TroutGear south platte fishing map

Species of Fish in Colorado

An introduction to cold-water sport fish in Colorado
by Karen Christopherson

Cutthroat Trout the greenback subspecies is the official state fish
Rainbow Trout the main fish stocked in Colorado
Brown Trout abundant throughout Colorado
Brook Trout a very prolific fish
Lake Trout the largest trout
Kokanee Salmon the land-locked Sockeye
Mountain Whitefish another native
Threatened and Endangered Species if caught, must be returned to the water immediately

Colorado fish nativeCutthroat Trout

the greenback subspecies named official state fish of Colorado in 1994

The Cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki) deserves to be state fish, as it is the only trout that is native (indigenous) to Colorado. It has a crimson slash on either side of the throat, below the lower jaw. Most cutthroat are not found in their original range due to competition from the non-natives, over-fishing, and habitat loss. The subspecies found in Colorado include the Greenback, the Rio Grande, the Colorado River, and the Snake River (a non-native). The Greenback is a threatened species on both a state and federal level. More about the Greenback.

greenback Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife
riogrande A Rio Grande cutthroat rising to a grasshopper, by F.D. Hostetler

Where to find them: Turquoise and Twin Lakes, Clear Creek, Spinney Mtn, Taylor, Elevenmile Reservoirs, Lake John, Delaney Buttes lakes, Trappers Lake (the largest population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout in the world), South Platte River. Snake River Cutts have been introduced into a host of mountain streams and lakes.


Rainbow Trout - the main fish stocked in Colorado
rainbow Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

The Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss) was introduced to Colorado in the 1880's. It is identified by a reddish stripe running down the side of the fish, and by black spots. It was introduced in 1888 into the Gunnison River. They are native to the U.S., but not to Colorado. They spawn in the Spring.

Record: The Colorado record for catching a Rainbow was in 2003 in Morrow Point Reservoir. The fish weighed 19 lbs, 10 oz.

Some fishing spots for Rainbow: almost anywhere -Arkansas, Conejos, Blue, Fryingpan, Gunnison, Taylor, Dolores, Big Thompson, South Platte, Rio Grande Rivers. Steamboat Lake, South Delaney Butte Lake, Turquoise and Twin Lakes. Taylor, Spinney Mtn, Elevenmile, Clear Creek, Road Canyon, Rifle Gap, and Stagecoach Reservoirs.


Brown Trout - abundant throughout Colorado
brown trout
Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Brown (Salmo trutta) was introduced to Colorado in 1890, and is native to Europe and Western Asia. It's identifying marks are black spots, and reddish orange spots inside of light blue circles. They spawn in the fall.

Record: The record Brown caught in Colorado was in 1988, 30 lbs, 8 oz., caught at Roaring Judy Ponds.

Where to go:  Elevenmile, Taylor, Spinney Mtn, Beaver Creek, and Clear Creek Reservoirs; Turquoise Lake, Twin Lake, N. Delaney Buttes lakes; Arkansas, Conejos, Rio Grande, Blue, Gunnison, Taylor, Cache la Poudre, South Platte, Dolores, Big Thompson and numerous other rivers.


Brook Trout - a very prolific fish
brookie Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
brookie2 Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

The "brookie" (Salvelinus fontinalis) can basically outbreed the other species of fish, helped by its fall spawning. They were introduced to Colorado in 1872, and are native to Canada and the Eastern U.S. Their body is dark, with red and white spots within bluish circles. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins can be orange, with black and white edges.

Record: The record Brook caught in Colorado was in 1947, weighing 7 lbs, 10 oz. at Upper Cataract Lake.

Where to find them: North Platte River, Road Canyon Reservoir, East Delaney Butte Lake, S. Boulder Creek; almost all high-mountain lakes, streams, and beaver ponds


Lake Trout - the largest trout
lake trout Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

The Lake trout, or Mackinaw, (Salvelinus namaycush) were introduced in 1890. They can live up to 20 years. They are native to Canada, Alaska and the Great Lakes . They spawn in the fall. They have irregular white spots on their dark bodies. They prefer deeper water, but will feed in shallower waters during spring and fall. Their tail fin is deeply indented.

Record: The Colorado record is 44 lbs, 5 oz caught in 2003 at Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Where to find them: Turquoise Lake, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Taylor Reservoir, North Catamount Reservoir.


Kokanee Salmon - the land-locked Sockeye
kokanee Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

Kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka) are native to west coast lakes of North America. They cannot spawn in Colorado, so are re-populated by stocking. They are most abundant in some of the larger reservoirs. Most of the year, they are bluish-green with silver sides; males have no spots. In the fall, the females turn to a red, grey, and white color. The males change color to deep red. His mouth becomes hooked, and back arched. Kokanee are often eaten by larger fish and feed on plankton.

Record: The record Kokanee caught in Colorado was in 1986 at Spinney Mtn. Reservoir, weighing 6 lbs, 13 oz.

Where to find them: Elevenmile, Beaver Creek, Blue Mesa, Clear Creek, and Taylor Reservoirs


Colorado fish nativeMountain Whitefish - another native
whitefish Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

The Mountain Whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) is indigenous to the White and Yampa Rivers. It was introduced into the Cache la Poudre and Roaring Fork Rivers. It spawns in the fall. It's mouth is smaller than a trout's, making angling more difficult.

Record: The Colorado record for a whitefish was in 1982, weighing 5 lbs, 2oz. and caught on the Roaring Fork River.

Where to find them: Cache la Poudre, White, Yampa, and Roaring Fork rivers, plus numerous lakes.


Colorado fish nativeThreatened and Endangered Species It is illegal to take these species; if caught, they must be returned to the water immediately

Razorback Sucker - Federally and state endangered.  More information and pictures
Territory - Upper Green, Yampa, and Colorado Rivers

Humpback Chub - Federally endangered, state threatened. More information and pictures
Found in Yampa River Canyon (Dinosaur Nat'l Monument) and Black Rocks Canyon of the Colorado River

Colorado Pikeminnow - Federally endangered, state threatened. More information and pictures
Territory - Upper Green, Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison, San Juan, Dolores and White Rivers