By Diana Rupp
The morning had started out cool and fresh, but it was warming up fast as the sun peeked over the steep canyon walls and scattered its rays over the rippling river. The fly line straightened out behind me and then rolled forward across the current, and the elk-hair caddis landed gently on a slower-moving seam of water. I let it drift naturally, watching carefully and taking in line as the fly floated downstream. I saw the flash of the trout a split-second before my fly vanished in a splashing swirl, and quickly raised my rod and tightened the line. The trout, a 14-inch rainbow, made a hard run and then turned back toward me with a flashing roll. I brought him into the net, admiring his sleek sides and bright colors, before easing the fly out of his jaw and releasing him back into the cold water. It was a perfect start to a beautiful day in the Colorado mountains.
When you dream of trout fishing in the West, the images that come to mind are of broad, cold rivers filled with hard-fighting trout, deep canyons flanked by aspens and ponderosa pines, and a scenic background of snowcapped peaks. Northern Colorado’s magnificent Cache la Poudre river checks all those boxes, and more.
Named for the place where French-Canadian trappers hid their gunpowder during a storm in the early 1800s, the Cache la Poudre is Colorado’s only designated Wild and Scenic River. It springs to life high in the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and tumbles down Poudre Canyon through the Roosevelt National Forest, eventually winding its way through the city of Fort Collins and emptying into the South Platte east of Greeley.
Local anglers simply call it the Poudre (pronounced “pooh-der”), and know it as a trout mecca and an easy day-trip getaway from the Front Range. There is plenty of access to the river via Colorado Route 14, which hugs the river up through Poudre Canyon, and there are many pull-offs, campgrounds, and parking areas. The lower section of the river is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, but the fishing gets even better the higher up the canyon you go, where two special regulations areas are designated Wild Trout Waters by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
That’s not to say you’ll have the Poudre all to yourself. This is a very popular whitewater river, so you’ll see rafters and kayakers floating past on some stretches in the spring and summer, which is also when you’ll find the best fishing. Target mornings and evenings for the quietest times to fish. Spring hatches are heavy on midges and baetis flies, while in the summer you’ll see some caddis and mayfly hatches. Hopper/dropper rigs are a go-to tactic on the Poudre, and one of my favorite ways to catch fish in the summer.
After catching and releasing several trout on that beautiful morning, I called it a day and headed back down the canyon, passing kayakers unloading their boats and hikers heading to a popular riverside trailhead — all of us fortunate to enjoy the blessings of Colorado’s stunningly scenic Cache la Poudre River.