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Fishing Conditions

Upper Basin: Leadville to Buena Vista

Apr 23, 2014

Wednesday 4/23, 2014

Flow in Hayden Meadows: 339 cfs
Flow at Granite: 744 cfs
Water Temp.: 42
Clarity: 3 Feet

Wedensday 4/23 Update - 8:00 am

The peak flow through Hayden and Granite last night was lower or the same as the day before. Clarity has improved a lot. This clearer water has already made it to Buena Vista and it is cold up there. Looks like the river is settling back down - we are floating Browns Canyon and above Salida today.

Tuesday 4/22 Update - 3:30 pm Greg Felt

The upper river is still rising from the recent heat melting low elevation snow. This melt creates a daily "bubble" of water and the colder period of each 24-hour cycle generates a daily "divot". The daily divot is passing through Hayden Meadows around 8:00 am and hitting the Granite gauge around 10:00 or so. So, hitting the upper river until early afternoon and then following the divot back toward BV is the most effective strategy for wade fishermen at this time. AA guides fishing the upper end did best with large attractor/stonefly nymphs or streamers today and they found that many fish were podded together, presumably in good holding water while they wait for the river to sort itself out. With continued warm weather forecast for the next few days, this rising trend may continue. However, one or two cool days will most likely stop the melt and provide a rapidly clearing and receding river.

Sunday 4/13 - Upper Arkansas and South Platte Report - Stuart Andrews

A touch of spring has finally shown up on the Ark above Brown's Canyon. A couple of us fished from Ruby Mtn campground to Hayden Meadows, sampling various stops along the way. Water clarity and levels are great throughout, with much of the snow on the valley already cleared off. One thing they all had in common were hungry trout, looking for a meal after a long, cold Winter. Another was the way the fish are still concentrated around the deeper pools and runs, with a lot of unproductive water in between. Still plenty of midge activity, but we didn't spot a single rising fish.


As a result, we found a double nymph rig, with a dark stonefly or attractor pattern like the 12-14 Prince or Pheasant Tail first, then a smaller mayfly (#18 Pheasant Tail, micro mayfly, or two-bit hooker) or zebra midge (#18 black or red) was just the ticket for fat, healthy browns on the line. Even at elevations nearing 10,000', we caught good fish deep into the afternoon. A sampling of various river rocks showed lots of BWO nymphs, both explaining the success and fueling anticipation for the coming weeks.


While the lower lakes and SWA sites around Buena Vista are now ice free, popular spots like Cottonwood, Hayden Meadows, and Crystal lakes remain under ice. All the waters higher than 9500' are quite a while from icing out, the highest alpine waters will probably not free up until late June/early July.


Over in South Park, Antero remains frozen, with a few cracks starting to turn up. A later than usual start for Spinney appears likely, too. Eleven Mile reservoir has a good bit of open water at the inlet now, some decent trout cruising the shallows. Streamers and shallow suspension rigs with scud & egg patterns would be the choice here.


The South Platte above Spinney is now open, but there is plenty of ice along the banks, so tread carefully. On the Charlie Myers SWA (aka the Dream Stream), active spawning has been going on for some time, but the lower flows (82cfs) has slowed the numbers of fish moving up the river. As a result, most of the trout are spending these brighter days concentrated in the deeper stretches, where a San Juan Worm trailing Miracle or Top Secret Midge, or an egg pattern work best. As always, please leave the fish actively trying to spawn alone to do their business. Redds (nests) are easily identified by the clean gravel cleared off by the spawners.


With these warmer days, now is a great time to explore the upper parts of the Arkansas River, and our Flyshop in Buena Vista (719-395-1796) is open and ready to help. You can also call Greg @ 719-539-4223 to book your spring trip with one of our experienced guides, to get a jump start on angling for 2014.

ArkAnglers Buena Vista is open Tuesday - Saturday 9:00-5:00, Closed Sunday and Monday.


Location Information

Hayden Meadows

Hayden Meadows comprises about eight miles of river flowing through high meadow country south of Leadville. Located upstream of the confluence with Lake Creek, Hayden Meadows is spared the impact of the native and imported water that is released through the summer from Twin Lakes. As a result, peak flows on this section of the river are typically only about a third of what we see in Salida and the native runoff is relatively short-lived. Characterized by meandering oxbows, grassy cut banks, and phenomenal views of Mt. Elbert and the Mount Massive Wilderness, Hayden Meadows is a high elevation summer fishery that is home to excellent hatches and some very healthy brown trout.

Special Regulations Apply – Artificial flies and lures only. Limit is one trout, 12 inches or less.

Current Flow rate: 377 cfs

Granite State Wildlife Area

As one travels downstream, the slower current velocity and grassy banks of Hayden Meadows are left behind for the bouldered pocket water of the Granite Gorge. Here one exchanges the cobblestone bars and shelf lines for a riverbed strewn with rocks of every size, creating rapids and eddies, shoreline pockets and deep plunge pools. Set astride the upper end of this canyon, from the Lake County line downstream to 1.5 miles below the Granite Bridge, the Granite State Wildlife Area provides public access above and beyond that afforded by the San Isabel National Forest. Most anglers do not wade far into this swifter, steeper current but rather rock-hop along the bank, working the shoreline habitat and seamlines where the predominant brown trout population primarily resides.

Current Flow rate: 863 cfs

Tunnels Access

Upstream of Buena Vista, along the east side of the river, County Road 371 provides areas of public fishing access to the Arkansas. In particular, the “Tunnel Section”, where the road passes through several tunnels left over from the Midland Railroad line, provides a significant reach of water with good shoreline access. Though not as steep as the Granite Gorge, the Tunnels and the section of river accessed near the Railroad Bridge campground upstream contain swift moving pocket water and some deep green runs where rapids plunge into pools. As above, most anglers on this section of the river keep to the edges, where many of the river’s brown trout reside outside of the faster water.

Town of Buena Vista

There is a significant segment of public river access above and below the Buena Vista whitewater park and boat ramp, out at the east end of Main Street. There is parking and restrooms at the top of the boat ramp. The source for fly-fishing equipment and information in Buena Vista is the ArkAnglers shop, located at 517 S. Highway 24 (719-395-1796).

Crystal Lakes

The Crystal Lakes are located on the west side of US 24 about six miles south of Leadville, a few miles north of where Highway 24 crosses over the Arkansas River and the railroad. The lakes adjoin the Reddy State Wildlife Area on the Arkansas River at the upstream end of public access to the Hayden Meadows area. The Crystal Lakes are considered mid-elevation lakes, fed by springs and a tributary stream, and typically ice-off in mid-May. Rich in midges and mayflies, the lake is home to both a healthy resident trout population and regularly stocked rainbows. A good alternative when high flows muddy even the uppermost end of the river, the Crystal Lakes has a good damselfly hatch in June.

Halfmoon Creek

Though its flows are mostly diverted to Forebay and Twin Lakes, and hence, rarely impact the quantity or quality of water in the Arkansas River, Halfmoon Creek is of interest as a tributary fishery to the Arkansas River and, because it has a USGS flow gauge on it, as a representative upper basin tributary for purposes of comparison. By reviewing flows on Halfmoon Creek, one can get a fair idea what similar tributary streams that arise from the northern Sawatch range are doing, in terms of percent of average flow and degree of daily fluctuation due to snowmelt. Draining the extensive valley between Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive and bordering on the Mt. Massive Wilderness, Halfmoon Creek is also a summer fishing destination in its own right with two campgrounds and access by trail and primitive road.

Lake Creek Below Dam

This is a short, steep reach of stream that flows through private land from Twin Lakes to the mainstem of the Arkansas River below Hayden Meadows. Unimportant as a fishery, the flows discharging from Twin Lakes have a pronounced effect on the river, often doubling or tripling the flow in the upper Arkansas at its confluence. This disproportionate impact is seen in the winter, when the Bureau of Reclamation moves water downstream to make room for both native and imported runoff, and during the summer, when “pass through runoff” in June, and water for recreational flow augmentation in July and August, are released into the mainstem of the Arkansas River.

Current Flow rate: 275 cfs

Clear Creek Below Dam

Even shorter than the outflow from Twin Lakes, Clear Creek Reservoir basically empties directly into the Arkansas River 3-4 miles downstream of Granite. And though impacting the flows on the Arkansas far less than Lake Creek, the reservoir is still capable of releasing an additional 350 cfs into the river. This release can create a short-lived “tailwater effect” below the confluence, adding clear water to the murky Arkansas during runoff.

Current Flow rate: 47 cfs

South Fork Cottonwood Creek

The several forks of Cottonwood Creek drain a large area of the middle Sawatch Range, including the southern part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Among the different branches, South Cottonwood Creek probably offers the most for the fly-fisherman, with a gentler gradient and more beaver ponds than the other forks. There are also two USFS campgrounds and plenty of primitive camping in this basin. Additionally, Cottonwood Lake, an impoundment about four miles up the creek from the confluence with the Middle Fork, has a nice population of resident fish and is regularly stocked by Parks and Wildlife. The lake is well-suited to fishing from a float-tube, canoe, or kayak and there is a boat ramp adjacent to where the creek flows in to the west end of the lake.

Current Flow rate: 12 cfs

Ptarmigan Lake

Just east of Jones Mountain on the Gladstone Ridge separating the Middle and South Forks of Cottonwood Creek, Ptarmigan Lake (about 12,000 ft) provides intrepid hikers with some exercise, spectacular scenery, and the chance at some significant high elevation cutthroats. With trails accessing it from both the north and south, Ptarmigan gets a fair bit of mid-summer traffic. But for those able to hit it soon after ice-out, usually near the end of June, the lake provides some memorable days of fishing. Ptarmigan is also a good indicator lake – conditions there are generally reflective of other lakes of similar elevation in the middle Sawatch Range.