San Juan National Forest


If it is true that the days spent fishing are not subtracted from a person's allotted span, the lakes of the San Juan National Forest are a good place to extend your lifespan. Angling experiences ranging from jewel-like lakes set in the mountain wilderness holding chunky rainbows, flashing cutthroats or iridescent brookies to an irrigation reservoir offering landlocked salmon, massive German brown trout, and ravenous northern pike along with the comforts of a resort community can be found on the San Juan.

Though 92 lakes from 1 to 2,300 acres hold gamefish, lake fishing on the San Juan National Forest is a largely underused resource. A few of the lakes, such as Vallecito and Lemon Reservoirs, east of Durango; Williams Creek Reservoir, north of Pagosa Springs; McPhee Reservoir west of Dolores, and the Emerald Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness northeast of Durango; bear the bulk of the fishing pressure. While these lakes will often be crowded during the summer, others will go unfished for weeks at a time. (Refer to the list of lakes for an indication of the public use various lakes receive.)

Most of the fish caught will be troutcutthroats, rainbows, brook trout or German browns. Kokanee or landlocked salmon, grace the waters of Williams Creek, Lemon and Vallecito Reservoirs. Vallecito is also home to four members of the trout family, walleye, and northern pike. It is definitely the place for the angler interested in "big game" fishing.

Fishing in any lake on the San Juan National Forest is governed by State of Colorado regulations on seasons, reel limits, licenses and fishing methods. Special regulations also apply on certain waters. For example, motorized boats are prohibited on Henderson Lake, northeast of Durango on Missionary Ridge, and on all lakes within any designated wilderness area.

Restrictions are in effect on both Big and Little Emerald Lakes to protect the unique, naturally reproducing, rainbow-cutthroat hybrids found here. Fishing is prohibited in the inlet of Big Emerald Lake, and in the inlet stream (Lake Creek) for one-half mile above the lake from January 1 through July 15. Fishing in either Emerald Lake with any method other than artificial flies and lures is prohibited; and all sportfish over 12 inches in length must be returned immediately to the watersanglers should get a copy of the fishing regulations from the Colorado Division of Wildlife or from any license outlet.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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