Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Arkansas River In
The Arkansas River is the state of Colorado's longest
river. It flows over three-hundred miles from its
headwaters near Leadville to the Kansas state line. The
trout waters take up about one-hundred and twenty
miles of the stream, from its headwaters downstream to
Cannon City. Theres also about eight miles of tailwater
fishing below Pueblo Reservoir. Fly fishing the
Arkansas River provides as much fun and excitement as
any of the state's top trout streams.
The river begins from several small headwater streams
in the highest mountain range in Colorado, the Sawatch
Mountains. It also receives water from Turquoise Lake,
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Clear Lake Reservoirs. This
makes it sound like its a tailwater, but it is far more
freestone stream in character and most of its water
comes from freestone tributaries. The river is best
described as one-hundred twenty miles of pocket water.
The headwaters of the Arkansas River flow through
some of the state's most beautiful mountains. This area
can be fishing from State Route #24 that follows the
headwaters closely. The headwater stream is small,
average only ten to twenty feet in width in width. Runoff
on the Arkansas River usually occurs between the
middle of May to the first of July. The water can be dirty
and very high during runoff and almost impossible to fish.
Most of the fishing on the Arkansas River takes place
downstream below Buena Vista. It's still considered a
small stream but it grows the further downstream you
travel. The river consist mostly of fast, pocket water.
There's plenty of pools, riffles and runs throughout its
length. Most of the trout are brown trout. There's a few
rainbows. The browns probably average about 12
inches but much larger ones are present.
State Route 285 follows along the river south of Buena
Vista but route #291follows along the river downstream
to the city of Salida. East of Salida, the Arkansas is
followed by Route #50. There's road access from the
headwaters all the way to the Kansas State line. There's
only a few places the river departs from a nearby road.
Access points and pull offs along the roads are
There is a tailwater section on the Arkansas River
located at Pueblo Reservoir. It has a very good
population of both rainbows and brown trout. This
section can be fished during the cold months of the year.
April brings on the hatch that the Arkansas River is
noted for - the Mother's Day caddisfly. Anglers travel
from great distances to fish this prolific hatch. When the
hatch begins, it usually moves up river about eight miles
a day and provides about three weeks of great dry fly
There's over a hundred miles of fly fishing opportunities
on the Arkansas River in Colorado. Easy access and
plenty of trout, beautiful scenery are the river's main
features. Fly fishing the Arkansas River provides
anglers an opportunity to see much of the state as well
as catch plenty of trout.
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More Photos of the Arkansas
River: Click on Image for full size
Recommended Tackle & Gear
4, 5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 &12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing:
71/2 ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Supreme Four, Superb Five
or Ultimate Six
For 4/5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
Although trout can be caught year-round, fly
fishing the Arkansas River during wintertime
provides tough fishing conditions for most of
Fishing below Pueblo Reservoir can be very
The river blows out in May from the spring
runoff. April is the heaviest fished month of
Fly Fishing Guide to the Arkansas
Although rainbow and a few cutthroat trout
exist in the Arkansas River, most of the trout
are browns. As mentioned in the opening, the
main event of the year for the Arkansas River
is the huge Mother's Day caddisfly hatch.
That brings anglers in the month of April to
the river from all across the country to start
their fly fishing year off. The standard joke
about how to find where the hatch is
occurring is to drive up the highway that
borders the stream for miles and miles and
when you cannot see out your windshield,
you have found the hatch. The caddisflies
really do get that thick at times.
The water that comes from Clear Creek
Reservoir, Twin Lakes Reservoir and
Turquoise Lake each provides good fishing.
The upper river below Leadville produces
some nice trout.
In late May the river blows out from the spring
runoff from melting snow. It remains high and
pretty much unfishable until about mid July.
The river remain high and unwadable in
areas until August. The flows stay high a long
time but that doesn't mean you cannot catch
trout. One of the best hatches, the Golden
Stoneflies, starts in June during the runoff
and for the most part certainly hurts the
fishing; however, it is still possible to catch
trout in certain places along the banks of the
By the middle of August terrestrials
become important and continue to work
until the first of October. Just keep in mind
the flows stay relatively high, in the 500 to
750 cfm range until the middle of
September. The river is small enough that
you can fish from the banks just about
anywhere there is access. In some areas
it is possible to wade with these flows but
you should use a lot of caution.
There are several areas the river can be
floated and is a good way to fish certain
sections of the stream. One of these
areas is from Salida to Howard.
Don't forget the tailwater below Pueblo
Reservoir. The best time to fish there is
from about the first of November until the
middle of March. It provides excellent
fishing all winter long. There is a lot of
public access thought the eight or nine
miles of fishing area below the dam. It is
even possible to catch trout on the dry fly
there during one of its many Blue-winged
Arkansas River Hatches and Trout
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods
at the particular time you are fishing. Unlike
the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
Arkansas River and in all stages of life that
are applicable to fishing. If you want to fish
better, more realistic trout flies, have a much
higher degree of success, give us a call. We
not only will help you with selections, you will
learn why, after trying Perfect Flies, 92% of
the thousands of our customers will use
nothing else. 1-800-594-4726.
The Blue-winged Olives actually start
hatching in late March long before the April
Mother's Day caddisfly hatch. The hatch last
until about the middle of June. Some very
good dry fly action is possible, especially on
nice warm cloudy days. The action can be
good even when it is snowing lightly. There is
a second hatch that takes place from about
the middle of July through most of August.
The Mother's Day caddisfly hatch of the
Brachcentrus species is the big event of the
year. It normally starts about the middle of
April and can last up to a month long
depending on where you fish the river. The
hatch moves upstream about eight miles a
day when it starts. These caddisflies act a lot
like mayflies because they emerge on the
surface mid-stream and provide good dry fly
action during the hatch as well as during the
egg laying process which begins late in the
afternoons. You can catch trout almost all
day long during the hatch using pupa
imitations when it first begins, then changing
to dry fly imitations of the adults for the
remainder of the hatch and the egg laying
event that last until dark.
July and August brings hatches of Pale
Morning Duns in many areas of the river.
The water is still relatively high but you can
always find areas of the stream where you
can fish the hatch.
July through September is the best time
to fish imitations of terrestrial insects.
Ants, grass hoppers and beetles are the
main insects to imitate. Don't forget the
midges. They hatch year-round but
become especially important on cold days
when nothing else is hatching. You can
catch plenty of nice brown trout on the
tiny flies if you will give them an
opportunity to work for you.
One of the most popular types of flies on
the Arkansas River are streamers.
Imitations of sculpin, minnows, leeches
and baitfish work great at times,
especially when the water is high and
slightly off color. You can catch trout
during the mornings of the Mother's Day
hatch using streamers.
As always, we recommend our own
"Perfect Flies". We have simi-realistic
imitations of all stages of life of the
Brachcentrus caddisflies. They perform
very well during the big hatch. Our
Golden Stonefly imitations are the best
and most effective flies you can buy for
the hatch. You can obtain specific
imitations for everything the trout eat in
the Arkansas River. We hope you give
them a try.
The Golden Stoneflies hatch from about
the middle of May until the middle of July.
You may catch a good part of the hatch
before the stream blows out but much of it
is usually ruined from a fishing
standpoint. Even when the water is still
very high there are always some places
you can catch trout on imitations of the
stonefly from the banks of the stream.
Summertime fishing can be very good but
the stream flows remain fairly high and
wading can be tough.
Autumn returns some very good fishing
mostly because its spawning time for its
many brown trout.
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
We have Perfect Fly
website pages on
each of these other
fine trout streams.
descriptions of the
location, species of
fish, a fly fishing
guide, a fly fishing
report, hatches and
flies, fly fishing gear
USGS stream data,
much, much more
Headlines: The stream levels are
low in all section. Wading is easy
most anywhere but it is also easy to
spook the trout. There still lots of
insects hatching including
Mahogany duns, Blue-winged
olives and spotted sedges. Some
October caddis are still hatching.
Stay low as possible and as hidden
as possible and you can catch
trout. Keep up with the latest
information by clicking the above
link to our Arkansas River fishing
10/16/15 Stream conditions are as good as they get at this time of the year. The weather is
turning a little cooler and there is rain in the forecast. Be sure you check the stream levels
later this week. October Caddis are still hatching in large quantities in many sections. Brown
trout are in the spawning and pre-spawn stage. We think the best choice is in the still in the
upper section of the river, but you can catch trout about anywhere.
10/23/15 The freestone stream levels are in good shape and there's little rain in the forecast.
October Caddis are at the peak of their hatch in the middle section of the river. The tailwater is
running high right now but discharges should cease soon. Brown trout are in the pre-spawn
stage and very territorial and aggressive. Use streamers like our Brown sculpin to fool them.
10/30/15 It is a great time to fish the Arkansas river. Stream levels are about normal from top
to bottom. Brown trout are in the pre-spawn stage and taking streamers like our Brown Sculpin
fly. October Caddis are still hatching in some sections. Blue-winged olives are just getting
going good. It is great fall weather. What more could you ask for.
11/06/15 The weather has finally turned a little colder and that changes the hatches and fly
fishing strategies. Blue-winged Olives and Midges will represent the great majority of insects
you need to imitate for the next few weeks. Don't forget about the spawning and post-spawn
brown trout. They will take the sculpin streamers readily.
11/13/15 The Arkansas River is such a long river that lies at different elevations, you can just
about always count on finding some good fly fishing opportunities somewhere along its length.
The tailwater changes everything and some day you can catch trout there when it is well below
freezing. Right now, conditions are good just about everywhere. Good stream levels and
11/20/15 The upper river is cold, just above freezing but the middle sections still okay. The
tailwater is by far the preferred section to fish right now. The flows are low and should remain
that way but be sure to check them before you go. The Brown Sculpin is still a good fly to use
for the post-spawn brown trout. Blue-winged olives and midges the only aquatic insects that
11/27/15 It is cold on the upper Arkansas River and of course, that is normal at this time of the
year. We recommend fishing the lowest part of the freestone stream or the tailwater at Pubelo.
It is high right now but should offer some wading opportunities this coming week. MIdges is
about the only thing you should be imitating in the aquatic insect line. The Brown Sculpin
streamer is still an excellent fly selection.
12/04/15 The water is in the high thirties in the middle and upper sections of the river at this
time. We recommend fishing the lower section of the freestone or the Pueblo tailwater. The
water will be a little warmer. The only aquatic insect you need to be imitating at this time is the
Midge. The Brown Sculpin streamer fly has been catching some of the larger brown trout.
12/11/15 The upper section of the river is just too cold to fish good. The Middle section is
marginal, but you can catch trout provided you fish the pockets and holes out of the current.
The lower section of the river is best. The tailwater at Pubelo is even better if the discharges
are low and currently, they are. Notice we added Winter stoneflies.
12/25/15 Merry Christmas. Get off the couch and fish. There is snow through tomorrow and
then some clear skies for a change. The tailwater provides the warmest water and the best fly
fishing opportunities. The middle and upper sections of the river are very cold, the water being
about 35 degrees and even lower. Midges and Winter stoneflies are the only insects you need
01/01/16 The middle and upper sections of the freestone part of the river has a lot of ice and
is too cold to fish. The very lowest section of it is an option but the water temperature is still
only about 36 degrees. We recommend fishing the tailwater because it is a lot warmer. The
discharges are fine now but you will have to keep a check on them. Midges and Winter
stoneflies are the flies you need.
01/08/16 There is going to be heavy snowfall continuing through today, but then clearing up
for the next week. It will just be clear and cold, or normal weather for the month of January.
Your best option right now is to fish the tailwater at Pebulo. The levels are fine and should
remain in good shape but make sure you check them before traveling very far to fish.
01/15/16 The weather has cleared up and is going to be nice for this coming week. The water
is still very cold in the freestone section. You would do much better fishing the tailwater at
Pueblo. The water will be much warmer. Midges and winter stonefly nymphs are the flies you
need to be using.
01/2216 The weather will be mostly clear for the next week but the water will still be very cold.
It isn't over 35 degrees anywhere other than the tailwater at Pueblo, and that is where we are
recommending. You should check the discharges but they should be low for the next week.
Midges and winter stonefly nymphs are the flies you need to be using.
01/29/16 This past week was a little warmer but melting snow kelp the water just as cold as it
was before. There is snow forecast every day for this coming week with temperatures rarely
over freezing. The tailwater section is still the only section worth fishing at this time. Make
certain the discharges are not high before traveling there to fish.
02/05/16 It is difficult to describe the weather on the Arkansas River because it ranges over
such drastic changes in elevation. This coming week is going to be a good one though. It will
feel like spring in the lower part of the river. You may have some opportunity in the lowest
section of the freestone park The stream levels are in good shape as well.
02/12/16The lowest part of the freestone section may warm up a little and be worth fishing this
coming week. It is going to be very warm for mid February. The tailwater will probably still be
the best choice. The discharges shouldn't increase. Melting snow in the freestone section will
probably stain the water.
02/19/16 Another week of warm weather is very welcome and helping the conditions but also
causing some problems as it normally does in the early spring. There is little rain forecast this
week and more warm weather. You may be able to fish the lower section of the freestone. The
tailwater discharges should be good for fly fishing.
02/26/16 The weather continues to be very nice for this time of the year, but the warmer air
keeps melting snow in the watershed and the levels are staying up and dingy. The water is
staying cold from the melting snow and ice. The tailwater in Pueblo is running high. Streamers
is about the only choice at this time. This trend is probably going to continue through this
03/04/16 The warmer weather has created as many or more problems as it has solved. The
freestone sections in the lower elevations is both cold and stained from melting snow and the
tailwater is flowing high. The tailwater would be the best location to fish provided the
discharges subside, otherwise, there isn't much opportunity at this time.
03/11/16 The river is in very good shape for this time of the year. Melting snow in the middle
and lower elevations is keeping the water a little stained and cold but it is gradually getting
better. The weather forecast is great with a week more of warm weather with almost no chance
of rain or snow. MIdges and Blue-winged olives are hatching good.
03/18/16 The stream levels are getting into good shape, especially in the lower sections of the
freestone river. The middle section isn't bad with water temps in the mid forties. The tailwater
is a little high now, but will probably drop soon. There is no rain or snow in the forecast for the
next week. Blue winged olives and midges are hatching good.
03/25/16 The stream levels are in good shape from the headwaters to the tailwater. The upper
and middle sections are still very cold. The lower section is in the high thirties to low forties
with some BWO hatches taking place as well as midges. The Little Black Caddis usually start
hatching from the first of April to the middle of April and is the first major hatch.
04/01/16 The river is in great shape for the first day of April. The stream levels are a little low
and stealth may be required but you can wade about anywhere. Blue-winged olives and
midges will still represent the most hatches but it won't be long before the little Black Caddis
and March Browns will start to hatch.
04/09/16 The stream is in good shape from the headwaters to the tailwater right now. There is
a lot of rain in the forecast and the levels are likely to be rising this week. Melting snow will also
contribute to that. The discharges at the tailwater are high now. Little Black caddis are starting
to hatch in the lower elevations. Midges and BWOs are hatching big time.
04/16/16 Just as the little Black Caddis hatch was getting started good in the lower and middle
elevations, here comes the usually April bit time snow fall. It seems to happen each year.
Things will get right back to normal within just a few days and the Arkansas will become the fly
fishing hot spot for the state of Colorado.
04/22/16 This is what the locals have been waiting on. The Little Black Caddis are starting to
hatch in the lower elevations of the Freestone section and it will move up the river fairly fast as
the water continues to warm this coming week. There is little chance of rain and we expect
great fly fishing opportunities. Fish the pupa during the hatch and adult during egg laying.
04/26/16 The past week didn't turn out to be as good as we expected but a good number of
trout were caught in the lower to middle section of the river for a couple of days. There is
rain/snow forecast everyday this coming week, so the situation is likely to change much. March
Browns and little BWOs are hatching good along with some little Black Caddis.
05/06/16 The Mother's day, Little Black Caddis hatch is underway and out customers catching
lots of trout. This is taking place in the lower freestone section to the middle section. It will
move upstream as the water warms. This is probably the best fly fishing opportunity in
Colorado right now.
05/13/16 The river is high and stained from runoff and likely to be in this condition for the next
few days. There is rain or snow forecast every day for the next week. There is little to no
opportunity for fishing unless you do it from the banks with streamers.
05/20/16 The Arkansas River is in the full official Spring runoff mode with high raging water. It
is something else to see but not something you would want cast a fly in. What you need to do,
is send us an email and let us help you plan that next fly fishing trip to the this beautiful part of
05/27/16The runoff is still in progress and will continue to be for a few more days. Please just
keep checking back with us for updates because when it does drop and clear, the fly fishing
opportunity will be very good. Right now, all you can do is wait and plan that next trip to the
06/03/16 The warmer weather has the runoff in the full stream ahead mode and the levels are
very high. The water if dirty to say the least. To make it simple, it isn't worth fishing anywhere.
It will be in this condition or worse for the coming week. All you can do is hope the runoff ends
as early as it started.
06/10/16 The Arkansas River begins at a very high elevation with a good snow pack this year.
The runoff is underway and it very strong. The river is a sight to see but not one to fish. The
runoff got a early start and hopefully, it will end early. There are usually a lot of trout caught as
soon as the water levels drop down and clears up.
06/17/16 The river is starting to fall back down but it isn't low enough for safe wading
anywhere yet. It can be fished from the bank with streamers. There are Salmonflies and some
Golden Stoneflies hatching. The tailwater discharges are also high but they could change. It
won't be long before the river is back in good shape.
07/01/16 The river has gotten into very good shape. The stream levels are still a little high in
some sections but fishable anywhere. There are sections you can safely wade. There are
numerous insects hatching, but a always, these vary from the headwaters to the tailwater part
of the stream. This week should be a good one for fly fishing the river.
07/08/16 The river is in good shape top to bottom, headwaters to tailwater. There are several
insects hatching but the drastic changes in elevation also change the hatches from one
section to the next. In some sections there are as many as eight or more insects hatching, or
multiple hatches. That can make it a little tough to match.
07/15/16 We received two good reports from customers fishing the Arkansas river this past
week. Both did very well in terms of numbers and sizes of trout. The Pale Morning Duns,
spotted Sedges and little Yellow stoneflies are hatching just about everywhere. The others we
list depend on the section of water you are fishing but all have a lot of hatches going on.
07/22/16 The river is in very good shape from its headwaters through the tailwater in Pueblo.
Our customers reported catching good numbers of trout in the Leadville area of the
headwaters this past week. There are a lot of insects still hatching but the hatches vary
depending on the section of the river, or more specifically the elevation.
07/29/15 The river is in good shape. The lower section of the freestone part gets a little too
warm in the summer, but the middle and upper sections stays in great shape all summer long
with few anglers taking advantage of it. There are still plenty of hatches and plenty of trout
being caught by the few anglers fishing it.
08/04/16 Stream levels are fine right now but they are on the rise. It is raining as I am writing
this and there are some flash flood warnings out. Be sure to check the levels before driving
very far to tish. There are still plenty of hatches taking place but they vary with the elevation
and different sections.
08/12/16 The Arkansas is in good shape from the small stream headwaters near Leadville to
the tailwater at Pueblo. Our customers are sending in good reports on a regular basis. The
hatches will vary considerably depending on the section of water being fished, or more
specifically the elevation. Spotted sedges are everywhere and Pale Morning duns most
08/19/16 Lots of smaller size trout are being caught up in the Leadville area. All sections of
the river are in good shape although currently just a little low. There is rain in the forecast so
this should be changing soon. We didn't get any reports from the tailwater but that is normal
during times of good levels in the middle river. Terrestrials are working great.
08/26/16 Good conditions continue to exist for all sections of the Arkansas River. Our
customers are reporting some very good fishing in the higher elevations up to the Leadville
area. There are still some Little Yellow stoneflies hatching in that section of the river. Most
hatches taking place are caddisflies. LIttle slster caddis are everywhere. Tricos are hatching in
the lower and middle elevations.
09/02/16 The river is in good shape with good stream levels in all sections. Anglers are
catching lots of trout in all sections. There are lots of caddisflies hatching. In the higher
elevations, there are still some PMDs, little Yellow stoneflies and other insects hatching. The
lower elevations have some huge Trico hatching taking place. Terrestrials like ants, beetles
and hoppers are also working.
09/09/16 The Arkansas provides as good of fishing as most any stream in the State at this
time of the year, yet few anglers take advantage of it. The river is currently in good shape from
Leadville to Pueblo. Our customers are constantly sending in good reports. There are good
wading levels and still plenty of hatching insects. Terrestrials are working as well.
09/16/16 The river is in good shape flowing just a little low in most sections. It makes it easy to
wade but also easy to spook the trout. All sections of the river are turning out some trout. The
cooler water has the trout more active and they are feeding on whatever is available.
Caddisflies are the most consistent hatches. There are some Blue-winged olives and some
Mahogany duns starting to hatch.
09/23/16 The river is in good shape. Lots of hatches are taking place. The cooler weather has
October caddis and Mahogany duns hatching good. There are good numbers of the large
baetis species of Blue-winged olives and still plenty of caddisflies. The stream levels are good
in all sections.
09/30/16 The river is in very good shape for this time of the year. Fishing opportunity exist in
all sections. The headwater are getting a little chilly in the mornings and the best option is
most likely the middle sections of the river. Brown trout are getting in pre-spawn stage. There
are several hatches taking place. It is as good as it gets at this time of the year.
10/07/16 The river is in good shape in all sections from the headwaters to the tailwater. Brown
trout are getting into the pre-spawn stage and are becoming very aggressive. They will take
the White Belly and Brown sculpin readily. Lot of insects are still hatching. Blue-winged olives
are in about all sections. We recommend the middle and lower sections but you can still fish
the uppermost if you desire.