expect fish to lay low in deep pools. While they tend to be sluggish in cold waters, trout may be enticed by flies like zebra midges, egg patterns, and tungsten beadhead midges. And don’t fret tangles and cold fingers, because, eventually, when you think you hooked yet another log or rock beneath the surface, it may actually be “fish on” with a heavy brown or ‘bows on the retrieve’!
Where To Get The Gear/Intel: Rainbow Grocery and Sporting Goods in South Fork has flies and fishing equipment available for purchase year-round. Additionally, while 8200 Mountain Sports in South Fork transitions from rafting / fishing during the summer season to focusing on winter sports like skiing and snowboarding from late fall to early spring, they still offer advice to anglers seeking wild trout!
Regulations: In the Coller SWA, fishing is by artificial flies / lure only and anglers must read harvest/possession regulations. Additionally, consider practicing catch-and-releasing practices and keeping landed fish wet (in the water) to ensure their best interest and survival.
Staying Safe: In mid through late winter, the Rio Grande often features an ice shelf that extends from rocky or sandy snow-covered shores over running water. Ice shelves can be very dangerous. If fishing the river when these features are present, proceed with caution. Additionally, the area has limited cell coverage and snow squalls can come up suddenly. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and watch for wildlife and changing weather conditions when fishing or exploring the area.