River is also formed high in the Rocky Mountains near the little mining town of Leadville, but it is a freestone stream for
over 120 miles until it leaves the mountains. It isn't dammed until it reaches Pueblo Reservoir. The Arkansas River has
a population of wild trout it's entire length. It begins from some small streams in the Sawatch Mountains, the highest
mountain range in the state.
If you like to fish pocket water, the Arkansas River provides about 120 miles of it. At least 90% could be described as
pocket water. Most of the trout are brown trout but it also has a population of Snake River Cutthroat trout and rainbow
trout. The great majority are brown trout.
One good thing about the Arkansas River that isn't common to all the many Colorado trout streams is the fact it has
some very good fishing prior to the runoff. The early season pre-runoff period is locally more popular than post-runoff
season. Runoff usually occurs sometimes between the middle of May and the first of July, and usually takes about two
to three weeks. It isn't worthwhile to fish the river when runoff is taking place. The water is very high and muddy.
The river has great access. You can get to the stream from a nearby road from the headwaters near Leadville, all the
way to the Kansas State line. There are many designated access points as well as numerous pull offs along the roads
that follow the stream.
At Pubelo Reservoir, the river ends its freestone journey. The tailwater provides fly fishing opportunity during the cold
winter months as well as most any other time. It has a good population of rainbow and brown trout.
Another Fishing Story
Before the first time Angie and I fished the river, I had read a book that indicated it only had a very small population of
rainbow trout. While driving up the road along the river, I stopped the truck and pulled over on the side of the road to
get a better look at it water. The road ran along a bluff that was about 25 feet above the water. The first thing I spotted
was a rainbow trout that looked about 16 or 18 inches long. It was holding close to the bank almost straight down below
the road. I quickly assembled my fly rod, tied on a fly, and began crawling down the bluff by holding on the small
bushes and trees. I took my time, so I didn't spook the fish, and after several minutes, finally got into position to where I
could drop the fly right in front of the trout while holding on to a tree. Angie was video tapping the whole ordeal the
As soon as the fly landed within a foot or two of the trout, it grabbed the it and took off. It took me several minutes to
land the fish while II sat on the bluff with a small tree between my legs to keep from falling. When the trout was tired, I
managed to work my way on down to the water where I grabbed it by the lip, and faced Angie with a big smile on my
face. She was shooting video the ordeal through the trees and bushes. I gentle released the big rainbow as she yelled
"great job". That night, in the motel room, I played the footage she had recorded. It was shot on a new professional
Sony camcorder that we were not all that familiar with. She had paused the camera several times and had a lot of
lovely shots of the ground and her feet. She recorded a few shots of me fighting the trout but none of the fish,
what-so-ever. During the last few minutes of the video, she was in the pause mode when she thought she was
recording, and recording when she thought she was in pause. The bad part about the entire thing, is that we stayed in
Colorado fishing for over a month and according to the logs, spent several days of it on the Arkansas River. We caught
a few hundred brown trout during the Mother's Day hatch, but during that entire time, neither one of us caught another
rainbow trout. I have fished it many times since, and except in the tailwater, I've yet to catch another rainbow.
The Big Little Black Caddisfly Hatch
You don't have to wait for runoff to end to experience good conditions on the Arkansas River. The action starts in April,
when the Little Black Caddis begin to hatch. It is preceded by a good Blue-winged olive hatch, but it is the Little Black
caddisfly hatch that gets everyone's full attention. I feel sure it is the largest one in the country. These are a species of
Grannom caddis, sometimes called the Mother's Day hatch at other locations. The hatch starts just above Cannon City,
and takes place during the warmest part of the day. In Colorado, during the month of April, that's usually
mid-afternoon. The water temperature ranges from about forty-five to fifty degrees when they first start hatching. You
won't have any trouble determining when the hatch starts. It's a sight to see. There are thousands, if not millions, of
caddisflies in the bushes and in the air. The hatch is massive. During the hatch, fishing anything other than an imitation
of a Little Black caddisfly is a waste of time.
These caddisflies emerge much like most mayflies. The pupae swim to the surface of the water and hatch into adults in
the surface skim. The fairly cold water keeps them from departing the water very quickly. They usually ride the surface,
drying their wings for a few yards. That's why the adult imitation or dry fly imitation works great during this hatch as well
as the egg laying event.
In the early mornings the air temperature is usually cold, in the high thirties and low forties. There are usually
thousands of the caddisflies on rocks, in the trees and bushes, and on the ground. When it is still cold, you can usually
just pick them up. They aren't warm enough to fly. The air has to warm up before they start flying. We usually fish
streamers up until the hatch begins.
About the time the hatch gets close to ending, or at least half over for the day, the adult females from previous day
hatches start returning to the water to deposit their eggs. For about an hour, you usually have both hatching
caddisflies and egg laying caddisflies on the water at the same time. The trout keep the water boiling, taking both the
egg layers and the newly hatched adults. It gets dark fairly early in the day during the month of April. About two hours
before dark, the caddis stop hatching, and only the egg layers are on the water. The egg laying last until after dark.
Most of the caddisflies dip down and touch the water to deposit their eggs, but when they are finished, they fall in the
water and die. Caddis are different from mayflies in that they may make several attempts to deposit their eggs. They
usually fly back and forth from the water to the bushes. The caddisflies that die can be found at the heads of the pools
and in the eddies. You can catch trout until it is too dark to see anything going on. The hatch constantly moves
upstream as the water warms. It ends up near Leadville, where the river is only about twenty feet wide. The speed of
the upstream movement depends on the water temperature, or rather how fast it warms up.
I don't want to insinuate that the Little Black Caddisfly hatch is all there are to the fishing on the Arkansas River. It is
just one of several major hatches. The terrestrial season also provides some very good action. The brown trout fishing
in the fall season, prior to the spawn, is something else that makes the river a good fly fishing destination. The
Arkansas River provides anglers over a hundred miles of fly fishing opportunity in some of the state's most beautiful
Rocky Mountain settings. Simply put, It offers small stream fly fishing at its best.
Arkansas River, Colorado
t starts in Leadville, Colorado, and is the longest river in the state. I guess it is named the Arkansas River because
someone choose to name another river the Colorado River. One of the main differences is the Colorado River has
several reservoirs and of course, tailwaters, shortly after it is formed high in the Rocky Mountains. The Arkansas
Great Fly Fishing Destinations
April, 2016 Issue
Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Middle Arkansas River Size
Upper Arkansas River Size
Lower Arkansas River Size
And Always in