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 below the damn currently sit at 70 cfs at the mouth of the canyon and 130 cfs below the dam. At this level, flows are roughly half of the historical average but are still at a productive level for fishing, particularly closer to the dam. Flows will continue to fluctuate through the summer depending on water demand, so keep an eye on flows before you head out and be prepared to make adjustments. Water clarity is good and trout are spread out across the river. Pronounced runs, pools, banks, pockets and riffles are all fair game. There are a variety of bugs on the menu right now that have trout eager to feed on and near the surface. The most prominent being midges, PMDs, caddis, golden stones, yellow sallys and terrestrials. Keep Griffiths Gnats and Parachute Adams handy during the morning and evening. During the late morning and afternoon, Sparkle Duns, Elk Hair Caddis, Chubby Chenobyls, Amy’s Ants and Hippy Stompers are must haves. As far as setups are concerned, single dry fly setups are a great option when trout are actively rising during a hatch. Otherwise, a hopper dropper or nymph rig is ideal. Hopper droppers are a fantastic alternative to nymphing that offers delicate presentations in soft water and allow you to survey shallower water while appealing to top water and sub-surface feeders. Single and double droppers are both effective but personally, we prefer double droppers as they allow you to lead with a larger and heavier pattern and trail a small pupa/emerger. Pat’s Rubber Legs, San Juan Worms, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Bead Head Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Psycho Prince Nymphs and Rainbow Warriors are productive searcher/attractor nymphs. Either trailer one of these patterns on their own behind a terrestrial or use it as a lead with a pupa/emerger trailer. For your trailer, you can’t go wrong with Zebra Midges, Black Beauties, JuJu PMDs, RS2s, Darth Baetis and Barr’s Emergers. If you’re fishing deep or faster moving water, add a small split shot above your first dropper. Until we move out of summer and air temps cool, carry a thermometer and diligently check water temps after 12 pm. If water temps exceed 67 degrees, please pack it up and give trout a break.
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.