Prior to yesterday’s rain storm, Upper Ark flows in Salida and Leadville were holding steady around 250 cfs and 80 cfs, respectively. Flows are gradually increasing and will likely rise a bit more as additional rain is in the forecast today. There’s some color in the water but it isn’t enough to negatively impact the fishing. Despite, lower flows and warm afternoons, water temps are in check and trout are active throughout the day. Anglers looking to fish dry flies should be prepared for morning and evening midge hatches and BWOs, caddis and red quills during the late morning/early afternoon. Terrestrial activity has dwindled on the upper stretch in Leadville but until overnight temps consistently drop below freezing, hopper patterns will be productive between BV and Salida. At the current flow, hopper droppers with one or two nymphs are highly effective when fishing soft or shallow water. Splash free presentations are easier to achieve and you’ll get snagged less frequently. Classic searcher/attractor patterns such as Frenchies, Pheasant Tails, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs and Rainbow Warriors are great dropper patterns. When nymphing, lead with one of the patterns mentioned above and trail a midge pupa or baetis emerger (Zebra Midge, Mercury Midge, Black Beauty, RS2, Chocolate Foam Back Emerger etc.). Pronounced pools and runs are producing the most consistent results right now but don’t overlook pockets and riffles during the afternoon.
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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.