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Fly Fishing Report: The Denver South Platte River In May

May 20, 2014
Author: Will Rice

Andrew P, a shop client, shows off his first ever fly caught carp from the Denver South Platte River in May - Nice work Andrew!

People ask me all the time: “What is a good time to fish the South Platte River in Denver for carp?”  My first answer: “It depends a lot on the flows.” 

On a recent scouting mission to upper section of the South Platte River – closer to Chatfield Reservoir – the water was low and clear.  Before I had set out, I checked our Stream Flows page and noted that a mere eight (8) CFS was being released below Chatfield Reservoir. When water is low and clear, it can be easy to find carp in the South Platte, getting them to eat a fly can be a different story.  Often times in low water, fish are podded together and can be very spooky. 

This carp was found a) in the Denver South Platte River b) during low flows and c) in very clear conditions on a flat with a sandy bottom

By the time I had a chance to fish the river two days passed.  Each subsequent day the water coming out of the reservoir was bumped up.  Eight CFS had climbed to 64 CFS and a day later it was raised again to 143 CFS.  In addition to raising the water level, the increase in flow also brought a significant stain to the water, most likely from pulling sand, dirt and other vegetation off the banks.  Add to that a few intermittent Colorado rain showers in the afternoon, the section of river I had scouted two days earlier looked quite a bit different.

Much of the Denver South Platte River is framed in urban infrastructure

Changes in water releases and higher flows are not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to fly fishing for carp.  Many times, this will spread fish out in the river and carp often become very active.  Often times this bump in flow will trigger aggressive feeding behavior.  The fish might not be as easy to find in the higher off color water, but the carp you do find are often foraging and eating hard – making them excellent targets for a well presented fly.  Another great thing about the South Platte River here in town, often after water levels are raised and then sustained for a few days, the river clears quickly which makes sight fishing that much more effective. 

These fish were spotted in higher water and bigger flows, moving from a darker and deeper section into a shallower area to feed

We fished higher up on the river hoping that if we avoided the tributaries and feeder creeks that are lower down in the system, it would yield better water clarity.  We were able to find fish, but not in great numbers.  One fish we did find was on a slower moving flat.  This section of river is normally fully exposed and out of the water in lower flows.  The carp was in active feeding mode in about four inches of water foraging in a very consistent manner.  The fish actually came up behind me and caught me off guard – but it was a perfect opportunity.  I made a short roll cast off to his right and the crawfish imitation quickly settled to the bottom.  Unfortunately, my leader and tippet continued downstream and I lined the fish. The carp noticed something was amiss and skulked off into deeper water. 

Can you find this fish? Even in higher water or off color conditions, fish can be spotted if you know where to look and know what to look for

I often tell people that sight fishing for carp in the Denver South Platte River is much more akin to hunting than traditional fishing.  Figuring out where they live, how they behave and how to approach carp in different situations is half the fun.  Then it all comes down to making the cast and the right presentation.  This spring promises to deliver dynamic flows in many river systems across the state of Colorado and the South Platte River will probably feel its share of ups and downs as well.  These dynamic conditions should make carp fishing that much more challenging and fun.  Keep your eyes on the flows and get out there and explore. 

If you are interested in fly fishing for carp in the Denver South Platte River, always feel free to call the shop at 303.733.1434, stop in, or you can check out this Three Part Series online. Or check out Trouts Guide Service if you would like to take a guided trip on the South Platte River. 

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