Fly Fishing the Dolores River – Durango Recreation – Durango Downtown

The Dolores River


Fly fishing on the Dolores River

Anglers say they leave a part of themselves on the river every time they experience the out-of-the-way Dolores. Located in the far southwest corner of the state, this is one of Colorado’s best fisheries with horseshoe bends and a canyon section that is truly unique.


Copyright 1995 by David Communications

The river starts high on Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet) and runs southwest with Highway 145 to the town of Dolores and the McPhee Reservoir. The stretch is a typical high alpine freestone stream featuring rainbow trout, two campgrounds and lots of private land and water.

At McPhee Reservoir the river hooks to the northwest. The section below the earthen dam is pristine tailwater for l l miles to Bradford Bridge.This is the stretch most people refer to as the Dolores. It’s catch and release and there are plenty of access roads, campgrounds and picnic areas thanks to the state of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service. To reach this section of the Dolores, drive north from Cortez on Highway 666. Look for Road CC, or a right turn just past Pleasant View, and follow the signs to the river.

Fly fishing the Dolores, especially during low water, can be very technical. Matching the hatch of insects listed below can be key. Fly patterns for tailwaters and spring creeks seem to work best.



Types of Fish
Rainbow, brown and cutthroat.


Known Hatches
April: Stoneflies (Willowflies, Acroneuria Pacifica)
Mid-June to August: Various caddis (hatches year-round)
Mid-June to October: Blue-Winged Olives (Baetis)
Late-September to November: Midges (diptera, hatches year-round)
October-November: Tiny Olive Quill (Pseudocloeon anoka)
Mid-July to September: Pale Morning Dun (Ephemerella Infrequens).



Equipment to Use
Rods: 3-5 weight, 8 – 9′Reels: Disc or pawl that have very low drag settings.
Line: Floating to match rod weightLeaders: 5x to 8x, 9 – 16′.
Wading:You’ll walk a lot along the Dolores; take light weight equipment like hippers. Wet-wade in summer heat.


Flies to Use:
Dry Patterns
Comparadun #16-22, Thorax patterns #16-22, Low water caddis patterns #14-20, Elk Hair Caddis #14-18, Midge adult patterns #20-28, Stonefly #10.
Nymphs & Streamers
Mayfly #14-22, Barr’s Tan Emerger#18-22, Caddis larva and pupa #14-20, Midgel arva and pupa #18-24, Stonefly #6- 14 Muddler #4-8, Sculpin #2-4.

When to Fish

The best fishing begins after runoff, around the middle of June in most years. The river fishes well with good insect activity into late November.The first 6 miles of river is closed to auto traffic December 1 to April providing elk a protected winter range.

Seasons & Limits

The entire river is open year-round, from McPhee dam downstream to the Bradford bridge (l1 miles) artificial flies and lures only. All trout caught must be returned to the water immediately.

Accomodations & Services

One of the charms of the Dolores is that it’s close to nowhere. Many anglers stay in Durango and drive two hours each way. There are adequate facilities in Cortez and Dolores. Summer camping on the river is excellent with quality facilities available.

Nearby Fly Fishing

McPhee Reservoir, West Fork of the Dolores River, McJunkin, Barlow, LizardHead, Slate, Coke Oven, Snow Spur, Bear and Coal creeks.


With seclusion and scenery, great hatches and fly fishing, the Dolores easily rates a 9.

Copyright 1995 by David Communications