Joe Wright Reservoir is a man-made lake in Colorado. Located inside Roosevelt National Forest, this 150 acre (61 ha) reservoir is surrounded by public land. It is easily accessible too as the lake is just off the side of the well maintained Colorado Highway 14.
Situated not far below the crest of the 10,276 foot Cameron Pass in the Medicine Bow Mountains, Joe Wright Reservoir is a cold and clear lake. The reservoir is home to cutthroat trout, tiger trout, tiger muskie and some lake trout. But they are not alone.
Surrounded by fish filled waters like the Cache la Poudre River, Joe Wright Reservoir doesn’t get a lot of attention or angling pressure. People do fish the lake to be sure. But there is always room to wet a line. That’s good since this lake is home to one of the most accessible populations of Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states.
Fish species in Joe Wright Reservoir
As mentioned, Joe Weight Reservoir is home to Artic grayling in good numbers. In fact the lake probably holds more grayling than any other in the state of Colorado. These fish made their their way down from Zimmerman Lake and established a breeding population. These days, there are no more grayling in Zimmerman Lake. But there are plenty in Joe Wright Reservoir!
A typical Joe Wright Reservoir grayling
In fact there are so many grayling in the lake that Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been stocking predators to control them. This is meant to alleviate overpopulation of grayling and the associated stunting that arises from that. The plan seems to be working. Today the average grayling is somewhere around 12 inches (30.5 cm) and specimens approaching 18 inches (46 cm) have been recorded.
The grayling are joined by a decent population of cutthroat trout. Over the last several years, the lake has also been stocked with the above mentioned predators made up of a mix of female lake trout, hybrid tiger muskie, and hybrid tiger trout.
Fishing in Joe Wright Reservoir
Before I tell you about fishing here, I want to let you know that I may earn commission when you make purchases through links on this page. This commission helps support my website, but it does not influence what I write. I only recommend products that I have found to be effective.
The tiger muskie in Joe Wright Reservoir don’t get very large. The lake record is just 28″ (72 cm) even though the minimum size to keep a fish is 36 inches. You’re probably more likely to catch one of the bigger tiger trout in the lake that grow to 21″ (53 cm) or more if you throw bigger lures like Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners. But both of those species are limited in numbers. That’s even more true when it comes to the lake trout.
The Arctic grayling spawn in Joe Wright Creek
The most predominant fish in Joe Wright Reservoir are cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling. Both can be caught with quite similar methods. Cutthroat trout can also be caught in many surrounding waters where grayling are absent, but don’t overlook them. I’ve seen some very nice cutthroats in Joe Wright Reservoir.
When it comes to catching cutthroats and grayling in open water small flies and lures are by far your best bet. You can catch the fish on a spinning rod with a clear light line in 2 to 4 pound test. Tie a size 12 Yellow Wulff or Royal Humpy fly a few feet below a clear Adjust-A-Bubble float and watch for strikes on the surface. Or fish a small pink worm, San Juan Worm, or Squirmy Worm below a strike indicator like the Trout Magnet EZ Float.
This nice Arctic grayling has clearly seen some things
Using a long light rod will help you get this rig to where the fish are. Try all the likely areas including points but don’t neglect to look around the shore. Grayling sometimes cruise the shoreline or even station around cover. I’ve also found cutthroats hanging around inlets and cover here.
If you are fly fishing you will want to use a floating line for trout. You might be able to get away with a 4x leader but a 5x is better. The water is clear in Joe Wright Reservoir and grayling have a keen eye even if they do seem to slash at any thing that floats at times. Any general attractor pattern in sizes 12 to 16 should work. This is not a place where you really have to match the hatch.
The top end of Joe Wright Reservoir
While grayling are known to aggressively slash at floating flies keep in mind that they have small mouths and frequently miss. They will often splash around a fly without actually taking it into their mouths only to return a few moments later and go again. Try to make sure the fish has actually taken your fly before setting the hook if possible.
Ice fishing also works well in Joe Wright Reservoir but you have to fish the lake early. As the weather progresses the ice can get too thick to fish. When ice fishing for Grayling and Cutthroat Trout in Joe Wright Reservoir try working small gold Tungsten jigs. You can tip them with scent free soft plastics like the Micro Nymph but bait is not allowed.
Joe Wright Reservoir fishing regulations
Fishing in Joe Wright Reservoir is limited to artificial lures only. That means flies and spinner are okay to use, but natural bait like red worms is not. The creek that feeds the reservoir is where the grayling spawn and is closed to fishing until July 31 each year. You can walk over to the stream and take a look at the fish when they do their spawning run. It is interesting to see.
Ice fishing and boating without a permit are both permitted. The water stays frozen until well into the year. But the ice can get so thick that it is difficult or even impossible to drill a hole. So be aware of the conditions if you plan to go fishing.
The daily and possession limit for trout and grayling is four. You are also allowed to keep one tiger muskie but since it must be 36 inches long this is not something you will likely have to worry about. Most people who fish Joe Wright Reservoir seem to release the fish they catch in any event.
Fishing in Joe Wright Creek from Colorado Highway 14 to the confluence with Joe Wright Reservoir is prohibited between January 1 and July 31 each year. This is meant to protect the grayling during their spawn. After July 31, the same regulations apply to both the lake and the stream.
To the best of my knowledge, this is all accurate as of the time of writing. Of course regulations are subject to change. For current regulations be sure to check the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Fishing Joe Wright Reservoir at a glance
|Fish species present:||Arctic char, cutthroat trout, lake trout, tiger trout, tiger muskie|
|Closest tackle shops:||Scots Sporting Goods, Kirk's Fly Shop|
|Recommend line:||2-6 lb monofilament / 3-5x leader|
|Recommended lures:||Custom Micro Nymph, Blue Fox Vibrax Spinner|
|Recommended flies:||Hot spot pheasant tail nymph, San Juan Worm, Yellow Wulff, Royal Humpy, squirmy worm|
|Nearby hotels:||Home 2 Suites by Hilton|
I just caught two 12” grayling November 1. Females had eggs. You said they spawn earlier. Just wondering?
Hi Ken. Thanks for your comment. Arctic grayling spawn in the spring throughout their range. I’m not sure why you found fish with eggs. Perhaps the roe was just forming in the run up to the spring spawn. Perhaps the weather has caused some strange changes in the fish. How did the fish look?
Great article! I have never caught a grayling, are they good to eat?
Thanks Dan! I’ve caught them. But I have never eaten one. I hear they taste like trout.