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Fly Fishing For Carp In the Denver South Platte River - Part I

May 4, 2013
Author: Will Rice

Fly fishing for carp across the United States quickly turned from a grass roots underground movement to a full fledged trend with staying power seemingly overnight.  One of the fisheries that helped make this happen is located right here in the Mile High City.  The Denver South Platte is one of the most prolific fisheries when it comes to sight fishing to carp. 

Fly fishing for carp on Denver South Platte has been featured in the Denver Post, Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die and even the New York Times.

Most of us here at Trouts Fly Fishing have been bitten by the carp bug and have spent quite a bit of time chasing them around the Denver South Platte with a fly rod.  In this three part series you will learn what we have learned: carp are fun, they are close to home and they are a challenge to catch on the fly.  You’ll learn about the river itself, gear that you will need to fish effectively on the river and also about carp behavior.  Lastly, you’ll find strategies and tactics that will help you get into fish. With spring run-off approaching, the Denver South Platte can be a great close-to-home alternative option.

PART I - The Denver South Platte and Fly Fishing Gear

The Denver South Platte River

Course and Range: This section of river runs from below Chatfield Reservoir through Downtown Denver and then northeast through Commerce City.  From the Chatfield Dam, the river runs 30 miles virtually unobstructed. The river narrowly hemmed by roadways, rail structure, and constant real estate development. 

Species: Fish that inhabit this section of the South Platte: common carp, mirror carp, grass carp, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, walleye.

History: On June 16, 1965 fourteen inches of torrential rain dropped in areas surrounding the river and sent a wall of water estimated to be 20 feet tall down the banks.  The catastrophic flood killed six, caused more than $530 million in damages (1998 dollars mind you), and was the central driver for the construction of the Chatfield Dam.  The dam was principally constructed to control flows and tame the wild South Platte prior to it reaching Denver.  

Geography and History: Like many fisheries that share space with a sprawling cityscape, this section of the river has been used and abused.  In the late 1960s and the early ‘70s, the South Platte was so polluted it could barely sustain aquatic life.  It wasn’t until 1974 that the first major cleanup effort was launched.

Current situation: Today, for anyone who has experienced the South Platte first hand, the river still is in desperate need of help, protection, and restoration.  Most people agree upon one thing: there is no reason that this river cannot be drastically improved and be a better resource tomorrow than it is today. “Managing a sport fishery in a metropolitan area provides challenges from several fronts – water temperature, physical habitat (i.e., providing pool habitat), sediment deposition, instream flows,” says Paul Winkle, Aquatic Biologist Colorado Division of Wildlife. 

Challenges- The biggest challenges facing the river as a fishery: 1) Flows 2) Habitat 3) Water Quality

Carp Fishing – The Denver chapter of Trout Unlimited hold a yearly carp fishing tournament.  The official beats begin at Oxford Avenue and this is the furthest most south section of the river that is fished.  To the North, the fishing boundary is just downstream from 120th Avenue located in the city of Brighton, Colorado. Carp can be found anywhere in the South Platte river below Chatfield Reservoir all the way out to Jackson Lake roughly 100 miles northwest. 

Putting it all together - a carp, a fly, rod, reel, line, and the Denver South Platte River

Carp Fishing Gear and Equipment

Rod: 7 or 8 wt medium to medium/fast action

Reel: sealed drag reels with plenty of room for backing (if you own a standard reel that you use for saltwater or steelhead should work fine)

Fly line: weight forward floating line

Leader: 2X or 3X leader (7.5 or 9 ft)

Tippet: 2X, 3X, or 4X (depending on depth and water clarity)

Terminal rigging: leader and tippet should range any where from 8 to 9.5 ft (I like shorter rigging)

Knots: leader to tippet – double surgeon or albright knot

Knots: tippet to fly – non slip mono or half hitch (not recommended: cinch knot)

Carp Flies: Crazy Dad 8, Brasso's Brandy Candy 8, Crazy Dad 8, Long Strip Crayfish, Barry's Carp fly, Hogan's Carp Bait, Morlock's Carp Breakfast, Agent Orange, Onyx Agent, Swimming Carp Nymph

Net: I recommend carrying a large net (bigger than a your standard trout net)  - look for something with a large head and rubber bag (Nomad and Fisknat are both solid brands)

Clothing: in the late spring, summer and early fall months I recommend wet wading (waders in colder weather)

Pants: quick dry/zip pants

Shoes: standard (wading socks, wading boots)

Shirt: something low profile in color – drab green/olive, brown, tan, etc (avoid bright blue, red, etc)

Hat: again, color matters – keep it low key

A Trouts Guide Service client releases a nice carp back into the Denver South Platte River

Stay tuned for Part II and III of this series here on our blog.  Interested in taking a guided fly fishing trip and targeting carp?  Call the shop at 877.464.0034.

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