|One of the finest attributes of the Arkansas River is its
accessibility. Roughly 60% has public access and most of it is
well marked along major highways. Traveling south from
Leadville, you will pick up the river at the Highway 24 Bridge.
This marks the beginning of over five miles of the Hayden Lease.
The river here is a small, winding stream with willow lined
banks. From this point, it begins to pick up speed and water
from tributaries as it cuts through Brown's Canyon between Buena
Vista and Salida. Brown's Canyon is without a doubt one of the
most scenic wilderness canyons in the state of Colorado. The
best access is by boat, launching at Fisherman's Bridge and
taking out at Hecla Junction. You can hike upstream from the
lower end of the canyon at Hecla, however you must cross to the
east side to access public land and that can be tricky except
during low water. Once across, you can use the abandoned rail
bed as a trail system and walk the entire canyon, stopping to
fish pool after pool of productive water.
By the time the river reaches Salida, it has leveled in
elevation and becomes a meandering, classic Rocky Mountain
freestone river with wide gravel bars, boulder fields and deep
runs accented with shallow pools and backwater eddies. For the
next 50 miles, U.S. Highway 50 shadows the Arkansas, providing
the most popular recreational access. From Salida to Texas
Creek, fly fishers find easy access, wonderful habitat and great
fish populations. From Texas Creek to Canon City, the river
begins a gradual drop to the foothills. This stretch includes
the Royal Gorge, which holds some nice fish, but is extremely
difficult to navigate. The twenty miles from Texas Creek to the
Gorge takes you through a beautiful granite canyon, complete
with one of the largest Big Horn Sheep herds in the Rockies.
This water offers excellent fly fishing during the spring and
fall. During the summer, it is literally a water park because of
the numerous Class IV and V rapids. I particularly like this
section due to its close proximity to Front Range cities, and
because it looks more difficult to fish, many newcomers pass it
by. Actually, the fish here tend to congregate along the edges
and outside seams, making shoreline hikes a nice way to spend a
morning. The Arkansas in Canon City offers excellent fishing
along 3.5 miles of improved river trail systems, called the
Riverwalk. This water is public along the trail side (south
side) and provides great walking, biking, and bird watching as
well. The Riverwalk runs from the ninth street trail head to
McKenzie Ave. on the east end of town.
The next fly fishing opportunity comes at Pueblo Reservoir and
the tailwater below the dam. The reservoir itself can be
excellent for Wipers, Crappie, and Bass. Small Mouth and Large
Mouth Bass regularly fall to float tubers, but a powerboat is
necessary to effectively chase Wipers. The tailwater has just
undergone a habitat improvement project. The selective placement
of small and large boulders has created an efficient trout
habitat where nonproductive water once existed. The DOW is
considering a special regulation stretch of water, so in the
future this tailwater could become even a more productive
fishery, especially during the winter when so many other waters
are locked in the grip of winter.
Even though the Arkansas is the number one whitewater rafted
river in the lower 48, the use of McKenzie style drift boats is
not encouraged after the river drops below 1000 cfs. During
runoff and high water these boats generally work fine, but
inflatables in the 13 to 14 foot range such as self bailers from
Aire, Maravia, and Down River are the best. Personal pontoon
craft in the 8 to 10 foot range navigate this river extremely
well. To drift this river, understand your skill level and get a
good river map. Launch areas are well placed from Granite to
Canon City, giving you the option of short or long floats. Even
if you use a boat, probably the best way to fish this river is
to get out and walk/wade the boulder fields, rock gardens and
long shorelines. Fish hold along shorelines primarily and a
competent fly fisher can break the river down into smaller
systems and work fish up close and personal. Wading can be
dangerous in many places, so use studded boots and a wading
staff. It makes sense to be prepared, since the Arkansas is one
of those rivers that tempt us to wade "just a little further."
Ninety-five percent of the time, I fish this river with a 9 ft.
5 wt. rod. Afternoons can be breezy, so wind penetration is a
must. If you have an 8 ft. 4 wt., it should be perfect for
fishing dry flies. One of this river's assets is that it
provides something for everyone; dry fly fishing, nymphing and
streamer fishing can be effective most of the time. The Arkansas
is not an early morning river. I find it fishes better from 9:00
AM till 2 PM, and 5:00 PM till just after dark. Large Browns
didn't get big by exposing themselves to the numerous predators
along the drainage. A lantern and a short sink tip line can be a
good combination for those who enjoy night fishing. I find it
invigorating and extremely productive, but it does require
knowledge of the streambed for wading safety purposes. Besides,
all you need is a #8 Black Woolly Bugger - well, maybe two.
About the author:
Bill Edrington has been the proprietor of Royal
Gorge Anglers, fly fishing shop and guide service, since 1990.
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