Arkansas River:          Upper Section

Weekly Overview:

December 2, 2019: 

  • Technicality: 3/5

  • Flows on the Upper Ark below Buena Vista have been consistent, holding between 550 and 600 cfs. While this is close to double the average for this time of year, trout have adjusted and fishing has been consistent. With cold water temps and elevated flows, approach this river with a “run-off” mindset. This means you should target the slow pools, runs and soft water along the banks. Anything that is 2+ft deep with a slow current is fair game. Even in slow water, heavy nymph rigs are the most productive right now. Stonefly, leech, worm and searcher patterns are productive lead flies when the barometric pressure is low. When the pressure is high, lead with a flashy pattern such as Rainbow Warrior, red Copper John or Disco Midge. Below your lead fly, trail a midge larva pattern followed by a midge or baetis emerger. 

  • Ideal Days to Fish: Monday, Wednesday & Saturday

  • Suggested Flies:

    • Sub-surface: Pats Rubber Legs (#10-12), RS2 (#20-22), Chocolate Thunder (#20-22), Stalcup's Baetis (#20-22), JuJu Baetis (#20-22), WD 40 (#20-22) Prince Nymph (#16-18), Mercury Pheasant Tail (#18-20), Hare's Ear (#16-18), red Copper John (#18-20), Black Beauty (#20-22), Zebra Midge (#20-22), Top Secret Midge (#20-22), Disco Midge (#20-22), Rainbow Warrior (#18-20), Mayer's Mini-Leech and San Juan Worm.

    • Surface: Parachute Adams (#22 - #24), Elk Hair Caddis (#16 - 18), Griffiths Gnat (#24) and Chubby Chernobyl (#8 - 12)

      • Need flies for your trip? FlyCast has collaborated with our friends at Anglers All ​to package a dozen flies that are hot on the Arkansas River right now - Click here for hand selected flies

Upper Ark Flow .png
Credit: Colorado Division of Water Resources
Upper Ark Weather.png
Weather Provided by Weather Underground

Detailed River Info:


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.  


River Access:

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.  

© 2019

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