Oct 28, 2016
Monday 10/17, 2016
Flow at Hecla Junction: 278 cfs
Water Temp.: 40s to low 50s
Monday Report - Braden Baker/Greg Felt
The river drops about 1000 feet in elevation between Buena Vista and Salida. At this time of year, the resulting difference in water temperature is substantial, and has an impact on the aquatic insect activity and also the metabolic activity of the fish. There is still plenty of good fishing in the Milk Run, Browns Canyon, and the Big Bend area, and the forecast for the week ahead shows highs in the 60s and 70s, suggesting that this great fall fishing will be prolonged. Expect fish to be actively feeding subsurface on midges in the mornings and then shifting to drifting mayfly nymphs/adults in the afternoons. At these low flows, Browns Canyon is easily accessed by wading across the river at Hecla Junction.
Salida Shop: 7500 W. Highway 50, 719-539-4223 / Open Monday-Saturday 8:00-6:00, Sunday 8:00-5:00.
Buena Vista Shop: 517 S. Highway 24 719-395-1796 / Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-5:00, Sunday 9:00-3:00. Closed Mondays.
Fisherman’s Bridge is both a physical bridge over the Arkansas River (County Road 301 below Johnson Village) and the name of a state park launch point adjacent to that bridge that is the primary launch point for Browns Canyon. There is little public fishing access at the state park site but the view from the bridge offers a good look at water conditions on the upper river. Those wanting to launch heavy fishing craft for the trip through Browns Canyon may be better served by driving just north on 301 from the state park site and then taking a right on CR 300 to the Ruby Mountain site, which has an actual ramp to the water.
Browns Canyon is a fault-block formation that threads the Arkansas through a ten mile wilderness of granitic boulders and old ponderosa pines. Known as the most popular whitewater run in Colorado, it remains, in spite of that, an outstanding fishery for those willing to hike its shores or boat its rapids. Best accessed by wade anglers at the Hecla Junction state park site (County Road 194, campground and launch facilities), one can work upstream over some high bluffs and back to the river, or cross the river to the east side and hike along the railroad grade (500 cfs is probably the upper end for wading across the river at Hecla). From Hecla, there are about 8 miles of public water upstream that hold both browns and rainbows, fishing well from April into October. For more accomplished float anglers, the trip from Ruby Mt (8 miles) or Johnson Village (14 miles) offers healthy fish and bug populations, few fishermen, and about a dozen Class III rapids. Hecla Junction can also serve as a launch point for a float trip downstream toward the Big Bend and Salida. Two significant rapids about a mile downstream make this an ill-advised trip at flows above 1000 cfs.
The Big Bend of the Arkansas, several miles north of Poncha Springs, is noteworthy as a landmark and as a launch point/river access. Geographically, the Big Bend is where the Arkansas River rotates its access from north-south upstream to east-west as one continues downstream. This has repercussions for the amount of sun on the water, particularly in the winter when the upstream canyons get a short window of sunlight through the middle of each day. Located just off US 285 on County Road 163, the Big Bend state park access includes a boat ramp and restrooms. It is a good take-out for trips coming down from Browns Canyon or as a put-in for a half-day float to Salida East or a full day to Rincon. Unfortunately, since the boat ramp is located on a side-channel of the Arkansas, one has to drag the boat over some shoals to get into the main channel at flows below 500 cfs or so.
The Big Bend is also the upstream approach to the many State Wildlife Areas and fishing easements held by Colorado Parks and Wildlife upstream of Salida. Following CR 163 and 160 downstream, one will pass many well-marked parking areas for wade fishing access to this gentle section of the Arkansas.
There is considerable public access above and below Salida, as well as along the railroad tracks on the north side of the river through town. There is also a municipal boat ramp downtown at the Salida Whitewater Park. The Arkansas River through Salida is probably the best shaded segment on the entire river, making it a nice place to fish in the summer. It also has a lot of good structure as the size of the rocks in the channel varies quite a bit. From the Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery upstream of the Highway 291 bridge down to the wastewater treatment facility at the downstream edge of town, there is about four miles of river with good access on the north side. The source for fly-fishing equipment and information in Salida is the ArkAnglers store at 7500 W. Highway 50 (719-539-4223).
Current Flow rate: 245 cfs
Chalk Creek consolidates tributaries from the major westerly drainage between Mt. Princeton and Mt. Antero before joining the Arkansas just below Ruby Mountain. Generally having little impact on the volume of water in the river, heavy summer rains on the namesake Chalk Cliffs on the south flank of Mt. Princeton can turn the creek a milky white, impacting visibility throughout the river corridor as the murky water moves downstream. (Fortunately, this only happens a few days a year.) Of greater import is the fishing in the drainage itself, with a fair bit of public water and several campgrounds along County Road 162 west of the Forest Service boundary. Further upstream, beyond the confluence of the North Fork with the mainstem at St. Elmo, trout of greater size are found in the creek, and the tributary Pomeroy, Grizzly, and Hancock Lakes.
Current Flow rate: 13 cfs
Located just off the stream channel in lower Chalk Creek canyon, Chalk and Wrights Lakes are put-and-take fisheries that are ideal for beginning fly anglers, children or anyone who wants to catch some fish when river conditions are unfishable. Chalk Lake is just west of the San Isabel National Forest boundary on County Road 162 and has a USFS campground adjacent to it. Wrights Lake is a State Wildlife Area on County Road 289 just a little west of the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.
Far up the Chalk Creek drainage, beyond St. Elmo, Pomeroy Gulch drains the twin Pomeroy Lakes from about 12,000 feet in elevation. The road up is crummy and definitely requires 4WD, but one can drive as far as comfort allows and then hike the rest of the way, or, alternatively, take an ATV. Like Ptarmigan Lake to the north, these lakes are above treeline and provide unparalleled views, frequent sightings of alpine wildlife, and the chance for some surprisingly large fish. Often iced over until Fourth of July, Pomeroy Lakes are a great late summer or early fall destination for the angler willing to do some high elevation hiking.
Browns Creek is another western tributary of the Arkansas River, emptying the drainage between Mt. Antero and Mt. Shavano and joining the Arkansas in Browns Canyon, between Pinball and Zoom Flume rapids. Mostly diverted for hayfield irrigation, Browns Creek does not have a major impact on river flows. And though it flows through private land on the valley floor, upstream where it flows through the National Forest, the creek offers 7-8 miles of subalpine trout habitat above the trailhead parking on County Road 272.
Along the eastern flank of Monarch Pass and to the north of US Highway 50, several glacial lakes stand at elevations of about 11,000 ft. Often among the first of the higher lakes to ice off, each of these is reached by a short steep trail from Highway 50 (45-60 minute walk). Waterdog Lakes are the southernmost, three in number, along with a few shallow tarns. Grass Lake lies in the middle, a small but relatively deep lake with an excellent cutthroat population, and is probably best approached from a float tube. Boss Lake is a natural pool that was enlarged with a dam long ago. It has a vibrant population of Greenback Cutthroat hybrids.
Special Regulations Apply – Artificial flies and lures only. All cutthroat trout must be returned to water immediately.
The lakes at the upper end of the North Fork of the South Arkansas River have excellent fisheries for those willing to drive the rough, high clearance road up from Maysville (about an hour). North Fork Reservoir is a large impoundment best approached from a small boat or float tube. There is a USFS campground there and it is a good base point for approaching the other lakes. Billings Lake is a shallow lake that is a short walk from the parking spot (10 minutes) and has a healthy population of small cutthroats. Casting is easy around most of the lake as there are few trees and the shoreline is easily negotiated. Island Lake is a thirty minute hike from the trailhead and sits high and to the west of the Reservoir. Island has some truly large cutthroats in its depths and sits in a spectacular cirque right at treeline. The more intrepid can try for Arthur Lake, another deep haunt of large cutthroats, by hiking south on the trail from Island Lake. This is a hike for folks who are in shape and those who go there should be prepared for the full range of alpine weather.
While the Arkansas River is flowing high and dirty, the tributaries in this part of the valley have already peaked and receded and are now flowing clearly. This is a good moving water option for the next week or so until the Arkansas River calms down.
The South Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Arkansas, draining Monarch, Marshall and Poncha Passes. Though the “Little River” flows mostly through private land on the valley floor, its many tributaries offer excellent public access within the San Isabel National Forest. Poncha Creek, and its tributary Silver Creek, flow from the valleys between Poncha and Marshall Passes, providing strong brown trout fisheries with brookies to be found at the higher elevations. Greens, Willow, and Fooses Creeks flow off the north faces of Mt. Ouray, Chipeta and Pahlone. Steep and small, they nevertheless have strong high elevation trout populations in their pools and beaver ponds. The North Fork of the South Arkansas River flows through Maysville from the high country of North Fork Reservoir and Island and Billings Lakes. A swift moving small stream, it is seldom fished but is chock full of aggressive small brook trout.
Current Flow rate: 32 cfs