Arkansas River:          Upper Section

Weekly Overview:

October 22, 2020: 

  • Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

  • Flows on the Upper Ark between Buena Vista and Salida continue to hold in the mid 200 cfs range. Closer to Leadville, flows are sitting just a bit below 100 cfs. These are great levels as we move deeper into fall. Temps in the Upper Ark valley are starting to taper off and next week in particular looks cold, so it’s time to start sleeping in a bit more and hitting the river around 10 am and fishing hard until 4 pm. During the low light hours and overcast days, we’re still seeing productive results on dry droppers when trout are holding along the banks. An All Season Caddis/Elk Hair Caddis or small Amy’s Ant will do the trick for a dry dropper. Surface activity is less consistent but if you see rising trout, take full advantage with a Griffiths Gnat or #24 Parachute Adams. With all that said, nymphing is the most consistent approach right now. Focus on the deep, slow pools and runs during the morning and after 4 pm. During the middle of the day, actively feeding trout will slide into the slow riffles, transition areas, runs and seams. Leeches, San Juan Worms, red Copper Johns, Rainbow Warriors and Buckskin Caddis are great lead patterns. Below one of those patterns, trail small midge larva/pupa or baetis patterns. JuJu Baetis, olive RS2s, Chocolate Foam Back Emergers, Mercury Midges and red Zebra Midges are our go-to’s right now. If you’re not seeing any action, swap out your large lead pattern for a midge larva.

    • Ideal Days to Fish: Thursday, Friday & Saturday

  • 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), Mayer's Mini-Leech and San Juan Worm.

    • Surface: Parachute Adams (#20 - #22), Sparkle Dun (#20-22), Griffiths Gnat (#24), Chubby Chernobyl (#10 - 12), Amy's Ant (#14), Hippy Stomper (#12 - 14)

      • 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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