Stable flows and mild weather this week led to fun and productive fishing. Trout are noticeably sluggish and selective during the morning hours but become more active in the late morning/early afternoon. As we move further into fall, the stretches above and below Salida will offer more consistent fishing due to warmer air temps. This isn’t to say that Leadville and sections near Buena Vista will fish poorly but your productive windows will be smaller due to colder overnight temperatures. There is still plenty of bug activity right now and trout are looking up to feed on the surface when conditions are right. The early afternoon BWO hatch has been the most consistent but be on the lookout for midge and caddis. Even if trout aren’t actively rising, a dry dropper with a pupa trailer is a great way to test the water and look for opportunistic trout. Sub-surface, we’re seeing growing success with classic pre-spawn/spawn offerings such as leeches, worms, eggs and streamers. Leeches, worms and eggs are great lead patterns for a nymph rig and streamers can be dead drifted or stripped. Along with those patterns, red nymphs always seem to do well (red Copper Johns, red Zebra Midges, Disco Midges, Rojo Midge etc.). Classic searcher patterns, baetis emergers, midge pupa and caddis pupa will work well in the trailer position. Due to lower flows (mid 200 cfs range), trout will stack up in pronounced pools, runs and pockets for most of the day. Strong hatches and warm afternoons will bring trout into slow riffles and faster water.
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The upper section of the Arkansas River is a freestone river sourced from snowmelt in the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges near Leadville, Colorado. The upper section is arguably the most wade friendly section of the river with many access points running from Leadville through Salida. This fishery has been a major focus for improvement over the past decade as fish populations were historically impacted by the heavy mining activity that occurred in Leadville. Luckily, due to the efforts of trout activist groups, the fishery continues to improve year over year and has become a fun and productive stretch to fish. Brown and rainbow trout are the primary residents with brown trout making up 75% of the trout population. Average trout sizes range from 12” – 16” with a max of 20”. Regulations dictate that only artificial flies and lures may be used. Depending on the section of the river, bag limits vary from 1 – 4 trout over 12” with the exception of rainbow trout. All rainbow trout must be released.
The upper section of the Arkansas River is best fished from late spring through fall. Low flows and ice make this stretch difficult to fish during the winter months. The river yields long runs and riffles as it winds through open meadows from Leadville to Twin Lakes Reservoir. From Twin Lakes to Salida, the river goes through mountainous terrain providing deep pools, runs and pockets. Anglers can count on experiencing the standard Colorado hatches with midges hatching throughout the year, Mayflies in the late spring through fall, and caddis and stoneflies in the summer. River flows are typically lower the closer you are to Leadville and increase the further south you go towards Buena Vista. Knowing this, fishing a dry dropper rig is the go-to method when fishing near Leadville and a mixture of dry dropper and nymphing rigs are the effective setups when fishing near Buena Vista.
Long stretches of public water and a number of designated fishing pull-offs provide for easy fishing access. One of the best ways to explore this river is to drive south on highway 24 from Leadville and test out the various fishing pull-offs along the way. Some of the more notable sections are Hayden Meadows in Leadville, Granite Rock in Granite, Elephant Rock in Buena Vista and Fisherman’s Bridge south of Buena Vista.