The town of Buena Vista is a popular place for tourists over the summer months for rafting, fishing and many other outdoor activities. There are several 14ers to hike in the area and several places to fish not far from the town including the Arkansas River, Twin Lakes, and the hike-in alpine lake, Ptarmigan Lake. Buena Vista is about two and a half hours from Denver, which makes it a possible day trip for many locals.
Cottonwood Lake is one of the more popular destinations for fisherman, kayakers, paddle boarders and campers. It’s popular because of the easy access points and it is family friendly with fishing docks and easy fishing access for kids with a high success rate for catching. There are also camping areas within walking distance of the lake and day-parking for watersports close to the lake.
The lake is usually busy, but we have always been able to find a spot to fish. There is a fee area for close access with parking and docks for fishing. The fee is $7.00 and exact cash is required for the envelope. There are also free parking spots along the road close to the lake, which is usually our choice.
Before I tell you how great the fishing is on the lake, I am going to tell you about a place we fish above the lake. This could be a difficult area to fish if you are a beginner. The stream runs down into several beaver dams with pools of water that hold Cutthroat Trout. We have never seen another person fish this area while we are there, which makes it an even better spot to start the day.
We usually head up to the beaver dams before fishing the lake. Just follow the road past the lake up to a large basin just below timberline at 11,500+ ft. Watch closely for the beaver dams on the left side of the road. If you pass the beaver dams you will come to the end of the road where there is an old mine shaft above timberline.
Note: We recommend wearing wading shoes or waders. The water is cold.
After a few hours up at the beaver dams, its a great time to head back down to find a spot to fish the lake. According to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Fishing Atlas, Cottonwood Lake is stocked with Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Snake River Cutthroat and Cutbow. We have only been able to catch Rainbow Trout and Cutbow Trout.
The best spinning rod method for Rainbow Trout is a nightcrawler under a bobber. We use lightweight rods/reels with 6lb line, #8 or #6 baitholder hooks and small bobber ~ 2 ft above the hook. Most of the fish we catch out of this lake are in the 9-12″ range. We have also has success fly fishing this lake with small dry flies. Riverbum Fly Shop has a really nice variety of flies.
We have been to Cottonwood Lake several times over the years and have enjoyed it everytime. This trip can also be a multi-day trip by driving a short distance (40 mins) to fish the Salida area. There are several places to fish in Salida and surrounding area. Many of the fishing holes are family friendly. There are great places for the experienced angler as well as kids and beginners. Have fun fishing and leave no trace.