Colorado has some of the best trout fishing in the country. Intrepid anglers who venture out into the frozen wilds will find that it also has some of the best ice fishing for trout and a host of other game fish.
Ice fishing is getting more popular every year. Colorado is lucky to have many perfect lakes to let anglers spread out and experience the sport without overcrowding.
High mountain peaks and incredible wildlife viewing are a few of the perks of ice fishing in Colorado. Few places have the perfect mix of mountains, fresh air, amazing vistas, and epic fishing. Colorado should be on your bucket list as a must-fish destination.
Colorado’s best ice fishing spots range from high alpine lakes filled with native cutthroat trout to sprawling reservoirs prime for walleye and pike. There are massive rainbows under the ice and brown trout so big you’ll need photo evidence to show your friends.
Lake trout, pike, kokanee, crappie, bluegill, and perch are all on the menu. If catching big trout is your goal, Colorado is your destination.
If you’re new to the sport, you may wonder what you need. Let’s look at some gear and tactics to get you started.
Ice Fishing Gear/Tactics
Ice fishing is obviously a cold sport. There’s not a lot of movement once you settle in, and it can be windy, snowy, and sometimes just downright miserable. However, you can offset all of that by bringing the right gear.
First, you’ll need a decent rod/reel combo. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Just get something that will catch a fish.
The line should be as light as possible and specific to ice fishing. Standard fishing line works but can freeze up and become tough to handle.
Tip-ups are great to have. They let you fish multiple holes and try different tactics.
A propane heater will keep you warm, along with several layers of clothing. Remember to layer.
An ice auger, either hand-powered, battery, or gas operated, is nearly essential. You can use an axe or chisel, but augers make much quicker work of it.
A sled is great for hauling your gear. Along with the sled, include a 5-gallon bucket for the fish and to use as a seat.
Small Kastmasters, Swedish Pimples, ice flies, glowing jig heads, and Rapala ice jigs work well. Tip the hooks with red wigglers, nightcrawlers, wax worms, mealworms, PowerBait, salmon eggs, or maggots.
Drill a few holes in 15 to 25 feet of water, and if you have a fish finder take a look. If not, drop your line and fish for 30 minutes. If you don’t get a bite, move.
You’ll find a more detailed guide to ice fishing tips, techniques, and safety suggestions linked at the bottom of this article.
Best Ice Fishing in Colorado
There are some great places to ice fish in Colorado. And then there are some epic spots. Let’s look at the state’s best lakes to catch big fish.
Chambers Lake is a 1 ½ hour drive west of Fort Collins. Along the way, you’ll pass through Rustic, which has some amenities if you’ve forgotten anything at home.
The big attraction at Chambers Lake is the lake trout. They’re huge here. The average catch in winter is between 16 to 20 inches, which is excellent for ice fishing. Larger fish are common.
Find drop-offs and steep slopes around the lake. The east side of the lake has a steep shoreline that drops quickly, so setting up a few hundred feet offshore and jigging with cut bait should do the trick.
Rainbows are everywhere in the lake but are most common in the inlet bay area.
Smaller spoons with wax worms or red wigglers jigged a foot or two off the bottom in 15 to 25 feet of water should catch some real beasts.
Kokanee run through the middle of the lake in schools. It’s easiest to catch them with a fish finder. Once you locate a school, standard kokanee techniques work well. Use small jigs with glowing pink or chartreuse soft plastics.
The ice is typically safe by mid-to-late December and stays through March, occasionally into April.
Chatfield Reservoir, just south of Denver, is perfect for beginners wanting to try ice fishing. The place is packed with fish.
Walleye, rainbow trout, northern pike, yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill are all targeted through the ice. In particular, there are abundant trout here, and plenty go over 22 inches.
If you’re targeting walleye, find the perch. Next, set a tip-up a few feet below the perch and tip the jig with either minnow or cut bait. Spend the interim catching the decent-sized perch that school up around the lake.
Trout are found in 15 to 25 feet of water and bite nearly anything a foot off the bottom. So you could almost toss your boot on a hook and have a trout bite it.
Any small jigs with wax worms will do the trick for trout. If they’re being finicky, use a Swedish Pimple tipped with either a wax worm or mealworm.
Everything you need to get out on the water is available within minutes of Chatfield. It’s a suburban lake, so tackle, food, and lodging are nearby.
Eleven Mile Reservoir
Eleven Mile Reservoir is an hour west of Colorado Springs. This lake is renowned for its giant trout.
Rainbows, browns, and cutthroats all get massive in Eleven Mile. Average catches between 17 and 21 inches for rainbows means this lake gets busy.
With over 3,400 acres, it’s big enough to handle the crowds, so head out and try your luck.
Cross Creek and the North Shore areas are well known for consistent rainbow trout action. Swedish Pimples with wax worms, red wigglers, or sucker meat on the hook, fished in 10 to 20 feet of water, should quickly catch your limit.
It’s also worth trying a Tasmanian Devil tipped with bait slowly jigged in the same range.
Northern pike are in the lake, so set your tip-ups with sucker meat and wait for one of them to come by.
Anglers report occasional catches of kokanee, though Eleven Mile is not considered a great koke fishery. Instead, focus on the trout, and you’re sure to have an epic day.
There are plenty of places to stay between campgrounds, hotels, and rentals.
Delaney Butte Lakes
North Delaney Lake is the place to go for giant brown trout. East and South Delaney lakes are good, but North Delaney is the real prize.
Ice fishing is good here. The Delaney Butte State Wildlife Area covers the three lakes, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife uses North Delaney as brood stock for brown trout. The lakes are artificial lures/flies only.
Don’t let that dissuade you from hitting the ice. All three of the Delaney Butte lakes offer good fishing with small lures, Kastmasters, and jigs with glowing soft plastics.
CPW stocks cutthroat/rainbow hybrids regularly, so you’ll likely catch a cutbow. They’re going to take the same baits the browns do, though they tend to be shallower than their beefy cousins.
An important detail here is not to stay in one place too long. It’s easy to get complacent, but if you’re only getting occasional bites, move. If no fish hit the ice in 20 minutes, move to another spot.
While you’re complaining about your tenth hole and things are getting testy, remember there are 20-pound-plus browns in there. That’ll get you back on your game.
Only head out to these lakes if you’re prepared for cold, remote hiking.
Lake Granby, located just outside the town of Granby, hosts the annual 3 Lakes Ice Fishing Contest. Thousands of anglers descend on the lake to take a shot at catching fish and picking up the win.
The lake is massive, so even with the competition going on, you’ll still find plenty of room to claim a spot.
Rainbow trout, kokanee, and lake trout are the primary targets here, with lakers being the prize. The entire stocking program at Granby is based around trophy lakers, meaning officials plant plenty of kokes and rainbows yearly to feed them.
Fish deeper waters for the kokanee and lake trout. Focus on shallower areas for the rainbows. Lakers may bite in the shallows as they chase rainbows, so be prepared for that.
Tip a Swedish Pimple with some sucker meat or red wiggler and set it a couple of feet off the bottom in 20 feet of water for rainbows. Small ice flies and jigs work well.
The kokanee fishing here can be epically good or bad. Some days you’ll have trouble keeping them off the hook. Others, you’d have a time catching them with dynamite. (Please don’t try this.)
Anglers can catch lake trout anywhere they find water from 20 to 100 feet. Smaller lures in rainbow or kokanee patterns work, tipped with sucker meat or a worm.
There are plenty of lodging and camping opportunities around the area, with Granby being the perfect base camp to explore Lake Granby.
Twin Lakes Reservoirs
Twin Lakes holds the largest ice fishing derby in Colorado every February.
Sitting at the base of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado, these lakes are chock full of rainbows, lake trout, browns, and Snake River strain cutthroat. There are longnose and white suckers in there as well.
The surface area of 2,700 acres means plenty of ice for everyone to share, even during tournament time.
Located just outside the towns of Hartsel and Leadville, there are plenty of places to stay and get supplies nearby.
Ice-over often happens in mid-December and lasts through March. January typically has the best ice fishing, though February is still very good.
Macks reach 35-plus pounds here and will attack a lure tipped with sucker meat jigged in 45 to 75 feet of water. Tube jigs in glowing chartreuse or white tipped with sucker meat and jigged in the same range will also bring lake trout to the ice.
Ice fishing is good for rainbows and macks, though it can be finicky. Sometimes you’ll struggle to bring in any fish, while other trips will be nonstop action.
Browns aren’t super active here in the winter, though you may find a few while targeting the lake trout.
Rainbows are all along the shallower edges of the lake. Drill your holes 15 feet apart, set a tip-up with a small jig tipped with a wax worm, and be prepared to sprint between them. ‘Bows don’t hold on for very long.
Crawford Reservoir is a 400-acre perch haven in western Colorado. If you want to catch 100 perch a day, this is the place. Of course, you really have to love perch to make the five-hour drive from Denver.
There are no limits on yellow perch at Crawford, yet they still flourish here. Averaging 8 inches, fish up to 12 inches are commonplace.
Start your perch hunt near the dam in 30 feet of water. Drop a glow white or green jig and start jigging 15 feet down as the jig falls. Let it drop to the bottom, jigging occasionally.
Crappies are usually around the dam as well, in about 20 feet of water. Try the same techniques as with the perch. You might catch doubles of different species.
Rainbows and browns are catchable here, though the browns aren’t as active in winter as the rainbows are.
Try for the rainbows in 15 to 30 feet of water with small lures and jigs. Try along the boat launch and along the shoreline to the dam.
The western shore slopes quickly and has excellent drop-offs and structure for bigger trout, bass, and the northern pike cruising around the lake.
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir might be Colorado’s most popular ice-fishing destination. It’s located right next to … nothing. It borders New Mexico, and it’s a drive for anyone wanting to fish here, but it’s well worth the trip.
Browns, rainbows, lake trout, and yellow perch are the primary targets of this massive reservoir. With over 9,000 acres, you’re sure to find your own private piece of solitude to fish.
There are several access points, though the more popular sections are the Bay of Chickens, Cebolla Basin, Dry Creek, and the Lake Fork Marina area.
‘Bows and browns hold in around 10 to 25 feet of water in the bays. Use small plastics with wax worms just off the bottom to score these trout species.
Deeper out in 75 feet or more of water, you’ll find the lakers cruising around. Look for groups on your flasher and target them with cut baits and jigs with glowing white tubes.
Kokanee can be everywhere in deeper water. But you have to find them.
Yellow perch hold in the 30- to 45-foot depth around the bays and will readily attack a small jig with a mealworm or wax worm on the hook.
The lake is massive, so plan on scouting to find your spot. Also, don’t be afraid to be social and talk to other anglers about what’s working.
Ice Fishing Techniques and Tips
Check out our complete guide to ice fishing, including the gear, tackle, and tactics that work best below the hard water. We also offer some safety suggestions.