Arkansas River fishing report

Arkansas River, Colorado report 9-11 September 2912

I slipped away for few days “recce” of the Arkansas River prior to a full week on the water in a short while.

We had fished this river last May during the fabled “Mother’s Day Hatch” which didn’t happen that year! However the few days we did spend fishing it gave me a feeling that it could become a river I might like to fish again particularly at lower flows.

When we fished it last May the run-off had just begun and the flow was about 800 cfs below Salida. The lack of snow pack this year had not given the rafters a good floating season and by September the flow was down to about 300 cfs.

I based myself in Salida to allow fishing in either direction and having already fished below the town I was keen to fish upstream as well this time.

Although public land is clearly marked, purchasing a river map is highly recommended to show all the access points and public sections of water. Also it is worth visiting Arkanglers in Salida who are very helpful, have a well stocked shop and offer guiding if required.

The Arkansas is a freestone river getting is water from the Sawatch Mountains snow melt and runoff which flows through pasture land and canyon. Fishing can vary from gentle riffles to tumbling rocky pocket water to meadow fishing. Above 800 cfs wading is almost impossible and levels in the 200 – 400 cfs range makes for great wading. During runoff the flow can exceed 3000 cfs! Check out this video to see it at 3200 cfs

River structure is a mixture of gravel and granite boulders with muddy edges.  Beware of the super slick boulders that seem to defeat even the sharpest cleat!  A wading staff is a must for any time spent in these waters.

Insect life is prolific and includes the main diet of caddis, but also mayflies and golden stoneflies. A new project to introduce the Salmon Fly (the dude on my fly rod above) to the Arkansas has just begun and holds promise for the future.

Trout populations are roughly 80% Browns and 20% Rainbows. The browns don’t grow as big as we find in the White River due to the lack of “meat” like crawfish and sculpins. A good sized brown in the Arkansas is 20 inches and most of the fish I caught this trip ranged from 12 – 16 inches.  Rainbows are a highbrid variety which is resistent to whirling disease and average 16-20 inches.  Population is estimated to be in the region of 2000 fish per mile of stream although some sections have up to 4500 fish per mile.

Scenery is one of the reasons I choose to travel to the Arkansas and if that’s something you value during your fishing trip then put this river on your list because it is spectacular! While there is a goodly amount of traffic on the highway that parallels the river in some places it is still possible to find solitude by visiting the more remote sections like Browns Canyon upstream from Salida.

Rafting season generally tails off by the end of August and I didn’t see a single raft in the three days I fished. In fact there was a distinct lack of any people on the water during this period! I had the water almost totally to myself for the whole time I fished and one of these days was a Sunday!

At this time of year the winged insect activity consisted of BWO, midges and tan caddis although the caddis numbers were not large. Even so I was still able to pick up some nice fish in Browns Canyon on BWO’s. Virtually all of my other fish were taken on soft hackles and by far the most popular with the fish was my glass bead BWO soft hackle. Closely following this was the partridge and orange soft hackle.

Browns Canyon is recognized and being scenically beautiful and I can assure you that it certainly lives up to its reputation. Huge boulder split the clear waters as it tumbles through chutes and opens up into long slow glides before hitting another chute. The fish hug the edges and use the back eddies to good effect picking up floating insects from the seams. I was amazed how they would come from ten feet down to take my fly.

Well enough of that for now and if you can wait I will provide an update to the Arkansas after I return there in just over a week.

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