Overall River Rating:


Lower Arkansas River

Last Update: 04/26/17-The Arkansas River from Parkdale to Salida east and beyond should be high priority right now if you enjoy catch fish on dry flies! The famed Tax day/Mother’s day caddis hatch has begun and on a recent float trip through Bighorn sheep canyon, I can tell you that fish are very much looking up and are in prime form. The caddis adults seem to vary a bit in size but the fish don’t seem to care, as a few ate #10 stimulators and foam hoppers too! If the fish do become more particular on what they eat then goto a #16 black/olive foam caddis or #18/16 regular olive/brown elk hair should work during the hatch. Remember that just because you see a few adult caddis flying around doesn’t mean they are hatching, when you start seeing the adult (female) caddis bouncing on the surface of the water, they are depositing their eggs and are harder for the trout to take advantage of. When you start to hear/see splashy rises and see more adults around then it’s game on! Double dries and dry droppers will be a very productive way of fishing this hatch. You cannot go wrong with a #14/#16 olive elk hair caddis dropped with 18” - 24” of 4X fluoro to a #16 graphic caddis or soft hackle pt. During non hatch periods try a hopper dropper rig or double nymph rig with a stonefly nymph lead to a caddis pupa/larva dropper. Some great flies to try are #14-18 Prince Nymphs, beadhead Flashback PT’s, Pick pockets, red, black and chartreuse Copper Johns. Blue winged olives will still be in the mix and should also be used in your rigs throughout the day. During cloudy days they will be very prolific. If I am nymphing this time of year, I always use a BWO nymph pattern as a second or third fly. I have been having great success with a #18 blue Poison Tung. Zeke Hersh -Regional guide manager

River Information

The section of the Arkansas River is what most people refer to when discussing fishing The Ark. Located along Hwy 50 between Canon City and Salida, this 58 mile stretch of Gold Medal water offers anglers the total package when it comes to a Western fly fishing experience. A freestone river in every sense of the word, anglers have the chance to fish for both rainbow and brown trout using everything from dry flies, nymphs and streamers throughout the day throughout the day. While a very wadable stretch of river, this section is also popular amongst float fishing anglers as well. From a fish-mix standpoint, the lower section near Canon City has a healthy population of brown trout in the 12-16" range. The further west you head towards Salida seems to be more "rainbow" water. Fishing around the deeper pocket water and boulders can produce some hard fighting rainbows that grow in excess of 20". The beauty of this river is that due to the vast amount of public water availble it almost never feels crowded. An angler can almost always find multiple stretches of river to have all to themselves. 

Match the Hatch

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Winter/Spring: Midges, sporadic Baetis

Summer: Caddis, Stoneflies, Terrestrials, multiple varieties of Mayflies (PMD, BWO, Red Quills), Streamers

Fall: Caddis, Stoneflies, Mayflies, Streamers 

Seasonal Conditions

Fall fishing on the Lower Arkansas can be some of the best of the year. This section runs from Buena Vista down to Canon City. Weather in this stretch has a tendency to be fairly mild this time of the year gradually warming the closer to Canon City. As long as snow isn’t in the forecast, the Lower Ark is a great destination as late as December.

The majority of this stretch has been labeled “Gold Medal Water” by the state. Fish counts are near 5,000 per mile through this stretch with about a 70 to 30 percent split between Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout. The Brown Trout population is completely wild and self sustaining. The Rainbow Trout population is also a very healthy and can produce fish exceeding the 20 inch mark.

This stretch of River has an abundance of bugs, Caddis, Stoneflies, Baetis and Midges are all prevalent. Underneath the surface all these bugs will be active this time of the year. Above the surface there will be sporadic Caddis coming off on warmer days as well as strong Baetis and Midge hatches. The Ark is famous for its October Caddis hatch but, many locals would argue the BWO hatches are the best. While the BWOs come of with more consistency in the Spring there are still some fantastic Fall hatches creating some great late season Dry Fly opportunities. Terrestrials are also a great option this time of the year and fish will rise to them as late as November.

As the weather continues to cool look for fish to begin to migrate towards the deeper runs. There will still be fish holding in just about any pocket near a rock but, look for greater numbers in the well defined runs. Look for fish to rise on warmer days from about 1-4 PM. When this happens don’t hesitate to turn to dries. Another thing to keep in mind are streamers. Streamers on days with solid cloud cover can produce a ton of action.

Some of my favorite stretches this time of year are Browns Canyon, Wellsville, in town of Canon City and anywhere along Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

Fly Recommendations- Chubby Chernobyls, Foam PMX, Film Critic, Parachute Adams, Purple Haze, Parawulff, Stimulator, Graphic Caddis, Nitro Caddis, Buckskins, Barr’s BWO emerger, Juju Baetis, Radiation Baetis, Rainbow Warriors, Rojo Midges, Mercury Black Beauty, Brassie, Jujubees, Dorsey’s Top Secret Midge, rs2, Pheasant Tails, Biot Stonefly, Pat’s Rubber Legs, 20 incher stone, Dirty Hippie, Wooly Bugger, sparkle minnows, slumpbusters.

River Access

River access is plentiful along Hwy 50 and countless "P" (parking) signs and pulloffs are available for the entire 58 miles between Canon City and Salida. There is some private property throughout this stretch of river, however these places are usually clearly marked and won't be cause for any shortage of fantastic water to fish.  Several parking areas also have picnic tables and grills available for public use.