Upper Arkansas flows at Salida were volatile the past two days due to thawing shelf ice and slush. Flows spiked during the mid-morning but quickly retreated to the upper 200 cfs range. It’s hard to say how long this will occur, so if you’re looking to play it safe, hit the water after 11 am as flows are trending back down. Regardless of slush, the 11 am – 4 pm window is the most productive for fishing. At this point in the year, the best fishing will be between Nathrop and Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Warmer weather helped improve fishing conditions in Buena Vista, but these trout are still noticeably more sluggish than the trout further downstream. Midges are the only active hatch at the moment and the primary food source. Midges are hatching sporadically throughout the late morning and afternoon, but the surface feeding usually isn’t convincing enough to tie on a dry fly. Instead, plan to focus your attention on nymphing pools, soft runs and slack water. Spend some time picking apart a soft section and if you’ve made adjustments to your depth and a couple fly changes, move on and test out another pool or run. Trout can be illusive this time of year, so covering a lot of water is a great tactic. Midge larva and pupa patterns are doing the heavy lifting and can be fished in tandem on a double nymph rig or combined with a larger attractor on a triple nymph rig. Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, red Copper Johns, Flashback Pheasant Tails, Frenchies, Rainbow Warriors, Perdigons, Two-Bit Stones and eggs are solid attractor pattern options. With colder water temps, trout are less inclined to move far or quickly for a well-presented fly. Slow and clean nymph drifts will garner the best results.
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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.
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.