Date: May 20, 2023
Trip Captain: Larry Lester
Southeast of Fairplay, Colorado, the Tarryall Reservoir State Wildlife Area (SWA) protects 711 acres of scenic Park County. Adjacent to the Pike National Forest, this state wildlife area surrounds the 175-acre Tarryall Reservoir and nearby waterways situated around 9,000 feet in elevation.
After state approval in 1925, the Tarryall Dam was constructed between 1929 and 1931 in order to form the Tarryall Reservoir. The water was intended to be used as a fish hatchery, remnants of which can still be seen today. The reservoir is located right along Tarryall Road, which is the center of the 27,861-acre Tarryall Rural Historic District.
Activities at Tarryall Reservoir State Wildlife Area
The Tarryall Reservoir State Wildlife Area has many developed facilities and can be easily accessed less than two hours from Denver. For this reason, the area is popular during peak recreational seasons.
Birding and Wildlife: A bit of the beaten path, the Tarryall Reservoir SWA is often frequented by many diverse species of wildlife for visitors to view at a safe distance. Large animals such as bears, elk, and mountain lions can sometimes be spotted among the migratory and native birdlife.
Boating: Boating is permitted on the Tarryall Reservoir so long as whitewater wakes are not created. The reservoir is popular for fishing from both motorized and non-motorized boats such as kayaks and canoes. There are two boat ramps on the southern end of the reservoir on both the eastern and western sides of the water.
Camping: The Pike National Forest maintains the Derbyshire Parker Gulch and Potato Gulch Campgrounds within the Tarryall Reservoir SWA. Each location has roughly 10 primitive campsites that are free to use and available on a first come, first serve basis. There are also fire rings, picnic tables, and bathroom facilities for campers to use provided by the US Forest Service.
Fishing: For both cold-water lake and stream fishing the Tarryall Reservoir SWA is incredibly popular among licensed Colorado anglers seeking trout and pike. For those not planning to use a boat, there are many designated fishing docks around the reservoir’s shoreline. Beyond that, many visitors choose to fish below the dam and diversion structure.
Hiking and Mountain Biking: Surrounding the Tarryall Reservoir SWA, there are many opportunities for hiking and mountain biking along the trails of Pike National Forest. Onsite, most visitors choose to take the short quarter mile walk from the parking area to view Tarryall Falls. Notably, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes are prohibited in the Tarryall Reservoir SWA.
Hunting: Both big game and waterfowl hunting is available to licensed hunters in the Tarryall Reservoir SWA. Most commonly, the area is a popular destination for elk hunting within GMU 50 and 501.
Picnicking: The Tarrayall Reservoir SWA has many scattered picnic tables and restroom facilities for visitors to take advantage of for no additional fee. For the best picnic experience, remember to pack your bug spray!
Swimming: Swimming, wading and other water contact sports are strictly prohibited in the Tarryall Reservoir State Wildlife Area.
Tarryall Reservoir is fed by Tarryall Creek, which makes its way down from the Park Range before merging with the South Platte downstream of the reservoir east of Jefferson Colorado.
The creek itself is tough to access on foot or via ATV/4X4 upstream of Tarryall Reservoir, making the reservoir an extremely popular spot with fisherman and anglers.
The reservoir itself was drained in 2002 in order to conduct much needed repairs on the dam, and by 2005 the reservoir had refilled and was open to the public once more.
The Tarryall region was named by miners when gold was discovered in the creek bed back in 1859, and it seemed like a good place to stay a while. Gold nuggets were fairly plentiful all along the creek, and most the size of large peas. Gold miners who reached the area later and found it already claimed nicknamed the area “Graball”, as the first group of miners was extremely possessive of the rich gold strike they’d found. The latecomers actually moved further on to settle in the Fairplay area, obviously so named as a dig at the Tarryall mining crews.
Most anglers visit the Tarryall Reservoir in search of rainbows, browns, and pike, all of which are found in plentiful numbers and reasonably large sizes. Boating is permitted, and nearly the whole shoreline is accessible on foot, as well as a few miles upstream of the inlet from Tarryall Creek. The inlet has some nice pools and riffles to ply your flies and lures as well, so it’s well worth the visit if you are already planning to fish the reservoir.
Best Places to Fish Tarryall Reservoir
The reservoir has public access from Highway 285 south from Jefferson, Colorado. Park in the designated parking area and take a short hike along the banks to find a prime fishing spot, or get your boat in the water and look for a likely stretch of water while saving your legs the hike. Fishing from the dam is permitted, and there are no restrictions above or below for where you can fish unless otherwise posted. Don’t hesitate to try quiet, out of the way spots along the edges of the reservoir, as the trout like to feed here early in the day.
The inlet of the Tarryall Creek and below the dam for a couple miles both offer fast fishing action, and the rainbows and browns of the area like to strike frequently. If you are planning to visit the reservoir anyway, a quick trip over to the creek often yields very promising results, too. Just make sure you observe and respect all posted private property signs, and don’t fish on private land without permission. Courtesy and respect are the two watch words of Colorado anglers, and if you are a visitor to the region you would do well to observe these principles yourself.
Best Time to Fish Tarryall Reservoir
May to November is prime fishing season on the Tarryall Reservoir, with the major hatches being terrestrials, tricos, PMDs, caddis, midges, and BWOs in that order. The best time of day to visit the reservoir is about mid morning until the middle of the afternoon according to local experts, so plan to arrive about 10 a.m. and to pack it in for the day about 3 p.m. or a little after.
The reservoir is extremely popular for fishing during the summer months, so if you want to avoid the rush you may want to visit in the spring and fall. Winter fishing is permitted, but naturally you would be visiting for ice fishing on the reservoir as opposed to fly fishing.
Best Flies for Tarryall Reservoir
Here are the best fly patterns for the reservoir by order of importance:
PMX (peacock #10)
Schroeder's Parachute Hopper (tan #8)
Rojo Midge (black/red #18)
TH 20 Incher (peacock #12, #14)
RS2 (black #18, #20)
Bead Head Barr Emerger (gray #18)
Always remember to check local conditions before setting out so you can match the hatch exactly.