Note: This report is a part of the FlyCast Lite reporting program and is updated seasonally or in the event of substantial changes that alter fly fishing tactics. FlyCast Lite reports are intended to give anglers a high level overview on seasonal conditions and general fishing tactics.
Waterton canyon flows are sitting at 32 cfs. At this level, flows are ~40 cfs below the historical average. While we don’t expect to see major fluctuations, flows could fluctuate between 80 and 30 cfs over the next few months. Most of the canyon is largely covered in ice. However, the closer you get to the dam, the more open water you’ll find. In general, sections that receive ample sunlight throughout the day have less ice buildup and hold more active trout. While you might find a few opportunistic trout feeding on the surface during a midge hatch, nymphs are the most effective and consistent. Dry double droppers and nymph rigs are our preferred setups during the winter. As far as patterns go, you can’t go wrong with a mix of midge larva and pupa patterns. If you go this route, lead with a midge larva and trail a pupa pattern. Blood Midges, Tube Midges, Miracle Nymphs, Zebra Midges, Black Beauties, Mercury Midges and Chocolate Foam Back Emergers are all good examples. Aside from midges, trout will respond to searcher and attractor patterns. Think Flashback Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Frenchies, Rainbow Warriors and Perdigons. These trout aren’t overly selective, so if you haven’t seen results, odds are your depth is off. Focus on getting your flies into the deepest water column using split shot or tungsten bead nymphs. Adjust your weight and indicator placement as needed. During the winter, the 11 am – 4 pm window is the most productive.
The Waterton Canyon stretch of the South Platte is a fun and convenient option for anglers living in the Denver Metro Area. The South Platte River merges with the North Fork of the South Platte above Strontia Springs Reservoir. Below Strontia Springs Reservoir is the Waterton Canyon stretch of the South Platte. This section of river flows 6.5 miles northeast from the reservoir through Waterton Canyon before spilling into Chatfield Reservoir. Waterton Canyon is unique in that it’s only accessible by foot or bike. As a result, Waterton Canyon receives far less angling pressure than the other sections of the South Platte, but it does experience heavy hiking and biking traffic, so keep that in mind while casting. Waterton Canyon is technically fishable year around but due to high canyon walls, the banks and shaded sections tend to freeze during the winter. Anglers will find a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout in the 6 – 12 inch range. With that said, don’t be surprised if you come across a large brown or rainbow that has migrated from Chatfield Reservoir.
Waterton Canyon is a fantastic stretch for anglers of all skill levels. The lower part of the canyon contains slow runs and deeper pools that are ideal for new anglers working on their presentation skills. Higher in the canyon, you’ll find faster pocket water that will test the skills of more experienced anglers. With the exception of a few deep pools and runs, the river is relatively shallow, making a dry dropper setup our preferred strategy most of the year. Fishing a dry dropper will attract trout feeding on the surface and those feeding sub-surface on nymphs. Hopper and caddis patterns are productive dry fly options for a dry dropper setup. Waterton Canyon experiences a number of hatches throughout the year (midge, baetis, caddis and stonefly) so don’t be surprised if you see trout aggressively feeding on the surface during a hatch. Unless you’re matching the hatch and casting to rising trout, fly selection isn’t overly complicated in this river. Standard searcher patterns (Pheasant Tails, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs etc.), San Juan Worms and midge patterns are consistent year around. During the warm months, caddis, stonefly and baetis patterns are highly productive.
With a primary parking lot and one trail into the canyon, access to Waterton Canyon is straightforward. From the parking lot, anglers can either walk or bike up the canyon on a 6.5-mile-long, dirt road (cars are prohibited). If you have the ability, we highly recommend biking as it will allow you to cover more ground. If biking isn’t an option, don’t worry, there is plenty of good water in the bottom half of the canyon. Keep in mind, dogs aren’t allowed in the canyon, so you’ll need to leave your furry fishing buddy at home.