Trout Fishing the Beautiful South San Juan Wilderness of Colorado

Last updated on January 21st, 2024 at 09:13 pm

OK, so the government authorities have still deemed the beach to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for COVID – 19. I won’t get into the politics, because I honestly hate politics, but enough is enough. Well, if they won’t let us go to the beach, how about a trout fishing trip to the mountains of Colorado? There are always alternatives if you really want to go fishing bad enough.

Three forks trail colorado

It’s a great way to beat the summer heat, and a nice change of scenery. Plus we can combine some scouting for the upcoming elk season at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me. Of course, that takes some planning and different equipment that our standard saltwater gear.

These mountain trout are barely bigger than the baits we use in the surf, but on the right gear they are both a challenge and a lot of fun to catch. Pretty good table fare as well. So it was off the Colorado for a week of hiking and fishing in the wilderness.

trout fishing blue lake colorado
Gerry Gerwick locked and loaded

Fishing Colorado

Anytime you start out on a new destination or adventure, there is a certain amount of planning and preparation involved. Going from sea level in Texas to 10,000 feet plus in the mountains of Colorado means not only different gear, but some serious physical requirements as well.

Leche Creek Trail
Gerry thinks he packed too much!
Young Lady fly fishing a mountain stream

Fishing in a wilderness area means, no motorized transportation, only hiking, biking, or horseback. For us, it was going to be hiking, which meant carrying everything needed for fishing and camping, on our backs. Word to the wise, make sure you REALLY need it before you pack it. After a few miles of hiking up 10000 foot mountains, every ounce will count.

Sout San Juan Wilderness
I think I packed too Much 😉

Being from out of state, meant we needed to acquire a Colorado fishing license. They can be purchased in person, or online at: They offer licenses by number of days or annual licenses. Since we were only going to be there a week, we purchased 5 day licenses.

As for fishing gear, we would be using ultra light spinning combos from Shimano and in line spinner baits from Mepps, Panther Martin, Worden’s rooster tail, as well as micro sized spoons from kastmaster and blue fox. Some areas of Colorado you can use natural baits such as salmon eggs and prepared dough baits like Berkley power bait. You need to pay close attention to the Colorado fishing regulations and have a good map because just a mile or two on a stream can change to artificials only.

For the hiking part, like I said before, every ounce counts. Backpacks have come a long way in the last few years with new lighter weight materials that maintain strength. I am partial to the newer offerings from Mystery Ranch: They have the strength, are lightweight and from a price standpoint, are much easier on the budget than some.

Once we secured the license and necessary gear, it was time to load up and head for the mountains. It’s a long trip from south Texas, which meant we would spend the first afternoon making final preparations before setting out the next morning.

South San Juan Wilderness

We chose the South San Juan Wilderness for this trip because we hunt elk there every fall. This would be a great opportunity for us to scout for new elk hunting areas and do some hiking and tout fishing along the way. The South San Juan Wilderness is located in the San Juan National Forest, east of Pagosa Springs, in southern Colorado.

san juan wilderness map
South San Juan Wilderness

The last known grizzly bear in Colorado was killed in the wilderness in 1979. Some believe that it is still home to a few grizzlies, but there have been no confirmed sitings. The wilderness area contains: 32 lakes numerous rivers and streams along with many mountain peaks above 13,000 feet, the highest of which is Summit Peak at 13,307 feet. There are over 180 miles of hiking trails, including 42 miles of the Continental Divide Trail.

Opal Lake trail head
Opal Lake Trail head

The lakes and miles of rivers and streams throughout the wilderness offer excellent trout fishing opportunities. as well. But, as stated before, you are going to have to hike or ride horseback to get there. If you’re hiking, I recommend you take a serious look at your footwear. Good hiking boots can mean the difference between an enjoyable trip and hours of misery and blisters.

Trout Fishing the San Juan Wilderness becomes a combination of hiking, fishing, camping and relaxing under the stars far from the light pollution of the big city. If you are a fly fisherman, the South San Juan offers a tremendous opportunity for the fly-fishing purist. Trout rising to feed on mayflies and other terrestrial creatures, make for a fly fisherman’s dream location.

Trout Fishing the Mountain Lakes and Streams

Trout fishing in the remote mountain lakes and streams of Colorado is very different from casting for speckled trout in the surf along the Texas beach front. The fish are much smaller for the most part, and the water is a lot colder. Wade fishing is best done with waders even in the summer in these high mountain lakes and streams.

trout fishing Blue Lake
Blue Lake Colorado

We did our best to stay out of the water and cast from the bank. In the streams, that was an easy task, some lakes however, offered more of a challenge to get where the fish were. But we still managed to hook a fish or two and have a great time hiking in the mountains.

Trout caught at blue lake colorado
Lots of fun on ultralight tackle

You are in bear country, so I strongly suggest you bring along some bear deterrent/ Protection. We carried side arms just in case we ran into a bear with a bad attitude. Sometimes pepper/bear spray just ticks them off. I would rather not go there. We did see a black bear and a number of mule deer and elk on the trip. But we didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us, so all was well.

Trout Fishing in the back country is mostly catch and release, unless you are catching a couple for dinner. No ice chest to keep any or pack them out which was just fine. Catching is more fun than cleaning anyway. But they do eat good grilled over an open fire. Much tastier than your standard freeze-dried backpacking meals.

Lady with a big trout caught from a high mountain stream.

Blue Lake Colorado

We made out first hike up to Blue Lake on the Three Forks Trail just west of the little town of Platoro Colorado and the Platoro reservoir. The trail follows the Conejos River for several miles then you cross the river ( you get wet here) and take the trail as it follows the Rita Azul river. Both rivers, by the way, offer excellent trout fishing. This section of the trail is a gradual up hill all the way for another 4 plus miles.

blue lake colorado, fishing colorado
Blue Lake, San Juan Wilderness Colorado

You cross the Rita Azul twice along the journey and travel through vast open alpine meadows on our way to Blue Lake at 10,400 feet. There are several primitive camp sites around the Lake that offer panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside. Roughly an 8-mile hike and we arrived like you might expect of two flat landers with heavy packs.

remote camp Blue Lake Colorado
Camp at Blue Lake

Very tired, sore backs and feet and a little dehydrated. Word of caution, drink water every chance you get, and utilize a good water filter and refill you water supply when you get a chance. The rivers and streams of the wilderness areas are good sources of water if you have a good filtering system as a precaution. We used the Sawyer filtration ( system and did just fine drinking from the streams with no ill effects.

But, I did make the mistake of passing up the opportunity to refill my water supply on our second hike into the wilderness and had to do some serious rationing until I could get back to a water source. Remember, you need water to drink and to re hydrate your food. Don’t pass up a water supply…..ever.

Rita Azul South San Juan Wilderness Colorado
Plenty of water, don’t forget to refill your supply
lady trout fishing a mountain stream in Colorado

We had a great time, made it into the back country, did some trout fishing and scouting for elk season. Saw lots of game, including elk, and got plenty of exercise. Learned a little more about packing and what to bring and what to leave. Looking forward to doing it again and applying what we learned from this trip.

Beat the Heat – Head for the High Country

Covid, or no Covid, in the heat of the summer a high mountain trip can be just the thing to break the monotony. Colorado had a mask requirement in public, but on the trails in the wilderness areas, not a mask to be found. There is plenty to do in the mountains for the whole family to enjoy.

There are horse pack outfitters that will ride you in on horseback to the wilderness. You can rent utvs and jeeps to run the forest roads and jeep trails of the national forest if the wilderness is not your gig. There are river rafting outfitters that can take you on a river trip camping, trout fishing, or just floating.

back country camp Leche Creek Trail
Camp at 10400 feet

Colorado has hundreds of miles of trails, hundreds of lakes and streams, and thousands and thousands of acres of national Forest to explore. And, for those of you so inclined, Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana use and it seems as if there is a cannabis shop on every street corner. A new version of “Rocky Mountain High” if you will. If you get a chance, take a break from the heat and head for the high country.

elk south san juan wilderness of colorado
Elk herd came out to say hi.

If you’re into hiking, check out the article about our overnight trip into the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend National Park Here: Or, check out our trip to Guadalupe Peak, the Top of Texas, Here:  I hope you enjoyed the article, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below. You can follow me on Facebook: Rex The Beach Angler Twitter: @AnglerBeach and Instagram: thebeachangler7. As always, enjoy the journey and please try to leave it cleaner than you found it.

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