The South Platte River Drainage is one of the most famous and prolific stretches of water in the United States. Among fly fishermen, it is revered as a place of technical, yet rewarding fishing, and offers a plethora of opportunities to catch quality fish in beautiful settings. Running through the heart of Colorado, this premier trout fishing destination sees no shortage of attention and is held in high regard by fly anglers everywhere. Make no mistake, this attention is for good reason. With multiple stretches designated as Gold Medal Water, a plethora of Brown, Cutbow, Cutthroat, and Rainbow trout can be found in the South Platte Drainage; with fish over 20” existing throughout. Anglers from across the country come here to test their skills, and to take in the beautiful landscape that surrounds. As the saying goes; if you can catch a trout on the South Platte River, you can catch a trout anywhere in the world.
The Dream Stream
As one of the two main tributaries of the Platte River, the South Platte flows through Colorado and Nebraska with its drainage including large portions of the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains. Its waters begin in the southwestern part of Colorado where the Middle Fork; a freestone stream, and the South Fork; the tailwater of Antero Reservoir confluence. From this confluence, the South Platte flows into Spinney Mountain Reservoir and then into Elevenmile Reservoir. Between these two bodies of water exists one of the river’s most popular Gold Medal stretches. Amply named “The Dream Stream,” this three-mile-long section sees lake run trout throughout the Spring and Fall and harbors the largest fish in the entire drainage. Anglers looking to land a trophy Colorado trout often inhabit the windy banks of this extremely technical tailwater fishery.
From Elevenmile Reservoir, the South Platte meanders its way through the prolific Elevenmile Canyon, which is yet another extremely scenic and bountiful place to cast a fly. Here anglers enjoy many prolific hatches of various insects, making dry flies a solid choice year-round. If you want to catch a South Platte fish on the dry, Elevenmile Canyon is your best bet; though emergences of Blue Winged Olives, PMD’s, Caddis, Tricos and more can bring some very nice trout to the surface anywhere along the river’s reaches.
After Elevenmile Canyon, the South Platte continues flowing north, into Cheesman Reservoir. Beneath Cheeseman Reservoir exists Cheesman Canyon; arguably the most scenic portion of the entire South Platte. With huge canyon walls, house-sized boulders lining the banks, and perfect trout, people come here to experience the true aura of Colorado. Getting into the canyon requires a hike, and fish here must be earned. Though access is difficult compared to the rest of the river, this place sees its fair share of pressure, and anglers should come prepared to make perfect presentations to weary fish.
Beneath Cheeseman lies the most popular stretch of the entire drainage; Deckers. Almost all of the public fishing access in Deckers is roadside, making the ease of access one of the main attractions. If you are looking for isolation of any kind, Deckers is not your spot. Do not be deterred by the number of anglers though, as this stretch offers a large quantity of quality trout. If you’re looking to improve your skills and catch fish in the process, Deckers offers the opportunity to experience many different kinds of water.
Denver South Platte (DSP)
After Deckers, the river flows through Waterton canyon, and then into Chatfield Reservoir. Beneath Chatfield, the South Platte changes drastically in form. What is a pristine trout fishery in its lower reaches, becomes a warm water fish haven as it runs through the heart of Denver. Often referred to as the DSP (Denver South Platte), many warm water species such as Bass, Carp, Walleye and Catfish can be caught throughout public reaches as the river makes its way into Nebraska and confluences with the North Platte.
Insect Life and Fly Selection
Insect life on the South Platte is abundant and thriving. With almost all of the river classifying as a tailwater, anglers can find distinct insect hatches throughout the entire year. Because of this, fly selection is quite simple. Mayfly and Midge larvae are the main food sources of trout, making any imitations of these bugs effective, though a variety of other insect species such as Caddis, Stoneflies, and Terrestrials are seasonally present as well.
Flies like the Pheasant Tail Nymph, Juju Baetis, Demon Midge, and the classic RS2 are only some of the patterns that will do the job. Never limit yourself to a small array of flies, and always be willing to try something new. Make sure to bring enough different patterns to match any hatch you may encounter, and never be taken off guard. Fish on the South Platte have likely seen a fly or three, so think outside of the box and experiment. Make good presentations with flies you trust and you should entice some trout.
Exploration is always recommended while fishing here, and one should check out all of the river’s different stretches before coming to any conclusions. Fishing can sometimes be tough, but stick it out and you may be met with some of the best fishing days of your life. If fishing any of the river’s designated catch and release sections, please practice proper fish handling techniques and help ensure the long-term health of the fishery. Check out some of our fish handling tips here: https://flylordsmag.com/the-dos-and-donts-of-trout-handling/
Fly fishing on the South Platte can be a rewarding experience for those looking to escape into the mountains of Colorado. Its prestige and high regard in the fly fishing world are not undeserved, and this fishery continues to produce for anglers year after year. In these times of uncertainty, one thing we can be certain about is that fish still have to eat! If you’re planning on getting out there, make sure to avoid crowds, and to always stay as far away from other anglers as possible. Now is more a time than ever to take advantage of the isolation and healing powers fly fishing has to offer, so stay safe and get after it! Tight lines out there folks.
Article and photos from Ameen Hosain; content creator and fly fishing guide based out of Boulder, CO. Follow him on Instagram @thefishboulder.
Header photo by Christiaan Graham
Article supported by Abel Reels – Check them out on social here.