Arkansas River:          Upper Section

Weekly Overview:

January 14, 2021: 

  • Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

  • Mild weather this week increased productivity during the afternoon but with morning lows sitting in the teens, slushy and unproductive mornings continue. Fluctuating between 150 and 250 cfs, the Upper Arkansas is low and gin clear. Fishing near Salida is still your best option as it contains more open water and deeper pools and runs. We recommend hitting the river around noon and fishing until 4 pm. During this window, the water will clear up and trout will be more active due to warmer air and water temperatures. Focus on the deep and slow pools, runs, pockets and slack water with a heavy nymph rig. Getting your flies into the deepest water column is critical, so don’t be shy with your splitshot. Tungsten bead searcher nymphs, flashy attractors and midge larva patterns are productive lead flies. For you trailer, midge larva and emerger patterns such as Mercury Midges, Bling Midges, Top Secrets, Chocolate Foam Back Emergers, RS2s and Blue Poison Tungs are good options.

    • Ideal Days to Fish: 1/18, 1/20 & 1/122

  • Suggested Flies:

    • Sub-surface: RS2 (#20-22), Chocolate Foam Back Emerger (#22-24), Barr's Emerger (#20-22), JuJu Baetis (#20-22), WD 40 (#20-22) Prince Nymph (#16-18), Mercury Pheasant Tail (#18-20), Hare's Ear (#16-18), Electric Caddis (#16-18), red Copper John (#18-20), Black Beauty (#22-24), Zebra Midge (#20-22), Top Secret Midge (#22-24), Disco Midge (#22-24), Mercury Midge (#22-24), Pats Rubber Legs (#10-12), Rainbow Warrior (#18-20), Frenchie (#18-20), Roza's Red Tag Jig (#18), Mayer's Mini-Leech and San Juan Worm.

    • Surface: Parachute Adams (#24), Griffiths Gnat (#24)

      • 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

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.  

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