The Mighty Ark
Beginning in the upper reaches of the Sawatch Mountain Range, the tail waters of the Arkansas River flow through the shadows of the state's highest peaks – Mt. Elbert (14,443 ft) and Mt. Massive (14,421 ft). Turquoise Lake, Twin Lakes Reservoir, and Clear Creek Reservoir whose outlets provide cold, clear, controlled flows benefit anglers targeting the Arkansas. These lakes also hold the key to the rafting season. They stockpile and release the water that helps make the Ark one of the premier rafting rivers in the world. The Arkansas is the longest river in the state stretching more than 300 miles before crossing into Kansas. Anglers mainly focus their interest on the area between Leadville and the Royal Gorge.
Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch
The Arkansas River is famous for its Mother’s Day caddis hatch. Dry fly enthusiasts flock to the river in search of rising trout. Many locals believe the Blue Wing Olive hatch that leads up to the Mother’s Day bonanza overshadows the famed caddis hatch. Any cloudy day in March seems to result in sipping trout. Moth hatches begin below Salida and slowly move upstream as weather and water conditions permit. Outside of Leadville, following Highway 24 south, anglers will pass the banana belt. The banana belt valley is always warmer than surrounding areas due to the wind and rains that collect in the nearby peaks. The Arkansas is full of cookie cutter 16-inch brown trout. Some of the deeper pools will hold larger trout; however, the lack of size is easily made up in numerous hookups.
The Upper Arkansas
The Upper Arkansas is an easy wade. With the exception of runoff, the upper stretches of the river are relatively small and can be easily crossed. The river is usually clear and cold. The upper stretches offer fantastic dry fly fishing. The riffles and undercut banks are perfect dry-dropper water. The Hayden Meadow access offers over six miles of public access, which allows anglers ample opportunity to spread out.
Floating the Arkansas
The Arkansas is one of the most popular whitewater rafting rivers in the world. Hundreds of boats float the Ark each day during the summer. While the rubber hatch may be too much to contend with on certain stretches, the Arkansas has many superb floats for fly fishermen. The river between Buena Vista and Salida boasts extremely good dry fly fishing for feisty brown trout. Anglers can experience nonstop action on a dry-dropper combo, double dries, and streamers. The river is very technical to navigate, so we usually float the Ark in a raft. Beware! If you plan to float the Ark on your own, be sure you know what lies downstream. The Ark features many “keeper” rapids that can eat boats like Scylla and Charybdis – mythical sea monsters from Homer’s Odyssey.
Wade Fishing the Arkansas
Walk-and-wade anglers will find ample public access between Buena Vista and Canon City. This area fishes best during the spring and fall, but should not be ignored if you are in the area.