Cast Your Line

Fishing for sport or as a leisure activity can be learned and practiced by just about anyone. Whether you like to just sit back with a line in the water and have a nice picnic lunch or more actively pursue fly fishing, wading into the water and practicing different casting techniques, fishing is the perfect activity to help wash the worries of the day away. 

For some, fishing is a way to pass time alone or with friends; for others, it’s a sport. Whatever type of fishing you enjoy, Pagosa Country has what you’re looking for — from pristine mountain rivers best for fly fishing to lakes and reservoirs perfect for sitting along the shore or fishing from a boat, Pagosa Country has it all. 

Warm, lower-elevation waters in the area at Echo Canyon Reservoir and at Navajo Reservoir hold numerous species, including catfish, bass, perch and pan fish, while higher cold-water lakes, creeks and ponds teem with Kokanee salmon and numerous species of trout.

There are several waters in or near town easily accessible to fishermen, but many other fishing spots lie deep in the extensive wilderness and backcountry surrounding Pagosa. Though access requires greater effort, remote locations to the north, northwest and east of town afford those willing to travel by foot or horseback true tranquility, seclusion and excellent fishing. 

Listed below are some of the more popular fishing sites in and near town. Anglers should note that a Colorado fishing license is required when fishing in any of these areas, including designated wilderness areas. Licenses, flies, lures, bait and spinning tackle are available at area sporting goods stores, supermarkets and hardware stores. One-day, five-day and annual licenses are available. Annual licenses go on sale April 1 and are valid through March 31, 2021. 

Local fly shops offer equipment, flies, sport fishing clothing and guide services, and most retailers will readily provide directions and up-to-date information about numerous fishing destinations. 

When choosing bait, keep in mind that state regulations prohibit the use of live bait anywhere in the region except for at Navajo Lake. For more information and special, water-specific regulations, please reference area fishing rules and regulations. Make sure to pick up a Colorado fishing brochure or visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) website to view fishing regulations and restrictions on waters where you’re planning to fish — anglers are responsible for knowing the regulations. You can also purchase a fishing license online.

Fishing in the San Juan River in the heart of Pagosa Springs can be as good as it gets. Years ago, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) used a Fishing is Fun grant to reconstruct fish habitat and holding waters in sections of the river on both sides of the Hot Springs Boulevard bridge. These structures are located downstream from the town’s whitewater play park. They are made from large rocks and have numerous shapes. Their purpose is to create calm pools for fish. Anglers should not attempt to fish in the whitewater park area because those structures churn the water too much for fish to be present. Additional work has further enhanced the fishery near the Hot Springs Boulevard bridge and in areas west toward 6th Street. 

The Pagosa Quality Fishing Project also began receiving annual contributions from local merchants to purchase hundreds of large, catchable rainbow and brown trout for placement in the river. As a result, anglers of all ages catch fish weighing up to 10 pounds each summer — right in downtown Pagosa Springs. 

The Town of Pagosa Springs also stocks ponds located just off the river near the east end of town. A ramp to one of the ponds allows easy access to disabled anglers, and a gazebo beckons to those who packed picnic lunches. Youngsters particularly enjoy fishing the town ponds. Bag and possession limit for in-town fishing is two fish per angler. 

East Fork of the San Juan

The lower stretch of the East Fork offers good fishing for rainbow and brown trout, while its pristine upper reaches are more akin to brook trout and native cutthroat trout. 

The East Fork Road turnoff is approximately 10 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160. This well-traveled gravel road parallels the river for several miles, a portion of which passes through posted private property. 

West Fork of the San Juan

In addition to good rainbow and cutthroat trout fishing, the West Fork offers quality camping in a nearby campground. A left turn from U.S. 160 on to FS road 648 about 13.5 miles east of Pagosa Springs affords easy access to West Fork waters via public and private lands. The best fishing is in the forest beyond the trailhead at the end of the road. 

Echo Canyon Reservoir 

Echo Canyon Reservoir and State Wildlife Area is a cool-water fishery located approximately four miles south of U.S. 160 on U.S. 84. It contains rainbow trout, largemouth bass, yellow perch, green sunfish and channel catfish. Trout are best caught with lures, flies or natural bait, while bass are taken with top-surface lures, crank-baits, pork frogs or rubber worms. Perch and sunfish are most easily taken with worms or a fly and catfish seem to prefer cut baits such as suckers or commercial stink baits. There is good early fishing at the reservoir from mid April to mid June. During this time, bank fishing is adequate, but thickening of aquatic vegetation later in the season makes a canoe, float-tube or a small boat and trolling motor useful. Remember, live bait is not allowed in Colorado on any water west of the Continental Divide.

Lake Capote Recreation Area

Lake Capote Recreation Area is owned and operated by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Properly permitted anglers can catch stocked rainbow trout, largemouth bass and channel catfish in the shadow of Chimney Rock. No state fishing license is required, but anglers must obtain a valid license from the Southern Ute Tribe. The 45-acre lake is open to daytime bank fishers, nonmotorized boaters and belly-boaters using bait, spinning tackle or flies. 

To get to Lake Capote, travel approximately 17 miles west of Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160, then turn south on Colo. 151. The well-marked entrance is on the left. 

Navajo Reservoir

Navajo Reservoir and Navajo State Park are Colorado’s version of Lake Powell. The park offers a full-service marina with visitor center and conference room, rental cabins, ample tent and RV camping, picnicking areas and nature trails in addition to great fishing. 

Large catfish, trout, bass, pike,
crappie, perch and Kokanee salmon inhabit this 15,000 surface-acre lake. About a third of Navajo Reservoir is located in Colorado, while two-thirds lie in New Mexico. Anglers wishing to fish both in Colorado and New Mexico waters must have both valid Colorado and New Mexico fishing licenses.

Anglers can use live bait at Navajo, but only live bait purchased from an authorized vendor at the reservoir. Anglers cannot bring their own live bait. Live minnows may be used as bait in both Colorado and New Mexico waters within Navajo State Park. 

To access the park from Pagosa Springs, travel approximately 17 miles west on U.S. 160, then turn south on Colo. 151. Drive another 18 miles to Arboles, then turn left onto County Road 982 and proceed another two miles to the park. 

Williams Creek Reservoir 

This 508-acre mountain lake affords fine fishing for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brook trout and kokanee salmon. Surrounded by lush forest and towering peaks, anglers will find that all standard forms of fishing prove productive at Williams Creek, though salmon are best taken with artificial lures and worms. In the morning and evening hours, bank fishing, a float tube or canoe provides sufficient access to surface-feeding fish. A sturdy motorboat will provide superior safety and access to fish during breezy afternoons. Keep in mind that whitewater wakes are not allowed.

Four Forest Service campgrounds are in the vicinity of Williams Creek Reservoir. To access the reservoir, drive 2 miles west from downtown Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160, then turn north onto Piedra Road. Continue north for approximately 24 miles following signs to Williams Creek. 

Wilderness

Some of the finest fishing in Pagosa Country is found in remote waters in designated wilderness areas. At higher elevations, the chance of anglers finding native cutthroat trout in streams and lakes protected by special regulations increases. In these pristine areas, solitude is the rule. 

As in all federal wilderness areas, mechanized travel is prohibited in the Piedra Area and Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas — anglers must travel by foot or horseback only. Bicycles and carts are not allowed. Because travel distances can be great in these areas, visitors should be in shape, acclimated to the higher altitudes of the area, and plan well for treks into the backcountry. 

Weather is unpredictable and high-country travelers should pack accordingly. Layered clothing, relevant forest and topographic maps, a compass or GPS, adequate shelter, food, water, matches and a headlamp or flashlight are essential. Anglers should also inform a responsible party about where they intend to fish and when they plan to return. 

Up-to-date information about backcountry fishing is available from the Pagosa Ranger District office located at 180 Pagosa St. You can call the office at (970) 264-2268.