Note: This will be the last report update that will be provided. We’ve loved every minute of this journey and value the relationships we’ve made and the community that we’ve built but unfortunately, it’s time for us to focus on other priorities. Upper Arkansas River flows at Salida have been volatile due to the low head damn removal and minor fluctuations upstream of Buena Vista. Water clarity is variable downstream of the dam and will continue to impact water conditions until the project is done. On the bright side, a little color can actually improve the fishing, so unless you’re looking to sight fish, these intraday fluctuations shouldn’t be a concern. If you hit the river and the water is too dirty, head upstream towards Big Bend or Stone Bridge. Trout are largely consolidated in pronounced pools, soft runs and large pockets, so if you hook into one fish, stay put, because odds are you’ll find a few more willing to eat. Trout are also holding deeper in the water column during the morning and evening. Split shot and/or tungsten bead nymphs are needed to get your flies deep. As the water warms up in the early afternoon, trout will rise into the middle water column, which may require you to drop some weight. Midge larva/pupa and baetis larva/emerger patterns are getting the most attention right now. With that said, having an effective lead pattern when nymphing can make all the difference. Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, red Copper Johns, Flashback Pheasant Tails, leeches, worms, and eggs are viable lead pattern options. If you find trout holding in shallower water, ditch your nymph rig and fish a hopper double dropper. This setup will create less surface disturbance and achieve the same results as a nymph rig. Amy’s Ants, Hippie Stompers and PMXs are all capable of towing two nymphs and split shot. Surface activity is slowing down as we get closer to winter but if you find yourself on the river during a heavy midge or BWO hatch, be prepared to tie on a Griffiths Gnat, Midge Cluster, Parachute Adams or Hi-Vis BWO.
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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.