Whitewater and Excellent Fishing on the Arkansas River in Southern Colorado

The Arkansas River has its headwaters in Leadville, CO, and we fish it near the town of Salida. Home to hot springs, fine food, and one of the friendliest fly shops anywhere, I’m always happy to find myself there. The fishing’s great too, with fish counts over 3500 per river mile, mostly browns. Those numbers don’t make for lunkers, but when the bite is on it rivals any fishery I’ve ever been to.

I’ve had some truly memorable days on the Sass. About ten years ago my father and I were there fishing the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, and I had about two hours of such stellar fishing that I felt like my arm was elastic and I was dancing with trout, one buttery brown after another. When it came time to wade accross the river back to the car, I noticed something whitish on the bottom of the river and stooped to pick it up. It was a twenty dollar bill with caddis larvae growing all over it…that day the river even paid for dinner.

These days we take our raft and float the river, which is a fast paced adventure that works rower and fisherman alike. The Arkansas is world famous for its whitewater, and after rowing it most other rivers seem tame. It’s technical rowing and challenging fishing. You have to be on your game and make your shots count, because you won’t get a second chance. And due to the unfortunate water access laws in Colorado and the large amount of private property around here, we don’t even bring an anchor. (land owners own the river bottom, banks, rocks, you name it- everything but the water and the trout)

Just the same, it’s a wonderful time. Our favorite way to fish here is to pound the banks and pockets with small streamers; it’s a style of fishing well suited to speed. With the cold spring temps, the game is to slow the fly down as much as possible, since fish will eat but don’t want to chase. Several times we’ve hit a Blue Winged Olive hatch just right, and then it’s little dries fished with a dead drift and all the trout you can handle.

My hands are blistered and aching from pulling on the oars after a long winter of growing soft, but I’m so happy that it’s fishing season again, and can’t wait for the next time.