Upper Ark flows between Leadville and Salida increased at a considerable rate this week and with consistent rain in the forecast, we expect this trend to continue. Flows at Salida are nearing 2,000 cfs and flows below Granite and at Leadville are at ~1,000 cfs and 450 cfs, respectively. With approximately 12 inches of visibility upstream of Buena Vista and ~6 inches downstream of Buena Vista, getting the trout’s attention is key. Classic spring attractors such as Squirmy Worms, Pat’s Rubber Legs, Mini Leeches, Twenty Inchers, Pheasant Tails, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Electric Caddis and Frenchies are solid lead patterns on a nymph rig or as a dropper on a dry dropper setup. Along with pupa and emerger patterns with a dash of flash, Rainbow Warriors and Perdigons are productive trailers. While nymph rigs are the most productive setup when fishing deep pools and soft runs, dry droppers are our preferred setup when surveying the outer seams and banks. Streamers are also highly effective right now. Work the banks and retrieve your streamer with slow and erratic strips. While anglers shouldn’t expect to have a lights out day on the Upper Ark, persistence and experimentation will go a long way.
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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.