Upper Arkansas flows have been volatile over the past few days and are currently on the rise. Sitting above 300 cfs, flows are at a good level and there’s a productive amount of color in the water. A slight decrease in clarity has allowed trout to spread out from deep pools and runs, so don’t overlook outer edges or seams. With warm afternoon temps in the forecast, midge and BWO hatch activity should be strong. BWOs can be found downstream of Browns Canyon but are slowly making their way upstream. The biggest factor that could impact hatch and surface feeding is wind, so temper your expectations today and tomorrow. Consistent BWO and midge activity has trout keying in on midge and baetis patterns above and below the surface. When nymphing, midge pupa and baetis emergers are a must. Midge pupa will attract trout throughout the day and trout will key in on baetis emergers during the early afternoon. Stonefly larva, leeches, worms, eggs, baetis larva and flashy attractors are all solid lead pattern options. If you see rising trout, a Griffiths Gnat, Matt’s Midge and Parachute Adams will get the job done. During the morning, focus on pronounced pools and runs. As the day progresses, switch your focus to transitions, slow riffles, seams and tailouts. Fishing near Buena Vista has improved over the past few weeks. These trout have seen very few anglers the past few months, making them less selective and more opportunistic.
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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.