Anglers can catch a break from the pandemic at these Southern Colorado fishing spots

Zach Hillstrom
The Pueblo Chieftain
The Arkansas River in Lake Pueblo State Park is one of the many great fishing spots in Southern Colorado.

After more than a year of pandemic-necessitated lockdowns and restricted travel in the Centennial State, many Coloradans are itching to get out of their homes to enjoy the great outdoors in 2021.

And when it comes to fishing — one of the state’s most popular outdoor activities —  the opportunities in Southern Colorado are tough to beat.

“I would say (what sets this area apart) is just the diversity of fishing and the opportunities that we have,” said Carrie Tucker, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We’re about an hour away from some high-mountain lakes, some bigger reservoirs and some bigger lakes, so the diversity of fishing options is very good.”

Fishing in Colorado requires a valid fishing license, but thanks to a new CPW phone app, anglers no longer need to carry their fishing license with them as the app allows them to purchase a license, which can be accessed through their phone.

While Colorado has several popular fisheries on the Western Slope, Tucker said anglers who fish them often catch only trout, which prefer the colder water temperatures found in the high mountains.

And though there’s still plenty of trout species in Southern Colorado, Tucker said the area’s warmer weather and water temperatures allow for a more diverse population of fish species, including at the most popular state park in Colorado, Lake Pueblo State Park.

Pueblo Reservoir is known for its diverse opportunities

Lake Pueblo, just west of Pueblo city limits, is perhaps the premiere warm-water fishery in the state. Anglers must first purchase a Colorado State Parks Pass to fish the lake, which features between 10 and 12 species anglers like to target, not including prey fish that help feed the lake’s larger species.

“Lake Pueblo has a wide variety of warm-water species that anglers can target, as well as trout,” Tucker said.

“As the summer starts heating up, the trout will get really hard to catch, because they go deeper to escape the warmer water temperatures. And right now, fishing is a little slow. But in the next month or so it should really start picking up for crappie, and in May and June it should pick up for bass and wiper.”

Lake Pueblo has high catch rates for large and smallmouth bass and Tucker said walleye fishing tends to be a bit slow in the early summer, but typically begins to pick up as the summer goes on.

Lake Pueblo also features several auxiliary ponds that are great for shore fishing and offers a river corridor ideal for fly-fishing.

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The Arkansas River provides plenty of opportunity for anglers to catch a bevy of species of fish in Southern Colorado.

The Arkansas River is a fly-fisherman's dream

The tailwater of the Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir, Tucker said, is “a really hot spot” for Colorado trout fishing.

Many large rainbow trout and brown trout call the river their home and the river has good access points for anglers for about 8 miles below the reservoir dam.

While fishing the river tends to be more popular in the winter months, Tucker said it continues to attract anglers throughout the summer, although she cautioned anglers should be careful in their handling of the fish when the weather gets hotter.

“As the temperatures keep increasing and we get into those 90-plus degree days in June and July and August, and then when the water level starts dropping … I foresee a situation where the fish will start getting really stressed out,” Tucker said.

“So if anglers can minimize the amount of time they play a fish before they get it in and release it, and then just (practice) proper fish handling, that would be great.”

John Martin Reservoir State Park features some of Colorado's biggest and best catfish

A little more than 30 miles west of La Junta on U.S. Highway 50 East, is the popular warm-water fishery John Martin Reservoir, which requires a State Parks Pass to access.

The reservoir is an ideal spot for crappie fishing in April and May and anglers are encouraged to try their luck on the reservoir dam or at the railroad trestle.

In May, the fishing picks up for white bass, wiper and saugeye and lasts throughout the summer and fall. Anglers from across the country flock to the reservoir in early to mid-summer to fish for bass, wiper and striper, and the lake features some of the state’s best fishing for large catfish toward its shallow upper end. Those seeking to land a massive catfish may do so with worms, crawdads and shrimp.

John Martin also has great fishing in the fall, primarily September and October, which brings another period of great fishing. To inquire about water levels, access and best fishing techniques, anglers can contact the Lamar CPW office at 719-336-6600.

DeWeese and Trinidad reservoirs are lesser-known gems

While several southern Colorado reservoirs offer similar size ranges and species of fish as Lake Pueblo, Tucker said there are some that are less popular that provide a similar experience without the crowds.

North of Westcliffe, the 250-acre DeWeese Reservoir provides excellent fishing for creel-sized and larger rainbow trout, as well as cutbow trout. The reservoir is known for its excellent smallmouth bass fishing and its opportunities to catch tiger muskie.

West of Trinidad on Colorado Highway 12 is Trinidad Lake State Park, which features a 700-acre reservoir with several amenities, including a boat ramp that provides reservoir access to all water levels.

The lake’s warm-water fishery allows anglers to fish for a wide range of species, including yellow perch, channel catfish, saugeye, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass. Trinidad is also an excellent trout fishery, as it’s heavily stocked with creel-sized rainbow and cutbow trout. Like Lake Pueblo and John Martin, a State Parks Pass is required.

Planning a trip/what to know before you go

For those seeking to plan a trip to one of Southern Colorado’s top fishing spots, Tucker advises they first take a trip to CPW’s website at

“You can get fishery survey summaries, which is basically data about what the biologists have caught over the last couple of years during sampling, and then a little bit of analysis of their thoughts on how the fishery is doing,” Tucker said.

“Or, if they want just generalized information, they can visit our website for information about the parks and fishing regulations or they can call the Pueblo service center (719-561-5300) which is our Pueblo wildlife office, or the state park office (303-791-1954) and get more information.”

Being aware of fishing guidelines and regulations for each fishery, Tucker said, is extremely important.

“Read the fishing regulations brochure,” Tucker said.

“There are a lot of different regulations for different waters and you can get yourself in trouble fairly easily if you’re not familiarizing yourself with those before you go fishing.”

Chieftain reporter Zach Hillstrom can be reached at or on Twitter @ZachHillstrom