Lake City Fishing Guide

Creeks, Rivers and Drainages


Mountain Lakes


How to Use this Guide

Welcome to fishing in the fabulous San Juan Mountains of Colorado! Our waters offer something for nearly every type of angler, from novice to expert, from stream fishermen to high lake fishermen. This guide is structured to provide easy access to information about waters in the Lake City area. Properly used, it can be a valuable tool for the first-time angler in the area as well as for the veteran who is searching for new places to cast a line. A brief introduction to the format used in this brochure follows:

SIZE: Size refers to the average width of the stream-small: less than 6 feet in width, medium: 6 to 25 feet in width, large: more than 25 feet in width.

LENGTH: Total number of miles of public fishable water for the section described. 

EASE OF FISHING: This refers to the brushiness of the stream and the ruggedness of the terrain. For example, a wide-open meadow stream is rated easy, and a very brushy stream in a steep canyon with a trail is rated difficult.

SPECIES/SIZES: Lake City area fisherman would do well to acquaint themselves with the several species of trout found here. A good illustrated key to identification is found in the Colorado Division of Wildlife Fishing Season Information Brochures, available free of charge wherever licenses are sold. Size is a ballpark estimate of the average size trout found in the stream. Virtually all streams have fish considerably larger than the average, but catching these lunkers is another matter!

TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS: the maps in this brochure are for general orientation only. 7.5-minute topographic maps are available locally, and provide the most detailed map information available. For some remote waters, having a topographic map and knowing how to use it is a necessity.

ACCESS: 2WD – section accessible to all passenger vehicles, 2WD (high clearance) – accessible to all pickup trucks and some passenger vehicles, 4WD – accessible by 4WD (or foot) only, foot/horse trail – a maintained trail parallels this section, foot – no trail or an unmaintained trail follows this section.

ACCESS DESCRIPTION: Every effort has been made to make this description as accurate and clear as possible, this description should be used in conjunction with a map (Forest Service Recreation Maps are good). Where exact mileages are mentioned from Lake City, the starting point is the Highway 149 bridge over Henson Creek. Always respect private property, and do not cross fences unless you are certain public land is on the other side!

STREAM DESCRIPTION:  A general description of the section and its fishing.



Fishing Lake City Area Streams

The many streams and lakes of the Lake City area can provide some of the finest angling in the state of Colorado, but only if the fisherman has some basic knowledge of the trout behavior, and what techniques and tackle are best for particular situations. Of course, all fisherman should also obtain a copy of the brochure “Colorado Fishing Season Information” to be aware of regulation concerning licenses, angling methods, and limits.

Fishing season in Colorado is year-round, but for Lake City streams, it begins in practicality in the middle of March, with the break-up of the Lake Fork River, Henson Creek, Cebolla Creek and other streams will follow sometime in April. Early spring fishing means low and clear streams, and most importantly, very cold water. Look for trout only in deep water, where water temperature is higher. Do all that is necessary to get the bait, lure or fly to their level, and move it slowly along the bottom or not at all. Early spring trout take gently, and are sometimes sluggish once hooked. All methods can work, but nymphs, salmon eggs, and crappie jigs are the most productive.

Runoff strikes the San Juans beginning in late April or early May, and the water of most streams will be muddy through June and clear but high through July, and some years, into August. Runoff is tough on fishing. In muddy water, most trout hold near the bottom or in backwater areas to escape the increased velocity and murkiness of the stream. Worm and salmon eggs fishermen do best this time of year, but the lure and fly fishermen can have some success. Those looking to beat the “runoff blues” can search out clear headwater streams and beaver ponds, some of which can provide excellent fly fishing at this time of year, but locating them will take some exploration.

Most streams clear and begin to drop about mid-July, and stream fishing comes into its prime. All methods can work in the summer, but lure and fly fishing hold the edge. In the summer, many trout move into shallow riffle water to feed and some days, can be found almost anywhere in the stream. Cover the water carefully and thoroughly. On the hottest days, the best fishing will be in the morning and evening.

Small streams in the summer offer a particular challenge, but can open up a world of addictive fun. Most small streams are best for the bait or fly fisherman. Because of their small flows of clear water, make your approach carefully. Walking right up to the side of a small pool will alert trout as much as if King Kong peered into your bedroom window! Trout are easily spooked, and it is a rare fish that will sample your offering after being run out of its holding area. Sometimes a low profile is necessary for success. Longer casts are necessary in clear, shallow water. If you can see the fish, it can see you! Use any streamside brush to screen your outline from the fish in these streams.

Beaver ponds can be the most successfully fished from the downstream side of the dam. This allows the fisherman to approach the pond at the lowest possible angle, keeping him out of sight. Fish the water next to the dam first and gradually work farther out into the pond. On larger ponds, it is possible to eventually stand on the dam and make the long casts necessary to reach the opposite shore.

September, October and early November produce some of the clearest water and finest fishing of the year. Dry flies continue to produce well into October, but usually only after the water warms up in the afternoon. At this time of year, large numbers of brown trout move up the Lake Fork, Cebolla Creek and Henson Creek to spawn. Lure and streamer fishermen often net some very fine browns at this time. Spawning trout, however, should be returned safely to the water to insure future generations of stream bred fish. By mid to late November, streams begin to ice over, and the stream fisherman begins to reminisce about the summer and look forward to the first open water of spring.



One of the reasons that Lake City fishing remains good over the years is that many fishermen do not kill all of the fish they catch. Releasing the majority of the fish you catch will provide more trout for the next fisherman and for you the next time you go fishing. Catch and release simply means better fishing – don’t kill more than you need and Lake City fishing will remain the best for years to come!

The Colorado Division of Wildlife offers the following guidelines for releasing a fish safely:

  • If possible, do not play the fish to total exhaustion while attempting to land it.
  • Hold the fish in the water as much as possible when handling it, removing the hook and preparing it for release.
  • When removing the hook, do not squeeze the fish or place your fingers in its gills.
  • If the fish has swallowed the hook, do not pull it out. Rather, cut the line as close to the hook as possible, leaving the hook inside the fish.
  • When releasing the fish in the water, hold it gently, facing upstream into the current, until the fish has become reacclimated. Move the fish slowly back and forth to help it regain and maintain equilibrium. 


The Lake City Fishing Guide Series was made possible in part by the talents of Bob Stigall, Steve Meredith, Phil Virden, Jud Hollingsworth, Ken Charles, Bill Hall, Lyn Lampert and Phil Mason. Many thanks to all. (recently updated with help from Lynn Lampert, May 2011)


Fishing Guide & Maps