11 Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Colorado

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Catfishing in Colorado ranges from good to epic.

Colorado’s best catfish fishing lakes and rivers will take you through some incredible country. The best part is you might land a 45-pound channel cat!

There are several fantastic lakes throughout the state with solid numbers of big cats. The state record is over 40 pounds, and it came from a lake in Aurora, so you don’t necessarily have to travel far to find big ones.

Catfish tend to get overlooked by anglers in Colorado due to the phenomenal trout fishing. That’s great for those that chase cats.

Catching big catfish is great fun, and Colorado is growing some giants. Besides the big channel catfish, we’ll also reveal some great spots to catch potentially huge flathead and blue catfish.

We won’t worry here about the smaller and less-prized bullhead catfish, which you can find yourself!

This article will show you where to find the best catfish fishing in Colorado, and also what it takes to bring them to your net.

Catfish Gear and Baits

Let’s dig into what it takes to bring in a giant catfish.

First of all, there’s no need to buy an entire specialized setup for catfishing unless you are primarily (and seriously) targeting them.

A 7-foot medium/heavy rod with 20-pound mono or 15-pound braid line to match should work. The rod needs to have enough backbone for a big channel or maybe a blue or flathead catfish. They’ll put your rod through its paces.

Catfish have better eyesight than you might’ve heard, contrary to popular belief. It’s been shown that they can spook from shadows, so if you’re fishing in an area that has clearer water or is relatively shallow, be conscious of that.

Strongly scented baits have proven themselves time and again. Chicken livers, stink baits, mackerel, shrimp, and worms with added scents work well. Some anglers swear by using cut-up bluegill; where legal, of course.

Circle hooks are the go-to for cats, especially ones with any size. You can take a gooey, stinky chunk of whatever, wrap it in a bit of gauze or pantyhose, then hook the bait ball to the circle hook.

Base the hook size on the fish you’re targeting. A size1/0 might be great for 10-pound channels. For a blue or a flathead, you’re looking at 4/0 or 6/0 with a wide enough gap for the catfish’s mouth.

The best part of a circle hook is that typically the fish sets the hook themselves.

Let’s check out the best catfishing lakes in Colorado!

Best Catfish Lakes in Colorado

The catfishing throughout Colorado is good to great, and there are some lakes that are nothing short of epic. These are the favorites.

Aurora Reservoir

Aurora Reservoir (a.k.a. “A-Town”) is known for its giant channel catfish.

Located right in Aurora, just minutes from Denver, this lake might become a bit of an ongoing challenge for you.

Some say it takes a thousand casts to catch a big catfish here, while others have taken trips with five catches and a weight total of over 120 pounds. Not too bad for five fish.

It’s got plenty of big cats in it but fewer smaller, easier-to-catch channel catfish than many locations.

State record channel catfish, along with the state record smallmouth bass, have been brought in here. While the numbers may be lower, the chance of catching a giant is certainly there.

Evenings are the best. Target your search near the dam for the best chances.

The lake also provides good smallmouth fishing and at times can be fast action for planted trout.

Pueblo Reservoir

Pueblo Reservoir is about 15 minutes west of Pueblo and around two hours south of Denver. If you’re into flatheads, this could be your new happy place.

The lake has flatheads, blues, and channel cats. Recent surveys have shown a very healthy catfish population with good numbers of bigger fish. 

Flatheads are the real draw for those chasing catfish at Pueblo Reservoir. The state record flathead was caught in 2017 and weighed 30 pounds. The forecast here is for a growing population and solid catchable numbers going forward.

Channel catfish are everywhere, so catching them from shore is a good possibility.

Don’t rush the bank and chuck your bait as far out as possible. Walk up quietly and cast in a fan shape, working the shoreline and deeper waters as you go.

Blues are pretty rare, though they can be caught. The state record of 29 pounds was caught here in 2019. 

While here, you may want to try some walleye fishing. Over half the fish caught during surveys were walleye. They get big in here, and spring fishing can be epic.

Chatfield Reservoir

Located just off I-470 in the southern Denver metro area, Chatfield State Park is an excellent spot for those chasing whiskery kitties close to the city. There’s always a crowd here, but weekday fishing shouldn’t be elbow to elbow.

Chatfield Reservoir is stocked with channel catfish multiple times per year. The numbers are good and catching one shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. The biggest issue here is the crowds on weekends. 

The South Platte feeds Chatfield, and the inlet is a good spot to target catfish.

There also are plenty of other places to try out around the lake, so if you don’t get a bite in 30 minutes, either change bait or move to another location. 

Trophy walleye are cruising around in here as well. There have been surveyed fish of over 10 pounds recently. 

Trout are prevalent and get planted often, so bring some PowerBait and catch them when the cats aren’t biting.

Standley Lake

Standley Lake is just outside Denver in Westminster. There are almost five miles of shoreline to check out, with nearly all of it being fishable. 

There is no boating allowed here, but swimming is okay. Best to just steer clear of the swimming areas.

Bass, catfish, walleye, perch, and trout share the lake, so you’re likely to catch something. Catfish numbers are good, and the average size is over 16 inches. It’s also jam-packed on the weekends.

Hit the lake early mornings or late afternoons/evenings for your best chances. Late spring through October are consistently good, so it’s worth a stop after work. Jump on a hiking trail and head to a more remote section to avoid the biggest crowds.

Bring along the bass rod and give the largemouths a shot. They’re bigger than in most lakes around the area.

Adobe Creek Reservoir

Adobe Creek Reservoir is a high plains lake 180 miles southeast of Denver. It’s accessible from a road that tends to get washed out during rainstorms, so check ahead and be prepared for some rough roads.

Adobe is one of the best blue catfish spots in Colorado. Recent surveys showed blue counts with higher numbers than anything else. Sounds pretty promising.

Adobe Creek Reservoir is an irrigation storage lake, so expect water level fluctuations. There are high and low water ramps to launch boats.  

The blues get big here, and it’s anticipated by some serious catfish anglers that the new state record will be pulled from these waters.

Great populations of crappie and bass also are in this lake. Take the time to explore the more than 50 miles of shoreline or cruise the inlets in a boat.

May through October offer the best fishing.

Try using cut bait, stink bait, or chicken livers. Sometimes a combo really does the trick.

Minnows and worms will never steer you wrong at Adobe Creek Reservoir, so come prepared.

June and July have the best action from shore. The cats are in spawn mode and head for shallower water.

The lake is closed to ice fishing, so it’s purely a soft water adventure.

John Martin Reservoir

The John Martin Reservoir (a.k.a. “Jmart”) is in southeast Colorado, nearly two hours east of Pueblo. The community of Las Animas has some amenities and restaurants right at the lake.

Jmart is a great fishing destination for flathead and channel catfish. Try near the dam and by the railroad trestle. The shallower end is prime for channel cats.

Shore anglers do well along the northeastern shoreline. It’s very rocky and offers plenty of cover for crayfish. The bigger catfish will hit crayfish like it’s candy. 

You might run into the “problem” of catching tons of wipers while searching for cats. These striper hybrids are everywhere and grow big.

Some commented that they were disappointed when they only caught 20-inch wipers. There are some real monsters in there.

The inlet area has some of the best channel catfish action on John Martin. It’s easily accessible from the boat ramp area. There is a lot of brush under the water, so be prepared for some snags.

It’s a great spot to take kayaks and really hammer some bigger cats.

Echo Canyon Reservoir

Echo Canyon Reservoir is the place to go if you’re looking for fun, fast action for channel catfish. The lake is about an hour’s drive east of Durango. 

Channel cats have handled the recent droughts in the area much better than the bass in Echo. The channel population has exploded, and the action can be non-stop. 

Fish between 14 and 20 inches are common, with bigger ones into the 30-inch range occasionally showing up. The best access is on a boat but fishing the shoreline near the boat ramp is a good area for fishing with cut baits.

Catfish are typically active at night. That’s not always the case at Echo Canyon. Limiting out in under two hours midday is commonplace. 

Bluegill, chicken liver, and good old nightcrawlers are great options here, as is shrimp.

Fishing from shore takes a bit more patience. Set up one rod with a bite sensor and toss a rattle trap with another while you wait for the cats to show up.

The rattle trap will catch the more aggressive catfish, while the bait line will send the scent around and attract bigger fish.

Bass are in the lake, too, so if the cats aren’t biting, target the excellent largemouth bass by fishing with shad crankbaits. Big cats sometimes will hit that as well.

Navajo Reservoir

Navajo Reservoir has excellent fishing for catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, northern pike, and trout. It’s off Highway 151 on the Colorado-New Mexico border.

Below the dam is the world-renowned San Juan River. Fly fishing there is incredible.

Be sure to get a New Mexico license if you cross the state line to fish. 

Several spots along the highway are available for shore fishing, which is the best option for targeting channel cats. The standard tactics work great here, and the size of cats is, on average bigger than in most lakes in Colorado.

Navajo Reservoir is definitely worth the trip, particularly when you pair it with a good fly fishing session on the San Juan.

Hit the visitors center to pick up a fishing license. They sell both Colorado and New Mexico licenses, along with some great info on where to fish. 

The marinas have full-service stores with plenty of bait and tackle.

Best Catfish Rivers in Colorado

From one side of Colorado to the other, these rivers are flowing with great catfish fishing.

Yampa River

Yampa River is a great catfishing destination in northwestern Colorado, between Craig and the Green River confluence. First, you’ll need to get to Craig, which is 3½ hours northwest of Denver and 2½ hours northeast of Grand Junction. 

The entire river below Craig is full of cats. Access can be difficult in spots, and it’s common to float the section through to Green River. There are some significant whitewater stretches, so be prepared for that. 

Anything stinky will get the cats’ attention, so add some blood scent to a crankbait and work it through the area. Toss some cut bait to move along the bottom slowly. 

There are plenty of accommodations in Craig, but between there and Utah on the Green River, it’s pretty slim pickings. 

Check out any current regulations before heading out on a float trip. You will need a Utah license if you travel and fish down the Green River across the state line.

Arkansas River

The Arkansas River flowing through eastern Colorado, where catfish fishing can be very good.
Photo by wildlife (Depositphotos)

The Arkansas River is a big catfish producer. The best places for cats are in eastern Colorado, past John Martin Reservoir. It’s a long drive, but the payoff is worth it. 

There are some access points along the way, and it’s common for anglers to float and camp while fishing their way downriver. 

Channels and flathead cats are everywhere below Jmart, so be ready for some big fights and bigger flatheads. The best time of year here is from May through October, though winter fishing can be decent.

There’s not a lot out there in the far eastern portion of Colorado, so plan accordingly.

Colorado River

The mighty Colorado River below Rifle has some giant catfish. Located along I-70, the river is wide, deep, and provides the perfect habitat for catfish.

Access points are easy to find, and the fishing action can be fast.

The river section from Grand Junction to the Utah border is the very best area for catfish. Once the runoff is over in June, fish deep with cut baits, shrimp, chicken livers, and crayfish. 

Although mostly a bottom-dweller, there are times here when the big cats can be seen skimming the surface. When that happens, bait fishing with a float works well. 

Bigger cats are more commonly caught at night, though you can find fast action on crayfish throughout the day with smaller cats and bass.

Any section you can get to below Grand Junction will be good, and the river runs pretty slowly through most of it until the Utah border.

Lodging and other amenities are easy to find in Grand Junction or elsewhere.

While this lower section of the Colorado River is great for catfish, look to the upper river to find some of the best fly fishing for trout in the state.

Catch More Catfish

You now know where the best catfish fishing lakes and rivers are across Colorado, and there are some great ones. You also have a very good idea of how to rig and what to bait on your hooks.

However, if you feel like you want to take your catfishing to the next level, check out all of the tackle, techniques and best baits in our easy how-to guide to catfish fishing.