Note: This report is a part of the FlyCast Lite reporting program and is updated seasonally or in the event of substantial changes that alter fly fishing tactics. FlyCast Lite reports are intended to give anglers a high level overview on seasonal conditions and general fishing tactics.
Flows through Waterton Canyon have been volatile, fluctuating between 60 and 240 cfs. While fishing in this range is productive, dramatic spikes will throw off trout behavior and decrease water clarity for a few days. Once flows stabilize, trout will normalize and water clarity will improve. Nymphing is the most consistent tactic right now, but don't rule out dry fly or dry dropper setups. Midge, BWO and caddis hatches will encourage trout to feed on the surface, so keep an eye out for hatch activity and rising trout. These trout are eager to feed this time of year and aren’t overly selective. When nymphing, lead with a larger attractor pattern such as a Copper John, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Pat’s Rubber Legs or Electric Caddis. Below one of those patterns, trail a midge pupa, baetis emerger, caddis pupa or Rainbow Warrior. All of the patterns mentioned above are productive nymphs for a dry dropper setup as well. Elk Hair Caddis, Amy’s Ants and Hippy Stompers are buoyant dry flies that are capable of trailing 1-2 nymphs and even some split shot. Until flows rise above 300 cfs, trout will spread out across the river and feed in pools, runs, pocket water, riffles and transitions. Due to volatile flows over the past few weeks, bright and flashy patterns have been highly productive when water clarity decreases.
The Waterton Canyon stretch of the South Platte is a fun and convenient option for anglers living in the Denver Metro Area. The South Platte River merges with the North Fork of the South Platte above Strontia Springs Reservoir. Below Strontia Springs Reservoir is the Waterton Canyon stretch of the South Platte. This section of river flows 6.5 miles northeast from the reservoir through Waterton Canyon before spilling into Chatfield Reservoir. Waterton Canyon is unique in that it’s only accessible by foot or bike. As a result, Waterton Canyon receives far less angling pressure than the other sections of the South Platte, but it does experience heavy hiking and biking traffic, so keep that in mind while casting. Waterton Canyon is technically fishable year around but due to high canyon walls, the banks and shaded sections tend to freeze during the winter. Anglers will find a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout in the 6 – 12 inch range. With that said, don’t be surprised if you come across a large brown or rainbow that has migrated from Chatfield Reservoir.
Waterton Canyon is a fantastic stretch for anglers of all skill levels. The lower part of the canyon contains slow runs and deeper pools that are ideal for new anglers working on their presentation skills. Higher in the canyon, you’ll find faster pocket water that will test the skills of more experienced anglers. With the exception of a few deep pools and runs, the river is relatively shallow, making a dry dropper setup our preferred strategy most of the year. Fishing a dry dropper will attract trout feeding on the surface and those feeding sub-surface on nymphs. Hopper and caddis patterns are productive dry fly options for a dry dropper setup. Waterton Canyon experiences a number of hatches throughout the year (midge, baetis, caddis and stonefly) so don’t be surprised if you see trout aggressively feeding on the surface during a hatch. Unless you’re matching the hatch and casting to rising trout, fly selection isn’t overly complicated in this river. Standard searcher patterns (Pheasant Tails, Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ears, Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs etc.), San Juan Worms and midge patterns are consistent year around. During the warm months, caddis, stonefly and baetis patterns are highly productive.
With a primary parking lot and one trail into the canyon, access to Waterton Canyon is straightforward. From the parking lot, anglers can either walk or bike up the canyon on a 6.5-mile-long, dirt road (cars are prohibited). If you have the ability, we highly recommend biking as it will allow you to cover more ground. If biking isn’t an option, don’t worry, there is plenty of good water in the bottom half of the canyon. Keep in mind, dogs aren’t allowed in the canyon, so you’ll need to leave your furry fishing buddy at home.