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Boyd Reservoir from a Fly Fisher's Perspective

Fly Fishing Boyd Lake
by: Field Editor, Colorado
Published on
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Ask any Colorado fly fisher to list their ten favorite fly fishing destinations in Colorado and it’s a fair bet that Boyd Reservoir won’t make anyone’s list. Let’s face it; most fly fishers actively pursue trout in Colorado’s scenic high country. Trout and scenic are not descriptive adjectives of this “prairie” reservoir. That being said, this frequently overlooked reservoir has a lot to offer fly fishers.

Located northeast of Loveland, Boyd is bounded on the east by I-25 and US 34 on the south. The park land area is 334 acres along the west shore of the 1,747 acre (at capacity) reservoir. The easterly shores are privately owned and generally inaccessible to the public except from a boat, and beaching a boat on private property is not permitted.

A popular recreational area, during the summer months Boyd receives heavy use from boaters, skiers, jet skies, windsurfers, swimmers, and even a few fishers. The park offers camping (148 sites), picnicking, playgrounds, and several miles of hiking/biking trails that tie into Loveland’s extensive trail system. Entertaining over 300,000 visitors a year it is difficult to believe the reservoir supports a healthy fishery, but it does.

Float Tube Fishing Boyd Lake in Loveland.
Dave Bowden playing a fish north Boyd Lake.
Heavy recreational traffic and limited shore access may, in part, be why the reservoir supports a quality fishery. Heavy boat traffic discourages boat fishers, keeping them away during peak usage or confining them to no-wake zones. Shore fishing is typically light except in areas of easy access, such as the marina inlet. Boyd is a relatively shallow irrigation reservoir subject to frequent water level changes. This often results in muddy shorelines not conducive to shore fishing. Those factors, coupled with the majority of shoreline being closed to public access, result in the reservoir receiving surprisingly light fishing traffic.

If fishers in general avoid Boyd, why fly fish it? Simply, the fishing can be excellent! Like many prairie reservoirs, Boyd is fertile with an abundance of gizzard shad as a forage base supporting a healthy warm water fishery. The reservoir consistently produces not only excellent numbers of walleye, yellow perch, white bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie and carp, but trophy sized fish as well. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are present in the reservoir, but their populations are far more cyclic. As an added bonus CDOW regularly stocks rainbows.

Given the limited shore access and often muddy shore, it is generally best to fish Boyd from the water. While boats are the obvious way to fish from the water, the reservoir is small enough to make a float tube, pontoon boat, canoe, or kayak an excellent option, especially for the fly fisher. Smaller craft are easily transported and launched from areas other than the two boat ramps. During heavy boat traffic or windy conditions a float tube has the advantage of easy control.

Fly rods in the 5-8 wt range will cover most situations. Larger fish, such as catfish or carp, and large top water lures merit 7 or 8 weight rods. Otherwise a 5 or 6 weight is sufficient. As to lines, a floating line and a type III full sinking line will cover most situations. Occasionally, an intermediate, a type VI full sink, or a 150 to 300 grain shooting head are useful. Reels should have 50-100 yards of 20 pound backing.

Bottom Line depth finder mounted on float tube.
Author’s Bottom Line depth finder mounted on float tube.
To effectively fish sinking lines one needs to countdown in order to reach the appropriate depth. Knowledge of water depth expedites the process and a depth finder makes it easier to determine the water depth, locate structure, find fish, and determine water temperature. Bottomline and Hummingbird make inexpensive, durable, self contained units that are essentially depth finders on a stick, which are ideal for float tubes and small water craft.

Flies for Boyd fall into four primary groups: streamers, nymphs, crayfish/woolly buggers and top water. Streamers are the mainstay, as fish comprise part of most game fish’s diets at Boyd. Clousers are my first choice, but many streamer patterns are effective. Size and color is more important than style. Carry different sizes of two tone streamers from 1 to 4 inches. Top color combinations are gray/white, olive/white, chartreuse/white, brown/white and brown/yellow. Small streamers (1-2 inches) are excellent for pan fish and carp. Black and white bass tend to like larger patterns (2-4 inches), and use your largest streamers (3-6 inches) for walleye and catfish.

Basic fly selection for Boyd Reservoir.
Basic fly selection for Boyd Reservoir.
Warm water species, especially pan fish, feed heavily on insects. Nymphs, as in trout flies, are perfect. It’s rare that you need to match the hatch, so any of the classic patterns, such as halfbacks, stoneflies, pheasant tails, and hare’s ears in sizes 14 and larger work well. Stick with natural colors such as brown, blacks, peacock, and olives.

Woolly buggers are suggestive of a wide variety of foods such as crayfish, leaches and even minnows and are an excellent choice for crappie, carp, black bass and even catfish.. Sizes 12 through 2 in brown, olive, peacock and black will cover most situations. Other effective patterns you should consider carrying are crayfish, sculpin, foxee clouser and worm flies. These patterns fish best when heavily weighted and used to seek out fish holding in deeper water.

Top water patterns are among the more enjoyable patterns to fish when the conditions are conducive. Large dry flies can be extremely effective, especially for crappie, bluegill, carp, and even perch. Every good collection will contain a mix of poppers, mice, and a frog or two. Dalburg divers are excellent for largemouth bass.

Warm water fish are rarely leader shy. Leaders in the 8-15 pound class (3-0X) cover most situations. Use the heavier leaders when fishing heavy structure or targeting larger fish such as catfish, lighter for pan fish. In some situations long leaders are beneficial, but generally shorter leaders in the 4-6 ft range will do the job and allow you to turnover large flies with ease.

Dave Bowden with three perch off the north flats.
Dave Bowden with three perch off the north flats.
Consider fishing multi-fly set-ups when fishing Boyd or any warm water with multiple species. Multiple fly rigs allow greater flexibility and the opportunity to appeal to several species at once. A crappie rig is one of my preferred leaders at Boyd. It is a 9 to 12 ft leader, with three flies fished on a floating line. Start with a 6 to 7.5 ft leader and add two 18-36 inch sections of leader using a triple surgeons knot. Leave the tag end of each knot pointing away from the rod as your dropper. On the end of the leader, tie on a weighted fly, such as small clouser 1.5 to 3 inches. The point fly is typically the largest and heaviest of the three. On the droppers I tie smaller streamers or nymph patterns. If the dropper flies are weighted, they should be lighter than the point fly to minimize tangles.

The crappie rig is fished by casting to or beyond where fish may be holding. Once your flies hit the water wait 3 to 10 seconds for the point fly to sink before starting a retrieve. The floating line acts as a float/bobber suspending the flies. The basic retrieve is a slow process; give a quick tug, stripping 2-6 inches of line and pause. Watch your line when you pause. It will move away from you as the point fly sinks, if it stops set the hook. When retrieving in warm water keep your rod tip on or near the water surface. This gives you better control over the action of your flies.

As previously mentioned, Boyd is most effectively fished from the water and a float tube is an excellent option for the fly fisher. I point out some of the areas to fish at Boyd and what to expect, starting with the SE corner and working west, then north, ending at the NE corner. As the east shore is private and difficult to access from a float tube it is not discussed although it has some excellent fishing opportunities also. Boyd Lake Fishing Map. Access to the SE corner of Boyd takes a bit of effort. Essentially you have to kick your float tube from the Greeley intake tower. The south shore property is owned by a combination of the State of Colorado, Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Company and the City of Greeley, not the park. Thus, walking the shore could be considered trespass and isn’t recommended.
(1) Examination of the contour map shows that there is a finger like trough that runs along the east shore into the SE corner. These slightly steeper gradients differ from the surrounding areas. Coupled with a bit of brush and some distinct underwater weed lines this area attracts black bass, white bass, perch, catfish and walleye. Work this area starting shallow out to 10-20 feet with sinking lines. The black bass are typically shallow with the perch and walleye deeper. Spring is one of the better times to explore this area, especially when the reservoir is full.

Gulls at south inlet early spring low water conditions. (2) Moving west, the south shore/dike area is productive in the spring, especially for carp on woolly buggers and crayfish patterns. The carp move up on the shallow flats both east and west of the inlet. Site fish when possible, or cast to areas where you see mud puffs. Slow, twitching retrieves from the shore out to about 3-6 feet of water are very effective. Work north off these south shore flats and you will find a “drop” off, here the bottom goes from flat to a slope. Fish this “edge” with a sinking line 10-20 feet deep for walleye and perch. A multi-fly rig with a large streamer in shad colors as the point fly is a good choice for the walleye and use smaller streamers/nymphs to simultaneously target perch. A good retrieve is to put the flies on/near the bottom and make quick strips with 2-5 second pauses.

The south inlet is always worth exploring, especially when it’s running water. The spring the running water attracts shad and white bass. Work the channel edges for black bass. Interestingly, small streamers and nymphs will frequently produce a few shad in the spring. Working the channel edges in deeper water can be very productive for walleye.

(3)The large flat in the SW corner is a hit and miss proposition most of the time. However, mid to late summer weed beds typically form. When this happens, explore the weed edges with a crappie rig in 3-15 ft of water for crappie, bluegill and perch. Other species will sometimes be present. A great time to fish here is a weekend afternoon when boat traffic is at its worst. The wave action stirs up bait and can provide fast action during the heat of the day.

White bass at the Greeley intake tower. (4) The Greeley intake tower is one of the better known “hot spots.” Don’t expect to fish this area by yourself very often, and with good reason, it holds fish all year. The shoreline on both sides of the tower are attractive to carp and bass in the spring. Around the tower the riprap attracts black bass throughout the year. There is a channel leading into the tower, which is a fish magnet for nearly all species, especially crappie. The biggest mistake most anglers make fishing the tower area is being patient. Simply, the fish are there, so if you’re not catching them, change your patterns/retrieves and use your depth finder to systematically search for fish.

(5) North of the tower is a small cove that attracts all species, especially perch, bluegill, black bass, and carp in the spring and summer. The “mouth” of the cove is a great place to dredge deep for walleye and perch. Mid summer into the fall top water action can be outstanding for white bass as they push shad in the area. Pay close attention to the weed lines and points in this area. This is another area that fishes very well when the boat traffic is at its worst.

(6) The shoreline from the cove to the Heinricy inlet slopes away in a steady fashion, lacking any serious structure. Still, it is a great area to work for catfish, in deeper water 10-20 feet out it often will hold schools of perch and bluegill. Working large streamers in the deeper water will produce an occasional walleye. In the summer this is a great area to work before sunrise or from sunset into the night with near surface flies or surface poppers for white bass, which frequently push bait against the shoreline. This area tends to be all or nothing.

Author with trophy summer catfish caught on a worm fly off a shallow flat . (7) Heinricy inlet, located at the southernmost parking lot, is rarely flowing water, but when it does, the fishing can be extraordinary. As with the other inlets, moving water attracts fish, especially shad, white bass, and crappie. When the reservoir is full explore the channel and surrounding edges for black bass. Where the channel enters the main reservoir it is frequently productive for bass, catfish, carp and walleye. This area, due to its easy access, and steeper banks receives a fair amount of shore traffic.
(8) The shoreline north from Heinricy, the south marina point is similar to the shoreline that is south of the Heinricy inlet in terms of structure, with one important exception. This area receives heavy shoreline traffic during the summer. All the campgrounds, a major picnic area, and the swim beach are located here. While this can be a productive area, between Memorial Day and Labor Day fishers are well advised to fish elsewhere, primarily to avoid conflicts.

(9) The southern point out of the marina is relatively shallow and extends out about half way across the reservoir. During peak hours this is a dangerous area for a float tube as boats come blasting around this point from both directions. Given this shallow point isn’t well known for its fish holding capacity, I avoid it during periods of heavy boat traffic. When traffic is low an adventuresome float tuber, canoer, or kayaker can paddle across the reservoir to the east shore to the large riprap area. There is a channel that runs fairly tight to the east shoreline and associated with the channel is an underwater ridge. Needless to say, this area can be very productive at times for black bass, walleye and white bass, especially in the fall.

Boyd Marina 2006, low water year. (10) The marina inlet is an excellent area to fish, especially when it’s running water. Note that fishing within 50 ft of any dock is expressly prohibited and the area is heavily trafficked, so use caution fishing from a float tube. This easily accessed area is heavily fished from the shore, making it difficult at times to fish from the water. In spite of that, when the reservoir is up and the water running, this area, like the other two inlets, attracts large numbers of crappie, bluegill, perch, and white bass. It is also one of the more productive areas for trout as CDOW stocks here regularly. When the reservoir drops in the summer, this area has one of the largest concentrations of carp.

North Marina point from a float tube. (11) The north marina point sports a large group picnic area and playground. On the north side of the point is an old boat ramp that is ideal for launching a float tube or other portable water craft. The point itself is one of the more popular float tube fishing areas. Besides easy access, it is a well known area for crappie, bluegill, perch, white bass, and black bass. In the deeper water, 10-20 feet, it’s not uncommon to run into walleye. During the summer months white bass frequently push bait to the surface offering the prepared angler fast surface action. Along the north side of the point is an excellent area to probe the depths for perch and catfish. Late summer and early fall large schools of carp work the surface, making this a great area to try out your dry fly skills on these monsters.

Heron Cove boat ramp looking along shore of the north marina point. (12) Follow the north side of this marina point to the west and it turns into Heron cove, where the second boat ramp resides. This ramp is used primarily by jet skies and other small water craft. Heron cove, especially when weed beds are present, offers some excellent perch and bluegill fishing. For those willing to probe the depths with large flies they may find themselves rewarded by a large catfish.

(13) The remaining western shoreline to the north is a relatively flat area that holds a lot of fish on occasion, especially in fall. Perch are the most common fish in the area. They tend to hold in 3-15 ft of water. Occasionally schools of crappie can be located, especially around the no-wake buoys. In the fall, before kicking out to deeper water, make a few casts in the 1-5 ft depths with bass flies. Many times, especially late fall, when the water temperatures are dropping this area will produce good numbers of largemouth bass. Carp also frequent these shallow waters. Keep your eyes open for white bass surface action when fishing here. While not consistent, these marauders do push bait on these flats.

(14) The shallow finger on the north end is known to hold perch and bass. Its worth checking out, but generally you’re better off to work toward the east from the last parking area to the NE corner. It’s a bit of a kick, but well worth the effort. The area is wake less, so boat traffic isn’t an issue. As you near the NE corner you will cross the channel that runs out from the north finger. The channel is worth a quick check, but generally the best fishing will be found in the NE corner. Remember all the land on the north shore is private, so walk the shore. This corner holds good numbers of fish of all species and is another area where wave action from boat traffic or a breeze can greatly improve the bite.
When fishing Boyd, keep in mind that the reservoir is not loaded with structure. Any blip on the depth finder, a buoy, or a small depression may be all that’s needed to attract and hold fish. During periods of heavy boat traffic watch for the boat bite. Heavy boat traffic creates waves that stir up the bait and sets off a feeding frenzy. Areas that are especially conducive to the boat bite are the NE corner, Heron cove, the Greeley intake tower, and the south end, especially on the outer edge of the flat where it drops to deeper water. Granted fishing during heavy boat traffic can be a bit bumpy for a float tuber and it’s even more disconcerting when you’re trying to fly fish with boats, skiers, and jet skis whizzing around you. Still, the fish, especially crappie, perch, bass, and walleye, do turn on under these conditions.

Boyd offers good fishing all year round. Springs offers good fishing for carp shallow and work the inlet areas for shad, white bass, crappie, and black bass. During the summer watch for evening/morning surface actions. When the water temperatures get into the 70’s/80’s, look for catfish to be prowling the shallow shores. Then as fall approaches expect good perch action, especially on the large flats. Simply, with such a diverse mix of species and areas to fish, there is almost always something biting.

Boyd State Park may never become thought of as a top notch fly fishing destination. Still, if you live in Colorado, especially the Northern half of the Front Range, it should be on your radar. It’s easy to get to, close, and offers a variety of species that will challenge any fisher. Put a little time and effort in getting to know this reservoir, especially from a personal water craft such as a float tube and it will reward you handsomely with good catches of many species and an occasional trophy fish, maybe not a trout, but a trophy nonetheless.


© 2023 David Coulson
About the author, David Coulson:
To say fly fishing is a passion for Dave is an understatement, he lives by the adage, ďfly fishing isnít a matter of life or death, itís much more important than that.Ē Simply, if itís a fish, then Daveís willing to chase it on a fly. This includes making two or three trips a year out of state to places like Alaska, Canada, East and West Coasts to fly fish for salmon, northern pike and salt water species, such as redfish. The rest of the time Dave spends his time plying Colorado waters with a fly rod for everything the state has to offer such as bass, perch, crappie, bluegill, walleye, catfish, pike and yes even trout with a fly.
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