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Steamboat Magazine

Spring on Water

03/11/2016 04:39PM ● By Dan Greeson

Rick Tewkesbury casts his line on public waters at Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area. Photo by Noah Wetzel.


Steamboat Springs is home to one of the greatest big-fish rivers in the country. When ice melts on the Yampa River, an abundance of hungry fish starts rising. In early spring, avoid muddy runoff water and fish in the morning and midafternoon to optimize chances of catching a sizeable rainbow or brown trout. Head south from town to the tailwaters of Stagecoach or Sarvis Creek, or north to Steamboat Lake or Pearl Lake where big brookies and rainbow trout spawn by the water’s edge or in nearby creeks. As temperatures rise in early summer the Yampa River is a prime locale for dry fly fishing. Catch and release restrictions apply and a fishing license is required. Only artificial flies and lures are allowed.


During runoff, experienced kayakers enjoy rapids found at the C and D holes in the Yampa River, or the class III and IV waters of the upper Elk River from Box Canyon to the Home Ranch. Beginners can find their form by taking a class at the Old Town Hot Springs before practicing in flatter water at the junction of Walton Creek and the Yampa River or Fetcher Pond. Scout the river by road first so you can plan ahead of time where to get off the water. When water is high, taking a guide is advisable. Dress for the water temperature, not the weather.


After temperatures in the valley warm up, taking the chill off snowmelt water, gear up in wet or dry suit and booties, then step on a paddleboard. Fetcher Pond makes the perfect starting point to work on core strength and find your balance. Once the water levels drop in late spring, upper stretches of the Yampa River become slower, and more technically challenging. Thrilling rapids remain a constant downstream from the Bud Werner Library at the C and D holes, or on day trips to the Upper Colorado River. Dress in layers, a helmet and life vest, and take a whistle. 


Local guided trips are available from mid-May. Opt for a mellow float through the heart of downtown on the Yampa River or a whitewater adventure on the Elk River. Take in dramatic scenery riding through the canyons of the Colorado River, south of Steamboat.


Take to the water in a kayak, inner tube, stand-up paddleboard or raft and compete in a host of wild and wonderful contests. Competitions range from intense challenges for experts to frivolous fun in the water for Fido. Don’t want to get wet? Stand on the riverbanks where the spectacle on the water is a sight to behold.